A Year in Flight

Having spent most of 2008 flying, after a multi-year hiatus, I thought I’d recap a few events from this year.

  • Delta managed to not strand me anywhere. I was late, sometimes very late, but I never got stuck anywhere.
  • I was unintentionally mooned by a passenger going through security in the Atlanta Airport.
  • I saw multiple people trying to bring huge cans of hairspray through security and generally acting clueless.
  • I saw a woman drop her bag off at the end of the jet way. This is common on regional jets because the overhead bins are so small. It’s typically called something like “Plane side vallet”. In this case though, the plane was 767.
  • I’ve seen Delta flight attendants stuff returning soldiers with free drinks, usher them off of planes first, give them first class seats ahead of medallion members and lead planes in claps and cheers. Now don’t get me wrong, the soldiers deserve all of that an more. Delta should just publish that there’s a medallion level Green (or maybe camo?) above Platinum and that the requirement to join is getting shot at. That being the case, I’ll happily keep my gold status.
  • Flights to Orlando are just are just as full, just as overbooked and have just as many kids as last January, but many of the planes are smaller.
  • Given the things we do to rental cars, don’t every buy a used one. Can you say “Smoky Burnouts”?
  • Medallion status is good for getting your bag on the plane with you. Anything else you get is gravy.
  • The difference between Gold and Silver medallion is that instead of being number 30 on the upgrade list with 2 open first class seats, you move into the mid teens.
  • Avis in Charlotte is consistently screwed up. Actually, most of Charlotte travel is screwed up.
  • Fly Clear in Atlanta is still a huge work in progress.
  • You can put six days of clothes in a 21 inch roller board and carry it on.
  • Exit row seats often have more leg room and less padding. Not sure what’s up with that but some days its a wicked tradeoff.
  • You know you travel to much when 2 different hotels send you personalized greeting cards signed by all the staff.
  • Diamond Status with Hilton is sweet.
  • It kind of bites when you hit the highest level of a reward program. There’s nothing to shoot for.

Merry Christmas to all. I’m done traveling until January.

15 Tech Secrets for the Serious Road Warrior

I came across this PC World article on 15 Tech Secrets for the Serious Road Warrior via Lifehacker. I figured it would be another, “tether your phone” kind of list but I was pleasantly surprised by a number of items on the list. It’s definitely worth the read.

Rental Car Review: Chrysler Sebring

I’ll warn you now. This review is not kind.

So I picked up my Chrysler Sebring 4 door last week and it smelled bad. It smelled like cigarette scented deodorizer. I’ve had bad smelling cars before and my main drive was only 45 minutes so I lived with it. More on this later.

This Sebring had about 18,000 miles on it which is becoming about average for the rental cars I see. I will say that the Sebring handles well at highway speeds, provided that you don’t need to pass anyone. The worst thing about the Sebring’s nice road manners is that it gives you time look around the cabin and realize how boring and cheesy the interior really is. I’m a CPA, I know boring with the best of them.

Chrysler’s easy to use controls don’t catch your eye because you are distracted by the fake aluminum silver pieces and vast swath of undistinguished plastic. You have plenty of time too look around because you’ll be stuck in whatever lane you start in. The car simply had no power and they didn’t adjust the torque to compensate either. I swear the new Ford Focus cars that I’ve rented had more low end torque.

Here’s the worst part, after a week, the smell was worse. Colleagues refused to ride in the car with me at the end of the week it had gotten so bad.

But this is car review you say and the smell is really the fault of a previous renter or the rental car agency. Sure. But what does it say about Chrysler’s fabric and materials that a smell that bad can linger that long? After all, it’s not a like a smoker owned this car, it’s a rental. So if a relative borrows you Sebring and smokes in it, are you stuck with that smell forever?

I renew my call for true smoke free cars. Marriott has figured out how to do it with hotels, you simply charge the outgoing renter $250 if the car smells like cigarette smoke when returned.

How about it, is anyone going to step up to the place and differentiate themselves that way?

Rental Car Review: Dodge Nitro

Last week I rented a Dodge nitro with roughly 18,000 miles on it and I put another 300 or so on it over 4 days. The Dodge Nitro is a small SUV with a boxy shape. I find the boxy exterior to look like a little Land Rover (unlike the little Land Rover Freelander which looks more like a an Isuzu). However the Nitro has gotten some really bad reviews so I was expecting an interesting ride.

My first impression was that the center console was unusually wide for a small SUV and that’s generally a good thing. Controls were large and easy to figure out, always a plus in an unfamiliar vehicle. As I drove a little while, I realized that there was something odd about the windshield. The dashboard is extremely short. There is no chance that you will lose your parking stub up there. The means that there is very little slope to the windshield and you can feel like you are awfully close it. It wasn’t a big deal once I got used to it but it was odd at first.

This was middle trim vehicle, all power but no sunroof. I found the ride to be surprisingly harsh and truck like. There was a lot of bouncing going on, even on the highway. It so bad, that I concerned about my ability to control the vehicle given the right combination of circumstanced like highway speed, a curve and a deep pothole. Over time, I found the seats to be uncomfortable too. Also the gas mileage didn’t seem to be anything spectacular. This is an impression because I didn’t really track it but most consultants I know have a good sense of gas mileage vs. small tank. Since a tank fill up took 17 gallons I’m going with poor gas mileage.

So it sounds like I didn’t like the vehicle when in reality it fell more in the middle range. It wasn’t terrible. It was roomy and easy to figure out. All in all, I’d take one again. Maybe not as my first choice, but I wouldn’t complain.

Rental Car Review: Pontiac Torrent

Last week I picked up a Pontiac Torrent in Greensboro, NC and drove an hour to see a client. The Pontiac Torrent is a small SUV/Crossover and shares a platform with the Chevy Equinox.

My silver exterior/black interior Torrent had roughly 19,000 miles on it. I found that I really like the Torrent in comparison to other recent small SUV rentals like the Suzuki XL7 and the Hyundai Santa Fe. The Torrent has nice fit and finish in and out. While it’s no screamer on the road, it’s much better than the low end Japanese and Korean competitors. I actually prefer it to the RAV4 I rented a while back. Performance is acceptable and while I wasn’t blowing people away, the engine wasn’t struggling up North Carolina hills like the Suzuki did. The transmission didn’t lurch while finding gear going up hills. I would have like a little more low end torque for zipping in front of folks on the highway.

The black interior really grew on me. It’s stylish and manages to avoid the boring expanse of plastic look I’m seeing in so many cars. Unfortunately, living in Florida, black interiors are death. So as much as I like the black look, I’d never pay for it. There was plenty of room for myself and the 2 other colleagues who were with me. Back seat and trunk room were very generous.

Despite the mileage the car was in good shape, everything worked. Don’t laugh, I’ve had Mustangs with 3,000 miles where the interior lights didn’t work and the rear hatch hydraulics were shot on Suzuki XL7 I mentioned earlier.

Due to a flight conflict I had to drive 5 hours to Altanta and the Torrent performed beautifully. I did realize that I would like more/deeper dashboard level storage. I couldn’t find a great place to stick my cell phone. I kept feeling like it was going to fall out. Also, the door handle is completely horizontal and a little angle on it would have been nice. My last nitpick is that I hate the window controls in the middle. I know it’s a Mercedes kind of thing but when you are trying to simply get out of the rental lot, searching for the window controls is one more hassle I don’t want.

All in all, I was very happy with the Torrent and if Avis wants to regularly give me Pontiac Torrents to rent, I’ll take them all day long.

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