Podcast #138 — Travel Turning Me Hipster; Every Delay Has a Story

TSA! Look at What You’ve Done to Me!

February is a tough time to be in the Midwest, so when my travel took me south, to New Orleans and then to Florida, there was no bitch tweeting about the TSA lines or flight delays. In this episode, I walk through how each change in airport security has pushed me to be more hipster and how we all want to understand the real cause of the flight delays that inconvenience us. Also a good bit of listener feedback extending the on-going luggage discussion. 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 #138:

  • Intro music — Warmth by Makkina
  • Coming to you again from the TravelCommons studios outside of Chicago, IL. This has been a good travel month for me. Not too heavy, and all my travel had me headed south — an important thing in February when you live in Chicago. The week before Mardi Gras, I headed down to New Orleans for a meeting. It easily could’ve been an overnight trip, but neither my wife nor I had been down in a while, so she came down with me. We caught some parades — Nyx, Chaos, Muses — ate way too much food, and except for a cold rain Wednesday night, had great weather. On Thursday, we were walking along the Mississippi back to the French Quarter from the Bywater neighborhood in bright sunshine and upper 60’s while Chicago was getting slammed with 8-12 inches of snow.
  • When flew back to Chicago Friday night, we were able to thread the gap between the Friday end of that 8-12 inch drop and the start of the Saturday-Sunday 5-inch fall. Timing is everything. We came to the airport prepared for a long delay — fully charged batteries, and muffaletta sandwiches and a mini king cake from Cochon Butcher. Southwest had cancelled this same flight the night before and that morning — understandable given the snow — so we didn’t think we wouldn’t get home; it was just going to be a question of how long. As it turned out, we were only an hour late, which given the weather, felt as good as on-time.
  • Last week, I managed to point myself south again, this time to Florida — Orlando and Miami — and was able to skip two days of a heavy cold rain. The JW Marriott in Miami upgraded me to a room with a balcony on the 20th floor — I didn’t have an ocean view, but I sat outside, 75 degrees, drinking a couple of beers, watching the sun go down, looking over to some of the rooftop bar action in the Brickell neighborhood. Miami is always an experience. It’s not the southernmost US big city, but rather the northernmost Latin American big city. I was reminded of that in the airport when I heard them paging someone in Spanish — twice. They didn’t even bother wasting their time with English.
  • Bridge Music — Leviathan by Kirkoid (c) copyright 2011 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license. http://dig.ccmixter.org/files/Kirkoid/31109

Following Up

  • Lots of comments about luggage since the last episode, which makes sense — the last episode was heavy on luggage talk between the continuing thread on the smart luggage ban and the suitcase buying tips which I then ported over to a blog post.
    • So, starting off, Allan Marko forwarded along the latest e-mails from Away luggage, one of the few smart bags with removable batteries and so not caught up in the smart luggage ban. Or so they thought until Delta decided to add their own twist to the ban. If the battery in the bag requires a tool to remove it — which the original Away bag does — you have to remove it from the bag before you board — whether you’re carrying on the bag or gate-checking it. The later version of the Away bag has an ejectable pop-up battery which Delta thinks is OK. What a mess! This is what happens when engineers run amok — and I can say that as a recovering engineer. These guys are going to keep tweaking and twisting this, which will just confuse gate agents and frustrate passengers — which is why I’ve mothballed my smart bag and bought another Anker lipstick charger.
    • Steve Frick hit the TravelCommons web site and left this comment — “I replaced my luggage with the exact same bag as I had before, a TravelPro. It was an easy choice, I like you, wanted a simple bag. I knew my gear would fit, I already knew what to put in the outside pockets. One of the guys I work with recently bought and then returned a 4-wheel spinner. The reason for the return……. he discovered that most hotel parking lots weren’t level and each time he let go of the bag to raise the trunk lid his bag rolled away.” Steve, I had that same problem with my Bluesmart 4-wheeler, except in airports rather than parking lots. I’d put the Bluesmart against the wall in a restroom and it would wander away.
    • Jerry Sarfati posted on the TravelCommons Facebook page — “Mark, great episode as usual” Thanks, Jerry! “I had a different experience when choosing a new bag. I was stopped twice by American Airlines gate agents telling me my 22″ bag was too big. I’m in Group 2. So I settled for the 20″ Victorinox spinner.” I asked Jerry if they made him put it in a bag sizer. “Once only. It barely fit, and she said ‘too big, it must slide in easily, it must be checked’. Other time the agent said the sizer is missing, but ‘I can already see it won’t fit’. I didn’t want to argue and get thrown off the flight.” Jerry, that — in technical travel terms — is bullshit. I remember one time in Boston Logan, I got shunted over to the bag sizer by the Icelandic Air gate agent. And I knew I was on the bubble because this was the trip I’ve talked about a couple of times where I had to pack for 10 days between Iceland and Southern Spain in one carry-on. I grabbed that bag by the side handle, had it about chest high, and then drove it into the bag sizer with all my might. It was either going to fit, break the bag or blow apart the bag sizer. Luckily, it fit — though the gate agent jumped back just a bit when the bag hit the bottom of the sizer. She let me carry it on. I flew 3 legs on American last week with my 22-incher and didn’t get a glance. But having said that, you made the right choice — discretion is the better part of valor. Gate agents have complete discretion. Obey or get bounced. Too bad you got caught up by other folks’ power trips.
    • Back on the web site, Robert Fenerty wrote “I want a four-wheel spinner; my wife loves hers. But I won’t get one, because I believe that bags with only two wheels have a bit more interior space than four-wheelers of the same length. That’s because the spinners can’t tuck into the side of the bag so you’re losing the inch or two between the middle of the spinner wheel and the top of the stem that attaches the spinner to the bottom of the bag. How’s that for OCD?” Robert, I’ll see your OCD and raise you! I pulled out a metal ruler and measured the ground clearance difference between my Victorinox 2-wheeler and my wife’s Samsonite 4-wheel spinner. I measured a 1.5-inch difference. Multiply that by the 14×9-inch base size gives you a 189 cubic inch cost for spinner agility. I look at that being one day’s worth of workout kit.
    • Also on the web site, Jim McDonough wrote “My favorite bag was a Rick Steves 21” rollaboard that had just one compartment and two really good wheels. I used it for a decade and finally had problems with my wife’s bag (wheel fell apart) and the side of mine cracked from all the abuse. He doesn’t sell them any more, because it was a hair too big for European airlines. We are now using Samsonite spinners. They don’t hold as much as the old Rick bags. We only check bags when we are staying in one place for at least a week. Carrying on is simply liberating.” Liberating in a couple of ways — not standing around waiting for the luggage carousel to start to get your bag, and not waiting around for it to stop to confirm that airline has lost it. I remember one trip where BA forced me to gate-check a bag, and then somehow lost it — how you lose a bag in the, say, 50 ft between the jet bridge and baggage hold I’ll never know. The problem was — I was in a different city every day. And so, they’d deliver the bag to my hotel the next morning after I’d already checked out and headed for my first meeting. This went on for a couple of days until I finally convinced them to leapfrog me and send it two stops one. Liberating myself from well-worn clothes — I love it when I can find happiness in the small things.
  • Another reminder that Miami is a bit different — the in-room coffee machine at the JW Marriott wasn’t the standard issue single cupper with Starbucks Pike Place filter disks (that, by the way, are always too big for the filter holder). Instead, it was an Illy espresso machine with its own special little capsules and branded demitasse cups. Took me a couple of tries to get the capsule properly situated, but after that, I ran through all 3, 4 (?) of the capsules in 15 minutes and was ready to attack the day.
  • Last month, The Aviating Railfanner stopped by the TravelCommons YouTube page and left a comment on the 2012 video O’Hare Layover Excursion: a 6-Hour Tour of Chicago saying “I think it would be a good idea to mention that the Randolph/Wabash station has been demolished and is now the Washington/Wabash station” Good point. Indeed, there are a more than a few things that have changed in the 5 years since I did that video. I stole the idea from the “One City, Five Hours” series that United used to have in their Hemisphere’s magazine. The locations are still good — Wrigley Field, Millenium Park, the Picasso. I’m not sure in this age of Uber if the focus on the subway/the L is still valid. I may see if I can lightly edit this video — insert some text to send people to the right station, and update the 1-day travel pass options — and then think about some new options, like maybe a craft beer taproom-focused layover tour. There you go, One City, Five Taprooms and then come roaring back into the TSA line. Hmmm, I may need to rethink that one.
  • And if you’re thinking about any 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 — Ethereal (nop mix) by @nop (c) copyright 2011 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license. http://dig.ccmixter.org/files/Lancefield/34818

Travel Is Turning Me Hipster

  • Not wanting to turn this into the “Luggage Today” podcast, but when I was shifting things from my Bluesmart to my new Victorinox bag, I also restructured my toiletries kit. And as I was going through the contents — what stays, what don’t I need anymore — it struck me how much my travelling had changed something as basic as how I started my day.
  • It started years, no decades ago — sometime in the late ‘80’s or early ‘90’s. I was living in Philadelphia and flying to Europe pretty frequently, and at that time, the only real direct flight over the Atlantic (can I tell you how much I hate it when people say “The Pond”; it just puts my teeth on edge) was a BA 747 into Heathrow. Now, back then, I loved Heathrow. It was a great airport with fantastic connections. Now it’s an overcrowed shitshow that I avoid at all costs, but back then, it was great. Anyhow, at some point, Heathrow security required all electric devices to be pulled out for screening. Note I didn’t say “electronic”; this was before laptops and tablets and mobile phones were ubiquitous. No, this meant things like my electric razor had to be pulled out of my bag. Two go-rounds with Heathrow security and that Philips razor got jettisoned for a Gillette non-electric blade.
  • Fast forward a decade-and-a-half to August 2006. I woke up in the SFO Marriott to the news of the foiled plot to blow up London-to-US flights by disguising separate explosive ingredients in soda bottles then then assembling and detonating them on board. I was trying to fly back the next day. Baggage check lines exploded when all the flyers with toothpaste, shaving cream, make-up — pretty much everyone — were made to check their bags. That weekend, I re-worked my toiletries kit — hitting the local Whole Foods for tooth powder to replace toothpaste, hair wax for hair gel, and trading the shaving cream that I picked up in that last revamp for a badger hair shaving brush. I think this was the tipping point — when my kit started to skew hipster.
  • Fast forward another decade-and-a-half to this Christmas. My son gives me a selection of travel sized shaving soaps, each in their own tin container with a screw top. My daughter gives me a bottle of Lush toothy tabs — kinda compressed tooth powder. These immediately go into my travel kit. My son forwards me a Massdrop buy for an Oristo razor — a $100 version of my grandfather’s safety razor, precision engineered for a “very efficient yet non-aggressive shaving experience”. I think seriously about this. My toiletry kit has gone almost full hipster.
  • And though I’ve slagged on the TSA for God knows how many episodes over the life of this podcast, I do have to thank them for one thing, keeping my toiletry kit from going full-on hipster, because I know they’ll never allow me to shift to shaving with a straight razor.
  • Bridge music — My Flaming Heart by Wired Ant (c) copyright 2012 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial  (3.0) license. http://dig.ccmixter.org/files/Wired_Ant/36862 Ft: Javolenus

Every Delay Has a Story

  • In the last episode, I talked about why I dropped my subscription to TripIt’s paid “Pro” service — the main benefit, live flight status notifications, was slower than the free notifications I was getting from the airlines themselves — from American, United, and Delta. However, when we were idling in the New Orleans airport waiting on our flight back to Chicago, I found the Southwest delay notifications lagged way behind TripIt Pro. Not that I re-upped my TripIt Pro subscription; my wife forgot to cancel a 30-day trial she signed up for, so she now has a year’s subscription. I, instead, was using FlightAware, specifically the feature I’ve talked about in prior episodes that shows you where your plane is. From that I could see that the delay wasn’t because of the snow in Chicago; the plane was spending a lot of time on the ground in Ft Lauderdale, the stop before New Orleans. So I hit Twitter — Why is flight 860 sitting in FLL so long? The reply — “Hey, Mark. We know delays can be tough, and apologize for the inconvenience. It looks like Flight #860 is delayed due to inclement weather earlier in the day.” Perhaps a delay in Denver, but why the long ground turn in FLL? No answer.
  • United announced a pilot program in January called “Every Flight Has A Story” where they’d push out much more detailed information on delayed flights — rather than “Late Arriving Aircraft”, it would be “Our maintenance team is replacing an item on your plane and needs extra time to complete”. The pilot was scheduled for Houston and Phoenix. I haven’t seen much reaction to it, but at least for me, having some sense for the reason for a delay let’s me better figure out what I’m going to do next. I’m much less trusting of a newly posted departure time if I know the inbound plane is still on the ground, or if it’s a maintenance delay.
  • Of course, some of those explanations could be a bit more embarrassing than others. Like for Southwest, a couple of days after our flight back to Chicago, they had to cancel more than 200 flights because they ran out of de-icing fluid at Midway airport. You get that notification, and you’re shaking your head as you dial up an airline that knows how to fly in the winter.


  • Closing music — iTunes link to Pictures of You by Evangeline
  • OK, that’s it, that’s the end of TravelCommons podcast #138
  • 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
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  • Direct link to the show
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  1. Hi Mark, thanks for continuing to be the voice of the traveler!

    Regarding your lighthearted suggestion that you might start recording taproom video guides, I wanted to give this idea a big THUMBS-UP!

    Having followed your craft-beer exploits on Untappd for the past year, I can certify your credentials are beyond reproach!

    I would love to see your taproom guide to Chicago, New Orleans, New York, Edinburgh, and for any other city that you feel qualified to review!

    Best Regards,


    • Was working out the itinerary for a 4-taproom tour from Chicago’s Midway airport last weekend; want to give Southwest fliers some layover ideas. Planning to do it next month (April), hitting Lo Rez, Whiner, Marz, and Moody Tongue — taprooms that have recently opened in the grittier, post-industrial landscape of Chicago’s near south side. Won’t be able to do with this with mass transit; will be an Uber/Lyft tour.

  2. Sounds great Mark! I have a trip scheduled to Chicago in August to catch a couple of Reds games at Wrigley, and also to do some serious taproom touring. I will be very happy to field-test any guides that you might have published by then!

    I have been looking at the area North of Wrigley around Bowmanville/Andersonville, which seems to have a reasonable selection of taprooms in close proximity to one-another, including the Half Acre Balmoral Taproom, the Spiteful Brewing Taproom, The Empirical Taproom and Andersonville Brewing Co. Is this a part of town that you are familiar with?

    • I’m a bit familiar with Andersonville. Half Acre Balmoral and Spiteful are a couple of blocks from each other. Both relatively new. Half Acre is much bigger; both make good beer. Empirical can be the north end of a taproom crawl down the southbound side of Ravenswood Ave — Empirical, Band of Bohemia (more of a bar/restaurant that makes its own beer), Dovetail and Begyle. That would put you back on Irving Park Rd, not far from Wrigleyville.

      Also, check out Hopleaf on Clark Ave in Andersonville. It’s a great beer bar.

  3. Thanks Mark!

    My plans are coming together nicely!

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