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February 2009

Rainy days on the East Coast... and a bit of a US Airways rant

01_09 rain in richmond  

It is a cool rainy day on the East Coast, as witnessed by looking out a  window at the Richmond, VA airport... 'course this is better than the cold sleet yesterday.

So now I am in Charlotte, NC waiting on a one- hour delayed flight back to Phoenix... and pondering how far a good airline has fallen. I should preface these comments by admitting a prejudice: I am a fan of Southwest Airlines, and their business model, but an open disparager of what US Airways has become. Once living a good mid-sized life as America West but fallen into the trap of "bigger and worser." This is not a rant about the how's and path's that led them here but rather a view from the eyes of a tired guy who flies a lot.

Starting with the biggest, I hate the $15. per bag baggage charge, but not because of the cost (although I find it hard to understand the charge when other airlines do not feel the need). No, my complaint is about what It has done to flying with US Airways. So many people choose not to check baggage that boarding has become a true hassle. Many more people haul on board big travel kits that just barely fit in the overheads. It has gotten so bad that gate attendants beg folks on full flights to gate check because there will be no room for everything. On the flight today from Richmond to Charlotte, overhead space was gone about halfway through the boarding process. 'Used to be you could fly a full flight and see open space in the overheads... not anymore.

Another side effect of the baggage charge: it has really slowed down the boarding and disembarking processes. Folks have to maneuver those over-sized bags on to the plane and then get them up into an overhead, often jamming them in. The reverse holds true upon arrival: rip the bag out of overhead and then sloooowly maneuver it down the aisle. This is evidenced by gate attendants once again begging people to gate check in order to "expedite" the boarding process. If you fly a lot you will have noticed the slowdown!

Here is another rant: how can Southwest offer neat little amenities in their terminals for travelers while US Airways just kind of leaves you on your own? To whit: most Southwest gates now sport counters equipped with stools and electrical outlets for us road warriors hauling electronics. At many of their gates they also have big comfortable padded brown chairs, also equipped with power and places to sit a notebook. A side-note word of caution: be careful of the big brown chairs if you are really tired: you may be in danger of sleeping through your departure. US Airways? Suffice it to say I am at one of their major hubs sitting on a floor, back against a wall, after hunting down one of the few electrical outlets on the walls of the terminal. Someone occasionally walks by shooting mean side glances because I claimed one of the few outlets. So, US Airways, if Southwest can do this, why can't you? 

When you arrive at your destination, what about getting that overcharged bag back? It really seems that US Airways is, in almost every airport I go to, the slowest baggage handling going. Wait and wait and wait (while other airlines hustle baggage to the pick up areas) for the bag to finally show up. If less people are checking luggage, why is unloading so much slower? Have you cut back too far on baggage handlers... or do they just not care anymore (a la the problems in Philadelphia a few years back).

And finally, how 'bout a bit of humor and grace under fire. Sure you need to be "professionals," but, hey, LIGHTEN UP a bit; particularly when things are screwed up, like tonight's weather delay. Two big suggestions: it surely seems that every time something gets whacked out, all the gate agents disappear... a US Airways agent is nowhere in site as I sit amongst my fellow travelers waiting for a delayed flight (now over an hour delayed). And secondly, how about a little personality injected into those dry professional announcements. Do you train your gate agents to speak in a bland monotone, or is it a defensive reaction on their parts? Either way, a bit of human interaction training in times of stress sure would help the old image and the moods of your customers. 

I won't even get started on the lack of legroom on flights and the silly charges on beverages. Both, I guess, make prudent business sense and I can live with them... just not like them!

Mr. US Airways, I can't blame you for the bad weather and even the occasional mechanical problems that screw up flights, but I sure can find fault in the little things you are doing to run your airline into the ground, so to speak, and neglect your customers.

Photo Radar Cameras... duh, what am I missing...

Photo radarPhoenix recently introduced Photo Radar Cameras on a number of the major highways around the city: stationary camera setups photograph vehicles, and their drivers, that exceed the posted speed limit by more than 11MPH. Various organizations and some legislators immediately took up the gauntlet opposing the use of the cameras... a cause celebre. I guess I don't fully understand what is going on because the use of these devices strikes me as a good thing.. even in considering the "negatives" being pushed.

Here is my opinion:

Radar war 1.   Photo radar slows down traffic on very busy, often over- congested, highways. This in turn cuts down on accidents and saves lives. Truth be known, if you drive a lot in Phoenix (I commute daily and make many trips from north Phoenix to the airport south of town), you would be a HUGE advocate of anything that slows down the crazies on our roads. Why is this a bad thing?

2. Those opposing say that it is just a scheme to bring money into the government's severely depleted coffers at the expense of drivers. I'm sorry, but where is it wrong that if you exceed the speed limit... a violation of the law... you have to pay a fine? I think this is a GOOD thing: why not help balance the budget by fining those who break the law? You don't like the speed limits? Go through the government processes to get them changed, but until then, the last time I checked posted speed limits are the law and those breaking the law should expect to be penalized if caught.

3. Some complain that the "flashes" from the camera lighting will cause accidents. I have driven by the photo radar sites late at night, seen the flash from the camera and somehow managed to survive... truth be known, it had no effect on my driving!

4.   Another complaint: the photo cameras force people to slow down and that creates more hazards on the roads because of slower moving traffic. Nah, I don't think so: my experience with the photo radar locations is that EVERYONE slows down, thus no hazard. Not to mention that the idiot zipping in and out of traffic at considerably over the speed limit is a much bigger hazard.

5. How about "drivers will realize they are at a photo radar camera, slam on their brakes to slow down and cause other drivers to back-end them." That is just ludicrous. I have not heard about or seen a report of a single incident justifying this contention. Come on: there are even signs 1/2 mile and 300 yd before the photo radar locations warning drivers they are coming up on a photo shoot. Anyone driving that fast needs to be off the roads anyway.

6. Some argue that it depersonalizes law enforcement. OK, maybe it does... so what? Break the law, pay the fine. 'Strikes me as just a more efficient way to catch speeders.

7. And then there are those that claim Invasion of Privacy. Ridiculous: you have no expectation of privacy when driving on a public thoroughfare and certainly none when breaking the law in public.  

8. The hardware makes mistakes. So? The same can be said for the Law Enforcement guy sitting in his car holding a radar gun. This is the ONLY argument that would give cause to question Photo Radar Cameras, but I have not seen anything documenting any pattern of inaccuracies. Besides, if you think you have been wronged, you can still have your Day In Court, just as if a cop had stopped you.   

Conclusion: this strikes me as Win-Win situation: decrease accidents while helping our budget by fining law breakers. It is a good thing... even if I get tagged by one of the cameras! 

Room with a view: San Francisco

From a hotel room 12 stories up in downtown San Francisco...

Night buildings
01_09 night buildings

Someone is watching over us
01_09 watching over us

A rooftop playground (see the street below at top of image)
01_09 kids playin on rooftop

And away from the hotel,

dinner at Scoma's on the waterfront, one of our favorites when we lived in Pleasanton and wandered into the city.
(the Lobster Thermador, that Ruth swears is the best, is still on the menu)

01_09 scomas

And walking around Chinatown...
01_09 chinatown  

The Best Job in the World, but...

The following is making the rounds on the Internet as "The Best Job in the World." Only two problems:

1. What do you do after six months?
2. The link at the end is being hit so hard that you will be lucky to get through to the application site... do you think maybe a few people are applying?

(you have until Feb. 22 to get your application in)


SYDNEY (AFP) – An Australian state is offering internationally what it calls "the best job in the world" -- earning a top salary for lazing around a beautiful tropical island for six months.

The job pays 150,000 Australian dollars (105,000 US dollars) and includes free airfares from the winner's home country to Hamilton Island on the Great Barrier Reef, Queensland's state government announced on Tuesday.

In return, the "island caretaker" will be expected to stroll the white sands, snorkel the reef, take care of "a few minor tasks" -- and report to a global audience via weekly blogs, photo diaries and video updates.

The successful applicant, who will stay rent-free in a three-bedroom beach home complete with plunge pool and golf buggy, must be a good swimmer, excellent communicator and be able to speak and write English.

"They'll also have to talk to media from time to time about what they're doing so they can't be too shy and they'll have to love the sea, the sun, the outdoors," said acting state Premier Paul Lucas.

"The fact that they will be paid to explore the islands of the Great Barrier Reef, swim, snorkel and generally live the Queensland lifestyle makes this undoubtedly the best job in the world."

Lucas said the campaign was part of a drive to protect the state's 18 billion Australian dollar a year tourism industry during the tough economic climate caused by the global financial meltdown.

"Traditional tourism advertising just doesn't cut it sometimes and we are thinking outside the box by launching this campaign."

Queensland Tourism Minister Desley Boyle said some people might question whether it was risky to let an unknown person become an unofficial tourism spokesperson for the state.

"I think the biggest risk will be that the successful candidate won't want to go home at the end of the six months," she said.

"This is a legitimate job which is open to anyone and everyone."

Applications are open until February 22. Eleven shortlisted candidates will be flown to Hamilton Island in early May for the final selection process and the six month contract will commence on July 1

Job-seekers can apply on

More Mountains...

First road trip of 2009... to Middle-of-Nowhere's, Southern Colorado (Las Animas with an overnight in La Junta). How Middle-of-Nowhere's, you ask? Here it is: flat land broken up by railroad tracks with big 'ole mountains making up the background:
01_09 colorado mountains in background

As usual it was a get in, work and get out trip (arrive late Monday night, work all day Tuesday and then drive like mad for 3 1/2 hours Wednesday morning to catch a Denver flight home). I drove through some great little towns that just cried out to have me stop and spend some time with the camera, but between phone calls, e-mail and 3 1/2 hour drives, plus a touch of the flu, I was lucky to make my flight. So, while on the road...

01_09 mountains on road

01_09 mountains on road 2
("Honest, Officer, it just LOOKS like I am driving on the Interstate at slightly over the 75MPH speed limit with a camera propped up on the dashboard. I would never ever consider doing such a thing")