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December 24, 2009

United Airlines continues to justify my utter contempt

For purposes of visiting our first nephew, we’re flying to San Francisco on Christmas Day. Before you chuckle and say, “There’s your first mistake,” bear in mind that I’d never done this before; my idea of “stressful Christmas travel” is being on I-95 North for the entire afternoon of December 24th. (Been there.)

Anyway, due to reasons beyond my control, I have 47,7xx frequent flyer miles on United. I have loathed United Airlines for over a decade and for a while refused to participate in any “loyalty” program of theirs, but the first time I went to Japan someone else was booking the flights and I decided it would be silly to pass up that many miles. Two Asian trips and a few miscellaneous European and/or domestic flights later, I’ve stacked up some credit for a service I don’t really like.

So I figured I’d use some of it on upgrades for A and me on this flight. It’s 15,000 miles per person per leg of the roundtrip, so we could do one way or the other but not both. I’ve requested upgrades before, and generally haven’t gotten them, so I figured I’d request for the outbound leg and if we didn’t get it I’d request again for the return.

Hold that idea, then: I asked United, “Based on all this business I’ve done with you, I’d like to take you up on your offer to make my flight a little more pleasant.”

Flash forward to today when I try to check in online. The second screen I see says, in effect, “Please confirm your upgrade method.” I am shown menus next to each of our names asking for such a method, but there are only two options, the null option and using “500-mile certificates”. (These certificates are sold in packs of 4 for about $315. This upgrade would cost us 12.) I try selecting that option and am delivered to a page where United asks me for ~$900 to complete the upgrade. I go back and try not selecting that option, but I get a warning box telling me I need to select a method.

This is frustrating me. I go back out and log in to my frequent flyer account. I verify the number of miles in my account and the number needed for an upgrade. I go to my itinerary which shows we’re already confirmed for an upgrade on the outbound leg. (So why can’t I check in?) I click around trying to find a setting which will let me check in.

Finally I call United’s 800 number. I am willing to bet 30,000 frequent flyer miles that the person I spoke to was geographically located south of China and east of Pakistan, not that that matters. I explained that I wanted to check in but that I was unable to get past the upgrade screen. He says several things which are confusing to me—he speaks often of 15,000 miles, which worries me because I’m not interested in one of us being upgraded without the other. He talks about the miles being already deducted, which doesn’t look right to me; I’m still showing 47,7xx on the website. Finally he puts me on hold for a few minutes and I listen to Gershwin music for a while.

When he gets back on, he tells me that because I just created a request for an upgrade on the return leg, he can’t deduct the miles for the outbound leg. Apparently he can’t remove the return leg request either. And we can’t do online check-in, we’ll have to check in at the airport.

So, as a direct result of that thought above—me taking United up on their offer to make the flight a little more comfortable—we’ll have a little more time at the airport in bureaucratic purgatory sorting out just where the hell we’re supposed to be sitting.

So to sum up, I asked United, “Based on all this business I’ve done with you, I’d like to take you up on your offer to make my flight a little more pleasant,” and they replied, “Sure! Here, let us make your flying experience more confusing and stressful!”

Is anybody surprised these guys need government bailouts and bankruptcy protection every decade or so?

Posted by pjm at 5:15 PM | Comments (0)

December 21, 2009

Sugar and chocolate for Christmas

Over the past weekend, I made four batches of fudge for various Christmas dinners, gifts, etc.. I mentioned this on Facebook and was asked for the recipe.

The recipe I use is Remarkable Fudge from the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book. (N.B. not every edition of the cook book has this recipe, but the recipe is available online if you look hard enough.)

I wrote up a pretty thorough run-through of making the fudge about two years ago. It’s all still true.

I don’t know the actual history but I’ve probably been doing this close to 20 years. I’ve certainly made more than fifty batches by now. I figured out the rough raw materials for this year’s four batches, and came up with:

  • a bit less than ten pounds of sugar (16 cups)
  • almost a half gallon of evaporated milk
  • two pounds of butter
  • a half gallon of marshmallow creme (Fluff, if you can get it)
  • three pounds of various chocolate-esque chips (semi-sweet chocolate, white chocolate, and peanut butter, this year)
  • and a quarter cup of vanilla

I’m a little vague on the weight for the sugar because while I know I used 16 cups, I poured two five-pound bags into the canister in the course of work and may have wound up with more in the canister than I started with.

Posted by pjm at 6:21 PM | Comments (0)

December 13, 2009

The model downtown

Since we’ve moved, I’ve had a hard time reconciling my opinions about supporting local economies and reducing car dependence with the actual circumstances we find ourselves in. The contrast between our little house just outside Amherst’s downtown, or the awesome apartment we had in Northampton, and the apartment complex in Colonie illustrates just how many ways we (as a society) have made it difficult for ourselves to function without our cars and our shopping centers full of national chain stores.

By prioritizing living close to A’s work (thus minimizing the miles driven for commuting) we find ourselves in a car-dependent wasteland; it’s impossible to get anywhere without driving, and the near-total absence of sidewalks means it’s difficult to find good places to run and bicyclists are also forced on to high-traffic roadways. And there’s very little locally-owned business, although Troy is doing a laudable job of boosting their downtown. (I’ve already patronized Market Block Books and The Placid Baker, and I’m going to try out The Daily Grind as a place to work for a few hours when I need to flee the home office.

Meanwhile, state and national media have been pumping up my hometown as a model of a functioning downtown. The best piece is from the Portland Press Herald (you may see some familiar names in there) but there was a good piece in the local TV news as well. If you’re planning your summer vacation, the week around July 4 is always a good time to be in town.

Posted by pjm at 1:16 PM | Comments (0)

December 7, 2009

Josh Ritter at the Troy Music Hall

I’ve been remiss in not mentioning that I was able to see Josh Ritter on Saturday night in a somewhat under-full Troy Music Hall. (Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, actually, which sort of captures Troy in a nutshell: the naming rights to their big venue belong to an institution which no longer exists.) This isn’t quite as close to home as when I could walk to the Somerville Theater, but it’s not bad on a snowy night.

I’m not going to go on at length about the show, given that Doug Rice has already done so in great detail. I was a little underwhelmed by the size of the crowd, and I tend to agree with Doug that Josh is a better show when he’s not in an all-seated venue, but the tradeoff Saturday seemed to be that the Troy Music Hall is an astoundingly ornate and impressive venue in both appearance and sound. Josh and his band were clearly thrilled to be playing there even if most of us did spend the show sitting down passively watching. Also on the plus side was the full-size Steinway which, I think, affected the set list somewhat.

I’ve mentioned before that I always leave Josh’s shows with some new favorite songs, and this time I’m looking forward to a new album, in particular “The Curse” and “Another New World.”

Posted by pjm at 9:00 PM | Comments (0)

Name scramble

I’m fortunate enough to have a name which is misunderstood just often enough to be amusing and not often enough to be annoying. My northeastern tendency to soften my Rs (three of them in my full name) means I often spell it out if I’m at all concerned about accuracy.

The most recent culprit (or victim, I suppose) was trapped by the fact that my first name is often a family name. The Albany County Board of Elections, or some computer working for it, decided that my middle name was my first name, and that my given name and my family name were, in fact, a hyphenated family name. (Not PJM but J P-M.)

Needless to say, I’m getting this straightened out before the next election.

Posted by pjm at 8:38 PM | Comments (0)

December 6, 2009

Bank of America: Browser Fail

When you get a new credit card (by which I mean “actual new plastic” whether or not it’s a new account) from Bank of America, they suggest you visit www.bankofamerica.com/activate to confirm to them that you have the new card.

When I tried that just now, I was met with a page headed “Update your Web Browser,” complete with mangled formatting, assuring me that I needed an up to date browser to meet BofA’s security requirements. Amid the garbled text on the page was a list of supported browsers, including, for Macintosh, “Firefox 2 and higher.”

I am using Firefox 3.5. I have to say, if Bank of America doesn’t think 3.5 is higher than 2, I’m not surprised we have a financial crisis in this country.

(“Safari 1.0 and higher” is also on the list, and Safari 4.0.x worked just fine, so at least some parts of the number line appear to be in order.)

Posted by pjm at 11:46 AM | Comments (0)