I go somewhere on a plane at least twice a month. For over ten years I’ve used a Briggs & Riley roller carry-on, and I’ve been fairly happy with it. It’s heavy for its small size and the zipper pulls all broke off (I made replacements from binder clips and Sugru) so I’ve been keeping my eye out for a replacement. After hearing great things about the accessibility and capacity of the Skooba Weekender duffle, I decided to give it a try. It turned out the be the most convenient carry-on I’ve ever used.
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More evidence that American travel is headed for a two-tier security theater
that is reasonable and light for rich people and business travellers, and increasingly awful and invasive for everyone else: as Pre-Check expands
, people who fly often enough to make it worth spending $85 will be able to keep shoes, jackets and belts on and avoid pornoscanners (including the new more radioactive versions
). Us dirty foreigners, as well as people who save carefully for one trip every couple of years to see their families, will get the ever-expanding Grand Guignol treatment, especially since everyone with any clout or pull will be over there in Pre-Check land, getting smiles and high-fives from the TSA.
Matthew Kepnes, who runs a budget travel website called Nomadic Matt
, wrote an article explaining why airline tickets cost so much these days, what leads to their price increases, and what consumers can do to find cheaper flights.
With fewer planes, less competition, and higher capacity, airlines can charge a lot more for tickets. There’s nothing to stop them and they don’t need to lower prices. United CEO Jeff Smisek said that only now are airfares priced appropriately. When you have a CEO say something like that, it means prices are not going to go down anymore, but only up.
According to Rick Seaney of farecompare.com, “Before 2008, things were in the favor of the passengers. After the 2009 crisis, the scale of justice tipped towards the airlines.”
Why Your Airplane Ticket is So Expensive
Glenn Greenwald's partner David Miranda was detained at Heathrow Airport under an anti-terrorism law that allows the cops to hold terrorism suspects and question them for nine hours without a lawyer. He was held for exactly nine hours, and questioned -- but not about terrorism. Instead, they questioned him about Greenwald's interviews with NSA leaker Edward Snowden. In other words, they misused a terrorism law to attack a journalist through his loved ones in order to get information on sources in a story that embarrassed the government.
What's more, they stole his laptop, his phone, his memory sticks, his game devices -- basically, all his electronics and gadgets. I say "stole" because there's no indication that they'll ever be returned. And of course, all the data on those devices is forfeit to the UK spookocracy, without any charge, suspicion, or colourable claim of involvement with any crime.
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UPDATE: Rebelfone contacted me and said they are waiting to find out from the overseas SIM card companies whether or not I used the SIM cards. If they determine that I did not use them, they will presumably refund my money. I will keep you updated.
UPDATE 8/26/2013: Chris from Rebelfone's support team emailed me the following message:
"As per your telephonic conversation, I am gratified to confirm that the management has approved refund for the 3 Mifi units which malfunctioned. I request you to remove the blog. The credit will be applied upon our agreement that no further dispute or disparagement shall be made against Rebelfone regarding this matter.
I replied: "Thank you for offering the refund. I will make a note on the blog post that the refund was issued. However, I will not remove the blog post."
UPDATE 10/8/2013: As of 10/8/2013 I have not received a refund.
UPDATE 10/9/2013: Chris from Rebelfone's support team emailed me the following message:
Thank you for your patience. We have credited $119.06 to your credit card, against three malfunctioned devices.
I went to Tokyo in June. Before I left, I made plans to get wireless Internet so I could make Skype calls, use an online map, take Instagram photos, and do email while I was away from the hotel. My iPhone is under contract with AT&T, and they have an international cellular data plan that costs $120 for 800MB. I considered it, but I wanted to see if I could find a better deal.
After some searching, I found a highly-praised company called b-mobile, which offers a "Visitor SIM" -- it's a pre-activated 1GB card advertised as being "perfect for Skype." B-mobile offered Narita airport pickup or delivery to a hotel. The price was ¥3,980 (US$40). Earlier, I'd purchased an unlocked Samsung Galaxy Pocket Android phone for $100, which I planned on using with the SIM card in Japan. (My iPhone is under contact and locked from using 3rd party SIMs.)
When I arrived at my hotel in Shinjuku, my b-mobile SIM card was waiting for me in a little envelope with clear English instructions. I popped it into the Android phone, followed the instructions, and within a minute or two I was online. I set the phone up as a Wi-Fi hotspot and my iPhone had no problem connecting to it. For the rest of my stay in Tokyo, I had access to high-speed Internet everywhere I went. It was great.
Now for my second experience, the awful one.
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My family went to London and Paris last week. One of the highlights was a self-guided tour through the Catacombs of Paris.
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The major check against the unreasonable, horrible practices on the part of the TSA is that people who fly are wealthier, on average than people who don't -- and people who fly a lot are wealthier still. That meant that the worst stuff the TSA did was felt disproportionately by people who had a lot of political juice -- people who get listened to. Increasingly, though, rich people can opt out of the worst of TSA treatment by buying voluntary background checks and bypassing the rigmarole of the plebs. Now, the TSA is expanding its Pre-Check program
, ensuring that pretty much everyone with any political clout will be spared the worst of it, letting the TSA's treatment for aviation's 99 percent spiral steadily downward, moving from mere Security Theater to Security Grand Guignol.
Reuters has a travel guide to how to spend a weekend in Minneapolis and St. Paul
. It's supposed to be an enjoyable weekend, I think, but that's not entirely clear. Beginning with a stop in the airport restrooms (no mention of Larry Craig) the travel guide recommends eating at generic chain restaurants, spending a Saturday in the Mall of America, and taking in a baseball "match" (which, readers are warned, can last as long as 3.5 hours, not counting the possibility of overtime). The guide is correct, though, on one thing. A view of the setting sun and skyscrapers from Target Field would
be impressive — especially considering the fact that the skyscrapers are decidedly to the South and East of the stadium, and not much of the seating faces West, anyway.
The next time you're patted down and pornoscanned, remember that there was a time in American history that skyjacking was so common it was almost comical. Between 1968 and 1973, there was a hijacking per week. Teenagers hopped on board with fake dynamite and asked to go to Canada. Disillusioned working stiffs jumped out of airplanes at altitude after gathering thousands in ransom money. Hijacking insurance could be had for $75 and ensured that fliers could sit back, drink free booze, and enjoy the windfall of having a wild-eyed miscreant yell “Take this plane to Havana.”
After all, the insured got $500 per day of captivity – enough for a nice vacation.
To be clear, this was mostly the airlines' fault. They didn't want to reduce the efficiency of their operations. In that era there was no airport security and you could, without issue, alight from your Ford Fairlane and waltz right to the gate in any airport around the world. You could rush onto a flight an buy a ticket from the attendants on board, all the while fiddling with your revolver, baseball bat, or bottle of Jack Daniels. You could even traipse around the baggage handling area with little interference. In short, flying used to be crazytown.
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Garielle Bluestone on the flight from hell
: "Traveling means inevitably forgetting something at home, but America's most hated airline, United, took it to another level this week."
If you're booking a multi-city trip by air, you should really price it out as a series of one-way flights, rather than as a single ticket. As Mike Masnick discovered, the arcane airline ticketing rules require ticketing agencies to stick random, high-priced business-class tickets into multi-hop itineraries, which can double the cost of your trip. The ticketing websites -- Expedia, Travelocity, Hipmunk, Kayak, and Orbitz -- all either failed to show this information, produced suboptimal itineraries with unnecessary overnight layovers, or obscured the best flights in some other important way. Masnick got a spokesperson for Hipmunk to explain it all:
After going through all of this, I reached out to folks at Hipmunk, to see if they could explain the result. Hipmunk's Adam Goldstein kindly explained the basic situation, noting that airlines have all sorts of rules about what tickets can be combined with others. If you've never dealt with the insane details of fare classes (which go way beyond seating classes), you can spend way too much time online reading the crazy details. Given that, it seems that it is these kinds of "fare classes" that are the "culprit" -- and by "culprit" I mean the way in which the airlines force you into spending much, much, much more than you need to.
That said, Goldstein also argues that there are downsides to buying individual flights. He brings up, as we discussed above, the issue of connecting flights (and also having bags checked all the way through to destination) -- but as noted, that doesn't apply in this situation. He also points out that if you have to "change or cancel your whole trip, you have to pay separate change/cancel fees for each booking, instead of one for the whole thing." That's absolutely true, but is that "insurance" worth paying twice as much? I could rebook my entire trip with different times and dates... and basically pay the same total amount. So... that argument doesn't make much sense.
In the end, it really feels like a scammy way of making fliers pay a lot more than they need to, without them realizing it. What I do know, however, is that if you're looking for the best deals, do not assume that a multi-city search will turn up the cheapest prices -- and also recognize that the different search engines can give out extremely different answers. For example, if price was the only concern, and short flight times/non-stop flights were less important, then obviously that British Airways option at the end is by far the best price -- but it turns up on none of the other search engines. However, I'd imagine that most casual fliers have no idea, and I wonder if many people end up booking multi-city flight options, not realizing that they could save a ton by booking the exact same flights individually.
Flight Search Engines And The Multi-City Ripoff
Kent sez, "Here's a travel hack that came to me all at once in a flash at SxSW this year: how to make cold-brewed coffee out of the horrible filter pack and inadequate equipment you often find in hotels in the USA."
Carefully unwrap (don't tear!) one or two of those premeasured filter-packs that came with your coffee service and stuff it gently into the cup. Ideally you want four parts water to one part coffee, but this is tough to estimate with filter packs.
Fill the remaining space in the cup all the way up with water. Tap water works; filtered or bottled is better. Try not to leave any air bubbles.
Don't worry if it seems it will result in a tiny amount of coffee; it will be concentrated, intensely flavored, and—assuming you're not stuck with decaf—highly caffeinated.
Kent's method is clever and upside-down-y, but I still like my method
, which involves using your own coffee and a disposable plastic breast-milk bag.
Cold-Brewed Coffee In Your Hotel Room
Field Trip is a free iPhone app was developed in conjunction with our friends at Altas Obscura. I'm using it on an upcoming road trip from LA to Phoenix.
Field Trip, your guide to the cool, hidden, and unique things in the world around you is now on the iPhone! Field Trip runs in the background on your phone. When you get close to something interesting, it will notify you and if you have a headset or bluetooth connected, it can even read the info to you.
Field Trip can help you learn about everything from local history to the latest and best places to shop, eat, and have fun. You select the local feeds you like and the information pops up on your phone automatically, as you walk next to those places.
Field Trip for iOS (Via iDownLoadBlog)
Dina Spector reports on the Lyubivy Orlova, a Russian cruise ship adrift in the North Atlantic
. It snapped free of towing cables while en-route from Canada to new owners in the Caribbean, and for various reasons no-one is taking responsibility. It, and its suspected payload of rats, is now just 1300 miles off the Irish coast. [BI]
A royal penguin, somewhat worse for the wear, was found stranded on a New Zealand beach after going on a 1000-mile holiday
by mistake. [AP]