March 31, 2015
Any regular reader of this column knows that I hate flying. I love travel, but getting there by air is a pain… and getting worse. Our local airports are vying for third-world status. The security searches by the TSA make a colonoscopy look like fun. And once on the plane, the airlines’ seats and service make The Fung Wah Bus seem like a viable alternative.
Why is it that airlines are all vying for the cheapest products instead of the best? Why this race to the bottom where low-cost-carriers like Spirit and Southwest are the models instead of overseas service exemplars like Singapore and Emirates?
I, for one, am willing to pay more to get more. I may not opt for first class, but I will only fly in business class on flights to California. It’s worth it.
But the legacy carriers like American and United ask for $1600 one-way from NY to LAX, and they get it. Their business class is full thanks to frequent flyer upgrades. But now there’s a cheaper, better alternative: JetBlue.
When JetBlue began as a low-cost carrier in 2000, it found a loyal following by offering high frequency, friendly and comfortable flights. Today they are an international carrier serving 87 destinations with more than 200 aircraft. And they have one of the hottest terminals at JFK, T5.
And ten of their newest planes, A-321’s, now offer a new product, “Mint”, with truly first class seating at lower-than-business class fares. I finally had a chance to sample the service on a recent flight to LAX.
First, there’s the seating. There are just 16 seats with full, six foot lie-flat beds. I lucked out and got one of the four “private cabins” with 22-inch wide seats and a sliding door to the corridor. My TV was a 15-inch flat-screen with live satellite feed, movies and SiriusXM Radio. I had two AC outlets and a pair of USB plugs keeping all my gear fully-charged.
When I boarded I found a welcome note, written by hand, from the flight crew thanking me for my business. Also awaiting was a full duvet and pillow, an amenities kit and free Wi-Fi, coast to coast.
After take-off came the usual beverages and a most unusual meal… the choice of three tapas-like entrees from a menu of five on offer, prepared by Saxon+Parole. The lobster mac-and-cheese was to die for. But they also had Kosher, vegan and gluten-free options. And coming soon, an on-board cappuccino machine.
The service was amazing. This was one of the best flights ever, and I’ve logged miles for decades on five continents. And the ticket was only $599 one-way. I’d gladly have paid more.
The bad news is this amazing product is only available on flights from JFK to LAX (7 a day) and San Francisco (5 times daily). Rumor has it they may also add transcon flights from Boston, but you won’t by flying “Mint” on your way to Orlando anytime soon. To the Caribbean, maybe.
So kudos to “New York’s hometown airline” for continuing to be innovative in offering more for less and making flying fun again!
March 14, 2015
Don’t look now, but Governor Malloy’s trying to take your land, or at least control of the land around your local train or bus station.
|Proposed Stamford TOD Project|
When the CDOT recently tried to shove a private development down the throats of Stamford under the guise of “transit oriented development” in replacing the garage at the train station, city fathers were justifiably upset. They voted through a zoning change giving them some say on the project, as well they should.
As revenge Governor Malloy is now proposing a statewide “Transit Corridor Development Authority” (TCDA) that would bigfoot the towns and cities, giving the state control over land, buildings and development within a half-mile of all transit stations.
Your favorite coffee shop across from your Metro-North stop could be torn down and replaced with offices. Parking lots could be enlarged with fees set by the CDOT, not the towns where the lots reside. If the state wants to erect a building taller than local zoning laws allow, too bad… they can and will. As one critic described it, this is “eminent domain on steroids”.
The TCDA would be run by political appointees, a majority controlled by the Governor and not answerable to the local residents whose land would be affected. The agency could issue its own bonds financed by rents and taxes on the very structures they want built. And the agency would continue with this power forever, under “perpetual succession”.
The TCDA would have the power to condemn property that it alone claims it needs to further its goals. Town and regional planning and zoning boards can just go pound sand, powerless to stop them.
Because train and stations are usually in the downtown of cities and towns, those municipalities would lose control of the development destiny of their very core. The Governor’s bill would have us believe that Hartford, or this new agency of political hacks, knows what’s best for us, not our elected mayors and first selectmen.
It’s been proven that the private developer chosen for the Stamford garage project just happened to have donated $165,000 to the State Democrats before and after his selection. Yet, there’s nothing in the Governor’s TCDA bill (HB 6851) to prevent such “pay for play” activities.
Were Dannel Malloy still mayor of Stamford he would scream bloody murder if a bill like this was introduced in Hartford. But as Governor he seems to have no qualms at telling 169 towns and cities in this state that he knows best… that Hartford will determine if skyscrapers built by private developers should be plopped down in your town and mine.
“Transit oriented development” makes sense and should be encouraged. We all need to promote housing and commercial growth focusing on our train and bus stations. But this is a local issue, not a state right.
If we are to preserve the local identity and feel of our communities, we must stop the Governor’s land grab and keep control of our destiny. Tell your State Representative and State Senator you oppose HB 6851 and Malloy’s land-grab.
March 02, 2015
What three letters strike fear in the hearts of every Connecticut motorist? DWI? NSA? No, the DMV, our beloved Department of Motor Vehicles.
I had the pleasure of getting my new “verified” drivers license at their Norwalk office recently, girding myself for what the DMV’s own website promised would be a two and a quarter hour ordeal.
Arriving at 1 pm to a full parking lot, I knew I was in trouble. After eleven minutes in the firstline, “Information”, I received my number, A104, and was told to wait. At that point the automated system was calling A70 along with D759 and a few B numbers. As numbers were called, people would scurry to the assigned window, but as time wore on, people moved from griping to just bailing out, leaving some numbers called but nobody appearing. That helped move things along.
My number was finally called at 2:15 pm for a transaction that lasted all of four minutes. The clerk was pleasant and efficient. I paid my $72 fee (set by the legislature) on a credit card, waited another six minutes for my picture, and was out the door at 2:37 pm.
There are 2.6 million active drivers licenses in Connecticut and 430,000 are renewed each year, most of them by mail. But every six years your renewal requires a new photo and more recently, an in-person visit, thanks to Homeland Security’s “Real ID” program.
As of October 2020, only “verified” drivers’ licenses (or a passport) will get you past the TSA and onto a plane. “Verified” means your license has been issued after you show the DMV a slew of documents… passport, W2, birth certificate, bank statement, pilot’s license… proving both legal residency and identity.
And as that 2020 deadline draws closer and people realize their driver’s license is really an ID card giving you permission to fly, the lines will get even longer.
My approval for a new license took just minutes because I had more than enough documentation. But anyone ahead of me in line lacking even one crucial certificate slowed up the process. ( After my ordeal I found that, as a AAA member, I could have got my license at one of their offices for a small convenience fee.)
Add to the mix the thousands of undocumented aliens seeking drivers’ licenses now allowed under a new law, and you get the sense that the DMV is getting very busy.
The agency has added staff, but the offices are still jammed. The DMV says that Wednesday and Friday mornings have the shortest waits, but who’s got a job that lets them take off that much time for a paper chase?
All told my experience at the DMV wasn’t too bad. The clerks were as speedy as their cumbersome process allowed and they even had a nice little coffee and snack stand in the waiting area. I just am grateful this is only necessary once every six years. Seeya in 2021!