When Good Airlines Go Bad

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know I’m a big fan of Southwest Airlines. I still am at this moment, but they’ve shown a side I hadn’t seen before.

Our flight from Midway was due out at 8:00 PM. “Conditions” (a word which covers a multitude of sins) didn’t allow us to depart on time. Hey – it happens.

The departure time was changed to 9:25 PM, so Stef and Helaine headed out searching for food. I sat on the floor, playing online poker.

A little after 8:00 PM, I faintly heard an announcement from the boarding area. I wasn’t sure what I heard, but Hartford was included. With Helaine and Stef gone, my laptop open on the floor and five bags next to me, I was stuck.

Next to me, another laptop user was also sitting on the cold marble. I had heard her mention New Haven in her conversation. I asked if she’d mind watching my stuff for a moment while I checked out what was going on.

At the gate, the CSR told me “we’re boarding now.” Yikes!

I called Helaine on the cellphone. She was at the far end of the concourse and I was at Gate 24. “Run,” I said.

To show the agents I was earnest about getting on, I disconnected from the poker game, pack muled myself and carried all the bags to the gate.

I will remember that for a while because my hip is killing me with the twingy pain that probably means I pulled a muscle!

It looked like they were about to close the door, but they weren’t. A minute later, Helaine and Stef, who had ordered dinner and then canceled it (thanks Harry Carey’s who understood their situation), pulled up to the gate.

We got on a half empty plane. Many of those who held boarding passes were nowhere to be found.

Imagine you’re told that your plane is delayed nearly two hours. You walk away to get a drink, a sandwich, go to the men’s room. When you come back, your flight is gone! I suspect this counts as “your fault.”

A few more, but not all, the passengers made it on the plane before we left for Connecticut. We arrived at Bradley after midnight.

While I went to get the car, Helaine and Stef stayed for the bags. The buzzer buzzed. The carousel spun. Some bags came down – not all.

A disembodied voice on the PA system apologized. Another plane was about to leave. Our bags would have to wait a few minutes more.

I know it’s tough to be in the airline business on a night when Mother Nature just isn’t cutting you any slack. I just think, in this case, Southwest didn’t live up to its reputation – at least it didn’t in my eyes.

The delay in Chicago wasn’t handled properly. No one was ever advised the plane might not be held until 9:25. I’m not sure what to make of the baggage snafu in Hartford, other than to say we once had this same problem with Carnival Air.

Does any airline want their attention to customer needs compared to Carnival?

It’s Tampa… And A Delay

Unfortunately, the first thing we saw in Tampa’s airport was the television screen showing us our outbound flight would be late. Luckily, there’s free wireless access at this airport.

As Helaine and I stood, milling around with our fellow members of Southwest Boarding Group “A,” we looked left. The boarding area was crawling with pre-boarders – parents and their small children?

“SBF,” I asked?

Though I’d never used those initials before, she knew exactly what I meant. Would this be the ‘screaming baby flight’ to Tampa?

As it turned out, most of the noise on the flight came from the boy’s and girl’s tennis teams from Springfield College, though even they were well behaved.

This was a classically good flight. I fell asleep before we were airborne. In fact, at one point I briefly woke up, turned my head to look out the window and only then realized we were flying.

Our pilot, from the Gus Souflas School of Aviation&#185, was very excited today. Instead of flying out over the Atlantic, we were flying over Central North Carolina.

Like I said, this was a very nice flight. Until the last few minutes it was smooth as could be, and even the bumps we felt on descent weren’t too bad. We landed in Tampa 25 minutes early!

Unfortunately, the first thing we saw in Tampa’s airport was the television screen showing us our outbound flight would be late. Luckily, there’s free wireless access at this airport.

From Flightaware.com:

Origin Phoenix Sky Harbor Int’l [KPHX]

Destination Tampa Int’l [KTPA]


Date Saturday, Mar 11, 2006

Duration 3 hours 20 minutes

Progress 1 hour 36 minutes left 1 hour 43 minutes

Status En Route (936 miles down; 856 miles to go)

Proposed/Assigned Actual/Estimated

Departure 11:15AM MST 12:51PM MST

Arrival 04:29PM EST 06:11PM EST

Speed 453 kts 516 kts

Altitude 39000 feet 39000 feet

Flight 915 is over Houston… and speeding its way here (faster than the original flight plan called for), but it will be late. It is a casualty of Phoenix’s first rain since October.

I’ve been on planes that stopped in Tampa, but I’ve never actually set foot in the terminal. It is broad with high ceilings and lots of space. I can see the stadium where the Tampa Bay Buccaneers play out the floor to ceiling wall of windows.

Like any airport, it’s not meant for extended stays, so I’ll be hearing the “suspicious packages” announcement a few dozen times before we leave.

As I mentioned, there is wireless access, but there are few places to plug my uncharged laptop. I hunted down a socket with a flip-up covering in the carpet. It’s turned off.

The only working plugs I could find were associated with a phone booth. Actually built for dial-up Internet access (before the airport started giving it away), this fixture is a dinosaur. Between cellphones and wireless, there’s not much business left for pay phones.

My folks are holding dinner. We won’t get to their place much before 9:00 PM.

Did I mention this is Florida? Even at the tale of a long winter it’s sunny and green outside.

&#185 – I described Gus, a pilot described by my friend Howard, in this entry from an earlier Vegas vacation.

On Our Way To Florida

It seems such a shame. Now that it’s begun to get warm, we’re heading to Florida.

We haven’t seen my folks since late October, so this seemed like a good time. You’ve also got to add the fact that I’ve been ‘forced’ to use some vacation time or lose it.

As much as I like Southwest Airlines, our allegiance will cost us in convenience. The trip down to Palm Beach International will take around six hours, including a change of planes in Tampa.

I’m bringing my camera. For the first time ever Helaine and I are both bringing laptops.

I’m also bringing a small video camera. I have this idea about interviewing my folks and having them describe how they met, dated and married. The finished product will be a ‘video short’.

Barring unforeseen circumstances, my next post will be from Boynton Beach – land of decaf.

Southwest Airlines – May I Kiss You On The Lips?

I am writing this, sitting on a cold faux marble floor in our bathroom at the Holiday Inn, just outside of Baltimore-Washington Airport. It is 5:00 AM and I can’t sleep. In order not to disturb Helaine and Stef, I have adopted this as my temporary office.

The free wireless access works much better here than in the actual room!

That we are here is some sort of minor miracle. If you fly on airplanes and are used to being treated like fecal material, please read this story, made even better by this email from meteorologist Bob, in Florida.

gon, wst (westerly ri) both went to snow last hour

dad went to snow 5 mins ago.

good thing you left when you did.

The GON he mentions is Groton/New London Airport, arguably Connecticut’s airport most likely to report rain when others are seeing snow! His dad is in North Branford, also less likely to see a quick change to snow.

Yesterday morning, when it looked like we’d be seeing significant snow, sleet and freezing rain, and knowing we had to get to California now or miss our cruise ship, I called Southwest Airlines. The best way to summarize the opening of the conversation is to quote Rick Springfield’s, “Don’t Talk To Strangers.”

“I’m begging you, please”

Though I explained my situation, the agent couldn’t help. Southwest Airlines had policies in place.

I pleaded my case for a few minutes before asking, nicely, if I could speak to a supervisor. I tried everything, including the option of moving us to Islip, a 2:30 hour drive. The supervisor listened to our plight (Linda from Albuquerque. “I’m not the bilingual Linda in Albuquerque.”) but wouldn’t budge.

Finally, she broke down. She understood the fragility of our cruise plans and that Southwest was booked solid, should our flight be canceled. They would move us out of Connecticut Monday night and we could pick up the rest of our itinerary on Tuesday.

Quickly, Helaine went to hotwire.com and found a hotel at Baltimore-Washington Airport. Last minute, Holiday Inn – under $70.

When I told my friend Peter, someone who had racked hundreds of thousands of miles over the years, mostly on United, he said he was amazed. Southwest had done the right thing for me and for Southwest, but he had never heard of it happening before.

Let me add, this is not because I’m “TV-boy” in Connecticut. These operators were in Albuquerque.

Now the real test began – we weren’t packed. Helaine, our ‘packing supervisor’ and all around ‘logistics specialist,’ would have to compress 24 hours of planning into six! And she did.

This was one of those times when Helaine’s incredible organizational acumen took over. She was worried we wouldn’t make it, but she faced the task and moved forward.

There were chores out of the house she needed to do, and things for me to do while she was gone. I made a list. I am not a list maker. I understood today had to be different.

I’m not going to take my usual cheap shot about how much baggage we finally brought. It’s a lot. At this point how could I mind?

We got to Bradley Airport in Hartford to check in. The change of plans left me with a legit ticket, but Helaine and Steffie (both flying non-revenue) with nothing on paper and some cobbled together exceptions that the computer couldn’t handle on its own.

Donna from Torrington was our customer service agent at the ticket counter at Bradley. When she read the notes on her computer she stopped. She said she hadn’t seen anything like this before… and neither had the computer. It refused to issue Helaine a boarding pass (though it had for Steffie, and had hours ago for me).

She called the help desk to get some assistance. The person on the other end also commented on how unusual the remarks with our reservation were.

Because of Helaine and Steffie’s late re-booking, their tickets were marked for extra screening by the TSA. No problem. At this point we were way ahead of the game. Screen on.

So, here we are at the Holiday Inn at BWI. We had a lovely ride on the courtesy van with a bunch of airline employees and four drunk folks from Cleveland, kicked off their flight to sober up!

Our flight from BWI to LAX doesn’t leave until this evening. Based on what I’ve seen of the Northeast’s weather, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were open seats and we made it out of Baltimore a whole lot earlier.

We are not in Los Angeles yet, but we are much closer than mileage alone would imply. And, a huge burden has been lifted from our shoulders.

If we were home right now, hoping to make our scheduled flight, we’d be out-of-luck. No one in bed in Connecticut now will make that Wednesday cruise.

I think I’m going to try to go back to sleep.

Vacation… Again

Here’s something new employees never look at, or think about (and not just where I work, but everywhere). If you stay long enough, you get a lot of vacation! Right now I get four weeks of vacation plus ten additional days for working holidays. That’s six full weeks off.

With that in mind, and Steffie getting six weeks between semesters (Wow – college is better than work!), we’ve decided to take a vacation.

I’ve mentioned my Southwest Airlines credit card before, and it enters into this vacation. With a bunch of free tickets stowed away, air fare was not a problem. Now, where to go?

I’m not quite sure how we got to this point, but a cruise was brought up by one of us and agreed to by all of us.

We’ve been all over the Caribbean, so decided to go elsewhere. We’ll be flying to Los Angeles, spending the night, at a hotel. then boarding our ship, the Norwegian Star, in San Pedro for a trip down the Mexican Coast… or as the cruise lines call it, the Mexican Riviera.

Norwegian Star Intinerary
Day Port Arrive Depart
Wed. Los Angeles – – 6:00pm
Thu. At sea – – – –
Fri. At sea – – – –
Sat. Manzanillo 10:00am 6:00pm
Sun. Puerto Vallarta 7:00am 6:00pm
Mon. Mazatlan 8:00am 6:00pm
Tue. Cabo San Lucas 7:00am 2:00pm
Wed. At sea – – – –
Thu. Los Angeles 9:00am – –

Originally the ship was to go to Acapulco first and slowly head north over eight days. That changed a few weeks ago when a problem showed up on the ship’s propulsion system. It can no longer do 25 knots… only 20. Acapulco is too far.

They say the ship will be fine until it gets dry docked in March. I don’t want to see us cruising behind a tow truck.

At first we were disappointed. Helaine and I went to Acapulco for our honeymoon. As time went on, we were told Acapulco isn’t what it once was (and even when we were there the beach had Federales armed with automatic weapons!).

From Los Angeles we go to Manzanillo, Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan and Cabo San Lucas. Mostly I will go with the flow, doing what Helaine and Steffie want to do (i.e. mostly shopping).

In Manzanillo I plan on meeting up with a professor from the Monterrey Institute for a day trip to the Colima Volcano. It is just a plan because the professor hasn’t written back in the last day – we’ll see.

There have been changes to cruising since we last went. The ship has its own cell site – though at $1.99/minute mine will be turned off! There is also Internet access. It is also pricey and slow, but I will be checking email (which is how our voicemail will be delivered too). Having Internet access also means the blog will be fed.

We decided to get a room with a balcony. OK – I decided to get a room with a balcony and then convinced everyone else. This way, if there’s any conflict, the offending party can be thrown overboard without breaking the porthole glass. I think it was a practical decision.

I do have one fear on this trip – weather. The forecast for our departure from Connecticut is rainy with a little frozen stuff mixed in. California, though suffering from awful weather for the last few weeks, should be sunny with temps near 70.

We have never cruised the Pacific. Though Magellan thought it was placid when he named it, it can be anything but! I will be popping Bonine like there’s no tomorrow. I once got seasick while snorkeling! Hopefully the waves will be small.

The World Traveler Calls on IM

I was on IM at 3:00 AM when a new window opened on my screen. It was a friend of mine. “I’m in Seoul,” he said.

“So, you’re a soul man,” I replied (using the cheapest joke I could think of. He’s in Korea for some sort of conference.

We didn’t chat for long, but he said I should go. It was the kind of place I’d enjoy… a country which resembles a gigantic Best Buy&#185. I look upon much of Asia that way.

The guy in Korea is someone I’ve known for 25 years. During that time he’s traveled everywhere for business and pleasure, including a few years living in Europe and more living in Asia.

He travels enough that my daughter suspects he works for the CIA. I don’t think so, but it’s a good fable.

There aren’t many things that bring out envy in me, but this is one of them. I’m not sure I need to travel enough to get extra pages added to a passport – I’d just like to need a passport. I’ve been to England once and the Caribbean many times. That’s pretty much the extent of my long distance travel.

I’d like to visit Oriental Asia – China, Japan, Korea, the Malay Peninsula, maybe Thailand. Sure I want to come home with electronics and optics, but I want to see where it happens. Photos and videos I’ve seen of teeming Asian cities are enticing.

Quite honestly, I don’t know what I’d do once I got there!

Europe doesn’t hold quite the same attraction. I can’t say why. Maybe it’s Europe is so 19th Century and Asia is so 21st. That’s no more than a guess.

Helaine says I probably wouldn’t do well on a 24 hour transpolar flight. I’m not sure I disagree. That’s a long time to have your knees in your chest, sleeping sitting up. My Southwest Airlines miles won’t help. I certainly know this trip isn’t her priority.

My on-the-road friend will be back in the states this weekend. It won’t be long before he’s traveling again. He racks up frequent flier miles like they’re going out of style. Maybe next time he’ll shoot some photos.

&#185 – His characterization. Obviously, he doesn’t know about the screaming match I once had inside a Best Buy. “Go ahead, call the police!” was one of the things I yelled. Need I say more?

No Credit Where Credit Is Due – Southwest VISA Again

Yesterday I got a call from a woman at Chase Bank. They’re the folks who provide my one and only credit card. She was calling because my complaint to the Comptroller of the Currency hit their doorstep.

She didn’t call to offer a solution or explain what was going on. She just called to say they had gotten the complaint and would respond in 7-14 days.

This is probably a legal requirement. No extra points for customer service here.

My Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Visa has been the topic of many posts here, because it has been such a frustrating experience. Here’s a link to my last screed.

Like I said, I got so upset I wrote the Comptroller of the Currency, the federal agency that controls banks with “NA” at the end of their name.

So, yesterday I get their call and tonight… tonight they turn down the credit card again!

What a suspicious purchase. I was buying gas at a gas station I go to three or four times a month. I was using a Mobil Speedpass which is tied to the card.

I called the number on the back of the credit card and listened as an automated voice asked me if I recognized purchases, some going back two months, without giving me the name of the merchant… only the type of store in “credit cardese.”

Among the purchases they queried was Steffie’s Ipod. Whoa! That’s another purchase they turned down and had me call on in June. Good going. It’s the gift that keeps on giving!

And, if there was a question about a June purchase, why not ask me in… June? The fact that I’ve already paid for that purchase without question never entered into their equation.

Oh, the gas station I was at – they had previously declined my card there too!

My account is perfect. My reputation is soiled.

As I walked into the gas station, the clerk addressed me by my first name and then told me they had refused the charge. Will he go home and tell people about Geoff Fox the deadbeat? I hope not, but it’s possible.

What if this would have happened in Birmingham last week?

Earlier this evening I wrote about Southwest Airlines’ policy change for frequent flier miles. I really don’t want to change my airline/credit card allegiance. I know tonight’s problem is 100% the bank and not Southwest. Still, it’s very frustrating.

My sense is, no one at the bank really cares. The sad truth is, in 2005 it’s too expensive to worry about customers on an individual basis. I’m much less of a problem when viewed in the aggregate.

The End Of An Era At Southwest

Helaine and I are big supporters of Southwest Airlines’ frequent flier program, “Rapid Rewards.”

First, we like Southwest. The employees usually seem friendly and helpful The flight crews act as if they enjoy their job. This is uncommon in the airline industry.

Second, it is much easier to get a ticket. Most airlines make you accrue 25,000 ‘miles’… sometimes more in peak season. Southwest charges 18,500 for a free ticket.

Even more important, if there’s a seat on a plane, your voucher for a free flight is good! There are no restrictions other than a few dates (very few).

Now this is changing and I’m not happy.

No Blackout Dates and Seat Restrictions on Award Travel

Beginning February 10, 2006, all Awards issued will have no systemwide blackout dates and will be subject to seat restrictions. Restricting the number of seats for Awards helps us maintain our low-fare leadership and keeps the program lucrative for you.

Please plan ahead when making your flight reservations as certain holiday or peak travel periods will be in high demand and your desired flight may not be available for Award travel.

Here are a few more things you should know

* Awards issued before February 10, 2006 will have no seat restrictions, but are subject to published blackout dates.

* Awards issued on or after February 10, 2006 will have seat restrictions, but no systemwide blackout dates. Members need to be flexible when choosing times and dates to their destinations as certain holiday or peak travel periods will be in high demand and that makes booking Award travel difficult.

* Last-minute Award usage will still be allowed based on seat availability.

* Awards are still valid for 12 months.

* Receiving a Companion Pass still only requires 100 credits within in 12 months.

* Companion travel will still have no seat restrictions or blackout dates

When I read words like, “keeps the program lucrative for you,” I am tempted to count my fingers. This is not being done for me. This is not my choice of what would be.

Southwest didn’t ask – and I assume the reason is they already knew how I, and others, feel.

Here’s the most distasteful part of all of this. When an airline restricts capacity, no one is ever told how restrictive it is. There is no transparency. So, when Southwest says, “no systemwide blackout dates,” the words might be true, but with an incredibly large fudge factor added.

Southwest Rapid Rewards VISA – Trouble Again!

We decided to replace Steffie’s purloined Ipod, so we headed to the Apple store at a mall near college. Once again, my VISA purchase was denied. This is not the first time I’m writing about my frustration with this First USA account. I got it off my chest before in August 2003 and December 2004.

Here’s part of the letter going to the VISA bank involved, First USA.

My name is Geoff Fox and I am the account holder of this Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards VISA. My account is up-to-date and has never been late. I spend what I consider a significant amount of money using this card and have a substantial credit limit.

I’m not a deadbeat, but I’m being treated like one by First USA.

Today, for the fourth or fifth time since I’ve been using this VISA, I presented it for a purchase and was turned down. I was later told it was because I was out-of-state and this was a purchase at an Apple Computer Store

Let The Packing Begin

There was a time, back in the unenlightened days, when I could throw a few t-shirts and shorts in a bag and go away for a week. I didn’t care what I wore. I packed for only myself.

I’m sure I was less ‘GQ-like’ in my appearance. But, it was a casual time for me and, as I said, I didn’t care.

That was then, this is now.

From Southwest Airlines:

# Baggage Allowance: For each ticketed Customer, Southwest allows three (3) checked pieces with size limitations for each individual piece.

# Excess Baggage: Excess baggage will be charged at the rate of $50.00 for the first (1st) through the ninth (9th) extra bag and $110.00 for each piece checked thereafter.

# Weight and Size Allowance: Maximum weight is 50 pounds and maximum size is 62 inches (length + width + height) per checked piece of luggage. Effective March 1, 2005, overweight items from 51 to 70 pounds will be accepted for a charge of $25.00 per item.

Traveling with Helaine and Stef is an entirely different adventure in packing. Not only do we have to take what is necessary to be stylish – we need options!

I am told the suitcase to the left is by no means full. However, last night, Stef got on the scale in the bathroom to weigh it… and at that time we were 49 pounds into the 50 pound allowance. Of course with three bags per passenger, we can split the load into other suitcases.

Think about it for a second. Three bags per person at 50 pounds per bag, plus any carry ons we take. That about &#188 ton! Maybe I should have waited until after the trip to write that.

I will gladly admit to dressing much better on the road than the jeans and t-shirt days. On the other hand, I am the chief lugger of this luggage and feel each and every pound.

When I kvetch, and I have, Helaine offers me the option of packing myself. That, in a nutshell, is why I’ll tote and carry and be quiet about it… and, I’ll look damned stylish on vacation.

21st Century Vacation Plans

With the winter soon over (isn’t that nice?), we’ve decided to schedule a spring vacation. We enjoy Southern California, have been there many times, and have decided to go again.

There’s a lot to be said about California. The weather that time of year is dependable. We have friends and relatives there. There’s lots to do. As long as the ground doesn’t shake too much, we’ll be happy.

Planning a vacation is different now than it once was. There are so many ways to make reservations and plans. We wanted to get the best and pay the least. That makes sense.

But how do you know? You don’t, is the simple answer! In fact, in many ways the best deals are structured in such a way as you know nothing – or close to nothing. You are buying blind.

Our plane reservations were a breeze. Southwest Airlines is very different from the other carriers as far as using free tickets is concerned. I can’t imagine being able to get three tickets ‘only’ six weeks before a flight on USAir or United or Delta.

We’re flying to Burbank&#185 instead of LAX. Burbank should make for an easier arrival and departure. LAX can be totally crazy and I’d like to avoid that.

Hotel reservations were another story.

Helaine had perused hotwire.com and found pretty good prices in the area we wanted to stay. Of course they don’t tell you what hotel it is they’re advertising, so there has to be a great deal of trust in deciding if your idea of a 4.5 star hotel is the same as theirs.

After looking and searching and looking again, we decided on a hotel we thought was either the Century Plaza or Park Hyatt in Century City. Good guess. It was the Century Plaza. Even if you’ve never been to L.A., you’ve seen this hotel on TV. It has a very distinctive sweeping look.

We got it for half the price the hotel advertises – though a friend immediately told me he could have gotten it for less. Nothing is simple. Nothing is foolproof.

Next step is to start lining up the places we’ll visit. That’s where my friends come in. This is their department in their city. Last time in, my friend Paul got Steffie into the first row on American Idol. They are not without influence.

&#185 – Burbank Airport was the actual location for the final scene of the movie Casablanca. Pretty much everywhere you drive in Southern California, you’re going to come across something you recognize from the movies or TV.

I’m Upset With First USA Southwest Rapid Rewards Visa

I am upset, again, at the way my credit card account is handled. This afternoon the card was denied for a purchase. Of course the credit card is totally current and has never been late&#185.

The battery on my car died last week (a story in itself). After six years it’s probably given me all I could ask for, so I had Steve at the Exxon station get me a new one. He installed it today and I gave him my First USA Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards VISA to pay. Perfect. No problem. Right through.

We stood around and schmoozed for a while and then, before leaving, I realized I might as well fill the car with gas. So I drove it to the pump, ran the card and… nothing. In fact we tried it three times and then tried running it through the reader in the gas station’s office. DENIED.

You tell me, what impression would you have of someone who handed you a credit card that had been stopped?

This time (this is not the first, second or third time this has happened) I had the presence of mind to pick up my cellphone and call First USA. After entering the account number, part of my mother’s maiden name and a bit of my Social Security number, a computer started reading off our recent purchases – asking me if I recognized them.

I did recognize most, but this is an account used by both Helaine and me. I had some idea what she had bought recently, but didn’t specifically recognize one purchase that was probably OK.

The problem in dealing with a machine like this is there are no gray areas. I couldn’t ask for more information on purchase 4. It was either yea or nay. I said yea.

It turns out going through this purchasing quiz was enough to restart the card, but First USA didn’t tell me that! I had to speak to an operator to make that discovery. She also told me this hold was caused by my unusual pattern of purchases.

I see their point. What could be more suspicious than buying a battery and gasoline at a gas station that I have gone to at least once or twice a week for more than a decade? How could I have been so foolish?

Astute readers might remember me kvetching about this card in the past. Then why, you might ask, am I still with it… it’s not like there’s a shortage of VISA issuers. The answer is Southwest Airlines and their mileage program. This might be the best free flight program around, and I’ve became a major Southwest fan.

However, if Southwest decided to move their business to a different card issuer tomorrow, I would shed no tears.

&#185 – With Helaine running the finances we haven’t gotten a late notice for anything… anything… in well over 20 years. When I was single and ran my own financial life… well, it just wasn’t pretty.

It’s Bank One – Again

I went to buy something online today. It was a significant purchase, but a fraction of my credit limit. This is our primary credit card account. It’s an account that is paid in full promptly every month and always has been.

The purchase was declined by Bank One, the card’s issuer.

I picked up the phone and spoke with Mary Ann at Credit Card Central. They saw a large charge and declined it because it was on the Internet.

OK – but why not call me? Her answer (and it’s one I’ve gotten before so I know it’s in the standard answer book there at Credit Card Central) had to do with the fact that they’ve got millions of customers.

Let me see if I’ve got this right. Because they have so many customers, my little speck of an account isn’t important enough to get any attention. Great. That is one of the most insensitive customer unfriendly responses it’s ever been my pleasure to receive.

Isn’t this why I pay a yearly fee (which is on top of whatever they get from the merchant and interest I might pay)? She then told me most customers call. So, in essence, I’ve been assigned a no pay job by Bank One.

They have both my phone number and email address. Sending an email notice in a situation like this would be appropriate and virtually cost free to them. Phoning me would be better.

Instead of jumping to conclusions (and based on my experience these conclusions are mostly wrong), why not check with me?

Here’s what Bank One doesn’t know, or doesn’t care to know. When my card was declined, the website notice didn’t ask me to call my bank. It asked me to use another card – and my guess is most people do just that.

This card is tied to Southwest Airlines which, in my opinion, has the best frequent flyer program going. For that reason I’m keeping it. Unfortunately, this is a pain in the butt – and it’s not the first time. At least this is better than being declined in person.

Oh – after my phone call the purchase was approved.

Do I Look Like a Crook?

It’s the holiday season. Time to buy gifts. Is there a better way to buy something than with a credit card?

Our credit card of choice is affiliated with Southwest Airlines. As we pay for food and gas and gifts, we accumulate free airplane trips. And, since we pay off our bill each and every month, these trips cost no more than the yearly credit card fee. It’s a great deal.

It’s a great deal for the bank too. They get our yearly fee and make a cut on everything we buy. And, since we charge a lot, they get a lot.

There’s just one problem – the bank that actually issues the card and runs the program has cut it off three times.

It’s not like we’re bad people… this card has never had a late payment. And, we haven’t even been in the same neighborhood as our limit. Our problem is, we’ve used the card too many times in a single day.

I know – you thought they encouraged you to use the card. I thought that too.

Yesterday, as I’m told, our card was used 14 times. None of these purchases were extremely large. We charged a $230 airline ticket, some groceries, a gift or two or three. You get the idea.

To the bank, this looked like the pattern a thief would use. So, they flagged the card, and when Helaine tried to buy something for me online – delivered to our own address – the bank refused to accept the transaction.

I guess they’re entitled to do this, but here’s what bothers me. They cut us off and never told us. All they had to do was make a call. Mr. Fox, did you make this purchase? We found out when we tried to buy something.

My suspicion is, it’s cheaper for them to wait for the customer to contact them, or use the clerk at the store. For me… for my wife… this is astoundingly embarrassing. This time it was a mail order purchase, but the last time a clerk at the grocery store said to Helaine; “That happens to me when I go over my limit.” Great.

As a public person, I try and protect my public image. Now this bank gets to sully it, for no apparent reason. I have received every excuse known to man from the security department and no apologies.

I am beginning to simmer.