2006 Pubcon in Vegas: Getting there and back

(This week I’ll try to recount my experiences at Pubcon last week. Let’s start with getting there.)

I head to SFO to fly out to Vegas. My flight is on US Airways and I’ve only got carry-on luggage, so I walk to a self-serve kiosk. The kiosk won’t let me check in because I swiped a different credit card than the credit card that bought the ticket. So I move to the person-line, wait for a few minutes, and then the lady behind the counter motions me to a different kiosk. From a distance, the two kiosks look the same, but evidently this one is looser one (a slutty kiosk?) because it will accept any credit card.

As I’m checking in, I look over and there’s a piece of paper talking about an “Ammended Rule change” or something. I’m a big fan of John Walker’s Strike Out idea: I usually stop reading a document after the first misspelling. The first word on the page is misspelled–it should be “amended”–so I figure it’s not important and keep checking in. I request a receipt as I’m checking in (it makes filing an expense report easier) but the kiosk refuses to give me one. Oh well, I’ll get one on the way back from Vegas.

It turns out I should have paid attention to the misspelled document. I haven’t flown since some idiots decided to use liquids to blow up a plane, and I’ve forgotten that liquids are a no-no now. As I’m stripping off my shoes, pulling out my laptop, and pulling bits of metal out of my jeans (keys, cell phone, VPN card), a TSA agent asks if I packed any liquids. “I don’t think so,” I reply. Now I’m running through my suitcase inventory in my head as I’m walking through the metal detector. Could they mean toothpaste? Nah, I decide. Toothpaste is thixotropic, not a liquid.

A few seconds later, I find out that toothpaste is considered a potential terrorist tool, not a benign thixotropic gel. A TSA agent stares suspiciously at me and critiques the fact that I packed a 7 oz. tube of toothpaste. “This is too big,” she says. How am I supposed to reply? “Sorry, liquid terrorism completely slipped my mind until just this moment”? Maybe “it’s not completely full, so it’s probably only 3 oz. in total”? As she’s frowning at the offending toothpaste, 1 suicidal neuron starts to pipe up. You know, when you stand at the edge of a cliff or a tall building and there’s that one neuron that wants to jump? In this case, the crazy neuron wants to say “You know, there’s this HUGE security hole because you need to check both identification and boarding pass at the boarding gate…” but I zap that neuron and continue to smile sheepishly at the TSA agent.

I am saved by my sloppy packing. Whenever I pack hygiene items, I stuff them in baggies, so my suitcase has a couple quart baggies and a gallon baggie. That’s just how I roll. πŸ™‚ The TSA agent tries the toothpaste with different baggie combinations until she’s sure that it will fit in the smallest baggie, and that the baggie will zip closed without folding or spindling the toothpaste tube. Satisfied, she drops the toothpaste into my suitcase. I thank her, but I’m nonplussed: the toothpaste used to be in a baggie, but now it’s sitting naked in my suitcase. Would it be a party foul to put it back in a plastic bag so it doesn’t get a chance to mess up my clothes? Unsure of the baggie etiquette, I leave it where it is for now and exit the security area. I place a mental sticky note on the inside of my skull to scold the bad toothpaste and throw it away before flying back.

The rest of the flight is rather uneventful. The flight is only an hour or so, but the speakers keep playing promotions for US Airways vacation packages for about 15 minutes after we’ve taken off and are in the air. Of course, the one item I forgot in packing is some headphones, so I try to ignore the commercial. It really reminds me of the commercials that you’re captive to in movie theaters, which makes me think about how I’ve stopped going to movie theaters as often.

By the way, was my flight back from Vegas delayed for over an hour with no real explanation why? Why yes, yes it was. On the bright side, I got to sample the free Wifi in the Las Vegas airport. Good on you for that, McCarran airport. It could have been worse. The gate next to mine had their flight cancelled, and it was the last one of the night. Dozens of frustrated travelers lined up to rebook their flight with two airline agents. I contented myself by thinking “Okay, I’ll just avoid US Airways/America West flights in the future.” A few hours later I learned that US Air and Delta (an airline that I enjoy and fly often) are proposing to merge. Sigh.

58 Responses to 2006 Pubcon in Vegas: Getting there and back (Leave a comment)

  1. Your first link to thixotropic needs a little love.

  2. rcjordan

    gotta admit, that’s the first time i’ve seen ‘thixotropic’ used in a blog

  3. Matt, I desperately wanted to see what “thixotropic” was, but your link is busted πŸ™

    Tell the truth…how many months did you have that word rattling around inside your skull, just WAITING for an opportunity to use it?

    MC

  4. Those slutty kiosks are nothing but trouble.

  5. You got to wonder about an airline that needs to monetize its passengers. I once took a US Airways flight back from Miami (once & never again). Looking down the aisle I saw four different patterns of seat upholstery, the attendant read advertisements out loud during the pre-flight, and when I flipped down my seat tray it has a full-spread Verizon ad pasted on it.

    There are some things in life that you just don’t want cheap like air travel, smoke detectors, and those 50% off grocery store steaks.

  6. Is toothpaste thixotropic? I’ve never tried. I know that custard is, as is cornflower – when mixed to a paste. Thixotropic liquids (or are they solids) are great – you stir them like a liquid but hit them with a spoon and they turn momentarily to a solid – cool property, cool word.

    Andy

  7. Forget the airlines (they forgot about you a long time ago):

    http://flighttraining.aopa.org/learntofly/

    I routinely fly from Ottawa to Boston/New York/Toronto in my own plane (further for family vacations), and while I sometimes have to cancel and fly the airlines during icing season, I generally arrive happier when I can take my shabby used Piper Warrior II instead. Gas consumption per mile is about the same as a minivan, and I get to fake a slow, deep pilot voice over the radio (I haven’t bothered learning a southern U.S. pilot accent yet, though).

  8. I am also a multiple zip lock baggy traveling dude, having that paste in with the clothes would have driven me mad. πŸ™‚

    Is that “crazy neuron” the one that makes you do those great snarky posts to blog Matt?

    While you were away many claimed that the algorithm has reduced traffic, interested in learning more about this.

    ;-o

  9. I hate flying. That’s all I have to say…

  10. Amit Patel

    Qoute: “but the speakers keep playing promotions for US Airways vacation packages”

    Hey, AdWords team – heads up – opportunity knocks!

  11. Alright, the thixotropic link is fixed. It had an extra http in the url; it was hyperhttprific. Next time, we’ll tackle prodigal, the word that 9 out of 10 people think that they know, *but that they don’t know* !!

  12. AirplaneWords, Amit Patel? πŸ™‚

  13. Hay Mat, I ask everyone this question.

    Would you pay extra for better service?

    Would you pay extra to zip through the ticketing and baggage process? For example: If the airline had 10 employees working the line instead of just one and the line went 10 times faster. (Labor cost)

    Would you pay extra to depart on time? There are very few legitimate excuses for a properly maintained and staffed aircraft to be delayed. Being consistently on time requires more people on the job. (Labor cost) The only good excuse for a delay is severe weather.

    If you were confident that you would be consistently processed quickly and depart on time, would you be willing to pay more for that?

    If so… How much?

    (FYI – Most people say they would still purchase the cheapest seat they can find and take their chances)

    BTW – Doesn’t Google have a super sweet Boeing 767 for that sort of thing? When are they going to get that thing up and running?

  14. I got a better idea…get a giant bus and deck it out like the Madden Cruiser. Then Matt could go to the various Pubcons and conferences and explain Google features and things using a telestrator in the most confusing manner possible.

    “Okay, so what we got here, is we got this big ol’ spammer comin’ from the weak side on a counter and BAM! Lookit that spam filter take out the spammer for a loss! Never saw it comin’! Now that, that, THAT’S filtering!”

  15. One note: if AirplaneWords was a good idea, consider that a bus can be bigger than a plane and moves more slowly. πŸ˜‰

  16. Dude – prodigious thixotropism during Las Vegas trips has been the downfall of many a great man. Don’t add yourself to the list because we want to see you at the next Pubcon.

  17. Matt,
    At least in movie theatre we have an option to come out. But in flight ??? We can’t do anything other than closing our eyes and ears.

  18. On those flights I like to plug my ears and go Nah Nah Nah though my fellow passengers seem to dislike it.

  19. Hawaii SEO, I’ve often paid more for better service. This was just a non-stop hop, so I did go for the cheapest fare this time though. And no, I’ve never been in the Google jet. πŸ™‚

    M.W.A., I like the idea of a party bus driving around to all the search engine conferences. πŸ™‚

  20. Vic

    before long this blog entry will rank for “thixotropic”…

  21. Hot new spam campaigns for fall: The thixotropicest prices on v!@gr@ here!!!

    I don’t understand the toothpaste bit. The TSA agent took the deadly toothpaste out of the baggie, checked to see if it would fit in different baggies, and then put it back in the suitcase? Would explosive toothpaste not fit?

  22. Thixatropic.

    Slang for stoned natives from the tropics.

  23. Harith

    Matt

    “The flight is only an hour or so, but the speakers keep playing promotions for US Airways vacation packages for about 15 minutes after we’ve taken off and are in the air.”

    Thats Flight-Spam. First people spam your index, then spam what its supposed to be a peaceful fligt.

    Next time your travel on US Airways, you may wish to take that famous sign of yours “Watch Out…Spam Flying” πŸ™‚

  24. @Fake Rake

    It’s a little known fact that Islamic law forbids the opening of small plastic bags in mid flight. Picture the crazed, alternative reality, thixatropic (heck, everyone else is using it) Al Qaeda Matt: “Curses on you infidel imperialist dogs! Your flimsy polyurethane packaging has foiled my plot, but I SHALL RETURN! bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha…”

    Or the whole “liquid explosive” thing could be a load of nonsense (see http://www.theregister.co.uk/2006/08/17/flying_toilet_terror_labs/ ).

    You decide.

  25. Call me cynical if you will – but I am going to keep a close eye on US Airways’s google rankings for a while to watch the sudden and “unexplained” drop in their SERPS πŸ˜‰

  26. Maybe you can pay more to get rid of the commercials.

  27. Jean Manco

    I’m sure that you get the point really Matt, but I’ll be a bore and spell it out. If you had a tube of toothpaste too large for your smallest baggie, that would be very suspicious indeed. It’s not normal traveller behaviour.

    Once the TSA agent is sure that it does fit, then you are passed. It is not her job to re-pack your toothpaste, but you are free to do so. Sorry to pour horrible common sense all over this entertaining thread.

  28. Amit Patel

    Matt, yep:

    AirplaneWords – where you can advertise for peanuts.
    Another solid business from Goooooooooooogle.

    Naaa. In your dreams. This is the real world:

    AirplaneWords – where you can advertise on peanuts.
    Another thixotropic business from Goooooooooooogle.

  29. Alex

    Jup, you are right, Delta is a great airline. Used it several times for flying between NY and Miami. Always enjoyed the flights cause of their good service and no delays πŸ˜‰

  30. Peter (IMC)

    “Jean Manco Said,
    November 21, 2006 @ 2:04 am

    I’m sure that you get the point really Matt, but I’ll be a bore and spell it out. If you had a tube of toothpaste too large for your smallest baggie, that would be very suspicious indeed. It’s not normal traveller behaviour.

    Once the TSA agent is sure that it does fit, then you are passed. It is not her job to re-pack your toothpaste, but you are free to do so. Sorry to pour horrible common sense all over this entertaining thread. ”

    Common Sense? Why does the toothpaste have the obligation to fit in the smalles baggie???? That doesn’t make any sense to me.

  31. Tom

    hey – at least you currently have the option to fly. as we descend down the backslope of peak oil, you might have that privilege revoked

  32. Jean Manco

    Peter – I’m guessing that most of us pack like Matt. Toothpaste, flannel, soap and other toiletries go into a zipped bag designed for exactly that purpose, to keep them apart from clothes. Matt seems to have several graded by size.

    To keep weight down and save space, travellers often carry miniature bottles (or sachets) of shampoo and the smallest size of toothpaste tube. So if someone turns up for a flight with a giant tube of toothpaste that doesn’t fit into their toiletries bag (or the smallest of same in Matt’s case), you can see that might arouse suspicion in the current climate.

  33. oops I just realised someone else has already posted a link to theregister. Nevermind!

  34. Matt …. US Airways ??? Why??? πŸ™‚

    I flew Continental to PubCon and back. These guys give you the scores of the sports games that are going on at the moment. Imagine that … a live score update from the cockpit. (sarcasm)

  35. Hey, that’s not funny – I recently took an Amtrak from Chicago to small-town Iowa and the conductor did just that. He even gave play-by-plays of the “exciting” aspects of each football game. I could tell he felt he’d missed his true calling.

    BTW, Amtrak is great for short trips. On a drive that would’ve taken me 4 1/2 hours, 250+ miles, four tolls totaling ~$10, it cost me $25 to take an Amtrak trip that only lasted four hours. Plus, compared to an airplane, the rows are spaced out so far that I could recline to a 45 degree angle (so I don’t get reprimanded by the guy behind me like I did on my United flight to Pubcon). Downside? Amtrak kinda smells like a nursing home.

  36. Big Boffer

    Google could have their own fleet of planes (Gooojets) that are sponsored by AirplaneWords. You fly for free but you are forced to listen to ads over the speakers and ads displayed on monitors in front of you. I’m not sure if it would be cost effective to cover the outside of the plane with monitors as well.

  37. Kelly Jones

    Last time I flew America West was six months ago flying out of Vegas. They broke the door, made us sit on the plane for two hours, made us sit in the airport for two more hours, gave us meal vouchers and had us wait another two hours. At midnight, they finally agreed to put us up in hotels but wouldn’t pay for the taxi and the wait for the shuttle was another hour. They paid for breakfast and flew us out at noon the next day. When we asked about vouchers for the next time we fly, they gave us a coupon for $150 which is pathetic because it was a $500 flight.

    Bad, bad, bad service from America West. Really quite pathetic. What ever happen to, “if we cancel your flight your next one is on us.” ???

    KJ

  38. I had to repack my bags in the middle of the airport following the September SES Conference in San Jose. Very irritating. I’m a devotee of travelling with tons of liquids and gels, and being able to carry a small water bottle onto the plane helps me insure I keep properly hydrated — keeps me from getting sick after the trip.

    I really object to and hate all these restrictions. The pretended improvements to “security” are primarily placebos, intended to make travelors feel safer in travelling, while not truly accomplishing anything.

    Apparently, a majority of people have been hypnotized into thinking that this must just be accepted for the sake of better security. While they won’t let me have my Carmex, toothpaste and hair gel, they’re not checking people getting onto the plane to see if they’ve taped plastic baggies full of solvents or plastique all over their bodies.

    And, my Russian programmer who used to work for the military police over there likes to point out that the body has nifty spots where people like to hide things that could be considered controversial by the gateguards.

    I’m likewise fairly certain that anyone with half an imagination could form a bomb to resemble a laptop when x-rayed.

    I’m not saying that security should be further increased to fix all these things! But, how about a recognition that risk cannot be eliminated from life, so people need to put the brakes on the further erosion of convenience for an ever widening fiction of “security” in plane travel?!? The fact is that our society and way of life are dependent upon extensive cooperation, and there’s no way to make up for that fact.

    {rant over}

  39. Chris Silver Smith, can you imagine the drinkbait guy? I wonder how he got all those bottles of alcohol to Las Vegas?

  40. joergvader

    Hey Matt,
    actually you’re ranking quite well for thixotropic …
    see: http://blogsearch.google.com/blogsearch?hl=en&q=thixotropic&lr=
    Any chance that you drop some of *my* keywords
    in your blog posts next time ( accompanied by some links
    to my homepage ) ? I may transfer some of my AmericanWest
    frequent flyer miles to you in return:-)

    joerg.

  41. David

    “can you imagine the drinkbait guy? I wonder how he got all those bottles of alcohol to Las Vegas?”

    In his checked bags ;-).

    But even then I’d wonder about how he got the booze past the State Booze Patrol…. it is usually an unpaid tax matter don’t ya see.

  42. I went out of SFO about a month ago, and in the security line the official was saying that the original size of the toothpaste container had to be three ounces or less — that even a big tube (like seven ounces) that was 2/3 gone would not be allowed. Looks like you may have actually gotten lucky with someone that wasn’t quite as strict.

  43. Trogdor

    Flying & security just don’t make sense these days. Millions of people have flooded over the US-Mexico border, and that border is still wide-open as both political parties like it that way.

    Yet I have to take off my damn shoes, and my wife isn’t allowed to bring along her fragrance-free good-for-sensitive-skin shampoo when we fly anywhere?!

    I just don’t get it.

  44. Jay Griffin

    Kelly Jones, etc.,

    Next time you fly take a copy of Rule 240 for the appropriate airline with you and use it if you have to. I have invoked it on several occasions.

    http://www.mytravelrights.com/travellaw.cfm?ai=3

  45. I feel your pain. However, I have it even worse. Since my last name is Smith, every time I fly I end up on the no-fly list so I have to sit there for 45 minutes while they check, double check, and recheck again to make sure that I’m who I say I am.

    But this is always after they have made me wait in one line because it’s the automated system, and I’m not good enough to stand in the first class line where you actually get to talk to a person.

    Then after it says it can’t automatically process my name, they tell me to wait in the first class line to talk to a real person.

    I guess it’s just hard to believe that someone with a surname that is the second most popular in the US could really be telling the truth about their last name.

  46. Matt, for such a smart guy I must say I’m disappointed at your approach to the airport in general.

    Kiosks?

    Pay attention:

    a) You can preprint your boarding pass from your computer and do the same at the hotel on the day of flight, I print 2 copies, one for the computer bag, one goes in my pocket. Someone steals my bags and I’m still flying no matter what. Worse case, the skycap standing on the curb with nothing to do will check you in before you head into the airport unless you’re too cheap to tip.

    b) For someone that lives on the web I’m shocked you didn’t bother checking the current FAA regulations for allowed materials and toiletries. Mine were all in a plastic bag, medication with doctors label as indicated, in baggie of designated size, all lying flat ready to pull out and declare. They didn’t blink at either the toothpaste or the deodorant as it all fit neatly.

    c) US Airways did delay in both directions but that’s just more time to drink beer at the airport, so toss that Sprite and join me for a beer at the airport bar next time. Last year I flew SouthWest from SJ as they’ve always been good and on time. Wrong. They cancelled my non-stop to Vegas and put us on the next flight 90 minutes later that had 1-stop with a 40 min. layover in LA. By comparison US Airways was only a minor inconvenience.

  47. Matt —

    We were sorry to miss your presentation in Vegas. We had to leave early, which was a bummer because we came mostly to bask on your greatness. We hear from a compatriot that did stay that you think buying links is a bad thing πŸ™‚

    So anyway, to the important stuff: don’t feel bad about your TSA experience. My boss, who shall remain nameless (David), didn’t read the guidelines, as I, the good engineer did and had a similar experience to yours. Granted, after the the agent asked him if he had any gels, creams or liquids, and he answered “no” they had more right to be suspicious when he pulled out a full bike water-bottle, a large thing of some clearly creamy thing (hair cream?), and several other more minor items like toothpaste.

    Keep in mind, of course, that I had walked with him in the line, repeating the various things that I had taken out of my bag, explaining that the 3 ounce limit seemed tight, and we even had a conversation about what constituted a paste (though granted never discoursing on the thixotropocity of toothpaste or anything else, for that matter). So I was greatly amused to watch him get embarrassed thoroughly, but in the nicest possible way, by the TSA guy.

  48. Just get a gmail flight booked… that’ll stop most of the spam from showing up in the first place, unless cooked in a delicious recipe and served by someone on your address book.

  49. America West is the worst, truly the worst. I vowed never to use them again after they left us in Phoenix on a flight to Tucson, at 10 pm with no recourse. Hey, dummies, PHOENIX is not TUCSON!

    It’s fun to vow never again to use a certain product or company. I took the America West Vow of Hatred about 8 years ago and I’ve stuck with it since. More recently, I vowed never to frequent the 24 hr liquor store on my corner after they refused to take back a pint of skunked Ben & Jerry’s. That was about a year ago and man, it’s been tough sticking with it – those midnight ice cream cravings can be murder.

    welcome home!

  50. I like the free WiFi at McCarran, I just wish they had more power outlets. I had to search through 5 gates, peaking behind chairs against the wall to find an outlet that was available and near a chair.

  51. Edward: after Pubcon, I have vowed to travel with a small (three outlet) power strip. That way, even if someone is using an outlet in a good location, I can plug in, plug the both of us in, and have room for one more person. Easy way to get power, and make a couple of friends as well.

  52. One Way Link

    Ha ha ha.

    The airports are getting to be ridiculous. So much for the war on terror huh? I guess all that money spent on the war on terror did not include providing everyone traveling on planes inside the US with complimnetary gel, hair spray, tooth paste, mouth wash, and shower gel. Too bad, this type of service would probably have made a better impact on travelers than the cavity search for brill cream at the boarding gates. I know that I have sat next to people that were staging their own body odor terror

  53. One Way Link

    Well another great response by a government that has not got a clue. They probably should have allocated some of that 10million dollars per day to provide complimentary toiletries to travelers. I know that I have sat next to people that are staging their own terrorist attacks on my nostrils with their body odor.

  54. Matt,

    If you think US Airways are bad, I hope you don’t get to fly Ryanair on your current European excursion! You mentioned bringing headphones, and I’m sure you are aware of a well known brand of noise cancelling ones, which are often heavily promoted in travel publications.

    I have found these to be the ultimate “real world spam” blocker when it comes to unwanted announcements, screaming kids, and even mobile (sorry, cell – I hope you don’t cast this out for using UK terminology) phones in quiet carraiges on the trains.

    Not sure how we classify toothpaste here, but that sounds like a good word for scrabble!

    James

  55. I have always flown to europe on SAS and have always had great flights from atlanta to germany to latvia

  56. I fly US Airways offen and have never had a experience quite like that.

  57. Stephen

    I can understand the concept of StrikeOut but I think works better for people who can actually afford to do that – say editors receiving manuscripts in the post at a publishing company.

    Ignoring misspelt signs is cutting off your nose to spite your face. I even find that it is considerably cheaper to search for mispelt words when shopping online – especially on auction sites.

    Spell rite (ha) yourself but don’t ignore those who also misspell, they can be very handy.

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