Tag Archives: gripes

US airline industry sinks to new low as CO ticket agent flosses teeth while servicing customers

Let’s start with the good news.  Paul and I took a flight Friday from New York to Geneva in Continental’s “Business/First” cabin, and the flight was great.  It was a newish plane (767) with roomy seats that had a significant recline.  Service was excellent, food was pretty tasty, there was decent (and plentiful) wine, and the cabin crew was friendly and professional. The flight also left and arrived on-time.  For a “legacy” American carrier this was pretty darned good all around.  No complaints.

The check-in experience in Newark was a little different, though.

Continental has a dedicated area in Newark for international business check-in.  Besides the agents who were behind the check-in counter, there were a handful of additional agents mingling with passengers to offer assistance with the self-service check-in kiosks.

I noticed that one of those agents (let’s call her Janice) who was walking around had her hand near her mouth; I thought she must be coughing or sneezing.  But it turned out that she was flossing her teeth.

Janice would periodically remove an 8 inch-or-so long piece of floss from her mouth to answer a customer’s question.  “The lounge is to the left after security!” she’d say with a white-teethed smile, waving the soiled floss in her right hand as if it were a 4th of July sparkler.

At one point I saw Janice tuck the floss away in her pocket, only to pull it out again a short time later to resume the task at hand.  I suppose you have to applaud her conservation efforts in this rough economy.

I mentally prepared the email I might send to Continental.

“Dear Continental: As the son of a dentist, I can certainly appreciate the need for good oral hygiene.  However,…” or “Was Janice just trying to make us feel orally inferior, since there was in fact no floss in your on-board amenity kit?”

But alas, I ended up just making this blog entry, instead.

I suppose there are a few things (comments, please!) that a customer service rep could do that are more distasteful than this. But think about it – it seems like flicking rotting food out of your mouth while you’re on duty for a major airline serving the traveling public has got to be pretty high up the list, right?

Seriously, you can’t make this stuff up.

Dear Brian Moynihan: could BofA’s and ML’s back offices work together, maybe just a little?

It’s been just over a year since Bank of America closed on its acquisition of Merrill Lynch, but you’d never have an inkling that the two entities have anything to do with each other based on a transaction I conducted this morning.

You two are connected? Really?

So here’s the scenario: I wanted to move some money from a Florida-based BofA checking account to a Merrill Lynch brokerage account.  My name is on both accounts.  The ML folks gave me some instructions to initially have the money go to a New York BofA branch rather than directly to them.  Ok, already a little convoluted, but should be straightforward since this would be a BofA to BofA transfer, right?  Not so much.

Here’s how the subsequent transaction unfolded at a local NYC BofA retail branch:

Time-Pressured Customer Late For Work (me): I’d like to transfer $x from a BofA checking account to a NY BofA account in Merrill Lynch’s name.  Since this is “all in the family”, can we avoid a wire transfer?

BofA rep: No, this will have to be a wire transfer, and there’s a $25 fee.

TPCLFW: But it’s a transfer to your own bank!

BofA rep: Yes, but it involves Merrill, so there’s a fee.

TPCLFW: On the phone yesterday, the 800# people told me the fee doesn’t apply for a BofA to BofA transfer.

BofA rep: I could show you the fee schedule.  Or maybe you could try to get the fee reversed after it hits your account.

TPCLFW: Ok ok, I’m in a hurry.  Let’s just do it.

BofA rep: Please fill out this form.

TPCLFW fills out long form and returns it.

BofA rep: I’ll need your driver’s license and your BofA debit card.

TPCLFW: I don’t have a debit card for this account.

BofA rep: That’s ok, we’ll give you one.

TPCLFW: How will you do that?

BofA rep: Just type your social security # into this screen and we’ll generate a card.

TPCLFW: But I don’t want a debit card.  Can’t I just give you my social as ID and you can use that to proceed with the transfer?

BofA rep: No, because we need a debit card number for this form.

TPCLFW: <sound of teeth grinding>

Lots of typing happens, many forms are printed out, and I’m given a debit card.

TPCLFW: How long until the funds are available in the receiving account?

BofA rep: 24 to 48 hours.

Then I was given the canary carbon copy (I kid you not) of the long form I had filled out, and was asked to have a nice day.  I suppose at that point the rep used the branch’s telegraph to communicate the subsequent instructions to someone else.

This whole exchange took approximately 30 minutes.

Ok, so let’s summarize: I’m moving money from one account to another (both accounts in the same name) within the same umbrella financial institution.  It took 30 minutes to fill out the paperwork, will take 24-48 hours for the transfer to happen, it cost me $25, and it involved my getting a debit card that I don’t want.

Current BofA CEO Brian Moynihan was actually the executive in charge of the BofA/ML integration.  Hoo-boy.  Mr. Moynihan, you’ve still got your work cut out for you.

NYC Street Cleaning: The unintended environmental consequences

Few New Yorkers would disagree that parking in the city is a nightmare. There aren’t enough street parking spaces to accommodate all the cars, and garaging a car can cost upwards of $500/month. It’s even trickier when cars have to be moved to allow for street cleaning.

But one thing which is just plain unfair and wasteful is the way street parkers linger (often with engines running), double parked, waiting for the street cleaner to pass. The local neighborhood and ultimately the entire city pay the price for the congestion and pollution these people create.  Here: watch it in action.

In my neighborhood, street cleaning takes place two days per week on each side of the street, with the days alternating.  This is why it’s called “alternate side street parking” and why cars are always having to move from one side of the street to the other.  Generally, parking is prohibited for a 90 to 120 minute window when street cleaning takes place.

But in many neighborhoods (apparently, mine included), double parking is openly tolerated, even though the Department of Transportation clearly states that “Double parking of passenger vehicles is illegal at all times, including street cleaning days, regardless of location, purpose or duration.” The signs indicating prohibited parking indicate a set time period, not “until the street cleaner passes,” so it’s unclear to me why the city tolerates this.


This message is pretty unambiguous

What’s the big deal about cars double parking as they wait for the street cleaner?  There are at least 3 problems when cars double park this way:

1) Not everyone moves their car and double parks.  If 100% of the cars double parked on the other side, there should be no additional congestion, since you’re just moving an open lane from one side of the street to the other.  But inevitably, some cars don’t move.  So now you end up with 3 lanes of cars blocking a small one-way street.  This creates congestion.


Most (but not all) cars move and double park, which creates a "triple parked" situation at some spots

2) On half the days, double parked cars are sitting in (and blocking) bike lanes.  This is dangerous for cyclers and defeats the purpose of having the bike lane there.  This video shows what I mean.

3) In all but the most mild weather, many of the cars idle their engines for the whole time they are waiting in order to run their air conditioners in the summer and heaters in the winter.  This is wasteful and creates pollution.  A single street between 2 Avenues has perhaps 40 cars.  40 cars idling for 60+ minutes on every block, 3-4 times per week, is a huge amount of waste and pollution.

Some neighborhoods lobby the city to reduce street cleaning frequency in order to reduce the amount of times cars must be moved each week. You can see lots of Park Slope neighbors weighing in on the issue here.  There may be some merit to that, but the broader issue is that drivers need to be charged for their use of city parking, so demand falls to meet the supply.

Does the fundamental issue here sound familiar? It’s the old ‘underpricing of a shared but scarce public resource’ issue which I’ve blogged about before. The city is removing cost for the individual by providing free parking, but the resulting solution isn’t free. The cost is simply redirected from making individuals purchase a parking space and is redistributed as: 1) wasted time for the individual (all that time these people are spending in their parked cars), 2) congestion for the neighborhood (all that double & triple parking), 3) pollution and environmental waste for the city and the world (from all those engines idling), and 4) the cost of gas from the idling engines.

Here are some steps in the right direction:

1) Implement a neighborhood permit system where 70% or so of each block’s spots are only for neighborhood residents. Permits would be available to registered residents who have filed a NY state tax return (and have paid NYC city tax). Pricing should probably be on the order of a hundred bucks or so/year. Lots of other cities use neighborhood stickers as one way to ration scarce spaces – Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Washington come to mind.

2) Increase the time that parking is prohibited on street cleaning days. Also coordinate this time with trash removal. This would ‘shock’ the system by essentially removing spaces, but would help free congestion caused by garbage trucks slowly moving down congested streets.

3) Enforce existing rules for no street parking and double parking. Fines of $100 should do the trick. Use this money for cleaning and park services in the same neighborhood where it is collected.

I’m slightly torn about one aspect of this issue. On the one hand, I value diversity in the city and don’t want my neighborhood populated only with people making Wall Street salaries who can afford $500/month parking spaces. Some people have a legitimate need for a car, and some street parking needs to be available. But on the other hand I’m not crying for owners of $40,000 BMWs or $70,000 Range Rovers who sit in their double-parked cars, engine running, talking on their cellphones or working on their broadband-enabled laptops, because they choose not to pay for a private parking space.

Disclaimers: I walk to work so I’m fortunate that I don’t need a car, have a car, or want a car. You can also call me unfairly biased because I’d prefer to live in a city with a minimum of congestion and pollution and with fewer cars on the streets. Crazy, I know.

Burlington Coat Factory’s Big Sidewalk Mess

This is the pile of garbage that the Burlington Coat Factory on 23rd Street and 6th Avenue left in front of their store tonight. It’s tough to see from the picture, but this 4 foot high pile of plastic rubbish extended about 20 feet along the street.

Commercial businesses shouldn't be allowed to do this on a city street

Commercial businesses shouldn't be allowed to do this on a city street

I have no idea how long this pile of rubbish had been there or how long before it would be picked up, but if that elapsed time is any more than 15 minutes, something is wrong.  Besides the fact that thin plastic bags probably should be recycled, why was this kind of commercial trash waiting on the street in any case?

Please put your litter in its place.

Please put your litter in its place.

Commercial businesses generally have to use private trash removal services (rather than city service), so Burlington Coat Factory should be required to coordinate the time of their commercial pickup and only then take these piles of trash outside of the store.

I like it like that

Sushi, a very active Hunch contributor, takes note in her blog today of the proliferation of ‘like’ as a mindless verbal interjection which entraps so many English speakers.

I couldn’t agree more. The constant repetition of fillers such as ‘like’ or ‘you know’ can make otherwise incredibly bright people sound incredibly lame.  I’ve had seemingly well-qualified job applicants sprinkle enough ‘likes’ and ‘kindas’ throughout the interview that you’d think they were making a commission on it. This doesn’t inspire a whole lot of confidence in their broader communication skills.

I’m far from perfect in this regard myself, but I do try to be cognizant about overusing filler words.  Plenty of stupid things slip out of my mouth as it is, so I hardly need to be fueling the fire by, like, always saying ‘like’, you know?

GE Money’s predatory robocalls have to stop

I don’t know anyone by the name of Rosalita, and I’m not sure that I ever have.  Don’t get me wrong; it’s a lovely name.  I even added it to Hunch’s name chooser for baby girls.  Someday it would be nice to meet a Rosalita.  One thing I’m sure of, though, is that there’s no Rosalita living in my apartment. But GE Money seems convinced of just the opposite.

Ok: admission.  In a tip of the hat to nostalgia, I still have a landline in my apartment.  Don’t call me crazy: there are portions of my abode (namely the 50% of the square footage that’s below street level) that even my beloved Verizon Wireless network can’t reach.  So landline-tethered I remain.  I’ve had the same number for 8 years.

GE Money’s robocallers have called that landline phone no fewer than 20 times in the last 15 days, and have done so repeatedly over the years.  Occasionally the caller ID identifies them, but cleverly, they also use multiple numbers and area codes from several different states, several of which show no caller ID.  Some of those numbers include 605-335-5648, 480-707-4006, and 937-534-2092.

I’m rarely home when these calls come in, but on several occasions I’ve attempted to call one of these numbers back.  I’m greeted with a recording that this is a credit collection call, and I should hold.  I’ve held anywhere from 2 to 8 minutes; in all cases I hung up before the call could be answered by a real person.

This morning I was actually at home when one of the calls came in; I answered and was STILL told to wait for an operator (which took 30 seconds).  Now that’s gumption.  You call me, and still try to make me wait.  Tech guys: at least throttle the robocalls to coincide with operator availability.  The operator asked to speak to my favorite non-resident, Rosalita, and when I explained that there had never been anyone here by that name and that they had best never call me again, they said “sorry” and hung up.

Poor Rosalita; maybe she was under crushing credit card debt (likely from a retail credit card managed by GE Capital/ GE Money) and probably defaulted.  But damn that Rosalita: somewhere along the way she may have provided my landline phone number as hers.

But shame on GE Money: how hard would it have been to check phone records to see who my landline number was actually attributed to?  If you type my landline number into Google, my name and address is right there in black and white.

More generally, GE, what a sleazy business to be in.  Rather than tarnish your name, wouldn’t it be better to sell the collection records of your deadbeats to a third party who can collect under another name?  These methods are beneath the name of General Electric.

I have an easy solution for robocalls, telemarketing calls, and any other uninvited calls.  Any caller that’s not pre-approved by the call recipient pays $2.00 for the first ring for “disturbing the peace”.  Then they pay $.25 for each additional ring.  Think of it as the “pay per ring” model.  The fees are shared between the call recipient and the telecom provider.  This might cause predatory callers like GE Money to think hard (and at least do a little ROI analysis) about how much they really want to harass and reach the wrong person.

Revenge on telemarketers

One of our prolific Hunch contributors created this handy topic about what to do about everybody’s favorite person on the other end of the phone: a telemarketer.

When I overtly express my irritation with telemarketers (or some other professions) I’m sometimes told by friends, “Aw, come on- it’s just some poor schmuck doing his job.”

I just don’t buy that rationale.  A good telemarketer has a lot of skills: they’ve got to be persuasive, good communicators, and by definition- practically immune to taking rejection personally.  Those kinds of sales skills are valuable professional assets and can be applied to an infinite number of professions in ways that actually help people rather than intrude on them.  So to me their rude job is in most cases a conscious choice that merits the verbal wrath that’s often thrown upon them.  Harumph.