Now blogging at diego's weblog. See you over there!

an unexpected upgrade

Something unexpected happened during the time I was away: Eircom has, astonishingly enough, upgraded my DSL connection. I'm now regularly getting download speeds of 1.5 Mbps and sometimes more. The upload speed appears to be stuck at 128Kbs though, which is still a problem for Video/Voice communications.

I still have to check that they are not charging me more too (not likely, but it wouldn't surprise me one bit), but good news anyway. :)

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on May 24, 2005 at 10:06 AM


Samurize, similar to Konfabulator (but only for Windows). Probably well-known to many, but it was news to me when Martin showed it to me last week. Cool!

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on May 24, 2005 at 9:40 AM

the friendly skies

"Due to our policy of overselling flights, this flight has been oversold"

An airplane PA announcement in The Simpsons.

The woman next to me has been getting a tiny little bit more hysterical every second that passes. The UA employee is trying to calm her, babbling the usual airline non-denial denial ("it's not our fault"). The woman is all dressed in gray, her hair knit into a ponytail so tight it looks as if it's painted on her head.

Then she starts sobbing. "But I was in line," she says, looks down to the floor.

I suddenly remember the scene in Airplane when a line forms in the aisle of the plane, with people waiting for their turn to calm one of the passengers. The nun! I chuckle.

Meanwhile, the UA employee commiserates, but only the right amount.

The woman looks up, and says, "I really wanted that upgrade."

That's right. The woman is crying because she's not gonna get "her" upgrade to Business. She'll have to fly "Economy Plus". Eventually she gathers herself and valiantly makes across the room, to the gate, into the plane.

Me? I'm not flying at all.

I've been "rejected."

The three phases of rejection

I experienced this in United, but by no means it is restricted to them. When a Crappy Airline (TM) rejects passengers because to an oversold flight, they go through the three steps of passenger rejection, as outlined by Freud in his short treatise Commercial Flight, the Super Ego, and the influence of tiny complimentary Shampoo bottles:

  1. Denial with Observation. This is apparent in the typical pre-departure announcement "We are looking at an oversold flight tonight."
  2. Acceptance. A corageous employees, hidden behind the counter, announces "We have an oversold flight tonight."
  3. Juggling. "We will need to find new flights for these fifteen people."

At one point I almost went up to the counter to ask them whether this mess was ever their fault. All of their statements implied they looked at these things as act-of-God kind of situations more than the result of the company's own stupidity, or crappy software, or whatever reason there may be for them to oversell more than 20 seats in a 300-seat airplane.

But I digress. The plane is now majestically backing from the gate. I'm most definitely not in it.

It's 7:30 PM.

I had been packing and arranging stuff since Friday night, and Saturday both Martin and Russ helped a lot (Thanks guys!) with packing/moving stuff. I had miscalculated a bit the amount of stuff I had to pack/clean up and without them it would have been much more difficult.

Back to the airport, and the plane backing up. At this point I've been at SFO for three hours, arriving two and a half hours before the scheduled departure of 7 pm (and three hours before the actual departure) but that doesn't seem to matter. That I bought the ticket over three months ago doesn't seem to matter, either. They had already been looking for "volunteers" to fly the next day, in Business class. But, like in the movies, once they fell short of volunteers they just drafted a bunch of us.

So we get some vouchers for a Crown Plaza SFO and for dinner and breakfast. The value of the meal voucher? $15. For a hotel restaurant! Clearly these people haven't eaten at any hotels recently. $15 may be enough to pay for the mini packet of ketchup.

Problem is, the paperwork takes time. Suddenly it's 8 pm. Then it's 9pm. We have to go from one counter to another. I seem have packed a black hole in my bag, since it appears to be getting heavier by the minute. I look around but spacetime does not appear to be collapsing into it. Hm.

They also give me a UA coupon/cheque which I promptly cash. I eventually get to the hotel at around 10:30 pm.

At this point, my anger at being treated like space-age cattle has subsided a bit. Business class, some cash... it's not that bad! I follow this line of thought for a few moments until I remember that when I was asked to "volunteer" for exactly the same thing, I didn't. Hm. What was I thinking!? Maybe that losing a day was not a good option given my schedule next week. Maybe that I shouldn't have been left with no information whatsoever waiting at the gate for hours, with all the UA people stonewalling. Maybe I was thinking that, Business class or not, the new flight next day required a change of planes in JFK, which exponentially increased the probability for something else to go wrong, which brought me to the most important point: my visa was a little more than a day from expiring. Any extra delay and it could be a problem. Not good.

On the way to the hotel I keep humming Show me the way to go home/I'm tired and I want to go to bed/I had a little drink about an hour ago/and it's gone right to my head. But this being just the beginning of the trip, and having had nothing to drink, is clearly out of place. I stop humming. :)

the next day

I wake up at five, having finally been able to go to sleep about four hours earlier. My new flight leaves at 9. By now I'm a bit paranoid about this stuff, but I have time. I eventually get to the airport around 7. I have some breakfast. I go to the gate. Around 8 am, they change gates.

Then they start announcing that the flight has been oversold, and they are looking for volunteers.

Oh-oh. I walk up to the counter, and double check that I'm in. Yes. Good. So me and my fellow stranded travellers have used up a number of tickets on this flight, resulting in other people getting "rejected". I begin to wonder if the problem with my flight yesterday actually started, say, in the late 1990s and they've just been pushing people forward since then. Why get more planes when you can just keep delaying passengers ad infinitum?

The flight to JFK is pretty good, actually. They give me a portable DVD player to watch movies, and both the movies and the DVD player explain in large, friendly letters, that they only work with each other. Meaning: if you steal me, I won't be useful.

We get to JFK barely 15 minutes before the connecting flight to Heathrow starts boarding. That goes well, and as I settle down in my seat, the pilot waxes lyrically about getting to London an hour early. We proceed to sit on the tarmac for the next hour and a half, and eventually take off, at which point the pilot tells us that, well, we will actually be getting to Heathrow half an hour late. The Business class seats on this 777 are still lavish compared to economy but are relatively small. I notice there's another type of seat, another class, between where I'm sitting and First. What the...? I suppose there's always a way of getting more money out of your customers.

The movies on this flight are all terrible, and the outlet that my seat has (which I was counting on) requires a special plug, which I don't have, and which the flight attendant doesn't have either. I can't sleep. I start doing some stuff, predictably with the power options to the wrong setting, and my battery's gone in a little more than an hour. And no Internet either.

the last leg

London's Heathrow Airport was designed by a group of super-smart chipmunks with the purpose of driving passengers mad, or so I've heard. I mean, an airport where the Terminals not only have some hallways that hundreds of meters long, but are themselves separated by a few kilometers... (and no, I'm not exaggerating).

Particularly for international flights that connect to another UK/Ireland destination, every time you land at Heathrow you should be ready to spend the next hour or so walking (or running) from Terminal 3 to Terminal 1, with (if you're lucky) a bus ride in between (no luck? got lost? more walking!), plus another security check because all the back and forth forces you to leave the secure part of the terminal. I finally get to the gate, completely exhausted, a few minutes before they start to board.

From there, it's another short delay: another full plane. so everyone's forced to check in their carry-ons. By now I'm oblivious. An hour later I'm in Dublin. My bags get there with me (phew!). I was supposed to arrive here almost 24 hours ago. I Take a taxi, I get a bit overcharged but I don't worry too much.

Then, eventually, home. Happy at that, even if I know that the next few hours will be spent with chores: dusting, getting food,, and getting some work done. I have no idea if I'll synchronize properly with GMT, but the crazy schedule of the last two days certainly bodes well for that.

In retrospect it wasn't as bad a situation as it could be. I ended up getting home with all my stuff and my schedule is now a wreck (plus I'm more tired). But the real problem is that the airline, in this case United, sucks so badly at giving information to its customers. Had they said at checkin that this was an issue (right after I got to the airport on Saturday) I may have changed plans then. Instead they stonewall and make up excuses and keep you waiting, leaving you in the dark. They still don't get it. Information is good. Telling your customers what's going on is good. A bad situation is made worse by lack of information; people get more stressed and confrontational when they don't know what's going on. When will they learn? Yeah, I'm not holding my breath.

And now back to our regularly scheduled programming...

ps: loong post! Wow. I kinda cheated by "writing it" in my head while I was traveling yesterday. And there's more. But it'll have to wait. :-)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on May 24, 2005 at 6:23 AM

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