Memo to frequent-traveler programs: Kids shouldn’t need their own e-mail addresses

Our almost-six-year-old is already in multiple marketing databases, and it’s all my fault: Once our daughter couldn’t depart with us for free, we started signing her up for frequent-travel programs. The price of miles and points are already baked into the tickets we buy for her, so we might as well take part–and besides, you’ll never hit million-miler status if you don’t start sometime.

JetBlue River Visual viewBut tending these accounts has been more work than I imagined, because some companies have a hard time grasping that children represent a special group of customers who can’t be expected to have their own e-mail addresses.

At first I thought I’d solved this problem with “sub-addressing”creating a new e-mail address on my existing Gmail account by adding a plus sign and additional text to my username. It’s an Internet standard, and I had no issues creating accounts for our daughter at United Airlines, JetBlue, American Airlines, and Amtrak with a “plus-ed” address.

But when I tried logging into our daughter’s United and JetBlue accounts a week ago and was greeted with various errors, I saw that both airlines had stopped accepting sub-addressed e-mails.

The problem was worse at JetBlue, since your TrueBlue ID is your e-mail address. I had to call and provide our kid’s account number and the no-longer-accepted e-mail address; the rep told me she needed her own e-mail address but then accepted a version of my Gmail account with a dot in the middle of my username. It’s weird to have to go through such a workaround when JetBlue’s site has a separate workflow to create a child account.

At United, I could change her e-mail to a dotted version of my Gmail handle after logging in, since MileagePlus account numbers double as usernames. United’s Twitter account then told me I could have put in my own e-mail for her account from the start. I would not have guessed that, since UA’s account-opening UX assumes you’re a grownup–and the e-mails sent to our kid suggesting she jet off to the likes of Australia, Brazil and Israel don’t exactly speak to the under-10 demographic.

Meanwhile, Amtrak and American Airlines still seem to tolerate plus-ed e-mail addresses. (I can’t speak to Delta, as that airline’s network doesn’t work for us.) But after the last week, I won’t be surprised if our little one gets unexpectedly locked out of either account; I just hope I don’t have to spend too much time on the phone to fix that problem.

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One place I don’t mind paying for Internet access by the hour

For years, I’ve been a bit of a curmudgeon about inflight WiFi. A seat on a plane was a refuge from an interrupt-driven lifestyle, a place where I could monotask for a change.

Engine nacelle over mountainsAnd besides, most first-generation, air-to-ground WiFi systems became unusably slow once enough people got on. In my limited experience, at best Gogo’s cellular technology yielded download speeds below 1 million bits per second–unacceptably slow 3G service on the ground. So why would I want to pay $16 or more for a flight’s worth of that?

Satellite-based WiFi can run much faster and works over oceans but is usually no cheaper over the duration of a flight.

(JetBlue offers free satellite WiFi but isn’t convenient for most of my usual destinations. Southwest charges only $8 a day for satellite WiFi but has its own route-map issues.)

Hourly pricing can make this a better proposition–I have paid Gogo’s $5 hourly rate on short flights, though I no longer do since I discovered that my phone’s Google apps work for free on its WiFi. But on its 737s, United Airlines offers hourly prices with a tweak that makes them more valuable to me: a pause button.

I can pay $3.99 for an hour of LiveTV’s satellite-delivered WiFi that actually works–download speeds have exceeded 24 Mbps in my tests–and then stretch out those 60 minutes by pausing it while I eat, nap, read, squeeze myself into the lav or take a moment to appreciate the wonder of occupying a chair in the sky. I can further extend my online time by opening up a batch of pages in new tabs, then pausing the connection to read them as if I were trying to save costs on a dial-up connection.

I can’t do that with Gogo, where you only buy a continuous hour of use. But I also haven’t seen this purchase option on United’s other WiFi-equipped aircraft; this airline’s inconsistent service (its A319s and A320s got WiFi before its 737s but still don’t have in-seat power) extends to a confusing mix of WiFi providers and pricing. I worry the company will “fix” this problem by taking away the pause button–but for now, that has me spending money I might otherwise not ante up.

Weekly output: post-derecho communications tips, Galaxy S III, Flash failures, smartphone screenshots

I don’t have much to show for myself on a workweek bogged down by the aftermath of a storm and bisected by a national holiday. (The following inventory leaves out Discovery reposting my explainer about DNSChanger malware that I wrote back in April.) I am okay with that.

7/3/2012: Staying Online After a Storm, CEA Digital Dialogue

After seeing how many neighbors were struggling after last weekend’s derecho, I decided to scrap my plan to write about what your next desktop operating system should and should not borrow from your current mobile operating system. (That should happen next week.) Instead, I shared a few tips about how to get back online, informed by lessons from friends and my own experience battling unreliable bandwidth and dwindling batteries at tech events like CES and SXSW.

7/6/2012: Galaxy S III: Good Phone, Troubled Android, Discovery News

Apparently, I’m one of the only tech reviewers not to rave about this Android smartphone. Ars Technica’s Casey Johnston liked it; the Verge’s Vlad Savov really liked it; Eric Zeman at PhoneScoop loved it. It’s quite possible that I’m placing too much stress on the differences between this phone’s tweaked Android interface and Google’s standard front-end… but, damn, the pushy keyboard Samsung felt compelled to load on this thing in place of Google’s is outright infuriating. (Its auto-correct dictionary alone seems to beg for a HUAC hearing; on my loaner phone, it knew “Xinhua” but not “iOS,” “BBC” but not “BBQ.”)

7/8/2012: How Flash failed JetBlue, and you, USA Today

I could have written this years ago, but I didn’t get my introduction to JetBlue’s broken boarding-pass system until May. The column discusses how a foolish use of Adobe Flash kept Mac users from being able to print their passes and notes another example of Flash misuse wrecking a site’s login page. (If you read that as a general critique of Flash, you read it right; one of the things I aim to do in this column is look beyond each week’s bug to explain the conditions that fostered that issue.) The piece also offers a refresher course about taking screenshots in iOS and Android.