Weekly output: encrypted DNS in Firefox (x2), expanding rural broadband, business turnarounds, optimizing business travel, travel tips

My calendar this week is much less cluttered than it was a week ago, between SXSW’s cancellation clearing out Friday and (also coronavirus-related) postponement of the DC Blockchain Summit freeing up Wednesday and Thursday.

3/2/2020: Your internet provider knows where you’ve been. How to keep your browsing more private, USA Today

I tackled a fairly esoteric topic–encrypted domain name service–in this column. I don’t know how many people read it to the end, but at least my tweet about the piece seems to have done well

3/3/2020: Why ‘rural broadband’ may no longer be an oxymoron, Fast Company

I wrote up a new study from the Pew Charitable Trusts that offers reasons for hope about expanding rural broadband, plus useful lessons learned from states that have managed to make progress on that front.

3/3/2020: This Morning with Gordon Deal March 03, 2020, This Morning with Gordon Deal

This business radio show had me on talk about the Firefox browsing-privacy news in my column. My bit starts at the 12:45 mark.

3/4/2020: Four companies that reinvented themselves the right way… and won, Signal 360

A friend edits a newsletter Procter & Gamble publishes and asked if I could write about a few examples of companies turning themselves around. That’s not a genre of story I usually do, so I thought it would be fun to write. The results: this look at how Lego, T-Mobile, Yelp and Best Buy managed to dig themselves out of various holes.

3/8/2020: From Bookings to Bandwidth, How to Supercharge Your Business Travel, Frequent Traveler University

I did this talk with travel blogger Tess Zhao twice: a more beginner-oriented version in the morning for attendees of the Travel & Adventure Show at the Washington Convention Center, and then an expert-mode version in the afternoon for FTU DC ticket holders.

3/8/2020: Closing panel, Frequent Traveler University

This gathering for miles-and-points travel enthusiasts wrapped up with almost all of the FTU DC speakers fielding questions from the audience about various flight and lodging hacks and tips.

Updated 3/9/2020 to add a link the Signal 360 post I didn’t find when I did my usual Google News search for pages featuring my name over the last week. 

Two sides of airline customer support

My trip home from SXSW Wednesday started with my first of two flights getting delayed by at least two hours, ensuring that I’d miss my connection in Houston–and I never worried about getting home that day.

That was because I had some of the best possible support in my corner: the agents at the United Club in Austin. Within minutes of the United app warning of a delay for my AUS-IAH flight–and the FlightAware site showing not just a delay, but the inbound plane for my flight returning to Houston instead of battling through a line of storms–they started lining up alternatives.

First they booked me on a 2:20 p.m. flight from Houston to Dulles, then they put me on standby on a 12:15 nonstop from Austin to Dulles. And after I asked about options in case my delayed AUS-IAH flight got off the ground even later and said I’d be fine flying into National instead of Dulles, they protected me on a late-afternoon IAH-DCA flight.

In the end, we got out of AUS a little after noon, allowing me to make that 2:20 flight to Dulles. My upgrade even cleared on both flights–something that hadn’t happened on a domestic flight since September.

That’s exactly the kind of help I’ve gotten at United Clubs the one or two times a year I have an itinerary go sideways. The agents behind the desks there are empowered to fix problems and bend rules if needed, and they seem to enjoy the challenge. As View From the Wing blogger Gary Leff regularly reminds readers, it’s that level of assistance–not the free cheese cubes and prosecco–that justifies the expense of a lounge membership.

(The cost for me is $450 a year, the annual fee for the lounge-membership-included United credit card I use for my business. I recoup most or all of that cost each year by using the extra frequent-flyer miles the card generates on free tickets for my family.)

Feb. 22, my brother had an entirely different experience on United. A late-arriving crew delayed he and his family’s flight from San Diego to Dulles, ensuring they’d miss their connection home to Boston. He has no status or club membership with UA, so he could only call the regular United line. From John’s accounts, this was pretty terrible all around; were he on Twitter, some epic Airline Twitter would have resulted.

With none of the next day’s flights from IAD to BOS offering four seats open, United’s phone rep tried to ticket them on American. But apparently that didn’t take in AA’s system, and it took much longer for the rep to rebook the four of them on Delta–from DCA to LGA to BOS. The process took long enough that John was still on the phone when I landed in Brussels on my way to Barcelona–so I texted him from the lounge there and called United’s 1K line myself to make sure they’d fixed his reservation.

John and co. did finally get home that Saturday, and at least they could stay at my house Friday night for free. But his treatment didn’t make him want to fly United again, while mine did.

Unfortunately, a lounge membership doesn’t make financial sense unless your travel patterns justify consolidating your travel on one airline and building status there. So I can’t endorse that for everyone. Instead, I will repeat an earlier endorsement: FlightAware really is great for tracking the status of an inbound aircraft, and you should never take an airline’s word for your flight’s departure time until you check it there first.