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  Sunday, April 23, 2006

In the summer of 2001, commercial air travel was incredibly painful. Lots of delays, passengers were treated like cattle, every plane was packed, schedules sucked -- it was just plain a rotten way to spend any significant amount of time at all. Then 9/11 happened and lots of people stopped flying.

Well, we're back to the way things were pre- 9/11. Air travel is just miserable. All the old complaints are once again true, with new additions.

1. Food, or lack thereof. A bag of peanuts is a luxury. Airlines want you to bring your own food on board, or to pay them extraordinary amounts for things disguising themselves as food.

2. Code-shares. You no longer know what airline you're flying when you buy a ticket, or whether you're getting the best price. Code-sharing is a huge scam, and the customers are the suckers. How this officially works is that one airline buys a set of seats on another airline then re-sells them under their own brand at whatever price they want. Go do a search on Expedia, and more likely than not you'll see the exact smae flight offered by two different airlines are radically different prices. What's worse, in most cases when you get to the airport the airlines won't have anything to do with each other -- you get a rude awakening when they send you down to another ticket counter to chek in. Here's what happened to me Friday:  I was originally booked on an Alaska Airlines flight to Chicago, connecting to an Alaska code-share flight to Montreal that was really run by American Airlines. But between the time that I booked the flight and Friday, my connecting flight was removed from the schedule and replaced by another one that was NOT a code-share flight. So my reservation went into airline purgatory and my travel agent wasn't notified. Neither Alaska nor American took responsibility for re-booking me on another flight, and when I tried to check in Alaska no longer had a record of a connecting flight for me. In fact, it's worse: the Alaska agent checked me in for the Chicago flight and told me I needed to go to the American ticket counter to check in for the connecting flight in Chicago, but neglected to tell me that she had only checked my bag through to Chicago. I caught this as I walked away fromt he counter and my bag was disappearing into the back on the converyor belt. I grabbed the attention of the supervisor, who was very nice and called down to the baggage handlers to grab my bag off the belt while she called over to American Airlines to sort out my conencting flight. Fifteen minutes later, I had a reservation on a connecting American flight and a promise that the Alaska baggage handlers would re-tag my bag to get it to Montreal. The good news is that my bag did in fact show up in Montreal, but I had to spend all day wondering if that particular miracle would happen.

3. Airline staff who care, or lack thereof. The supervisor at the Alaska counter was the rare exception. My best guess is that airline personnel are so worried about their company going bankrupt and being out of a job, or the courts invalidating their union contract, that their thoughts are just elsewhere. I'm sure they're well-meaning, and that they have their own struggles with the state of air travel today, but they sure do seem checked out.

4. Security checkpoints. As if everything else wasn't enough of a pain in the butt, you literally have to run the gauntlet. Jacket off. Zip-up sweatshirt off. Shoes off. Belt off. Watch off. Cell phone, keys, change out of pockets. Laptop out of carry-on bag. Fight other harried passengers for enough grey buckets to put all this stuff in. Remember to keep boarding pass with you. Hope you don't get randomly spot-checked. Then on the other side, as carryons and buckets accumulate and run into each other, struggle to put your shoes back on, sweater and jacket, belt, watch, put the laptop back in the carryon, make sure you didn't forget your boarding pass (which you had to set down to re-dress and pack up everything again). Then get out of the way fast. On days I'm travelling, I find myself dressing for the sole purpose of speeding my trip through the security line.

Whil in general I'm not living my life to accumulate large quantities of money, I find myself increasingly wanting to get rich just so I can afford to buy a private plane and get a pilot's license, and/or fly executive jets, just to avoid commercial air travel whenever possible. It would be money well spent.

10:05:04 AM    comment []

I'm in Montreal for CHI 2006, then on to Princeton for an advisory board meeting for their engineering school next week.

I'm working up a really good rant about air travel, snce my flight out here very nearly went wrong on Friday. But I'll save that for another post.

Friday morning I dropped my kids off at school, and headed for the airport. On my way in the car I was listening to Marc Broussard, and the untitled/uncredited song at the end of the CD came on.

I wish you freedom
I wish you peace
I wish you nights of stars that beckon you to sleep
I wish you heartache that leaves you more of a man
I wish I could be there, but I can't

I wish you places that sit so still
Where people never ever change and never ever will
I wish I could hold you and make you understand
I wish I could be there, but I can't

Be good for your mama
Cause she'll need a hand to hold
Boy, she loves you
More than you'll ever know
There are rhymes and there are reasons
And times when nothing stayed the same
But you know my love still remains

I wish you wisdom
I wish you years
I wish you armies to conquer all your fears
I wish you courage for all that life demands
I wish I could be there, but I can't

Be good for your mama
Cause she'll need a hand to hold
Boy, she loves you
More than you'll ever know
There are rhymes and there are reasons
And times when nothing stayed the same
But you know my love still remains

I wish we were together
I wish I was home
I wish there were nights where I was never alone
I know I've said it but I'll say it once again
I wish I could be there, but I can't

Damn. I wasn't ten miles from the airport and my heart was already achng to turn around, stay home, and spend more time with my kids. Particularly since I missed a performance of my daughters' choir on Friday night, and I'm going to miss opening night of the school play this coming Friday. In three years they're graduating from high school and heading off to college, and here I sit in a $^%&! hotel room in Montreal, two thousand miles away from them.

I really look forward to CHI every year, but this year the conference hasn't even started yet and I'm already dying to get home. But thanks, Marc, for reminding me where my priorities should be.


8:11:05 AM    comment []

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