Saturday, August 04, 2007

24 hours of Travel = endless stories.

Random thoughts from a recent whirlwind business trip to Cincinnati (24 hours; 12 of it on a plane):

United's 777's are huge. With a 2-5-2 seating configuration and three separate sections in Economy, each the size of a normal 737, this thing packs them in. However, it is easily one of the most poorly designed planes I have ever been on:

- The seats in Economy are so tightly packed, it's insulting. Especially when you compare to JetBlue or even Southwest.

- Why don't people ever learn that design and compromise almost never go well together (Ayn Rand taught us this, folks.) For instance, who's the brain surgeon who said "we want a multimedia system at every seat in Economy" and then followed it up with putting a metal case the size of a desktop PC under every seat? This lovely setup gives you a choice: a place to put your bag, or a place to put your feet. Nope, you can't do both. Outstanding.

- Those first class "pods" are truly something special. One button, and your seat becomes a bed, complete with white noise on the built in entertainment system and a desk with a charger for the laptop. As you drift off to sleep, a massage lulls you. United missed the boat: they need to sell these suckers in Hammacher Schlemmer for the home.

- I get the plane is huge. Any reason United doesn’t seem to? They put the thing at the smallest gate in the terminal in both San Francisco and Chicago, ensuring that there is absolutely no way to load the craft in anything approaching an efficient fashion. Yep, nothing like a half hour in the boarding chute to make you love those frequent flyer miles.

- Kudos to United for their onboard mapping application. Us seasoned travelers dig it, but I always wondered why everyone was still using MapQuest's maps from 1999 (that wonderful copyright is omnipresent in most systems). United's also gives you periodic updates on airspeed, time left, and time at the local destination. And the one-touch map button on the control arm is a godsend. Psst...hook up with Google Earth next time and put that screen to work!

United also seems to have taken inefficiency to a new surreal level:

- On boarding the last leg of my trip, we were cheerily informed that, while we were absolutely certain to be late in departing (partially due to said cattle chute), we would still arrive on time because the original planned departure time was cleverly calculated in advance to be early. WHAT???

- Stuck in the boarding tube from hell, a harried flight attendant burst through the throngs, announcing to any and all that the plane had no power. Oh, and had anyone seen any pilots in the crowd? I kid you not.

- Remember how big those 777's are? Amazing that on not just one 777 flight, but two, they were BOTH overbooked. Luckily, you could get a free RT ticket for giving up your precious overheated, no-place-to-put-your feet seat for a flight the next morning. Um…we have computers now, folks: isn't air travel advanced enough not to have to ask Las Vegas to lay odds for them on successfully getting X asses into X seats?

Other surreal moments:

- Blearily stumbling through O'Hare at 5:30 AM to make a connecting flight (on the other side of the country's busiest airport, of course) and almost bowling over…Al Sharpton. Yep, can't make this stuff up.

- Boarding my first United Express jet…and noticing it's just like a real plane, but everything is perfectly scaled down by 1/3. Headroom? 1/3 less. Aisle width? Yep. Overheads? You bet: 1/3 scale. In flight magazine? 1/3 less pages. But nothing capped the drink cart: you haven't lived until you've seen one of these in action. This plane instantly makes you feel like you've accidentally grown to 9 feet tall.

- Landing in Dayton, Ohio, and immediately heading for the nearest cup of coffee…at something called Boston Stoker? And, at 7:30 AM, a place called Boston Stoker Coffee, proudly proclaimed as Dayton's best coffee, located at the airport, with no other coffee choices…hadn't brewed any coffee yet. Oh, the joy of the slower pace of the Midwest.

- Going to the rental car location, we exited the Dayton airport…into a cornfield. In fact, the entire airport is essentially carved out of a cornfield. Field of Dreams? Luckily, the car rental was only 120 ears away.

- I'm sure there's a perfectly good reason for it, but something called Fifth Third Bank seems like a bad place to put my money. They don't seem to have a head for figures.

- You ever notice on some longer flights that the flight attendant will, later on, bring a bottle of water and cups through the cabin for any thirsty folks? On the flight to SFO, United's flight attendant randomly decided white wine would be much better instead. I figured she was either trying to finish a bottle from Business class or just had lost her mind. Luckily, it was the latter: she finished off the bottle, and immediately headed for the galley for a new one, and resumed pouring for us stunned Economy passengers. Think this only happens on flights to Wine Country?

- Kevin Smith waxes poetic about Tim Horton's, so I had to stop and pop the pastry. Sorry, Sir: Dunkies has it beat cold. Hell, even lowly Happy Donuts in San Francisco could top those poor excuses for fine carb laden cuisine.

- What seems like a good time saver but really turned out to be a bad idea: bringing a new men's shirt, still in the plastic, for the morning airport men's room stall quick change. Even the vast expanse of the sole handicapped commode could not overcome the sheer torture of trying to undo the mixture of origami and camouflaged pin inserting that men's shirts are plagued with. And someone PLEASE explain why there is an entire forest of cardboard in there with it???

- GPS is simply a godsend for business travel: hit the address, and start driving. That's it. Reminds me of when I first started to use Google: why would I ever need to clutter my brain up with useless information again? TomTom, I salute you.

And finally,
- SFO: great idea, letting you insert your credit card when you enter the garage instead of having to get a ticket. Um…maybe you want to close the loop by putting a checkout lane I can just insert my card and get the receipt, WITHOUT the forlorn cashier sitting next to me, watching me take away his job, one slip at a time? Two words: Unmanned lanes.

Glad to be back. Next week, I get to do it all again!

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