What I learned from my trip to Costa Rica and Panama

I had quite a vacation 2 weeks ago. I went to Panama City, Bocas Del Toro and Costa Rica. I learned quite a few things and had a lot of negative experiences that I’ve never encountered while traveling before.

I went to Panama without having a good working of knowledge of Spanish. This was a good and bad thing as that it meant that I had to learn fast to survive. All of the places I went were amazing. It was incredibly sunny and everyone was laid back.

Some of the issues I encountered:

  1. My sunscreen (Coppertone SPF70, bought new) was completely worthless (And deemed so by my dermatologist)
    1. This resulted in an extremely bad sunburn that I’m still getting over today. (The redness not the painful burning and other symptoms)
  2. My electronics failed.
    1. My phone’s screen broke mid-trip by falling onto gravel. Note: Cellphone repair shops in Costa Rica don’t hold Google phone glass and screens. It’s just not a popularly held phone.
    2. My camera had issues with the buttons inside of the electronics. That means that I could only shoot with manual mode. Also, Nikkon seems not to be interested in making cameras anymore. So buying a new point and shoot in Panama wasn’t an option.
    3. My credit card just completely broke. (The card, not account issues). Unfortunately this happened in a place where the mail doesn’t work.
  3. The sun burn that I got completely put me out of doing anything while in Costa Rica. This was rather unfortunate but it means you should give yourself time to heal.
  4. Companies who sell aloe products generally suck. They should be required by law to report how much aloe is in the product. Only the pharmacy provided me with a 100% aloe product that helped the bad sunburn that I had.

Some of the things I learned/realized:

  1. Buying a replacement phone with the internet while travelling helped a lot. It seemed like a “large” ($60) extra unneeded expense, but it helped a lot when trying to find things and navigating.
  2. Always carry backup forms of payment. I’ve travelled to europe with only a debit card and some spare cash. I was lucky that I had both forms for payment. Also, carry the local currency in different places in your luggage.
  3. If you’re going to be in extreme direct sun (at the equator) Sunscreen with zinc oxide is a must.
  4. I should have carried a much better first aid kit than what I had.
  5. I got an offer for a $99&$129 first class upgrade for my flight back. The $99 offer I got for the SJO-IAH flight was worth it. I wish I had taken the $129 offer for IAH to ORD as that it was a lie flat seat. Also, if your checkin is failing when you get this offer, do what I did: Call the airline and get it resolved. (Thank you United!)
  6. The general advice I got from fellow travels is to pack for one week’s worth of travel. (And wash while you’re there) That would have lightened the load I had by a lot.
  7. The people in Costa Rica and Panama were extremely laid back, but things still work. You don’t have to be aggressive with following up with everything.
  8. Google Translate is terrible to converse back and forth with. Complex sentences don’t translate very well. (I found this out when trying to buy a bus ticket from Panama City to Bocas more than 1 day in advance)

Will I go back to Bocas del Toro and Costa Rica? Absolutely! I will probably even go back to Panama City.

Interesting finds of the Week [Week of the 20January 2013]

Here is yet another installment of things I found interesting/learned this week.

  • Typically, when you group disks together there are two options for this: RAID and LVM. This only works if you have similarly sized disks. However, if you don’t have then you can group them together by using “JBOD” related services. JBOD = Just a bunch of disks. At the moment, the technology I’m learning is Greyhole. It looks really awesome for small home server setups.
  • Auditing your code base for dead/unused code can make a world of difference to your productivity and size of your executable. I do not have actual figures, but I can only assume that it would make class loading and loading of your executable faster.
  • Obvious statement: Math and comparisons with doubles is extremely aggravating. Two numbers can be displayed the same, but unequal when compared. Google’s Guava collection handles this in DoubleMath. The class was introduced in version 13.
  • Need a list of locale-friendly holidays for your Java application? There’s an open source library for that: JollyDay
  • BoardingArea found that it is to pull your basic marketing profile from Delta. This didn’t work for me, I can only assume that the data end point has been fixed.


Interactive Customer Service: How to fix Airlines’ Broken Phone Service

Ever had to change a complex literary or rebook a flight via the phone? If you have, then you can relate to how painful that is. If you don’t already have status with the airline, then the process is even more painful with a longer wait prior to interacting with the reservation agent.

When you tell a reservations agent where and when you’d like to visit a location, and how you’d like to end the trip, they have a very complex task to perform. They must put together an itinerary that fits your requests – and is available. After finding that information, they then must read it back to you over the phone. Each literary includes a lot of details – times and information about the flights [connection time, class, connection location, etc.]. Most of the time, you are only told the first flight that fits the parameters, which is rarely ever the best flight available. You’re rarely ever told your other options [unless you request the specific flight numbers and know the availability], because the agent is not motivated to give you all of the available options at once.

I believe the way that one could solve this problem is to convert this conversation from just auditory into a visual and audio experience. I believe that the creation of a small website that represents the session between the customer and the reservations agent, similar to a WebEx meeting, would solve the issue. The page would display all of the options available. It would make users a lot happier about their experience with airlines, and give the flyer more information on how tight or open the availability may be [alleviating much of the pain of irregular operations].

How would this work? The user could open up a web page, and use a short code that is shared between the agent and themselves to access the information being described, the page would be updated based on the agent’s action. This may even work at customer service desks where their reservation desks have to read itineraries to passengers.

How does this differ from the current procedure of online flight changes? The functionality of the flight changes aren’t always allowed or functional on the site. Try changing a round trip ticket to a different date and different location. When the, allowed, functionality of the reservation change site is exceeded, the user is prompted to make the changes over the phone.

The saying “Foreign Carriers are better than domestic” Sounds True until you try Lufthansa.

Most American’s claim that Lufthansa over all is pleasant, however the Europeans are jaded. I think the Europeans are on to something.

This is a blog post I’ve been putting off for a long time. Mostly, I’ve been putting it off to prevent this post from becoming a 10 page rant that absolutely no one would read all the way through. The length of just the outline is nearly 3 pages, so I’m sure that the actual length of my rant would exceed 15 pages. As an upfront disclaimer, I would like to defend my post admitting that I had no intention of disliking Lufthansa when trying them out.

To keep this post simple I’ll use bullet points of where I have been screwed over by Lufthansa: [And that you may want to consider when looking to fly with them]

  • Ticketing
    • E-Ticketing is kind of nice (although standard will all major airlines). They however, will not print your connecting ticket within the US. Thanks guys! That’ll make the run through O’Hare from terminal 5 to 1 even quicker. [That was sarcasm, in case you were wondering]
  • Check-In Agents
    • There is absolutely no “flat tire” rule at Lufthansa. The agents don’t care, and you are screwed. They don’t care even if the gate and security is directly behind the check in desk. [As it is in Tegal]
    • [This was told to me by an army member on the flight from Charlotte to Frankfurt]: Lufthansa charges service men/women extra for second and overweight packs when being deployed. The charge she was forced to pay at the gate was $400 on the spot for two bags. This is, from what she claimed, a waved courtesy provided by US Air.
  • Value For Class
    • Business: The short hops, this is more of a gimmick than anything else
    • Y-Fare Class: Also known as the “we completely screwed you over and we don’t care” class. This is not a refundable ticket. It doesn’t even guarantee service. If you are gifted by the “grace of the gods” [a.k.a. Ticketing people and their managers], you may be able to get a credit towards a rebooking (based on the estimated value of the ticket). This does not help you in times of trouble where you need to rebook a flight. Most typically when rebooking a flight, the flight cost increases and you must pay the difference.
  • Flight Quality
    • You’d think with the higher cost and “advertised premium value” however it depends on what flight it is:
      • Charlotte-Munich has a decent set of equipment and flight attendants
      • Frankfurt-O’Hare has one of the oldest planes I’ve flown with LH, and the surliest flight attendants that I’ve ever had.
      • On the surly flight attendants on FRA-ORD: Just after takeoff, my neighbor-across-the-aisle’s (a fragile 80 year old grandmother) bin came unsecured and the baggage threatened to fall out. I notified the flight attendants about this by signaling it to them. They refused to address it and signaled back for me to resolve the situation. Fortunately for the old lady, I have a soft spot for old ladies and prefer to see them uncrushed. I probably should have contacted the FAA about this.
  • Scheduling
    • My rebooking (of TXL-MUC-CLT) ended up being Tegal Berlin-Frankfurt-Chicago-Charlotte. There were 4 delays. The first delay was in Frankfurt to Chicago, the rest were the Chicago to Charlotte flight. One delay from Chicago to Charlotte, allowed me to actually get through security. This was not a fun 20-23 set of hours travelling.
    • The ticketing agent refused to put me on a star alliance flight until it became the last option [Chicago to Charlotte] – this despite mentioning CO97 was leaving only an hour later [direct to NYC]. The agent refused because it was not a Lufthansa-operated flight.
  • Baggage handling
    • On my rescheduled flight back my baggage was “lost” between Frankfurt and Charlotte. It made it back in Charlotte, however it would have been nice to know that the baggage was “priority marked” and I didn’t have to wait for it before going through customs.
  • Cost
    • For every flight path I’ve seen Lufthansa is always more expensive than any of the other carriers.
  • General PR
    • Their Facebook page congratulated a judge on dismissing the Frankfurt Air Controllers strike [due to pay demands]. So: the people that prevent planes from crashing on landing, and manage the planes in the air [according to LH] are the ‘bad guys’?
  • Customer Service After the fact
    • If you have an issue, phone support will not hear your complaint. They will tell you to complain online.
    • If you complain online, you’ll receive an automated letter that they are “experiencing high volumes” during the middle of the summer. (Really? There’s a red flag)
    • My first complaint was never responded-to, nor was my email to the CEO. The second complaint sent online referenced the first. This got their attention only 2 months after the second complaint.
    • When they respond to you they attempt to “appear sympathetic” by passively putting the blame you on by saying: “We’re sorry that you were displeased with the service” [Translation, it was your fault using our service go **** yourself] Then they come up with a crap reason why they don’t have to tend to your complaint, such as in my case the complaints were dismissed for the rebooked flight because the original flight’s checkin time was missed. Seriously? Basically you can pay $1500 extra [in my case] on top of the existing full fare ticket], and they aren’t responsible for the service?
  • Frequent Flier Program
    • Earning Miles
      • The main draw of the program is that it’s within the star alliance, but it’s extremely difficult to earn on their partners (without full fare tickets &/or long distance tickets).
      • Earning miles is based on the class of your ticket – which is typical, but the earning ability is rather crappy. Discounted tickets [E, K, L, T] are credited at  only 50% of the miles flown.
    • Spending Miles
      • Flights
        • You have to earn ~60,000 miles with Lufthansa [but have flown far more actual miles]. By this time you’ve pretty much have flown enough to put a major payment down on a house. Your reward is a round trip ticket from North America to Europe, with the cost of $700 [in a non-peak season]. Congratulations: you have just wasted all that money on flights, to get an award flight that you still have to pay a large percentage of the ticket. To compare with another Star Alliance carrier, United, the equivalent cost for an award ticket can be 60k miles and $120-200 on average.
      • Hotels
        • Last year I earned 26k award miles: I don’t plan on ever using this program again. I thought, hey I can get a free night stay. I go to look up the costs: For a non-peak area in Charlotte, it costs between 30k and 41k miles. That is the equivalent of 4-5 round trip trips to Germany for only a $120-160 night stay in a small city.

My flight experiences for travel from the east coast to Europe have been with American Airlines, US Airways, United/Continental, and Lufthansa. Each of the airlines I have flown the transatlantic route at least twice. With shorter routes [domestic and international] I have also flown with Delta, Southwest, British Airways, and KLM.

To summarize: Who would I recommend Lufthansa to? Wall street bankers? No: yachts and $100k+ cars sound like a better investment. Regular bankers? I’m pretty sure expensing that [on first class] is a bit of a stretch. (First class from San Francisco to Frankfurt was $20k when launched – that’s the price of a Toyota Accord.) Paid for by someone else? Not worth the stress or effort (trust me on this).

To get back to being serious, who do I think should fly with Lufthansa:

  1. People who are pleased with self harm
  2. People that I don’t like. I’m not talking about “I just have distaste”. I’m referring to an enemy for life situation here.

Too Long; Didn’t read? Avoid this lame flying duck.