Regular readers will know that in the studied opinion of NPS, United airlines has gone to the dogs. Too many years of too many operational problems finally have come to a head this year. We’re going to attempt to avoid United whenever possible even though our home airport is a United hub. This after over a decade of 100K privilege flying. That’s how bad United is.

Long ago the Board of United should have figured out that Jeff Smisek is a terrible operational leader. An M&A specialist and a marketing person is not the right kind of person to run operations at a huge airline. And United is just too big not to suck.

So bye bye United. Until you get a new CEO and start performing better, we will do our utmost to avoid you. We are voting with our actual cash money.


We’ll see how it goes this year and keep you updated here. First up, trans-continental flights on Virgin America.

Happy new year! Make sure to apply capitalistic tendencies with YOUR cash too.

Travel was thankfully almost reasonable this year, down to thirty trips off last year’s forty-two. (FWIW, we’ll shoot for 25 in 2015.) But we did do an out of character trip in December, delaying the start of no fly noël by a few days. We’ll make up for it somehow.

tripometer for 2014

tripometer for 2014

In 2014 we finally gave up completely on United airlines which topped its awful 2013 behavior with an even worse 2014. Bye bye United. You are too broken to pay money.

So lets sit by the fire and regain our sanity. Maybe with a Liberal or two. Then we’ll do it all again.

As a 100k flyer for over a decade with 1,589,963 United miles under my belt, I know a bit about United airlines. Since the merger with Continental, things have frankly gone to the dogs. We have documented the downfall of United here. Jeff Smisek may be good at mergers and marketing, but he sucks at operations.

Every time we think things may be getting better, they don’t.

So it has come to this. No more United. I will now show as much loyalty to United as they show to me. Towards that end, we flew Delta earlier this year, we flew American, and we just flew Virgin to SFO.

Just to make this all clear, two weeks ago I did a trip through SFO on United. Yesterday I did the same trip on Virgin. The experience was not the same.

One United flight had a wifi logo on the side, but the wifi did not work. The return flight did not have wifi at all. Having no wifi is like having no oxygen. On a hub to hub trip (IADSFO) there is no excuse any more for no wifi.

The United flight was crammed full and the crew was surly. But there was room to work in Economy Plus. Well, I could have worked if there had been some wifi. Instead I watched a movie on my nexus.

United: pringles that cost $, busted seats, and no wifi

United: pringles that cost $, busted seats, and no wifi

This is the advanced technology display on an actual United aircraft

This is the advanced technology display on an actual United aircraft

Nice upholstery on United

Nice upholstery on United

So the United experience was pretty bad all told, especially for a business flyer.

How about Virgin? It all started out fine, but then:

Uh oh, there is bad weather in San Francisco.

Uh oh, there is bad weather in San Francisco.

Everyone was delayed, but United chose the drip delay method as opposed to the doom and despair drop.

Virgin was staffed by very friendly and nice people. And their wifi worked as advertised (much to the chagrin of my staff). But the seats in economy do not allow laptop use in a comfortable fashion. That extra four inches in United economy plus makes all of the difference. I still have a headache from using Virgin wifi for 5 hours.

Virgin is too crammed for a mac air

Virgin is too crammed for a mac air

Ultimately, this may all boil down to money. Pay more for a better seat? I guess so as long as there is a real productivity impact.

We’ll try that on Virgin in 2015.

I am on a newly configured cross country United 737-900 with power and wifi (in addition to the ultra-ridiculous DirecTV nonsense). Having net on a cross country flight is quite fantastic. Economy plus seating has enough room for work unless you find yourself stuck next to an obese person.

I was not upgraded (of course), so my position on whether you should fly 1,579,471 miles on United has not moved much. United drops you like a rock if you don’t fly perpetually (even after over a decade of 100K loyalty). But this trip today right now does not suck.

Of course, Jeff Smisek still needs to be fired.

Since I remain locked into a hub, I am pretty much consigned to fly with United on at least some portion of my flights. United has suffered so much operationally since the merger with Continental that this is very painful indeed. I can say without any exaggeration that operations at United is still completely broken.

I spent 75,000 frequent flyer miles to get up to NH this weekend to write some music. What did I get? Two unsatisfactory flights.

Flight one to Boston was delayed 90 minutes (right through the dinner hour). There was no food on the flight—not even peanuts. The “entertainment” system is that ridiuclous DirecTV system that plays mandatory ads to you while you are strapped in your seatbelt. No wifi. No power to power your own iPad or Nexus.

Flight two never happened. A broken airplane rippled through several flights like toppling dominos. The way this unfolded was classic united. First a 40 minute delay. Then 90 minutes. Then 3 hours and 30 minutes. Then never. I was upgraded to first class on a flight that never happened!! awesome!

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The only saving grace was the red carpet club in Boston which is a beautiful space. If you have to be on the drip delay (united can’t run an airline) the red carpet club is the place to be stranded.

The people at the United club were fantastic. They helped everyone get backup flights and even stayed open an extra two hours. But best of all, this happened. When I finally decided to bail and get some dinner, I went down to the Legal Seafood. As I was having a snack, the United rep came down to find me and let me know that she had booked me on a USAir flight to DCA. I had to run to Terminal B, but I got home thanks to the United club people. Too bad those good people can’t fire Jeff Smisek!

This tweet from United pretty much says it all.

Of course the United flight up to Boston was delayed (90 minutes) and of course there was no wifi on the flight. You see, United spent all kinds of money on that stupid DirecTV system as if everyone in the universe does not have their own nexus or ipad. United, you guys are truly behind the technology curve by a decade. Oh, and there was no food on the flight…at all.

So I was hungry when we finally landed 90 minutes late. We hightailed it to the Highball Lounge to visit my friend Shaher Misif. Shaher Misif is a dangerous man.

The Highball Lounge rocks. After an obligatory authentication shot, we had a delightful Barnyard Punch, recently added to the cocktail list and made as follows:
1.5 oz Bourbon
.5 oz Falernum
.5 oz Suze
.5 oz Lemon juice
.5 oz Raw sugar
2-3 dashes celery bitters
shake, strain, serve on rocks. garnish with mint and lemon moon. (I will cut the sugar down myself when I make this one.)

We also had an outstanding bacon cheeseburger and some tater tot nachos. Delicious.

Then we drove to NH with a warm fuzzy feeling.

The leaves are peaking in NH

The leaves are peaking in NH

Why United is Just Awful

October 5, 2014

Only since the ill-fated merger have I flown economy class to/from Europe because of no upgrade. That is just awful. You would think that after 1,578,471 miles (which I paid for) United would have some loyalty to me. But they don’t.

Ten years of 100K status drops fast. Be forewarned United flyers. Your airline does not care about you at all.

This last trip to London/Helsinki was no exception. Business class on the way there (which we paid to upgrade at purchase) but no upgrade from economy on the way back. 8.5 hours in an awful seat with terrible food.

First world problem, I know. But frankly I expect more from an airline that used to earn my business.

United has gone to the dogs.

The Hotel Fabian has a computer now and they know I have been here before! Yay. On this nth visit I was upgraded to a very sweet suite 412. Thanks Fabian!

Room 412 has a table

Room 412 has a table

And a living area

And a living area

And a big old bed

And a big old bed

The best part of room 412 and Hotel Fabian is the incredibly great shower. I mean great. Best shower in Europe great.

412 bathroom

412 bathroom

This shower is just so good

This shower is just so good

I guess hot showers may just feel better when it is -2C outside in the morning.

The lobby downstairs is an excellent place for a glass of wine after travel (or a long day of BSIMM interviews).

The high art lobby at Hotel Fabian

The high art lobby at Hotel Fabian

Five plus showerheads for the Hotel Fabian.

A fancy pants dinner at Spis was very interesting, but more interesting than good. Subdued flavors that clim to be Nordic. Some surprising combinations. Ultimately I think the are just trying too hard. The dessert stuff was best constructed and world class.

Then it was off to Liberty or Death, a fantastic cocktail bar. (Someone needs to get them the memo that the Partrick Henry quote their name is from was hijacked by the right wing Tea Party morons in the United States…because these people are clearly liberal as all get out.) We were served by two “cocktail bastards” Andreas Cederström and Jaakko Väyrynen. Jaakko was super and in edition to making us a liberal (with red vermouth that was way too good), we tried some house made drinks.

The Red Shoe
40 ml monkey 47 gin (german)
30 ml creme de framboise
2 dashes Peychauds bitters
5 ml Raspberry red wine vinegar (house made)
1 t or less simple syrup
Mix together and then carbonate! quite a gorgeous concoction indeed. looks like we will be adding carbonation capability to the bar.

La Mancha Negra
25 ml Poli Morbida (grappa moscato)
10 ml cynar
10 ml aperol
5 ml Francaise guy (absynthe)
1 t simple syrup
3 dashes The Bitter Truth Jerry Thomas bitters (a fruity thing)
shake. strain in to cocktail glass. this one is missing something in the middle but a fine start. the grappa is too think. I think working it with a harsher grappa might help. And a deeper bitters.

We had an absolute blast at Liberty or Death which is by far the best bar in Helsinki. The people at Son of a Punch do great work. They are distilling spirits (tried the gin which is very very aromatic), importing great stuff, and staffing excellent bars. Note that we did attain a new target speakeasy not yet marked or marketed (Katariinankatu).

Final thought of the night: “A tattoo without equity is madness.

Then it will drag tomorrow on my 8.5 hour United airlines international flight with no upgrade. United just sucks.

How to charge your phone (kludge) at F-Secure

How to charge your phone (kludge) at F-Secure

Anybody who knows this blog knows how I feel these days about the unmitigated disaster that United has become under the operational “leadership” of the out of touch Jeff Smisek. I was pleasantly surprised this trip to be upgraded ahead of times on both hub to hub trips (thank you United).

But (yeah, you saw that coming), on the outbound leg, our 757-200 had power requiring that business class adapter which I no longer carry around with me and no wifi. For me, having no net creates HUGE amounts of work post landing. I like keeping up with the net in real time so that geek things do not pile up. No net for three hours makes a mess. I don’t want to be “entertained,” I want to work.

On the inbound leg, the Continental 757-200 had neither power nor wifi but instead that infernally stupid DirecTV system. I sat next to a United pilot. We had a very interesting conversation about United leadership. Suffice it to say that the theories we spout here at NPS about United and operations are “spot on.”

Oh and we were delayed by equipment problems for 1.5 hours. When we finally boarded, groups 1 through 3 boarded before First Class due to some catering SNAFU. And whatever the caterers did, they did not bring enough meals so that I ended up with my choice. Rubber chicken with tomato gunk for me. Truly just awful.

Screen Shot 2014-09-20 at 9.08.32 AM

United is improving, but there is a LONG way to go before I choose to fly instead of being forced to fly.

You know what’s sad? I just looked on my United app and I have at least 5 trips queued up to go. See, here in NPS-land, we’re stuck at a United hub. That is a total bummer.

Regular readers know that I have flown over 1.5 MILLION miles on United in a very loyal decade. But I am done with that. I decided this year to show United as much loyalty as they show me—none. Zippo. Zilch.

So we’ll fly most anybody as long as the timing works. Sadly, that keeps me on United more than I would like.

Lets dig into the checkin process at SFO as an example of why flying on United is painful. Here are a series of Vine/Tweets from this morning’s chaotic check in. This is the reality of what air travel has become.

At least the United Club was a temporary respite.

But then it was cattle call boarding time. Upgrade for all that loyalty over the years? Are you kidding me??!

Once we were finally on board (after starting 11 minutes late), we were informed that there was a baggage problem.

Ultimately, that delayed up 30 minutes.

But there is some good news. This 737-900 is a nice new plane and it is equipped with wifi. So I can make this posting. And there is an extra 30 minutes to do it in too!

Screen Shot 2014-08-29 at 4.30.25 PM

My advice to you flyers out there. United is not a good airline, so try another. Any other. (And Jeff Smisek still needs to be fired.)