Archive for the ‘Airlines’ Category

Service of Nosey Smart Speakers That Gossip

Monday, June 25th, 2018


I’ve never wanted live-in help, not that I’ve had that option. I couldn’t relax or have an argument in peace. Unless I needed round the clock nursing, I wouldn’t want a non family member around all the time to observe my habits.

For this reason I cannot imagine inviting into my house a smart speaker like Amazon Echo or Alexa, Google Home, Home Mini and Home Max or Sonos One. The speakers allow voice commands to control tech elements in a home, office or hotel room. Fans consider them as helpers; I see them as potential giant eavesdroppers by total strangers.


Amazon Echo boasts 15,000 skills. It can buy stuff on Amazon while it supports smart home devices. I’m perfectly happy to log on to Amazon if I need something or open Facebook on my smartphone, but I’m clearly alone. According to, 39 million Americans own one.

Strangers already know far too much about us. In “What the Airline Knows About the Guy in Seat 12A,” Scott McCartney wrote in The Wall Street Journal, “Airlines know a lot about you, from date of birth and home address to travel patterns, vacation preferences, beverage purchases and whether your last flight was good or bad.”


In the same newspaper, Laura Stevens wrote: “Echo home speakers mistakenly recorded a private conversation and sent it to a person in the owners’ contact list, an incident that raises questions about the security of such voice-operated devices.” The title and subtitle of her article say a lot: “Amazon Alexa-Powered Device Recorded and Shared User’s Conversation Without Permission–Amazon said the incident involved a series of misunderstandings, with words being confused for commands.”

Kim Komando, the computer/digital lifestyle expert, shared a news brief on WCBS radio last week announcing that as a result of a deal between Amazon and Marriot-owned hotels, there will soon be an Alexa smart speaker in every room. You can ask it to have housekeeping bring you more towels, make dinner reservations and have easy access to all hotel amenities. It’s a sales win for Amazon but not so hot for your privacy. She didn’t sound so tickled about the “advancement” either.

Stevens concluded: “‘The privacy side has not been fully fleshed out with digital assistants,’ said Gene Munster, managing partner at Loup Ventures, a venture-capital firm specializing in tech research. Digital assistants still need more training to interpret commands and language more perfectly, he said, something that consumers should consider with the devices in their homes. ‘Eventually we’re going to get it figured out’ but it’s not there yet, he said.”

Do you really want a cake on your airline seat should you be traveling on your birthday or would you find that creepy? Do you mind giving up privacy so you can say, “Turn on my TV” or “Get me more towels,” instead of clicking on the remote or picking up the phone in your hotel room? Would you be tempted when the technicians have a better handle on ensuring that there would be no glitches in transmitting your commands or would the privacy issue still prevent you from jumping in to join the smart speaker craze?


Service of Hourly Work–No Bed of Roses

Thursday, May 31st, 2018


Hourly workers have more than minimum wage pay and taxes nibbling away at their income. They must fight to get the full wages due because of technology that gyps them and also upends and holds their lives hostage by changing their work schedules at the last minute.


Rachel Feintzeig in her Wall Street Journal article reported something that doesn’t get sufficient attention. The headline: “Employees Say Time-Tracking Systems Chip Away at Their Paychecks–Employers maintain the methods keep labor costs predictable and reduce time spent recording breaks.”

Workers are suing American Airlines, Kroger and Montage Hotels & Resorts, to name a few businesses “for unfairly subtracting fractions of their hourly wages using time-tracking technology.” These “rounding policies” over years can amount to $thousands in lost pay.

Some hourly hospital workers are in the same boat as their counterparts in airline, supermarket and hospitality industries. Often they can’t leave a patient to grab a bite of lunch yet they are automatically dunned a half an hour of pay each day for a break not taken. Workers in call centers who stay past their shift to finish a call claim that the time “is rounded away.”


The fines made against businesses represent chump change to employers who have saved $millions in unpaid wages. Elizabeth Tippett, a professor at the University Of Oregon School Of Law told Feintzeig that casino workers in Nevada were awarded $450,000 when the gaming company they sued saved $12.6 million in wages thanks to its rounding policies. After litigation costs the employees shared $207,500.


The software creates a “heads I win, tails you lose” dynamic with employers holding all the cards causing additional miseries for hourly workers. Feintzeig wrote: “Time-tracking software is usually part of a broader workforce management system that records absences and schedules workers. These suites of software have come under fire from attorneys general in New York and other states for enabling employers to switch around shift assignments at the last minute, creating unpredictable schedules for workers.”

Time tracking technology is also big business–$12 billion worth. Clearly more than a few companies use it.

Do these workers have a prayer in today’s economic climate that favors the rich and ignores everyone else?


Service of Travel II

Monday, June 17th, 2013

Airport Trave

It’s vacation travel time again—three friends are leaving for trips this week.

I’ve covered the topic in countless ways: About a friend’s nightmare–literally spending the night at an airport when her flight was cancelled in “Service of Travel” and in “Service of Gagging Customers,” about the aftermath of the Costa Concordia accident. There was “Service of Good Samaritans,” about railroad travel and an amazing, caring conductor; “Service of Tourism,” about Portland, Maine that does a stupendous job and more.

Here’s today’s lineup:

Wait a Minute or 20

Customer service nowA colleague was on hold for 22 minutes Friday in response to an urgent message left by her airline about her return flight three days later. The recorded wait message repeated incessantly “we will be right with you” instead of a truthful “There are 40 people ahead of you,” or “Your wait will be approximately 20 minutes.”

Once there was a live voice she asked the customer service staffer why she’d been bumped and was told “I don’t know” and was then given an option for her return flight of the day after her original flight.

Could the airline run smoothly if its operators and crew showed up a day late for their jobs? And what if, for this phone call, she wasn’t on a landline or with access to electrical outlets but on the street or on a bus with a mobile phone that needed a charge?

All Aboard

Railroad tracksArthur and Pauline Frommer are my companions on Sundays as their weekly radio travel program coincides with house and garden work and errand time. I looked up Arthur’s early May blog post “Americans Were Recently Made Aware of How Much We Spend on Air Transportation As Compared With How Little We Spend on Rail Transportation,” because I couldn’t forget what he’d said.

As a result of reports about the Sequester’s affect on air travel, he figured out that air traffic controllers cost the Federal Government $13 billion a year, “And that’s only a fraction of the much larger amount spent each year by the federal government on air transportation,” he wrote. He continued: “By contrast, we spend about 1 billion dollars a year subsidizing Amtrak.”

He reported that he’s reprimanded every time he suggests the government subsidize railroads with comments such as: “How horrendous!” and “How incredible to suggest that the federal government should dig into its pockets for rail transportation. How anti-American! How anti-free-enterprise!”

He wrote that he responds, “Absent from their arguments is any mention of the infinitely greater sums the federal government spends on highways and vehicular traffic, and on airports and aviation.” corroborated Frommer’s figures and identified the fact that many are choosing the railroad.  “In fiscal year 2012, Amtrak was approved to receive an operating subsidy of $466 million. The remainder of government help for capital improvements and debt service was estimated at $950 million,” according to CNN.

“Nearly 90 percent of the rail service’s ridership since 1997 has been on trips under 400 miles. Along with a 55 percent jump in passengers, it generated a positive operating surplus of $47 million in 2011, according to a new report released by the Brookings Institution.”

Ruining It For Others

PinnocchioIn “Service of Reviews,” in a previous post, I wrote about the self-serving, fraudulent kind, a subject also inspired by Arthur and Pauline Frommer.

In a recent program they mentioned yet another executive caught red-handed. I found, on line, the complete story in the article “TripAdvisor reviewer exposed as hotel executive: A senior executive at one of the world’s largest hotel groups has admitted breaching TripAdvisor’s rules by posting dozens of glowing reviews about the firm’s properties,” by Oliver Smith in The Telegraph.

Smith reported that Kwikchex–that he described as an “online reputation management firm”–identified the reviewer and his true stripes. TripAdvisor rules, wrote Smith, state that reviews “‘written by ownership or management; including past employees or anyone associated with/related to employees of the property in question’ will not be permitted. It adds that ‘individuals affiliated with a property may not review other properties of the same type (accommodation, restaurant, or attraction) within the same city or town, or within 10 miles of that property.’”

The executive admitted he’d written the reviews explaining that he’d visited and graded each property, had given high ones to competitors and hadn’t always been complimentary about his own. Smith quoted why the executive chose to use a pseudonym: “Because I cover such a wide range of travel experiences, it would not be appropriate to review them as a company representative….. However, it is fair to say that my professional position should have been mentioned in any reviews of hotels.”

Shop Early and Often

Booking airline tkts on line“Attention All Passengers: The Airlines’ Dangerous Descent—And How To Reclaim Our Skies,” a book published last year by a well regarded travel journalist, William J. McGee, opens eyes on a range of topics.

The disclosure that Arthur Frommer landed on in his blog is worth sharing. He wrote McGee “is claiming that numerous airlines have begun collecting data on their passengers and would-be passengers–their previous purchases, the extent of their cost-conscious attitudes, their race, income and gender, whether they make impulse purchases or else ‘shop around’–and then tailoring the prices offered to them according to those personal characteristics. Two passengers requesting the same flight at the same time are quoted different prices on the airlines’ websites!”

In Pauline Frommer’s interview with McGee it was clear that you get the best price if you don’t buy the first time you visit an airline website. Keep checking at different times.

Unrelated to this interview, Pauline Frommer has frequently advised callers planning to travel with others not to book all the tickets at once because you’ll pay more for each ticket than if you book one at a time.

Do you have tips—and/or positive/negative airline customer service experiences–to share? Do you believe online customer reviews? Should the government increase its railroad subsidies?

Modern railroad station




Service of Travel

Thursday, May 24th, 2012


As some airlines are reported to squeeze more money out of infrequent flyers and those who book later rather than sooner, I thought that Catherine C’s recent experience was an especially fitting one to share on the eve of Memorial Day weekend.

According to recent airline shenanigans, frequent travelers flying coach on these airlines are given first dibs for window and aisle seats. Standard travelers who don’t reserve early can ensure that they will sit next to family, friends and colleagues by forking over $25 each way. So you had planned to travel with your bride/groom, grandma or the kids? Such folly! Be prepared to say “See you when we land.”

Catherine C has written several guest posts on this blog such as “Service of Pets” and “Service at the High End.” The recent harrowing travel experience she shares was caused by weather.

flyingbadweatherWeather is an inevitable factor for all in the travel business. Yet there were so many ways that the airline and airport might have turned the inconvenience of storms into far less of a stressful nightmare for Catherine and countless others, as she describes:

I had a horror story of a flying experience recently.  Talk about lack of service.

I was coming home from a business trip to Florida, flying to Newark on US Airways via Charlotte.  We were warned, on takeoff, that there would be bad weather en route to Charlotte.  In fact, when we got near, we were forced to circle. 

Because we still couldn’t land, we diverted to Greenville-Spartanburg for fuel. Once there, we were seventh in line and waited a long time.  Eventually, it was our turn but lightning strikes forced another halt. 

When we finally took off–just short of three hours on the ground–it was past the time I should’ve been in Newark. I can’t say the pilot kept us updated as often as would have been nice. The airline did actually give us each two little cookies and didn’t charge. 

When we finally landed in Charlotte, we were not told that the rest of the flight had been cancelled. We were just herded off the plane. We may have been the last flight to land. 

Someone handed me a card with two phone numbers: One to call to rebook and a second to order a discounted hotel room. “Good luck,” he said.  “I doubt you’ll find a room.” 

I was able to use my mobile phone to rebook but nevertheless had to go to the desk to get the ticket issued. There were two agents: a man and a woman.  Fortunately, I got the man.  The woman was quite nasty.  Two colleagues who were with me-I’ll call them G. and L.–got stuck with her.  The best the agent could do for me was an 11:30 flight the next morning.  I wasn’t happy, but at least the seat was in first class.

I later realized that he wasn’t doing me a favor. One of my colleagues was lucky and was booked two flights earlier than mine and one was booked on the flight after that. 

sleepingairport1By now it was around 2:00 am.  It took some 30 minutes working our iPads and iPhones to find out there was no room at the inn and we’d be sitting up all night at the airport.  There had been so many cancellations and we were so late getting in, we didn’t stand a chance.

So we made “camp,”  but here was no place to sleep.  We were forbidden the gate areas, which left the cold concourse with noisy cleaning crews.  Nothing was open, so there was no food. 

Cockroaches came up out of the planters onto the floor in waves, forcing us to get our bags and gear off the floor.  It was 5:00 am before anything opened. Thank goodness for Starbucks, which was first. 

At 5:30 the US Airways Club opened. One of my colleagues is a member and got us in as guests.  The woman at the desk didn’t look happy, and grudgingly helped get two of us on the standby list for earlier flights to Newark.  We were 20th and 21st, I think. 

In the club there was food, newspapers, nice bathrooms, comfy chairs, TV – civilization.  When the early flight rolled around, we all went to the gate.  G. was ticketed and L. got on standby. Both of them fly US Airways frequently. I once did and was in its frequent flyer program, but not for years.  So I didn’t get on the first or next flight either. 

I went to the gate for the 11:30 flight and checked in with the agent.  Giving her my ticket I said, “Tell me I am definitely on this flight.” “No,” she said, “It says you went standby on that last flight.” I told her they never called my name and before leaving the gate I asked whether they were done calling standbys, which they were. 

“How can you do this to me?” I asked her, explaining what the last 12 hours had been like. I didn’t raise my voice; I just looked as exhausted as I was.  I’ll add that I was well dressed, which may have helped.  She didn’t say anything but clicked away for ages and finally handed me a new ticket for the same first class seat.  When the next passenger came to the desk, I overheard that she and I both had been rebooked to the next flight: a commuter flight in another terminal. 

So, the storms were not the airline’s fault and there was no obligation on its part.  But:

1) Why did the airline provide so little information along the way? 

2) Why did one of the gate agents have to be so bloody nasty? 

angrycaller3) Why, in situations like this, is there no provision for people who have to remain in the airport?  No place to rest, eat, warm up? Why can’t the airlines keep their clubs open? 

4) How can they play the kinds of games they do with ticketing?  You have a confirmed ticket but bump you without telling you so as to give the seat to someone they value more than you? 

Ironically, one of the presenters at the conference I just attended had worked at Virgin America, which aims to be the antidote to legacy airlines. I thought quite a bit about that while going through this experience. I think I may give it a try.

What else might the airline and airport have done in such an instance? Have you similar experiences to share? Have you noticed improvements in air travel?


Service of Self-Involvement

Sunday, March 4th, 2012


I’ve written countless posts about people who are self-involved resulting in bad service, manners and attitude. Brides and grooms who inflict destination weddings on friends and family top the list.

In “Social Q’s,” in The New York Times, Philip Galanes responded to a question from California-based parents. They asked whether it was appropriate for them to give a second, bigger reception on home territory for a daughter who could afford to invite only 50 guests to her Sun Valley, Idaho wedding.

beachwedding1I agree with Galanes’ answer. He dismissed the issue of a second reception and focused on the destination reference. He wrote: “Ponying up for airfare and hotels (and giving up a whole weekend) isn’t small potatoes. Many people will still make the trip, but not happily. (And I have 10,000 letters to prove it.)”

He continued: “A wedding is a milestone for the bride and groom, and their nearest and dearest. For the rest of us, the happy occasion may not warrant security lines or credit card debt. Ask your daughter to tally how many folks on her list she would happily trek for. (I’d be hard-pressed to come up with a posse of 10 – and I’ll attend the opening of an envelope.)”

Travel is often involved if the bride and groom are from different continents or thousands of miles apart, but somehow, to fly to where a bride or groom is from seems different.

Have you been to or yourself given a destination wedding? What do you think of the concept? Are there other examples of self-involvement-on-steroids you might share?


Service of Lines II

Monday, January 23rd, 2012


The Frommers travel guide team came out with a list of ten worst airline terminals. Some familiar names in this list are: Chicago Midway; Newark Terminal 2; Laguardia’s US Airways terminal and JFK Terminal 3. [Terminal…what a word for an airport anything! Whew.]

submissiveThree friends who recently returned from Florida, California and Brazil, complained about airport travel. Grievances related to shabby and/or silent treatment by airline staff and all noted that they were especially frustrated because they couldn’t demand a change in attitude. As one put it, regardless of affront, the level of being ignored or of crabby responses, “Submissive passenger behavior is vital so as not to be tossed off a flight.” 

In spite of their vivid descriptions of missing numerous connecting flights then faced with no information, unhealthy over-salted snacks, increasingly miniscule seats with no legroom that are a squeeze even for petite passengers and examples of offhanded, cavalier, inconsiderate behavior by stewards, I decided to focus on the waiting in line aspect of travel.

longgrocerylineI chose lines because I relate to this anxiety. I hate looking like a klutz. I feel slightly nervous when waiting my turn at the wonderful Trader Joe’s on 14th Street in NYC and this store does everything right. There are two lines feeding into as many as 20 cashiers and a “starter” who points to a customer and tells him/her the number of the cashier waiting to ring up their order. The cashier holds up a paddle with the number. I’m apprehensive that I won’t see the paddle among the scramble of carts, customers and cashiers all around and that I’ll cause collective eye-rolling.

Seems I’m not alone in feeling befuddled in line confusion. The Transportation Security Association retrieved over $400,000 in change in the US last year, almost $47,000 at JFK and $19,000 at LA International to name just two airports.

tallbootlaces3One of my friends, a young man who just returned from Florida, said that he wanted to advise/prepare a buddy who hadn’t traveled since the security regs started so as to help smooth the process for him. He didn’t know where to start. He said “Some airports make you take off belts, others don’t-so I’ll suggest he best wear pants that don’t need a belt.

How many layers of clothes should he wear to simplify the undressing process?” [In winter, I routinely wear three and a coat.] Airports differ so we decided the friend best leave any sweater and/or light jacket in a carryon. Forget boots with lots of laces or even sneakers with laces: Slip-ons slip off  fastest. We left in the air the answer to the next question: What’s the best place to store your ticket and passport/driver’s license after you’ve shown it so you don’t leave it behind along with your change, keys, smartphone and other stuff slated for the tray. 

And I thought I felt apprehensive about promptly finding “my” cashier at Trader Joe! What advice do you have for travelers so as to alleviate travel stress in lines, conversations with airline staff and otherwise?


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