The Confusing Aspects of the Laptop Ban

I get it and I don’t get it.

As you’ve read, electronic devices bigger than a smartphone will be bared coming into the United States and United Kingdom from certain country’s airports.

The airports are as follows:

  • Mohammed V International, Casablanca, Morocco
  • Ataturk Airport, Istanbul, Turkey
  • Cairo International Airport, Egypt
  • Queen Alia International, Amman, Jordan
  • King Abdulaziz International, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
  • King Khalid International, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
  • Kuwait International Airport
  • Hamad International, Doha, Qatar
  • Abu Dhabi International, United Arab Emirates
  • Dubai International, United Arab Emirates

My first confusion is about Morocco. There are other airports in Morocco, mainly the second busiest airport in the country in Marrakesh. There are EasyJet flights in and out that go to London. A quick Kayak search shows that. Presumably, that’s cool to travel with laptops. Then there’s Fez and Agadir.

My next confusion is that what if you’re coming home to the U.S. from Dubai with your laptop in your carry-on but you have a connection/layover in another European city like Frankfurt. Is that okay?

I bring this up because I’ve flown in and out of the Dubai, Ataturk and Mohammad V airport with my laptop on me but not directly from New York or London. Would I be singled out because I have a U.S. passport?

What I get is that laptops can conceal explosives, but in actuality, this is all more “security theater” nonsense.

The airlines are not please.

“After all, if these devices are viewed by the United States and the United Kingdom as potential instruments of threat, they can be loaded on any airplane anywhere. To suggest that Dubai doesn’t have the equal capabilities or better than the Europeans, the Americans and the Asians in terms of search, interdiction and surveillance, I find amazing,” said Emirates president Tim Clark to CNNMoney. “I know this airport.” The rich white guy has a point.

The end result, no blogging on laptops on long, direct flights from the Middle East for me. It will have to be done on my phone. COME ON!

Chase Sapphire Reserve — Ways to Maximize the Benefits

Here’s an update on my first three months using the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Cadillac of travel credit cards. As you remember, Chase introduced the card with a 100,000 bonus sign-up that became too popular, so they reduced it 50,000. I got in on the deal before the reduction.

To get the 100,000, I had to spend $4000 in the first three months. I got it at the two months mark. I used to pay my monthly bills like phone, cable, internet, car insurance, NY Times subscription and Netlix.

Then using Plastiq, I paid my rent. Depending on your amount, they charge you a small fee. Mine was about $44. When you think of the miles you get out of it, the fee is worth it. You can also use it to pay your mortgage or your taxes.

A few things you might not realize about the card. Yes, the $450 is pretty steep for a travel card. My Virgin Atlantic and Barclay Card are both $95 a year, but free for the first year. Not the Chase Sapphire Reserve, you get hit with the fee up front.

That is offset by the $300 travel refund. The good news is that public transportation, tolls and parking counts as travel. I changed my automatic top-up for New York/New Jersey transport and EZPass and got the credit on it.

Then there’s the shopping portal when you earn extra miles on online shopping if you click through their site. Basically, a cookie and tracking URL is embedded in your browser and when you check out, the retailer can see where you came from and credit you with the miles.

I used it to buy sneakers via Shoebuy for 6 miles per dollar. So $52.99 x 6 is 474 miles, with 52 miles on my card equals 526 added miles to my balance. My total miles balance after two months is 107,489.

Thus, the card is worth it, even with the now 50,000 redemption. I haven’t used it book travel yet or the other  perks like TSA pre-check (which I already have) and Global Pass (which I already have), or the lounge access.

The Historic Pubs of Dublin Overview

It’s St. Patrick’s Day on Friday. For some, it’s St. Patrick’s Week. For some, St. Patrick’s Day is everyday.

The U.S. invented holiday that honors Irish tradition is a reminder that there’s no substitution for the real thing in Ireland. A few Guinness bar signs, brass fixtures, a snug, fish ‘n’ chips on the menu and jukebox playing “Shipping Off to Boston” do not make an Irish pub.

It’s location, location, location. Plus, the people being nice also helps.

Last year, I wrote a series of posts about Angela’s Ashes author Frank McCourt’s 12 favorite pubs in Dublin that have historical significance. I managed to visit 9 of the 12 in four days. Come on, there’s only so much you fit in when you really want craft beer.

In any event, here are links to those posts for your consideration and travel planning. Drink and travel responsibly, my friends.

Tourist Hell — Casinos

Tourism bureaus and travel professionals that represent destination have a particular image they want to portray. You’ll see ads, website and print materials of young, well-to-do, intelligent and diverse people smiling, laughing and having a good time.

Then there’s the harsh reality of the people who go to these destinations. Never is the gap so wide when it comes to casinos and major gambling destinations.

There are two scenes in movies that come to mind. There’s Swingers when Vince Vaughn and Jon Faveau head to Las Vegas in suits and looking “money.” They head to an old school casino on Fremont St. where they are surrounded by senior citizens. The other is Martin Scorsese’s Casino, where Robert De Niro’s character explains how the mob lost hold of the gambling mecca and the corporations took over to make it more like an amusement park. There’s a shot in slow motion of a herd of senior citizens using walkers and canes walking through the casino doors.

That was the 90s. Today, it’s not better. The dealers and slot machines have been replaced by arcade-style games and artificial intelligence, which I’m sure is fair, on the level and not prone to hacking or manipulation by the casino owners what so ever.

Joining the elderly are people gambling away their disability check, families shopping at the outlet malls (which are a scam all its own), bros douching it up with other bros, the girls out on the lamest girls weekend ever and the riff-raff of society. The only people wearing suits to the casinos that are not workers are the old timers complaining how things aren’t what they use to be.

While Las Vegas has done a great job of creating a city where there are plenty of things to do besides gambling, other cities — not so much. I had to go to Atlantic City over the weekend, and it was shocking how sad it looked. The city (motto: The Reno of the East) has been on the verge of bankruptcy for almost a decade.

Walking through a casino didn’t inspire me to take a chance on the Wonder Woman or Britney Spears slots. It made me depressed. This is not an exaggeration — I saw row upon row of disabled people on motor scooters on the slots. I saw mostly old and destitute people with a dead-eye stare hitting a button and watching the screen light up with random in computerized patterns. For a detailed look at how these machines gives you the illusion of wining which leads to addiction, read this Atlantic cover story.

Outside the casino, it was more pockets of people wondering around and seeing what else there is to do, which is nothing because it’s the winter outside and windy. The action in the bar area consisted of groups of post-college aged boys and girls playing beer pong. Now that’s classy.

“A casino is not like a movie theater or a sports stadium, offering a time-limited amusement. It is designed to be an all-absorbing environment that does not release its customers until they have exhausted their money.” — A Good Way to Wreck a Local Economy: Build Casinos

Basically, casinos are the anti-travel, you are meant to go nowhere.

The last time I gambled was in Hong Kong at the Happy Valley Race Course and Macau. While Macau is 3 times the revenue of Las Vegas, it lies somewhere between Las Vegas high-caliber entertainment and Altantic City’s level of desperation. There’s one casino near Old Macau, while the bulk of the hotel casinos are few miles away.

I won $10 total with the horses and $90 (720 pataca) in Macau on my second spin of a slot. I figure stop while I was ahead. Plus, if I converted to HK or US dollars I would have to pay a fee, so I spent it right there on drinks, egg tarts, fancy socks and a cab ride back to the speed boat.

In all, gambling is a tax on stupidity. Casinos are a temporary fix to bring in tourists and low income jobs. Building arts and culture that benefits locals and brings in travelers to experience the local flavor is what’s sustainable.

Virgin America/Alaska Airlines Offering 10 New Flight Cities Out of San Francisco

Now that the merge with Alaska Airlines is complete, the new benefits include new flights out of Virgin America’s hub in San Francisco.

Here are the new daily flight cities:

  • Philadelphia
  • New Orleans
  • Nashville
  • Indianapolis
  • Raleigh-Durham
  • Baltimore
  • Washington D.C.
  • Kona, Hawaii
  • Albuquerque
  • Kansas City

The new routes take flight starting August 31 through December. It’s a great opportunity to rack up Elevate miles.

Also, take note that Virgin usually has amazing Cyber Monday deals, so plan accordingly.

As a side note, as far I can tell, Virgin will keep the in-flight entertainment, which some carriers are ditching in favor for free WiFi. Meh. I enjoy the back of the seat entertainment.

Get Ready to Get Your Balls and Vagina Felt Up More Thoroughly by the TSA

In an endless stream of bad news for the travel industry, the TSA is facing more pressure to screen better at security check points.

We knew that fake bombs were making it through, which lead for a complete overhaul of the system. Now, an internal audit ordered by the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General showed that real weapons were not detected. As we know, there’s an alarming amount of guns confiscated by TSA. This mean much more are finding their way onto planes. Good times, right?

Mr. NRA can’t part from his revolver for TWO HOURS because you never know when he can spring into action like Liam Neeson in Non-Stop. What can possibly go wrong?

So because of this, we all will be subject to a more thorough body search. According to Bloomberg, Denver International Airport told agents that searches “will be more thorough and may involve an officer making more intimate contact than before.” Awwww yeah. First it was a tease, now agents get to go to third base legally. Might as well give a prostate exam while you’re down there.

“I would say people who in the past would have gotten a pat-down that wasn’t involved will notice that the [new] pat-down is more involved,” said TSA spokesman Bruce Anderson.

As the story points out, screening protocols vary by airport, terminals and even what line you’re on. This has been going on for years — one line people are taking off their shoes, the other they keep them on.

As a final button on this story, President 45 wants TSA’s budget to be cut to pay for that stupid wall.

Somebody Broke a Pumpkin at Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrors Exhibit

To be filed under: Why we can’t have nice things. A visitor to the popular Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrors exhibit at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C. smashed a nearly million dollar pumpkin. What were they doing? Taking a selfie, of course.

There’s a room featuring brightly decorated pumpkins called “All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins”. The breakage caused the exhibit to be closed for a few days. The New York Times reports that a replacement pumpkin is on the way. I guess it’s back-ordered on Amazon.

The exhibit has been receiving record crowds at the Hirshhorn, so much so that the museum is extending hours during the weekday and tweaking the ticketing. Timed tickets are released every Monday at noon for the following week, which as you can imagine, is causing people frantically get online to hope they can get there’s. They run out almost instantly.

While the exhibit runs until May 13, it moves onto Seattle, Los Angeles, Toronto and Cleveland. I aiming for April, but if I miss out, I heard Cleveland is lovely in the summer.