Jan 022008
Well, I’ll probably get around to a couple of thoughtful, intelligent posts later this week, but while I’m still getting back into the swing of things work is taking up all my brain, so you get a list post instead. Science, philosophy, and history will have to wait a day or two.

Holiday Notes

Best Food: Mom’s pumpkin soup. Runners-up: Cranberry meatloaf, peppernuts, oysters.

Most Food: The oyster roast at Aunt Peggy and Uncle Frank’s place in Charleston. Oysters (of course), along with beer, shrimp, barbecue pork, beer, barbecue chicken, grilled sausage, beer, dirty rice, pies, cakes, sangria, pecans, and cordials. Hope you brought some spare coronary arteries.

Cutest Child: Jackson Partch, as long as he has a cookie available. Here you can see him making critical adjustments to his tricycle. Milo, resigned to his fate, naps in the background, resting up for inevitable time when he will be chased around the apartment by a mad triker. Runner-up: Daniel Fuentes.

Best Gift to Anyone: My Dad got a Crosley vinyl-to-CD direct recorder from Mom, which translated into instant joy for him. I got to hear a Dylan bootleg LP, and also the famous Dave Van Ronk mono LP that led Dad to learn the…

Best Music: “One Meatball” Seriously, click the link. Van Ronk’s version is a little angrier and more up-tempo than this mournful Josh White recording.

Funniest Gift: From Kevin Gardner at his lab’s Yankee swap, I received a George W. Bush out-of-office wall calendar containing some of our noble leader’s least intelligent quotes.

Most Depressing Gift: See above.

Best Science: Kevin’s graduate thesis, with some crazy metal-ion R1 dispersions.

Worst Science: Pretty much anything Fred Thompson says.

Best Game: Sudoku, of which Brain Age has probably 100+. Sudoku is pretty ideal for a touch-driven computer game, because you don’t really remember these puzzles, and they contain relatively few symbols. Notation on the touch screen is also much cleaner than on paper. So there are advantages to this approach for the producer as well as the consumer. Needless to say, I really like my DS. Runner-up: Final Fantasy III, which lacks the cohesive story of later installments but is a very pleasant old-school RPG. Touch screen elements were obviously stapled on, however, and in most ways the game plays better using the buttons.

Travel Notes

Best Airline: JetBlue, who gave me a $25 voucher because of a minor delay. That’s a consumer bill of rights that works. I wish they flew everywhere.

Best Airport Television: Charleston International (sic) Airport didn’t have TV, or at least had it turned down so low I couldn’t notice it. That makes it the winner.

Worst Airport Television: Chicago Midway, broadcasting WGN, which during my layover was airing what appeared to be the “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” loudest idiot retrospective, followed by the Maury Povich paternity test special. (Dis)Honorable Mention: CNN’s Tony Harris, who just may be the worst interviewer and anchor on any news channel anywhere.

Best Seat: JetBlue. I couldn’t care less about the in-seat television — curiously, mine had its image reversed right-to-left, which I found very distracting, so I turned it off. But that legroom… wonderful, especially compared to the…

Worst Seat: On my AirTran flight from Atlanta back to Boston I was in the “fuselage” seat in the very back of a 737. I say “fuselage” because without a window it cannot really be a “window” seat.

Best Airport: There are no good airports.

Worst Airport: Dallas – Ft. Worth. I know you want me to say Atlanta, but it turned out that my connection there was just a few gates down, and the weather at that point was reasonably good up and down the coast, so I went through none of the hassle that can make Atlanta truly awful. DFW has a positively ridiculous layout, however, and a slower security line than even Logan. (Dis)Honorable Mention: Birmingham International (sic) Airport, for the longest baggage wait in history.

Strangest Airline Habit: Not leaving the whole can. Are you really saving that much money? I mean, with your purchasing volume, a can of Coke costs what, $0.30? If I’m paying $100 for an hour-long flight, does that $0.15 really make that much of a difference to your margin?

Aug 062007

And ends with me, as far as I’m concerned. My trip down to Charleston was a comic travesty of airline mismanagement. I don’t mean to say that it was the worst flying experience ever, or even that it was my worst flying experience ever. It was just a classic example of the pathetic failures of modern airlines.

The trip began with a 5AM phone call telling me my flight out of Boston had been cancelled, but that I had been put on another flight an hour later. At the gate, it became clear that the 12:30 had also been cancelled, and that the (I imagine) sparse occupancy of three different planes had been crammed together to make one very full 11:30 flight to Philly. Of course, it was also worth noting that the plane looked like it was falling apart on the inside – a large number of the overhead panels (with the lights and air nozzles) were pushed out of line with each other, or tilted about 3 degrees relative to the luggage compartments.

The flight from there to Charleston was unremarkable (although my cousin Eleanor was not so lucky and her luggage disappeared when she took the same flight a day later). We all had a good time with the Warner clan, and most of the Lyons and Heinsohn branches were also represented (though cousin Frank couldn’t make it). Eleanor disappeared for an hour and a half and freaked out her parents, and I ate way too much of Aunt Peggy’s shrimp salad.

On my way back to Boston, my flight out of Charleston got cancelled, supposedly for a mechanical problem. The clerk said the usual spiel about how it was better that they stopped the flight than flew with a bad plane, but this misses the point. In a competent company, the plane doesn’t have a mechanical problem in the first place. Planes get serviced, and unservicable planes get removed from the fleet. At the very least, the company should have spares available regionally to pick up the slack. My own suspicion, however, is that the plane was fine except for not being full enough to make the flight profitable. Thus, people were shunted onto alternate routes. I ended up flying to LaGuardia rather than Charlotte and got home 3 hours late. My bags arrived on time, however; they took the 1 PM LGA-BOS flight while I had to wait till the 2 o’clock. This fact was announced only after the later flight’s bags had rolled around on the conveyor belt — a paltry 20 or so bags for a nearly-full flight. I found my bag sitting in front of the luggage office and ran while I still could.

Was anything really awful about this? No. But it’s not really awful experiences that convince me to stay away from something. Truly terrible experiences, like wonderful ones, tend to be statistical anomalies and shouldn’t be focused on unless they recur. It’s the grating, repetitive march of insensitive and unprofessional behavior that really puts me off air travel in general, and now US Airways in particular. I’ll probably have to fly with them in the future, but dang if I don’t hope to avoid it.