Posts tagged “airports

When Progress Isn’t

Progress can set you back.

As readers of the JuiceBar know, I travel a lot. Most of that travel is in and out of Dulles Airport in Northern Virginia.

Anyone who has flown in or out of Dulles likely has an opinion about the airport’s famous “people movers” … specially made buses that were originally designed to take passengers from the terminal directly to the plane but for the past ten years simply shuttled people to the next concourse.

People movers were the things that everyone loved to hate.

Everyone wanted a subway or train.  Just like the other airports.  So the folks at Dulles built one.  A beautiful, shiny, open cavernous, glassy one.  Wide open spaces.  Smooth terrazzo floors.

Just one thing.  To get to TSA you have to go down.  Quite a ways down actually.  The lines there are long.  Then you need to walk.  You need to walk a lot.  If there were those guys in little carts, you’d want to hitch a ride with them.  You need to walk a long way and then go down again.  Way, way down.  To the shiny, glassy, train station with the smooth, polished terrazzo floors.  Now you need to wait.  When the train comes, jump on quickly or you’ll miss it.  While you’re on the train waiting to arrive at Concourse C, you should rest up.  You can’t drink any water because they made you throw that away at the TSA line, so just conserve your energy.  Because once you’ve gotten to the Concourse you’re going to be walking.  And walking.  And walking.  And that is just to get to the elevator that takes you back to the surface.  So you can walk some more to get to your actual gate.

This is the progress that isn’t.  It now takes me longer to get to the gate than before.  Much longer.  My only solace is that people now have to walk more so we get more exercise.  Maybe that will help solve our obesity problem.  Make every fly from Dulles.

The fact is that you now walk as much going in and out of the ‘new’ transit system than you would if you just stepped through the main terminal and walked straight across the tarmac to the next Concourse.

Now THAT would be progress.

I’m seeing a lot of progress that isn’t these days.

Scrambling for an electric outlet to enter something into an electrical device when writing it down with a pen and paper would do.  Twenty-five clicks to get a calendar entry to synch with all 11 of my appointment books when just having an old DayTimer would do the same in a fraction of the time.

Sometimes things get better for the worse.

Sometimes progress isn’t.

Einstein. Socks. Cab fares.

Yesterday coming home I was thinking about Einstein, socks, and cab fares.

Let me explain.

There are many things that baffle me.  Mens socks are one.  You never lose a pair of socks.  You always lose one sock.  Every six months I go to the closet and find a handful of socks none of which match.  Where did their pairs go?  So I go to the store and buy a dozen pair.  Slowly the phenomenon repeats itself.  Months later another drawerful of single socks each forlornly in search of its  match.  Back to the store.

Hold that.

einsteinSo yesterday I was on a day trip to New York.  I took the 8 am shuttle from DCA to LGA.  Caught the 7 pm back home.  Fare to the city:  $38.   Fare back from the city to the LaGuardia:  $30.

Then it struck me.  Why are cabs from the airport TO the city are ALWAYS more expensive than cabs FROM the city to the airport?  It was a phenomenon that has been bothering me for some time.  Just like socks.  I travel a lot.  Boston.  St. Louis.  Atlanta.  San Francisco.  Every time it is the same thing.  Cab fares from the airport to the city are X … cabs from downtown to the airport … less than X.

I’ve tried to identify all variables.  Time of day.  Tolls.  Traffic.  None seem to fully account for the difference.  After I net everything out it is always cheaper to go from the city to the airport than the other way around.

The only factor I can think of is that coming home always seems quicker to me than going away.  This is a phenomenon that is widely recognized.  There are all sorts of theories but as best I can tell they all boil down to how we perceive time.

Things seem longer when you are under stress (going away) and things seem shorter when you are in delight (coming home).

As Einstein once said:

“Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. THAT’S relativity.”

So I get how the cab ride can seem shorter or faster or easier going one way or the other.

I just can’t figure out the fare part of it all.

And the socks.

Why people love JetBlue

As folks who drink at the JuiceBar know, I write a lot about travel.

So here’s a travel story with a simple lesson.

It is amazing what happens when you are nice to people.  It is even more amazing when you go the extra mile and do something surprisingly pleasant.

imagesThe day started with a 4:30 am alarm from my BlackBerry.  I love my BlackBerry.  I hate my alarm.

I lay there thinking.  Can I stay in my bed?  Please?  God, it is early!  In my mind I sound like a 10-year-old.

By 5:15 I’m heading down the Dulles Toll Road ready to attack a day trip to Boston.  Leave at 6:30 am.  Grab a cab.  Make a 9 am meeting.  Break.  2 pm fly-by.  Head home on the 4:30 pm.  Able to make a meeting back in Northern Virginia at 7:30 pm.

The above is the reason I have not watched the movie Up in the Air.  The movie is way too close.

Slug through security.  People mover.  Gate B66.  And here is where things get interesting.

Flight delay.  Mechanical problems.

It is 6:15 and the agent is actually cheery.  Upbeat.  Moreover she’s open, honest and most of all accessible.  Next update at 7 pm.  Bing.  At 7 am she’s talking to me.  Next update at 7:30 am.  7:30 am comes and bing, she’s talking to me again.  Answering anybody’s questions.  More agents begin to cluster around the gate readying to move.  Decision made.  Next update will be at 8:30 and there’s a 9 am flight so let’s get everyone on to the 9 am flight.  Agents fan out.  There’s running through travelers like a California wildfire through Hollywood.  I timidly note to one agent that my meeting in Boston starts at 9 am.  So I don’t know if this whole flight is worth it.

He says to me, “Let me know what you decided and we’ll take care of you.”

Thirty minutes later, after a handful of emails and a couple of calls with my CEO, we pull the plug on the day trip.

I go back to a DIFFERENT agent and tell him my decision.  I’m so used to being abused, charged, and refused that I don’t even ask for a refund.

Turns out I didn’t have to.

“Oh, yes, Mr. Johnson.  My colleague mentioned that he talked to you.  Totally understand.  He already told me that we’re going to issue you a refund.  Should just take a minute.”

I love JetBlue — for today — because …

  • They were nice.
  • They were accessible.
  • They did something that they didn’t have to do.
  • In fact, they did something that others NEVER do.

I say that I love JetBlue today because I’m just as human (and fickle) as anyone else.  But if JetBlue continues to do this, they may be taking a lot of travel away from United.  At least from one traveler I know.

[ENDNOTE for anyone from JetBlue reading this.  It was the agents at Gate 66, flight 1250.  They were ALL great.  Please do something nice for them.]

Airports: Europe is numeric … U.S. is alphabetic

I spend a lot of time in airports.  Not as much as George Clooney in “Up in the Air.”  I don’t like traveling as much as this fellow seems to and I find negotiating airports more of a pain-in-the ass than comforting.   But in a recent trip I toured through three major U.S. airports and two major European ones and was reminded of a curious difference between the two.

Airport 7European airports list departures by time.  When are you leaving?  Look up on the board and scroll down for the time.  There it is.  Got a 9:45 am flight out of Berlin?  Just need to find those flights listed between 9:40 and 9:50 am.  It will be there somewhere in betwixt the flights to Cracaw and Geneva.

U.S. airports list departures by destination.  Where are you going?  Washington DC?  That’s easy.  Go to the end of the listings in the WXYZ space and find where you’re going and then work backwards for the time and gate.

The U.S. system makes a helluvalot more sense to me.  First, I ALWAYS know WHERE I’m going.  But there’s a lot of times I don’t quite remember when.  I can get confused about whether the flight is at 2:30 pm or 3:30 pm but I NEVER get confused about whether I’m going to Newark or Los Angeles.  Then there’s the issue of delayed flights.  You check in and they tell you that your flight is going to be an hour late.  Do you look for the ‘correct’ time or do you look for the revised time?

Very confusing.

I can only think that the European airports carried over the vestiges of the old train station arrival and departure boards.  You know.  Those huge mechanical panels that every minute do the “click-click-click” thing in which plates unfold from the middle to amazingly display a curious combination of yellow and white type on black that gives the latest listings of trains, cities, and gates.

Now it is a series of luminescent flat screen panels dangling from the roof … but the listing by time remains.

And I still can’t remember when that flight is supposed to leave.