Tim Foolery

United’s Cell Phone Policy

I’m a United guy. Are they perfect, no, not in the slightest. They are my hometown airline and with them (and their partners) I can get almost anywhere in the world in just two flights. They have some screwy policies that if you aren’t well versed in, you could find yourself spending more money than expected (checked bags and now Basic Economy, specifically). But in general, if you know the system, you can work it to your advantage.

Live and Let’s Fly (love the blog name, btw) posted recently about United’s plan to continue to prohibit voice calls (cell or Internet like Skype, Hangouts, etc) from their planes, even if the US government changes their tune and allows passengers to make calls. Matthew thinks this is a bad idea and lays out several reasons behind his beliefs. Personally, the idea of allowing people to make cell phone calls while on board fills me with angst.

I live in Chicago and rely on public (and quasi public) transportation exclusively. I haven’t owned a car since 2001 and have no need for a car. When on the train or the bus we are bombarded by the loud talkers-the people who think they must yell into their phones so the person they are calling can hear them. My husband and my mother both do this-they are smart and worldly people. It is an affliction I’ve tried to cure them of for years, to no avail.

Image courtesy of ATWorldOnline

Image courtesy of ATWorldOnline

Personally, I enjoy the relative peace found on board an aircraft. I can work, read, sleep or just relax. Allowing phone calls has the very high likelihood of dramatically disrupting that peace.

Kudos to you United for making, to me what seems, the most logical decision. Do you REALLY need to take a call on your trip?

What do you think? Am I out of touch with modern times? Am I just a grumpy old man shaking my cane at the kids whose ball flew into my front yard?  If airlines do allow calls, do you think there should be a phone and non-home section, like the old days of smoking and non-smoking?  Are you just waiting for the day that you’ll be able to call your office while you fly the 60 minutes from Chicago to Toronto, or Nashville?

Duck Parade

I was recently in Memphis for work. I stayed at the Westin, which everyone I met with said was the nicest hotel in town. Not sure I can accurately comment on that, but it was a consistent remark. The colleague I was traveling with had never been to Memphis before, so I tried to show her the town a bit while we were there. I had only visited Memphis once before, but to her I was the expert.

We grabbed a drink on Beale from a down home folksie racist with a heart of gold and a national championship title in firearm marksmanship (yeah, I kid you not, Amber was her name and she sure was a slice of Americana).  After our drink we walked up and down Beale a few times trying to pick out the best place for dinner, some music and another drink or two. We settled on BB Kings, which fit the bill pretty well – the music was great, the food was better than decent and the drinks were flowing.  We didn’t have a late night.

I told my colleague that I’m taking her to lunch and to see the ducks.  She was confused as she had never heard of the Duck Parade at the Peabody Hotel.  For those of you also unfamiliar with this tradition, at 11h00 each day, a flock (is that the right term if they are just walking and not flying?) of ducks takes the elevator from their penthouse to the main lobby, where they walk down the red carpet, past dozens of onlookers, into the fountain.  They hang out in the fountain all day, then reverse their trip around 17h00 back to their penthouse.

Even after I explained the concept to my colleague, she was perplexed.  I forced her to join me.

We arrived around 10h45 and the lobby was utterly packed, but we were able to snag a pretty decent spot to watch the ducks.  At about 10h55 a formally uniformed man entered the area near the fountain and regaled us with the history of the ducks at the Peabody.


We listen closely as the Master of Ceremonies tells us the historical tale of these ducks and the hotel.

Right on queue, the elevator door opened and the ducks dutifully walked by a dozen or so kids sitting on their red carpet and jumped right into the pool.  Once all the ducks were in, the little stairs were removed, trapping the ducks in the fountain (I guess their wings are clipped).

The arrival of the ducks was anticipated and loved by everyone in the room.

After their march, the ducks hop into the fountain and everyone in the lobby has a look of “Huh, that’s it?” on their faces.

The whole process took about 10 minutes and was a bit anticlimactic.  My colleague was digging the pomp and circumstance of the whole thing and we are glad we did it, but it’s not something you’ll need to do more than once (unless you have kids).

When you’ve visited Memphis, did you stop by the Peabody to watch the ducks?  Did you bring your kids or did you go on your own?  Are you as disappointed as I am that the Peabody doesn’t have duck on the menu at any of their restaurants?

I don’t like eVisas, but I should…

We are going to Myanmar soon.  Entry into Myanmar requires a visa for US Passport holders – as well as a ton of other countries (people holding passports from Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia plus a couple other countries can enter for short periods without a visa).  The visa process for Myanmar is quite simple, fill out an online form, upload a photo and pay your $50.  A couple weeks after you do the online work, you’ll get a letter that you bring with you and upon arrival, you get a single stamp in your passport.

How could I hate this process?  Well, I’m an old man at heart and I love the big fancy visas in my passport.  Yes, they do take up more real estate in a limited space document than they should, but getting your passport back with a beautiful visa, sometimes with a hologram, is just cool.

The best part of this process (other than the sheer simplicity), was the sample photos – what not to do photos – on the application page.  These photos are hillarious – and you know they post a stupid picture like this because they’ve had really stupid people submitting photos like this in the past, right?

How Not To Submit a Photo for an eVisa.

How Not To Submit a Photo for an eVisa.


What are your thoughts on eVisas?  How about the photos above? Do you think people still think they can submit photos like this?  People are nuts.

Birthday in A Hotel

I recently wrote about my stay at the relatively new Aloft New Orleans Downtown.  While that stay in and of itself wasn’t spectacular – it was quite nice, mind you, just nothing to knock your socks off – it did allow me to experience a first: Spending my birthday in a hotel.  Well, that’s not quite right, I spent my 30th birthday in Palm Springs, but that was an actual birthday trip, this was just a trip that coincided with my birthday, but I digress.

When I checked into the hotel, the gentleman working the check in desk commented on my birthday.  He first confirmed, then wished me a very happy birthday.  He also apologized for me having to spend my birthday with them, which I thought was funny – self deprecating humor often wins in my book.  He even said I could have a much later checkout if necessarily – I didn’t want nor need one, but it was nice to have the option.

I walked into my room and found a card sitting on the bed.  The had a lovely handwritten birthday note as well as a handful of drink vouchers for the bar.

Welcome note and birthday gift.

Welcome note and birthday gift.

Here’s what the note says:


Happy Birthday! We’re excited to have you here with us. Thank you for your loyalty to SPG and as a Platinum Member we want to make sure that your stay is Amazing!  Even though your birthday is Friday, here is something to get you started today!

It honestly was a shock to me.  I figured this would go unnoticed – especially since I was checking out on my actual birthday.  Again, this isn’t Earth-shattering, but you don’t need to make a grand over the top gesture to bring a smile to a person’t face or to brighten their day a little bit.  Taking a few minutes to write a quick note has paid dividends in my mind.  Plus, I only used two of the four tickets!  In case you were wondering, United didn’t do anything for me (I was flying on a paid first class ticket too) – Turkish and Cathay both sent me Happy Birthday Emails.

Have you ever stayed at a hotel on your birthday (and not part of birthday celebration – just by happenstance)? How did that hotel celebrate your special day?  Did you have status with them or were you just a general member?  How should a hotel celebrate you?

Uber Flat Fares – Worth It or a Waste?

Late last week, I received a promotional email from Uber.  Let me start by saying I haven’t taken a traditional taxi in a very long time – I almost exclusively take UberX when needing transit (that is when I’m not taking proper public transportation).  When traveling for work, I don’t rent cars, but take UberX constantly.

This promotional email was akin to an email I got last year, just with updated pricing.  The new promotion allows you to get fixed price Uber rides for 30 days.  You can snag an UberX for $4.49 per trip or UberPool for $2.49.  There is a one time activation fee of either $10 or $20 depending on how many rides you want.  For $10 you have a maximum of 20 rides at this price and for $20, you get 40 rides.  You can only have one promotion active at once, but with either option (20 or 40 rides) you cane use them for either UberX or UberPool.

Last time this promo came out, the math didn’t work out for me, but this time I pulled the trigger.  Unfortunately these rides won’t get you to or from the airport, but they do get you pretty much anywhere else in Chicago you’d want to go.  Last time the map didn’t go as far as my house, so it made absolutely no sense for me.

So, how does the math work out?  I chose 40 rides – so with the $20 activation fee, if I end up taking all 40 rides, I’ll have spent $199.60 ($20 + 40*$4.49) or on average $4.99 per ride.  That’s a killer deal.  But what happens if you don’t use all 40 of your rides?  Well for me that was an easy decision.  On Friday night I was going to dinner in Streeterville – which is easily a $15 UberX ride, then I’d be coming home, another $15.  I used my first two rides for this dinner – even if I don’t ever use Uber again in the next 30 days, I ended up saving about $1 by signing up for this service.

I’m confident this will be a decent financial decision for me.  My biggest concern is that I’ll end up taking UberX more than I do now – for example if I’m running late for the train, I’ll just slow down and Uber into the office for $5 (My train ticket costs about $3.50 right now).  This also means that I’ll be much less active (when taking the train I end up walking about 45 minutes each day, just transiting to/from the stations).

You can further reduce the cost by ensuring that you charge your fares to a points earning credit card (Chase Sapphire Reserve nets you 3 points per dollar spent), plus you can get Starwood Points for all Uber rides too.

Other cties ended up getting this deal as well.  I’ve heard from friends in Boston, LA and DC who’ve signed up for their respective promotions.  Did you get a notice of this promo in your city?  How does the math work out in your world? I’m sure this type of promo will continue to pop up, but the price will be adjusted until the team at Uber finds an equilibrium point, where they still make money and consumers are getting just enough value to keep the promo going — does that mean that the drivers are getting screwed?  Probably.

What do you say? Does this Uber deal make sense for your transit needs?