Sabbatical [Day 6] Bankrupt Airline

Go directly to Buenos Aires. Do not pass Montevideo. Lose $500

Alex and I couldn’t seem to find the check-in station for Pluna Airlines at the Santiago airport. Finally, we decided we should ask at the information booth. We were told “I’m sorry, Pluna doesn’t exist anymore”.

What? Our airline doesn’t exist? No puede ser! I asked again – she again said something to the same effect. The airline went bankrupt two weeks ago, and there are no longer flights to be taken. They were supposed to be calling passengers to arrange alternate travel arrangements, but we were certainly never given any notice. No e-mail, no phone call, nothing. So much for basic customer service.

So here we are, at the airport with a phone number of a now-defunct, employee-less airline. I bought travel insurance, but Alex didn’t. We have different credit card travel insurance coverage. So, now what? I don’t want to spend another day in Santiago trying to figure stuff out or wandering around a smoggy city. We went to a random (TAM) airline and asked how much it was to go to Montevideo or Buenos Aires. They directed us to LAN, where a very friendly lady explained the Pluna situation in a bit more detail, and offered us a round-trip flight to Buenos Aires for about $400/person. Considering the circumstances, we weren’t in a huge position to complain about that price or availability, and made the reservation which we had until 12am to decide whether or not we actually wanted to pay for.

Off to a cafe with wifi. Cortado y té caliente, por favor. What does one do without internet in a situation like this?
Alex called the Buenos Aires hotel to re-book it to today via Skype. I called the Montevideo hotel to cancel it for today via T-mobile’s wifi calling. For this change, we may still be charged a night penalty. I called the credit card company to see about cancelling the charges to Pluna airlines, which they seemed to suggest would be no problem. We’ll see whether or not my travel insurance or credit card covers the price difference for the plane, or cancelled hotel reservation costs or anything.

So, travel disaster was mostly averted. We’re out some extra cash (thanks, Argentine reciprocity fee!) Our Montevideo/Buenos Aires itinerary seems to be reversed. We don’t yet know how we’ll be getting to Rio de Janeiro since that, too, was supposed to be on Pluna airlines. Here’s hoping we find something fairly inexpensive last-minute.

This was all a very eye-opening experience. Several years ago, I was baffled when I heard that Mexicana Airlines failed, and suddenly completely stopped service. No flights were in operation, employees went jobless, and brand new airplanes sat unused, essentially seized by the government. In the US, our airlines seem to go bankrupt every 15 years or so. You could probably set your calendar year by it. However, when our airlines fail, we provide a safety net called Chapter 11 Bankruptcy which allows the company to continue to operate under a highly regulated and monitored mode. This way, people don’t lose their jobs, passengers don’t lose their transportation, and the repercussions aren’t felt throughout the hotels, airports, taxi services, and entire tourism industry.

As costly, awful, frustrating and annoying as it is when companies go bankrupt, I’m now convinced that letting large companies like that fail is absolutely the worse way to go for both the social being and economic welfare of a state. Perhaps that little piece of law is part of what makes the US such a strong nation. Way to go, lawmakers & economists!

So long, Santiago. And so long, Pluna. You inconsiderate and incompetent cabrones.

How Chase “Credit Access Line” Hurts Your Credit Score

Recently I was checking out my free credit score on CreditKarma.com. It has been a bit lower than I had expected lately and I wasn’t quite sure why – until I noticed that my reported available revolving credit total was much lower than it should have been.

I currently have two active credit cards – a Discover card with a credit limit of $3000 and a Chase Freedom Visa Signature card with a limit of $7500. Both of these limits are well beyond what I really would ever need – but that extra spending room is nice in case of emergency.

CreditKarma as well as Experian report my available credit limit as $3000, not the total of $10500. Because of this, my debt-to-available credit ratio is much higher than it should be, thus causing my credit score to go down significantly. Credit scoring algorithms place a very, very large weighting on this ratio.

Little did I know that this credit access line “feature” was doing more harm than good. I have a suspicious feeling that Chase and Visa are doing this purposefully. It is in their interest for consumers to have a worse credit score. A worse score means they can charge higher interest rates and be less likely to be accepted for other lines of credit.

Honestly, this calls for a class action lawsuit. I can only imagine how much money this has cost the consumer by anybody who was switched to a Visa Signature card with a credit access line and subsequently applied for another line of credit. I certainly hope it did not affect my home refinance rates. Hopefully this sort of thing will be better regulated in any upcoming bank regulation laws.

If you have a similar issue – call your credit card company and ask that you get your credit limit back so that it is reported properly to the credit bureaus. Hopefully after a few months you will see your credit score shoot back up to where it was meant to be.

National Bike Bill

After my message to Senator Hutchinson regarding offshore drilling (which I received a very generic who-cares lets lower gas prices e-mail from), I thought I’d try again with another bill that is set to move through the Senate tomorrow. This one is a bit less controversial. I can’t imagine why somebody would not support it, unless they feel that perhaps it doesn’t go far enough. Or unless they simply hate any bill created by somebody outside of their party.

Dear Senator Hutchinson,

I would like to request that you please vote in favor of the National Bike Bill that is being presented tomorrow morning before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. I apologize for not putting in this request with more advanced notice, but I was unaware that such a bill existed until this afternoon.

As somebody who bikes to work now on a near weekly basis, I can see the direct benefits of doing so. It does sadden me to see how much more improvement there could be in bicycle safety, awareness, and infrastructure, and how little emphasis is placed on making bicycling an enjoying and accessible method of transportation, while so much money is poured into massive multi-lane highways for automobiles to sit in congested, polluting traffic.

Yes, I also drive a car. Unfortunately, bicycles cannot completely replace the automobile, but for many small-trip purposes, they can. However, as long as local governments cannot afford to nor are given incentives to make bicycling more friendly, many Americans will choose the automobile for a 1/2 mile trip rather than a bicycle.

The small cost of enacting this bill is certainly worth it. It helps with our nations health issues, energy issues, climate issues, and creates more pleasant communities and recreation.

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

-Brian Saghy

Offshore Drilling

I believe this is my first political, environmental, and energy related post. The subject of offshore drilling is something which I feel very strongly about. Enough so that I wrote a letter to both of my senators from Texas. I urge you to do the same in your state.

Future Beach View - Photo by Lance and Erin

Beach View - Photo by Lance and Erin

Dear Senators Hutchison and Cornyn,

Having recently read President Bush’s plans on offshore drilling, I became quite alarmed that our country may be too quick to take actions which will have, if any, a delayed and very temporary effect on our energy crisis.

In a time when the world is being threatened by global warming and pollution, when our coral reefs are dying from contaminates and increase in water temperature – it seems that allowing offshore drilling near our Texas coastline would be simply irresponsible, nearsighted, and selfish.

Yes, our energy costs have gone higher and I understand that for everybody it makes life more difficult. However, for the first time in a long history of environmental skepticism and indifference, we are beginning to finally see a cultural shift in the United States where more people are actually thinking harder about their own personal energy consumption. Higher gas prices does have a benefit. Unfortunately, it seems many people will not consider what vehicles they drive, their commute distance, or to not leave their automobiles idling for 15 minutes at a time unless it hits their pocketbook. Corporations have no problem shipping items and food across the entire country (or from Mexico and Canada), even when goods can be produced locally, until it affects the quarterly balance sheet.

The real US Energy crisis is not a current low supply of oil, but a mentality that energy supply should be cheap, unlimited and constantly accessible, and that we deserve such a supply no matter what consequences it may have to our country or the rest of the world. Offshore drilling will only push that necessary cultural mind shift off to a point in the future where it may be to late.

Texas is hot enough. Its beaches are already polluted enough. I do not, for one, look forward to basking in 115 degree weather in Galveston covered in a grey film of crude oil enjoying the smells of rotting fish that washed up on shore while enjoying a view of oil rigs littering the horizon. Compared to many parts of the Caribbean and Gulf – we’re not that far off from that nightmare in Texas already. Why further it along in the name of politics? I doubt this is what Texans truly want.

I beg of you to please reconsider your stance on offshore drilling to keep our Texas shores clean. I hope that you can see in your heart that it is the right thing to do, no matter how temporarily burdening it may be on our economy until we come up with alternative energy sources and adjust our way of life to be more sustainable.

Thank you for listening.

Sincerely,

Brian Saghy