Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Don Quixote Tilts His Windmill: TSA Part II

I have deviated from my original intention for this blog with a few non-faith and non-inspirational posts lately. I plan for today's post to be the last of these deviations for a while.

Regular readers may remember a post (rant) back in January concerning my being listed on the TSA Watch List, and my attempts to be removed from the list. Over a year ago, I found out my name had been added to the TSA Watch List which makes flying a royal pain in the posterior. At the time of the post I had just mailed a select distribution list an intense letter venting my concerns and frustrations about the List. I sent the letter to the TSA Ombudsman, TN Senators, TN Congresspersons, the White House, and Vice President Cheney. I received no response from the following: TSA Ombudsman, TN Congresspersons outside of my district, the White House, and the Vice President.

I did receive a response from the offices of my direct congressperson and the offices of Senator Lamar Alexander and Senator Bill Frist. Each requested additional info in order to help me. The Senators had someone call me directly from their offices. The first to respond was Ms. Jackson from Senator Alexander's Nashville office. She was polite and patient and seemed genuinely concerned about resolving the issue.

I provided the background and additional information she requested. In mid-February, I received a letter from the TSA stating that they had re-evaluated my records and decided a correction was warranted. I received this letter from Senator Alexander a few weeks later along with a copy of the TSA's letter to me:
Dear Anthony,

The Transportation Security Administration has responded to my inquiry on your behalf, and I have enclosed a copy of the response for your review. If you need any additional information, please call [Ms.] Jackson at [xxx-xxx-xxxx]. I hope my office was able to provide some assistance in this matter, but please don't hesitate to get in touch with me if you have any further concerns.


Despite the positive response, I was skeptical. The TSA letter contained this wonderful little caveat:
TSA cannot ensure that your travel will always be delay free as this redress process does not affect other standard screening procedures in place at the security checkpoint. For example, an individual may be selected by TSA for enhanced screening in order to resolve a walk-through metal detector alarm, because of random selection, or based on certain non-identity based factors reflected in reservation information. Additionally this process may not eliminate the need to go to the ticket counter in order to obtain a boarding pass.

This last statement in bold was the main problem I was attempting to solve. It was that part of the process that made flying, especially on Southwest, cumbersome. In addition, it was that part of Homeland Security that was undermining the millions of dollars spent by the airlines to unclog the check-in process via kiosks and on-line boarding passes. (BTW, Southwest's recent announcement that they are seriously evaluating a move toward seat assignments is their attempt to solve the problem that the TSA has created for their customers).

Based on this caveat, I did not immediately respond with thanks to the Senator's office nor post my results here. I wanted to see if I was truly free of the tyranny of the TSA based on the results of my next flight.

Several weeks ago I had my first flight since the TSA redress, and it was on Southwest. In an even better test of the resolution, I was riding to my destination with someone already driving and booking a one-way ticket back. In today's security laden environment, one-way tickets are to be avoided if possible--a true red flag.

The great news is that I was able to print my boarding pass 24 hours in advance using on-line access at my hotel. Further, I had no problems with security at the airport despite forgetting to remove my laptop and having to have my carry-on personally inspected (way to go dumb-dumb).

Funny thing is that my security issue seems resolved, but on this one-way, direct flight Southwest lost my check-in bag. Southwest has never lost anything of mine before. I was irritated at first, but upon quick reflection, I didn't care. This Don Quixote was celebrating the slaying of his first windmill!

P.S. Use your Senators and Congressperson. They are in office to serve and the system does work, although not always efficiently. I am proud that Senator Alexander is a Tennessean and Vanderbilt alumnus. I voted for him in every election for any office, and I will continue to do so. Here is the thank you letter I just sent to Sen. Alexander:
Dear Senator Alexander,

I am writing to express my sincere appreciation for your help in resolving my listing on the TSA watch list. Please also accept my apologies for the delay in thanking you as the TSA responded positively in March. ... I decided to wait until I flew again to determine the exact nature of the TSA's re-evaluation.

To my great relief I was able to print my boarding pass electronically. Moreover, this particular business trip was a one-way flight and I assume under tighter scrutiny in the system. I am also grateful to [Ms.] Jackson in your Nashville office for her diligence and attention. I have thanked her personally, but wanted you to be aware of her attention to your constituents. Again, thank you for your personal attention in this matter and also for all the service you provide to our great state of Tennessee and to our nation.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Language Soapbox Part II

I just had to post a recent experience related to me by a blogging cohort. I am not providing identifying information to semi-protect this person's anonymity. To my friend, if you wish me to remove this post, just email me or comment me to do so, and I will remove the post.

Actual experience of a friend:
This is one of my current rants--for so many reasons. I recently called a customer service center for student loans and never got an explanation of what was going on. I could not understand the *english* they were speaking (accent was horrible) and they could not understand me. I had the call escalated 3 times--and finally asked where they were. They were in Jamaica. When I asked to be transferred to headquarters in the US (after about 1:45 hours on the phone)--the person in Utica, NY took care of my problem in less than 5 minutes! Is is good customer service to get your customers so frustrated?

Then, my REAL issue with all of this is my own office--we are under scope--and I suppose will all loose our jobs so that someone in the Phillipines can do our jobs. Is it really cheaper when the people you are trying to help are totally frustrated?

Excellent example of the problem and some other effects we might not consider.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Language Soapbox

Please forgive me for using my blog to get on a soapbox today, but if I do not I am going to explode with frustration.

The forth coming comments having nothing to do with the current immigration debate or any racial or cultural bias. It has everything to do with common sense, business sense, and putting your customer first.

If you are going to develop and sell a complicated software product, and you are going to market that product almost exclusively to an English speaking nation, and your business is incorporated in that same English speaking nation, I firmly believe you should ensure that your customer support network strictly adhere to the following policy:

1. Personnel must be able to speak and understand English fluently.
2. Personnel must be able to read and write in the English language at least at a high school level.
3. Personnel must not assume they understand the customer's problem or a have solution before the customer is finished with a sentence.

Furthermore, I do not believe that I am being an arrogant American when I say that I should not have to be fluent in Indian or any other accent or language when buying a complicated software product developed and sold by an American company.

I don't want to be rude to other cultures that I enjoy and appreciate, but when I cannot communicate with anyone over a period of days involving online chat, emails, and telephone calls, who has even the most rudimentary ability to communicate in English, I get very frustrated and angry.

Say what you will, but I feel reasonable in my expectations of the products I purchased. If I were in India and bought an Indian product, I would not expect the company support staff to handle English well. I would assume that I have to find a way to converse with them in their language.

Excuse me now as I must go and dispose of all the hair I have pulled out.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Bitter Sweet Weekend

I am out of town this week on business so a very short post before I leave. It was a bitter sweet weekend for me. Mostly sweet though.

On Friday evening, my daughter, Maria, and I watched the Vanderbilt baseball team beat UK. The winner of this weekend series would lead the SEC east. We had great seats, 2nd row right behind the plate compliments of Ingram Industries. However, Vandy lost Saturday's and Sunday's games. But they are still in the hunt and have great chance of making the College World Series. They barely missed last year. There were a lot of pro scouts there watching our sophomore pitcher David Price, arguably the best pitcher in college baseball. Two scouts from the Arizona Diamondbacks sat next to us (World Series rings are very, very big). They were very nice and let Maria use the radar gun to track Price's pitches. When she was doing it, he pitched 3 consecutive pitches at 93 mph! They want to sign him this year. I hope he stays. They say Price will get $2-3 million just for signing his name to a contract. This is separate from the actual contract amount which will be very large.

Vanderbilt quarterback and this year's SEC Player of the Year, Jay Culter, was picked 11th in the NFL draft by the Denver Broncos. This is a great place for him. Can you imagine being 23 years old and about to sign a contract for $10s of millions? Jay is a great guy and very down to earth. Many experts thought he was the best quaterback for the pro game in the draft this year.

Saturday night I saw one my guitar heros and one the greatest players in the world, Steve Howe. Unfortunately, his almost entirely acoustic set was at the Exit/In and would have been so much better at TPAC or some comparable venue. The setting did not lend itself to his beautiful style but nonetheless it was an incredible show. Steve Howe is the guitar player for Yes but has issued a large number of solo albums. He can play any style on any stringed instrument.

The most bitter sweet moment this weekend was last night. We had our last college life group. My wife and I have hosted a college life group for Otter Creek in our home for the last 4 years. Anita fixes them a meal each Sunday evening, ~3 times per mo. We grew very close and 6 of our college kids, as Maria calls them, have been with us for all 4 years and are graduating this weekend.

We had a wonderful time together sharing, singing, praying, and reflecting. These students brought the Holy Spirit into our house each week and provided an example for Maria that only God could provide us. I will miss the deep studies we have had that surpassed any adult life group I have ever been in (and I have been in some really good ones). Most of all we will miss them as our family. They leaned on us and we leaned on them. One of the young men has become my closest friend.

As I write to you how much Anita and I love these young men and women of God, I am shedding tears. Please pray for their lives, that God will lead and protect them. They are as spiritually mature as any group I have ever known and my family will always have a small hole without them in it.