The Airplane Wi-Fi Rip Off

by Robert MGarvey

Inflight wi-fi does not work. Don’t believe me. Believe Ed Bastian, CEO of Delta, who in a stunning September interview at the Economic Club of Washington derisively referred to GoGo as “No Go” and elaborated that when usage of inflight wi-fi goes above 10% of the passengers, the “performance starts to erode.”

The interview snippet is here, under two minutes and a must listen if you are a regular inflight wi-fi user.

Bastian added that the system inadequacy is why the carrier charges for wi-fi (which he indicated should be free: “I’m a firm believer that we need to make Wi-Fi free across all of our service and we are working towards that,” he said). If it were free now, however, everybody would use it and it would crash, said Bastian.

This is the bit I love. Therefore, carrier logic is charge for it, fewer of us will use it, and, yeah, the performance is middling, but at least it doesn’t crash.

Got that?

By that logic carriers should charge for the poor coffee they serve – maybe it would be a little better if fewer of us ordered it? Nah. That makes no sense.

But neither really does this argument that constraining usage with a fee for a poor wi-fi product results in a somewhat better product.

And it may not even be secure. In 2016 a USA Today reporter wrote about an inflight wi-fi hack he experienced. In 2017, SmarterTravel published a piece hedlined, Why You Should Never Use Inflight Wi-Fi. The core argument is that all public wi-fi systems have vulnerabilities (hotels and airports definitely included) and wily hackers will figure out ways to penetrate inflight systems.

Bad performance, possible insecurities do not add up to an enticing offering.

We all agree on this. The 2019 J.D. Power airline survey concurs. “The one area where both traditional and low-cost carriers can still improve, however, is in in-flight services. It continues to be the lowest-ranked factor in the study, as many airlines still struggle with in-flight entertainment, connectivity, in-seat power and food service,” said Michael Taylor, Travel Intelligence Lead at J.D. Power.

Mind you, Delta nickels and dimes us for No Go. Rates start at $16, special pre-flight pricing, for 24 hours of service in North America. Global access is $28.

Most carriers charge about the same. Here’s a round-up of pricing on many carriers.

And yet the service is seriously flawed.

Even though it has been around for a generation.

Inflight wi-fi dates to 2000 – that means the 20th anniversary is next year and it still sucks.

In recent months I have been flying more than I had been, mainly short trips (the longest has been Phoenix to Chicago, round trip), and I have not used the inflight w-fi once. Before boarding I make sure I have downloaded several Kindle books and so I turn the plane into a mobile reading room. It’s more enlightening than doing email, which had been my inflight ritual, but it also has proven less exasperating than wrestling with inflight wi-fi inadequacies.

Experts tell us that airlines are making steady improvements in inflight wi-fi, that on some carriers it’s not as awful as we say. Probably that’s true, just as we have seen steady improvements in cellular coverage and signal quality over the past 20 years, there may have been real improvements on a few carriers.

But I am simply not broadly optimistic about inflight wi-fi. Not near-term. Carriers, supposedly, will invest north of $100 billion in inflight wi-fi upgrades by 2035 and this has many giddy with the possibilities – but that is 16 years from now and I do not see making predictions about technology that distant to be a smart move. Maybe it will be much better in 2035, more likely it will be entirely different, but what good will that do me on my next flight this month?

Absolutely no good at all.

But I thank Mr Bastian for telling me I am right that inflight wi-fi indeed sucks. And when next I am asked why I don’t use it anymore, I’ll simply send a link to his comments, QED.

CU 2.0 Podcast Episode 68 John Lanza on The Money Mammals + Kids and Finance

Teach them when they are young.

That’s the approach to financial education taken by John Lanza of the Money Mammals, where the focus is on financial education for children 11 and under.

A key: the education becomes a family project.  That means credit unions – and credit unions can sign up with the Money Mammals to access its library of teaching materials and workbooks – will be attracting younger adults with small children.

The material also is branded with the credit union name.

And the financial education itself of course is a key credit union mission.

Lanza stresses that good as it is for kids to get financial education in school, it’s crucial that they also get it at home because they need some money to learn with. Call it allowance and know it can be small.  But that money becomes a teaching tool.

Lanza said he presently is working with 15 credit unions and he wants more.  Some are under $200 million, one is bigger than $3 billion.  So the program will work in just about any size institution.

Give a listen and just maybe you will be persuaded to focus on financial ed and children, the Money Mammals way.

Listen here.

Like what you are hearing? Find out how you can help sponsor this podcast here. Very affordable sponsorship packages are available.

Find out more about CU2.0 and the digital transformation of credit unions here. It’s a journey every credit union needs to take. Pronto

Sustainability vs Hotel Housekeepers, Taking Sides

by Robert McGarvey

The big push is upon us: hoteliers now are loudly asking us, even offering bribes, to forego housekeeping services. The selling point: it’s good for the environment.

The subhed in a recent New York Times piece sets out the argument: “Besides a worker shortage, demand for ‘green’ practices and technology are shifting the ground under a job that has long been tough to fill.”

If this weren’t a family friendly venue I’d turn up my volume and go into a four letter word rant. There just is so much that makes this attack on housekeeping cringeworthy.

Pitting the environment against the hospitality workers at the bottom of the food chain is plain cruel. Regular readers know I flirt with flygskam, flight shaming. I believe we need to be conscious of how our choices impact the environment. But it’s just wrong to tell me I am harming the environment because I want my room cleaned and, no, I don’t need the sheets washed and probably don’t need fresh towels but I do like the trash emptied and the room straightened up. How’s any of that hurting the environment?

You know what does hurt: attempting to persuade me to join in denying employment to needy, vulnerable workers and we know they are needy and vulnerable because they are in jobs few want.

When a job is tough to fill, there really are only several possible causes. The working conditions are bad. The pay is bad. Hotel housekeeping scores high on both fronts. Sexual assaults, for instance, remain a problem. Housekeepers also have high rates of workplace injuries, per labor union Unite Here. It cites research in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine that says housekeepers have a 50% higher injury rate than other hotel employees. Why? Per the union, “In most hotels, a housekeeper must clean 15 or more rooms per day. To meet this quota, she often skips breaks and works off the clock. It also is increasingly common for her to have luxury beds with heavier mattresses and linens, triple-sheeting, duvets, and extra pillows than in years past. Other add-ons, like coffee pots, spa robes and floor-to-ceiling mirrors, can make a housekeeper’s job of cleaning a room even more difficult and time-consuming. “

As for the pay, the NY Times says the average hourly rate for housekeepers is $12.19. It also says that the majority of us do not tip – in fact two out of three don’t.

So now we know why there’s a shortage of applicants for housekeeping jobs.

Of course there also are whispers that historically many housekeepers had irregular paperwork but with the current federal crackdown on undocumented workers that practice is much less common. I cannot state this as fact but many will tell you it’s so.

And so now hoteliers want to keep up downward pressures on housekeeper pay by persuading us that we are doing good for the environment by turning off housekeeping – which of course also means that the more of us who do so the fewer housekeepers need to be employed.

Beware the hotelier with a bribe in hand. Trade pub Hotel News Now splashed out this hed on a recent story: “How hoteliers incentivize guests to skip housekeeping.”

Like what? Marriott’s “Make a Green Choice” awards guests 250 Bonvoy points for each day a guest skips housekeeping. Onemileatatime pegs the value of a Bonvoy point at about 0.7 cents, which puts the Marriott offer at about $1.75.

Many other large groups also offer loyalty points for passing on housekeeping.

Other hotels are offering f & b discounts or freebies, like a free coffee.

Not exactly persuasive bribes, are they?

And then there are the housekeepers, quoted in that NY Time story, who said that in many cases when a guest skips housekeeping services they may have to work harder to catch up with the deferred sanitation when the guest checks out. “When the rooms are very dirty, we use more water, more scrubbing, stronger chemicals,” a San Diego hotel housekeeper said. “It’s very hard because we have a lot of pressure to clean the rooms on time.”

Let’s be honest here. The gain for the environment when we skip housekeeping services is minimal.

Let’s rephrase the question with the environment out of the equation. Are you comfortable taking money out of a housekeeper’s slender pay packet and putting the money in a hotelier’s wallet?

That’s what it is about. And, no, I’m not down with that.

CU 2.0 Podcast Episode 67 Jesse Boyer COO NIH Federal Credit Union on Branch Reinvention


That’s your word for today and it is complements of Jesse Boyer, COO of the $600 million NIH Federal Credit Union in Maryland which is moving at a high speed to open a new branch in Silver Spring that is biophilic in design – meaning it puts you in touch with nature and, in this case, there’s a living moss wall.

Of course you want to hear more about this. 

What this podcast is about is a search for a new, more welcoming branch format and, at the new NIH FCU location, ITMs – interactive teller machines – replace ATMs and oldfashioned tellers.

The idea is to produce a comfortable setting that is both warm and techie.

Some balancing act but the NIH FCU folks think they have the roadmap and in this podcast you will hear about it.

You will also hear candid musing about what a $600 million credit union has to do to insure longterm survival.  Think acquisitions.

This podcast revolves around extremely candid and frank assessments of what needs to be done – in terms of branch reinvention and credit union survival.

Listen to the NIH FCU podcast here.

Like what you are hearing? Find out how you can help sponsor this podcast here. Very affordable sponsorship packages are available.

Find out more about CU2.0 and the digital transformation of credit unions here. It’s a journey every credit union needs to take. Pronto

CU 2.0 Podcast Episode 66 Amy McGraw Tropical Financial on Get Beyond Money

Do you want to talk about money – or would you prefer to talk about sex?

Many of us today would choose the sex conversation, mainly because we know we don’t know much about personal finance and we also know we don’t anybody to ask for advice.

Enter Tropical Financial in Florida which has introduced a new website Get Beyond Money where the purpose is to provide people (target audience: older millennials) with the financial education they need and want so that they can make smarter, shrewder financial decisions.

The website has plenty of blogs, quizzes, and even offers a free appointment with a financial counselor.

This podcast offers an insider’s view of how this campaign was created – and know it was three years in the making. There were stumbles along the way but that enriches this story.

Also know that Tropical Financial is willing to share its content with non competitive credit unions. Don’t be shy about asking.

Today’s guest is Amy McGraw, the first repeat podcast guest. Last year she starred in episode 10 on the student loan crisis and what Tropical Financial is doing to help.

Now she’s leading the charge in bringing meaningful financial education to older millennials who – in many cases – really don’t know who to ask for advice.  Tropical Financial wants to step into that role.

Listen here

Like what you are hearing? Find out how you can help sponsor this podcast here. Very affordable sponsorship packages are available.

Find out more about CU2.0 and the digital transformation of credit unions here. It’s a journey every credit union needs to take. Pronto

Can Business Travel Make You Nuts?

by Robert McGarvey

The other penny just dropped when it comes to the health consequences of frequent business travel.

We have known for some time that lots of travel impacts our physical health. A story in the NYTimes in November 2017 reported: “Doctors at organizations including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the International Society of Travel Medicine say they are hearing of a range of health problems in frequent travelers, from insomnia and weight gain to viruses. ”

You bet. So many of the frequent travellers I know don’t exercise enough, eat badly, drink too much booze, and, for sure, this translates into a panoply of unwanted health consequences.

A 2018 Harvard Business Review article put it this way: “we found a strong correlation between the frequency of business travel and a wide range of physical and behavioral health risks.” Frequent travelers are more likely to be obese, to have high cholesterol, even to have a cardiologist on speed dial (and, yes, I have a cardiologist so I am not pointing fingers).

But you read this article’s headline so you know another penny is about to loudly land on the floor. Correct. And we are not talking just burnout which, incidentally, is a not uncommon byproduct of a lot of business travel. Some of us just quit because we cannot or will not tolerate the pace.

Data grows that some of us also are suffering significant psychological stresses because of so much travel. According to Skift, “Mental health is making up a rapidly growing number of calls to risk management companies, with stress-induced symptoms of anxiety and depression as one of the top issues travelers report. International SOS, perhaps the largest medical assistance and security company worldwide, fields 4.5 million calls a year, with about 40 percent involving issues of mental health.”

That number – 40%, four in ten – has to grab you. If I had been asked to guess how many traveling employee SOS calls involve mental health issues, I would have said in the single digits. And I would have been very wrong.

Life on the road has built in stresses. For instance: lack of routine which, for me certainly, is the biggest problem. That and difficulty sleeping in a strange bed. Even though nowadays I eat fine and drink little or no alcohol when I travel, I drink way too much coffee, in part because of that poor sleep, and my fitness routines are on hiatus.

Maybe you too.

Understand, researchers say that the amount of business travel needed to trigger significant adverse psychological impacts is huge – around two weeks monthly which is 120+ nights on the road yearly.

How much does a lesser travel load impact us psychologically? That’s a research question waiting for an answer.

Experts however say the truth may be much worse than we think. Dr. Robert Quigley, a senior vice president at International SOS, told Skift that the 40% number cited earlier is just the iceberg’s tip. “When I say 40 percent, that’s what we know of. I’m going to guess that the number is actually much higher than that because people are reluctant to reach out for assistance because of the stigma that’s still associated with a mental illness, and the fact that they’re uncomfortable declaring that they may have a problem, which, which is (a) sad case of reality, but that prevails in this mobile workforce community.”

What should you do about this if you are in the crosshairs? About now in a column I usually offer up a fast solution and sign off. I can’t here and that’s because business travelers who are suffering psychological distress deserve more and better. See a psychologist. Talk about what bugs you. Explore if it’s time to reorder your work so that you can travel less (and I know several people who have done exactly that in the past couple years).

If you are not comfortable using an employee assistance program, I get it. Spend your own money instead. But get help – at least explore if you need to get help.

Bottomline: if you are feeling very down and you travel a lot, just maybe there’s a causal relationship. And just maybe seeing that causality is how to begin to feel better.

CU 2.0 Podcast Episode 65 John Weinkowitz on Credit Unions Buying Banks, Live from Finastra Community Markets

Credit unions are buying so many banks the Wall Street Journal refers to this as a “spree.”

Just in the first eight months of 2018 there were 21 transactions, compared to 12 in the prior five years, by the WSJ count.

What is going on here?

We put that question to John Weinkowitz, Head of Product Strategy, Community

Markets, Finastra, and himself an m and a expert.

Is this doing business with the devil?

Should this put into jeopardy the credit union tax exemption – as many bankers are insisting?

What drives the transactions? The need to grow, said Weinkowitz. FIs below a certain size find it more difficult to compete. So some put themselves up for sale.  And others go hunting for acquisition partners.

The allure for credit union execs is an immediate increase in members, deposits, and also – in many cases – branches.

But are they factoring in predictable attrition?

Do they have a strategy for employee retention – which may be critical to making an acquisition work?

Before buying a community bank listen to this podcast. You don’t want to ignore that advice.

The podcast is here.

Like what you are hearing? Find out how you can help sponsor this podcast here. Very affordable sponsorship packages are available.

Find out more about CU2.0 and the digital transformation of credit unions here. It’s a journey every credit union needs to take. Pronto

CU 2.0 Podcast Episode 64 Carla Bienz Partners 1st CU, Live from Finastra Community Markets

Carla Bienz is CEO of Partners 1st Credit Union in Fort Wayne IN – an institution where she has worked since she graduated from college and where she now is CEO.  And she has keen insights into the plight of smaller credit unions and what they need to do to survive and prosper.

Listen here

Do Airline Loyalty Programs Cause Global Warming?

by Robert McGarvey

Frequent flyer programs now are in the crosshairs of climate activists who insist the programs contribute to global warming, the melting of polar ice caps and are greasing our slide into an environmental armageddon. Is it time to cash in your miles?

What’s fueling this fire is a report by Richard Carmichael of Imperial College London that explored how to change behaviors that contribute to too frequent flying, at least as judged by Dr. Carmichael.

Among his recommendations is this: “Introduce a ban on air miles and frequent flyer loyalty schemes that incentivise excessive flying.”

Carmichael’s argument is that the airline loyalty schemes encourage us to fly more, in order to collect the perks associated with accumulating miles, everything from status through, of course, more trips that become “free” because they are paid for with miles.

Eliminate the programs and that eliminates the incentives that fuel behaviors he wants to minimize (namely, flying more).

Of course that suggestion caused the frequent flyer internet to erupt in an angry holler – but here’s the real deal: maybe this missed the point entirely. The purpose of frequent flyer programs is not to reward passengers, it’s to make money, lots of it, for airlines.

There is no way the carriers will go along with significant changes in how their frequency program work, mainly because these programs are their golden geese. Passengers are forced to deal with ever higher miles totals to cash in for free trips – and more seem to settle on trading miles for merchandise such as fitness watches and computers and also gift cards.

But never forget: airlines are profiting immensely from these programs.

In a recent half year, American Airlines alone made over $1 billion peddling airline miles wholesale to partners. Per Skift: “While American reported the most marketing revenue for the year’s first half, other airlines showed larger year-over-year gains. None had a bigger increase than Hawaiian Airlines, which reported a 52 percent increase, though at just $34 million in marketing revenue, it was last among the airlines…. JetBlue also showed a major gain, raising its marketing revenue 23 percent year-over-year to $80 million.”

The LA Times headline neatly sums up the reality: “Frequent flier programs generate profits for airlines and frustration for travelers.

Meatime, airlines increasingly award miles not for travel but for spending on credit cards that offer miles rewards. Per the Travel Weekly story: “Airlines’ credit cards in ‘arms race’ to profits.”

According to Travel Weekly, “airlines have much to fight over in the lucrative credit card market. The carriers earn income from the co-branded cards by selling reward miles or points to the issuing bank. So, for example, Citibank will purchase American AAdvantage points to award to new holders of the companies’ co-branded credit card. Similarly, banks purchase the airline loyalty points that they award cardholders for making purchases. “

A twisted irony emerges. Today’s email brought a warning from American Airlines that I had miles that would expire soon – but I know I need only take my AA card to Starbucks and buy a latte to win a reprieve because that brings me a miles reward and the clock resets.

Millions of miles are earned by people who never set foot on a plane. But their credit card gives them “miles” because they buy stuff and the airlines make money because they sell those miles.

Does it matter if nobody flies?

What business are the airlines in? Transportation – or financial services?

Personally, I wrestle with the environmental impacts of flying and I ponder how to reduce my carbon contribution – but I am pretty sure that frequency loyalty schemes are not a significant contribution to the planet’s environmental problems, certainly not on my part. Do we fly too much? Yep. Do we fly when we should get there another way? Yep. Do we fly places we shouldn’t go to any way? Yep.

But each us us deals with such issues in our own ways. A crackdown on loyalty programs by governments isn’t the way forward – and it isn’t going to happen because airlines and Wall Street will howl that the primary business is becoming not flights but selling miles. It may not be quite there yet. But it’s getting there.

There is much for us to gnash our teeth over. A looming end to loyalty programs and miles isn’t on the list.

CU 2.0 Podcast Episode 63 Steve Hoke on Data and Mortgages, Live from Finastra Community Markets

There was a time when community financial institutions owned the home mortgage market. No more.  Fintechs dominate and mega banks aren’t far behind. Most credit unions are left to squabble over crumbs.

But just maybe there’s hope. At Finastra, Steve Hoke, Vice President, Product Management, Consumer and SME Lending, says the company’s Fusion Motgagebot Data Insights puts the power of data analytics in the hands of a community financial institution and the upshot is just maybe it can compete – successfully – against the fintechs and mega banks when it has data at its command.

Listen here

What percentage of your mortgages actually close? How does that compare with competitors? Don’t guess. Know. That’s the promise of this data.

Understand, the data is anonymized.  You cannot ask it to tell you how you fare against a specific competitor. But if you want to see how you do against others, it has the answer.

This is powerful stuff.  Hoke said Finastra is adding capabilities and hopes to extend it to more types of lending (auto loans for instance).

“We are giving community institutions insight into data that before they were flying blind about,” said Hoke.

This is one of a half dozen podcasts recorded at Finastra Community Markets in Chicago, October 2019.