Planes, Banks and Stupid Fees

I’m late. I know.

OK, so last post asked why the airline industry has been able to get away with fees on just about everything but Bank of America wasn’t able to pull off a five dollar monthly usage fee on debit cards. Well, I figure there are four reasons: options, necessity, anger and commitment. More than one of those reasons explain a lot of the way the airline industry works the way it does.

First reason: Options. Pretty much every airline has added pretty much the same fees. Baggage fees were first, then charges for snacks and drinks, charges for not notifying that you’re bringing a carry-on, charges for seat selection, so on and so on. The airlines that don’t have as many fees are smaller than the major carriers and don’t fly everywhere. That means you don’t have options. Pay the fee or go on a road trip.

Second reason: Necessity. You don’t have to fly, but you do need a bank. That means more mad people. Simple math.

Third reason (maybe most obvious): Anger. People are mad at banks. Multi-billion dollar bailouts will do that. In BoA’s case, the animosity is exacerbated by layoff announcements and foreclosure increases. Airlines didn’t get those same bailouts. Now, one might argue that people’s anger at big banks couldn’t have gotten any worse than it already was (a similar argument is grounds for defense in libel cases), but there’s just no limit to some people’s anger, especially in a down economy.

Fourth reason: Loyalty. Frequent flyer programs be damned – there is little loyalty in air travel. If there were, sites like Expedia and Travelocity wouldn’t exist. Hell, there isn’t even loyalty to travel sites. If there were, Kayak wouldn’t exist. People want to fly cheap and choosing an airline for a specific trip has but a short commitment. Next time you fly, you’re welcome to switch airlines with no extra work. Banks require more commitment, especially for those of us who have direct deposit. Switching is much more labor intensive.

The way I see it, that fourth reason explains a little about how airlines behave. This isn’t based on in-depth research, but my opinion of airline customer service has gone way down. I imagine many would agree. Well, if loyalty is at such a low, why go the extra mile?

Next post: I explain ways to make air commuters happier.

Veterans Day ’11

Last time I posted something about Veterans Day was in 2009 and I was behind on posting an entry about a different topic. More of the same this year.

I’ve had the privilege to take part in two Veterans Day ceremonies this year. Today I got to speak to a group of folks in town about my experiences since I joined the Army. On Wednesday, I got to hear a retired major general give a speech at a local base. Our speeches could not have been more different.

Like I said two years ago, saying “Happy Veterans Day” doesn’t cut it. What’s happy about it? It’s a day of remembrance and thanks, not celebration. It also isn’t a day to talk about the U.S. being the best country in the world, or to defend our involvement in wars, or to talk about politics, like my esteemed fellow veteran did in his speech earlier this week.

It’s called Veterans Day, folks. Veterans Day. Not OIF/OEF Day, not America day – Veterans Day. Today we honor the people who signed up – for whatever reason – to serve in uniform. Remember to do that today. Forget the primaries, forget the exit strategies, forget the companies that will try to use patriotism as a marketing tool all day; just remember to thank a veteran and shake his or her hand.

One day, Nov. 11 will return to its original meaning: a day to celebrate peace. Until then, remember that the reason you sleep well at night is because an elite group of men and women is willing to forgo the ease of civilian life to fight on your behalf. You may not agree with the justifications behind the fight, but sometimes neither do we. That’s part of the sacrifice and that’s part of what makes it such a special group.

Also, go Tar Heels!

Bank of America – Duh!

Bank of America announced today that, “in response to customer feedback and the changing competitive marketplace, Bank of America no longer intends to implement a debit usage fee.”

That got me thinking two things: First of which, could BoA not have predicted what the customer feedback would be back in September when it announced the debit card usage fee?

I just don’t know where to go. Are BoA executives living in such a Versailles-like separation from reality that they thought customers would be kosher with a new fee to access their own money? If this decision were run by the senior director of of corporate communication (making the assumption that said person were competent at his/her job), he or she would most certainly have gone ballistic in trying to prevent the fee from being implemented. Of course, any competent senior manager in communication could have seen how stakeholders like the media, the general public, the government, other regulatory agencies and your own customers react to news of fees after the bank received a corporate bailout and announced 30,000 layoffs.


A quick look at the Bank of America list of corporate officers shows that BoA’s director of corporate communication isn’t on the senior management team.

And there’s the rub.

Another organization that shows a disregard not only for the importance of seeing public relations as a management function takes an action to protect its bottom line without looking at the effects it would have on its most important stakeholders — those that keep the organization in business.

I’m not a genius, but I’d bet my car and my very cute and well behaved dog that, even with the announced repeal of the fee, BoA still sees a precipitous decline in its customer base and its already tarnished corporate reputation.

I’ll address the second question that came to mind tomorrow: Why is it that BoA couldn’t pull off this small five dollar fee when airlines have been able to pull off fees for everything from baggage to potato chips?

Dust in the Wind… and the Humvees

Last week. the president announced that the troops currently in Iraq will be home by the end of the year. That’s a big statement.

This post isn’t an endorsement or a criticism of that decision, but more of a caution about communicating huge promises like that.

When I got back from Iraq in 2004, I brought my camera to a friend of mine to see if he could clean it. “Can you clean all of Iraq out if it?” I asked.

“It depends on how much of Iraq you brought back in it,” he said.

And there’s the problem, folks. You maybe happy or angry about the fact that President Obama has promised to pull out the troops by the end of the year, but you probably have no idea what that means as far as logistics go.

If you’ve ever been to Iraq, you know that “sand” is barely the correct word to describe what’s on the ground there. Forget what you’ve seen at the beach in the Carolinas, folks. Iraqi sand is brown baby powder. Soldiers don’t follow one another closely while walking because the clouds that kick up with choke them if they do. Tissues turn black when you blow your nose. You have to shake your socks out at the end of the day – regardless what boots you wear. And, yes, even our poor cameras are full of sand after a couple of weeks. I remember the stores on base couldn’t keep cans of compressed air on the shelves…

So, that said, imagine what a Humvee looks like, or a Bradley, or an MRAP, after years of duty. In order to bring that stuff back, it needs more than a drive-thru car wash. In order to prevent the spread of invasive species and whatnot, all that sand has to be removed. All of it.

Plus, have you ever seen a helicopter get shipped? Pilots don’t fly Apaches home from Iraq. Those are washed too, then each one is shrink-wrapped. That’s not a five-minute process.

The president made a big promise to a group of stakeholders that doesn’t deserve any broken promises. I’m not a logistical genius, but I know that what the president promised requires more than a few thousand plane tickets. If he doesn’t deliver on this promise, it’ll be a public relations nightmare.

It’s Easy to Look Professional

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything here. Now that I’m getting back in the saddle, I’m starting with something simple…

When I was at UNC, I remember volunteering as a jury member in a mock trial for the law school. I sat and watched six law students argue a case and I helped render the verdict. I remember nothing about the case, but I do remember RHE.

RHE was a law student on the losing team of attorneys. I know his initials because he had them sewn into the cuffs of his shirt. I remember the cuffs of his shirt because thay were hanging out of his suit jacket the whole time. They were hanging out because his shirt sleeves were about four inches longer than his jacket sleeves. All I could look at was RHE, the entire case. Those three miserable, overly exposed letters. I voted for the other team for probably no other reason than RHE’s unnecessarily long sleeves.

Now that may sound shallow, but the truth is that there is such a thing as an attractiveness bias in humans. Part of it is conditioned; part is innate. Mothers pay more attention to more attractive babies and babies are more likely to look at pictures of attractive people. In the 1960 presidential debate between Nixon and Kennedy, people who listened to the debate on the radio thought Nixon won, while people who watched on television thought Kennedy won (look at video from the debate if you need help understanding why).

When you take this into consideration, you can understand the need to look professional, especially in fields that require you to be in front of people. Credibility is important and, quite frankly, looking dumb can hurt your credibility (right, RHE?). Now listen, I’m not saying you need to go out right now and buy Brooks Brothers suits or anything. What I mean to say is that there are some simple rules you can follow to look professional — not better for the club or the gym or whatever — that can prevent you from losing credibility before you even open your mouth.

Sorry, ladies. This is for the guys.

First, for heaven’s sake, wear clothes that are the right length. Your pants should touch the back of your shoes and there should be no more than one break in the front of the pantleg. If you’re wearing a blazer, your shirt sleeves should just barely peek out at your wrist when you’re standing with your back straight. If you’re wearing a jacket, I shouldn’t be able to see if you have your initials on your shirt cuffs…

Never button the bottom button of your blazer. I don’t care if it’s 60 degrees below zero; that button isn’t going to help. No blazer in the world, except for double-breasted blazers and military uniforms, should have the bottom button buttoned under any circumstances. Period.

Use an iron. Use collar stays. Nothing makes you look more apathetic than wrinkly clothes or a curled-up collar.

Clean your shoes. Having dirty shoes makes you look lazy. Buy some saddle soap and a rag and you’ll be doing better than the average guy.

When all else fails, wear solids. Some patterns can work together, like wearing a dotted tie with a striped shirt, but don’t be edgy on this. There’s a difference between being a trendsetter and looking like a fool. Try to avoid both in a professional setting.

Wearing brown shoes? Wear a brown belt. Black shoes? Black belt. That simple.

OK, those are easy ones. Remember that in a professional setting, you not only represent yourself, you also represent your organization. Remember the stinky kid in your elementary school class? He didn’t just represent himself; he also represented his parents. Don’t be the stinky kid.

Have more simple advice? I’d love to hear it. This is most certainly a subject I’ll return to regularly…

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Celebrate Yet…

As an Army Reservist, I had to attend training this month to gain an understanding of what the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell means to current servicemembers.

I’m glad the policy is being repealed. It’s a great step toward equality, but let’s not overestimate how large a step it is. After going through this training, I found the effects of the repeal to be somewhat underwhelming. Here’s a brief explanation why. Mind you, this is my summary with my opinions and it is not an official word from the Army or any other organization with which I’m affiliated.

There are certain privileges married servicemembers receive: They get paid more for having dependents, they get certain bonuses during deployments, they get to bring their spouses on a lot of overseas assignments, they get health care for their families, etc. For servicemembers married to fellow servicemembers, they get a fairly common assurance that they will be sent on many of the same assignments as their spouses. If they are on the same deployment in a combat zone, they often get to cohabitate.

So what of these benefits will be bestowed upon homosexual couples? None.

The military follows the federal law that does not recognize homosexual marriage. So even if a homosexual couple is legally married in New York, the military will not recognize that marriage. A homosexual’s spouse is not eligible for military health care. A married homosexual does not receive extra pay for having a dependent and does not receive the deployment-based separation bonus for leaving his/her spouse behind.

Let’s talk about what’s called command sponsorship. If a married heterosexual servicemember gets sent to Germany for a couple of years, he is eligible for command sponsorship for his family. That means he can request that the military facilitate and pay for the movement of his family to accompany him. Quite simply, the military makes it legal for the servicemember and his family to live in Germany without having to get visas or go through any other legal hurdles. If a homosexual servicemember is sent on an assignment to Germany, command sponsorship is not an option; he can’t even apply for it. That means he has to pay for his spouse’s/lover’s airfare and has to go through all the loops required to make it legal.

All that’s changed is that a servicemember can now openly admit to being a homosexual. That’s it.

Not that that’s insignificant. Again, I’m glad we’re looking at an official announcement about the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell today. I applaud everyone involved for having the courage and common sense necessary to get us this far. But I think we need to recognize that the fight isn’t over. Homosexual sevicemembers still have a ways to go before being afforded the same rights as heterosexuals serving in the military.

UK got it right in getting it wrong

Admittedly, I really dislike University of Kentucky athletics.

Admittedly, I really, really dislike John Calipari.

Maybe that’s it’s taken me so long to post what I’m about to post: UK athletics made the right call in rewarding Cal for his 500th win on Saturday.

If you haven’t heard about this, UK basketball beat Florida on Saturday, which was the 500th game John Calipari has won as a coach. After the game, UK recognized Cal and he briefly posed with the game ball in celebration. Problem is, it was only the 458th game Calipari won as a coach.

Confused? Here’s the deal: Coach Cal coached two teams that were forced to forfeit a total of 42 wins because of NCAA rules violations. Though Cal was never found to be at fault for those infractions at Memphis and UMass, the ruling from the NCAA calls for the victories to be stricken both from the schools’ records and the coach’s. So, according to the NCAA, the win over Florida was Cal’s 458th.

There’s been a lot of speculation over whether Cal’s a dirty coach or just unlucky, and frankly, the opinions of fans don’t count. Kentucky took a risk in hiring Calipari and most of the UK faithful have embraced him. He’s brought in good recruits and took a young and incredibly talented team to the Elite Eight last season. He’s on just about every commercial on television in Kentucky. What UK did on Saturday was exactly what a good employer should do: it stood behind its employee, who just so happens to be the face of the college basketball program..

Again, I don’t like Cal and I don’t pull for UK. At all. I do respect what UK did though. It solidified the base of UK fans against the NCAA, which doesn’t have the best reputation for its enforcement of rules. By hiring Calipari, UK made it known that it doesn’t believe Calipari was guilty of breaking rules anyway. True UK fans were forced to accept that conclusion and most of those I’ve met (and argued with) have come to the same conclusion. It was therefore only right to award the coach for hitting 500. It doesn’t matter if you go with UK’s count or the NCAA’s, Kentucky stuck to its guns in recognizing the win.

So, while I won’t go so far as to congratulate Coach Cal, I do congratulate UK athletics for staying consistent in its decisions and making the right call.

To Be 31

It’s my birthday. I’m 31 today. That’s a big deal. To most people, the only birthdays that matter after one turns 21 are the ones that end with a zero. For me, yeah, turning 30 was significant, but I’m putting a lot of stock in turning 31. Here’s why:
Twenties? Forget ‘em. They’re fun. You do things, but one step doesn’t necessarily lead to the next in your 20′s. You’re having fun, you’re figuring things out, then you turn 30.
My first day as a 30-year-old (a Friday), I taught a class of seven undergraduate students about journalism. Then I went out drinking (I was still in grad school). Think about the meaning of numbers in relation to age. Yeah, 30 is a biggie. To anyone in their 20′s, it’s a sign of impending “oldness.” But when you’re 30, you’re still trying to convince everyone you’re the same person you were at 29. So, really, nothing changed. Thirty is kinda old, but not really – still young, still somewhat immature, still not considered as having seniority.
So you have a year to grow out of this. Grow. Out of it. What’s 31? It’s the year you truly understand you’re no longer in your 20′s. You cuss, then you carry on. You learn the difference between growing older and getting older. You learn the difference between earning and receiving. Gerald Brenan said, “Old age takes away from us what we have inherited and gives us what we have earned.” This is a guy who tried to walk to China, folks. From where, you ask? Don’t worry about it. China is far away. He knew what he was talking about.
I can say that because I’m 31. Totally different from 30. It’s not numerical – it’s psychological. It’s like how they say the new millenium actually began in 2001 instead of 2000. Well, the 30′s officially begin at 31. Thirty is a transitory year. Thirty-one exudes confidence. Thirty-one exudes maturity. Thirty-one is the 30′s-level equivalent of Ralphie beating up Scott Vargas. It’s the equivalent of Cameron Frye trashing his father’s Ferrari. It’s Miles stealing back Christine’s engagement ring when Jack left it at that waitress’ house. I am stealing back the engagement ring. Well, today, I steal that ring back and save Jack’s marriage. I kick a Ferrari out of an elevated glass garage. I beat the crap out of a yellow-eyed red-headed bully.
Today, I’m 31. Word.

Dear Butch: Listen Up…

I normally wouldn’t blog about sports because I really don’t devote enough time to following them, so I don’t feel enough like a subject matter expert. But as I watch Gameday today and see all of the LSU fans with their clever signs trashing UNC, I’m moved to words.

If you haven’t heard about UNC Footballs’ offseason woes, go here.

No one in Chapel Hill is smiling today. People who love UNC and everyone who attended UNC is proud of the School. We consider our School a reputable and respectable institution in academics and athletics. What these selfish players did – breaking team rules at the very least (although the suspicion is that they did much worse) – really pisses me and all other Carolina fans off.

So here you go, Coach Davis. Here’s your chance to set the standard and rise above other programs where things like this are happening.

Cut them.

All of them.

I live in Kentucky, about 20 minutes away from this group of yahoos who think that UK is “the best basketball tradition in the world.” Seriously, they have t-shirts that say that. I take a lot of pride in saying that no institution that cares about its reputation would hire a swindler like John Calipari as a coach. Now, should someone who works in community relations say things like that about a local hero? Maybe not, but that’s a different discussion. I can say that because UNC has Roy Williams, a man who would die before hurting the reputation of the team he represents.

The point is thatI’d rather lose to Duke in football every season than have the reputation of a School that I love be sullied by a bunch of selfish kids.

Cut ‘em, coach. Get rid of them, and let’s move on.


Why I won’t wear my Dutch jersey this weekend

As the World Cup approaches close, I’m reminded that Americans largely aren’t very good fans.

People all over the world have spent the last month chanting, cheering and raving about the world’s largest championship. Here in the U.S., our concerns over the tournament seemed largely limited to the bad calls that took away our goals, because we want the world to know that we’re happier complaining than cheering. Once Ghana knocked us out (again), our minds went back to figuring out what to do over the long weekend.

We Americans kinda suck at this. Here, being a fan doesn’t mean anything. How many Duke fans do you know who actually went to Duke? How many people in Red Sox hats actually had those hats five years ago? Soccer’s even worse. No one wears L.A. Galaxy jerseys; they wear Man U or Christiano Ronaldo jerseys — not because they’re from Manchester or Portugal, but because Man U and Ronaldo are good. People’s affinity toward teams is so fluid that turning on a ceiling fan will make most fans change their allegiance. How many Miami Heat jerseys do you think are going to sell in Topeka this week? I bet it’ll be a lot.

I have a friend who’s never been to Brazil. He doesn’t speak Portuguese, he’s not South American… he doesn’t even look good in yellow. But he refers to Brazil’s team as “my boys.” Don’t ask me why. I lived in Germany so I pull for the Germans, but I’d never call them “my” team.

I have this Dutch jersey that I bought a long time ago simply because I like the color. So, yeah, I’m guilty too. I don’t own an American jersey. But it’s never too late to change. I’m not Dutch and I’ve only visited the Netherlands twice. This weekend, my Dutch orange will stay on the shelf.