Friday, December 10, 2010

The joys of flying Delta

This is a rather long-winded and complicated story, but I hope that by sharing it I will help people avoid the same nasty experience. Or perhaps if you do encounter the same problems, you will be motivated to complain and get some compensation...

Here is a letter of complaint I sent Delta recently:


I recently flew on Delta/KLM from Seattle to Cape Town with my wife and 6 month-old daughter, as well as my mother-in-law. While I have only positive things to say about KLM, I am disgusted at the way I was treated by Delta.

In mid-May this year, I purchased tickets from for travel in October, and included information about the infant in the reservation. Her full name and date of birth were provided, and in the breakdown of the total price the infant ticket charges are shown separately from the adult ticket charges. After getting the confirmation email, I called KLM (and eventually got re-routed to Delta, since they are their US partner) to make sure the baby’s ticket was OK and to reserve a sky cot – this was done without any problem and I thought I was all set... At no point did anyone mention that I needed a paper ticket for the infant, and I did not receive anything in the mail prior to our October departure.

Come October, on check-in at Seattle, I was told I needed paper tickets for the baby and that I needed to pay an extra 10% for the baby. When I asked why this wasn’t factored into the original price of the tickets I got no satisfactory answer and the agent accused me of not booking for the infant. The check-in agent was initially very aggressive and made it sound like I was at fault. I repeatedly told her I had booked with KLM, mentioned the baby and even showed her the printout of my confirmation that listed the baby’s name. She would not budge on the 10% fee, so I ended up paying it grudgingly.

We then waited for an hour and a half as they struggled to get paper tickets issued for the baby. There was some problem up with the reservation and the printers at SEA would not issue paper tickets. (They tried 3 separate physical printers and got the manager on duty to try fixing it without any luck.) During this process the agent also ran my credit card twice (the first attempt at getting the paper tickets issued failed due to the issues mentioned above, so she had to do it again). I mentioned I was worried about being charged twice and she assured me the first charge would be cancelled.

The check-in agent had to spend over an hour on hold with someone elsewhere who “rebuilt” the tickets in such a way as to allow them to be printed by the agent at SEA. I was in jeopardy of missing my flight by this stage (30 minutes or so until the flight would have closed, and we still had to clear security…) Needless to say, neither my wife nor I needed this extra stress and aggravation on our first international flight with a 6 month baby!

This ticketing nightmare repeated on every Delta leg of our trip. In contrast, the KLM staff in Schipol (AMS) airport were very friendly and efficient and got us boarding passes for our flight to South Africa, and on return from South Africa to Schipol we experienced the same fast and friendly service. However, our Delta connecting flight from Minneapolis St. Paul (MSP) to Seattle was another nightmare with us almost missing the flight as I waited for a Delta agent to get boarding passes issued – again there was some problem with our reservation that prevented them from simply printing boarding passes. (When we departed Cape Town for our return leg, I was only given boarding passes for the KLM flights, not the MSP to SEA final hop.)

Remember the double credit card swipe mentioned above? To add insult to injury, now that I am back home and I have time to look at my credit card statement, I see that Delta has indeed charged my credit card twice for the 10% fee. So, it appeared I had now paid this charge three times! (Once during my initial reservation on, and twice on check-in in Seattle.)


After we came home, I checked my original credit card statement from back in May when I bought the tickets, and realized that KLM had not billed me for the 10% fee (even though it was shown on the receipt and included in the total...) So, in the end I only ended up paying the 10% fee twice...

I contacted Delta to complain and initially heard back pretty quickly, but soon ran into dead silence. Over a month passed without any response and in the meantime I disputed the duplicate charge with my credit card company. As luck would have it, I was in the final phase of wrapping this up when Delta finally got back in touch with me. (Perhaps as a result of the credit card company talking to them?) Delta finally apologized for the poor service I'd experienced and send some travel vouchers to compensate myself and my wife. (Yay, we get to fly Delta again! :P )

All in all, it was a draining experience, but I guess persistence pays off!

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Think twice about recycling

There was an interesting segment on NPR recently, featuring Annie Leonard, the creator of "The Story of Stuff" project. The latest video in the series is "The Story of Electronics"

It turns out a lot of things that are collected to be recycled in the USA are in fact sent overseas to be processed. Even things like plastic drinking bottles. Things like old electronics are especially bad since the people harvesting metals and other valuable bits from the electronics are exposed to a stew of toxic gases and chemicals.

Before recycling your next electronic gizmo, you might want to check whether your local recycler is has an e-Steward certification. I wonder whether PC Recycle and other local recyclers used by companies like Microsoft are e-Stewards?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Almost time to drink my eggnog!

I mentioned aged eggnog a while back, and have some made and aging in the fridge right now.
By the end of November it will have been 3 weeks, and time to sample it for the first time... I'm keeping my fingers crossed!

I will let you know how it is :)

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Winter Ales

Happy Thanksgiving!

When winter comes I am always happy to see the return of the seasonal winter ales and beers. This is a pretty unique thing that beer-drinkers get to enjoy - when last did you see a special winter wine or winter vodka? (Yes, of course there is mulled wine and alcoholic eggnog, but you get my point.)

I like to buy at least one pack of each of the winter ales, and maybe even try some new ones. Ones I've tried over the years are:
Of these, I think my favorite has to be the Ebenezer - it's nice and dark without being too strong.
As you can see, we are spoiled for choice up here in the PNW! :)

What's your favorite winter ale?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010 and Fidelity login errors

I recently signed up with to aggregate all my different financial info. The experience for adding accounts is pretty simple and intuitive, until I tried adding my Fidelity accounts. Even after entering the correct username and password, I kept getting an error saying the info was incorrect.

After trying multiple times, and looking around for help online. One suggestion was to select Fidelity NetBenefits instead of the Fidelity Investments account when adding. (I have both a brokerage account and a 401(k) so both could have worked. However, using the Fidelity NetBenefits approach didn't work for me.

So, on to plan B... I found another suggestion that long passwords on Fidelity cause problems for (Lame, but not unheard of - why websites put an upper limit on password length is beyond me. What's really lame in this case is that don't warn you that they have an upper limit on passwords they support!)

The remedy was to log in to Fidelity directly (and reset my password, since had tried unsuccessfully enough times to lock me out - grr!). My new password is less than 13 characters long (and randomly generated using this webpage :) )

Once I had set the new, shorter, password I went back to and added the Fidelity account. Hey presto, it works!

Now come on and allow us to use longer passwords!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


I recently celebrated my birthday, and decided to splurge and order a cake from a local catering company. I had heard about one from the wife of the chef/owner, who works at the same company as I do and is a member of our "foodies" mailing list.

She mentioned that her husband made a good sachertorte (and had done extensive research in Vienna, so he knew what he was talking about...) Having some fond memories of sachertorte I had eaten as a child in South Africa (we had several German bakeries in Cape Town), I decided to order one from him.

I'm pleased to report that the cake was delicious - props to Matt at Starry Nights Catering! A little dry (as it should be), but very tasty and with an amazing chocolate "icing" (couverture). As is customary, I had my slice of cake with whipped cream and a good cup of coffee. The leftovers made an extra-decadent breakfast the next morning too! :)

Looking at the recipe for the cake here, I realized that the icing is incredibly tricky to make properly - not somethnig I'm likely to try at home any time soon :)

Photo credit:

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Some Garagiste and Jon Rimmerman info

Hi all! First of all, I'm back and hope to be blogging here more often - stay tuned!

I came across two items online recently, both related to the Seattle wine retailer Garagiste, which is run by Jon Rimmerman. I've been a mostly happy Garagiste customer for several years, and have discovered many good wines (and gotten some good deals) along the way.

Every now and then I get irked by his flowery prose and over-the-top description of wines or wineries, but hey, that is part of the fun. (Apparently many wine makers and wine distributors subscribe to his mailing list just to read his mini-essays, not to buy anything.)

Jon Rimmerman spoke a while back at a local mini-conference on small business about the founding of Garagiste and how it has grown. It's worth a look, considering he started with $500 and no marketing budget, and now sells millions of dollars of wine a year.
Here's the link:

The second item is an article in the New York Times, looking at HR 5034 and how it would prevent people like Jon from shipping wine to their customers in other states. A nice quote from him is: "It's easier to deal in guns that in wine [in the US]"

The link:

And finally, how about some feedback from readers...

If you're a wine drinker, where do you buy yours from? How do you discover new wines, or do you stick to the ones you know?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Food that should not have artificial sweeteners in it

Yesterday my wife and I went to Costco to get some supplies and noticed that they had a read product we've recently discovered and really like: Orowheat whole-wheat sandwich thins. (These are like burger buns but about he thickness of a thick pita bread).

The really sad thing is that they contain sucralose - artifical sweetener.

I should have checked the label before, but this time we did and we realized they contain sucralose and a few other odd ingredients (like cellulose - not something I would use in my kitchen, but probably not too bad since it is a plant-based fibre).

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Trip to Maui

I recently visited Maui for the first time and had a wonderful time. I can certainly see why so many people rave about it, and why people tend to go back every year (or as often as possible)! The weather (even in winter), humpback whales, amazing beaches, beautiful landscape, laid-back atmosphere, friendly people - there is so much to like.

In the next few blog posts I will recap some of ther highlights and "pimp" some of the good places we went to (both to make sure I remember them and to help other people plan their trips...)

But before I get to that, I need to spend some time talking about a flat tire. Stay tuned...

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Basler Läckerli

One of the special Christmas treats when I was growing up were cookies my gran used to make called Basler Läckerli (also spelled Leckerli). These are named after the Swiss town of Basel, and I guess my gran was exposed to them as she grew up in Alsace, France.

They are quite unusual , containing no eggs or butter. Instead, the dough is made from honey, sugar, candied citrus peel, almonds and spices. They last forever (in an airtight container), but if they do start to get a bit dry you can soften them by putting a few slices of apple in the container with them.

I had great success making some myself this past Christmas, and have shared out my gran's recipe on Google docs here:

If you're not up to making them, and are feeling flush, you can also order some from a shop in Switzerland: Läckerli Huus