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.

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Tips for Buying A Suitcase

Rejected and Retired Suitcases

I’ve been putting off shopping for a new bag for a long time, as in years. Up until a few months ago, I was using a vintage Swiss Army black roller that still sported the Vietnamese and Hong Kong customs stickers it picked up in 2008. A few years ago, I’d retired it in favor of a grey Samsonite bag, but had to force the old vet back into service when the Samsonite’s rollers got wonky — the rubber wore off and the wheels splayed out after 2½ years of trundling across New Orleans sidewalks.

But then, right before Thanksgiving, the old Swiss guy resigned, rendering itself unusable when its retractable handle stuck in the extended position. I was still able to avoid luggage shopping, though. I  pulled out the Bluesmart smart bag I’d bought from their Indiegogo fundraising campaign. I recharged the battery, updated its iPhone app, and put it back into service — only to read the next week that it was about to be banned by airlines because its lithium battery isn’t removable.

With nothing left in the attic, I was finally forced to shop for a new suitcase. But what to buy? I started with a survey of fellow travelers. Actually, it was more like stalking; I eyeballed every piece of luggage that passed by me for two weeks. Then I wandered through the basement luggage departments of a couple of Macy’s, opening bags and waving off clerks. After all that, I gave into my OCD and built this prioritized list of suitcase shopping evaluation criteria:

  1. The bag has to be a carry-on. Now that may seem a bit of a “duh”, but there is some ambiguity; the approved height of a carry-on bag varies by airline between 19 and 22-inches. If I want to play it safe, I’d go for a 20-inch bag, but then I also want to maximize my carry-on space. Most US carriers accept a 22-inch bag and that’s mostly what I fly, and even when I’m on European carriers I usually have enough alliance status to glide past the baggage sizer. So I tilt the balance in favor of maximum packing volume and go for a 22-inch bag.
  2. It needs to be black. As I said in my Ruthless Packing Tips post, black not only makes you look thinner, it makes your bag look thinner to gate agents scanning for bag-sizer bait. Black also doesn’t show stains. My grey Samsonite bag, after 3-4 months of my travel schedule, started to look a lot less non-black. Smudges from grease on overhead bin hinges, muck from taxi trunks, muddy water from New Orleans gutters, spilled coffee…. It’s why I can’t have nice luggage.
  3. Two wheels, not four. This is more of a personal preference. My Bluesmart is a 4-wheel spinner and my wife swears by hers, but because the 4 wheels have to extend from the bottom of the bag, spinners sacrifice packing space for agility. Also, I find 4-wheelers have a tendency to wander off — rolling away down ramps or on uneven floors. I go for the 2-wheeler, and with the biggest wheels I can find to make it an easier, smoother pull. I was surprised how much this limited my selection. Spinners definitely rule.
  4. The inside of the suitcase has to be plain and empty. No clever collection of zipped compartments, or built-in suit hangers, or ratcheting clothes dividers; just a wide open box that I’m free to structure how I want for each trip. I was surprised how this also limited my selection. Indeed, in the end, I couldn’t find just a plain box, and settled for a bag where I could detach the suit hanger and clothes divider and stash that stuff up in Luggage Retirement Home next to the Bluesmart.
  5. Buy on-line. A recent study of 32,672 luggage price showed that you can save an average of $110/39% buying on-line. Walmart and Target’s on-line stores had the highest discounts. And while Amazon was in 10th place for average discount (in the 40% range), it was tops with the greatest variety — over 12,000 luggage items.

Podcast #137 — New Year’s Travel Status Tips; How to Shop for a Suitcase

How many nights to get Leopard Print status?

So we’re four weeks into the new year and 30-50% of us have already ditched our New Year’s resolutions, but we still have time to get our 2018 travel status lined up. Over the holiday break, I bought a non-smart carry-on to replace my now-banned Bluesmart; I walk through my shopping criteria. All this and more at the direct link to the podcast file or listening to it right here by clicking on the arrow below.

Thanks to TravelPerk for sponsoring this episode.

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Looking Back at 2017 — The Highs and The Lows

After clearing the mists of last night’s New Year’s Eve party, I thought about some of the highlights and lowlights of my travels in 2017

Highlights

  • Uber/Lyft Driver Stories — Not only are Uber and Lyft rides easier to get than most taxis, the stories the drivers tell are a lot more entertaining. A Lyft driver in Charlottesville gave me a local’s view on the Robert E. Lee statue controversy while a Uber driver told me why driving full-time in Chicago traffic was less stressful than being a hotel manager.
  • Continued Craft Beer Explosion — Regular podcast listeners know that I have a craft beer obsession. The hunt for new beers and microbrewery taprooms helps me break out of the usual travel rut — places like a light industrial area in Richmond, Virginia and a North African neighborhood on the west side of Paris.
  • Hertz’s Presidents Circle Aisle — My experience with Hertz has completely turned around — from enduring a steady stream of beat-up high-mileage cars to picking out a new Jag. Three years ago, I paid no attention to Hertz’s loyalty program. Two months ago, I made sure I had enough rentals to re-up my Presidents Club status for this year.
  • Hotel Flat-Screen TVs with Open HDMI Ports — When I started traveling, hotel TVs were locked down tight because in-room movie rentals was a major revenue stream. While that stream dried up years before LodgeNet went bankrupt in 2013, hotels kept their TVs locked down and we resigned ourselves to watching Netflix on 14-inch laptop screens. But now that the latest generation of flat-screen TVs have open HDMI ports, I’ve added an HDMI cable to my standard travel kit so I can plug my laptop in and watch movies on a 40-inch screen again.
  • Google Translate — Thinking through my international travel this year (Paris, Vienna, Budapest), Google Translate has evolved to being pretty close to magic. The Word Lens feature lets you point your phone camera at, say, a menu and see English words replacing the French in real time. Saves you from mistakenly ordering chicken when you mix up poulet and poisson after a couple of cocktails.
  • Top 3 Airports — SFO’s new Terminal 2 which I think is better than perennial list toppers Singapore and Hong Kong, and then two pleasant surprises in May at Vienna and Budapest airports.

Lowlights

  • Passenger-Airline Personnel Conflicts Become Physical — The worst thing that used to happen was raised voices between a gate agent and a bumped passenger. That now seems very quaint after United Airlines had ORD Security Police drag a passenger off a plane to make room for one of their employees.
  • Overtourism — The #TouristGoHome campaign gaining traction in places like Barcelona and Venice recasts  the travel industry as a resource-consuming zero-sum game that crowds out and prices out locals from the historic centers of their cities. Iceland is the poster child for overtourism with an estimated 2.3 million tourists in 2017 visiting a country with 340,000 residents. It’s a wider threat, though; the dark side of the growth of Airbnb and budget airlines like WOW Air.
  • Smart Luggage Ban — After two years of carrying GPS-enabled bags from start-ups like Bluesmart without incident, US airlines decided just before Christmas that the batteries powering those location trackers are a fire hazard and will be banned as of January 15. A lot of frequent travelers are going to need to find closet space for their expensive but now-obsolete luggage.
  • Full Planes with Tight Seats — Airlines are flying fuller planes — reducing the number of empty seats, and adding more rows. The tighter confines of the coach cabin make it difficult to do much more than sit up straight and listen to podcasts. I’ve given up on trying to work on airplanes. It seems almost anti-social to try to open a laptop.
  • Lobbying for High Review Ratings — More and more hotels, restaurants, and other travel businesses see anything other than a 5-star rating as an insult.
  • Bottom 3 Airports — New York-LaGuardia (construction disruptions reinforce its bottom spot), Munich, and Atlanta (60-90 minutes of heavy traffic between the airport and most of Atlanta’s business destinations)

Podcast #136 — Is Cash A Waning King; Don’t Make It Hard to Cash in on Loyalty

A C-Note for you, and you, and you…

After traveling with younger colleagues who pay for everything with cards, I wonder if I’m the last generation of cash payers. I also talk about the upcoming smart luggage ban on US airlines and a long Saturday afternoon trying to redeem some British Airways Avios points. All this, a new Uber driver story, and a few Christmas carols at the direct link to the podcast file or listening to it right here by clicking on the arrow below.

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Holiday Airport Bingo

Bingo card played with bottle caps.

Buy another round! I just saw a Hello Kitty bag!

I remember playing license plate and travel bingo as a kid driving down I-65 to Grandma’s house. But that was before deregulation, when plane flights were more comfortable but a lot more expensive. With more families flying to Grandma’s house, airport bingo seems more on-target. A quick Google search will find all sorts of airport bingo cards with squares for things like “police dog” and “solo traveler” to help you  as one press release put it, “pass the time while not so patiently waiting to board.”

That’s OK for a start, I guess. But here at TravelCommons, we try to go to the next level of road warrior-ism, so here is an airport bingo card with a more realistic take at holiday air travel…

  1. 10-15 minute traffic jam on the airport access road — just long enough to get those stress hormones flowing
  2. You score a complimentary PreCheck notice on your boarding pass
  3. 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.
  4. 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?
  5. 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.
  6. Piano bar playing Christmas carols — or if you’re in Nashville airport, a country duo
  7. 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.
  8. Someone sprinting down the terminal
  9. 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
  10. Craft beer bar with beers you haven’t had — get those stress hormones back under control
  11. 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.
  12. One of the cabin cleaning crew is wearing reindeer antlers
  13. Free Space
  14. Passenger walking back up to the front of the plane because the bag wouldn’t fit in the overhead
  15. Boarding is complete and there’s an empty middle seat next to you!
  16. Missing crew. 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.
  17. Window seat passenger is startled by a direct hit from the de-icing fluid spray
  18. Someone in the row in front of you is watching a compilation of Game of Thrones sex scenes on a full-sized iPad
  19. Old school flight attendant hangs a coffee pack in the rear toilet as an air freshener
  20. Passenger wearing destination-inappropriate clothing (e.g., cargo shorts on a flight to Green Bay, Canada Goose jacket on a flight to Cancun)
  21. Passengers applaud the plane landing
  22. Early arrival!  Favorable winds put you on the ground 30 minutes early. You start to think that you should travel more often.
  23. The first restroom you walk past is closed for cleaning, maintenance, or the line is out the door
  24. Your luggage is one of the first 10 bags to appear on the belt
  25. Grandma’s car is there when you walk out of the terminal — and the airport police didn’t ticket her or make her recirculate

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.


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Podcast #134 — Value of Loyalty; Need Those 5 Stars

Status Recognition in Vietnam

Finding a Jag in the Hertz Presidents Club aisle has me thinking about the differing value of loyalty from hotel, airlines, and car rental companies while 5-star rating schemes are pushing grade inflation. All this and comments on luggage discounts, traveling while injured, and #metoo while flying at the direct link to the podcast file or listening to it right here by clicking on the arrow below.


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