Again With The Credit Card

visa logoIs it just the Foxes? Are we some sort of credit card scam magnet?

Helaine went to use our Chase Southwest Airlines Visa this morning and — REJECTED.

We had no warning. We had no notice from Chase. They just turned it off.

This is the fifth time!

Your card shut off in the past? Would you leave a comment telling me how many times? I’m really curious.

Helaine called and spoke to someone in the security department. I’m guessing he’s in Costa Rica because of his accent and because I’ve spoken to Chase call center operators there before.

This morning, a little after 6:00 AM while we were sleeping, someone purchased a $10 Petco gift card using our account. A moment later they went back and cancelled their own order.

My account had been sniffed! Someone was checking the number to make sure it was valid. The $10 was just a test. We passed.

Here’s where we get into the weeds. Chase is very diligent with this kind of fraud because they, not me, are on the hook for it. I’m guessing they’re less worried about checking accounts, where the consumer is often left holding the bag.

A few years ago when this happened the Chase agent tried to tell me they were doing this for my protection. No, no, no. My liability is zero (in most cases) by law.

Our card remains shut down, except in California. Tomorrow a new card arrives. Then the hassle begins!

We will have to go through our long list and change the account info for anyone who charges to our card. It’s an hours long process. No two businesses handle card number changes the same way.

So, why do we keep this card which seems attached to trouble? Through a quirk in our spending habits when Stef was in college and again this year, Southwest’s frequent flier program has been especially lucrative.

We have asked Chase to compensate us for this imposition by waiving their fee for the next year. This charge they shouldn’t reject.

Why We Fly Southwest


It’s 2:00 PM EDT. Right now Helaine and I should be taxiing to the gate at LAX on-board Southwest Flight 215, a one stop from Bradley to the coast.

Have they noticed we’re not on the plane?

A missing piece of paper would have kept us from completing all the tasks on our trip, so we canceled. We did it just before midnight for a 6:30 AM flight. The penalty for cancellation, zero!

This afternoon Helaine rebooked the trip, combining it with a trip to Arizona (Happy 100th Aunt Sue) already planned with tickets purchased. That meant changing more flights. The penalty for rebooking, zero!

Southwest didn’t refund our money. There is a limit to their largess. Instead it’s on account and available to use–100% of it.

While other airlines seem too upset to even deal with you as a passenger, Southwest seems genuinely glad to have our business.

I’m not quite sure I understand why Southwest’s fares aren’t part of the booking consortiums like Expedia and Travelocity? Because of that, most people don’t see Southwest’s fares (often higher until you factor in the baggage charges you aren’t paying) or even know where they fly.

Southwest has been a consumer friendly experience for as long as we’ve been flying them. Being loyal, flying Southwest almost exclusively and even using a Southwest credit card is our way of saying thanks.

Today Southwest said you’re welcome.

I’m Giving You The Last Boarding Pass


We’re on our way to snowy Baltimore, routed from snowy Milwaukee to snowy Connecticut as if we were packages! In the Southwest tradition our plane is hopscotching from coast-to-coast–SEA-MKE-BWI-BUF.

Because Helaine knew we’d be busy today she bought ‘Earlybird Check-In’ for me. Seats on Southwest are first come, first served. Earlybird puts you closer to the front of the line.

We’ve done this before. I get on the plane, then save her a seat.

Because of traffic we got to the airport around 40 minutes before takeoff. Helaine went to check-in, but was told she wouldn’t get a boarding number. She was in the final 15!

I’d never heard about special treatment for the final 15 before. It couldn’t be good!

We went through security, then stood in line at the gate where an agent was already seeking volunteers to be bumped.

Helaine reached the front of the line, handed over her drivers license and was told, “I’m giving you the last boarding pass.”

That’s skin-of-the-teeth! On this 137 seat plane, Helaine was issued boarding pass C-37, the 137th.

deicing-at-MKEOur plane left the gate and taxied across the field. We were getting sprayed with deicer. Even in Milwaukee’s light snow, the potential for ice formation is taken seriously. This is the kind of delay you never should complain about.

Meanwhile, we’d brought Stef to the airport too. She’s got a few hours to wait until her non-stop to LAX departs.

This was actually my second round-trip to MKE today. I took my parents earlier this afternoon for their flight to Florida.

Melissa-and-her-GrandmaThe day started at my sister and brother-in-law’s house. They threw an informal brunch for the out-of-town guests, featuring one more appearance by Mark and Melissa, last night’s bride and groom.

Helaine and I won’t be home much before 1:00 AM. Our BWI-BDL flight has been delayed.

Flying is a great convenience, making this quick wedding trip do-able. It’s still a royal pain in-the-ass. Is anyone happily a road warrior anymore?

Finally Flying

Sully says we’re at 39,000 feet. I’ll take his word for it. I see nothing below the plane. Smooth ride. Cabin lights dimmed.

Wheels up was at 7:41 PM MST. We’re more than a few hours late. Touchdown at Bradley’s now scheduled for 12:50 AM EST.

I figure, if the roads aren’t bad, we’ll be home around 2:30 AM. Around 15 hours in transit for me!

First world problem. This is a trip that once took months!

Helaine’s asleep. Good idea. I’ll try too.

And Now An Undelay!

Departure time changed again! We’re back to 6:30 PM.

I’m getting my data from which has a direct pipe from the FAA. Maybe we were better off in the pre-information age? Dumb and happy!

Estimated Gate Departure Changed From 01/21/13 07:10 PM To 01/21/13 06:30 PM

Estimated Gate Arrival Changed From 01/22/13 12:35 AM To 01/22/13 12:05 AM

As long as the baggage handlers stay late enough to unload our plane I’ll be happy… unless there’s another delay.

Greeting From Seat 6D

In 21st Century America this is as far off the grid as you get. I can type to my heart’s content, but there’s no way to get it to you.

Greetings from Seat 6D on Flight 1005. When our pilot last checked in we were still east of Syracuse. “Two thousand miles to go,” he said. “A long way.”

For the next five hours I’ll be out-of-touch. There’s no Internet access on this flight. In 21st Century America this is as far off the grid as you get. I can type to my heart’s content, but there’s no way to get it to you.

Maybe the Phillies can overcome their seven run hole to the Mets. I won’t know. I really am cut off.

There was one interesting incident at the airport today. As I was clearing TSA screening an agent walked up to me holding my VISA card in her hand. Somehow it had dropped from my wallet. By seeking me out&#185 she saved my trip!

I stopped at the TSA podium to fill out a customer service card. My thanks are heartfelt.

It’s still amazing to me you can climb into a hollow aluminum tube at one side of the country and step out hours later at the other side.

Airplane travel is less passenger friendly than it once was. Security screening and the lack of non-stop flights means getting anywhere takes longer. There’s no longer food onboard. I’ll be hungry by Burbank. You can’t congregate by the forward lavoratory.

I’ve seen a few folks toting tablet computers on this flight. One is watching a movie in widescreen splendor.

The tablets look so appealing. I have no idea what I’d do with one nor why I’d need it with my laptops at the ready. This is some sort of inbred technlust.

It’s windy in Las Vegas. I checked the observations and terminal forecast as I was walking down the jetway. Wind gusts to 40 mph already with no letup this afternoon. Our pilot will have to wrestle this plane to the ground!

&#185 – I’m typing this entry in Microsoft word. It wants me to say “By seeking I out” instead of “By seeking me out.” Strange error. You’d think Word was smarter after this many iterations.

(this entry posted from the ground in Las Vegas)


As I wait for my flight today I am waiting for an airplane crewed by folks whose seniority is too low to get off on Memorial Day weekend? Sully didn’t fly Memorial Day, right?

I know there are pilots who read my blog. Correct me if I’m wrong. As I wait for my flight today I am waiting for an airplane crewed by folks whose seniority is too low to get off on Memorial Day weekend? Sully didn’t fly Memorial Day, right?

I am at Gate 4 at Bradley waiting for my flight. I’m flying to Burbank with a stop (but no plane change) in Las Vegas. Google’s new flight info points out this is the longest scheduled flight currently operating from BDL at 5:50 to LAS. The LAS-BUR leg is on top of that.

Originally this trip was supposed to be for Stef’s birthday on Friday. Then my secretive San Fernando Valley friend called asking if I wanted to come to his birthday/BBQ tomorrow.

What the hell. I was already scheduled to be in the neighborhood. Stef will pick me up, have dinner with me, then drop me off.

I’m in Los Angeles until Tuesday afternoon then hop a plane and spend the rest of the birthday celebration in Las Vegas. Helaine and I won’t see each other until the baggage claim at McCarren. Stef follows.

There will be lots of pics and stories over the next few days from the left side of the US.

From Somewhere Over Central Florida

It’s been years since I threaded my way through Florida thunderstorms. That’s probably what’s on tap today.

“Eighty miles north of Tampa.” That’s the word from “Sully” up front. The ride is silky smooth now. The first hour was very choppy.

I can’t tell you what happened in between as I fell asleep while watching “This Week in Technology.” Sorry Leo.

There are light cumulus clouds under the plane. Off to the east (where we’ll soon be heading) things are more complex.

It’s been years since I threaded my way through Florida thunderstorms. That’s probably what’s on tap today.

Sleeptime is over. A short stop in TPA then southeast to FLL.

Addendum: We made it, but with a slow circle over the swamp! Within minutes of being airborne we were told there was a thunderstorm directly over Ft. Lauderdale Airport. Here’s the flightpath.

The Southwest Seat Assignment Game

I am not the only one playing this game. I’ve been astounded to check in seconds after the process opened and still be close to fifty back!

Thumbnail image for mh_logo_southwest.gif12:29… tic… tic… tic. I’m about to play the Southwest Airlines boarding pass game.

Tomorrow’s our wedding anniversary (and Thanksgiving) and we’re heading west to the sun.

For the three of us to sit together we need to get at least one “A” boarding pass. That one person holds the row for the other two. Southwest hands the passes out beginning 24 hours before the flight–exactly.

I am not the only one playing this game. I’ve been astounded to check in seconds after the process opened and still be close to fifty back! There are some reserved for their most frequent fliers, but not that many.

Not that I’m complaining. By using this method Southwest makes seat assignment a skill position.

Gotta go. Six minutes left.

Update: A31, A51, A54. I hit the enter key at exactly 12:40 PM. We’re guaranteed to fly together. Not bad.

I’ll Be Flying Under A New Name Now

Really–“gender at time of booking?” Is this really that common a problem?

mh_logo_southwest.gifI got a note from Southwest Airlines this morning asking me to update my personal information. The TSA has requested mandated I make all future reservations under my name as it appears on my drivers license. Geoff Fox won’t be flying anymore. Geoffrey J. Fox will.

More interesting than the TSA’s new hassle program security procedure is the text on Southwest’s site.

Secure Flight was recently introduced by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), which now requires Customers to provide full name (including middle name as it appears on your government issued photo ID that will be presented at the airport), date of birth, and gender at time of booking. To ensure you receive credit for your flights automatically, Southwest Airlines is providing you with a one time update to your account.

Really–“gender at time of booking?” Is this really that common a problem? And shouldn’t it be gender at time of flight? It doesn’t seem to matter what you were as much as what you are.

Damn–now they’ve got me playing their silly game.

I went to make these changes as I was typing this entry.

Temporarily Unavailable

This Southwest Airlines feature is unavailable. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.

I always knew procrastination paid. I’ll try again… later.

About That Last Entry

Today we also experienced our first funny TSA agent. His name tag said “Wallace” and he was at McCarren in Las Vegas

I could have sworn I entered text in on the last entry! I used my Blackberry which might not be the optimal solution to blog posting–obvi.

More on the trip over the next few days. A few quick words about Southwest Airlines. We are such huge fans. If you think it’s some cramped, cattle call thing you’ve never been aboard.

Today’s flights were no exception to the usual Southwest experience with flight attendants having such a good time it made us have a good time. Our plane change in Chicago was painless and, even adding this stop, took around two hours longer than the coveted non-stop.

Today we also experienced our first funny TSA agent. His name tag said “Wallace” and he was at McCarren in Las Vegas. As we were removing our shoes and loading our stuff onto the X-ray machine he was humming tunes. He asked Helaine to step into “the aquarium,” that glass lined sniffer machine used to make sure my wife isn’t a terrorist.

I asked if I could take photos so you’d know what I was tlaking about. You’ll notice there is no photo.

We’re home now and exhausted.

Southwest Does It Again

“Don’t worry,” she said. But I did.

Without going into all the rigmarole we’ve qualified for a Southwest Airlines companion pass again. It’s a lot easier to do if you charge yearly college tuition on a credit card!

The problem is we make it by the skin of our teeth every year (this will be the last) leaving us a period where we needed to make a reservation but couldn’t.

Let me know if your airline would do this.

I called Southwest and spoke to Lauren. She understood our story then figured out how to hold the ticket until the companion pass was actually issued. Then she gave us a confirmation number and said she’d write a note so the next person who touched it would know what was going on.

“Don’t worry,” she said. But I did.

I got the companion pass last night. I called Southwest today. We’re set. The notes Lauren said would be there were. The agent I spoke to ‘got it’ immediately.

What Southwest did wasn’t difficult but it required a little creative thinking to make sure we were covered. When there was a question of doing it by-the-book or going a little out of the way to make-it-work for the customer, she chose the latter.

When people find how slavishly Helaine and I fly Southwest they often poo-poo it like it’s some sort of leper airline. No, no no. Southwest is different because they are not about rules as much as they are about a corporate culture that encourages thinking.

Make My Safety Your Priority

Who, exactly, has the chutzpah to screw around with airplanes that fly 600 mph, five miles off the ground? Obviously someone… in this case, multiple someones, as the airline and FAA seem complicit.

I have resisted addressing the Southwest Airlines story, but I guess I should chime in. I’m talking about Southwest’s failure to inspect their 737s for metal skin cracks in a timely manner. I am incredibly disappointed in this company I have used so faithfully over the past decade.

I’m not an airplane expert. I don’t know how serious the cracks are. However, today Southwest grounded 41 airplanes. These were not spares. The way Southwest flies, 41 planes is well over 150 flights/flight segments a day.

The problem is, I had hoped the people running airlines and hospitals and meat processing plants were somehow different. Sure, you can get away cutting corners if you’re making shirts or pencils – and companies do.

Unfortunately, every time a rock is turned over, we see these same revenue friendly shortcuts in businesses with much more worrisome safety concerns. Corporate safety issues have become a recurring theme on the news.

The people who run these businesses should be able to say no. Instead, it seems they just don’t want to hear no.

Who, exactly, has the chutzpah to screw around with airplanes that fly 600 mph, five miles off the ground? Obviously someone… in this case, multiple someones, as the airline and FAA seem complicit.

I applaud the whistle blowers at the FAA who brought this to light. It takes courage to do what they did. The promise of protection when you ‘drop a dime’ on your boss is often an empty promise.

I have a lot invested in Southwest, with all our free tickets and Helaine’s companion pass. It would be difficult for me to switch allegiance. If I have to, I will.

Southwest, please don’t test me.

I don’t want those companies in which I entrust my safety to value anything over my safety. I always thought that was part of the bargain. I’m much too naive.

Annoying Ads On Football

If you watch a lot of football, and we do, you see a lot of the same ads repeated… and repeated again.

Helaine likes the animals singing along with Andy Kim’s Rock Me Gently. I like the NFL merchandise spot where players deliver ‘swag,’ like Adam Vinatieri kicking a grill long distance to a fan.

We like anything with Peyton Manning, especially his “pep talks.” Helaine just rewound the DVR to see MasterCard was the sponsor. Oops. I’d work on that brand recognition boys.

We’re disappointed by Southwest Airlines’ new business oriented spots. We like Southwest as they were, people oriented.

Mostly, I’m bugged by the Coors Light ads. You know the ones. Twentysomething guys infiltrate NFL post-game press conferences. Using actual coaches responses, the script inserts new questions.

This bit was pretty funny when Steve Allen did it in the early 60s&#185. It is not funny now.

Good writing is incredibly valuable. These are terribly written. There is no subtlety, no nuance. The match between question and answer is often tenuous. The whole thing is just forced.

There is one unforeseen problem with my distaste for these spots. I can’t turn away! Helaine was first to notice, as soon as the commercial came on TV I’d snap my neck in that direction.

Maybe I shouldn’t let Coors know.

&#185 – I remember Allen using this on his Sunday evening show. He would play back studio supplied, filmed interviews with movie stars on location. First he’d do the interview straight. Then he’d do it again, with new questions.

Steve Allen invented most of what’s on TV and everything that’s on late night.

Getting Set To Go

I have burned the candle at both ends. We’ve hit the road a week ago last Friday. I am bushed. Please, let this not be the screaming baby flight from Vegas. I want to need to sleep.

My sister and brother-in-law arrived in Las Vegas yesterday. This is one of those lucky, versus planned, things. They were scheduled to be here for a convention. In fact, when I asked if they wanted to have lunch today, they were busy selling.

At least we had one meal together. Yesterday, my sister, brother-in-law, and three cousins hit the MGM coffee shop. We were seven, not a common number. We waited over and hour for a table, and that was with a line pass!

Last night, I thought it would be fun if we took our young cousin, Max, downtown. Staying on the Strip, downtown’s far away and never seen.

Fremont Street, the main drag downtown, is where all the gaudy signs were in the 40s, 50s and 60s. If you saw Elvis in Vegas, Fremont Street is where he was. It really can’t compete with the Strip anymore, so it has positioned itself a little more downscale and affordable.

Fremont Street is where you an get 99&#162 shrimp cocktails (Golden Gate Hotel – they’re still great) and where $5 blackjack players get rated for comps. The street itself has been closed to traffic, covered with a mesh canopy and loaded with little kiosks and stands.

The atmosphere is comparable to what I’d expect on New Years Eve in Times Square. There are people of every shape, size and color. Families gawk. Pierced, Mohawked wackos gawk. Retirees gawk. They’re all together, and though the area seems tawdry, I never felt unsafe.

Cousin Michael made note of the nearly invisible security. We’re guessing they’re hidden, just seconds away… but that’s a hopeful guess and nothing more.

Once an hour, all the outside casino lights dim and thousands of tiny lights on the overhead canopy turn on to project a multimedia show. It’s called the Fremont Street Experience.

A few years ago the show was brought up-to-date… which ruined it! A more appropriate, though still modern, show is currently featured.

We were back at our hotel before midnight (which here, on a Saturday night, is something like noon anywhere else).

Our room is sad now. Nearly everything is packed and ready to go. Southwest Airlines has already sent me a text message saying our flight should be running on-time. The weather here and in Connecticut should cooperate.

It’s not over until I call the bellman. That’s only minutes away.