Recommendations, or not

I’ve had it with American Airlines

I’ve been flying American Airlines for many years, and have maintained AAdvantage Platinum status for several years due to how often I travel. The service on AA which used to be great has been steadily declining over the last year and it’s been most obvious to me when I fly somewhere with a stop over where one leg of the trip is on AA and the other is on another One World partner airline. I’ve been sticking with AA hoping it’s something that will just pass, but what just happened was the final straw.

As many folks know Tara and I are basically traveling around the world for the next 9 months with our new baby, Ripley (he’s 3 months old right now). The first leg of this trip was from Los Angeles to Singapore through Narita. The first leg of this flight was on AA, the second on JAL. If you haven’t flown with a baby you might not even know that planes have some seats with bassinet’s that make travel easier. I didn’t even know about this option until last year. When I booked the flight I asked about reserving the bassinet seat, I was told that this spot was unreservable and I had to go to the gate the day of the flight and request it then and they would be given out on a first come first serve basis. I spoke to several people at AA and AA Platinum service who told me that same story. The day before the flight I called again and confirmed the only way to get the gate and request it. The representative I spoke to suggested I get there 2 hours early, I got there 4 hours early.

I waited and was the first person to speak to the gate agent when she arrived, I asked about the bassinet and she told me it was already reserved but that the best she could do was move me to row with a little more legroom. She apologized and said I should have requested it in advance, when I told her I did she said there was no record of my request. Once on the plane we noticed that there was a bassinet attachment in our row and asked the flight attendant about it. She confirmed they had a bassinet we could use and brought it out, however when she did another family stood up saying they had also requested the bassinet. The flight attendant told us that whoever had made a prior reservation for the bassinet could have it, and the other family said they had. Later on I asked the father of the family how he reserved it and he said he simply requested it when he bought his ticket.

To be fair I didn’t ask the family who they bought their ticket from, and it’s possible they bought it via some other airline or through a service like Expedia. That said, we were both on the same AA flight and if you can get better service on an AA flight by going around AA, the problem is only compounded and seems to suggest if you are flying with a baby, don’t fly AA.

Upon arriving at Narita we asked the gate agent again about getting a seat with the bassinet and were again told that those seats were already reserved. To be fair, the second leg of the flight was JAL not AA, and the bassinets are built into certain seats, however the flight attendants did tell us that if it had been requested when we purchased the tickets we could have gotten those seats, and even though the tickets were bought from AA they could have put in that request.

When we arrived in Singapore I immediately sent an e-mail to the Platinum customer service department detailing the above and asking what we did wrong that we weren’t able to reserve these bassinet seats, and how we could do it in the future. I received a boilerplate e-mail saying that bulkhead seats are very popular and given out on first come first serve basis. Frustrating as I wasn’t asking about bulkhead seats, but even moreso because there was no way to reply to that note and if I wanted to follow up or respond I had to submit a brand new complaint. Rather than risk the same thing I called the desk directly, even though I’m currently on the other side of the world and international calling rates aren’t cheap.

The first person I spoke to said there is no way to reserve the bassinet seats end of story. I asked to speak with a supervisor, who I was transferred to and who I relayed the above situation to. The first thing she told me what that they don’t offer bassinet seats any longer, except on some international flights. I pointed out to her that Los Angeles to Singapore is in fact an international flight. She told me that no one is able to reserve bassinet seats, and it must have been a mix up at the gate. I told her that both the gate agent and the family who booked the bassinet told me they booked it at the time of purchase. The platinum service rep said “no they didn’t.” I told her that regardless of the policy she was reading to me, I was the first person at the gate to request the bassinet, and didn’t end up with it because it was previously reserved. She offered two possible explanations “maybe someone was having a bad day” or “maybe you just didn’t see them get to the gate before you.”

I don’t know how someone having a bad day could play into this, but I do know that I sat at the gate patiently and no one spoke to the agent prior to me, or even immediately after me, and regardless the gate agent didn’t say “sorry those people just snuck in front of you and requested it seconds ago” she said “sorry, that was reserved weeks ago.” Weeks.

Assuming that perhaps I wasn’t explaining the situation well enough I tried to tell the AA Platinum service rep that both the agent and the family told me they booked the bassinet at the time of purchase, and she begin yelling at me and interrupting me to the point that my wife, sitting a good 6 feet away from me, could hear the conversation clearly. I asked the lady to please stop interrupting me and she continued without a beat. I asked her what I had done to be treated like this as I was trying to be very polite, the representative kept talking over me thoughout this telling me that no one else could have requested the bassinet and again telling me that they don’t even offer bassinets except on some international flights. As it appeared we were going in circles I asked to speak to someone else, she told me there was no one else and again told me that I must just not have been paying attention when someone else walked to the counter ahead of me. I again told her that not only did no one walk in front of me at the gate, but the gate agent confirmed the reservation was made prior to that day. The representative said “no they didn’t” I asked “are you calling me a liar?” she responded “I didn’t say that, but you are making things up and telling me things that didn’t happen.”

I was rather shocked by this and again asked if there was maybe someone else I could speak to, she didn’t hear this request because she was too busy talking over me again. I waited for her to finish yelling at me and then asked if I could have her name, she then hung up on me.

And yes, just to confirm this was the Platinum Service desk, because I have Platinum status because I spend so much money flying with them every year. Why am I doing that again? Yeah, after this interaction I couldn’t think of a good reason either. I did a little research and spoke to some people and it looks like several airlines that are part of the Star Alliance will comp my status with AA if I switch to them. I feel bad because I really have enjoyed flying with many of the other One World allied airlines, but given that I’m based in the US I need a good US carrier to base most of my flights there with so I think that is that. So long American, you used to be awesome but I can’t say I’ll miss you after all this. (If you work for Continental or United and are reading this, please get in touch!)

Review: Streamlight MicroStream LED Flashight

I’ve got a thing for flashlights and over the last 5 years or so have probably spent way too much money on them. Next to a good pocket knife they are easily the most useful thing I carry around with me and I’m constantly amazed by how far the technology has come since the old D-cell Maglight I used to own. I’ve included a few of my favorite lights in our store but my newest and current favorite daily carry illumination device is the Streamlight MicroStream. It’s cheap, small, and probably brighter than half the flashlights you have laying around your house. (assuming your house isn’t full of surefires of course)

Streamlight AAAI don’t recall who tipped me off to this little guy but I kept hearing people talk about them and when Amazon smartly recommended one to me for under $20 I really didn’t have much choice but to pick it up and see if hype held up. I think they are selling right now for $16 and change which is absolutely the best value high power LED light out there I think. I think a good single AAA size light is ideal for daily carrying and for years I (and many others on Candlepower Forums) have been singing the praises of the Arc AAA, but this is the first light I’ve come across that gives it some serious competition. The Streamlight is a little larger than the Arc though not by much, but it’s almost double the output of the premium version coming in at 20 lumens. It also feels a little lighter and has the convenient bonus of a tail cap pressure switch. I will say that the added size makes it feel clunky on a keychain but clipped to a side pocket you barely notice it’s there.

On top of all that it’s pretty much indestructible. I haven’t tried running over it with a car, but I’ve dropped it from varying heights (including down a flight of concrete stairs) and I know two people who have accidentally run them through a washer and dryer cycle and they have come out working flawlessly, and summer breeze fresh! This is good to know because the whole point of carrying around a flashlight is because you don’t want to get caught in the dark unexpectedly or let bad lighting get in the way of whatever you need to take care of. I use mine daily for finding the keyhole in my door after dark and looking for stuff I probably dropped and kicked under furniture, but can easily imagine an endless list of reasons you want a good flashlight on hand if there is any kind of problem. Last week I was in Toronto during a several hour blackout and was able to find my way around the unfamiliar house I was staying at and read for a bit thanks to having a light there and ready to go. If there was an earthquake in LA knocking out power for hours or days, I know these would be getting heavy usage. It’s small and doesn’t have the same self defense options as some of the other lights I have around but for a single AAA sized light it pulls more than it’s own weight for sure.

There was a time when I had a big maglight in every room of my house, but honestly I think this little Streamlight is brighter and more reliable. And for the price, I’m actually considering picking up 4-5 of them and just tossing one each in my bags and car so no matter what happens I have one around. I really can’t recommend this light enough.

(This post was originally published by Urban Journal.)

Traveling to the coffee wastelands

[bubblicious photo by tonx]
Singapore and France. These are not countries known for their great coffee, but they are cities I’ll be spending a big chunk of the next 3 or 4 months in. You might be thinking “WTF you dumb ass, there is amazing coffee in Paris!” but you’d be wrong, proving that you are the one who is the dumb ass. If you like drinking burnt charcoal that has had every ounce or flavor roasted out of it then I guess you could get by in Paris, but if you actually like the flavor of coffee you are screwed. So in efforts to maintain some level of civility I’ve put together a bit of a coffee survival pack that I’ll be dragging around the world with me.

First of all, there is no question that beans are important. But we all know that it’s important that the beans are fresh. I’ll likely be bringing some freshly roasted Intelligentsia beans with me, but that will only cover the first week or two that I’m in Singapore, so I’ll have to con someone into sending me over some more while I’m there. Once I get to Paris things getting better because Square Mile is at least in the same region and I can order some beans from them and have them delivered without it being too pricey. So that’s the software so to speak, what about the hardware?

I need to have the tools to actually turn the beans into something drinkable so I’ve got a mini arsenal just for that purpose. I’ve got a Leifheit Page Kitchen Scale for the math. Ever since one of Kyle’s late night twitter science dropping I’ve been paying more attention to weight rather than volume. How much coffee is in a scoop? Who the fuck knows. How much is in 35 grams? 35 grams. Every single time. So anyway, the scale is pretty important. This one is also awesome for travel because it’s small and flat so it’ll take up about the same space as a small paperback book. That’s important. For me anyway.

Now that I have the beans, I need to grind them. Since power supply changes from country to country, I felt that something without a power cord was a good idea. The Hario Coffee Hand Grinder fits that bill and is also not too bulky. Now I had heard this thing was “amazing” and “all that” before I bought it, but I hadn’t actually used one. Once I did I realized it’s slightly less than “all that” because the bottom burr isn’t attached and floats around which creates a bit of an uneven grind. I did some more research and found this post which explains some technique and a hack to help keep things consistent. I think it’ll do the trick for this trip, but out of this whole set up that is the thing I’m least confident about and will be keeping an eye out something equally small and human powered that performs better.

As much as I would love for the next item on my list to be the Mypressi Twist Portable Espresso Maker, sadly it’s not. For two main reasons. The first of which is that I don’t currently own one yet. Yes that is a cue, if you want to buy me one I’ll happily accept it. The second is I know I can’t fly with the Co2 charges for it, and I’m not sure how available they are in other parts of the world, or how to even find them in a non-English speaking place like France. So while it’s great in theory, it’d probably not the most ideal for this kind of trip. Which means I’ll be forsaking espresso which is so sad I can’t even continue on that thought process.

So I’m brining a pour over set up instead. No, not this little pocket sized woman. Hario V60 + filters + a slow pour kettle = Awesome. These 3 things should kick all kinds of ass for me out on the road. The truth is they kick all kinds of ass for me at home so I’m really not worries about how they will perform elsewhere. Just to be over the top I went ahead and added a Hario Range Server to that combo so I can make more than a single cup at a time and see what the hell I’m doing. That might be overkill. I’m aware of that already.

While that is a fully complete set up, I wanted to have a back up plan just in case, as well as a slightly different option to keep things interesting. I picked up a Clever Coffee Dripper to bring as well. At $13 I figured it was cheap enough to be worth the shot and I know some folks really enjoy the dual immersion+filter thing they have going on. Plus I feel like a super nerd if I’m bringing multiple coffee brewing method equipment with me around the world. And that is just as important as anything else.

Toy Cameras & The Photographic Image

“Despite all signs to the contrary, it was not the original goal of Mr. Lee… [inventor of the Holga] to make toys, but rather to ensure that people were fascinated and interested in creative film photography.”

My recent photography obsession isn’t limited to just taking pictures – I’ve been talking to photographers and looking at tons of photos as well. Two things that have sparked my interest a bit recently are the extremely high end stuff like Leicas, and the extremely low end stuff like Holgas. I actually think the two play really well together and at the same time create images unlike anything else. Recently, the folks over at Magnesium (the worlds most respected photo agency) asked me to curate a piece they were doing on toy cameras. I happily accepted got to work sorting through mountains of photos taken by a few very talented photographers using some exceptionally cheap gear. The images in the piece were taken with Holgas, Dianas, Fujipets, Lomos and even a Hipstamaic or two. Really fun stuff. Here are a few of the shots, but I encourage you to check out the full piece as well.

©Manny Santiago

©Stavro Papadopoulos

©Nathalie Farigu

©Ken Lee

Read the full article by Manny Santiago and see the complete photo set on Magnesium.

Spreadshirt is missing the point

Yesterday I announced the launch of R3515T.com which is largely powered by Spreadshirt. In my announcement post about it I explained that I’ve printed and sold t-shirts via different companies for most of my life but only now had print on demand services, like Spreadshirt as well as Cafe Press, PrintMojo, Printfection, Zazzle and others gotten to the point that I thought I could actually use them as the main production and fulfillment piece of the business.

Hi Hollywood

I just published my second book. Woot!

This book is about the magic of movies. About reaching to a higher standard. About daring to dream. About making movies awesome again. We dare you to read any one of the potential oscar winners presented here in rough treatment format and say that they wouldn’t be awesome movies. We fucking dare you.

Morgen and I wrote this book a while ago and have been sitting on it waiting for the exact right moment to spring it on the world, and that moment is now! Brought to you in a handy downloadable ebook, this is also kind of the launch of my new publishing house Surprise Attack Publishing. It’s free and it’s awesome, or at least I think it is. If you have any taste in literature you’ll probably agree.

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Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

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I just wrote about NeighborGoods over on LA Metblogs so I won’t repeat myself here other than to say I’m so incredibly proud of my friend Micki for making this idea a reality and expect super amazing things to come from it. If you don’t need the pitch and just want to jump in you can use this link and you’ll get added to the LA Metblogs beta group which will be extra fun.

I’ll write more about this in the coming weeks I promise, but for now I’m just so amped to see it live and want to see more people on it ASAP!

Travel iPhone Apps

travelappsI travel a lot. I have an iPhone. I have an international data plan. The combo of these things gives me the opportunity to try out lots of travel apps and find ones that are useful or more likely ones that are steamy piles of poop. I’m guessing you don’t need advice on apps not to check out, so I decided to give a little bit of a rundown of apps I think are worth while and I use myself on a regular basis. When I’m traveling anyway, I don’t use the app that gives me a map of the Tokyo metro very often when I’m hanging out in LA. You get the idea.

Data plan aside, I only have so much bandwidth to play with so my preference is for apps that are self contained and don’t need a connection, or that can leach of nearby wifi for whatever data they do need. Of course GPS is a huge benefit in travel so that isn’t always possible but know ahead of time that when faced with options that require heavy data usage and ones that don’t I opt for the later. If any of this sounds interesting to you, keep on reading!