United Airlines, why do you hurt me?

All I want to do is go visit my family.

I haven’t been back in my hometown since at least last January, probably before (suffering from a case of oldbrain right now). So I’ve been planning a trip to coincide with the wedding of one of my cousins. We’ve been hashing out our travel plans for the first half of 2011, and the rest of the planning (a short trip to Spain and our annual visit to Mexico) went along very smoothly. I had every expectation that this trip would follow suit, so I started searching for fares and schedules and what I found set my teeth on edge.

United was the carrier offering the best price/schedule.

We’ve had issues with United before. Not earth-shattering, trip-ruining issues; mostly, it’s unprofessionalism, disorganization or a combination of the two. Examples include lost luggage, delayed flights resulting from shoddy maintenance and causing missed connections and a general lack of patience and maturity in the desk staff. This time, they managed to be frustrating while trying to book the flight.

Let me clarify that: I wanted to give them money and they didn’t make it as simple as possible for me to do so.

I don’t blame the automated phone system that I tried to use, nor the customer service agent with whom I ended up speaking. I wanted to do the whole thing online and that wasn’t an option because they don’t allow for purchases without a U.S. based billing address. We don’t live in the U.S. and neither of us want to use our families as a dummy address for a U.S. based card. I know that people do it, but I’m just totally uncomfortable with that. Too much potential for something to go wrong. And I imagine that it’s against the T&C of most credit card companies.

USAirways allows a foreign billing address. So do AA, Delta and Continental. And these are specifically their U.S. based websites. Even North-America-only carriers like Southwest and JetBlue accept credit card payment from outside of North America.

And when I went to the German site for United, they didn’t offer the same schedule and the prices were much, MUCH higher – to the tune of 200€ more.

You run up against this problem of businesses not wanting your money from time to time. I usually deal with it when attempting to buy goods from the U.S. because the businesses there often don’t want to deal with foreign shipping and customs weirdness. It makes me mad, but I get why they do it: the manpower and time that they don’t dedicate to more complicated tasks saves them more money than they would potentially make on foreign customers.

But the very nature of travel is different. It seems like one would have to have a wider scope of who the customer is and where they are. And if ALL of your competitors are willing to serve this market segment, what possible benefit is there to blowing us off?

Dear Mr. KLM*

So Cliff got this nugget of preciousness in his e-mail today (click on it to make it readable):


Isn’t it cute how they photoshopped the seats that they’re touting out of the picture entirely? I especially like the lady by the “window” who looks like she’s snoozing in a comfy armchair. Why bother with pesky realities like a 1.5° recline or armrests? We got fares to peddle!

Wow, KLM. Just wow. I knew that the balkanization of the economy cabin was coming (and KLM isn’t the only offender on this score, UNITED), but I thought it was going to be isolated to exit rows. Spreading the upcharge fever to the bulkhead rows as well is really slimy. I’ve only flown KLM a couple of times and, in terms of service while in flight and in the airport, I have no complaints. But their frequent flier program is atrociously structured, they are rarely the most competitively priced option (and they don’t appear to offer any extra comfort, amenities or reliability to justify the higher price) and now they’re pulling this stunt?

It’s still economy. I still need a shoehorn (butthorn?) to get in and out of the seats, whether in the center row or a bulkhead row. I may very well pay a little more for bulkhead seating now, if only to avoid your planes.

*Thanks Ianthis cracked me up so much that I just had to give a shout out!

not dead, just busy

It’s been like 10 days since either of us has last posted. You might be wondering, “Are they in a Banana Bread coma?”

Nope, but we have been busy. Here’s what we’ve been doing:

  • Sarah took a 3-day road trip to Frankfurt with our pal Andrea.
  • I have been to Nuremberg twice and Frankfurt once for one-day busines trips.
  • We have been to IKEA twice in person, and once by proxy (thanks a lot Natasha and Tommy for the delivery service).
  • As a result of that, we’ve been exercising all those muscles necessary for lugging big flat packages up narrow staircases and cranking hex-head screws into wood with allen wrenches.

<rant>Allergic to Microsoft?  Yeah, fine.  I get that.  But why Notes for Pete's sake?Most recently, I’ve been struggling with Lotus Notes as a result of being bought & sold last year. Other acquired units in the new parent company who were forced out of Exchange/Outlook years ago have advised us to just stop resisting and just accept it. They’ve also said,

“Notes is really powerful with regard to embedding workflows and distributed collaboration. Cliff, you like to tinker, right? You could do a lot within the Notes platform.”

It’s true, I do, but I’d prefer to be able to hit the ground running, and that’s not going well. I am severely missing my — or even any — keyboard shortcuts.

They don’t even have to make sense or be compatible with Windows de facto standards (ctrl-n does a new <anything>, ctrl-s saves the current <anything>, et cetera). Just don’t make me use the freakin’ mouse please! Alas, there really is no keyboard shortcut for replying to a message in Notes* — I have to select the “reply” button on the screen in order to reply to a message; something that every other email program I’ve ever used (Outlook, Outlook Express, Mail.app (on the Mac), Mozilla Thunderbird, Eudora, and even Gmail) has made more accessible with a keyboard shortcut.

Those who have asked me for computery help of any kind have undoubtedly been annoyed by my “helpful” suggestions to “just hit tab twice, then press shift-ctrl-[whatever], and it’s a lot faster.” Your eye-rolling does not go un-noticed, as you ignore me and pore over your screens, looking for something to click on. And while you’re doing that, I’ve already deleted three emails and started composing a reply to another one with an embedded screenshot showing you how you could have done it faster.

Prior to the big switcheroo from Exchange/Outlook to Domino/Notes, I did some googley research and found a plethora of Lotus Notes hate speech sites. From those I got an idea of what awaited me on the morning after the mailbox conversion. They weren’t wrong; Notes is a disaster for people like me.</rant>