September 3, 2005

Why We Won’t Fly British Airways Any More

We have flown back and forth across the Atlantic half a dozen times in the last couple of years, maybe 25 trips total, all on British Airways. As we were getting ready to take this latest trip back to the US, I decided it was time to use some of those miles.British Airways sucks

Imagine my surprise when upon checking my mileage statement I found that 7 San Francisco to London legs, plus 5 Boston to London legs had netted me a mere 24,034 miles, and a family total of just 49,000.British Airways sucks

Isn’t San Francisco 7,000-8,000 miles from London? Isn’t Boston about 4,000 miles from London? Shouldn’t I have more than 70,000 miles in my account, and a family total hovering around 200,000 miles?British Airways sucks

What was going on I wondered? I went to the British Airways website, and looked around for over 1/2 an hour. I read policies and procedures, checked the FAQs, used the search box, I even stepped through buying a ticket online three different times (which is how I always buy them). Nowhere did it say we were going to get less than full miles for our flights. British Airways sucks

So I called British Airways, where I got the most amazingly rude person who said it must be a policy, and no he couldn’t tell me what it was, nor where I could find it online.British Airways sucks

Well, by this time I’m getting a little bit hot under the collar, and decided it was time to email customer service, with a copy to whoever it is that runs British Airways. So back to the website. Nothing. No customer service email address. Nothing that tells you who runs British Airways. Nada. (Hey, you try it…see if you can find that info, I sure couldn’t.)British Airways sucks

What I did find though was one of the worst-forms-in-the-world-that-you-just-know-is-going-into-a-black-hole and sure enough 4 weeks later, it had obviously reached that black hole. So back to the website I went, and this time, surprise surprise, about a week later I got a reply. And here it is for your reading pleasure (if you can’t tell, black text is their’s, red text is my comments):British Airways sucks

Dear Mr Leahy

I am sorry you were disappointed with the changes made to the Executive Club program.

Disappointed? I’m not disappointed, I’m pissed off! And by the way, what changes were made, just when were they made, and was I ever informed of these changes?

We know that some of our members like to accumulate BA Miles over a period of time to use on a specific flight.

Yes, I like to accumulate miles. In fact I like to accumulate 100% of the miles I fly on British Airways, just like every other airline that I’ve ever flown on.

To help balance the increase in BA Miles you need for specific routes, we have changed the way you can spend them. You can now combine your BA Miles with cash to make your booking, or use them to upgrade your class of travel.

I see. Because we only receive 25% of the miles flown,we can’t accumulate enough miles to be awarded free tickets, so we can send you some more money.

If you would like more information, please log on to Below, I have cut and pasted from the website:

Hey, this is the internet. Any chance of pasting a link to the page into this email so I can read the page myself?

“You will be awarded one BA Mile for each mile flown with British Airways and oneworldT alliance airlines in full-fare economy. On discounted economy tickets, you will earn 25% of the actual miles flown. Bonus BA Miles can be earned when you travel in our premium cabins.”

I see. Too bad that info is hidden so deeply

I hope I have managed to explain the background and that you will fly with us again soon.

There’s not a snowball’s chance we’ll be flying with British Airways again.

And just so you know, all four of us flew back on Virgin Atlantic this last time, and racked up over 6,900 miles for the London to San Francisco leg. Sure wish we’d done that three years ago.

Marcia Friedland
British Airways Customer Relations

Your case reference is:4266197

Please do not reply directly to this email as direct replies are sent to an unmonitored mailbox and cannot be actioned. Please use the link in ‘How To Contact Us’ below to reply to Customer Relations

Not really interested in talking to customers, are we?


While we endeavour to offer you as full a service as possible, we are unable to respond to direct replies to this email.

If you have a particular query with regard to this case, please click on the link below to submit a reply to British Airways Customer Relations:

Please quote your case reference 4266197 in any correspondence with us.

However, if you have a general query about British Airways, you can ask your question online. Click on the link below to go to ‘Your questions’:


This email was sent to you by British Airways Plc - Waterside, Speedbird Way, Harmondsworth, UB7 0GB, United Kingdom. (To find out more, click here

This email is intended solely for the addressee(s) and the information it contains is confidential. If you are not the intended recipient (a) please delete the email and inform the sender as soon as possible, and (b) any copying, distribution or other action taken or omitted to be taken in reliance upon it is prohibited and may be unlawful

Moral of the story? Don’t fly British Airways unless you want to get screwed by their “Executive Club” mileage program.

British Airways sucks

Posted by: Frank @ 4:47 am — Filed under: Comments (56)

November 22, 2004

Moving To England – Getting Stuff There

I’ve gotten a number of emails asking to know more about moving, and instead of answering each question individually I thought it might be worth answering with a blog entry.

Some of the emails seem to be from people moving because they want to, while others appear to be thinking about it because of the election results, but either way, Gareth’s question was typical: “Does anyone has a suggestion on moving companies, we will be leaving San Francisco for the United Kingdom in the next three months. Also, if anyone has an idea of rental costs for house in Brighton, that would be great!”

While I can’t tell Gareth much about rental costs in Brighton, I can tell him about how we got our stuff from San Francisco to Cornwall.

But before I do that, I want Gareth, and anyone else reading this, to ask themselves this simple question: “Do we really need all the things we’re thinking of shipping with us?”

When I first moved to California, in 1978, I drove from Boston to San Francisco in a 1972 VW Bug. It contained me, my sister Jeannie, 6 boxes, and a bicycle on the roof. (And oh yes, exactly two tapes – Jackson Browne’s Running On Empty, and Seals and Crofts Greatest Hits – neither of which I can bring myself to listen to even now, twenty five years later.) At the end of my year at UC Berkeley I borrowed Jon Kosek’s pickup truck and moved those boxes, the bike, a bed, a desk, and a bunch of books to Palo Alto. And with each subsequent move I dragged more and more stuff around, until it got to the point that we needed a moving company to move us out of Sausalito and up to San Anselmo for the year before we moved to England.

The detritus of life…stuff collected as we live our lives. Stuff for the bedroom, stuff for the bathroom, stuff for the kids room. Stuff that for some reason is incredibly hard to leave behind.

As we moved from room to room we thought of all sorts of reasons why we needed to keep things – it reminded Rachel of her mother, it was the first rug I ever bought, I’ve had those for 25 years. I really wish we’d kept track of all the excuses because I think we could have turned it into a bestseller – “Three Hundred Reasons Why You Don’t Need To Keep That".

But we did eventually get past feeling like “oh my god we have to keep everything", and wound up categorizing things as “keep and lend", “keep and store", “keep and ship", “sell", or “toss". The big furniture and artwork went into “keep and lend". The stereo, paperwork, and linens went into “keep and store", things like my bicycle, camping equipment and winter clothes went into “keep and ship", and the rest went into “sell” or “toss".

But each item was a tug of war. You wouldn’t believe the amount of psychic energy we exerted making those thousands of decisions. And the decisions were all wound up in how long we were going to be gone – if we were gone for one year then maybe we should store it all, but if we were going to be gone for five years it would likely cost more to store it all than it would be to buy it new again. So we sorted and shuffled and packed and tossed, and when the yard sale was over we looked at each other and said “Wow, what was it we just sold?”

And there it was, we’d finally figured it out. The act of deciding, the act of letting go, is the hardest part of moving.

But back to the question of shipping your stuff…

After the yard sale we rented a 5′ x 5′ storage shed in San Rafael where we delivered the “keep and store", made a trip to the Peninsula to deliver the “keep and lend” furniture and artwork, and took about 10 boxes of “keep and ship” to a shipper in San Francisco for delivery to England.

There seemed to be three options for shipping things. If someone else is going to pay for it (e.g. your company), you can call many moving companies and they’ll handle the whole thing for you. But that can be very expensive, so we next looked at shipping containers. We were thinking about shipping our car (I’m glad we didn’t…), and all of our furniture (also glad we didn’t…), and found two companies on the web who would drop a container off at our house (where we’d load it up), and then take it away two or three days later. They were Shipping International and Atlantic Cargo. I had quotes in the $1500 - $2500 range, depending on the size of the container. I put a note up on Craig’s List to see if someone might want to share a container, and got a note back from a guy shipping stuff to Switzerland who had a quote for $7500 (and even though his was being shipped all the way to Switzerland, while mine was going to be offloaded in London, the $5000 difference seemed like he was being taken for a bit of a ride.)

After scaling back our expectations about what we really needed in England (beyond what we could take in out suitcases), we found a shipping company in San Francisco who charged by the cubic foot. So we put together about 20 boxes, including 2 bike boxes, and drove them over to Accord Export Lines, 640 Army St, SF 94124, 415-821-0800. They were great. They stacked the boxes on a palette, wrapped it with plastic, and loaded it on the next boat to England. About $400 for a 4′ x 4′ x 6′ (high) palette.

The boxes arrived in England about six weeks later, and we had the choice of picking it up ourselves at the London docks, or having it shipped down to Cornwall. As our car wasn’t big enough to get it all in one go, and as Cornwall is a five hour drive from London, we elected to have it shipped (which wound up costing almost as much as shipping it all the way overseas).

And when it arrived, Rachel and I looked at each other and said “just what was it that was so important that we sent it all the way over here?” We really couldn’t remember.

So, if you’re moving, make sure to ask yourself whether you really want to burden your new life with your old stuff. Because one of the best parts of moving is getting the chance to start all over again.

Posted by: Frank @ 2:34 pm — Filed under: Comments (12)

October 11, 2004

The Price of Gasoline

John Robb is one of my daily must-reads. He’s in the midst of writing a book on Global Guerillas, and appears to be posting all of his research notes. It’s been fascinating reading, and I can’t wait to see if his book will add another layer of insight to the issues that’s he’s been covering in his weblogs. Of course if the current insights are any indication, I’m sure I’ll be pleasantly surprised.

The reason I mention John is because of a piece he posted on Saturday where he pointed to an article in the Christian Science Monitor on the potential impact of $50 oil on the global economy. At the bottom of the entry is this quote from an analyst at Morgan Stanley named Stephen Roach. He says:

“Oil is now at the price point that could provide a serious shock to an unbalanced world economy; if WTI oil prices hold at around $50 for another 10 weeks or so, the risk pendulum should swing toward global recession in 2005.”

I couldn’t help thinking about that quote as I filled the car up yesterday at the Texaco station down the hill from us. When the tank was full I looked at the pump and went inside to pay £51.29 for 59.71 litres of diesel. Let’s skip the higher math and cut to the chase – yes, that’s right, I spent $91.80 to fill up a 15.8 gallon tank. At $5.81 per gallon.

For those of you reading this from the US, you’re probably gasping and shaking your collective heads. How could you possibly consider paying that much for gasoline? Are there any cars on the road ? Are the trains and buses completely packed with people paniced at paying $5.81 a gallon for gas?

Well, actually, no. From my perspective, $5.81 per gallon seems to have had little or no impact on car usage here. The roads appear just as full as they are in the States. People drive just as fast, and on the freeways a whole lot faster. And while I would guess the average miles-per-gallon is significantly higher here than in the US – for example we have a Ford Galaxy minivan that gets 40 mpg, while the equivalent van in the US barely gets 20 – there are plenty of high performance cars that get crappy gas mileage here too.

How can that be? How is it possible what with gasoline at $5.81 a gallon, not only is the UK economy in better shape than the US economy, but it appears to have had little or no impact on people’s driving habits?

I’m no economist, and so I can’t say whether there’s some obvious econometric reason for this. But I don’t think it’s about economics. I think it’s about human nature. And my take on human nature is that we humans can get used to just about anything, and the Brits have definitely gotten used to higher gasoline prices.

What does this mean for the US? I think it means that if oil stays at $50 per barrel, and then climbs slowly but inexorably towards $60 and beyond, the American consumer will simply wind up doing the same thing the Brits have done – they’ll get used to paying higher and higher prices. Sure they’ll balk for awhile, and the news media will wring its hands, and the Republicans will get red in the face, and the Limbaugh listeners will sit for hours in long lines to save $0.10 a gallon. But when it comes right down to it, the US consumer will do exactly what Dumbo did when the mouse said “Sit up and beg” at the little local circus we took Nathaniel to recently, they’ll simply ask “How high?”

Ok, I know I’ve been a little glib here, but I really couldn’t help making reference to the Dumbo picture I took at the circus. Of course a steep rise in oil prices could, and likely will, have some severe negative consquences. First, a sharp rise in prices could shock the world economy into a recession as people and corporations reallocate resources to deal with the increased costs. Second, countries like India and China which are experiencing surging demand, will likely switch from oil to coal wherever possible, causing increased air pollution world-wide. And third, a negative feedback loop will be created whereby global guerilla attacks on Middle East and African oil infrastructure, including in Saudi Arabia, will create escalating tensions, driving oil prices even higher.

The saddest thing is that this all could have been forestalled with just the teeniest bit of actual leadership from our so-called leaders. What could they have done? First, they could have reduced US demand, and second, they could have done something in the Middle East that actually had a chance of reducing tensions there. And it wouldn’t have been hard – US demand could be reduced with something as simple as increasing the miles-per-gallon on new cars sold in the US by a miserly 10%. Or imagine that when Arnold became governator of California he got on tv and said “Sure, I used to drive a Hummer, but now I drive a Prius, and I want all Californians to follow my example and conserve gasoline". How much easier could it have been?

But no, there’s really no incentive for either Bush or Cheney to do such a thing. Why? Because they, and their wealthy supporters, are the ones who will be most positively impacted by the price of oil going up. Check out George Bush’s tax return for 2003. It shows that he made over $395,000 in interest on an oil trust last year. Does George Bush care if the average American has to pay $500 more this winter to heat their home? Of course not. Because next year his interest from The Lone Star Trust is going to have gone up a lot more than $500. You can bet on it.

Posted by: Frank @ 12:46 am — Filed under: Comments (8)

October 3, 2004

The Ghost of Chernobyl

Lots of cruft in my InBox (now down to just 39 messages). But among them I found this gem from Don Thorson:

“This is an amazing and chilling look at Chernobyl as it is today. It’s called “Ghost Town” and it’s put together by a Russian riding around the Chernobyl area on a motorcycle. Check it out when you have a minute. I think it’s worth your while.”

– Don

I’d seen it before, and it was worth looking at again.

Posted by: Frank @ 6:51 pm — Filed under: Comments (1)

Moving To England – What Do I Bring?

(Note: for anyone reading this who wants to know more about the how’s of moving to the UK, you can find almost everything you need at the Britain/USA website at

I’ve been cleaning out my In Box today – some in the bottom were well over a year old – and found an email from Jason Cook. I worked with Jason at Wired, and we keep in touch on and off – through his year in Rome, and our year here in England.

His email thanked me for some advice about things they might want think about before they moved. I scrounged through my Out Box and found my note to him. As I’ve had several people ask the same types of things, I thought it might be worth posting.


Well, I’m officially moving to England. Azure and I are probably going to arrive 28 August – I start at Cambridge in mid-September.

While we’re not moving house on the same scale as you and Rachel (mostly because we own no house) I thought I’d at least ask you if you had any small tips worth sharing. Anything in the realm of initial setup (opening bank accounts, health care) that you’d wish you’d known about, going over?

The one question I can think of offhand is: what cell phone provider should I use? That’s one of the first things I expect I’ll need to do, and I don’t want to get stuck with the wrong provider/plan (it’s hard enough to figure out who’s best in the States…).

Hope we get a chance to have a pint in the next year…



Very exciting that you’re moving to England…I think you’ll like it a lot.

You’re welcome of course that stay with us when you arrive if that would help. We’re about 40 minutes by train into London, easily got to from Heathrow and Gatwick, and have lots of spare room (but not as many beds as bedrooms, so one of you would be in a sleeping bag on the floor). Come stay as long as you like…

Will you be buying a car? That was the first thing we did, and after looking around in the papers/auto trader, we went with a dealer. We can help you with that if you want.

Bank account-wise, you don’t really need one, unless you want to move a bunch of money into pounds. Rachel had an HSBC account that I got added to, but everything can be done with ATMs and VISA/MC and electronic bill pay. I have a Wells Fargo bill pay account, and I do everything that way. What it doesn’t do is let me write checks in pounds, so yes, I guess you’ll need a bank account. You might check out Citibank in the US before you come. I’ve seen Citi branches here, and it might be possible to have dollar and pound accounts that you can move freely between. We wanted to move a bunch of stuff to euros and wound up opening a swiss bank account, but it’s not as convenient as I’d hoped it would be.

Phone-wise, there’s T-Mobile that works in the US, UK and old-Europe, or Vodaphone seems to be good pan-Europe provider. I’m using O2/BTCellnet and wouldn’t recommend it particularly. What I would recommend is using the pay-as-you-go plans – we’ve saved a lot of money by only topping up when we need airtime as opposed to paying for lots of time that we never use. I bought an unlocked phone in the US before coming here – I’d recommend looking on Google for the phone you want and buying an unlocked version before you come. But don’t worry too much about getting the wrong provider – there’s a CellPhoneWarehouse on every street corner, and buying a pay as you go chip is as little as 29 – if you don’t like it, go get another one.

That’s all I can think of now…if you have any other questions fire away.

We’re on the Cape now, and will be back in the UK on the 14th.

Hi to Azure…

– Frank

One thing I forgot to tell him was about health care. In the UK they have the NHS – National Health Service. To see a doctor, all you do is show up at the local doctor’s office, and fill out a short one-page form. That’s it. Really. I know all you folks in the US think I’m kidding, but I’m not.

For small things like colds and shots and prescriptions it’s amazing. Fast and free. Just this week Sebastian had a terrible cough – we called at 10:05, they said come in at 10:30, and we were out by 10:45. And the prescriptions are reasonably priced as well – free for children, and just 6 for adults.

For emergencies it’s pretty good too. I broke a rib a month ago mountain biking, and on the third night was in so much pain that at 4:00AM, after not being able to get back into bed, Rachel bundled me off to the emergency room. I was the only person there, and was in and out in about 45 minutes – 3 x-rays and some free pain relievers later I was a much happier person.

Where it appears to fall down a bit is with non-emergency procedures. There can be a 2-6 month (or more) wait for certain procedures, even for life-threatening things like cancer treatments. If you think you might need such surgery, then some form of private insurance might be useful. I’ve recently seen a policy advertised that will pay for private care if the NHS won’t schedule something within 6 weeks – sounds interesting.

Posted by: Frank @ 1:08 pm — Filed under: Comments (92)