" /> Shanghai Yummy: June 2005 Archives

« May 2005 | Main | July 2005 »

June 28, 2005

High Speed Chase

Sunday night, I was involved in a high-speed chase across nine states, for several hours, at speeds reaching nearly 600 miles per hour.

That's right, I had bet J that I would beat her back home from our weekend trip since we were on different flights. I figured I had it made since my flight was not only scheduled to land earlier, but her flight was through Philly on US Air. I mean, the last time I flew through Philly on US Air, I didn't even make it back home until the next day! She was doomed!

But alas, she ended up getting a sweet deal when her flight was overbooked and the airline offered her a free round trip, plus a re-route on Northwest through different cities, and in first class part of the way. But it meant her flight would actually land even later, so I figured I was safe. But then my connection was delayed because of late equipment, so we ended up taking off just about the same time. Only I was starting a couple of hundred miles farther back.

I monitored our progress on channel 9, and a little ways into the flight, I heard her flight being mentioned by the controller. We were in the same controller's airspace! However, it soon became clear that she was about 20 minutes ahead of me. Throughout the night, I continued to monitor our progress as we hurtled through the dark sky.

We were taking a more southerly route, and I became encouraged when her flight had to take a deviation to avoid thunderstorms. But her flight was still being handed off to the next controller about 16 minutes ahead of us. I was further encouraged when a controller had to slow her down for traffic, but alas, it was only briefly, and we made up only maybe a minute on that.

It's too bad we were both on 757's... if I'd been on a 777 or 747 we could have made up some more time as the cruise speed is faster. But alas, as expected, she blocked in to the gate almost exactly 15 minutes ahead of me.

The travesty? Her original US Air flight beat us both...

June 20, 2005

User Error

So yesterday I'm flying, as I often have, on a commercial airline flight out of a major international airport. I used the electronic check-in kiosks ("EasyCheck-In" on United) because I didn't have access to a printer the day before to use the web check-in. During the 10+ minutes I stood in that line, I was able to make a few observations which I'd like share with my readers.

I am an experienced user of this system. I'm also supposed to be a pretty smart guy according to some pieces of paper I've collected over the years. So I may not be your typical case, but it took me a total of 15 seconds from start to finish to receive my boarding pass and scurry on my way to security. I offer this piece of information not to gloat or brag about my well-developed and superior ticketing kiosk using abilities, but to provide a point of reference. ie. "It can be done in 15 seconds if you are to ticketing kiosks as Lance Armstrong is to the Tour de France."

Here is my recollection of the "general" functionality of the system. (Excuse the crudity of this model; I wasn't there taking notes about the exact wording or exact order of the screens, in fact, I was there to get on a flight.) As you approach the machine, there is a screen that welcomes you and says "touch to continue." When you touch the screen, a screen with two columns of buttons pops up asking you to select in which language you wish the machine to communicate with you. I usually select English, but there are a good dozen options. Once you get past this screen another screen comes up that acknowledges your choice and then asks you to "Touch continue to Begin." There is a yellow button in the lower right corner labeled "Continue." If you hit this button, you will get to a screen that asks you to insert your credit card or Mileage Plus Premier card or enter a confirmation number. If you are the Lance of Ticketing Kiosks (LoTK) then you skip this screen because you put in your Premier card before you touched the first screen and just selected your language. In any case, you then end up at a screen that asks you if you are going to wherever it is you are supposed to be going. Now if you screwed up some earlier part of the process before you even got to the airport that day and got a ticket for where you're not trying to go today, that's beyond the scope of this article. Also, if you spelled your name wrong, or don't remember your name and didn't write down your confirmation number, I also cannot address these issues here. However, these are all reasons why your reservation might not show up on the screen at this point. If the destination on the screen matches where you intended (or decide to now intend) to go, then you press the "Yes" button and it moves you into a screen that confirms your flight number, seat, flight time, gate, and maybe whether there's a meal and/or the aircraft type, etc. There are buttons to change your seats on this screen, cancel, and continue. If you choose to change your seats, it brings up a seat map with the remaining available seats and you can pick one by pressing its image on the screen. LoTK would never go to this screen because they would have already selected their seat at the time of ticketing, and it would have been exactly where they wanted to be since they know every good seat on every plane. So you hit continue. And if you're in an exit row, the kiosk will tell you that you aren't supposed to be in that seat if you can't handle it, and you acknowledge this, and move on. Lately, the next screen comes up and asks you if you want to purchase an upgrade to the next class of service for something like the price of the ticket you paid for in the first place. LoTK again would never go for this because they have free upgrades from the airline. So you skip this screen by hitting "no thanks, just gimme the goddamm boarding pass" (sic). At this point the boarding pass will print, and then you can hit "end" to finish out the process.

So the recap if you are LoTK: Walk up. Insert Card. Choose "English." Hit "Continue." Hit "Yes." Hit "Continue." Hit "No thanks, Just Gimme the Goddamm Boarding Pass." Get boarding pass. Hit "End."

I observed that most users of the system took about a minute to get through all the screens and clear out of the way for the next user. Most users read the screens at least in passing, make their selections after pondering them for a couple of seconds, and then receive the boarding passes and clear out.

A few people stood out from this norm and deserve special mention. The first is a lady that got stuck on the screen that said, "Press Continue to Begin." Now, it's not that she got stuck there once. But twice. See, after a certain amount of inactivity, the kiosk times out and restarts. Touching the screen where there is no button or other "user interaction item" does not constitute activity. I found this out because this lady pressed the screen in a number of places that was not the aforementioned yellow "Continue" button at the lower right of the screen. So she started over. She managed to get through the first screen (because you can touch anywhere on the screen to get past that), then chose a language (which I believe was "English") and then could not, for the life of her, find the "Continue" button. So I could almost understand this if she had been pressing the word "Continue" in the sentence that said "Press Continue to Begin." But she wasn't. She was just touching the blank space on the screen. For like 30 seconds or however long it took for the machine to timeout.

Okay, so then there were a couple of guys whose reservations weren't in the system when they got to the screen where they were supposed to see their reservations. At this point, there is a phone next to the kiosks that connects them with someone who might be able to help. The annoying thing about these people is that in all likelihood, it's their own fault the system failed. Either their name on the reservation isn't the same as the one on their credit card, or they forgot their confirmation number, or have the wrong one, etc... But the point is, if these people would take one minute to make sure things are in order, even on the phone on the way to the airport, they wouldn't have to make all the other people wait in line while they yabber on the phone and plead ignorance blah blah blah. The best part was when the guy two spots ahead of me ran into this problem, and stopped up our line for a good 3 minutes or so. Finally, at the behest of my travel partner, the guy in front of me (who I could tell was a Premier, more on this later) taps him on the shoulder and asks if he wouldn't mind stepping to the side so that others could use the machine while he yapped. His response was amusing. He said, "Well, yeah, I guess... if it works for you." As though the problem was the machine, not him. Guy in front of me logs in, presses a few buttons, gets his boarding pass. Maybe 20 seconds. I log in, get out of there in 15, and so does my travel partner. Hm. Guess it works for us...

So you want an easy way to tell who is a Premier in these lines without looking at ID or cards or even luggage? Just look at the expressions on their faces. The people who aren't Premiers all had looks of frustrated wonderment. Like they were thinking, "Man, what is taking these people so long? And how hard can this be?" The Premiers all had scowls of despise. Like, "Goddammit, why are all these people so fucking stupid? This takes 20 seconds!"

So yeah. I couldn't believe it, but technology just utterly escapes some people. After the despise and frustration subsided, I thought about feeling sorry for these people, but man... that's hard to do. I just want a beer.

June 13, 2005


Man, I smell like smoke.