Cynical Synapse

Mon, 27 Apr 2009

When Pigs Fly or the Sky Falls

Filed under: Behavior, Economy, Life, Medicine, Politics — cynicalsynapse @ 8:49 pm

Pigs unite!On Friday, no one—well, very few—had a care in the world. Today, bird flu is a distant memory and swine flu is poised to kill us all! So, can pigs fly? Or is it that Chicken Little was right about the sky falling?

I admit I’ve been skeptical about the whole avian influenza pandemic thing. But how can the swine flu situation have popped up so suddenly and, apparently, unexpectedly? Have public health officials been asleep at the switch? Is this a case of failing to remove the plank from their own eye?

Similar to expectations for avian flu (H5N1), the swine flu (H1N1) tends to affect the young and healthy. But, with 40 confirmed cases in the US, I disagree this constitutes a public health emergency. I work in government, so I’m familiar with some of the games involving funding and jurisdiction. I’m afraid some have adapted labels for political purposes that have entirely different meanings to the average citizen.

Forty confirmed cases in a population of 306.3 million for the USA is a case rate of 1.225 per 100,000 people, or 0.000012%. So far, none of the US cases have been fatal. This is not a pandemic, folks. Yes, the deaths in Mexico are terrible, and the disease warrants monitoring, but it’s not a crisis!

Nonetheless, the stock market’s down today. Not sure if that’s because of GM and Chrysler announcements regarding the automakers’ restructuring efforts, but I suspect not. While GM’s anouncement seems somewhat negative, it was not unexpected. And Chrysler’s is more positive than anticipated. So, it seems swine flu is already affecting the economy. Never mind it’s only a few days old.

Tragic as it is, even Mexico’s fatality rate from H1N1 swine flu is only 0.8 per 100,000. The world health map can help put this in some perspective. That brings us to the real question. Which is the bigger concern? The potential health pandemic or the power of Twitter to misinform? Seems to me a tweet is no more than Chicken Little declaring the sky is falling.

Now, as a safety professional, I have to recommend folks take reasonable precautions. The most effective of these is simply frequent hand-washing. The CDC has others.

Sun, 12 Apr 2009

Miss Your Flight and Airlines Make You Pay!

Filed under: Customer service, Flying, Life, Rants, Travel — cynicalsynapse @ 1:18 pm

If you miss your originating flight, the rest of your trip will be a series of encounters with the Underworld.

Northworst 'logo'

Admittedly, I failed to allow adequate time. Bottom line: we missed our flight out on 03 April. I called Northwest’s reservation center from the airport. I was told there were no more flights available that day, on any airline. Mind you, this is 10 o’clock in the morning, flying from Detroit to San Juan, Puerto Rico. Anyway, a flight was booked for the following day. Never mind that each ticket suffered a $150 “change” penalty, plus a rate increase of $526.50. First lesson: it’s costly to miss your flight!

After checking my email, the new itinerary somehow missed the first leg of the return trip. How could I board a plane in Atlanta if I never left San Juan? Isn’t this common sense? Anther call to Northest to get this piece fixed. A new itinerary shows up in email and it looks like a round trip. Silly me; I figure I’m good at this point.

Fat, dumb, and happy, I enjoy my week in Puerto Rico—6 different beaches in 6 days, lows in the 70s and highs near 90, missed the snow back in Michigan. Then, I show up at the airport and Mr. A. Lugo has to do a lot of computer work to come up with my tickets. Granted, some of this has to do with the Northwest-Delta merger, but I’m sure there’s a residual effect from the first missed flight. He needed my original boarding pass from a week earlier to get us on the plane. We check our bags and take our seats for that flight to Atlanta to catch the second leg to Indianapolis. Why Indianapolis, you wonder? Me too—maybe Delta doesn’t fly direct from its hub in Atlanta to subsidiary Northwest’s hub in Detroit.

In Atlanta, the boarding passes issued in San Juan that morning get new seat assignments. No big deal, right? Well, the same thing happens in Indianapolis and that annoys me a little. This flight is too short for beverage service, so all we get is water. No problem; we had beverages and complimentary peanuts on the previous flights. What a surprise the return of “free” peanuts was. Still, I’d rather have to buy snacks and not pay for that first checked bag. By definition, air travel implies a need for stuff at the other end, which means luggage. To beat the fee, people now bring on carryons that are almost big enough to require being motorized. Did I say I don’t like flying anymore?

Arriving in Detroit, the plane drops us at the far end of Concourse B. We’ve got to go to the center, then down to go under the apron, back up into Concourse A, then down again to baggage claim. To get to the shuttles from baggage claim, you’ve got to go back up again, take the skyway to the parking garage, and go back down again. What a hairbrained design. Oh, and our luggage carousel is the farthest one from our gate. Once the sign changed to read “complete” and the carousel stopped moving, I knew there was a problem. We were missing both suitcases, despite paying $15 for each of them. A walk 7 carousels back, just past the center to “baggage services” yields the information that my suitcase—with my car keys—is on it’s way to Minneapolis, another Northwest hub. My daughter’s never scanned, so maybe it’s still in San Juan! Turns out, however, both bags went to Minneapolis and were delivered to us the next day. Second lesson: don’t pack your keys in your checked luggage.

Delta and Northwest aircraft taxi

Delta and Northwest’s merger seems not to be going so smoothly. On our ride from the parking lot to the airport, a couple on the shuttle told us Delta had bumped them 3 days in a row and they only had 1 day left on their 4-day Disneyworld vacation. The airlines are still pretty much separate from a reservations perspective, although Delta’s Mr. Lugo was able to make the system spit out our tickets in San Juan. And while waiting to make my baggage claim, two people in front of me were looking for luggage from their re-booked Delta flights. The Delta baggage people had 70 some bags that hadn’t been scanned, but if the people’s luggage was at Delta, they’d have to come back to Northwest to file the claim since the Northwest flight was the last one. Oh, and I miss the Northwest red signage which has been replaced by blue Delta signs which also say “Now serving NWA”. How long til they start realizing savings after they repaint planes, field new flight attendant and crew uniforms, resolve other differences, and finally bring all their electronic systems together?

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