It’s been eighty-four years since the last post. (Just kidding, it’s been two months.)

Today is Pepper Day!   While Nano Poblano is only in November, Pepper Day is the 22nd day of every month, so it's extra Peppery!  Post something today.  A blog, a photo, a poem- anything at all! Tag it PepperDay!  Enjoy, and Happy Peppering!

I didn’t intend to take a two-month break between the last post and this one, I just didn’t have anything I really felt like writing about. It’s not for lack of content though- I was fairly busy through March and April.

First of all, there was so much movie and tv action. Shows I love like The Flash came back, Marvel’s Falcon and the Snowman started up, and we got movies like Godzilla vs Kong, the four-hour Snyder cut of Justice League, Raya and he Last Dragon, and Coming 2 America. All in all, it’s been a good few months to be stuck without a lot to do. Speaking of which…

I attended a bunch of virtual lectures. Profs & Pints is an organization that gets professorial types to lecture about various topics in bars, hence the name. Most lectures are 60-90 minutes and conclude with a question and answer period. Since lockdown began, they’ve moved online, which allows you to watch interesting lectures about fascinating topics from home. There was a really neat one about Krampus back in December. I’ve attended lectures about Persephone, about social media, about sexual deviancy, about introductory Irish, about the history of pinball, and more. Each lecture is $12, with forever-replay. That link again: https://www.profsandpints.com/online-talks, and there’s one tonight about the 1814 Burning of Washington, which promises to be super neat.

I went through a bunch of dentistry. I don’t think anyone cares about the details. Let’s just say that the whole process was stressful and expensive, but that’s dentistry for you.

I flew again! Specifically, I went down to South Florida for just a few days. Flying was different now, but also reassuringly the same as always. Delta has been blocking off their middle seats, which made for a less crowded flight, but my return was on Jetblue and that plane didn’t have middle seats. The Florida visit gave me a chance to see my mom and my siblings, and I spent some time with my best friend. There was even a hockey game (Panthers beat the Redwings handily.) The trip was also supposed to be timed for the unveiling of my dad’s headstone, but those plans didn’t pan out so I’m going back for a lightning-fast weekend toward the end of May. There was even the briefest of visits to the beach, which is now required since I don’t live in Florida anymore:

I visited the Silverball Museum. On the Florida trip, I ticked another box off on my long-standing list of places I wanted to check out. The Silverball Museum is a pinball and vintage game museum in Delray Beach, Florida, but this museum takes the form of a playable arcade. All the machines are set to free play, and admission to the museum allows you to play anything you like. They have all kinds of amazing vintage pinball games from the 1950s to the present. They also have game cabinets with MAME setups that include all kinds of early 1980s arcade games. I played much pinball, some skeeball, and enough Joust to prove that I remembered how.

I ran a 5k. DC Fitness did the “HerStory 5K” on March 20th, and I ran it. It was a virtual 5k so everyone ran their own path and then submitted the results later; I was something like 144th. And by “ran a 5k,” what I really mean is that I ran>fastwalked>ran>gasped>wheezed>ran some more>gasp-wheeze-grunt>fastwalked>ran a bit… and so on. My endurance has suffered from being inside for most of the last year. I want to enjoy running, but honestly, I don’t enjoy it at all.

I finally saw the Cherry Blossoms in peak bloom. I’ve been trying to see the cherry blossoms in peak bloom for years. Either I’ve missed them by a few weeks, or I’ve been unable to travel to them like in 2020. I even missed the cherry blossoms in Tokyo by just a few weeks. After years of just missing them, I finally managed to see these things in person. All it took was living less than three miles from the Tidal Basin.

I got the Covid-19 vaccine. My state has been trucking along, and as of this writing, 40% of the adult population of Virginia has had at least one dose of vaccine. I was given the one-and-done Janssen vaccine on a Saturday, and I spent the following two days recovering. About twelve hours after the shot, I had chills and body aches like crazy. The next day I was burrito-wrapped in a blanket on and off for the entire day, just super tired and cold. I slept a lot. Each successive day after that I was much better than the previous day, and by midweek everything was completely normal again. I never measured a fever of more than about one degree over my normal temperature, but I was still sweating like crazy while I slept. The weirdest side effect was a problem with escalation changes- I didn’t go out much during the few days post-vaccine, but I did take the elevator down to the lobby to pick up food at one point, and going down my head felt like it was going to explode. All the side effects are behind me now, and now I’m just waiting for my inevitable superpowers to form. [/obligatory vaccine/X-Men joke.]

I amused myself with Photoshop. I bought some corn starch so I could try a new recipe, and the brand name of the corn starch suggested a joke that made me giggle. I Photoshopped it into reality so that I could share the laugh with everyone else. (You can see what it looked like originally over here on Amazon.)

I celebrated Rex Manning Day. It’s every year on April 8th, and you mustn’t dwell. National Egg Cream Day was also March 15th, if you’re tracking that sort of thing.

I am absolutely certain that I missed something else from the last two months, but this seems like a good place to pause.

What have you been up to for the last two months?

9/52

Air Travel Lessons from the Pandemic

When it comes to my trips, I’m a planner. I’ve gone on at length in other posts about the way that I approach new cities and the way I plan out my trips. The experiences of the last three months have led me to rethink a few of my previously held stances about travel.

Never again will I book my flight more than 60 days before the trip: In the past, I have usually tried to get my flights about three months before I actually want to travel- having them booked relieves the mental stress of a hanging to-do list item, and getting them done early helps to get a good price on the ticket. Or at least that’s how it used to be.

The conventional wisdom used to be that the best prices on flights are usually found about 70 days before a flight and that the best booking window is 21 to 121 days before your flight date. If you wait until the last minute, flight prices are often hugely inflated, and if you get them too early, they can be just as bad.

When Covid-19 hit, my plans started to disappear and I was left with a need to cancel five separate trips out of state- that meant I had to cancel flights with JetBlue, American Airlines, Delta, Spirit Airlines, Alaska Airlines, and Frontier Airlines. I will never again buy my flight more than a month out- there’s just too much uncertainty, and having to cancel a flight is a giant pain in the ass. This leads me to the next lesson-

Never again will I use an all-in-one travel planning site: I have been an Expedia.com user since some time in 2001. I’ve used it for countless flights and hotels, using various airlines throughout the last eighteen years. I always felt like it was useful to have the web equivalent of a travel agent, and it worked well for me until it didn’t. The mass cancellation of all of those flights is where Expedia fell apart.

It was nearly impossible at first to reach an actual customer service representative, and when they finally started to get their response organized it was still clunky and hard to get a response.

JetBlue was the easiest to deal with- I was able to go directly to them and they canceled my flight and put a credit in their “Travel Bank.” Nice and easy. Several of the others wouldn’t talk to me directly though- if you book through an agent or a site like Expedia or Travelocity, a lot of the airlines will make you go back to that site to deal with any flight changes.

To my vast and unending surprise, the first airline to just do the right thing and give me back my money was Spirit Airlines. The cancellation with them was fully refunded, with a minimum of fuss. I was expecting more difficulty there, and their goodwill has guaranteed that I will use them again if the route I need is there.

Alaska Airlines also gave me a refund, once I called them and spoke to a customer service representative. They were very classy to me.

The other three allowed me to cancel flights, but only gave me credits. This is where the real lesson begins.

I have a long-standing relationship with Delta, and I’ve always enjoyed flying with them, but this experience has put me off of them a bit. For one thing, I haven’t been able to reach a person in weeks. For another, my Expedia flights resulted in airline credits, but those credits aren’t visible in my Delta account. If the credits from all those canceled flights lived in my Delta Skymiles account, I would be sanguine. They don’t, though. They live in Expedia. This is a problem.

The Expedia site is garbage. Up until a few days ago, there was absolutely no place on Expedia to even see a credit. Now you can see it on a per-trip basis, but there’s still no obvious list of them- if you don’t know you have a credit, you’ll never get a notification that you do. And you can’t use Expedia airline credits while booking on their site, you have to call their call center to use your credits. I’m not looking forward to that at all.

American Airlines is the same way- a credit, living somewhere in the Expedia system, that I will have to call in to use when booking a new flight with the same airline.

Frontier Airlines is the last of them, and Frontier gets all of my rage. All of it. The first time I called in, I only had to wait about forty minutes to reach a customer service representative. She initially said that I would have an airline credit, good until September of 2021, but that I would have to re-book within 90 days.

This is a problem because the event that I was attending via a Frontier flight is canceled, not rescheduled. None of my regular travel goes on Frontier routes, and I’m certainly not going to have more travel plans to coordinate with them in the next 90 days. I told the customer service rep this, and she said that she would get me a refund. She said she would route my information to another department to get the refund processed.

I now know that the Frontier Airlines customer service representative lied.

I know this because after a few weeks went by, I tried to call again. This time, it took me more than ninety minutes to get to a rep. He took my basic information, asked to place me on a “brief hold,” and that was the last I heard from him. I had roughly ten minutes of dead silence, and then the hold music came back and I was on for another twenty-five minutes, before I was suddenly disconnected from the call.

For my third attempt to reach someone helpful, I went the Twitter route, speaking to https://twitter.com/FrontierCare, who took more than two days for the first response. I explained my situation, and they said my reservation does not qualify for a refund. I repeated my explanation that the credit was useless to me, and a full two hours later repeated the “booked in 90 days, good until September 2021” bit.

So yeah, Frontier Airlines is going to keep my money, and will provide me no service for it. If they had said all along that they would not give me a refund, I would not have been angry, but the first customer service representative said I would have a refund. Either she lied through her teeth, or the next person I spoke to did. This is shitty customer service, and they’ve guaranteed that I will never fly with them or recommend them to anyone else I know. They can still save their relationship with me by doing the right thing, but they don’t seem willing to, and I’m not feeling up to spending another few hours of my life trying to get them to change their minds.

I have a long memory, Frontier, and I travel a lot. Just not with you.

I’m sure that I’ll still have new lessons from Covid-19 in the future. After all, most of my favorite things involve travel and the entertainment and travel industries are still changing and adapting to life with a pandemic. For now, I’ll leave you with this summary, the three main lessons I have learned from this experience:

  1. Don’t book early. Just don’t. Wait until no less than thirty days from your travel date to get your airfare. You might have to pay a little more, but it’s less expensive than having an airline just keep your money without ever flying you anywhere.
  2. Book directly with the airlines, not through a site like Expedia or Travelocity. If something goes wrong, it’s a hell of a lot easier to deal with the airline directly than with a giant nebulous glob like Expedia. At this point in time, I’ve got a bunch of airline credits that I can ONLY use if I book through Expedia during a phone call. Once those credits are gone from Expedia, so am I.
  3. Never fly Frontier Airlines. They suck. They have earned a spiteful place in my heart for taking my money without a usable service.

Have you learned any lessons from living through a global pandemic?

20/52