Run amok at Schiphol

Something is up at Schiphol airport in Amsterdam.

Three times in the last two weeks my carry-on bag was dumped and searched and rescreened. Now, this was in the “priority” lane, after speeding through the first part of security. And it wasn’t just me; they were dumping everybody’s stuff. I understand it probably means something was up, or they were looking for something specific.

But, they cost me money! Each time some thing or another that was carefully packed (and if you know me, you know I will have packed my bag with great care, placing things in exact spots so I can reach them in flight, etc.) got dumped out and didn’t get back into the bag. Fortunately none of it was critical. Still, I’ve had to buy new ones (two flash drives, and three plug adapters, and one charger) since coming home.


Uber’s Britches

I was one of Uber’s first fans. After three decades in Philadelphia, screaming at cab drivers, being driven around in circles scrunched into that tiny space in the filthy backseat, I was overjoyed when I could sit in a nice car with space for my feet and a driver who would take me where I wanted to go. After decades of calling and calling and calling and no cab ever showing up and almost missing flights, jogging down a snow-covered street in my TSA sandals waving at cabs, I was excited to use a simple app to summon a ride. To my joy, Uber soon appeared in Toronto and Amsterdam, two places where I spent a lot of time; it was like a new beginning, making life (especially professional life) easier and therefore less stressful and ultimately more productive. It was particularly useful when I had ecclesiastical garb on and in my hands and needed not to have to drive or park to the church where I was headed.

In the beginning Uber was always just terrific. There were occasional glitches, like airport pickups, but eventually they seemed to have gotten that part worked out too. The first drivers were all terrific and enthusiastic.

But now it seems Uber has got too big for its britches.

SUVs substitute for actual cars everywhere. Never mind the pathetic waste of energy and the enormous carbon emmissions used to drive one rider around in one of those tanks, they’re also difficult to get into and out of. I always summon a car, and I almost always now get an SUV. I insist on sitting in the front, where I can just slide in and out; I refuse to climb into that awful claustrophobic buslike interior. Uber, you’re not doing anybody a favor pretending an SUV is the same as a car.

There are more, and more unpleasant, drivers now too. In Philadelphia, when you summon Uber at the airport, the app tells you where to stand (Zone 6) and you input the terminal where you’ve arrived. The driver has your exact coordinates and you’ve been told exactly where you’ll get picked up. So, about the time you put your glasses away and swing your bag over your shoulder and start walking to the pickup spot the *#$%& driver calls you. IF you don’t answer they cancel you. If you do manage to answer—stop, put down your bags, fish out your glasses, fish out your phone and answer—they ask if you wanted Uber? And where are you, are you at the airport? It makes me crazy. If they’re so stupid they can’t see you at the exact location you entered, plus the blue dot that shows exactly where you’re standing, they shouldn’t be driving people around in vehicles. Does Uber really not instruct them that the app has already instructed us? One in ten of them says their Uber app doesn’t show where the customer is, but the other nine drive right to the spot. Hmmm …..

As I often say to these drivers, if I wanted to use the phone I’d call a taxi.

What’s with the stink? Everyone of those damn SUVs stinks. They think it’s “air freshener” but I’m often lucky if I don’t vomit from it. I’m allergic to those sort of smells and it makes my throat and sinus passages seize up. Sometimes I have to go back home and shower and change clothes and hunt down my asthma medicine and then try going out again. Sometimes I have to do the laundry every time I get out of an Uber. Uber, the stink stinks! Knock it off!

I was recently in Calgary for a conference. I was looking forward to going into the city each evening to try restaurants. But, when I arrived at the airport the Uber app said “no cars available.” I tried again once out of the building (in St. Louis, to get Uber you have to exit baggage claim and stand in the garage), but still “no cars available.” When I got to my hotel I opened the app again just to see whether I could use it to get to my conference. This time I got the political pop-up telling me that thanks to the mayor of Calgary, Uber had stopped serving the city. Thanks Uber for stranding me!

And thanks Calgary for making my trip so miserable. I did have to take taxis a few times to my conference. It was just like the old days, call and wait, wait wait, then call again and wait some more. Crawl into a tiny space in the back. And fish around for the right change to pay. I decided to stay in my hotel. No bucks for Calgary if I can’t use Uber to get around. And in all the other places, Milwaukee included, where it’s increasingly difficult to Uber, I’m planning to just stay home.

Last night we went to the symphony. It’s several miles from where we live to the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts downtown, and I don’t like to drive down there when I know we’ll be starting the evening eating and drinking. So we take Uber. Last night we used UberX to get to the restaurant and then another UberX to get to the Marcus Center. After the concert, when my head is full of music, I usually call Uber Black Car to get us home–we can sit and mull over the music and look at the lake in the moonlight. But not last night. Last night the first driver to pick up my request had an SUV (of course), and was parked in front of the Center according to the app, but instead of picking us up he texted to ask whether I wanted an Uber and for how many and where was I going. Now, as I said before, if I wanted to mess around with that I could call a cab. The whole point of Uber is that the app takes care of all that. I cancelled him. My husband went to the bathroom at that point so I just sat for awhile. Several minutes later I tried again. Same guy, same thing; I cancelled him again. Every time I tried to request a car he picked it up; I cancelled him. He started phoning me; I denied the call. I cancelled him again. There were other cars onsite, I could see that on the app, but he wouldn’t let any of them take the pickup. So, I switched to UberX. The driver was on an adjacent side street, drove right to where we were standing and picked us up with no inquiries, and we had an okay drive home. At this point three hours of Tchaikovsky was hopelessly shoved out of my consciousness.

Another problem with Uber Milwaukee is that none of the drivers of black cars (aka SUVs) is working with the rules. Most of them hand you a card and say not to use the app, just call them. Then after you’re in the car you mess around trying to get their Uber app to find yours. But there are several problems with this scenario. One is that you can’t use your app. Does anybody remember the app was the whole point? Another is that if the guy answers his phone (remember, I don’t want to make phone calls?), he says he’ll be there in 10 minutes. Ninety minutes later he calls to say he’s delayed. More than once I had international guests cooling their heels waiting to be taken to dinner and restaurants ticked off that we were two hours late for a reservation. If I’d used the app I’d have been there (stinky, but there).

A municipality that wants people to go out needs functioning transportation. Apart from New York subways and Amsterdam trams that means fully functional Uber is necessary. Uber Milwaukee needs to get with the program.

And Uber you’re too big for your britches. Try thinking twice about the service you offer before your formerly enthusiastic customers quit on you.

Izzy Bonilla Tells Milwaukee Seniors Where to Go

Izzy Bonilla, the new director of Mitchell Airport, has gone to war with the region’s senior citizens and disabled people. To “save electricity” he has shut down the moving sidewalks in Concourse D and the escalators to and from them.

These were built, of course, when Frontier had a hub in that concourse.

Delta used to be on concourse E and USAirways/American on concourse C. But they’ve all been moved TO THE END of D, about a half mile walk from TSA. Seniors (who are the people who can afford to travel) and disabled people were accustomed to using those moving sidewalks to get ALL THE WAY OUT TO THE END of D, where the Delta Sky Lounge and Delta, Frontier, and American gates begin.

It’s no good to be sweaty and in pain before your trip even begins. When I wrote in, I got a reply about two months later from a lower level functionary. I was told to get in a wheel chair. But that’s humiliating, not to mention unnecessary. All I want is the moving sidewalks back. I suggested, if they have to save electricity, they could a) get golf carts like every other airport on the earth; or, b) get the motion-detection sensors that most major airports (like Schiphol and Pearson and even Venezilos in Athens) have, these turn the moving sidewalks and escalators on when someone approaches, and they also determine the direction of motion. Saves a fortune in electricity … just saying.

I don’t go on vacation once a year for three days; I travel internationally every couple of weeks as part of my work for UWM. And I have arthritis.

Izzy would rather seniors suffer or use O’Hare.

Toronto, January 6-9, 2016

I made a short trip to Toronto. I find I need a few days off at this time of year. Even if (as I did this time) I spend 90% of my time working, the act of getting away from my usual responsibilities helps clear my mind and lower my stress level dramatically. In years when I don’t make a January trip I always regret it by  mid-February. Unfortunately, my favorite January trip is Amsterdam for two weeks, but I now have so much work in Amsterdam that I find it difficult to work in non-work trips as well. So, a good friend in Toronto has an Epiphany birthday, and that makes a good excuse to visit. In fact, back before NEXUS/GLOBAL ENTRY (which are amazing), I used to have to come up with what to tell Immigration Canada about why I was coming to Toronto. We laugh about it now, but it really worked just to say “Why, it’s XXX’s birthday, of course!” and they’d just stamp my passport.

I have several friends in Toronto and quite a lot of affection for the city, nearly as much as for Amsterdam. When we lived in Philadelphia I used to go there often, every six to eight weeks it seemed, because if I could get a long weekend I could always find a reasonably-priced flight, and off I went.

Not counting a disastrous AACR2-related trip in 1985, my string of Toronto visits began with ISKO in August 2000, quickly followed by a job interview the following January. (Obviously, I didn’t get that job.) I remember thinking I’d better poke around a bit to see whether I’d like it in case I got a job offer, so I stayed a week past the interview just to hang out and tour around. I met lots of great people and had a lot of fun. So I kept going back often.

Those first few trips in 2000-2001 were on US Airways, which at the time was flying 737s from Philadelphia to Toronto. About half the time the flight would be cancelled, no doubt because too few seats had been sold, and we’d all have to just sit there for four hours waiting for the next flight. Sometime in 2002 or so they began flying those god-awful regional jets with sardine-seating. These were usually full, but they quickly developed the trick of pulling out from the gate for an “on-time departure” only to sit on an apron for four or five hours then head back to the gate and cancel the flight. There never was an explanation, although weather one place or the other was possible I guess. The last time that happened to me I started casting about for an alternative and I discovered Air Canada, who competed with US Airways on price but actually flew relatively normal planes with plenty of space to sit upright. They even always had a first class cabin, and by opening a frequent flyer account with Air Canada I occasionally got “bumped” up to first at the last minute. This was so delightful I completely abandoned US Airways on that route and began building up my Air Canada creds, especially when I had conferences elsewhere in Canada.

In 2013 we moved to Milwaukee. Air Canada’s service here is execrable. I call it Pretend Air Canada. It’s really a tiny regional carrier named Air Georgian. Sometimes the toilet doesn’t work and you have to keep your drink cup … umm, just in case. The planes are dinky and sardine-packed. The flights are almost always late. On my last trip with them in August 2015, I arrived 90 minutes early at the airport in Milwaukee to discover the entire planeload of passengers sitting on the floor at the Air Canada check-in desk. As it happened, they had only two employees in Milwaukee, and one had called in sick for the day, and the other one had quit and walked off the job when the first one called in sick. So here we were and the plane actually was out there but there was nobody who knew how to get us from A to B because Air Canada contracts with United (ugh!) for ground services, and as we know, United is terrible enough all by itself. Eventually after an hour or so a baggage-loader who knew how to log into Air Canada’s system came up and checked us all in, then went to the gate to board us. We got to Toronto about two hours late.

It’s one of those things where you had to get too little sleep to get up too early to be on time for the one horrid flight they have in the morning, but it didn’t do you any good and you wound up miserable and late to boot. All for a premium. They charge 3 times as much MKE-YYZ and they do for PHL-YYZ, because there’s no competition here. In October 2015 I used Delta instead. For less than the round-trip on Pretend Air Canada I got a first-class round trip on Delta. The only problem with that is that you have to fly around Delta’s hub-and-spoke system and that take’s all day. It’s really only an hour flying time from MKE to YYZ. So, it’s a toss-up what to do.

This time I was suckered by a “sale” and got the Pretend Air Canada round-trip for half of the usual fare. The trip to Toronto was uneventful, on time, and pleasant enough. But of course, they can’t do that twice in a row. (Btw, they have only two Pretend Air Canada flights a day, one too early in the morning and the other too late in the evening; travelers have no mid-day flexibility. And, although they remind you they have service from O’Hare, they don’t tell you it’s the same god-awful sardine planes for the same outrageous price PLUS the $250 or so to get to O’Hare!) Yesterday, after waiting two hours for an on-time 6:15pm departure boarding at 5:45pm, we learned about 5:15 that our flight now would be delayed until 7:30pm. We boarded about 7:18pm after being told the original plane was disabled in Raleigh-Durham so they’d brought a different plane; in fact, it looked brand new! All 15 of us boarded within about 3 minutes, and then we sat for about 15 minutes before pushing back, then we sat a half hour before starting engines. Nobody told us what was going on. Eventually we left, now another 30 minutes late beyond the two-hour late departure. The flight was uneventful and we landed at MKE at 8:00pm CST. We taxied right to the gate then had to sit for about 20 minutes while someone got around to coming out to wave flashlights around so we could pull in. Apparently that person couldn’t drive the jetway, because it was another 20 minutes until they got the door open. So now my brain was in traditional “screw-around, screw-around, screw-around and never care who you inconvenience” mode. Pretend Air Canada can’t get it’s xxxx together. Air Canada should be ashamed to show its face in public with this laughable pretense masquerading under its otherwise reputable name. They like to advertise they’re the best airline in North America. Well, it isn’t saying much, but it’s also laughable. Obviously whoever took that survey never tried Pretend Air Canada (operated by Air Georgian).

I have two Uber comments. First that whoever had the idea that people ordering a black car really want a Sherman tank ought to rethink it. You’re not doing me a favor sending me an SUV when I order a black car.  I have trouble getting into them and getting out of them and it always costs time adjusting the front seat so I can sit in it and the driver always is putout. BUT I ASKED FOR AN ACTUAL CAR!

Uber Milwaukee, you have to come up with some better arrangement about airport pickups. It is not reasonable for exhausted passengers to have to go wandering around a parking garage, and then have to sit for another half hour when the gate won’t open to let the car out!

Hint: Uber Seattle picks you up at your baggage claim carousel usually within 3 minutes of requesting a ride with the app.

St. Louis November 6-8 2015

Here is a first post for this new blog while I try to figure out how to get it up and running.

I had to go to St. Louis for a short conference. I booked a first-class ticket on Delta, from Milwaukee to St. Louis via Detroit. I choose itineraries deliberately, always. I know there are many ways to get from here to there, but I choose the one I want with careful deliberation. It isn’t possible to get from Milwaukee to anywhere directly unless you’re willing to fly on Southwest, which I’m not. So, I chose this routing because of the departure time (not too early) and through Detroit (because routing through Minneapolis on Delta is always disastrous) and I chose actual Delta flights on actual aircaft and not on “express” dinky things. And I pay for first class to make sure things won’t go wrong (and to make sure I can have a comfortable seat for working en route).

So, on Friday I got to the airport on time and checked my bag then went through security and headed for the Sky Club. When I handed the agent my iPhone so she could scan my boarding pass she said she’d just gotten a call about me! Then she said there was an alternative itinerary–through Minneapolis–and before she could ask whether I was interested I replied loudly and in no uncertain terms that I did not want to change anything and I did not want to fly through Minneapolis under any circumstances.

She said she would cancel that option because I was actually booked now on both itineraries.

I went the original way, via Detroit. The trip was ok, if a bit tiring. But when I arrived at St. Louis and my luggage didn’t come off the belt, I suspected what had happened. They’d done me a favor and rerouted my luggage through Minneapolis. This meant I couldn’t get my bag and go, but rather I had to sit around and wait for the later arrival from  Minneapolis and hope my bag was on it (it was). Interestingly, the routing on the baggage tag had been changed in handwriting!

So thanks Delta for screwing up my trip and delaying my luggage and changing my itinerary despite my instructions not to do so.

While I was going through this little psychodrama I tried to get Uber to open on my iPhone to see what sort of situation I would face. The app wouldn’t open at first, and then eventually it opened but said there were no cars.  There were, but it turns out you need to exit baggage claim and stand in the parking garage at doors 15 or 16 facing the taxi stand before the app actually works. Thanks Uber programmers!

Thanks to the Delta delay I now faced heavy traffic into the city ….

I’m a Hilton diamond Hhonors member and had booked a room at some extra expense at the Hilton at the Arch, because it was a short walk from my conference site. Hhonors had been badgering me for 24 hours to check-in online, and every time I tried it walked me through the whole procedure before telling me “Oops, something is wrong. Try again later.” I tried 4 times on the 5th and twice on the 6th before calling the hotel. I could see each time I tried that the rooms I actually wanted were slipping away. So the desk agent who answered my call politely said he would reserve a specific room for me; not to worry. So when I arrived I was handed the key card for a completely different room, one of the little ones facing an airshaft, no natural light, no view of anything. I went to the room and took a shower but realized this was not going to be comfortable for the afternoon of post-conference writing I had planned. I was expecting a colleague shortly for dinner but I went back to the front desk and the fellow who had checked me in explained to me the room I wanted and had reserved actually had someone else in it and he was very sorry. But then he found a room with sort of a window in it and handed me a new key card so I went back up and moved my stuff then met my colleague. I’ve got to say the only Hilton-like thing about this place was the bedding.The service otherwise was dreadful and the rooms are almost all dreadful dark little spaces facing airshafts with no view of anything and no daylight. The room I wound up in had an air conditioning unit on and it couldn’t be turned off, so the room was freezing the whole time. The second night after a dinner out with a colleague I wanted a nightcap but the bar was populated by six good-ole-boys from Alabama making an immense amount of noise and bothering nearly everyone. A few people had moved to seats near the walls but customers began leaving to get away. I had one drink and asked for the tab but the bartender wasn’t able to get it to me and after about 30 minutes I just told him I was leaving now and he said “goodnight!”

I was going to walk across the street to a bodega to get some sort of sparkling water (the first night I’d ordered it from room service but it took almost 90 minutes to arrive; my bagel for breakfast had arrived more quickly but was burnt and came with strawberry jam instead of cream cheese so I ate it dry … but I wasn’t risking another room service encounter). As I walked out of the hotel a beggar accosted me and wouldn’t take no for an answer. I went back inside and tried to wait him out but he just stood there waiting for me. The doorman tried to shoo him away and at that he got quite nasty. And then at that moment the store lights went out–closed. The desk clerk offered to get me a sparkling water on the house, but after I stood there for about 15 minutes it clearly wasn’t coming so I told him to forget it and went to bed to shiver all night. I woke up early and just got up and went to the airport early rather than stay there longer.

I wandered past my gate in search of coffee and a bagel and found them about ten gates away, then sat down to eat in a quiet spot. At that point Delta started sending me push notifications that my flight was delayed. I opened the Delta mobile app, and all it would allow me to see were alternate bookings, I couldn’t move around in the app without choosing an alternate booking, and all of those were inappropriate (many hours later and all routed through Atlanta! hmmmm …). I looked up and saw I was near a gate with a Delta flight to Detroit leaving earlier then mine, so I walked up to ask the agent for information, but she was really overwhelmed with the one (count him, one) other guy there. After about 15 minutes of watching her make phone calls I gave up and went to my own gate. There the Delta agent was quite good, she looked at my booking and said the delay wasn’t too long and I wouldn’t have any trouble with my connection. When I asked whether the plane really was coming she checked and said yes, it had left its gate and was awaiting takeoff. So it wasn’t any kind of problem really, except the Delta mobile app created a fair amount of anxiety and trouble for me. I think I’ll turn it off.

I was very glad to see Lake Michigan.

I guess I should add that WordPress made so many helpful autocorrect mistakes I’ve had to retype this three times.