It’s the sustainability episode of the TravelCommons podcast, talking about my experience renting a Tesla from Hertz and my road-tested list of Christmas gift suggestions for the frequent traveler(s) in your life. I also talk about some new TSA biometrics equipment I faced (literally) in Nashville and yet another update on the EU’s ETIAS system and the US’s Real ID. All this and more – click here to download the podcast file, go up to the Subscribe section in the top menu bar to subscribe on your favorite site, or listen right here by clicking on the arrow on the player.
Here is the transcript of TravelCommons podcast #197:
Since The Last Episode
- Intro music — Warmth by Makkina
- Coming to you from the TravelCommons studios in Nashville, TN after a pretty solid three weeks of travel — a business trip to the Boston suburbs, then down to New York to meet up with Irene and Claire for a long weekend of knocking around Brooklyn and Queens, and then, after a day of reloading suitcases and picking up the cat, driving up to Chicago for friends and family. When we got back home last Friday, I was ready to just stay put for a little bit. Which is about all it will be because we head out to the UK in less than two weeks.
- The Boston trip came up all of a sudden and I think is only my second post-pandemic business trip — my first was down to Miami in May 2021. Maybe I’ve timed out of my road warrior status, because everything felt a bit off. Flying BNA-BOS, my choices were JetBlue or Delta. I don’t have status on either, so I choose JetBlue because it’s the earlier flight out. No status means I also have to pay $80-100 to reserve a seat after paying $450 for a one-way ticket. I could’ve expensed it through, but the annoyance vein in my temple started to pulsate. How dare you, JetBlue! And in return for my righteous anger, I get assigned, at the gate, a middle seat in the last boarding group. I resign myself to having to gate check my carry-on. But then when boarding is called, the pre-boarding announcement is for JetBlue and American elites. Ugh! Such an amateur mistake — not keeping track of alliances and partnerships. If I’d put my Aadvantage Platinum number into my reservation instead of my plain TrueBlue number, I probably could’ve saved myself all that righteous anger and vein throbbing. Luckily though, I always carry my physical elite cards with me, so I show my Aadvantage Platinum card to the agent, get waved on, and find an empty bin right above my seat. I was a little concerned about fitting my big carry-on in an A220 — it was my first time on this plane — but no problem. The overhead bins on this plane are huge.
- After my window seat neighbor got settled, I put on my Bose noise-canceling headphones, dialed up the white noise app on my iPhone, and, middle seat be damned, nodded off sitting up straight. One thing I haven’t lost while working virtually — being able to fall asleep even before my 7am flight rotates off the runway.
- Bridge Music — funkyGarden by Jeris (c) copyright 2020 Licensed under a Creative Commons Noncommercial Sampling Plus license. http://dig.ccmixter.org/files/VJ_Memes/61356 Ft: airtone, SackJo22, Analog By Nature
- It wouldn’t be a proper Following Up section without yet another update on the US’s Real ID or the EU’s ETIAS rolling delays. Let’s do ETIAS, the EU’s pre-travel authorization system that gobs of click-bait websites have mislabeled a “European Visa.” The EU has tweaked their go-live date again — from last month’s May 2025 to a less definite/more nebulous “mid-2025” — which could be May or June or July. But I’m not sure why anyone in their right mind would want to flip the switch on this in the summer, during Europe’s peak tourist season. I’m taking the over on this; I don’t see it going live any earlier than October 2025.
- The US, on the other hand, seems to be sticking to their May 2025 date — for now. Remember, the initial deadline for needing a Real ID to board a commercial flight was January 2018 — which then got kicked to October 2020. But then COVID hit and in April 2020, soon after just about every government building was emptied out and locked up, the bright sparks at Dept of Homeland Security decided that driving crowds of people toward closed DMVs to replace their old driver’s licenses wouldn’t be great and pushed the deadline a year to October 2021. Which, we’ll all remember, wasn’t that much better — at least with regards to DMV accessibility. I remember lining up outside, in December 2021, in Chicago at a DMV to renew my driver’s license. And so another push, 19 months to May 2023. And then last December, they pushed it another 2 years to May 2025 because — who knows. So the US has got nothing to say to the EU. But on my flights a couple of weeks ago, I started seeing new signage “RealID coming in May 2025”; even the Delta app, when I checked in for my BOS-LGA flight, had a banner about it. Huh? I mean, why wind everyone up about a deadline that’s 18 months away and, if the kabuki theater of the last 5 years is any guide, will get pushed again.
- Now where DHS is moving much faster is rolling out biometrics to airport and customs checkpoints. Over the years here on TravelCommons, I have talked about my experiences with biometrics usage — starting with my first fingerprint scan back in the late ‘90’s so I could skip the US customs line at Toronto-Pearson Airport, then in 2008 letting the first iteration of CLEAR scan my eyeballs in exchange for a shortcut to the front of the TSA line, then in 2011 a background check and another fingerprint scan for Global Entry so I could skip all the US customs lines — so yes, I’ll do damn close to anything to skip an airport line. But over the past couple of years, it feels like DHS has been turning it up a notch. October 2021, our first international flight in a couple of years, on AirFrance, the gate agent took our picture when boarding and didn’t need to see our boarding pass. Last April, returning from the Netherlands, the Global Entry kiosk no longer needed to scan my fingerprints; a quick side glance at the camera was enough to recognize me and let me through. And now, a couple of weeks ago, at the BNA PreCheck line, a big sign “Identity Verification Technology. Biometrics technology is available at this checkpoint. Your participation is optional.” This is new; it wasn’t there 2 months ago when we flew out to Maine. I give my driver’s license to the TSA guy standing next to something like a camera on a stick; it looks a bit like the electronic customs gates at LHR. He puts my ID in the machine, tells me to look at the camera, then looks at the screen and waves me through. A couple of things here — I’m not sure how this is different from the TSA guy looking at my face and comparing it to the picture on my license; and I didn’t see any way that my participation was optional. And I certainly didn’t get to skip any lines for the biometric giveaway. I’ve been trying since April to get someone from TSA or DHS on the podcast to talk about this biometrics push and have gotten nothing but repeated “I’ll get back to you soon” from the TSA press secretary. Now maybe this new equipment gets us to the automated checkpoints I’ve been through in some smaller European airports — which could shorten the security lines — but I had to dig pretty deep into a bunch of jargon-y PDF documents on the TSA website to get even a hint of any benefits to the regular traveler. I dunno, maybe all the benefits are waiting on Real ID. Once everyone has that little gold star on their license, it’s clear sailing.
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- Bridge Music — Xena’s Kiss / Medea’s Kiss by mwic (c) copyright 2018 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license. http://dig.ccmixter.org/files/mwic/58883
Renting a Tesla
- After 2, 3? episodes of nattering on about electric vehicles, I decided to take up Hertz on their incessant email offers and rented a Tesla for my Boston business trip — giving EVs a try, but on someone else’s dime. The client site was only 18 miles from BOS and Google Maps told me there was a Tesla Supercharger nearby, so range risk wouldn’t be an issue. A couple of days before my flight, Hertz sent me an email which was pretty much a crash course on operating a Tesla, pictures, text, links to YouTube videos. I was both impressed and slightly overwhelmed, but I grabbed a beer out of the fridge — a 16 oz, this was going to take a bit — and ground through all the email links — which, I think, saved me time trying to figure things out in the Hertz lot.
- Over the past couple of years, we’ve talked about barren Hertz lots; renters queueing up for cars to appear. So when the Hertz employee pointed me to an EV aisle full up with 10-12 Tesla Model 3’s and a couple of Polestars it took me a moment to process all my options. My usual strategy, when I have a choice, is to run through the cars on the aisle and pick the one with the lowest mileage. But I wasn’t quite sure if that worked with a Tesla, and if it did, I didn’t recall from my crash course where to find the odometer. So, I chose a black Model 3 that had the least beat-up wheel rims — trying to minimize any damage arguments at return time.
- After I got in, powered it up, and got acclimated to the massive tablet screen in the center console, I saw that the battery level was at 69%. One of the crash course’s tutorials said it’d be at 100% and I’d be charged if I returned it under 80%. I snapped a picture of the battery display and told the guy at the exit gate. He shrugged and told me to bring it back at the same level. He didn’t seem very concerned.
- Coming out of the lot, the Tesla drove fine. After a couple of days, the battery had dropped into the mid-40s, so I decided to try out the Tesla Supercharger network. Tesla’s nav app directed me to a nearby shopping center. The chargers were in the farthest back corner of the Target parking lot. I backed in — looking at the other Teslas, it seemed the thing to do — plugged in the charger, and was a little shocked to see that it would take an hour to get me charged up to 100%. Now Irene would have no problem with this — an excuse to spend an hour shopping in Target? Bring it on. Me, not so much. Luckily, there was a Chipotle across the street, so I locked the car and walked over to grab lunch. When I got back, the car still had another 5 minutes before it got to 100%. I’m glad I didn’t wait ‘til it got down to 20%.
- Though maybe I should’ve waited, because by my last day, I’d driven off a chunk of that 100% charge and, heading back to BOS, I wasn’t completely confident that I’d arrive with the battery at the 69% level I’d picked it up at. And I guess that’s a place where an EV rental requires a bit more logistical planning. A regular gas car — there’s loads of places I could hit to quickly splash in a couple of last-minute gallons to keep the fuel gauge on Full. An EV? The Tesla nav app vectored me way off my usual I-90/I-93 tunnel routes to BOS, taking me way east, past some marshes just off the bay, to the back corner of another Target parking lot where I backed in amid a half-dozen other Teslas, their drivers all sitting there, working their phones, waiting for their cars to charge. I waited 10 minutes, splashed in enough electricity to get the battery gauge to 75%, and lit out. But I probably didn’t need to worry. Turning the car in, I told the Hertz guy I was under 80% charge because I got the car at 69%. No problem, he said. He didn’t seem very concerned. Honestly, I’ve never seen Hertz guys so nonchalant about their cars; especially after Hertz said in their last earnings call that EV repair costs are about double what they pay for gas-powered cars.
- On the shuttle bus to the terminal, I opened the email receipt and saw that the $15 charge from my first Supercharger visit had made it onto my invoice. A couple of things crossed my mind — definitely less than what I would’ve spent filling up a gas car, and I was impressed by the quick turnaround time because the toll charge I incurred two days before that, when leaving Logan through one of the tunnels, still hasn’t shown up and so is going to raise some eyebrows in A/P when I eventually try to expense it through. So all told, pretty good experience; kudos to Hertz. And now they’re trying to get me to rent a Polestar at LHR in a couple of weeks for our drive through the Devon countryside. Ehh, I don’t think I’ll push my luck.
- Bridge Music — i knew by bridges (c) copyright 2008 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license. Ft: shannonsongs
2023 Traveler’s Gift Guide
- Every couple of years around this time I update my gift guide to give folks suggestions for the frequent traveler in their lives. Or, if you are the frequent traveler, a list of hints you might want to drop on family members looking for ideas. The first time I did a gift guide, I published Thanksgiving week so people would have it for the Black Friday sales. But now with the Christmas shopping season having blown past that traditional Thanksgiving Friday start and with radio stations barely able to wait for the kids to finish counting their Halloween candy haul before flipping the switch on their All-Christmas-Music format, I’ve dragged the publishing date up to the front of November. The 2020 gift guide was probably the most unique. All the restaurant lockdowns and indoor dining limits had us eating in our hotel rooms which put bring-your-own dining sets and in-room coffee brewing kits onto the gift list. The disappearance of airport and in-flight mask mandates means that #1 gift on that year’s list — comfortable masks — has also dropped off.
- What hasn’t dropped off and is regularly at the top of my list is Battery Packs. We’ve talked a lot about how we can’t easily travel anymore without a working mobile phone. It holds our boarding passes, gives us gate change and flight delay notifications, unlocks our car (if we’ve rented a Tesla), routes us around traffic jams, and connects us to our Airbnb hosts. So having that second or third charge immediately available is critical to making it through a long travel day. I carry a Zendure SuperMini power bank in my bag because its USB-C port quickly tops up my iPhone while the USB-A port takes care of my Samsung tablet. I’ve updated Irene’s lipstick charger to an Anker with a flip-out Lighting connector so she doesn’t have to fish around in her purse for a cable. But there are a lot of choices; just pick one.. or two.
- Noise Canceling Headphones are also a perennial on my gift lists. I’ve been carrying Bose headphones for at least 15 years. Back then, the QC-3’s were de rigueur for any self-respecting road warrior. The “ah ha” moment for me was on a United Express Dash 8 turboprop flying to Sioux City, IA with an intermediate stop in Waterloo, IA. I was in a window seat on the wing and the droning of the prop just encased me; I couldn’t think of anything else — until I flicked the switch on my Bose. I’m now on my 3rd pair, the Bose 700’s. They’re not compact but they continue to earn their space in my travel bag. I picked up a pair of Apple AirPod Pros on a good Prime Day sale last month and so was able to compare the Bose and AirPod noise canceling on my Boston and New York flights. The AirPods are good, but not as good as the Bose. And the battery doesn’t last as long, which makes sense given the size differential. For me, the AirPod Pros are good for a 2-2.5-hr flight, but for, say, my upcoming UK trip, I’ll be packing the Bose.
- Apple AirTags earned a place on the list last October when I could see, sitting on the plane, that our bags weren’t going to make the connection in Newark on our way home from Rome. This didn’t get our bag to us, but it did save us the 30 minutes of suspense waiting for them to come out on the carousel, and let us instead go straight to the baggage service agent, be the first in line to file our report, and then head home after a very long travel day. They were definitely worth the purchase price just for that.
- For someone making the transition from virtual work to physical world road warrior, how ‘bout a Black 20-inch Carry-On Bag. Black not only makes you look thinner, it makes your bag look thinner to gate agents hunting for bag-sizer bait. My daughter had a baby blue roller bag for the longest time. She loved that color, and it was easy to spot on the luggage carousel, which was a good thing because it ended up there a lot because gate agents were always pulling her out of line to gate check that bag. So get a nondescript black bag with a set of clever, neon-colored luggage tags as a stocking stuffer. If you’re flying a budget airline that’s a stickler on size, get a hard-shell bag. It’ll keep its dimensions better when overstuffed, and the polycarbonate shell will slide past the metal bars of the sizer easier than the ballistic nylon of a soft-sided bag. You could range up in size to a 22-incher, but a 20-incher should safely fit in the overhead of just about every plane. I’m a big fan of the TravelPro line; for me they strike the right balance between price and quality. But there are lots — maybe way too many — options out there for you to choose from.
- Here’s a new list entrant — a Travel Power Strip. Potentially one of the least sexy things I could put on a gift list, but I’ve always tried to populate these with the things I actually use — and find myself needing the most when I’m on the road. And you think after, I dunno, 20 years of travelers needing to charge a bunch of electronics — PCs, mobile phones, tablets — hotels, B&B’s, resorts would put outlets that work on the top of flat surfaces like nightstands, end tables, desks, …. But I’d say that on half of my trips this year, I had to move furniture or get down on my hands and knees to find a single outlet. So you can get one of those cube-shaped travel adapters that show up on most travel gift guides, and still have to crawl under furniture every time you need to plug something new in. And that’s why I recommend a compact power strip — you move the nightstand once to reach down and plug it in, and then set the other end — the end with the outlets, the end you’ll regularly need easy access to — on top of the nightstand. Any power strip you buy nowadays will have some mix of USB and regular AC outlets. Anker has a seemingly infinite range of them. But if Anker is a little boring for you, way back in episode #159 in January 2020, long-time listener Arnoud Heijnis gave high marks to a circular power strip called the Power Bagel. Three years on, MOGICS, the manufacturer, now sells an updated version called the Super Bagel. Of course! With a lot of positive reviews confirming Arnoud’s view that the circle, the bagel shape, let you use every outlet, even when using those big wall wart power supplies
- So there you go, 5 gift ideas to fit all budgets, and with more than enough time to beat any early on-line shipping deadline. Check out the show notes for links, and happy shopping!
- Note: None of these suggestions are paid endorsements. This post contains links to Amazon where I can earn a small commission from qualifying purchases.
- Closing music — Pictures of You by Evangeline
- OK, that’s it, that’s the end of TravelCommons podcast #197
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