Friday, August 20, 2004

Movie Review: The Bourne Supremacy

What needs to be said? It wasn't quite as good as the first, but it's still one of the best movies out there this summer.

If you liked the first one, go see this one. If you didn't like the first one, what's wrong with you?


Amica Does a 180

In my previous article on homeowner's insurance, I noted that Amica rejected our application because of our German Shepherd. Over the past week, however, the area representative presented some of my e-mails to people higher in the organization. They told her to collect all of the information on my dogs and submit it to underwriting. In just a few hours, they had accepted our policy. apologies to Amica for underestimating them. This is the kind of behavior I expected from the company I researched a couple of years ago for my auto insurance policy.

Now if only I could get some health insurers to take a page out of Amica's book...


Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Movie Review: Collateral

With the boy staying at the grandparents for a couple days, my wife and I decided to head to the theaters and knock some of the summer movies off of our need-to-see list. First up...Collateral.

Going into the movie, I thought it would be interesting to see Tom Cruise attempt the bad-guy role, and as expected, he delivered a solid performance. However, I think everyone seeing the movie would agree that Jamie Foxx stole the show.

Foxx's character, a cab driver and want-to-be entrepreneur named Maxx, picks up a fare after dropping off a U.S Attorney played by Jada Smith. The fare turns out to be Vincent, a contract killer played by Tom Cruise. The rest of the movie deals with Maxx's coming to terms with the situation Vincent has put him in.

After the first 5 minutes of the movie, I had the plot figured out. The trailers gave away way too much, and the appearance of a big name actress in the first few minutes hinted at a surprise twist at the end. The question was what would happen between points A and B. Collateral answered with an interesting blend of emotionless violence from Vincent and nervous rambling from Maxx. The odd combination and some twists and turns in the storyline kept my interest throughout the film.

Overall, I would give the movie a B- simply because the plot was a little too obvious. If they had used a no-name actress instead of Jada, it would have been much better.


Monday, August 16, 2004

Homeowner's Insurance Silliness

About 4 years ago, I made the mistake of following the advice of relatives to file a claim on minor water damage in the front of our home so that we could get some money for new carpet. Farmer's subsequently doubled our yearly rate making our yearly rate higher than what they paid out once in the 6 years we've been in our house As it's renewal time, I decided to check into some alternatives to reduce our monthly payments to a reasonable level.

At American Express, I found good prices and a very odd pricing practice. They would quote and even sell you at your home's existing insured value with whatever company you currently use. Oddly enough, though, they wouldn't pay out more than the appraised value minus the value of the land. Given that there's almost a $75,000 disparity between Farmer's insured value and the appraised value of home minus property, it would seem that American Express would be collecting a lot of monthly premiums that they shouldn't collect.

Aside from the odd pricing practice, Amex would have to send our policy through underwriting because we own a Chow-mix dog. It wasn't an outright rejection, but a rejection was possible.

At Amica, I was outright rejected...not for the Chow...but for my German Shepherd. Given that I have had good experiences with Amica and already have my auto insurance with them, I offered to waive liability coverage for the dogs. No dice...they still rejected our policy.

What's humorous is that one company is scared of Chow's and the other German Shepherd's. Has any of them ever been around some of the different breeds? I doubt it because if they had, they would understand that the inherent risk is really with the owners, not the breeds. Any dog can be raised to be aggressive and dangerous just like any dog can be raised to be mild mannered and submissive.

Amica passed on a profitable customer and may have lost my auto-policy (no claims for the life of the policy). I hope they're happy.


Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Delta's Delay Game

The vacation went great. In just 4 days, we relaxed, listened to good music at an outdoor concert, toured Yellowstone, and enjoyed time with some friends. In short, we were ready to get back to home and work with renewed energy. On Monday, Delta snatched those pleasant feelings, wadded them up into a little round ball, ripped them into pieces, and tossed the pieces into the fire.

Upon arrival at the airport for the first of two flights, everything went perfectly. In just 15 minutes, we made it through ticketing and security. The plane boarded on time as expected, but shortly before take-off, the pilot announced a mechanical problem.

Great...they had us. We were already on board the aircraft with the doors shut, and as I've experienced so many times before, they started playing the delay game. Every 15 minutes, there was a new announcement promising more information in 15 more minutes. Finally, after over an hour of that little game, they took us off the plane citing identification of the problem but no local availability for the part required to fix it.

In the terminal, the gate agent rudely refused to answer questions and told us to go to ticketing. What did that mean?'ve got it...another trip through security and an extremely long line.

After an hour of standing in line with no progress, I noticed others using their cell phones to check on flights. Worried about waiting for the line, I did the same. To my surprise, I found 2 tickets to our final destination late enough that we could make the connection. We had been traveling on 3 tickets with our child, but he was still young enough to sit on our laps.

The agent booked the flight for me amidst several 2-5 minute stints on hold. Once all was said and done, I asked about a refund for my son's ticket that we wouldn't be using on the second leg of our trip. Believe it or not, HE SAID NO. The reason? Get this...if my son used a seat on the first leg of the trip, they would have to bill us for the entire trip.

Huh? Come again? That didn't sit too well with me, and I let him know about it.

After 10 minutes on hold this time (you think he was trying to get rid of me?), he came back and said that if my son ended up not using a seat on the second flight, they would refund us an appropriate amount for that leg of the trip.

So, it looked like everything would turn out well. We would end up getting home about 9 hours late, but we would still get home and avoid having to spend the night somewhere.

When our first flight arrived, we hurried to the gate for the second flight (even though we had 3 hours to wait) so we could get boarding passes and make sure we were on the flight. Everything went perfectly, and we had boarding passes immediately upon reaching the gate.

Now for the wait...with a 1 year old, 3 hours in a place where he can't get on the floor because it's so filthy can be quite challenging. We used Nemo, piggy-back rides, food, and anything else we could think of to keep him entertained until he fell asleep.

Finally, it was boarding time. No sooner had the crowd began to gather than the gate agent popped up a delay and made an announcement. ANOTHER MECHANICAL PROBLEM!

In the 3 hours we had been at the airport, I had heard about one other flight with a mechanical problem but strangely never heard more than one announcement. It was obvious what had happened...Delta stole our plane to service an earlier flight. In fact, the stewardess later confirmed it for me when we finally boarded the plane.

After being promised the plane would board in 15 minutes, a new gate agent arrived and promptly shifted the delay out another 30 minutes. After one more delay, the plane boarded and we arrived home at 9:00 pm. Our original arrival time was 12:15 pm.

Delta is no different than any other airline. They play the delay game to keep the seats full and avoid giving refunds. At 13 hours, we could have rented a car and been within a few hours of home if Delta had told us about the mechanical problem during ticketing for our initial departure. That's what they don't want you to do so they keep you captive by keeping you on the plane and/or by promising you an answer in 15 or 30 minute increments. We played their game this time...we'll see how cooperative I am next time.

As a side note, Delta pilots, mechanics, and stewardesses should be commended for a fine job on both of these flights. Delta should realize that these people are the lifeblood of their organization and stop trying to cut costs with their salaries. Instead, they should look to the executives first and the gate agents, ticket counter staff, and call center representatives second. The executives put in place rules for handling delays that keep people on planes and minimize refunds, and the customer service agents enforce their rules knowing full well that there are better options.

I had considered becoming a DAL investor because of previous, positive experiences with the airline. DAL is now coming off of my watch list permanently.