Air travel blues

Given that BLTN began as a travel weblog, I have to write about today’s experience.

Late this fall we’re traveling to Norway, chasing the Northern Lights aboard the Queen Mary 2. I’ve been stressing about nailing down the US-Europe tickets, given the crazy economy and fuel prices. Today I got that done after 4-5 hours (!!) of hard work and frustration. Lessons learned:

  • COVID has broken air travel as we used to know it. Nothing is certain. Assume nothing.
  • Travel agents or flight consolidators aren’t trustworthy. You think you have a good deal and suddenly the deal changes, within minutes. A pox on Momondo and Crystal Travel.
  • A lot of the flight comparators/consolidators options are silly, 2-3 stop options that take you 30 hours to travel an otherwise 11 hour nonstop. I realize that some folks are willing to trade time for money (and I am, up to a point), but many of the options advertised are just stupid. I’m not spending 30 hours to get across the Atlantic on a plane.
  • Even dealing directly with airlines on their websites, things get flaky. Prices change, seats disappear, new charges are revealed as you get closer to paying for the flight. United’s website went completely wonky on me as I tried different scenarios. And British Air’s website was well behaved but wanted to charge me a shitload of money to select seats in business class, after telling me what the business class fare would be. Not nice.
  • There are no refunds. You can get a flight credit if you change your mind (I did), but no refunds. And if you book a flight through a third party agent, the agent has to be involved in getting your refund. I’ve got a couple of thousand dollars locked up in that little unadvertised mess.
  • Unlike Southwest in the US, buying a Europe trip as two one-way transactions/journeys is complicated. Dangerous. What costs you $1000 one direction might be 2-3X the other direction.
  • Traveling to and from London is about the priciest option available to get to Europe. I ended up taking us in and out of Amsterdam, a city I love to visit. And better fares.

I’ve landed on KLM as our carrier of choice for this trip. Easy to use website, great fares, a solid reputation, and the best thing ever – a feature to lock in seats and a fare for 36 hours while you do your homework. It cost me $36 to lock things in with KLM and I couldn’t be happier. Every airline should do this.


The Turing test becomes an issue for a Google employee. Poor guy lost his job over the claims. And the fact that this guy is a priest who seems to want to protect the AI’s soul (my word, not the article’s), is an extra layer of juicy complication.

You can see where this is going – at some point soon a chatbot will be convincing enough that anyone will believe they are speaking with a sentient being, sooooo…what do we then label the software? It’s possible that a chatbot could be good enough to be 100% convincing of a thought process behind the scenes and know absolutely nothing beyond how to converse. For that matter, maybe we’re simply mobile language processing machines? If you can teach the chatbot math, does that qualify it as sentient? Machines can already learn.

I think the test needs to be more about autonomy, about free will. A baby is born with a will – it wants things, even though it doesn’t understand them. Because it wants, it takes action. So if a chatbot suddenly initiates action, if it seems to want to reach a goal, then we should talk about sentience. And if an AI decides it needs a priest…yikes! Head for the exits, because a religious machine intelligence would be the worst possible outcome for humanity. The Crusades 2.0. There’s definitely a novel in that idea.

Very sad news from Louisville today. A mass shooting happened at the foot of the Big Four Bridge, shortly after a gun control rally downtown. All those involved were juveniles, which begs the questions: Where were their parents? Where did they get the guns?

We walk and bike across that bridge, so I’m sad and concerned to hear that it’s a gathering place for kids with guns.