Saturday, May 26, 2018

Smart Luggage Pros and Cons

[Prefatory Note: As a service to our many loyal readers looking to travel this summer, here, courtesy of the WSJ, is a cogent summary of the pros and cons of smart luggage and some particular recommendations. While we don't care particularly about the tracking ability of smart luggage because we haven't checked luggage since 1976, we do like the ability to have a USB charging port with us]

No
Luggage needn’t be intelligent to do its job well. For many jet-setters, a sturdy, stylish, relatively dopey carry-on does the trick, and pricey smart bags—with over-hyped features such as digital scales, global tracking devices and assisted compression systems—often just further complicate traveling. Their ability to charge a phone comes in handy, admittedly, but with recent restrictions against smart bags, these trendy pieces might be more hassle than they’re worth.
As of January, airlines including American, Delta and Southwest have issued tighter guidelines for all types of smart luggage, citing concerns that their built-in lithium ion batteries could catch fire midflight. The bottom line: If a smart bag’s power source can’t be removed, it can’t fly.
The rulings challenged brands to create ejectable batteries that you can carry on once powered down—and led to negative press, frustrated fliers and extra costs to retrofit customers’ luggage, all of which forced brands including Bluesmart and Raden out of the smart-bag business.
“In a world where the regulatory environment is uncertain, I wouldn’t want to travel with this,” admitted Joshua Udashkin, founder and former CEO of Raden. “Why do I need a battery in a carry-on if it is just going to make my trip more annoying. I’ll just buy a Mophie [charger].”
Traditional luggage brands don’t appear eager to jump on the smart suitcase bandwagon. Instead they offer products to up the IQ of bags you already own. Tumi’s Global Locator is a sleek little device that can track a bag’s whereabouts and notify you via text or email if it gets lost. It also shrewdly shuts down when it senses takeoff, making it FAA compliant ($150, tumi.com).
With so much doubt around the future of these bags, you might want to lug more classically. “Luggage is already expensive and sensitive enough as it is,” said one naysayer, Brooke Schoenman, who founded Her Packing List, a women’s lifestyle site. “Adding extra smart features adds more things that can break and get damaged in transit.”
Yes
If you’ve ever angrily paid extra to check an overweight bag, waited bleakly at the luggage carousel for a suitcase that never appeared, or struggled to find an outlet while your phone battery dies, smart luggage might merit the investment despite the concerns.
Certain direct-to-consumer brands such as Away and Barracuda—both of whose bags are equipped with all-important ejectable batteries—have taken care to make the airport rigmarole less, not more, stressful. But these manufacturers aren’t just grafting on brainy gadgets to raise the prices.
“We really wanted to consider every aspect of the travel experience,” said Away co-founder Steph Korey. “How people pack, how they get to the airport, what they do when they arrive…and really dive into that.”
Smart luggage helps frequent travelers like Deloitte business analyst Emma Lichtenstein, 23, stay connected to their offices, a boon for jittery workaholics. While flying from New York to Jacksonville, Fla. each week, she uses her Away bag to fully charge her smartphone, which doubles as a Wi-Fi hot spot for her laptop. It’s nice, she said, not having to carry around another device.

Forget Self-Driving Cars, Here Comes Self-Driving Luggage
Forget self-driving cars, here comes self-driving luggage. (1/9/2018)
James Bond-worthy add-ons include remote locking and RFID-blocking pockets to foil data thieves. Modobag, which uses a safer carbon-free titanium battery to skirt the FAA’s rules, overachieved by creating a motorized carry-on you can straddle to zip around airports faster, albeit with shades of Segway dorkiness. “It’s about being functional and fun,” said Tim Ryan, chief marketing officer for Modobag.
Bonus features aren’t all techy. “We feel really strongly about staying away from anything that is tech for tech’s sake,” said Away’s Ms. Korey. Barracuda bags come with built-in cup holders and a laptop tray that lets you create a workstation anywhere. They also easily collapse for storage once you’re back home. And G-RO bags feature large durable wheels that glide smoothly over cobble stone streets. Because dragging your obstinate, ordinary bag through Krakow’s Old Town isn’t the brightest move.
EGGHEADS ON WHEELS // THREE SMART BAGS THAT ARE MORE THAN JUST A ROLLING CHARGER

FOR SAVING SOME COIN

Away
Does Smart Luggage Really Make Travel Easier?
The affordable Away suitcase sports an easily removable battery and two USB ports for charging on the go, as well as an interior compression system to help you pack a few extra items and a TSA-approved lock. Its Japanese-designed Hinomoto 360-degree wheels won’t trip you up if you’re running to make your connection. From $225, awaytravel.com

FOR SMARTER STORAGE

Barracuda
Does Smart Luggage Really Make Travel Easier?
Beyond standard smart luggage features, including a USB charger and location tracking, the Barracuda’s main attraction is its collapsible nylon shell that folds up to fit a slim hanging bag for storage when you’re not on the road. It also has a 360-degree rotating handle and a laptop tray that pulls out when you need to get some work done. $349, barracuda.co

FOR A RIDE TO THE GATE

Modobag
Does Smart Luggage Really Make Travel Easier?
Why walk from gate to gate when you can ride? This motorized carry-on can ferry most travelers up to 6 miles on a single charge. It doesn’t use a lithium battery—opting instead for a carbon-free titanium power source that tops off in only one hour—which makes it compliant with FAA rules but also much more expensive. $1,495, shop.modobag.com

Cheap Plane Fares to Europe This Summer

[Prefatory Note: As a service to our many loyal readers looking to travel to Europe this summer, here, courtesy of the WSJ, are some screaming deals on plane fares]

CONVENTIONAL WISDOM maintains that if you haven’t booked your summer vacation by May 1, you’ll either need to pay a fortune for flights or invest in an inflatable pool for the backyard. But thrifty procrastinators, take heart: This is no normal year. With new players duking it out over the Atlantic, air deals to some of Europe’s most popular destinations are still lurking, just not in the usual places.
“Fares for summer travel are some of the cheapest we’ve seen in years, especially along trans-Atlantic routes,” said Tracy Stewart, content editor for the airfare deal site, Airfarewatchdog.com, crediting the trend to increased competition. Newcomers such as Air Italy and Primera Air are teasing bargain fares from the U.S. to Milan and London, respectively; good-value budget airlines are expanding their reach; and while a few big carriers are testing the threshold of your pain with ultra-no-frills “Basic Economy” tickets (no seat assignments or checked bags), smaller rivals like La Compagnie are talking up their creature comforts. Here, some new and less painful ways to hop the pond:
Affordable, Not Miserable Ways to Fly to Europe This Summer
PHOTO: DANIELLE KROLL

DESTINATION

France
French line La Compagnie, which offers an all-premium class service on its sole route, Newark-Paris Orly, touts a “family fare” deal that is the same or even lower than flying coach on many airlines—$1,500 round-trip for an adult and $1,300 for an accompanying child. Plus, you get a nearly lie-flat seat. If you’re on the West Coast, newbie French Bee flies Paris Orly three times a week from San Francisco, at an introductory fare of $189 one way; flights are aboard new Airbus A350-900 jets, with state-of-art cabin climate controls that promise to make that 10-plus-hour flight a more comfortable ride. lacompagnie.comfrenchbee.com
Affordable, Not Miserable Ways to Fly to Europe This Summer
PHOTO: DANIELLE KROLL

DESTINATION

Great Britain
Scandinavian startup Primera Air burst on to the scene this spring with daily flights from Boston and New York to London Stansted, with a teaser $99 one-way fare. As of Aug. 22, it’ll add Washington, D.C.- London service at $199 round-trip. Coach cabins are Spartan but for about $400 extra you can upgrade to a better seat and a few frills. Too good to be true? Perhaps. Reports of recent airport delays suggest growing pains. For a known quantity, Virgin Atlantic now sells “economy light” fares—for example, from around $900 round-trip from New York to London in July—for fliers without checked bags. primeraair.com;virginatlantic.com
Affordable, Not Miserable Ways to Fly to Europe This Summer
PHOTO: DANIELLE KROLL

DESTINATION

Italy
Milan-based Air Italy launched earlier this year with substantial backing—and a few roomy A330s—from Qatar Airways. Seemingly eager to compete with Alitalia, the company ordered 50 new airplanes, including a number of Boeing Dreamliners, and has grand plans to expand over the next four years. Meanwhile, Air Italy starts flying direct to and from the U.S. next month, with four flights a week to Miami and daily service to New York’s John F. Kennedy; round-trip prices start at $773. From its hub in northern Italy, it will connect fliers to Rome, Naples and Sicily. airitaly.com
Affordable, Not Miserable Ways to Fly to Europe This Summer
PHOTO: DANIELLE KROLL

DESTINATION

Germany
Lufthansa ’s low-cost offshoot Eurowings is Germany’s answer to Norwegian Air but with more value for the buck. Unlike with its Nordic counterpart, Eurowings’ fares can include checked bags, meals and other niceties. After quietly rolling out flights to U.S. cities like Seattle and Miami, it is hitting New York this season with six flights a week between John F. Kennedy Airport and Düsseldorf Airport at economy-class fares beginning around $470. Düsseldorf not at the top of your summer bucket list? Keep in mind that it is a gateway for Rhine river trips and an easy drive to Cologne and the Netherlands. eurowings.com

Friday, May 25, 2018

Action vs. Inaction

In almost if not all circumstances, unless there is an overriding countervailing compelling reason, when one has the choice between action and inaction, action is the better choice. Whether it's a matter of trying to obtain something, or creating the opportunity for one's opposition to make a mistake (as in litigation or any dispute), action has a much higher likelihood of producing the desired result than does inaction. As Riane Konc wrote in The New Yorker: "You miss a hundred percent of the shots you don't take"; although, "if you're anything like Wayne Gretzy's loser son, you also miss a hundred percent of the shots you do take."  

Refund from Southwest Airlines for Faulty Wi-Fi

If you pay for wi-fi on a Southwest Airlines flight ($8), and the connection turns out to be faulty (e.g., it works fine for the first hour but hardly at all for the second hour), send SWA an email explaining what happened. Here is what you can expect by way of a response and refund:

"Thank you for reaching out to us about your recent WiFi purchase. It’s disappointing to learn that you experienced difficulties with this product. We appreciate your bringing this concern to our attention and welcome the opportunity to respond to your concerns. I assure you that we are always looking for ways to improve the Customer Experience we offer onboard, and we know that you expect to enjoy the product you are paying for. Our WiFi Team has worked closely with our providers over the past few years to make enhancements, and we are focused on keeping our Customers connected to what matters most in their lives, especially onboard their Southwest flights. We began phasing in improvements since the beginning of the year and will continue to do so through next year, exponentially increasing the amount of bandwidth available onboard.Nevertheless, we truly regret that you were unable to take advantage of the WiFi onboard this particular flight, and I have requested a refund for your purchase on your behalf. You’ll receive a separate email confirming the refund, and the credit will be issued to the original form of payment within 30 days. Your patronage means the world to us, and we hope for the opportunity to welcome you onboard a Southwest flight very soon!" [Red highlighting adde]

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Safety and Convenience Features on New Cars

There are many reasons not to buy a new car, particularly if you like your current car and it's running fine, no matter how old it is. Besides saving money, your older car likely is more attractive than the newer models. That said, there are two reasons to consider buying a new car: (i) the availability of USB ports and the ability to run your phone apps through the car; and (ii) various safety features. One convenient way to try out these features is with a rental car. It is meet to note that a few minutes learning about the features and trying them out can decisively inform your decision whether or not to buy a new car. Upon doing so, you will see how helpful some features can be, e.g., those that alert you to cars in the lanes next to you but are in your blind spot, and one that automatically keeps your distance from the car ahead of you even when it's slowing down quickly. You also will see how you can turn off any such safety feature that is particularly annoying, e.g., the alert that you are out of your lane which pings you incessantly to the point of nearly having your head explode.  Here are the principal new safety features:

Forward collision warning. ...
Automatic emergency braking. ...
Adaptive cruise control. ...
Blind-spot monitoring. ...
Lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist. ...
Rear cross-traffic alert ...

Here is a perfectly good and attractive 2008 Camry:

Image result for 2008 camry

Here is a perfectly good but (no pun intended given the spelling) ugly 2018 Camry:

Image result for 2018 camry