I have no idea if he’s right about Silvercar. But as some­one who used to have all kinds of élite sta­tus with all kinds of travel com­pa­nies, I can tes­tify to the big­ger truths he’s get­ting at.

The Future of Luxury: Avoiding People:

When Silvercar sells you car rental that “doesn’t suck,” they’re really sell­ing you car rental that doesn’t involve ordi­nary peo­ple, that end arounds the inef­fi­cien­cies of large-scale prac­tice by buy­ing out of it. The truth is, Hertz doesn’t suck. Avis doesn’t suck. Sure, things about them suck, like the usu­ri­ous fuel charges they impose if you return a car with­out refill­ing its tank… It’s not car rental that sucks, but deal­ing with the every­man, being in his pres­ence, even know­ing he exists…

This isn’t a busi­ness meant for the pub­lic any­way. It’s a tech startup ulti­mately des­tined to ser­vice the beau monde élite pro­duced by enter­tain­ment, by energy, by finance, by other tech star­tups. A lux­ury car only gets to be a lux­ury if not every­body gets one…

My dri­ver pulls up to the Delta ter­mi­nal, curb­side, directly in front of the Medallion pri­or­ity check-in (I nod as he asks, “You have pri­or­ity with Delta, right?”). I check in for my flight—my upgrade had cleared—and head to the Delta SkyClub to cash in on unearned elit­ism. As I sit in the quiet of the lounge sip­ping my com­pli­men­tary latte, I try to remind myself how good I have it. How can I even tell this story, full of priv­i­lege and for­tune? Few will empathize with me and my priv­i­leged upper mid­dle-class lifestyle perks, nor should they.

Read the rest

For the past sev­eral days, there’s been a lot of chat­ter on the inter­webs about a sug­ges­tion (which seems to have really taken off with this HuffPost arti­cle by Rabbi Jason Miller) that peo­ple boy­cott put pres­sure on Delta because “Delta will add Saudi Arabian Airlines to its SkyTeam Alliance of part­ner­ing com­pa­nies and would require Delta to ban Jews and hold­ers of Israeli pass­ports from board­ing flights to Saudi Arabia.” My col­leagues on UPGRD​.com, Matthew and Hunter, have offered thought­ful and thor­ough responses, as have pod­cast con­trib­u­tors Ben and Gary. Normally, I’d stay out of this to avoid the redun­dancy. But since I’m in the unique posi­tion of being an occa­sional UPGRD con­trib­u­tor and also some­one who works pro­fes­sion­ally in the Jewish com­mu­nity, I felt like I should jump in. Below is the sec­ond of two posts on the topic, both of which are cross-posted on my UPGRD​.com blog and on my per­sonal blog.

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  • May 28, 2011

(cross posted to my upgrd​.com blog)

A part of me wants to write a long post ana­lyz­ing the prob­lems with CNNMoney’s “Best Frequent Flyer Programs.” I’m really tempted to go point-by-point in order to illus­trate just how stu­pid their rank­ings are. Their cri­te­ria are incon­sis­tent, their expla­na­tions for why cer­tain pro­grams are best ignore the fact that other air­lines offer sim­i­lar (or even bet­ter) perks, and they totally ignore the fact that the pro­grams avail­able from domes­tic-only* dis­count car­ri­ers don’t allow for inter­na­tional and pre­mium-class redemp­tion.

But truth be told, I’m actu­ally thank­ful for arti­cles like CNNMoney’s. For those of us who actu­ally want to get the most out of our miles — namely inter­na­tional pre­mium-class awards — it’s prob­a­bly bet­ter if peo­ple blow their miles on crappy domes­tic coach tick­ets. Sure… it breaks my heart that poor saps who don’t know bet­ter are blow­ing valu­able miles on tick­ets they prob­a­bly could buy out-of-pocket when they could be using the same amount (or just a bit more) to fly in lux­ury to exotic locales. But with a lim­ited quan­tity of high-value redemp­tion oppor­tu­ni­ties, I’m just as happy to have less com­pe­ti­tion for the seats. Every busi­ness trav­eler who insists on fly­ing Southwest (even though he could get bet­ter élite ben­e­fits and could use the miles to take bet­ter vaca­tions if he flew United or American or what­ever) is one less per­son I have to com­pete with for an upgrade, one less per­son to snap up that first class seat to Europe before me, one less per­son in the élite line at the air­port.

(And I’ll ven­ture a guess that if every­one used fre­quent flyer pro­grams to their full poten­tial,  those pro­grams would stop being so lucra­tive for the air­lines and great redemp­tion oppor­tu­ni­ties would get rarer.)

So sure… Southwest, Virgin America, and Jetblue have excel­lent FF pro­grams. Sign up now. Fly those air­lines exclu­sively. Enjoy your “A-list” sta­tus and your free coach flights from Oakland to Boise.

* Yes, I know that some of the “domes­tic-only” dis­count car­ri­ers fly to a hand­ful of loca­tions in Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean. Whatever.

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  • April 13, 2011

Dear flight atten­dant,

It’s called a “mixed drink” because it’s sup­posed to be served mixed. If I wanted bloody mary mix with a vodka floater, I would have ordered it that way.


- josh

(cross-posted to my mostly-neglected upgrd​.com blog)

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  • October 24, 2010

1. I’ve flown over 200,000 miles (domes­tic) on air­planes in the last two years. Not once have I been scared because of “peo­ple who are in Muslim garb” or peo­ple who “are iden­ti­fy­ing them­selves first and fore­most as Muslims.” The only peo­ple who scare me on air­planes are the ones who are overly ner­vous, overtly anx­ious, or rude and obnox­ious. It seems to me, based on my expe­ri­ence, that none of these behav­iors are exclu­sive to a par­tic­u­lar reli­gion, eth­nic­ity, race, or creed.

2. It’s clear that the most of the peo­ple who loudly bashed NPR in the wake of Williams’ fir­ing weren’t par­tic­u­larly fond of pub­lic radio (that bas­tion of the elit­ist lib­eral media) to begin with. What’s ironic is that NPR (and the rest of pub­lic radio) is actu­ally the only main­stream media out­let that seems to have refused to be over­taken by blow-hard pun­ditry, sen­sa­tion­al­ism, or both.

3. NPR was right to fire Williams, and they shouldn’t hes­i­tate to tell it like it is: He wasn’t fired because the rules of “polit­i­cal cor­rect­ness” deemed his com­ments on O’Reilly’s show to be offen­sive. He got fired because real jour­nal­ists (and “news-ana­lysts”) have to be fair and unbi­ased. That means they can’t behave like loud­mouth pun­dits. End of story. Williams can spout off say­ing that he got fired for “telling the truth” or “speak­ing his mind.” But that’s only half the story. He got fired because he wanted to get paid for being a jour­nal­ist, but then he also wanted to go on O’Reilly and spew what­ever “truth” he wanted. You can’t have both, buddy.

4. This week, I made a dona­tion to my local pub­lic radio sta­tion. You should too.

For the past three years, a big part of my job has involved fly­ing around the coun­try to work with syn­a­gogue school edu­ca­tors and teach­ers. As a result, I’ve spent a lot of time on planes. And since my nat­ural predilec­tion is to be geeky about these sorts of things, I’ve become some­thing of an air­plane nerd who now feels at home among com­mu­ni­ties of fre­quent trav­el­ers.

As part of my geek­i­ness, last year I had the oppor­tu­nity to meet a spe­cial pilot, Captain Denny Flanagan, who flies for United Airlines. Captain Denny, as he is affec­tion­ately called by the fre­quent fly­ers who adore him, has become a celebrity among road war­riors for his amaz­ing ded­i­ca­tion to cus­tomer ser­vice. He’s an expe­ri­enced air­line pilot who goes out of his way to make the com­mer­cial air travel expe­ri­ence pleas­ant (gasp!) for cus­tomers.

I’ve read a lot of accounts of the big and small things that Captain Denny does to make air travel bet­ter. He’s an incred­i­ble ambas­sador for the entire indus­try and for his air­line. (You can read some of these accounts here, here, and here.) If you’ve been on an air­plane recently, you prob­a­bly know that the air­lines could use a lot more peo­ple like Captain Denny.

Recently, it occurred to me that Captain Denny isn’t just an exam­ple for peo­ple who work in air travel. In fact, it’s clear to me that — although he is not Jewish and not an edu­ca­tor — he actu­ally has a lot to teach Jewish edu­ca­tors about how to carry our­selves, and about how to be lead­ers. This, I fig­ure, is the per­fect oppor­tu­nity to find a nexus between two things I love: Jewish edu­ca­tion and air­planes. So, with a tip of the hat to Carol Starin’s Let Me Count the Ways, here are six lessons in Jewish edu­ca­tional lead­er­ship that I’ve learned from Captain Denny:
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