Podcast #131 — Twitter Concierge Customer Service; London Tube Story

I have a craft beer problem…

This past week in Atlanta Hartfield Airport, when I traveled across four terminals to find a restaurant serving a nice selection of local Atlanta beers, I finally had to admit that I have a craft beer problem. In addition to this confession, I talk about about taking the London Underground back from the big Adele concert in Wembley Stadium. The experience proved out some of the positive stereotypes about the English — queuing well and muddling through without complaining. I talk about hotel room flat screen TVs and using Twitter to quickly get Hertz to fix a mistaken refueling charge. All this and more at the direct link to the podcast file or listening to it right here by clicking on the arrow below.

Here is the transcript of TravelCommons podcast #131:

  • Intro music — Warmth by Makkina
  • Coming to you from the TravelCommons studios outside of Chicago, IL, ready to admit that I have a craft beer problem. On Tuesday, I’m in Atlanta airport, on the back end of an one-day up-and-back. I got to the airport a bit early because: (a) I wanted to get forward-positioned for a 5pm conference call, and (b) afternoon travel times from north of Atlanta, where all my clients have ever been, to south of Atlanta where the airport is inconveniently located is highly unpredictable — I’ve experienced anything from 40 min to an hour and a half. The conference call ends early, just as United posts a 15-min flight delay. Rather than bitch tweeting, I pop open my Untappd app and see what beers have been checked in nearby. I see some local Atlanta beers showing up at a place called “Chicken + Beer”. Good name! I find an sign board. It’s in Terminal D near Gate D5 — almost to the end of the terminal. I’m in Terminal T — the closest-in terminal, 4 terminals away. I look at my watch. According to United, I have an hour. I pop open the United app. The delayed in-bound flight is due in at 6:35 and United is calling for a 7:05 departure. No way in this age of completely full flights do they get that plane emptied and re-loaded in 30 minutes. And, since it’s a day trip, I don’t have to worry about carry-on. Easy decision — I’m off. Highly recommended place if you’re connecting through ATL — especially if you’re a bit closer, maybe in Terminals C, D or E.
  • I posted the last episode the day before we headed out to London for a week, the highlight of which was going to the Adele concert in Wembley Stadium that Wednesday night — my wife’s Christmas and birthday present. It was the opening night of what was supposed to be a 4-night finale to her world tour. Glad we caught one of the front-end shows. She canceled the last two due to vocal cord stress. Would’ve been unspeakably awful if we’d flown over and then got canceled. As it was, it was a great concert — great voice and a phenomenal swearer. Impressive f-bomb count.
  • Back in the US, I’ve been alternating weeks between Richmond and Atlanta. As I said in the last episode, of the two, I prefer Richmond — I’m able to walk around downtown so no need for a rental, and it’s only a 20-minute ride to and from the airport. And a local turned me onto the Scott’s Addition neighborhood with three microbreweries in a 5-block radius. Yes, as you already know, I have a craft beer problem.
  • Bridge Music — Dub the Uke by Kara Square (c) copyright 2016 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license.  Ft: DJ Vadim

Following Up

  • This week’s day trip to Atlanta for a meeting was the first time I’ve done that in a long time — trusted an airline enough to fly in the day of an important meeting. As it was, I still baked in a large safety buffer — I took a 6:15am flight out of ORD that landed ATL just after 9am local time; for a 12:30p meeting. Instead, as a way to lower my personal stress as well as the amount of my bitch tweeting, I’ll fly out, say, the night before. Or a couple of weeks ago, when my wife booked a dinner for 5:30p Thursday night, I flew back Weds night. Last year, I would’ve flown home Thursday afternoon — scheduling myself ORD at, say, 3:30p, and then taking the El into the city. Now, I just don’t trust the airlines. There’s not enough slack in the system — the planes are full, the crew schedules are optimized to the tee, and so when something anomalous happens, the whole things starts to come apart at the seams. This kinda happened a few weeks ago flying out of Richmond. My colleague and I were sitting in a conference room after lunch when his phone started going off — flight delay texts from American about his evening flight back to DFW. I check on my United flight to ORD — sure enough, I’m delayed too. Not critical — just means I’ll be dining in the airport rather than at home. I hit the “where is my flight now” in the United app a couple of times to find that the delay from Grand Rapids airport which is then cascading through IAD and down to RIC. When the plane is scheduled for tight turnarounds, there’s no way to catch up. We check every 20 minutes or so, hoping things get better. And, surprisingly, mine does — suddenly, there’s no delay. Did Grand Rapids magically clear up? Nope. Tracking the inbound plane again, now it’s sitting on the ground at IAD. They swapped equipment and now we’re back on schedule. We head over to RIC, and just as I go through security, I get a delay text from United. The plane is in IAD but the crew isn’t. Their inbound flight is delayed, which pushes ours. I sit down at the Sam Adams bar in RIC’s Terminal 2; I order a beer and some food. I get the beer right away. 45 minutes later, the waitress tells me they’ve run out of food. So I end up eating dinner at home after all — just a bit later than usual.
  • Hotel room technology is slow to change. I still see a lot of those alarm clocks with the old 30-pin iPhone connectors on the top of them; the iPhone 5 with the smaller Lightning connector came out almost 5 years ago. I think a good bit of this has to do with scale — just upgrading the TVs in the 3,976 rooms at a place like Caesars Palace in Las Vegas can be a multi-year project. That being said, it’s been a long time now since I’ve seen a tube TV in a hotel room. Seems that most everyone has made the switch to wall-mounted flat screens, and I’m even seeing more of the second-generation — more smart TVs from Samsung and LG with built in Netflix and Hulu apps, letting me log in to my accounts, access my own queues and watch just like I’m at home. I tend not to take them up on that offer though. I’m still a bit hesitant to scatter too much of my personal digital stuff around. And also, it’s not just Netflix that I want to watch. Sometimes I want to watch, say, James Corden’s newest Carpool Karaoke on YouTube that my daughter told me about, or watch the start of a Tour de France stage on NBCSN which almost no hotel cable package carries. Lucky for me, all of these newer flat screens provide easy access to an HDMI port — the digital successor to the older analog VGA connectors on computers. I picked up a $5 Displayport-to-HDMI cable on Amazon, and now regularly plug my ThinkPad into my hotel room flat screen. Now if these hotels would upgrade their WiFi speeds…
  • And if you have any thoughts, questions, a story, a comment, a travel tip – the voice of the traveler, send it along. The e-mail address is comments@travelcommons.com — you can use your smartphone to record and send in an audio comment; send a Twitter message to mpeacock, or you can post your thoughts on the TravelCommons’ Facebook page — or you can always go old-school and post your thoughts on the web site at TravelCommons.com.
  • Bridge Music — Natchoongi (New Hope Remix) by Suenjo (c) copyright 2007 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0)

Twitter Concierge

  • One of the standards in my Top 10 Travel Tips list — which I usually write once a year as part of my annual prayers to the Google gods for more website traffic — is to use Twitter as sort of a customer service concierge service. I’ve used Twitter to ping airlines on the status of planes when the gate agents were in the dark, A few weeks back, I tweeted to Lyft, asking why the price estimation piece of their app didn’t work (answer: it was turned off in Richmond for some reason). And Twitter saved me a bit of a hassle last week with Hertz.
  • Now, I’ve gone hot and cold on Hertz through my travel career. At the start, back in 1985 when I was working for IBM and regularly flying into SJC, I liked them. But that was when SJC was an old-style California airport — no jetways, just a walkway under a metal canopy to planes parked on the tarmac; no rental counters, just a parking lot at one end of the terminal with a little Hertz hut in the middle staffed by a nice woman who’d give you your keys. After a few trips, we got to know each other and she’d always give me one of the nicer cars on the lot. Fast forward 15 years to my low point with Hertz at DTW. I was there every week for about a year and never got a clean car or one under 24,000 miles. I’m back on an upswing with Hertz now that they’re doing the National Car Rental-like “pick your own car” service and I’ve yet to climb into a car with more than 1,000 miles
  • Dropping my car off at ATL last week, I do my usual thing — fill the car just outside the airport, drop it off, and walk away without waiting for the Hertz guy to check me in because it’s usually too long a wait during the afternoon drop-off rush hour and they’ll e-mail me the receipt. I usually put the gas receipt on the dashboard under the keys, but I didn’t do that this time. The gas station near ATL was a bit dodgy and had signs posted on the gas pump “Keep your car locked when filling up”. I decided not to wait for the pump to spit out a receipt.
  • The e-mail from Hertz showed up on my phone just after I’d boarded the plane at ATL. I scanned the numbers — damn it, there was a refueling charge. And the gas charge hadn’t posted yet to my Amex card so I couldn’t download a receipt. It just pissed me off. The gas gauge was clearly/unambiguously on F, so the check-in guy was just pencil-whipping the check-in. That’s what really annoyed me. Sitting there, waiting for the rest of the flight to board, I had time to stew. And to tweet out my annoyance to @Hertz — complete with a mad face emoji.
  • My flight takes off. I land at ORD, take my phone out of airplane mode and bing, there’s a reply from Hertz — please DM us your rental agreement number. I flip over to the emailed receipt and copy/paste the number into Twitter. While still on the plane — we’re doing the usual ORD thing of taxiing all over the airport looking for a gate — I get a message back “Mark, apologies for the trouble with the fueling fee. After further review I will be refunding this charge to the account billed. We appreciate you bringing this to our attention so that we might look into this with our local Atlanta team.” I’ve now gone from pissed to impressed with how fast that got fixed. Now I’m sure some of that has to do with my status at Hertz, but still — Twitter can be a very effective line-cut into customer service.
  • Bridge Music — Misunderstood by 3lb3r3th (c) copyright 2013 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license.  Ft: Alchemistry

London Tube Story

  • A few weeks ago on one of my Saturday bike rides, I was listening to Craig and Linda Martin’s Indie Travel Podcast episode about using public transit and it got me thinking about my recent public transit experiences. We’ve talked about public transit in past episodes. I’ve kinda nerded out about a it a bit, especially taking public transit between a city and an airport.
  • During our week in London at the end of June, we used the Tube a lot. Underground, it was surprisingly still warm and stuffy from the 40-year high temperatures the prior week when it had been very hot by British standards — in the 30’s Celsius, the upper 80’s/low 90’s Farenheit. We were staying in the Fitzrovia neighborhood of London — north of Oxford St, just off of Tottenham High Street near University College London. The area is well-served by a number of Tube lines, and we’d chosen it for easy Tube access to Wembley Stadium for the Adele concert.
  • We headed out early, planning to get there a couple hours before show time because we expected security to be tight. We got on a train that was an interesting mix of commuters winding down their day and concert goers getting ramped up — seated people heads down in their papers; standing groups of people chatting away, maybe slipping a sip of a canned gin & tonic, maybe singing a little tune snippet.
  • If you think about it, the trip to the concert wouldn’t be too bad — people would be spread out across 2, maybe 3 hours worth of trains. The end of the concert, though — 96,000 people leaving at once, and a huge sea of them heading for the Wembley Stadium tube stop. Luckily, the rain forecasted earlier in the week had hit London earlier in the day and the evening was dry. If not, the 30-45 minutes we spend shoulder-to-shoulder penguin-walking the third- to-half mile between our seats and the Tube stop would’ve been miserable. As it was, everyone was in good spirits (it had been a great concert), and polite and courteous (no shoving, not a lot of trying to snake up in front of others). The security police would hold up signs at an intersection — one side in red would say “Stop”, the other side green with “Go”. And when they spun it around to “Stop” the crowd would stop. No one would try to slip around the edges or make a last dash. One cop was playing songs through his bullhorn for the crowd while they waited for the next “Go” sign. It was so crowded; so much could’ve easily gone wrong; but it didn’t. And once back on the Tube, we made it back to Fitzrovia in time for a nightcap.
  • But I guess I shouldn’t be so surprised. Doesn’t that experience validate the English stereotype — queues well, suffers through without complaining — the whole “Keep Calm and Carry On” ethos — and eventually get through to the other side in time for a pint at the pub.
  • And maybe that’s what I really like about taking public transit. In past episodes, I talked about public transit as a way of popping the travel bubble, using it to get a real feeling for where you are. The whole “Mind the Gap” thing in the Tube is another very English thing, as is the small taped-off space where buskers can perform in the connecting passageways between lines. Compare that to the less structured Paris Metro experiences I described a few episodes ago — of the tuba busker and the 3-person opera reenactment that took over the whole shop area of a Metro stop. Or the way people bringing their bikes onto a Portland, Oregon light rail car just solidifies the whole Portlandia image, or picking up the Chicago El in the Loop after the markets close, with the few traders who work the options pits, heading up to Wrigley for an afternoon Cubs game.

Closing

  • Closing music — iTunes link to Pictures of You by Evangeline
  • OK, that’s it, that’s the end of TravelCommons podcast #131
  • I hope you all enjoyed this podcast and I hope you decide to stay subscribed.
  • If you have a story, thought, comment, gripe – the voice of the traveler — send ‘em along, text or audio file, to comments@travelcommons.com or to @mpeacock on Twitter, or post them on our website at travelcommons.com. Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to send in e-mails, Tweets and post comments on the website
  • Bridge music from dig.ccmixter.org
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  • Direct link to the show
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1 Comments.

  1. Hi Mark,

    Long time listener, really enjoy the show.

    Your comments on the Dreamliner were very interesting to me. I’ve flown one long-haul on several occasions, and yes, the windows are fun to play with. But you didn’t have any comments on what I think is the most important attribute. FYI, the 787 isn’t just another “metal tube”, and that’s the whole point. It is constructed from carbon fiber, and can be pressurized to a higher level than most normal passenger jets. As such, the environment inside is at higher air pressure (like being at 6,000′ rather than 10000′ elevation), with a higher level of humidity (air not so dry), and more refreshes. I found it a great plane to fly on a long red-eye! Or any 5+ hour flight.
    I’m looking forward to this fall, when I’m flying one r/t LAX-SYD in UA’s BF cabin (14 hour flight).