Podcast #156 — Airport Satisfaction; eScooters; Smaller Luggage

This Won’t Help Your Flier Sat Score

In this episode, we talk with Michael Taylor, author of JD Power’s 2019 Airport Satisfaction Survey, about what keeps fliers happy. I also talk about what I like about eScooters, shopping for a smaller bag for upcoming flights on a Euro budget airline, and how Hertz’s contract updates remind me to delete my Bluetooth pairings in rental cars. 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 #156:

  • Intro music — Warmth by Makkina
  • Coming to you today from the TravelCommons studio in Chicago in the middle of what looks like a 6-week run of solid travel. Traveled to DC, Charlottesville, and Nashville, in that order, in the 3 weeks since the last episode. Heading back to Charlottesville this week, then a week hopscotching through the Baltics with my son Andrew — Riga, Latvia; Talinn, Estonia; Helsinki, Finland — and then back down to Charlottesville.
  • I flew Southwest on my non-Charlottesville flights — into DC Reagan and Nashville — and United again to Charlottesville. The Southwest flights went smoothly, except for trying to get to Chicago Midway for the DC flight. The Uber driver didn’t follow the app’s recommended route; instead, he pretended he was a cab driver and took the normal route down the Stevenson Expressway which was crawling due to an earlier accident. I wasn’t paying attention – first time I’ve had an Uber driver freelance on me – and didn’t notice he’d skipped the exit to the faster path until it was too late. We made our flight, but not without a bit of hustle through Midway. No tip, let alone a 5-star review for that guy.
  • Southwest flies into the old Terminal A at what I still call Washington National. I went to college in DC in the early ‘80’s, before it was named for President Reagan and when Terminal A was pretty much all that was there. I had forgotten what a long schlepp it is from that terminal to the Metro station. I remember way back then asking someone why they built the Metro station so far away. “Because they’re going to build new terminals right across from it.” Which they finally did, some 20 years after that Metro station was opened. Sometimes it seems that airport planning horizons are not in years, or even decades; feels more like they’re planning in lifetimes.
  • In between the Southwest flights, my United flight continued the string of disruptions trying to get into or out of Charlottesville. I checked that my flight was on-time before calling an Uber — no weather delays at either end, United and FlightAware apps say the inbound plane is on-time…. Then, halfway to ORD, I get the text from United; a 2½-hour delay for crew arrival. What!? The next text “Because of crew scheduling disruptions this evening in Chicago, we’ve assigned your flight a new crew…. We know this delay wasn’t in your plans today, so we appreciate your patience.” No shit a 2½-hour delay wasn’t in my plans, especially when it’s because United stole our original crew because they screwed up their scheduling. And really United, you can’t find another pilot in ORD, your largest hub, that’s a little closer? I tell you what else isn’t in my plans, flying United to Charlottesville this week.
  • Bridge Music — Awel by stefsax (c) copyright 2006 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license. http://dig.ccmixter.org/files/stefsax/7785

Following Up

  • That’s the sound of my new Marriott Bonvoy Lifetime Titanium Elite card hitting the kitchen counter. The mailer package was appropriately upscale, but the sheer weight of the thing stunned me. I put a quick video of it on the TravelCommons Facebook page. Cate Rose commented “Hope it scans into your Stocard app so you don’t actually have to carry it in your luggage allowance”. My thought exactly.
  • I got a note that Chicago’s electric scooter pilot ends tomorrow, which made me realize that I’ve seen them in just about every city I’ve been to this summer — Budapest, Krakow, Charlottesville, Nashville, Washington, DC. I think the only places I didn’t see them were in Scotland and Ireland. They’re handy; because they’re dockless, I’ve found they have a wider distribution than, say, a traditional docked bike share and you can take them directly to your planned destination. And they’re a good fill-in between walking and an Uber or a Lyft. And, they’re fun! When I was in DC a couple of weeks ago, I was in the Brookland neighborhood in the Northeast part of town, and wanted to try out a new taproom there, Right Proper Brewing. Now Brookland is not the nicest part of DC. It’s much better than when I went to school there, but there are still iffy parts. I wasn’t completely comfortable walking down to Right Proper from the Brookland Metro stop, but it seemed too short for an Uber ride and there was no bus that went down there. But, there was a scooter a couple of blocks from the Metro station. Running down 9th St at 10 mph felt a bit better than speedwalking at 4. And could leave it right in front of the taproom. It was exactly what I wanted. Two problems I’ve seen — first, too many people riding them on the sidewalk, especially in DC. Maybe because I bike a lot in Chicago, I’m comfortable in bike lanes and navigating around cars on the street and keeping an eye out for potholes. I actually wouldn’t be comfortable riding a scooter on the sidewalk; I’d be afraid of popping a pedestrian who suddenly walked in front of me. To me, cars are much more predictable than pedestrians. The second thing, the need to have half-a-dozen scooter apps on your phone. In Chicago, there are 8 scooter companies, in addition to Uber and Lyft’s scooters. And you need to download their app to find and rent their scooter. Which meant that when I wanted to find a scooter near the Brookland Metro stop, I’d have to cycle thru 5 or 6 apps. Except I didn’t because I found an app called Scooter Map that shows all the scooter brands on one map. I think it’s targeted at folks who are making money recharging scooters (not quite sure how that works) but it worked fine for me. I fired it up and saw all the different scooters that were near me. One caveat — I’ve only ridden these scooters on sunny days. I’m not sure how enthusiastic I’d be riding one in the rain or snow.
  • For the Baltics trip next week, we’re taking Finnair out and back from Chicago, an early morning ferry ride from Talinn to Helsinki, and then AirBaltic for everything else. Which then got me thinking about luggage sizes, because I bought my current bag, the Victorinox Werks 22-incher, to use every last inch of US carry-on allowance. It even catches some side-eye from American and United where I have status. So I didn’t figure it’d fit into any European budget carrier’s luggage sizer. Looking up AirBaltic’s carry-on allowance, my Victorinox is a couple of inches too tall and an inch too deep. But what really got me shopping for a new bag for this trip is the weight. AirBaltic has an 8 kg/17½ lbs weight limit. In episode #121, I talked about the baggage strip tease exercise with Wow Air to make their 7 kg/15 lbs carry-on weight limit. I’d take my bag off the scale, pull some clothes out, zip it back up, and put it back on the scale. Still too heavy. Repeat 3 more times until the agent takes pity — or just gets tired of me — and gives me the approval tag to put on my bag. After which I walk about 10 feet, open my bag and put my armful of clothes back in. My Victorinox is a bit over 7 lbs, so not only is it too tall, the bag itself uses over 40% of the weight allowance. And even though I’ve talked before about how much I hate shopping for luggage, I searched for a smaller, lighter bag that wouldn’t cost a fortune, since my Victorinox will stay my primary bag. I landed on the the TravelPro Maxlite 5. I, or rather my daughter has a good history with TravelPro. It fit the AirBaltic dimensions and is one of the lighter bags I saw at 5.4 lbs which is down to 30% of the 8 kg weight allowance. It also meets three of the key suitcase criteria I laid down in the “how to shop for a suitcase” topic in episode #137 — it’s black, it’s a 2-wheeler so no lost space on extended spinner wheels, and the inside is, for the most part, a wide open box without clothes hangers or a bunch of zip compartments. I’m taking it to Charlottesville tomorrow for a shakedown cruise.
  • Three years ago, back in episode #125, in a Travel Security tip, I talked about the need to delete your phone’s Bluetooth pairing when you return a rental car. Usually when I go to pair my phone, I’ll first go through and delete 3-5 pairings before pairing my own. And they all have personalized names like “Timmy’s iPhone”. And most phones by default will download your contacts to the car when paired, so leave all of their contacts and phone numbers in their rental. That is just bad in so many ways. And now Hertz has gotten around to noticing it. In their newest rental terms and conditions, they specifically carve out any liability from you leaving a Bluetooth pairing behind. It’s a pain to remember, especially if you’re running for a flight, but as you’re taking that last scan around the car for your sunglasses and iPhone, remember not to leave your identity behind either.
  • Bridge Music — Black Rainbow by Pitx (c) copyright 2009 Licensed under a Creative Commons Sampling Plus license. http://dig.ccmixter.org/files/Pitx/19513 Ft: ERH, acclivity

Keeping Fliers Happy

  • A couple of weeks ago, JD Power released their 2019 North American Airport Satisfaction Study.  The headline – “North American Airports Struggle to Keep Travelers Happy Amid Construction Delays and Surging Passenger Volumes” caught my eye, so I reached out to the study’s author, Michael Taylor, to dig into it a bit more. And so last Friday, we had a wide-ranging conversation. I was going to edit it down, but as I listened to it, I couldn’t think about what to cut. So here it is in its entirety…
  • Interview with Michael Taylor, Travel Intelligence Lead at J.D. Power
  • Thanks again to Michael for taking the time to talk to us. Here’s the link to the study summary on the JD Power website.


  • Closing music — Pictures of You by Evangeline
  • OK, that’s it, that’s the end of TravelCommons podcast #156
  • I hope you all enjoyed this podcast and I hope you decide to stay subscribed.
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