United just can’t win with Canadian singer

Canadian singer-songwriter Dave Carroll flew United again, and it just didn’t work out. Carroll made the headlines when he released a YouTube video explaining his experience with United, which broke his guitar when he changed planes at Chicago’s O’Hare airport.

In his first song, Carroll said he wouldn’t rule out flying United again, specifically, “To save the world, I probably would … but that won’t likely happen.” Well, he did fly United again, simply because he needed a direct flight from Nova Scotia to Denver, and United had the only one available. This time, United didn’t break his guitar, but it did lose his luggage.

When he arrived at Denver International Airport, Carroll learned that his luggage was delayed, and the United employees on hand told him to wait for it. Meanwhile, an airport official told him to leave the baggage claim area. Eventually he yielded — a smart move, since his luggage didn’t arrive until Wednesday. And, yet again, United is in the position of having to investigate a problem associated with quite possibly the nicest wronged customer in the history of the travel business.

Following his original debacle with United, Carroll said he’d create three videos for YouTube. He’s created two so far, in addition to a statement explaining the situation with United and urging people not to be so hard on Ms. Irlweg. All three have been viewed a total of nearly 7 million times.

United has promised to take steps to improve customer service, but this seems to be slow-moving, as evidenced by Carroll’s recent situation. To make matters worse, the word from United’s vice president of customer contact centers, Barbara Higgins, said in an interview with Christopher Elliott, “Our agents are empowered to escalate serious concerns that they hear from our guests. We have since provided them with a better way to do that to ensure we can be more responsive to special situations that arise, while also protecting us from the fraud that we see.”

“Empowered to escalate” — that doesn’t strike me as terribly empowered.

The lack of movement on the issue seems clear in Carroll’s Denver debacle. He had finished the lyrics for the third song before taking this trip. “They lyrics that I used sort of encompass what happened here this week so I might not have to rewrite it after all,” he told CBC. That’s a sad statement, when you think about it. He was writing about a problem that happened over a year ago, and recent events don’t call for revision.

So much for progress …

Ironically, Carroll was flying to Denver to give a speech at RightNow Technologies, a company that develops customer service software. Maybe United will schedule a demo soon.

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[Photo by cliff1066 via Flickr]

Skiers eager to return to Colorado slopes

The travel market may be in the tank, but things are looking good for Vail Resorts. Season passes for their slopes were up 13 percent last month. Sure, some of the deals have probably helped, but the market has definitely changed over the past year. In 2008, travelers were feeling the fresh sting of the financial crisis, and job cuts were looming. Everyone became more cautious, because they didn’t know if they’d fall victim to the cruel lottery to come.

Now, it looks like the worst is behind us (though nobody can be sure), and we’re all looking for a little bit of relief. For skiers, this means biting the bullet, paying what’s necessary and hitting the powder. Mark Kelley, a 59-year-old skier and real estate broker from Denver put it best: “I have always gone skiing, even during difficult times.” He continued, “I am more inclined to cut down on my spending on the mountain than to not go skiing at all.”

Ski resorts are predicting an increase in bookings this season, thanks to eager skiers who were stuck at home in 2008. And, since flights are still fairly inexpensive, they hope to draw city-dwellers from across the country. Vail Resorts, which has five ski properties, is hoping they’ll succumb to their urges.

Robert Katz, the CEO of Vail Resorts, told Bloomberg News, “This year the economy is still struggling but there is more confidence that it’s not getting dramatically worse.” He explained, “The economic issues that we faced last year started right at the beginning of ski season and got worse until the end of the season.” Now that conditions have turned, he’s hopeful that skiers will end their hibernation.

Starwood Hotels, the third largest U.S. hotel company, reports an up-tick at its ski resorts from 2008, with its St. Regis Aspen Resort “pacing better” and holiday bookings “close to being filled,” according to K.C. Kavanagh, a company spokesperson. The Dakota Mountain lodge in Park City, Utah, a Hilton Waldorf Astoria property, is also looking good.

Meanwhile, the rest of the lodging industry continues to suffer, with occupancy in the United States down 57 percent through August this year, its lowest level since at least 1987.

Gun-toting pilot gets gig back

A gun was fired in the cockpit and so was the pilot. In March 2008, on a flight from Denver to Charlotte, US Airways pilot Jim Langenhahn’s gun discharged, an action taken by his employer shortly after. Now that his 18-month disciplinary suspension is over, he’s back in training and getting ready to take to the friendly skies. The Associated Press didn’t mention whether the current program involves targets.

A federal arbitrator’s decision is what’s leading to Langenhahn’s reinstatement, but he won’t be allowed to pack heat on board. He was strapped in 2008 because of a 2002 federal law that permits pilots to carry handguns onto the plane – as long as they complete a Transportation Security Administration program that includes a week of weapons training. The law was passed following the terror attacks of September 11, 2001.

Support from the US Airways pilots’ union helped, along with a Department of Homeland Security position that found the holsters pilots used to be faulty. The holsters, DHS found, increased the likelihood of an accidental discharge.

OpenTable Diners’ Choice winners for American grub

Once your barbeque is finished and you’ve cleaned up the long, you’ll probably want to leave the house for your next meal. You’ve done your share of cooking and coped with the mess. When you’re looking for a restaurant to make your life easier tomorrow, check out OpenTable‘s list of top shops for Best American Cuisine. The winners come from 2.5 million OpenTable user reviews of more than 9,000 restaurants. And, since these are quintessentially American restaurants, you’ll extend your celebration of independence by an extra day.

Since all this is so close to July 1, you can also use it as a way to stretch Canada Day a bit. The food really isn’t any different anyway, except for a few moose dishes, I suspect.

Caroline Potter, billed as OpenTable’s dining expert, calls this “a great time to be an aficionado of American cuisine. From a melting pot of culinary influences, today’s chefs have created a cuisine that is truly our nation’s own.”

So, ready a long list of restaurants that will blow your independence-oriented mind? Look for them after the jump.

I was surprised by how few states are represented. There are 53 restaurant winners on the list, but only from 22 states. I guess Montana, Idaho and oregon don’t have much to offer … though I doubt that’s true. There are some fantastic restaurants in New Hampshire, but none made the cut. So, take this list with a grain of salt. After all, nine of the winners are the Capital Grille.

New York and California, unsurprisingly, led the way, each occupying 11 percent of the results, though neither was able to top the Capital Grille’s 17 percent. Missouri, Colorado and Maryland followed with nearly 8 percent each.

The 2009 Winners of OpenTable’s Best American Cuisine Awards

• Abacus – Dallas, TX
• Aria – Atlanta, GA
• Blue Hill – New York, NY
• Blue Hill at Stone Barns – Pocantico Hills, NY
• Bluestem – Kansas City, MO
• Café Trio – Kansas City, MO
• Capital Grille, Atlanta – Atlanta, GA
• Capital Grille, Boston – Boston, MA
• Capital Grille, Chicago – Chicago, IL
• Capital Grille, Denver – Denver, CO
• Capital Grille, Kansas City – Kansas City, MO
• Capital Grille, Lombard – Lombard, IL
• Capital Grille, Minneapolis – Minneapolis, MN
• Capital Grille, Orlando – Orlando, FL
• Capital Grille, Tampa – Tampa, FL
• Charleston – Baltimore, MD
• Charleston Grill – Charleston, SC
• Cheevers Cafe – Oklahoma City, OK
• Chez Betty – Park City, UT
• Dal Rae – Pico Rivera, CA
• David Drake – Rahway, NJ
• Eddie Merlot’s, Fort Wayne – Fort Wayne, IN
• Eddie Merlot’s, Indianapolis – Indianapolis, IN
• ELEVEN – Pittsburgh, PA
• Eleven Madison Park – New York, NY
• Fearing’s – Dallas, TX
• Flagstaff House – Boulder, CO
• Gayle – Philadelphia, PA
• Gramercy Tavern – New York, NY
• Lahaina Grill – Maui, HI
• LJ’s and the Kat Lounge – Hagerstown, MD
• Lola, A Michael Symon Restaurant – Cleveland, OH
• MICHAEL MINA – San Francisco, CA
• Mulvaney’s B&L – Sacramento, CA
• Murray’s Restaurant & Cocktail Lounge – Minneapolis, MN
• Niche – St. Louis, MO
• Paseo Grill – Oklahoma, OK
• Per Se – New York, NY
• Providence – Los Angeles, CA
• Sweet Basil – Vail, CO
• The Dining Room at The Langham Pasadena – Pasadena, CA
• The French Laundry – Yountville, CA
• The Prime Rib, Baltimore – Baltimore, MD
• The Schoolhouse at Cannondale – Wilton, CT
• Tilth – Seattle, WA
• Tristan, Charleston – Charleston, SC
• Vie – Western Springs, IL
• Vintage Tavern – Suffolk, VA
• VOLT – Frederick, MD
• White Barn Inn – Kennebunk Beach, ME