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Sunday, December 28, 2008

United Airlines Ruins Your Christmas As Only A Crappy Airline Can

By Alex Chasick

Reader Thomas's scheduled travel on United Air on Christmas Eve went pretty much how you'd expect: his flight left four hours early, and his rebooked flight at 4 a.m. was overbooked. The horror, inside.

Thomas writes:

First, it's important to know that every year for the past 6 years I've flown from New Orleans to Denver to visit my parents for Christmas. The past couple of times we've been using United. This year, same as always, we made our ticket reservations almost 3 months in advance. We scheduled a flight to leave New Orleans for Denver at 6pm on December 24th. We get to the airport at 4:30pm and the adventure begins. The United check in area is abandoned but the self check in terminals are open, I put my debit card into the machine and it brings up my reservation and tells me that my flight left at 2:00pm. I ask an airport employee and he tells me to call United and fishes a ticket with phone numbers from behind the counter.
At this point I call my friend who I had drop me off and get him to park and let me see whats going on. I call the phone number in English I find on the ticket jacket and after navigating through their menu system get in touch with an agent. The agent tells me that they can get me on a flight for 6am today*Christmas*. I tell her I've got my parents coming to pick me up and I don't know how I'm going to get to the airport at 6am, I live about an hour from the airport. She tells me that's all she can do, but I can talk to a supervisor, but he won't be able to do anything either. She puts me on hold for about 5 minutes. My parents call, I can't answer because I'm on hold. She picks up, tells me she's transferring me now, then puts me on hold again. 20 minutes pass, my parents call again twice while I'm on hold. My Friend sends me 2 text messages asking whats going on. I have to hang up to get my friend to come and get me back home and tell my parents not to drive 2 hours to the airport to get me.
On the way back home I call United again. This time I get a man with an Indian accent. He tells me the same thing as the previous person. I ask if they can at least comp my parking so I don't have to foot a $100 parking bill since I'm probably going to have to bring my car to the airport since it would be very inconsiderate to ask someone to bring me to the airport at 4am on Christmas day. He tells me to talk to their customer care people. He can't transfer me, I have to call another phone number. I get a guy with customer care on the phone, another Indian accent, and he tells me that they can offer me a 10% discount on a later flight. Or a $25 credit on a later flight. I tell him this isn't acceptable, I want a parking or a partial refund to cover parking. He tells me no can do, oh and it is company policy that customers should check their flight info 24-48 hours before their flight and they weren't responsible for the fact that I never got a phone call or email that my flight information had been changed. I have found no reference to this anywhere, in fact the ticket sleeve says that reconfirmation of my reservation is not required. I hang up on the guy and call an agent to get my flight changed to 6am. My friend volunteers to take me to the airport while we're heading back home.
If this was all there was then it would be worthy of a post I think, but it gets worse. At 3:45am the next day I'm heading to the airport. We get there, get through security and are at the gate an hour before the flight. Their computer is broken and they only have about half the passengers seated at 6am. United apparently doesn't assign seats until you get to the terminal. They start manually assigning seats at this point. My wife is with me, she's stressed out and has been trying to keep me from getting too angry with the situation. We get called to get a seat about 10 people from the end. I get assigned a seat, 11E. She sees that there are more people than seats and tells me and my wife to stand to the side while she gets some people seated who's names she called while we were waiting and then proceeds to not deal with us and seats another passenger. I specifically heard a customer get assigned a seat 11F AFTER she assigned me 11E. At this point there were 3 people standing there and I was the only one with a seat assignment. She went on the airplane to see if there were extra seats somewhere, wtf?, she came back out and said "you two don't want to be split up, huh?" then gave the third person my seat. I get told nothing for another 20 minutes, we're standing here waiting to see what the hell is going, I'm obviously pissed off but trying very hard not to take it out on the agent. Eventually, 2 more agents come down and ask do we A, want to spend 7 hours by flying to Chicago, then to Colorado. B, want to spend 8 hours flying to Los Angeles then Colorado. or C. sit in the terminal for 7 hours then fly 3 hours to Colorado. My wife has issues with travel so we'd rather not spend 7+ hours onboard a plane. And here we are, sitting in the New Orleans airport for another 6 hours waiting for a plane to come.
Last night I was pissed off most because of the agent on the phone who put me on hold long enough for her call center to change over to India so she wouldn't have to deal with me. Today, I'm most pissed because they woke me up at 4am, out of spite? They did give us a pair of travel vouchers and a free lunch at a restaurant here in the airport, but somehow this doesn't make up for not waking up in Wyoming this morning or the stubborn refusal to do something as simple as cover parking and then telling me this is my responsibility for not checking on my reservation.

Original here

Wave of the future: The dancing spider-like cruiser that can take 12 people on a 5,000-mile journey

By Daily Mail Reporter

It might look like something out of a James Bond film but this is could be the ocean cruiser of the future.

The WAM-V, or Wave Adaptive Modular Vessel, blasts along on two giant inflatable tubes which, according to its designers, let it 'dance' with the waves.

Powered by twin diesel engines, the spider-like craft can be crewed by just two people as it tackles voyages of up to 5,000 miles.

New Bond gadget? The new WAM-V prototype sits above the water, offering up to 12 people a ride in its underbelly

New Bond gadget? The new WAM-V prototype sits above the water, offering up to 12 people a ride in its underbelly

And best of all, designers claim the boat, nicknamed Proteus, is so light that its fuel consumption is 'significantly lower' than other boats of a similar size.

The catamaran has been built by US-based Marine Advanced Research Inc to carry out studies of the world's oceans.

But designers say the vessel could, in the future, be used as a luxury cruiser, a scuba diving boat or a passenger ship for up to 12 people.

They say they have already designed, manufactured and tested 8ft radio-controlled models and a 50ft personal craft as well as the 100ft Proteus.

A spokesman for the group said: 'The WAM-V is a new class of watercraft based on a patented technology that delivers a radically new seagoing experience.

'These ultralight flexible catamarans are designed to allow for a variety of applications and to fit the requirements of specific users, missions or projects.

The WAM-V blasts along on two giant inflatable tubes, which, according to its designers let it 'dance' with the waves

The WAM-V blasts along on two giant inflatable tubes, which, according to its designers let it 'dance' with the waves

'Unlike conventional boats, the hulls of a WAM-V conform to the surface of the water.

'A WAM-V does not push, slap or pierce the waves - she utilizes flexibility to adapt her structure and shape to the water surface.

'Instead of forcing the water to conform to the hull, she gives and adjusts. She dances with the waves.'

The spokesman said the WAM-V could even be used for watersports, adding: 'Your WAM-V could be the means to a new extreme sport experience.'

The main structure of the boat is constructed of titanium and aluminium and is connected to the twin hulls by ball joints fitted with springs and shock absorbers.

Two engine pods, containing the propellors and ancillary systems, are fastened to the hulls with special hinges that keep the propellers in the water at all times.

Despite displacing 12 tons when carrying its full load of 2,000 gallons of fuel, designers claim it handles like 'a small powerboat'.

Original here

At This Casino, Only the Slots Light Up

Monica Almeida/The New York Times

Richard Frank paying a visit to the newly opened Fernley Nugget, that rare Nevada casino where smoking is banned. Mr. Frank is himself a smoker but says he prefers the Nugget’s clean air.

By RANDAL C. ARCHIBOLD

FERNLEY, Nev. — A Nevada casino without smoke might seem like the Strip without neon. But in this town off Interstate 80 a half-hour’s drive east of Reno, a new casino invites gamblers to breathe deeply, and not just to soothe nerves before a bet.

The Fernley Nugget, one of only two Nevada casinos that prohibit smoking, and the first built with the ban in mind, may be at the vanguard of what smoking’s opponents hope will be its eventual elimination in casinos, among the few public indoor places where many states still allow it.

“Everybody says smoking and gambling go together, and when you gamble, you do smoke more,” said Jane Magazu, 56, a former smoker playing a video slot machine at the Nugget. “But now I can go home and I don’t have to take a shower to get the smoke smell off of me. Smoke really bothers me.”

Advocates for smoke-free casinos are paying close attention to what happens in Fernley. But Scott Tate, general manager of the Nugget, which with only 10,000 square feet, 174 slots and 2 poker tables is dwarfed by the cavernous palaces of Reno and Las Vegas, makes clear that the ban here is all about business, not necessarily public health.

Marketing research, he says, simply suggested an opening for smoke-free gambling.

“We are not as a company taking a position to be smoke-free facilities going forward,” said Mr. Tate, who also oversees five other casinos in northern Nevada. “But this particular facility, in this particular market, in this particular location, we feel could be successful.”

Fernley, after all, is one of Nevada’s fastest-growing communities, and many new residents come from California and other states where bans on smoking in public places have been the norm for years.

“People say they like a smoke-free environment,” Mr. Tate said. “Well, here is one. Show me.”

So far, he said, they have. Though he declined to release figures, he said the casino, which opened Nov. 5, was meeting financial expectations even in a recession that has arrested one-arm bandits and all but stilled roulette wheels across the country.

The Nugget remains an oddity for Nevada, whose $11-billion-a-year gambling market towers above that of any other state. Casino executives tend to believe in an affinity between the pleasures of smoking and the allure of gambling, and their informal surveys suggest a correlation between high rollers and heavy smokers. They are also loath to undercut the expectations of tourists from countries where smoking bans are far less common, especially Asians, who account for a growing share of the casinos’ business.

In fact, a nonsmoking casino that operated in Reno in the late 1980s soon closed for lack of business, an outcome that casino operators frequently cite.

So while some casinos have voluntarily set aside parts of the gambling floor for nonsmokers, only one other in Nevada now has a total ban: Bill’s Casino Lake Tahoe, which went smoke-free in January 2007, hoping to capitalize on health-conscious tourists from Northern California. And its operator, Harrah’s, is not contemplating an expansion of the idea.

“Our position is we would be very supportive if everyone were to go in this direction,” said Marybel Batjer, a Harrah’s spokeswoman. “But it is very hard when you are adjacent to another property, a competitor, and they have an offering that you don’t.”

Nevada voters chose two years ago to ban smoking in most public places, but exempted casinos after operators complained.

“Gaming pretty well runs the state of Nevada,” said Tom McCoy, state director of government relations for the American Cancer Society, one of several groups that pushed the ban. “We felt, Let’s take care of the workplace, the day care centers, restaurants, places where families would be meeting.”

Of 23 states with casinos or combined racetrack-casinos, only eight forbid all smoking there, according to Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, an advocacy group based in Berkeley, Calif. Among the eight are Colorado and Illinois, where the bans took effect this year, much to the ire of the owners.

On the other hand, the City Council in Atlantic City voted 5 to 4 in October to suspend a total smoking ban that had been in effect only a couple of weeks. The Council’s vote, which followed casino operators’ complaints that the measure would be particularly damaging in hard economic times, left in place a statute adopted earlier that allows smoking on no more than 25 percent of the gambling floor. Critics call that law inadequate, saying smoke wafts into nonsmoking areas.

The Atlantic City ban was driven by casino employees who cited hazards to their health. Similar concerns have been voiced by casino workers in Las Vegas, where the results of a federal study on secondhand smoke’s effects on a group of them are expected in the next few months.

A 2006 study by the nutrition department at the University of Nevada, Reno, found that only some 21 percent of gamblers smoke, about the same proportion as in the general population. But leaders of the gambling industry say smoking bans have brought a drop in casino revenue where they have been adopted, just as operators of charity bingo, where smoking was once heavy, have reported a decline as a result of smoking bans in several states.

In Illinois, for example, revenue at riverboat casinos has fallen much more sharply in this first year of a smoking ban than in neighboring states where smoking is allowed, said Tom Swoik, executive director of the Illinois Casino Gaming Association.

“We understand the overall economy is having some effect,” Mr. Swoik said, “but when you compare Illinois boats to those right across the river, you can see it is not just the economy. The only difference is the smoking ban.”

Here at the Fernley Nugget, any gamblers who want to light up need only stroll to a smoking patio out back, though on a recent afternoon the ashtrays showed no sign of use.

Mr. Tate, the general manager, said he thought the Nugget would succeed as a fresh-air alternative.

“People would love to be in a gaming environment but choose not to because of the smoking,” he said. “I definitely believe you will see more of this nature, the timeline of which I cannot begin to estimate.”

Original here

Lung cancer screening trial hope


Lung cancer cell dividing
Lung cancer is more easily treated if picked up early

Researchers have taken a step towards starting a national lung cancer screening programme.

The government-backed Liverpool University team want to test using CT scans to detect early disease in those who have not yet developed symptoms.

Lung cancer kills 33,500 people a year in the UK and a screening trial of thousands of individuals is "urgently" needed to save lives, say researchers.

They are currently carrying out a feasibility study.

Assuming the findings are positive, a two-centre pilot study could be in place within six months.

The problem with lung cancer has been that many of these individuals are identified with late disease and possibly only have six months to live
Professor John Field

It comes after a report from the National Cancer Research Institute found that lung cancer had the highest incidence but the lowest investment.

Around a 100 people a day are diagnosed with the condition but many already have late stage disease and have little chance of survival.

Risk questionnaire

"We're currently doing a feasibility study about how we can get the systems in place to carry out a trial," said Professor John Field, director of the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Research Programme, at the University of Liverpool.

"Assuming that is accepted we would request to do a pilot in six months time."

The team hope to eventually test 14,000 individuals - half of whom would undergo a lung CT scan.

They have already developed a risk questionnaire, which picks out those most likely to develop lung cancer in the next few years.

CT scans can pick up early-stage tumours, before symptoms are apparent.

These can be surgically removed, offering a good chance of survival.

The trial will look at how sensitive the test is at detecting cancer and the survival rates of those undergoing screening compared with those not tested.

Professor Field said: "The problem with lung cancer has been that many of these individuals are identified with late disease and possibly only have six months to live."

"Screening to detect the disease before patients develop any symptoms is a method that urgently requires evaluation as surgical resection at an early stage of the disease remains the only realistic option for a cure."

He added that stopping smoking was still the only real way to reduce the risk of lung cancer.

Lung cancer has one of the worst survival rates of any cancer with only 7% of patients still alive five years after diagnosis.

However, if some types of lung cancer are detected at an early, operable stage, then a five-year survival rate can be as high as 80%.

A smaller trial of screening for lung cancer in 1,300 patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease - a degenerative lung condition largely caused by smoking - was announced by Cancer Research UK earlier this year.

Professor Mike Richards, National Clinical Director for Cancer welcomed the research.

"Lung cancer remains the leading cause of death from cancer.

"Methods to detect the disease early, at a stage when it is curable, are urgently needed, alongside efforts to prevent the disease by reducing smoking."

Original here

Hertz Connect Car-On-Demand Service Taking Aim At Zipcar

By Matt Hardigree

Connect by Hertz, the company's new car-sharing service, lets consumers snag an iPod-enabled, GPS-equipped car for a few hours at a price not increased by typical rental fees. Sound familiar?
The Hertz Connect service, just launched in New York, London and Paris, is strikingly similar to the service offered by Zipcar in those urban areas. Not only does the service offer a variety of cars rented by the day or hour for a small monthly and usage fee, they both use RFID passes to access the cars and neither services charges for gas. Additionally, the Hertz service offers two cars intimately associated with the Zipcar service: the Mini Cooper and the Toyota Prius. The other offering is a Toyota Camry.

Where Hertz differs from the Zipcar service is in the features. Not only are all cars equipped with iPod-ready sound systems, each has the "NeverLost" in-car nav system found on regular Hertz vehicles. Additionally, Hertz representatives can locate, unlock and engage rented vehicles wirelessly. Once a consumer pays the $50 monthly fee they can book a Prius for just $8.50 an hour or $59.50 a day, a Camry for $10.20 an hour/$71.40 a day or a Mini Cooper $11.90 an hour/$83.30 a day. Those are all prices lower than the non-monthly-fee-enabled Zipcar service.

In a pinch you could rent a Prius and power your house. Of course, we're still waiting for the Corvette ZHZ to find its place in the fleet.

Press release with full details below. We'll let you know what we think once we've had a chance to use the service, but for the moment, let's just say we're intrigued enough to want to give Hertz a call to try it out.

"Connect by Hertz" Launches Global Car Sharing Initiative

PARK RIDGE, NJ — (MARKET WIRE) — 12/19/2008 — Hertz, the world's largest general use car rental company, has launched Connect by Hertz car sharing club, the only global car share club offered by an international car rental company, with neighborhood parking in London, New York City and Paris. Dedicated to providing the flexibility of car sharing with a superior customer experience, further cities, as well as universities, for Connect by Hertz are planned for 2009 and beyond, and members will benefit from reciprocal membership at any Connect by Hertz city in the world in early 2009.

Connect by Hertz (www.connectbyhertz.com) offers consumers an economical, convenient and socially conscious alternative to car ownership. Upon enrolling, the self-service, pay-as-you-go system provides members with 24/7 access to a centrally located fleet of environmentally friendly vehicles strategically distributed over a neighborhood or city, transferring the fixed costs of car ownership to per-trip costs. Membership in Connect by Hertz includes insurance, fuel, roadside assistance, maintenance and cleaning. Connect by Hertz members enjoy a paperless program where they can reserve, drive and return vehicles all on their own, via the internet or phone.

Connect by Hertz car sharing allows urban dwellers to escape the city. Pictured is one of Connect by Hertz's feature cars, the Toyota Prius at Liberty State Park in New Jersey.

"Hertz's vision is to offer total mobility solutions and car sharing is a logical step for the Company. In line with Hertz's long term growth plans, Connect by Hertz supports Hertz's diversified business model by providing best-in-class transportation solutions across the spectrum of customer needs," commented Mark P. Frissora, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of The Hertz Corporation. "In addition to being environmentally friendly, Connect by Hertz cars can save members thousands of dollars a year in vehicle ownership costs and, by leveraging Hertz's established infrastructure, we're the first major car rental company to be able to offer members the first global car sharing program. With aggressive plans for expansion, Connect by Hertz has all the elements to become a successful and profitable part of Hertz."

Connect by Hertz cars are chosen based on a set of aggressive standards established in the categories of manufacturing/maintenance quality, environmental sustainability, safety and a blend of fun and functionality. Environmentally friendly, each car sharing vehicle eliminates up to 14 traditional passenger cars from the road*. The showcase car of the Connect by Hertz fleet in the US is the Toyota Prius. Known for its high fuel-efficiency and low greenhouse gas emissions, the reduced environmental impact of the Prius versus ordinary vehicles is most dramatic in stop-and-go city driving where the hybrid often operates on its electric motor. Additionally, all Connect by Hertz cars in the US are EPA SmartWay certified, indicating high quality environmental performance. The fuel emissions of the London and Paris cars are significantly less than the voluntary target of a maximum 140 g/km CO2 output set by the EU for the European Automobile Manufacturers Association.

"We're living in an increasingly mobile society with today's consumers demonstrating an intense willingness to look at alternate modes of transportation, whether it be for economical or environmental reasons," continued Frissora. "An easy-to-use, paperless program that harnesses the latest in technology, Connect by Hertz unites people to places while meeting the ever changing transportation needs of society."

Connect by Hertz adapts the latest in end-to-end telematics to further provide superior customer service. Members enroll online where, beginning in January, they will be able to retrieve their invoice and access their driving history. Upon making a reservation, each member receives an email confirmation as well as a text message indicating the reserved car's license plate and location. To unlock and engage the vehicle, members simply need to swipe their membership card, the Connect card, over the car's radio-frequency identification (RFID) reader.

In car, a hands-free audio kit connects members to a Member Care Center representative should they have questions, need assistance or need to extend their rental. The in-car technology also enables Connect by Hertz to 'communicate' with the vehicle enabling representatives to unlock, engage and locate vehicles. The technologically savvy cars are also equipped with iPod connectivity and, in the US, NeverLost® in-car navigation systems and EZ Pass transponders.

Upon enrolling in Connect by Hertz, members receive a smart chip enabled Connect card, which gives them keyless entry to any car in the fleet that the member reserves. Connect by Hertz members pay an hourly charge, must be 18 years or older, 19 in France, must be licensed with a good driving record for at least one year prior to joining. For more information, visit www.connectbyhertz.com or call Member Care Services at 877-654-4400.

Original here