The Dismal State of American Airlines

I have been a decades long loyal American Airlines Flyer. I am approaching three (3) million miles on American Airlines alone! You can’t say I didn’t give them my best shot.

However, I am close to finding another airline for my business. Most recently, my experience was pretty dismal – as posted here. In fairness, the airline awarded each of us 10,000 bonus miles for the unplanned adventure.

Then I just came across this post for another traveler:

The Dismal State Of American Airlines Flagship First Class – Live and Let’s Fly (

It certainly looks like this flight attendant was not trained. If I were treated like that at the local Subway shop, I’d find another sandwich place. If I paid $2,000 or more for a first class seat, and I’d get this treatment, I’d find another airline.

I am not sure what’s going on with American, but things are not well.

Visiting Hemingway’s House in Key West

Last week we visited Key West, Florida, for a few days. There are two very famous Key West citizens whose presence is felt all over the island. One is Jimmy Buffett, the American singer and songwriter, author, actor and businessman, who is best known for his music, which often portrays an “island escapism” lifestyle. He started his career partly in Key West, and “Buffett-stuff” is all over the island. The other famous Key West citizen is Ernest Hemingway, who lived there in the 1930ies.

We visited Hemingway’s house, which is now a well-preserved museum dedicated to his life and legacy. Here is a view of the house.

I found it riveting to be walking through the rooms where he lived, including his bedroom and the master bathroom, the sleeping quarters for the nanny, and the room where his kids slept.

But most inspiring was seeing his writing studio. Here I am at the foot of the stairs. The studio door is at the top of the stairs above my head:

Here is another view of the building from the other side:

I was able to enter the studio. I was alone while there, behind a fence to keep out tourists, of course. I had plenty of time to just reflect.

This room, museum staff told us, is largely untouched as it was when Hemingway wrote there in the 1930ies. This is his actual chair and table. You can see one of the 54 cats on the property under the chair on the left. It is said that all the cats are descendants of Hemingway’s cats. He went up into that studio before breakfast every day to write at least 700 words. 70 percent of Hemingway’s work was written in this room, including the following novels:

  • A Farewell to Arms
  • Death in the Afternoon
  • Green Hills of Africa
  • To Have and Have Not
  • The Fifth Column
  • For Whom the Bell Tolls
  • Snows of Kilimanjaro

It turns out, I have only read one Hemingway book: The Old Man and the Sea, and I have read that several times. I have no review of it published here, since the readings were all before 2007 when I started this blog.  I once tried to read The Sun Also Rises, but could not finish it. Here is my short review.

Being in that studio inspired me, and I decided to give it another shot and read some Hemingway.

After the visit to the Hemingway house, we went across the street to climb the historic lighthouse:

Here is a look back to Hemingway’s property from the top of the lighthouse:

If you find yourself visiting Key West, I strongly recommend you visit this museum. The entry fee is $18 per person – cash only – yes, but it’s well worth it.

The Special Hell of Flying American Airlines

My wife and I attended a wedding in Key West, Florida, this past weekend. We flew from San Diego to Miami on a non-stop red-eye flight on Wednesday night and arrived there first thing Thursday morning. Then we rented a car and drove down all the way along the Florida Keys, since we had never done that before and wanted to see what that was like. No regrets.

Our return trip was also a non-stop, leaving at 9:20pm Sunday night, scheduled to arrive just before midnight in San Diego. Enough time to go home, get a good (short) night’s sleep to be ready for work on Monday morning.

At about 5:00pm when we got to the airport, the airline alerted us that the flight was delayed to leave at 11:11pm. Ok, not too bad. We checked our luggage and went to the Admirals Club to relax while we waited. When we showed up at the gate at about 10:30, the airline posted that the flight would now depart at 12:18am. The incoming flight was late due to mechanical problems. Then the flight was delayed again to 2:30am, because one of the pilots had timed out of his 12-hour window and they had to find a new reserve pilot. They soon told us they had found one, but it would take time for him to dress, drive to the airport, park, take the shuttle and get to the gate. At 2:30, they finally boarded us, even though there was no captain or pilot on board yet. When we were ready at about 3:00am, I saw a pilot, but no captain. They then told us that we would have to get off the plane, and we would leave at 6:30am, but this time “for real.”

So rather than telling us at 5:00 that there’d be trouble, giving us a chance to rebook another way home, they kept stringing all 200 of us in the gate area along one hour at a time.

If I had known that the plane would not leave until 6:30am, I would have found a nearby hotel and got a good night’s sleep and showed up at 6:30 for the flight. Did they know? I cannot tell. It’s now 4:04am in the Miami airport as I am typing this and I really don’t know if we’re really leaving at 6:30.

This kind of stuff happens too often these days. Weather, mechanical issues, labor regulations, and sheer apparent planning incompetence get in the way, and air travel is no longer reliable.

If this country had a decent high-speed rail system, I would have booked a ticket for the 12-hour ride from Miami to San Diego, I would have slept the night, and arrived on time without stress.

Instead, we are literally trying to sleep on the hard carpet at gate D16 in the Miami airport.

And this is the special hell of flying American Airlines today.

Regensburg was one of the Largest Cities in Europe in 1050

Largest Cities in 1050 in Europe and North Africa – Click for Credit in Reddit

I found this map in a Reddit post. Please note that the post itself has way more information in the comments than I could possibly provide here.

What struck me about this is that Regensburg was the largest city in Germany, and one of the nine largest cities in Europe altogether. I grew up in Regensburg, and I know the city well. I always knew it was one of the oldest cities in Germany. Incidentally, it was also one of the few that did not get bombed out in WW II, so many of the old churches and buildings are still intact. I remember clearly as a boy walking the city and never being much impressed with the “Altstadt” – the old town, but that’s what I had grown up with, so I knew of no other reality.

I have a few photographs I took during a visit in March of 2014 . Here is the center of the city with the famous cathedral. The towers are 100 meters high.

Regensburg City Center seen from the Danube

The very oldest settlements of the city can be dated back to 5,000 years BC.  Regenburg was a Roman fort with the name of Castra Regina 2,000 years ago. There are still remnants of the old city wall in downtown, right there for anyone to view – and touch. As a child, I was not impressed much, but as an adult, and particularly an American, going back and  walking the old city streets, I always have a sense of awe.

Regensburg is located at the northernmost tip of the Danube. It is navigable there, but only for a few miles upstream before it gets too rough. Two smaller rivers, the Regen and the Naab, join the Danube at Regensburg from the north. Due to this important strategic location, on the trade routes between Paris, Kiev and south to Venice, the city was an important crossroads and a center of trade for millennia. With a population of over 40,000, the wealthy city was larger than Rome, Paris and Cologne at that time.

It’s astonishing that Rome didn’t even make this list. Rome had a population of about 30,000 then, down from more than a million in the heyday of the Roman empire. Baghdad was the largest city of all on this map.

In 1135, a stone bridge was erected there called die Steinerne Brücke, which is still standing to this day. When I was a boy, there was still two-way automobile traffic allowed across the bridge, but it was closed decades ago and only left open to foot traffic. I walk over the bridge wrapped in nostalgia every time I visit Regensburg nowadays. Here is a photo I took in 2014, walking on the bridge:

Regensburg from the Old Stone Bridge

At the northern end of the stone bridge is the old historic sausage kitchen, called die Historische Wurstküchl. At an age of 500 years it is one of the oldest continuously operating restaurants in Europe. They make their bratwurst the same way now they did 500 years ago, and I recommend a visit to any tourist. One notable fact is that the restaurant gets flooded every few decades, with the water of the Danube reaching halfway up the first story of the building. When you look carefully on their website, you will see some signs in the restaurant, showing how high the water was:

In the above picture, you can see my red arrow pointing on a plaque in the wall: Wasserhöhe means water level. The date of March 27, 1988 shows when the water was up to that point. But this has been going on for centuries as the Danube floods from time to time, and they just clean up and continue with business.

Here is one more view of the city from the bridge:


And that’s what went through my mind when I stumbled across that Reddit post.

On a Flight with Paul Gosar

On a recent trip to Washington, DC this week, as I boarded my American Airlines flight and walked back to my coach seat, I saw a face looking up at me that I recognized. He looked up, we locked eyes for a fraction of a second, and both abandoned it.

I sat down in the row behind him. It was the controversial Republican Congressman from Arizona, Paul Gosar.

I pulled up his Wikipedia page and remained entertained for about half an hour. Needless to say, I am not very aligned with his views. Remember, this is the guy whose own brothers and sisters endorsed his opponent in his re-election run, because they thought he was too much of a crackpot.

He spent the entire four hours of flying time hunched over his phone reading things, but also with some interludes paying Solitaire.

I always sit in the exit rows and the seat next to me was empty. I guess he could easily have ended up sitting next to me.

I have to admit, I do not know whether I would have had any conversation with him in that case. I normally do not engage with fellow travelers at all. Yes, I am that guy. But I don’t know if I could have held myself back.

I don’t think anyone else around us recognized him, and at the end, I walked off the plane in DC right behind him. He met somebody there, and I walked on. We never talked.

Moon Setting over Manhattan

The weather was pretty dismal during my stay in New York the last couple of days. It was rainy, and misty, and most the time you could not see beyond the next few buildings. Of course, it does not help that it gets dark at 4:30 in the afternoon.

This morning, as I was getting ready to depart, I looked out the window of my hotel room on the 7th floor of the Hilton at JFK. It was clear, and the sun had just risen high enough to light up a few tall buildings in distant Manhattan. With the moon setting over the city, partly behind clouds, it was a magical moment. Here is the best photograph I could get through a fairly dirty hotel window.

That was my parting view.

Best View in New York City and Nostalgia

Yesterday I visited New York City and spent a day working at the offices of our company’s financial partners. On my way there, as I stepped out of the Uber right in the middle of Rockefeller Center, I had this view of the famous Christmas tree:

When I stood there and looked down at the skating rink, I realized that I had stood at this very spot some 47 years ago with a group of my fellow exchange students, leaning on the very railing in the bottom of this picture:

I searched the archives in my home computer and found this photo. It was taken in July 1975. I am the guy with the blue shirt and bushy hair. Yes, I had hair when I was 18. The girl in front of me is holding on to the railing you see in the first picture with the Christmas tree.

After this short trip down memory lane, I went upstairs and they put me in a vacant corner office. I looked out the window, and this was my view:

You can look down on the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center. The stairs where I had just taken the above picture are on the right.

Then I turned to the other window in the corner office, and here is St. Patrick’s Cathedral, in the rainy mist of New York in December.

Once I was done with my business in the afternoon and left, I surely wanted to go back down there and look up at the building from where I had just looked down:

Of course, the place was now chock full of tourists, all taking pictures and selfies with the tree. I am sure Facebook has another 10,000 such photographs posted today, right?

By the way, all the city’s hotels were sold out. The cheapest rooms to be found in not so exciting hotels cost over $1,200 / night. I asked the Hilton why this was and they basically said that there is so much pent-up demand to visit New York during the holidays after the emptiness of the Covid years.

New York City is definitely back!

Rents are too High

This morning I had a few hours to take a walk around the block from my hotel in Washington, DC. Two blocks south, I tried to stop in to visit Joe, but I was told he was on a Ticket to Paradise in Bali. Oh, well, next time.

But there were many other visitors. Here was a group protesting high rents in the city. I don’t think anybody listened much to them.

Just one block north from that spot, a two-minute walk away, is McPherson Square. The whole park is one big tent city. This is the reality of the capital of the wealthiest nation in the world – two blocks away from the White House.

I guess the rents are too high.

American Airlines Sucks

I hate to say this, but American Airlines sucks.

I have flown over 2.5 million miles on American over a period of about 30 years. I was in the top elite tier (Executive Platinum) for many years and the Covid travel crash bumped me off and now I am a “mere” lifetime Platinum member. So I still get some perks.

It’s always been bad and challenging to claim travel credits with American Airlines. Here is a post I made 11 years ago about how their travel vouchers are almost impossible to use. It hasn’t gotten any better – maybe worse.

A couple of months ago my wife and I were in Croatia on vacation. We flew on American, but the connector from London to Zagreb was on their partner, British Airways. We had a layover in London Heathrow. While I am at it, do not get me started on Heathrow. I HATE HEATHROW, everything about it. When going to Europe, I always try to avoid it as a stopover, but that’s another rant for another time….

While in Croatia, my wife tested positive for Covid a few hours before we needed to board our flight home out of Zagreb. She was not allowed to get on the plane. Since business and other matters required that one of us get home, we separated, she stayed marooned in a Croatian hotel for what turned out to be another 9 days, while I went home while I could – while I tested negative. The agent for British Airways told me that in order to get a flight credit, I’d better call my airline before I boarded, so I would not lose her part of the ticket. I called the elite desk for Executive Platinum at American Airlines, and after a two minute tape on how I should go online it told me that they were closed. It was a Saturday afternoon in Croatia, so it was very early AM in the U.S. Then I made another call to the general reservation line, only to get the same message after listening for a few minutes to their drivel.

Now mind you, American’s main reservation line is advertised to be open 24 hours a day, which is what I’d expect from a major airline. People don’t just need help on the phone with the largest airline in the world while it’s business hours in Dallas, Texas.

Eventually, I just had to board my flight home alone, wait for the weekend to pass, until I could get an agent on the phone during normal business hours in Dallas. It then took about an hour with that agent to get about $450 of credit back for her portion of the abandoned ticket. That credit is now in an account in the American Airlines’ system.

I have since tried to use that credit three times for three other bookings, but have not been successful. While the website says I should be able to use a credit when I pay for a ticket, it does not work.

As you can see in the screenshot above, there are two buttons at the beginning of the payment process, where you think you might be able to use your credit. When you click on either of them, it gives you this message:

Not very helpful, right? Why is the button there in the first place if you are not able to use it? When you click on “Contact Reservations”, you get to this screen:

The phone number shown at the yellow arrow is the main reservation line. At the red arrow, you see it’s open 24 hours a day. This is the number I have been calling. When you call this number, you first have to listen to about 2 minutes of bullshit stuff, like how much easier it is to go to their website, and then it finally tells you they are closed! On a Saturday afternoon at 3:00pm!

I just bought my third ticket at full face value without being able to use the flight credit I have on the books. My crime: I am not calling during normal business hours Dallas time. So in order to use my credit, I need to wait to book my next flight at just the right time, on a weekday (while I am working) and be prepared to be on the phone for an hour, first waiting to get an agent who can help me — they are all so busy all the time — and then fumble my way through applying the credit I have on file.

Maybe I need to take my travel business to another airline after 30 years of loyalty to American?


AFS Reunion in Croatia

About 30 former AFS exchange students in 1974 from over 14 different countries, many with their spouses, had a reunion in Croatia this week.

We came to this reunion from Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Croatia, England, Luxembourg, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Thailand and the US. I maybe forgetting a country or two.

We’re all 64 or 65 years old, and share one life-changing experience, a year abroad in the US with the AFS program. Here is a group picture.

Here are some of us on our first day in the country getting some much needed refreshments.

Here is a shot of us at the initial welcome dinner in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia.

For about 10 days, all these 65-year-olds were 18 again.

Visiting The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C.

On a trip to Washington, D.C., where there are more art museums than in any city in America I know, we visited The Phillips Collection.

This boutique museum holds a most incredible collection of astonishing quality. There are several van Gogh works, countless pieces by Monet and Cezanne, and above all, the most Picasso works in one place I have ever seen. There must have been more than 100 Picassos, featuring “the Blue Period” early in his career.

I can highly recommend The Phillips Collection.

Here is a brilliant van Gogh where I lingered for quite a while before I moved on:

House of Auvers by Vincent van Gogh

Marvels of Travel

Back on the road again.

I was at the Dallas / Ft.Worth (DWF) airport on the inter-terminal train and saw this sign above two of the seats:

It made me think of all the great needs I have and promptly sat down.

A little later I boarded my connecting flight, an Airbus 321, and I got a little discombobulated about this little guy staring at me.

Once you see a face, you cannot unsee it. He stared at me for two hours, and it became disconcerting.

A Lanyard with a Message

This week I embarked on my very first business trip since the March 2020 shutdown. I attended a conference at the Cincinnati Convention Center.

Conference attendees had to wear masks at all times in the facility, and there are always name badges, of course. They usually come with a lanyard, which are generally sponsored and paid for by one of the attending vendors and contain the company name for advertising purposes.

Here is mine:

When I picked up my badge, there were three colors of lanyards to choose from with a sign describing the meaning:

Green – I am comfortable with hugs and handshakes.

White – Keep distance and fist bumps only.

Red – Do not come close!

I picked green. There were a few friends I had not seen in two years that were huggers. I was fine with that.

Most people wore green, quite a substantial percentage wore white, and I do not remember seeing any red. I am sure there were some.

And that’s a lanyard with a message.