Wednesday, April 1, 2009

01/04: Last week's markets; weekend travel to New York City

Markets over the last week have consolidated their gains from the run-up earlier in March, and the sideways-trend has proven more difficult to trade. On my own end, I took a highly-leveraged position that did not pan-out as hoped, forcing a liquidation at below cost to meet a margin call. It's never pleasant to get a margin call, needless to say. My fortunes have improved this week, however, with a profitable trade of a financial company.

Last weekend (and the run-up to it) provided some classics in spontaneous travel. First off, late-night drinks with my friend Owen spawned the sudden idea of heading with him to New York for part of the weekend. As though that weren't enough, I found a fantastic <$300 fare to Moscow that same night, which I naturally booked; I'll be off to the Russian capital in late April.

As for the travel itself, I was ticketed on a 2:15p United Express flight from Dulles to JFK. I did not, incidentally, have any intention of taking that flight, as I have class on Fridays until 2:30p, but this particular flight priced out cheapest and I intended to standby for a later one. Unfortunately, the afternoon's travel did not prove as seamless as I'd hoped; here's an account I recorded in an email of the experience:


Have had the displeasure of one of my worst airport transit experiences in recent memory, with a number of factors compounding to produce rolling delays and seemingly incessant opportunities for frustration. In chronological order: a) I boarded a shuttle bus for Rosslyn, VA at 3:05p but it did not leave until 3:20p, despite the schedule promising a 3:10p departure; b) An extraordinarily lethargic bus driver combined with abnormal traffic on the Key Bridge towards Rosslyn tacked on further minutes of delay; c) The orange line train on which I was riding held at Courthouse station for nearly two minutes; [aside: the minutes here and there may seem trivial, but on my high-risk, tightly-compressed schedules the sum of their effects proved most significant] d) My cab driver began lecturing me on the importance of a clean driving record when I gently urged him to depress the gas pedal more firmly -- he would not exceed 60mph; e) Most significantly of all, the TSA would not permit me through security with my boarding pass, which admittedly was for a flight some two hours earlier, but this draconian interpretation of the rules was upheld despite my exerting every effort towards being polite and, furthermore, despite escalation to the attention of the shift supervisor; this necessitated a trip to United's check-in area for printing of a standby card -- and, of course, United's EasyCheck-In machine was not up to the task.

Here, my fortunes witnessed a brief glimmer of sunlight. As I approached the manned check-in area (i.e. with actual flesh-and-blood United agents), my heart sank to see the 1K line some twenty bodies long; but upon explaining my precarious situation (vis-a-vis both my travels and my sanity) the maitre-d' of the "premium lobby" mercifully directed me to use the unpopulated Global Services / Intl F line, where I saw an agent straight-away.

But in the grand scheme of things, it was too little, too late. Despite my best efforts through security and then dodging to mobile lounge and gate, I managed to arrive only two minutes before scheduled push-back. United, like most airlines, closes their flights ten minutes before departure, and while the time of close is sometimes delayed for operational reasons (which happens more frequently with regional jet -operated flights, as mine was), this particular departure for JFK was spot on-time.

I hustled then to the pit of DullASS, in many ways the source of this poor play on the airport's true and noble name: the A gates. The bus depot in Boston served by the Fung-Wa bus lines is better designed. At the A gates, standard operating procedure dictates that six flights operate from a single gate, with the scarce agents shouting pathetic destinations over each other (think the likes of State College, Johnstown, Altoona, Shenandoah) and, as a golden rule, never willing to help customers. In this environment, I attempted to join the standby list for a 5:20p departure for La Guardia. As though he were granting me a great favour, the unsmiling and harried agent added me to the standby list but, alas, I did not clear.

I proceeded next to assuage my hunger at the only eatery in the terminal -- the greasy Five Guys. While the meal did prove a suitable antidote to my ever-increasing, hunger-induced headache, I felt absolutely abysmal upon completion of the fatty meal.

I was off to the relative tranquility of the C gates at this time, where I attempted standby for yet another flight, another LGA-bound sector. I took my rightful (joke!) place atop the standby list but, in a demonstration of superior skill by United's revenue management elves, the flight went out 50/50 with confirmed passengers. So it was not to be yet again.

In conclusion, I finally managed to get aboard UA 7278, bound for JFK, and departing some 150 minutes after I'd arrived at the airport. Despite being on CRJ equipment, the journey was exceedingly pleasant and allowed me to leave firmly behind my afternoon and evening's misadventures.

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