Friday, July 8, 2011

Language, Y'all, Language!

Every industry has its own language. The jargon and especially the acronyms that save time and syllables are some of the tools that keep conversations quick while trying to remain competitive in the marketplace. Some of the language and terms are entirely for internal consumption as the "BOH" (back of the house) employees devise new products and services to introduce or discuss industry trends and so on. Actually ALL of the language is for internal consumption but some of it can spill over in to the public arena through the simple means of being overheard by the customers being served.

Wanna learn how to speak "airline?" An "ASM" is an available seat mile while an "RPM" is revenue per (seat) mile. One airplane seat on a flight that travels 100 miles = 100 ASMs. Most airplanes don't hold just one seat so that is where the numbers can get mind boggling. One hundred seats flown one hundred miles = 10,000 ASMs; if Dallas to Oklahoma city is 100 miles you get the idea. It is "airline" for simply saying every seat on the flight is available, "open," unsold. The "RPM" comes in after the flight has left and the revenue is spread over those 100 seats whether or not all of them sold and regardless of the fare each seat collected. Almost like roulette every penny collected has to cover the table or in this case, the cabin. One bet (paying passenger) covering the table (the entire flight)? Odds of hitting (making money) are slim, right? More fares, more passengers, mo' money, mo' money, mo' money!

At the airport is where most of the jargon comes in to direct contact with the traveling public. "LOL" is not "laugh out loud" but airline-speak for Little Ol' Lady who is typically traveling alone and needs assistance. Likewise "UM" is short for Unaccompanied Minor who also needs assistance getting from A to B but unless you fall in to one of those special categories terms such as those won't mean much to you. It's the crew language that really gets almost poetic when you hear it, learn it and understand it.

When an airplane parks at the gate it must be physically turned around to point back out to the runway for its next flight. It is a "turnaround" or a "turn" for short. Gate agents, Flight attendants, pilots and ramp crews all have this term in common. For the air crews, working a "Miami Turn" means they're going to Miami and coming straight back. For the ramp an airplane may arrive from Kansas City and "turn" (as in "turn in to...") an outbound to Orange County. Or it could be a "thru" from Nashville to Denver. For the airport gang a "RON" is an aircraft remaining overnight at their facility while the "overnight" part for the pilots and flight attendants gets translated in to a "layover" as part of their 2-, 3- or 4-day "trip." For air crews, a "trip" might sound something like this:

"I picked up a 3-day, Atlanta Boston Turn, Raleigh layover, Detroit, LA, Salt Lake, Dropped the Atlanta - Miami on Day 3 to get in some skiing, picked up a Memphis turn back to Salt Lake, then home to Atlanta on Friday with the next three days off before a Honolulu 3-day and still kept all of my hours!"

We won't get in to the acronyms that make up the core of the business and those are the three-letter codes for each airport serving a given city but some, like LAX or most colorfully, "The ATL" are already part of the public vernacular. In this day of TSA and heightened security crews might be verboten from discussing their business and especially their trip itineraries but at least you may have more of a sense of what they're talking about if they are overheard. Outside of their families, their unions and the state of their airline there's nothing flight crews love to talk about more than the kinds of trips they work.

Gotta go.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Buying a TV

OMG, buying a TV, right? We had made the decision to switch from Time Warner to AT&T because of the sweet package they were offering in our area. Three TV hook-ups for the master bedroom, the living room and, finally, the kitchen. I mean, in one shot we were going to go from only the 32" in the living room to three independently tuned sets in the most important rooms of the house. Sweet!

We already had the 32" and there was a 19" high-def left over from a previous address so all we needed was to decide what size of television to get and then with what features. We set our budget at no more than $700 and then had to decide whether or not to get the biggest TV we could for the money or the best picture quality. Hoping for a decent compromise between the two we set out for Best Buy believing that something in the 40"-47" range would work. Anything bigger can come later but definitely a step up from the 32" in the living room, which will get moved to the bedroom in favor of the new TV we hoped to bring home.

As the cable guy was setting up the new network we verified a few simple things we needed to know before heading to the store. The refresh speed is measured in hertz and the higher the number the faster the speed. Ok. Nearly every TV on offer is "HD" (High-Definition) so did we want a plasma, an "LCD" or thin profile "LED." Plasma is supposedly better in darker rooms and for sports and action films but run hotter and at higher refresh speeds. Hello, electric bill. We agreed to stay away from the new 3D sets as being too faddy and annoying having to wear those glasses at home.

TVs in show rooms are set to the highest possible "brilliance" to grab your attention walking through the door. The brighter the better goes the trend but those brighter ones tend to be the cheaper models. At the same time all the different makes, models and sizes simply overwhelm the novice shopper with choices, images and other features. How to pick one TV from nearly 100 on the walls and shelves all around you? Does anyone remember going in, buying a Zenith, RCA or maybe a Curtis Mathes, taking it out of the box, plugging it in, pulling the on knob and then simply fiddling with the rabbit ears? Remote control? That's what the kids were for!

Heading in to the store we knew the size range we wanted and the features we were interested in. We started at a 42" Panasonic plasma, made it all the way up to a low-end 55" LCD made by Insignia, the house brand and then settled back down to three 46" (measured diagonally) options by Insignia at the low end, Samsung at the top and Westinghouse in the middle in terms of our perception of picture quality. The Westie and the Insignia were the same price but only offered a one-year manufacturer's warranty where the house brand offered two years. The Samsung was $300 higher than the other two and therefore out of budget and the running.

We settled on the Westinghouse and were ready to wrap up the deal in about 30 minutes of total time in the store until they threw the "calibration" curveball at us for an additional $200 to get the best picture. What? Why aren't the TV's set to optimum out of the box? Why so much over the cost of the TV? Why the scare tactic of voiding the warranty if the customer does something wrong? Why not just fiddle with the brightness and color balance options at home the way most of us have been doing these many years?

In truth we were "just looking" anyway and not expecting to make a purchase the same day we'd decided to go looking. Calibration, huh? Thanks for the "out." Time for some more homework.
Gotta go.

Monday, July 4, 2011

What Is a True Vacation?

Happy 4th of July!

Now, What, exactly, is a vacation? To those companies who offer paid time off, leave, whatever it's called it is time away from work with full pay. How that time is used is entirely up the employee but what, exactly, is a "vacation?" Is it working on the house, planting the spring garden, going to see Grandma, catching up on Netflix or just laying on the beach for a few days?

For most of my adult life I've rarely gotten past the three-week vacation mark in terms of earned time off. I've had to squeeze in trips to visit the family over the holidays as well as weekenders to New Orleans and even London, England just to make it through the year. In each of those with so little time on the ground available to really relax and enjoy both people and place I would always come home as rushed as if it were just another day at the office. Anything in the way of big trips was saved for the end of the year when there were plenty of national holidays to tack on and stretch precious vacation time like breadcrumbs to meatloaf.

When I made it to four weeks I truly had no idea how I would use it all. The income doesn't always match the wish list of places to go and things to see and do, does it? I was actually reluctant to take time off if the only thing I could afford to do was sit at home. And herein lies a huge difference, so I'm told, between Americans and our European cousins where the latter would readily jump at the chance to get away from the office. Americans like me, on the other hand, can feel useless and worried for sitting around the house doing nothing while work piles up and we get behind with each passing day.

I've always maintained that a true vacation is being out of touch with those people, places and things that define both personal and professional life. Visiting the family over the holidays is exactly that, a holiday. Going to Greece for the first time? Now that's a vacation.

A key component of any vacation for me is being physically separated from everyday life but also in this day and age being electronically unavailable. No cell phones, pagers, smart phones, e-mail or internet. There is nothing going on back at the office that can't wait for me to return and I've left explicit instructions for coverage if my vacation coincides with a project deadline of some kind. Until I return, "I know you're on vacation but this will only take a minute," will never have a chance to turn into an hour-long conference call. From the beach. In Rio. With sand in my biscuits.

The longest vacation I ever took spanned three weekends but really added up to about 12 days in Australia and New Zealand. I was ready to come home and more than paid the price for it when I opened my e-mail inbox the following Monday but who goes to the South Pacific for only a week. It almost takes that long to get there (mentally anyway).

A vacation is being able to not think about office politics or projects, about letting go completely without feeling guilty about leaving in the first place. If, that is, you can get it scheduled at all.

Gotta go.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Bodrum and the Beach

Bodrum, Turkey is a site of exquisite Mediterranean beauty and loaded with significant history. Few Americans have ever heard of the place yet it is a popular enough destination for Europeans, only 4.5 hours flight from London. Europeans seem more willing to explore and enjoy out of the way destinations, even ones in the United States whereas Americans seem interested only in marquee destinations.

Want proof? When Americans think of a European vacation the vast majority automatically rattle off the usual big-splash suspects of London, Paris, Rome, Amsterdam and Munich, the big city tours. When Greece and Spain come in to the conversation those destinations remain limited to Athens, Mykonos, Santorini, Barcelona, the Madrid region and possibly Ibiza/Mallorca. That's it. Their entire "foreign" experience summed up in to one or two destinations and whatever is within a day's drive or an hour's flight or sail from there. Oh how there is so much more!

For the sake of it just Google "British Holiday Companies" and see the endless list that pops up. Well established names like Thomson, Thomas Cook, Monarch and Direct Holidays. Pick any of their websites and just browse the destinations each one offers, many in competition with at least two or three other outfits and some including their own in-house air transportation. Thomson Holidays, for example, is affiliated with Thomsonfly, billed as the third largest airline in the United Kingdom.

A charter airline owned by a vacation company the third largest in the country? And where do they fly? Between the two sister companies there are listed seven destinations in Egypt alone, six in South Africa and 22 of the Greek Islands. Thomas Cook lists the entire country of Brazil as a destination but specifies 12 unique options in Bulgaria. Bulgaria? Not to be chintzy, Thomas Cook offers over 30 destinations in the United States, from Aspen to Cincinnati and Charleston to Portland.

The Europeans live in the big cities we want to visit so it makes sense they want to go someplace else, especially when we come to town! Spain IS Florida to most Brits, so long as it has an airport, some kind of accommodation to choose from and predictably bright and sunny weather with beaches and surf to enjoy they're all over it, from Sitges to Malaga, Alicante and back. Americans go to Egypt for the pyramids; the Europeans have already been so they hideaway by the sea at Sharm El-Sheikh, again soaking up the sun before heading north to home and the gloom of winter.

But back to Bodrum. Right by the Mediterranean, Bodrum offers a 13,000 seat amphitheater, a huge crusader era Castle of the Knights of St. John and the remnants of the Great Mausoleum, one of the seven ancient wonders of the world. All that plus sun and sand, too? Hell, few American vacation companies would even offer something this exotic and out of the way. American Express' website couldn't even spell B-o-d-r-u-m! The question is, how to get there on the cheap from this side of the Atlantic?

The airport code is "BJV" and airfare alone through Travelocity from Chicago for travel on July 1st and back on the 15th started at $2,111 round trip on Turkish Airlines with one 2.5 hour stopover in Istanbul. Expensive but far easier to get to than previously thought. To assuage any third-world visions of what this region of Turkey must be like, the airport is only 20 miles north of town, it opened a new international terminal in 2000, boasts a 9,500 ft. concrete runway and is served by some 40 different airlines!

By comparison, using the same days of travel, a roundtrip ticket from Chicago to London started at $878 on American Airlines. Searching Monarch Holidays from the UK, a seven-night Bodrum package including air leaving on July 3rd and returning to London on the 11th produced five pages of options ranging from $365 at the budget Delta Hotel to $1,750 per person at the top end Kempinski Barbaros Bay pictured above. That includes flights on Monarch Air, the house airline in operation since 1960 and offering Boeing and Airbus equipment to over 100 destinations worldwide, plus the hotel. Uh, and did you also notice the four extra days in London, too? Those hotel nights are not included but at the low end hotel choice the savings is still an amazing $868 over the Turkish Airlines fare alone.

Gotta go.