Overbooking Flights, Involuntary Deny Boarding, Contract Carriers, and Other Terms Airline Passengers Don’t Understand

Overbooking flights seems counterintuitive to novice flyers. Most people consider it unthinkable to miss a flight so they can’t fathom why an airline would literally bet that some percentage of passengers will not show for their flights.

The reality is that “things” happen. Passengers will arrive late at the airport, connecting passengers will misconnect from an arriving flight, passengers take an alternate flight (elite passengers often change for free, while casual passengers can do so for a fee), and passengers might score upgrade to another cabin. In other words, a flight’s seating chart can change a lot. But in some cases, more passengers than expected show up. When that happens the airline will ask for volunteers to give up their seats in exchange for compensation. I did this a few times—most memorably around Labor Day weekend some years ago—and scored some travel vouchers. In those cases, we were denied boarding at the gate, well before any passenger boarded the flight.

In a few cases, I have seen passengers ask to deplane after we’ve all boarded. But this is not due to the number of seats being overfilled. It’s due to weight restrictions. Small planes, like those used by Express carriers, can only carry so much weight. If a flight is overweight, passengers will have to deplane—in exchange for compensation—in order to meet the weight restrictions.

But if there aren’t enough volunteers, some passengers will be involuntarily denied boarding. That’s what happened this weekend on a United Express flight where a passenger was forcibly removed by airport security. The videos that other passengers captured and shared are hard to watch, and United has twice (kind of) apologized for the violent incident.

The incident has cast blame squarely on United Airlines. Some in China have accused United of racism against the passenger because he was Chinese, while others are threatening a boycott. But it seems like United is not the only party to blame. I see at least three other parties that are responsible for this incident getting out of hand.

  1. The flight was apparently operated by Republic Airlines, a contractor that operates as United Express. I’ve had bad luck with these Express flights, where they are so concerned with on-time departures that they will leave before all the passengers have arrived from incoming flights. Also, not one news story has referred to Republic Airlines nor has its CEO apologized. It’s possible that is because Republic personnel were simply following United’s procedures for denying passengers boarding and calling airport security when a passenger refused to deplane.
  2. The ground crew boarded the flight and then began deplaning passengers. This is puzzling. Gate agents should know that there are more passengers than the aircraft can carry. They should have waited until there were enough volunteers to take another flight before assigning seats to passengers who will have to be denied boarding. The only reason I can imagine for the ground crew doing so is that the flight was overbooked because it was in fact overweight. They didn’t know about the weight situation until everyone boarded the aircraft.
  3. One airport security guard seemingly overstepped his authority. Reports indicate that two airport security officials came onboard and asked that the passenger deplane. The incident became violent after a third security official arrived and physically removed the passenger. I don’t want to characterize law enforcement or security guards in a general way, but there are certainly some that will go too far in “doing their jobs.”

In the public’s mind, however, this incident is all United’s fault. As I’ve said before, airlines and cable companies are among the most publicly hated companies, and no one gives United the benefit of the doubt when something goes wrong.

To recover from this, United and other airlines might have to stop overbooking flights and deny boardings. This might seem unthinkable, but at the moment, public opinion needs something to change its mind. Otherwise, imagine the palpable tension and fear the next time you’re waiting to board your flight when an agent announces that a flight is oversold.

The public understands fear much more clearly than they do the logic behind overbooking flights.

Booze News You Can Use: How to Ease a Hangover

The NY Today morning newsletter, published each weekday by the New York Times, is filled with stories that of interest to readers in the local area. There are bulletins on local events, stories that connect to local history, and some profiles of area people in newsworthy situations, in addition the weather forecast and updated on local mass transit conditions. Yesterday, they published a guide on how to ease a hangover.

The advice they got from a local nutritionist and wellness manager runs counter to various commonsense remedies. When we crave food to soak up the alcohol, our bodies are really asking for carbohydrates to raise our blood sugar. When we go in search of a bacon-egg-and-cheese sandwich, it’s not the grease that is helping us recover but the salt that we’ve lost since taking the first drink. And, to get rid of that debilitating headache, drinking electrolytes, such as those founds in coconut water and energy drinks, should help. And as we’ve all figured out, your best friend when you’re hungover is water.

But conspicuously missing from these remedies is coffee. At no point does caffeine appear to help, other than curbing the headache you get from caffeine withdrawal, a sure sign that you’re an addict.

Today, the Clock Strikes Thirteen

Today, over 200 art-house and independent movie theaters in the United States are screening 1984, the 1984 film adaptation of George Orwell’s novel directed by Michael Radford. The theaters are doing so to stand up for “freedom of speech, respect for our fellow human beings, and the simple truth that there are no such things as ‘alternative facts,'” according to the United State of Cinema website.

I bought tickets to screening at the Loews Jersey in Jersey City and am going tonight. However, I later realized that there were plenty of other options closer to home, including the Nitehawk (sold out), Anthology Film Archives (buy at the box office), the IFC Center (also sold out) and even the newish Alamo Drafthouse in downtown Brooklyn (yup…sold out). The Film Society of Lincoln Center is screening it for free, but you should expect a throng of cheapskates waiting to get in.

If you can’t get to a screening near you, you can stream it on Amazon.

The above link to Amazon is an affiliate link. Shopping through that link will kick back a referral fee to me. Thanks for your support!

Dismantling Government is Hard When You Have to Govern

In the aftermath of 11/8/16, there have been a lot of uncertainties about the direction of our country, but last month at the CPAC conference, senior advisor to the president Steve Bannon very clearly outlined the game-plan for the Trump administration. All of the goals seemed terrifying to anyone with a sense of history because it threatened to undo nearly 100 years of economic and social progress. But one goal stood out: the dismantling of the administrative state.1

Since the inauguration in January, we’ve seen Trump and his administration use executive authority to tear down parts of the government, piece by piece, and to pave the way for an autocratic, neoliberal state that would have made even Ronald Reagan nervous. One of the first steps to undo the administrative state was to repeal the Affordable Care Act. To do this, Trump needed the help of his party, but as has been clear for a generation now, the Republican Party is incapable of governing.

Economist and former secretary of labor Robert Reich notes as much in a piece, “No, Paul Ryan, Your Healthcare Defeat Wasn’t Because of ‘Growing Pains,'” published yesterday. He writes about the Republican Party

Their real problem isn’t the “growing pains” of being out of power. In reality, the Republicans who are now control the House – as well as the Senate – don’t like government. They’re temperamentally and ideologically oriented to opposing it, not leading it.

Repealing Obamacare wasn’t the problem. The Republicans had all the pieces necessary to do it: they had a majority in the House and a Senate process in place to pass it. They had a president ready to rubber-stamp whatever bill he received.

The political reality, however, required them to craft a replacement plan, and the party of “nay” couldn’t do it. They couldn’t figure out how to actually make a better plan and sell it to members of their own party, much less the American people.

Aside from trying to repeal Obamacare, the Republicans spent the entire Obama presidency fighting him on two very public fronts: raising the debt ceiling and passing a Federal budget. Those battles culminated in a downgrade of the US government’s credit rating in 2011 and in the government shutdown in 2013. Both are coming up on the Congressional agenda in the coming months, and both will require making an actual plan. Unless the Congressional leadership reaches out to Democrats to counteract the persistent “nay” votes, expect more of what we saw during the Obama presidency. Congress will kick the can down the road and will pass more continuing resolutions to keep the government from shutting down.

This however doesn’t mean that the Republicans can’t succeed in tearing down the government. Dismantling the administrative state won’t always require replacement legislation to do so. There’s plenty of opportunities for Republicans to do lots of, what Robert Reich calls, “irrevocably awful” things between now and when we get to vote for a competent government in 2018.


  1. Bannon actually said “deconstruction of the administrative state,” but he meant “dismantling.” Deconstruction means to take something apart to analyze it, not to destroy it. 

Senate Eliminated Broadband Consumer Privacy Protections Today

Earlier today, the Senate voted 50-48 to repeal rules meant to protect broadband consumers’ privacy from being collected and sold by requires Internet Service Providers (ISPs). The rules, passed last October in the final months of the Obama administration, required ISPs to do two simple things:

  • allow users to opt-out of collecting consumer data
  • require ISPs to opt-in to the collecting of more sensitive data, such as financial information and browsing history

This still has to pass the House and get signed by the President, but if you’re expecting either to block passage of this repeal, I have a bridge to sell you.

With the Senate passing the repeal, those rules protecting your privacy are now history. Your ISP can collect and market any information they have about you or can gather through sniffing your broadband connection. Of course, in an ideal world, you could switch to another ISP, which might not do this collecting. But because of the great expense required to enter the broadband market, there is no true ISP competition. Hell, even a well-heeled company like Google couldn’t penetrate this market. Online privacy is basically toast.

As an armchair political observer, two things stick out:

  1. Is this against the Senate’s own rules? Repealing these rules was because Congress passed and the President ratified the “Congressional Review Act.” The Act’s aim is to allow Congress to repeal any rules that had passed in the last months of the Obama administration with a simple majority, which the Republicans currently have in both chambers. Accordingly, repealing broadband privacy protection rules needed just a simple majority, rather than the filibuster-proof sixty-plus votes required to pass new legislation. I wonder if someone could argue that repealing old laws requires the passage of a new law. Isn’t that how it worked with Prohibition: repealing the 18th Amendment required passing the 21st Amendment?

  2. Since when is privacy a partisan issue? Except for the legislators who are in the pockets of the telecom industry, I don’t see how this is a partisan issue, where fifty Republicans supported it and forty-eight democrats opposed it. I can’t imagine how even the most right-wing fascist would be in favor of this, much less entertain the idea of a left-wing extremist consenting to corporations harvesting selling our consumer data. Like globalization, free trade, and income inequality, these are issues that bind the left and the right together more than it divides them. I thought only corporate fat cats and their lap dogs favor this kind of stuff.

Perhaps it’s time to consider tunneling all your traffic through a VPN to protect your privacy, although that is not a very practical solution.

Alan Light:15 Essential Chuck Berry Songs

In art and technology, it’s impossible to accurately say that one person invented a style or an invention. But if you had to chose one person and offered Chuck Berry as the inventor or rock ‘n’ roll, no reasonable person would dispute you.

In marking the death of Chuck Berry this weekend, music historian Alan Light offered an annotated list of fifteen essential compositions and recordings.

  • “Maybellene” (1955)
  • “Too Much Monkey Business” (1956)
  • “Brown Eyed Handsome Man” (1956)
  • “Roll Over Beethoven” (1956)
  • “Havana Moon” (1956)
  • “School Day” (1957)
  • “Rock and Roll Music” (1957)
  • “Johnny B. Goode” (1958)
  • “Carol” (1958)
  • “Memphis” (1959)
  • “Back in the USA” (1959)
  • “Let It Rock” (1960)
  • “Come On” (1961)
  • “Nadine” (1964)
  • “Promised Land” (1964)

You can listen to these on Apple Music or Spotify.

Aside from popularizing rock ‘n’ roll in the mid-1950s, Berry was undoubtedly what was called at the time a “race man,” someone who advocates for and promotes blacks. Light notes that the lyrics of “Johnny B. Goode” was originally about a “colored boy” who could “play the guitar like he’s ringing the bell,” but in order to appease white radio stations of the day, the lyric was changed to a “country boy.” Also, the song “Brown Eyed Handsome Man” was really about someone with brown skin, but again the racial atmosphere at the time would have marginalized Berry to the race record charts.

Had he not changed those lyrics and countless others, he wouldn’t have been the crossover sensation he became. The world wouldn’t have known rock ‘n’ roll as it did in the 1950s and beyond.

Another interesting fact is that until this weekend, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, and Little Richard—three early rock ‘n’ roll pioneers— were all still living. That’s incredible given that their contributions to popular culture started over sixty years ago. By comparison, two of the three pop music giants of the 1980s born in 1958—Madonna, Prince, and Michael Jackson—won’t make it to 60. Let’s collectively hope Madonna makes it.

And today, Vera Lynn, the crooner who I know from singing “We’ll Meet Again,” the song that plays at the end of Stanley Kurbrick’s film Dr. Strangelove (1963), celebrated her 100th birthday.

Counter Culture Teaches You to “Refine Your Grind”

As you know, grinding your coffee right before you brew is critical for doing Good Coffee right. In fact, the common wisdom holds that the most expensive part of your coffee brewing setup should be your grinder.

Your coffee maker determines how fine or coarse your coffee grounds should be. Usually, directions for grinding your coffee have vague descriptions. One such description, “it should be fine as kosher salt,” frustrates me because kosher salt varies in fineness. Believe me, I’ve checked.

Thankfully, the folks at North Carolina’s Counter Culture Coffee posted a video showing you how to grind your coffee. This video clearly shows you how fine your grind should be for the following brewing methods, from finest grind to coarsest:

According to the video, I’ve been grinding my beans too fine for my Chemex (or what they call a “Large Pourover”). Usually, time is short in the morning, and I just bloom for half a minute and then slowly pour the rest of the carefully measured water. Their method says it should take about four to five minutes, while my method results in something closer to three and a half minutes. I wonder whether that is because I don’t “pour and pause” like I probably should. That’s the only way I can account for my brew time being so much shorter than theirs.

And if you need a grinder, here are five that I’ve owned or have wanted to own:

  1. Small manual handheld grinder: Porlex Mini
  2. Larger manual handheld grider: Hario Skerton Ceramic
  3. Budget electric grinder: Capresso Infinity
  4. Entry level electric grinder: Baratza Encore
  5. Premium electric grinder: Baratza Virtuoso

Regardless of your brewing method or coffee grinder, you should experiment until you get the brew you like. There’s no right or wrong way to make your favorite coffee.

The above links to Amazon are affiliate links. Shopping through those links will kick back a referral fee to me. Thanks for your support!

The Jobs Americans Do

Take some of the abundant leisure time that our post-industrial society has afforded you to read a series of nine portraits of working-class men and women in America, published last week in the New York Times Magazine. The article challenges the image of working-class jobs, which today are no longer in manufacturing as they were throughout most of the industrialized twentieth century.

The decline of the old working class has meant both an economic triumph for the nation and a personal tribulation for many of the workers. Technological progress has made American farms and factories more productive than ever, creating great wealth and cutting the cost of food and most other products. But the work no longer requires large numbers of workers.

But it’s not as if there are not any jobs. As we’ve known for decades, the working-class jobs of today are in services: health-care, education, hospitality, transportation, and customer service. Not only have the jobs changed, but they faces so have the faces of the American worker. “The emerging face of the American working class is,” as Binyamin Appelbaum succinctly summarized in the introduction to the article, “a Hispanic woman who has never set foot on a factory floor.”

A different author writes each of the stories. On a personal note, I was thrilled to see that a college chum and fellow KCSB alumnus, Eric Steuer, penned one of the stories, about a customer service representative at Zappos in Las Vegas named Sandi Dolan.

When Clouds Go Dark

During my frequent flying days, I was a fan of Mobiata’s FlightTrack mobile app. As the name suggests, the app tracked your flights, including delays and cancellations, as well as more routine information such as departure gate information and updated arrival times. I liked it over the other apps, even the free ones, for two reasons:

  1. It used to synchronize with TripIt, which meant that as soon as you booked your flight and forwarded your email confirmation to TripIt, FlightTrack would begin tracking your flights.
  2. Each notification would be accompanied by the familiar airplane cabin chime.

Last week, Mobiata announced that FlightTrack and their FlightBoard apps would stop working after February 28. They are “sunsetting” both apps and are apparently joining the mobile development team at Expedia to work on all-in-one travel app that could include FlightTrack’s functionality. While Mobiata can’t reach out and delete the apps from my phone, the apps will stop working because, on March 1, they will shut down the servers that FlightTrack and FlightBoard use to get flight data.

Mobiata’s shutdown made think about how many of my mobile apps I use that rely on a developer’s cloud server to work. As I suspected, it’s a lot. Here are the just apps on my iPhone’s home screen that communicate with a server and why.

iPhone Home Screen Feb 2017

  1. iCloud, including my calendar, contacts, email, messages, web browser bookmarks and tabs, photos, music, and activity to share with my friends. I also need a server to use Maps.
  2. Dark Sky to get its hyperlocal weather data.
  3. Paprika to synchronize my recipes across devices and the web browser bookmarket to quickly add recipes.
  4. Bankitivity to synchronize transactions between my desktop and iPhone applications.
  5. OmniFocus to synchronize tasks, projects, and contexts across desktop, iPhone and iPad applications.
  6. Deliveries to synchronize package tracking across devices and get delivery tracking data.
  7. Day One to synchronize journal entries across devices.
  8. Drafts to synchronize text clippings across devices.
  9. Dropbox to access files on my Dropbox.
  10. Downcast to fetch podcast episodes and synchronize across devices.
  11. Untappd to fetch beer data and post my check-ins and notes.
  12. At Bat to stream baseball games and fetch news.
  13. Bus NYC to fetch realtime bus and subway data.
  14. Transit to fetch nearby bus and subway data and to plan routes.
  15. Citi Bike to fetch data on bike and dock availability, posting my trips, and fetching account information.
  16. 1Password to synchronize my 1Password keychain across devices.

For each app listed above, my phone is communicating with a different server to post and fetch data. No wonder I need an unlimited data plan.

But what’s even more alarming is the prospect of a server going dark. It’s not so much that the server will fail. Any cloud computing platform is designed to mitigate collapse, such as an extended outage or a hardware failure. But no server is designed to keep running after the developer has ceased to do business: because the developer couldn’t pay their server bills (e.g., Everpix), because the developer couldn’t raise funding (e.g., Avocado) to keep operating, or because the developer died.

At the risk of sounding apocalyptic, it’s not a matter of if these cloud services will go dark, it’s a matter of when. And when it does happen, each app and the data contained within it will go dark, just as the lights in the developer’s office and their Amazon AWS account.

Why I Switched to New AT&T Wireless Unlimited Plan

Last week, was a whirlwind week in the US wireless industry. Before then, only T-Mobile and Sprint offered unlimited data plans to all customers, but by the end of the week all four major carriers offered them. On Monday, Verizon announced that it was resurrecting its unlimited wireless plan, and a few days later, AT&T announced that it was also offering an unlimited wireless plan to all customers, whereas it was only available to DirecTV subscribers.

Although all four carriers offer 4G LTE data, there’s an implicit hierarchy among the wireless carriers in the United States. At the top, AT&T and Verizon have the most mature networks that cover the most terrain and carry the most expensive pricing. Below them is a second tier of carriers, namely T-Mobile and Sprint. Their networks cover less terrain and are perceived as being less robust in terms of network connectivity. Because of this perception, they have been the most aggressive about pricing. That is why they were, before last week, the only carriers to offer unlimited plans.

To be sure, the only reason Verizon’s and AT&T’s unlimited plans emerged last week was because of the competitive pressure that T-Mobile and Sprint have put on Verizon and AT&T. Verizon likely felt the squeeze was too much to bear and capitulated with its new unlimited plan. AT&T likely saw this and quickly reacted by expanding its unlimited plan to everyone. It’s safe to say that none of this would have happened had AT&T been allowed to acquire T-Mobile.

For readers who are carrier-agnostic and are considering switching to an unlimited plan, Mac Rumors has produced a nifty comparison between the four unlimited plans offered by the majors. But as the kids today say, YMMV.

Unlimited vs. Unlimited

I was immediately intrigued by these new offerings. I have been on the grandfathered unlimited data plan that AT&T once offered with iPhones. I have held on to it despite the introduction of less-expensive metered data plans and a $5-per-month rate increase instituted last year that was due to increase by another $5 next month. Another factor in my intrigue was that I have two other lines on my plan: one is on a metered 3 GB data plan (labelled below as “Line 2”) and the other (labelled “Line 3”) is on a grandfathered unlimited data plan. I also receive a 20% employee discount through my employer.

Here’s a comparison between my current talk, text, and data plan; my current talk, text, and data plan after the impending rate hike in March; and AT&T’s new unlimited plan. (All prices are rounded to the nearest dollar, and they do not include taxes and fees, which I am considering as a wash between all these plans.)

Description Talk, Text, Data Plan Effective March 2017 New Unlimited Plan
Base Plan $60 $60 $60
Text Messaging $30 $30
Line 1 $35 $40 $40
Line 2 $45 $50 $40
Line 3 $40 $40 $40
Discount -$32 -$34 -$12
TOTAL $178 $186 $168

As you can see, the new unlimited plan for all three lines is about $10 less than the current talk, text, and data plan that I share with two other lines.

The savings are greater after factoring in the impending $5 per-month rate increase, effective March 2017, for each grandfathered unlimited data plan (Lines 1 and 3 in the table above). I guess AT&T’s strategy to bully us off the unlimited data plan finally worked!

Another factor to consider is that Line 2, the metered plan, often exceeds the 3 GB data allotment. AT&T bills the data overage at $10 per GB. I considered switching to a plan with more data, but the next higher offering is $50 for 5 GB. There is no “discount” for more data at this next plan; it’s similarly priced at $10 per GB, as is the base 3 GB and any associated overages. With Line 2 on an unlimited plan, there will be no more overage charges.

If I add a fourth line, it will, in effect, be free because AT&T reimburses you $40 each month for that fourth line, after a two–billing-cycle “waiting” period. That would significantly reduce the price per line.

But Why Stick with AT&T?

Although AT&T’s new unlimited plan is the most expensive of the four major wireless carriers and is the only one that doesn’t offer tethering, I prefer to stay with AT&T for three reasons:

  1. I am receiving $650 in bill credits from AT&T for my iPhone 7. When Apple introduced the iPhone 7 last September, AT&T allowed you to trade-in your iPhone 6 for up to $650 in credit towards an iPhone 7. You could get effectively get a base model iPhone 7 for free. Since I opted for the 128 GB instead of the base 32 GB model, I am paying the extra $100 over 30 months, which works out to about $3.30 per month. Should I leave AT&T, I will have to pay the remaining balance, which is significant.
  2. The AT&T wireless network is superior to the others where I live and work. Although it was hardly true a few years ago, AT&T has a very reliable wireless network in New York, particularly the neighborhoods I frequent. I considered switching to the more affordable plans on T-Mobile or Sprint, but after speaking to friends and colleagues, I resisted switching because those networks are not as reliable as AT&T’s. Moreover, Verizon had a potent 3G network that put AT&T’s to shame. In the 4G LTE era, the opposite is true. AT&T operates a robust network in New York that seems to outperform Verizon’s network, according to the testimony of my friends and colleagues.
  3. Tethering is not a factor. The unlimited plan never allowed tethering so I am not going to miss what I don’t have.

What Should You Do?

An unlimited plan isn’t for everyone. Most mortals use a surprisingly small amount of data, less than 3GB per month, so an unlimited plan would be excessive for them. Personally, I wonder if that’s because most wireless users have conditioned themselves to restrict their data usage for fear of overages. For the majority of those users, I say stick with your metered plan.

But I use a lot of data, regularly between 3 GB and 6 GB, per month, as sometimes as high as 12 GB. I like not having to worry about overages. Also, Line 2 on my plan, the one with the 3 GB plan, would regularly exceed those allotments. I doubt he would be happy turning on “safe mode” to slow down the data transfers to 2G speeds. The unlimited plan works for us, but it might not be the best for you. As I literally said before, YMMV.

Conclusion

In the end, the small but measurable savings between the talk, text, and data plan of yore and the new unlimited plan made a lot of sense. But also, my wanting to stay loyal to AT&T played a significant factor. As much as we all hate the cable company, the airline, and the wireless carrier, AT&T has been just fine for me. I certainly suffered when the iPhone was exclusive to AT&T, as making a phone call or transmitting data seemingly never worked, but in the 4G LTE era, things are different. Of course, this might change when 5G emerges as a standard, but that is still a couple of years away. And if AT&T falters, I’ll be off-contract. I can always switch to another plan or provider.

Update: AT&T announced on Monday, February 27, that it is introducing two new unlimited plans. I’m mulling it over and will repost here about what I think to do.