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 elite 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 elite 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.

Sincerely,

- 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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