Thursday, July 31, 2008

Not to Brag, But......

For those of you who may think that this person and her opinions about travel and transit may just be a phantom or a virtual creation:

Yes, Virginia...Not only is there a Santa Claus...but yours truly does have outside concerns. The interest in transit has been a lifetime thing, starting with riding the subways in NYC as a youngster.

This may not bring about world peace, heck this may not even stop some folks in the media from calling streetcars, light rail and their kin 'toonerville trolleys'. If it gets some folks [especially those clowns in the government] to actually THINK for once, then it was worth setting pen to paper, fingers to the keyboard and sentences into cohessive paragraphs.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Nothing new...Guess everyone took Paul Simon's advice

It has been a while and so far, there is nothing that has shown up on the radar screen. Must be that things are going very well. Then again, the New York Mets thought they would have clear sailing into the postseason last year before the Phillies got to them and David Beckham thought playing in the US would be a piece of cake after playing all those years for Manchester United. But it has been uncharacteristically silent...and this brings up what I think some of these folks may be doing...which is connected to an old song by Paul Simon.

A couple hints here for those of you who may know this tune: it has been covered by Yes and Renaissance [in the case of Renaissance, it is an unofficial single...even though they said they would release it as such in 82-83], plus the last stanza features a line that seems to get one heck of an ovation when it is played. This is due to the name of a road that no matter what part of the US or even Europe one is from, it is that well known. If you are stumped, the song is 'America' [Yes, Ray Charles does one hell of a version of 'America the Beautiful' which while not the same song, both can give chills up the spine]. So to lighten the mood, here are the lyrics for same...and you will see the name of the road that was mentioned:

"Let us be lovers,
We'll marry our fortunes together.
I've got some real estate
Here in my bag."

So we bought a pack of cigarettes,
And Mrs. Wagner's pies,
And walked off
To look for America.

"Kathy," I said,
As we boarded a Greyhound in Pittsburgh,
"Michigan seems like a dream to me now.
It took me four days
To hitchhike from Saginaw.
I've come to look for America."

Laughing on the bus,
Playing games with the faces,
She said the man in the gabardine suit
Was a spy.I said,
"Be careful,
His bow tie is really a camera."

"Toss me a cigarette,
I think there's one in my raincoat."
"We smoked the last one
An hour ago."
So I looked at the scenery,
She read her magazine;
And the moon rose over an open field.

"Kathy, I'm lost,"I said,
Though I knew she was sleeping.
"I'm empty and aching and
I don't know why."

Counting the cars
On the New Jersey Turnpike.
They've all come
To look for America,
All come to look for America,
All come to look for America.

Yep...brings tears to these eyes because when one could actually count those cars on the Turnpike, it was a simpler time in this corner of the planet.

And to think,while airfares were high and travel via plane was considered to be about as special as Sunday dinner at the relatives, the cost of gas rivaled the price of a pack of Topps baseball cards. Sadly...not any more....

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Not hotel related - however plane related

There is no real news on the hotel front, so to speak. All is quiet and the squirrels have been fed. But something I have noticed on the main page of that mainstay of internet tabloid journalism [not to mention questionable taste] - that being the AOL Homepage which is somewhat bothersome. This being airfares that look as though they were being sold by Crazy Eddie.

True believers, as you remember a while back in this space, that chain was mentioned in a previous post and it looks like his ghost [and the multiple children of same] has come back to haunt us again. Over the past few weeks there has been a listing of fares from $39 to some destinations. But as some people would intone with a voice like Ben Stein: 'read the fine print' because there may be additional fees that will make this almost seem like a joke. Such as:

-soft drinks
-use of headphones
-additonal seat room
-extra checked bags
-real food
-facilty usage
-ancillary and sundry taxes

It is getting to the point where even buying a ticket to fly from let's say Seattle to Spokane is going to look like one bought a fully loaded Ford Taurus [or for you fans of the movie Fargo, a tan Oldsmobile Sierra]. And that is without the frills. Plus no one can negotiate the price at the gate. Then again...would anyone here actually trust an agent at the counter who was a former car salesman?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

A minor correction here...Mea Culpa

From time to time, like most humans I am prone to make a mistake, an error. As such, like Vin Scully once did during a baseball broadcast many years back...Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa, Mea Maxima Culpa.

This has to do with missidentifying the owner of the Econolodge Chain. No dear readers, it is not Wyndam Hotels as I had listed here, they are run by another organization. Yours truly was gently admonished about this and seeing that this is going to be a place of honesty and fairness, if there is an error on my part and it needs to be corrected, it will be....simple as that.

Now if you do hear of anything else that needs to be reported in this space, by all me or if you see yours truly in town or over at yon friendly neighborhood sandwhich shop ordering a $5 footlong [guess the chain!!!], hail me and tell me the scoop. It will get aired here, sans mistakes...or as few as possible. After all, as my cats remind me, I am human.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

American follows suit..sort of [Stay Tuned]

Maybe it is the full moon or that the Tampa Bay Rays have actually put together a winning team...but apparently American Airlines [yes the same ones mentioned in a previous post], if the NBC report this evening is accurate is about to fire over 1,000 mechanics at their hub in Dallas-Ft Worth and other cities. Yes folks....mechanics.

This may not seem scary to some folks, however consider the following: if safety is the main concern of any airline or company involved in public transport, why in hell would a company in order to cut costs fire the same persons who actually insure that the planes are not just in working order but AIRWORTHY according to FAA rules? Put another way, is American about to become the US version of the old Soviet Aeroflot?

Stay tuned everybody because this is about to get even more interesting. When planes start to fall out of the sky or have parts falling off at the drop of a hat, remember..... you saw it here first....and hopefully the last warning needed.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

And a return to our regular program....

A dear friend of mine sent me this link to the BBB of Fort Worth, Texas. It seems that the little gnome over at Travelocity has created a new character for an 8th Dwarf....Snarky.

If you see a link to a local BBB or even to the local Eyewitness [or whichever slug is being used] News Consumer reporter, send them in!!!! Let's keep the heat on these folks!!!

As goes US Airways, so goes United, Delta, American and friends...Gravediggers get your shovels

Ordinarily in this space, I would be posting the latest scam or scams that are currently being run by the previously mentioned hotel reservation sites. HOWEVER, there was some breaking news this evening which makes this somewhat trivial, in that while getting taken by a hotel may cost you money, what was announced today by US Airways may cost you and those flying with you your lives.

The reason for this alarm is the following article, which I will post the link for and the Associated Press piece in its entirety:

As for the text:

US Airways pilots: We're pressured to cut fuel By JOAN LOWY and CHRIS KAHN Associated Press Writers

WASHINGTON — The pilots union for US Airways said Wednesday the airline is pressuring pilots to use less fuel than they feel is safe in order to save money.

US Airways Captain James Ray, a spokesman for the US Airline Pilots Association, which represents the airline's 5,200 pilots, said eight senior pilots and the union have filed complaints with the Federal Aviation Administration.

The union also paid for a full-page ad in Wednesday's USA Today addressed to "our valued passengers." The ad accuses the airline of "a program of intimidation to pressure your captain to reduce fuel loads."

Ray said soaring jet fuel prices have sent all the airlines scrambling to find ways to cut the weight of airliners because the heavier the plane, the more fuel the plane burns. US Airways, based in Tempe, Ariz., has recently removed movie players, redesigned its meal carts and replaced glassware with plastic to cut weight.

Jet fuel has surpassed labor as the airline industry's greatest expense.
But US Airways recently crossed the line when it ordered eight pilots who requested "an extra 10 to 15 minutes worth of fuel" to attend training sessions, or "check rides," that could put their pilot licenses in jeopardy, Ray said. The pilots were supposed to report for their training sessions Wednesday, he said.

"We feel they're trying to set an example," Ray said. "Captains shouldn't be intimidated into thinking, 'If I say I need this fuel, they may send me for a check ride.' ... Cutting peanuts off the plane, that's one thing. But cutting a captain's fuel level below his comfort, that's another thing."
US Airways spokesman Morgan Durrant said the decision to bring in the eight pilots for extra training was not meant to be punitive. "That's totally not true," he said.

During the past few years, the carrier has required its planes to carry enough fuel to pad their flight times by 60 to 90 minutes, Durrant said.

"These eight pilots have routinely been above the 60 to 90 minute range. It just behooves us as a company to talk to these guys, figure out what they're seeing that we're not," Durrant said.
FAA regulations require aircraft to carry enough fuel to reach their destination and an alternate destination, plus 45 minutes worth of fuel, FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said. Also, pilots have the final authority on whether their flight should have extra fuel.

Brown said she is unaware of any specific complaints filed by US Airways pilots or their union, but FAA has been monitoring reports of "minimum fuel loads" at some airports.

"We don't see any evidence right now that there are violations of the regulation," Brown said.
US Airways has studied how much fuel its planes really need to carry, Durrant said. "The heavier an aircraft is, the more fuel it burns, and one of the heaviest portions of an aircraft can be fuel," he said.

US Airways is also buying more fuel efficient aircraft and cutting inefficient routes from its network. Still, an average roundtrip flight costs about $299 worth of fuel per passenger, company officials said.
Associated Press writer Chris Kahn reported from Phoenix.

Yes, it is true. This company is more than willing to put people's lives at risk just to save a few bucks. Granted the news for this broke during a telecast of Larry King on CNN, whose program has been known to dabble in the world of the sensational over the past few weeks. But when one hears the voice of the former inspector general of the FAA, Mary Schiavo openly mention that this move by US Airways is not just insane but is deadly because it will put passengers in danger, the radar goes off. One sits and listens. After all, she did not get the nickname of 'Maximum Mary' for nothing...this was one person who made sure the boys who play with the aluminum tube toys played by the rules.

If you are scared by seeing this and had wanted to fly on US Airways, a word of advice. Don't. That's right...don't do it. Anyone or any company that is this stupid, this willing to take steps this reprehensible, this irresponsible in order to cut fuel costs does not need your money. Unless of course they are going to also include a fee for the recovery of bodies after the first accident occurs. The only ones who are sure to really make money off of this will be US Airways and the local funeral directors if let's say a plane 'due to a lack of power resources' ends up ditching a flight from, let's say Charlotte to Los Angeles in a cornfield not too far from Emporia, Kansas because some jackass in Charlotte was told to only feed the jet with 40-50% less fuel.

And if these jerks, these suits get away with the BS, you can bet any amount of money that the other brothers in crime, I mean the airline business will follow suit. As bad as the threat from terrorists is and will be for some time, this is even worse. Executives, well those here on these shores are supposedly the best on the planet and would never, ever in their most demented fantasies want to put passengers and crew at risk to save a few clams. That is, until now.

As a public service, if you have not had or do not have access to the US Airways site, here is their contact information:

US Airways
4000 E. Sky Harbor Blvd.
Phoenix, AZ 85034

Corporate headquarters location:
111 W. Rio Salado Parkway
Tempe, AZ 85281
Phone: 480-693-0800
7 AM - 5 PM Monday - Friday

Rip them a new one...tell them where they can shove their idea to put people at risk.

A note to anyone who works for US Airways who objects to this post: If you have a problem with this, tell it to the Marines or sue me. I triple dog-dare you to do so...I need the publicity.

Friday, July 11, 2008

As the summer heats up, a cautionary tale....

It is officially summer...the kids are out of school, the smell of BBQ's being fired up can be found on practically every block, the Seattle Mariners have not got a prayer of getting to .500-let alone their lineup getting ABOVE the Mendoza Line...yep it is summer. And if you have noticed each of those lovely online travel sites is advertising rates and offers that almost seem too good to be true. Which brings to mind the tale of a long, gone business whose advertisements have become legend, as well as being taught in every business course from Butte to Biloxi...not to mention ended up being on the program 'Masterminds' about people who thought they were above the law [not that Expedia, Hotwire, Priceline, Orbitz or others operate that way...far from it...that would be ILLEGAL]. So with apologies to the Brothers Grimm and Justin Hayward [The Moody Blues]....

Once upon a time in the far away land of New York City, the borough of Brooklyn to be precise - there was a businessman named Eddie Antar. Eddie had a store in this little burg that was called incorporated as Ultralinear Sound Corporation, but had the dba that was better known. 'Crazy Eddie'. Yes, the same Crazy Eddie whose ads were on practically round the clock, be it radio or television, promising to beat the prices of any and all electronics dealers in the area. Walkman's, car stereos, speakers, recievers, televisions were all being hawked at a fever pitch by a spokesperson who seemed to act like a prehistoric Lewis Black after an all-day diet of Jolt Cola. But it was the promise of those low prices that got people to come in and buy [yes, when I lived back in that far-away land, I used to go there because of the prices. What can I say I was a kid] and the business soon flourished to the point where there was a Crazy Eddie in every corner of the city...almost as many as there are now Starbuck's.

As they grew and became part of the local scene, they started getting a reputation. Not a good one either...if only because not only at times did their ads seem to be to good, their followup when called on to match or beat the prices of other stores was not as promised. Actually less and there were rumours of the old bait and switch, pressuring some folks to buy items they really did not need. But it was the lack of being honest about the price matching that got the most attention...until it was found out later that Eddie had been cooking the books in such a way that would be embarassing to even the dumbest of wiseguys. [At this point it should be mentioned that Mr. Antar ran away overseas where he thought he would not get into any trouble, only to run afoul of the Israeli government and is currently in jail].

What is the connection or lesson that can be gathered from this tale? Crazy Eddie operated also on the idea that not many folks would be sharp enough to read the fine print on the receipts and would only be concerned with the low price and 'great deal' they had gotten. In effect, some travel sites are operating in the same fashion. A deal on a vacation to let's say Barcelona or Buffalo is only as good as the paperwork [or the webpage] that states what all of the terms and conditions are, no matter what. The airlines have picked up on this, as such have wonderful legalese on their sites mentioning all sorts of stipulations about price, scheduling and such. OK, a couple travel sites may be doing this as well...however some seem to be too good to be true. If you see something along those lines, remember Crazy Eddie and other businesses in the same vein. That way this summer..or any other season the only things that would run the risk of being burned would be hot dogs on the grill that were left on about 30 seconds too long.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Is this how business is supposed to run?

There is a post in the comment section which ought to tell folks that anyone who feels that going through those online sites is such a bargain is either smoking rope or has not searched around...or even worse...does not read the fine print:

'Did you know?? Unless, you are booking a reservation, at a FOUR star or higher hotel, you will usually find a better rate on the CHAIN website (e.g. booking a night at the Econolodge with Travelocity will be higher than with after service charges are applied). Also, you are charged at the time of reservation with the GNOME and not till check-in/out with the hotel.'

Granted this is Travelocity, home of the Gnome who looks like something out of the Wizard of Oz with a face that only Gillette or Schick would salivate over. Now this begs the question as to why Econolodge's site does not get as much traffic as it really should? This may have to do with the sad reality that some firms have deep, deep pockets and even deeper throats, I mean relationships with the holding companies of many of the known hotel chains. With that said,why would for example Econolodge for example want to set up their site to compete the sites that seem to be omniplace in their advertisements?

The reason is this and it is rooted in the old-fashioned, American tradition of private enterprise. Most hotels in this chain are owned and operated under a franchise agreement with the main firm in question...that being in this case Wyndam Hotels. BUT...each owner has the opportunity to with each customer to offer something different, something unique. Not to mention even do things price-wise to make the customer feel as though they are the only one staying in the hotel in question [such as offer a rate lower than advertised]. Yeppers, yah sure, you betcha it is old school, quaint...even something for Charles Osgood to talk about on Sundays on CBS as being a part of the passing scene of Americana. However, there are still some businesses that see the customer as being not just right, they feel the need to provide the WOW factor.

If only the Gnome would roam to business school or on the road to look for America [with apologies to Paul Simon, Yes and Renaissance who have all recorded that lyric] and see how the world really does revolve.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Intro and why is this up?


If you do any travelling, be it for business or pleasure, then chances are better than even money you have used an online reservation service to find the best rates, the nearest tourist attraction, eateries, things to keep the children occupied, etc. And while on the whole doing this saves time and money, there are those occassions when things go wrong.

For example, no shuttle bus at the hotel to the local airport, the pool is not as pictured, the location is not near the best tourist attractions, but is next to the local county jail....those sorts of things. You may have also complained to the customer service section of the site in question, only to find out that the person on the other end either is too far away [as in he sounds like he or she is speaking from a remote phone line on Mars], that they will not do the right thing and either refund your credit card or upgrade you to a better room or facility for the price you just paid or lastly when you speak with a supervisor that there is a good reason why his name is Mr. Mumbles. If this has happened to you and you are mad as hell and do not want to take the BS anymore, then this is your place to vent.

Has the Gnome from Travelocity left you high and dry? Say why here!!!!If Expedia is not excellent, give every reason as to why not in this space!!! If Orbitz has left you out in space, rip them a new one!!And if Captain Kirk, I mean William Shatner and Priceline did not negotiate a price that was in your budget and left you feeling as though you and your wallet were given the Vulcan Death Grip, tell him here where he can take and shove his Enterprise!!!

Oh yeah...if you actually have a RAVE about your online experiences booking travel, hotel, rental cars, air, train, those here as well. This is an equal opportunity spot, so 'shine on you crazy diamond' and rave away. [And if you want to use any of the 7 Dirty Words, do not editing will be done from this end. Remember until it is illegal, we all have the right to freedom of expression]