Cynical Synapse

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?


Sun, 15 Feb 2009

Banks Jack Credit Card Rates

Filed under: Bailout, Business, Customer service, Economy, Life, Rants — cynicalsynapse @ 11:18 pm

Alrighty, then. The big banks (Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America) each got TARP money. And all financial institutions enjoy the benefit of the Federal Reserve discount rate of a mere 0.50%. The prime rate is 3% above the Federal funds rate of 0.25%, or 3.25%. Why, then, are they raising credit card rates? So, the banks can pay bonuses, buy new private jets (ok, so Citi backed out on taking delivery), buy each other up, and still not make loans to ordinary folk.

Since consumer credit is still dried up, no one is buying anything. As a result, thousands are laid off weekly, if not daily. And now, credit card rates are going up when most people cannot afford the extra cost. Within the last month, I got notices of two hikes. First, my Chase-managed Speedy Rewards card jumps from 13.24% to 19.24% (prime plus 15.99) beginning with the March billing. No, thank you. I stopped using the card when Speedway changed from cash rebates to Speedy Rewards points.

It’s not just big banks, though. One of my credit union cards, which is handled by Town North Bank Nevada, just sent me a notice the rate is going from 9.50% to the “index” rate plus 6.5 (17.99 for cash advances). The “index” rate is the highest prime rate in the preceding 3 months, but not less than 6%. So, the Town North card’s rate jumped to 12.5%, beginning with April’s billing period. No word, yet, from my other credit union.

Sun, 01 Feb 2009

Groundhog Day and Potholes

Filed under: Cars, Customer service, Driving, holidays, Life, Michigan, People, Rants — cynicalsynapse @ 1:08 pm

The Groundhog Day legend claims if the groundhog sees his shadow, we’ll have six more weeks of winter. Conversely, according to lore, if the groundhog does not see his shadow, spring will be early. This seems backwards to me: if the sun is out and casting shadows, isn’t it more likely to also offer warmth and melt snow? And, overcast—with no shadows—portends precipitation, which is snow during the winter months. The other fallacy of the Groundhog Day tradition is there’s no fidelity to the concept of spring coming early. Is that a day? A week? Or, perhaps, just seconds. Statistically, the groundhog is right about 39% of the time. Here’s my take: if the groundhog sees his shadow, we’ve got six more weeks of winter; if he doesn’t, spring will be here in a month and a half.

What’s this got to do with potholes? Simple. We’re in pothole season—perhaps Groundhog Day marks the official beginning of pothole season. Matt Helms discusses Michigan’s horrible roads, advising us to get ready for pothole hell in his Detroit Free Press column today. In his column, several road maintenance people hold to three important points: there are two more months of winter, there will be lots of potholes, and there is a shortage of time and money to fix them. The first point supports my belief in how the groundhog’s weather predictions really work. The second is an obvious fact of Michigan’s roads.

As for the third point, it really has more to do with the Groundhog Day movie. These pothole problems manifest themselves every year, over and over again. And, just like the State of the Union address we here the same old platitudes. We’ll do our best. There’s not enough money. Blah, blah, blah. What transportation officials are really telling us is we should expect sub-par services. At least they’re being up front about it, but I have issues with that. It’s the same cost-shifting to consumers that has road commissions wait until after rush hour to salt or plow the highways. Both end up with costly towing and repair bills.


Here’s a better solution. Instead of having 6 truck patching convoys, how about cutting it down to 3 trucks? I understand needing to protect the workers, but what’s gained by having 2 trucks with arrows and two trucks with those collision barracade things instead of one each? And what’s the additional truck for, a relief shoveler? Cutting the size of work crews in half will allow the road commission and MDOT to address a lot more potholes with the same resources. Some of us call that concept “bang for the buck.”

Since it’s just not feasible for road workers to get to every pothole as soon as it opens up, drivers still have to be careful. There are some pothole survival tips from Ford Motor Company. Permit me to point out, however, I disagree with the blog author’s perspective of southeast Michigan road commissions, especially Oakland County’s. A caveat: they have done a better job overall with snow removal this year, but they still fall short. There’s no excuse for waiting until after rush hour when you know the day before the snow is coming.

Fri, 26 Dec 2008

Why They Don’t Call Them Service Stations

Filed under: Behavior, Business, Cars, Customer service, Driving, Life, Michigan, Rants — cynicalsynapse @ 12:46 pm

Used to be the place you got gasoline was called a service station. Back in the day, they sold wiper blades, tires, and had mechanics and garage bays to work on cars–service. Nowadays, you’d be hard pressed to find a station with even auto parts, let alone a maintenance bay or mechanic. They’re convenience stores that happen to sell gasoline to get you to stop there.

Global warming aside (snicker), its winter in Michigan and it’s been below freezing for much of this month. It’s also been snowing and sleeting. When the road commissions finally get around to salting the roads, you end up with lots of salt scum on your car. It dries on the windshield and obscures visibility. Drivers end up going through a lot of windshield wiper fluid so they can see where they’re going.

Salt scum splattered on a car

Used to be you could clean your windshield while getting gasoline, which was handy if you ran out of fluid in your car or if it froze. Now, the frozen in the water or just plain not there. Why? Because the stations are too cheap to put windshield washer solvent in the little buckets. Just another reason why they don’t call them service stations anymore.

Sun, 01 Jul 2007

Flying Ain’t Fun…

Filed under: Customer service, Flying, Rants, Travel — cynicalsynapse @ 5:40 pm

I just came home from a trip to Orlando to do the theme park thing. Overall, the trip was pretty good (hard to believe coming from a cynic, eh?), but some of my experiences is what got me started on this blog—my first!

Maybe I’m old and the novelty’s just worn off, but flying ain’t fun! Mind you, I don’t travel all that much, but I really kind of dread commercial air these days. The whole experience just kind of leaves me feeling like, well, cattle! Yeah, I know flying is the safest mode of travel. What do you think they tell the cows on the way to the slaughterhouse? “Come on, Bessie! Ya know truckin’ never killed any cows…”

The fun begins with “express check-in.” Queue up, check your bags, get your boarding pass. Moo-ve on over to the snaking line (aren’t cattle afraid of snakes?) for the security check. Forgive me, but I think there’s only been ONE attempted shoe bomber. So why do the rest of us rule-followers have to take off our shoes to go through the bomb-sniffing machine and the metal detector? Was the shoe bomb metallic? Would it have showed up on the x-ray machine? Why are MY shoes suspect? Don’t even get me started on the whole liquids thing. Some are okay, some are not, some have to be in plastic bags, some don’t. What’s up with that? Hmmm. Maybe a plot to get us to buy expensive bottles of water from the airport vendors?

I’ve never flown in first class—always last class. Yeah, I said I’m not a frequent flyer, but I have enough miles for a free round-trip ticket (just not on the flights I needed this last time around…go figure!). I have long legs and used to ask for the exit row. Now they charge for the privilege of being responsible for getting everyone else of the plane in case of disaster. But, you can’t buy that upgrade online until 24-hours in advance of the flight. Who’s got time to log in and do that when you’ve still got all that packing to do? (Did I mention I’m also a procrastinator?) So, I cram myself into a last-class seat, wishing I had brought a snack because I’m not about to pay $2 for a baby can of Pringles ® or $5 for a day-old sandwich and trailmix. And listen to my MP3 player because the jacks in the armrest are silent on this 757 even though Delta sports a variety of music (and complimentary snacks) on its flights, gate-to-gate. I guess the airline I’m on, also fresh from bankruptcy, is so cheap they won’t even spin the hardrive for coach. Is there music in first class to go with their snack?

No complaints on the flights themselves to and from (surprisingly). They left more or less on time and arrived more or less when they were supposed to! Of course, they were full and there was some turbulence on the way down, but no major problems. Amazing for an airline that’s averaging less than 75% on time this year and canceled over a thousand flights in the last week alone. The arrival airports even knew we were coming and had gates ready for us. (Did you ever wonder why, sometimes, the plane lands and has to wait for a gate? Didn’t they know it had taken off an hour or 2 ago?)

About that parking lot shuttle guy who expected—actually demanded—a tip. That’s his job! Go work in a restaurant if you feel entitled to tips. I don’t mind tipping for exceptional service but there’s just not much to picking up people at the terminal and dropping them off by their cars. And, he was a little uppity anyway. Don’t spend that buck all in one place, buddy. How’s that for a bonus tip?

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