Podcast #135 — Airport Bingo; My New Old Travel PC

Always use a coffee name when crossing the 3-adjective limit

Here’s something to listen to while in the Thanksgiving airport lines and traffic jams. We list out some of the squares we’d like to see in an airport bingo card, and I end up going back to the future with my new travel PC. We also talk about my growing stack of subway “tap” cards and some forecasts on what could be a traffic jammed Thanksgiving holiday. 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 #135:

  • Intro music — Warmth by Makkina
  • Coming to you from the TravelCommons studios outside of Chicago, IL. Started my traditional Thanksgiving no-fly shutdown a week early. My normal practice is to stay at home Thanksgiving week, avoiding what is in the US the busiest travel week of the year. But this year, I’m taking advantage of every opportunity to scale back my travel a bit; consciously going to an every other week travel schedule. This is a big change for me; I think last year I travelled all but 6 or 8 weeks. I’m finding this more leisurely makes me much less brittle/much more accepting of travel hiccups.
  • Which came in very handy on my last trip because, as I feared, I jinxed myself with the last episode when, after a great flight back from DC, I said “Damn if this doesn’t make me look forward to my next trip.” Well, we all know that no good deed goes unpunished. My next flight to Charlottesville was late night Sunday — leave ORD 9:50pm, get into CHO around 12:30am. I’m sitting in the Admirals Club catching up on e-mail, reading a bit. I’d been getting occasional phone notifications; my flight was bouncing around, changing departure gates, never a good sign, but it settled down after a while. Around 9:15, I figured I’d walk over to the departure gate. I looked at the monitor — gate G7 as it had been for the past half-hour, so I packed up my stuff. Just as I picked up my phone — bing, a new notification — my flight’s cancelled. What the hell?
  • I asked the Admirals Club folks to check — yup, it’s cancelled; no, they don’t know why, and yes, they’re as surprised as I am. Of course, American sends me a nice notification that they’ve re-booked me onto the same flight the next day — leaving 9:50pm Monday — seeming to expect that I’d be perfectly happy with them blowing a day hole in my schedule. The Admirals Club agents knew that was not an acceptable answer, and one of them immediately started looking for alternatives. Me too — looking at CHO, DC, and Richmond. Because of how late AA canceled, there was nothing available the next morning. Not surprising given how full planes are flying these days. After about 20 minutes of non-stop keystrokes, the Admirals Club agent found me a flight the next day at 11:30, getting me into Richmond at 2:30pm. I took it — that was as good as it was going to get — and gave her a couple of the service recognition coupons American sends the status fliers. She’d earned them. And as I heard other guys around me scrambling for hotel rooms, I stopped thinking about how American had wasted my Sunday night and was going to waste my Monday morning, and instead was happy that the cab I was going to catch was taking me to my own bed.
  • Bridge Music — Another Girl by duckett

Following Up

  • I’m sorta short-cycling what has become my normal monthly cadence — just squeaking in episodes at the last day of the month — so that I can give you something to listen to in those Thanksgiving airport line and traffic jams. Triple A forecasts 45.5 million people hitting the roads, the highest since 2005 — probably some combination of low unemployment and low gas prices. And as the Thanksgiving holiday has expanded — trying finding anyone in the office on Weds — Tuesday evening is forecasted to be the worst traffic, when getaway drivers and outbound rush hour combine into a hellish brew of standstill traffic jams. In Chicago, the trip from downtown to O’Hare is predicted to be an hour and 14 minutes, almost 4x more than what it takes on a clear road. Surpassed only by the 2 hour trip to JFK also forecasted for Tuesday evening.
  • Steve Frick left a comment on the TravelCommons’ Facebook page about last episode’s topic on ratings grade inflation — the need for that 5-star review. Steve writes:
    • I’m a “Yelp” guy and I consistently give Fairfield Inn 3 stars. My reviews are along these lines “Typical Fairfield, nothing that bad yet nothing yet nothing that great. Friendly staff, clean location, and comfortable beds. Same sub-par Fairfield breakfast, but that’s why you pack instant oatmeal and protein bars.” There’s nothing that makes me want to tell people to stay there.
    • Your Untappd information got me thinking. With around 1200 unique beers I’m well below your numbers but I came in with the bulk of my ratings also at 3.75.
  • Thanks for that, Steve. My rationalization for my beer ratings skew is selection bias — with over 5,200 unique beer check-ins, I pretty much know what I like and what I don’t like, so I’m not knowingly going to order and pay for a beer I don’t think I’ll like. I did have the exception to that last weekend when my son and I were at FoBAB — the Festival of Barrel Aged Beers. We volunteered to pour on Friday — the first night — which earned us a free ticket for Saturday night. At some point, my son give me a glass “Here, taste this”. I spit it back into the glass, dumped it, and rinsed the glass twice. It was awful. What was it? It was a beer that I had specifically said I wanted to avoid after reading the description in the program — “Aged 12 months in Ardbeg scotch barrels with coffee and peanut butter.” I rated it 0.25 out of 5 because a zero doesn’t register as a rating. After that, I think I can live with a bit of rating skew.
  • I started off the other topic in the last episode — the value of loyalty — with the story of finding a new Jag in the Hertz Presidents Club aisle at ATL. Of course, I grabbed it. The next afternoon, though, I was kinda wishing I’d taken an Uber or Lyft. My meeting in Norcross, north of Atlanta, was running late and refreshing Waze, I could see traffic both through and around Atlanta was building. And the rental return is at least a 15-minute ride to the terminal — when the train doesn’t make an unscheduled stop mid-transit as I described in an earlier episode. So I was gearing myself up for missing my flight and the hassles of finding a seat on something later, when up popped an e-mail from Hertz offering to drive me to the terminal for $20. Sold! After I pulled in, one of the car “checker-inners” hopped into the driver’s seat and off we drove. And she was as happy to be driving that Jag as I was. “I love this car!” she said as we pulled out. “It’s such a beautiful day, I may drop you off and just keep on driving!” We had a good chat. She dropped me off at the door closest to the PreCheck line and I legged it in to make my flight. I won’t pop for that every time, but that $20 was worth it.
  • Also, thanks to Cristina Sainz of Booking.com’s Business Travel Blog who put TravelCommons #2 in her list of the “7 Podcasts Every Travel Manager Needs to Listen to Right Now”. She describes the podcast as “serving up pithy travel advice since 2005.” Well, we try. Thanks again Cristina for the shout-out.
  • When I was in DC last month, I added another subway “tap” card to my collection, which was a little bit of a bummer because I still had an old style Metrocard — the paper fare card with a mag stripe — with at least one ride’s worth of fare still on it. So now I have a Smart Trip card along with a Ventra card from Chicago, an Oyster card from London, and a Breeze card from Atlanta. I hold onto them because they’re reusable and, while not expensive, their costs start to add up. The Atlanta and DC cards were $2 each; the Chicago card was $5, and the London card £5 — or about $6.60 at today’s exchange rate. The Chicago card is, of course, the one I use the most. And it’s nice because I can top it up with a smartphone app. Comes in handy when I decide to take the L from ORD downtown. Beats standing in the perpetual long lines in front of the ORD fare machines. You’d think that if CTA is going to charge a premium to board at ORD, they’d at least pony up to cut the line to pay it. Little known pro tip for folks coming into ORD — skip the line and pay with your iPhone if you have Apple Pay set up. It doesn’t read as fast as the Ventra card, but it works — at least on the L — the subway. When I was in London this past summer, the Underground was wonky. I could tap in at the turnstile with my iPhone, but couldn’t tap out which was a real hassle. But my daughter, though, who has a contactless debit card from RBS had no problems. And there wasn’t an app to top up my Oyster card, so I had to queue up in front of a lot of fare machines. Last month, New York announced that they’re hiring the same company London used to revamp the MTA’s payment system. I hope they get Apple and Android Pay working right. And more broadly, I hope these tap cards are just a temporary bridge until these transit systems can fully upgrade their systems to use smartphones. Until then, I carry a card holder in my backpack with my $15-$20 worth of subway tap cards.
  • 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 — The Long Goodbye by John Pazden

Playing Airport Bingo

  • I got a press release a couple of days ago from AirHelp, a company that looks like will file compensation claims for delayed flights in return for a 25% cut — which doesn’t seem too bad since they’re doing it on a contingent basis. They sent along an Airport Bingo card for “helping you pass the time while not so patiently waiting to board”. It’s kinda the airport version of “buzzword bingo” that we all play on conference calls — instead of marking a square someone says “synergy”, AirHelp has squares for things like “police dog” and “solo traveler”.
  • That’s OK for a start, I guess. But here at TravelCommons, we try to go to the next level of road warrior-ism. I’m not going to fill out all 24 squares, but here are 12 squares’ worth to get you started
    1. 10-15 minute traffic jam on the airport access road — just long enough to get those stress hormones flowing
    2. Guy in front of you in the PreCheck line walks through the metal detector with his smartphone. The alarm sounds. He stands there, puzzled. The TSA person rolls her eyes and asks, yet again, if he’d emptied his pockets. He looks surprised that his smartphone would set it off. She looks at her watch for how long ‘til her next break.
    3. Girl pulling a Hello Kitty kids-sized roller board on her way to Grandma’s. Hey, who said airport bingo had to be 100% snarky?
    4. Woman in front of you in the Starbucks line orders a half-decaf 3-pump no-foam vanilla latte, breaking the 3-adjective rule. It’s Sodexo, not your corner Starbucks. Keep it simple so the rest of us can order.
    5. A piano bar playing Christmas carols — or if you’re in Nashville airport, a country duo
    6. A family of four or more walking abreast, slowly, so that people racing for their gates drift into the on-coming traffic, or try to thread through the crowd in front of a boarding gate. The only upside? One of the family might be pulling a Hello Kitty bag.
    7. An available rocking chair. More airports are scattering these around, in front of windows in terminal connectors, in random hallways. Bonus if it’s next to an open — and working — electrical outlet
    8. A craft beer bar with beers you haven’t had — get those stress hormones back under control, and increment your unique beer counter on Untappd
    9. Dueling gate announcements. Gates G20 and G22 are boarding at the same time, with each gate agent talking over the other one. You hear Boarding Group 3 called and hustle up to the door, only to be shunted over to wait in the shame station; the other gate called Boarding Group 3.
    10. Boarding is complete and there’s an empty middle seat next to you! The clouds part and a golden ray of sunshine reflects off the iPad of the guy sitting in the window seat, illuminating that lovely little bit of extra elbow room. You and the window seat guy look at each other, smile, and feel those stress hormones drop another notch.
    11. Missing crew. Boarding’s complete, you’re next to an empty middle seat, but you have no crew. Their flight was late, and pulled into a gate two terminals over. They’re on their way, but now you’re worried that some stand-by will drop into that empty seat. That golden ray of sunshine dims a bit.
    12. Early arrival! Not only did the seat stay empty, but favorable winds put you on the ground 30 minutes early. You start to think that you should travel more often.
  • OK, there you go. There’s half your airport bingo card filled out. If you’re flying out Tues or Weds, you’ll have more that enough time in line to figure out the rest. Let us know — Twitter, Facebook, or website — what squares you come up with.
  • Bridge music — Slinky Blues by Admiral Bob

Back to the Future with my New Travel PC

  • I’ve been muttering under my breath about my Lenovo ThinkPad for a while now. I’ve had it for 4 years now. It’s feeling a bit heavy and looking a bit beat up, and though it’s no doubt been fully depreciated off the firm’s balance sheet, I don’t hear any rumors of an impending refresh. So I’ve been semi-shopping for a new Travel PC — clicking through to Engadget reviews, glancing over, eyeing what the other folks on the plane or in the concierge lounge are using.
  • Seven years ago (just about to the day), in what might’ve passed as an instance of pithy travel advice, I wrote about the use case for a Travel PC — what it is, and more importantly, what it is not. It’s not my primary computer; it’s not my podcast production or video editing machine. That’s my home PC which is now up to 16GBs of RAM, an 8-core processor, 2 21-inch monitors, Blu-Ray burner, and a couple of terabyte hard drives. My Travel PC is spec’d for what’s important, what I need when I travel — light weight, long battery life, low screen profile so not to get crushed when the guy in the row in front of me power-reclines his seat, and reasonable processing power (in that order) — and leaves behind what’s not. Seven years ago — in 2010 to save you the math — the 11-inch MacBook Air was my choice for the Best Travel PC.
  • My Travel PC use case hasn’t changed, but the market has — kinda. In my looking around, what I’ve seen is 2 ½ kinds of travel PCs. There are the next generations of the laptop — thin ultrabooks from Lenovo, HP and Dell; MacBook Pros from Apple — or full-sized iPads with combo covers/soft keyboards and pens — with the Microsoft Surface Pro being that ½ case, a thin Windows PC with a fold-out keyboard cover and pen. Quite honestly, none of those options really spoke to me — at least enough to make me part with my own cash. The ultrabooks didn’t offer much new; I’d might as well “accidently” dump a grande cappuccino on my old Lenovo ‘cause this is what I’d get in return. The MacBook Pros are certainly sleek, but as a Travel PC, don’t seem to offer much more for the Apple premium. I have been thinking about the tablet/keyboard combo, specifically the Surface Pro; but watching guys try to work that soft keyboard on an airplane seatback tray… I could see myself wearing a cup of coffee two weeks after starting to fly with one of those. So, I kept semi-shopping
  • But then last week, I got an e-mail blast from Newegg, the online PC parts retailer; I usually buy from them them when I’m assembling or upgrading my home PC. They had a flash sale on refurbed 11-inch MacBook Airs, not the 2010 model but what Apple dubs an “early 2014” model. Pretty much identical to my old one, but with updated specs, including the same processor as my Lenovo. I looked at it, did a few Internet search. It sat in a shopping cart for a couple of days until I thought “For $385, why not?” and pulled the trigger. It showed up a few days ago, and save for a corner ding, looks pretty new. I’ve upgraded to the current version of MacOS, installed Office 365 and VMFusion on it, and so I’m pretty much ready to go — back to the future.

Closing

  • Closing music — iTunes link to Pictures of You by Evangeline
  • OK, that’s it, that’s the end of TravelCommons podcast #135
  • 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
  • Find TravelCommons on Stitcher, SoundCloud, and iTunes
  • Follow me on Twitter
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  • Direct link to the show
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