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Flying for Thanksgiving (bert.org)
323 points by janvdberg 4 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 111 comments

Flying on Thanksgiving Day is a joy. I've done it twice now. The ATL concourses are practically empty. It is a bit strange to see the flight boards almost empty on a Thursday morning.

I do bring $5 Starbucks gift cards for the entire crew of every flight I'm on to thank them for having to work on a day when most of the country is with family. It's not much, but it's something. The folks flying on holidays are low on the seniority list, so they're generally working that day because they have to, not because they want to.

This is a great idea. I'm going to do the same when I fly out Thanksgiving as well. Thank you

Wouldn't you get paid extra for working on such a day?

Depends what the union negotiates. When they negotiate overtime pay for working on holidays, you typically end up with the lucrative holiday hours being staffed by the most senior employees.

Basically, the junior people get screwed no matter what...

That doesn't make sense. If it's so lucrative that people start fighting to work on that day, even if it's a holiday they'd usually spend with family, then it's probably overpaid. You want to have the right balance so that some will agree to work during those days, but not so much that people start fighting over it.

It's also worth noting that not everyone celebrates these holidays, so for some, that's just a normal day like any other and they wouldn't mind it as much, but appreciate the slight bonus.

An almost universal union truth.

I’ve not heard of any airline doing that for the pilots. I’m not sure about other employee groups. The attitude is that it’s a 24/7 operation and everyone knows this going in. No special days.

That's incredibly wholesome, the thought didn't even occur to me.

Why $5 Starbucks gift cards and not $5 cash?

I hate gift cards. "Here, rather than crassly giving you actual money, I've spent that money on this company scrip that you can only use in one place. Aren't you excited?" Great idea, just brilliant. I'll add it to the stack of worthless iTunes cards and cards for restaurants that don't have a franchise within 500 miles...

Uh. So... those ‘worthless iTunes cards’; you wouldn’t be interested in, say, me sending you a self addressed, prestamped box, & you sending back those cards?

It’s the thought that counts.

totally agree with you. And some visa gift cards charge you monthly fee after activating them!! I had few cards that I forgot to use, and their value became $0 after a year. And I am also concerned about the environmental damage caused by millions of plastic gift cards.. all the way from sourcing, manufacturing, transporting and disposing them. And to certain extent, it forces over-consumption behavior. I got 2 kids, and always got too many BabysRus/ToysRus gift cards. I am either forced to use them or re-gift/exchange them with others. In the end, the cards always get used by either myself or the others. If unavoidable, then you can at least print/send an e-gift card.

If it's plain cash, I can just deposit them without buying anything. For these reasons, I always wrap cash in an envelope with a personal hand-written note. Have been gifting this way to teachers, postmen, home-cleaners and no one has complained so far. When my friends/colleagues try to gift for any occasion, I always encourage them to gift cash.

> to certain extent, it forces over-consumption behavior

isn't gift giving itself over-consumption? at least among peers, the other person would have just gotten the item themselves if they actually needed it.

> When my friends/colleagues try to gift for any occasion, I always encourage them to gift cash.

presumably you exchange gifts with these people on some sort of regular basis. if so, isn't this just a net zero transfer? may as well just not give gifts.

I could remember wrong but I don't think prepaid cards are allowed to charge fees like that anymore. It's why the up front cost of a prepaid Visa loaded with $50 is now more than $50, when it didn't used to be

I'll buy all your gift cards for 50% of their value.

Gift giving is more than just empty cash transfers.

You could level your hate at anything. "Great, mom. Now I'm stuck playing with this one corporation's toy instead of having the cash to buy whatever I want. Ugh, I hate it!"

It makes you sound ridiculous.

Gift cards can be a reasonable gift. For example, you know someone likes hiking etc. and buys gear at $OUTDOOR_STORE but you really don't know what they want/need. But on the whole they're a bit of a scam based on what's mostly a relatively upper class attitude, at least on the US, about giving cash as a gift.

cash is a pretty terrible gift for people who give each other presents on a regular basis, unless the relationship is not reciprocal. if you and your friend just give each other $50 on Christmas, it's sort of pointless. if you give your friend a $50 gift card, now they have to go get themselves something nice that they wouldn't have purchased otherwise.

Handing out cash is a bit gauche, isn't it?

I would have thought the American tipping culture would make most immune to that.

Being on the receiving end of tips when you don't typically get them is odd to say the least.

My wife gives horseback riding lessons; not a job that people typically offer tips for. She's very good at what she does and sometimes a new parent (it's almost always tween girls taking riding lessons) will tip her when they realize how much their kids enjoyed the session. She used to refuse, but after realizing that just made everyone feel awkward, she takes the cash now. However, while she appreciates the gesture, it still makes her feel a little weird.

A simple "thank you, you're awesome" would probably do just as well.

Gauche is a bit of an upper class word, no? Why would upper classes decide to stigmatize handing out cash as gauche?


I don't know if you live I the US, but if you just start walking around with five dollar bills and start handing them out, you really don't know what kind of reaction you're going to get. I tried giving my AT&T guy $20 for waiting for me, he wouldn't take it. Perhaps I could have insisted.

Americans can be deeply sensitive to people thinking they're poor and in need of assistance. And five bucks is practically nothing. Most people might well just take it to Starbucks anyway.

> deeply sensitive to people thinking they're poor and in need of assistance

Exactly. A gift card is appreciation. Cash is pity.

I think the common word that would be said aloud, while meaning pity, is charity.

"I don't need/want your charity..." vs "I don't need/want your pity..."

Not to mention, I think I've read that flight attendants are _prohibited_ from receiving cash tips, on pain of termination, non-cash gifts are presumably acceptable (I've heard of quite favorable treatment being lavished on passengers who show up with fresh baked goodies for the cabin crew)

I had a similar experience with the Best Buy Geek Squad. They went above and beyond and I tried to tip $20. The geek squad guy waved his hands, backed up and say "No I can't take that". He said the only thanks he wanted was filling out the survey and my repeat business.

Company policy is probably that they're not allowed to take tips. So accepting it would be a risk. Getting you to fill out the survey and give them good ratings could get them promoted instead of punished.

Every major airport in the USA is likely to have multiple Starbucks locations, they're likely to open as early as or earlier than anything else in the airport, they also have breakfast options and non coffee drinks, they have a rewards program that actually is decent for regular users, and even if you want nothing to do with Starbucks you can always pass those cards along.

I always try to fly on Thanksgiving/Christmas day (SFO->DCA this Thursday), and this is a great idea. Thank you!

Don't you end up paying more for the gift cards than you saved by flying a day later?

I think the point was that there is less chaos rather than saving a buck.

Also, it's about giving thanks and being a good human being more so than saving money.

I discovered this about three years back as well. India has quite a few holidays when you are required to travel to your home with two major festivals - Diwali(Oct/Nov) and Holi (March). Since, it is important for people to be at home for these festivals, they would book early, or take costly flights, or alternate flights. With my parents being flexible, and understanding about how I love them even when I am a day late to be at home, I ended up booking the flight on the festival day, rather than before.

Cue and Behold. An empty airplane, with a total of 30-40 people in an Airbus 320. I got upgraded to business class for free. There were no lines for boarding. The plane took off on time, landed on time, and all of us could sleep in peace (or do whatever it is people do on planes).

From that time, if I am going home for a festival, it will be the day of the festival.

Sry to be pedantic, and I do agree with your insight on travelling on Holidays. But I just want to say India is a pretty diverse country, so Holi/Diwali aren't necessarily the major holidays in many parts/sections of the country/population.

That is true. And I am in no way generalizing my experience with whole of India. But, in my experience, I have seen less crowds on Holi and Diwali. And taking flight has not failed me till now.

It’s a shame you’ll miss the festival travelling!

To each his/her own.

Growing up, my Chinese family didn't really celebrate Christmas. Consequently, we would always travel for family vacations on Christmas day. Christmas day flights were generally slightly cheaper than non-Christmas day flights, which was nice.


I also like how the writer asked for the daily number of unique users but got bandwidth usage instead.

If it wasn’t for your people, my people would starve on Christmas.



Believe it or not, this topic of "where do Jews eat on Christmas" actually came up in a light-hearted way during a Supreme Court nominee hearing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tku61sKhPGo

I wouldn't believe it if you had told me before but thanks for sharing that tidbit! Having worked a few Christmas and Christmas Eve nights at Chinese restaurants in the past, I appreciated it.

The description on that video is a doozy

I'm guessing they didn't have the number of unique users logged anywhere, and figured that their bandwidth logs were the next best thing. Rather refreshing to see that sort of thinking from a government bureaucracy rather than simply having an answer sent back of "unique users? Sorry, we don't track that".

I once got a $5 flight from Fort Lauderdale to New York on Christmas Day

Do you remember how you found it?

Yea, a promotional email from Jet Blue

Anyone else struck by the promptness of the Dept. of Technology here? Always nice to see things just like this working.

The SSID for the WiFi at SFO is called “#SFO FREE WIFI”. It’s named as if someone has a wireless hotspot in their backpack running on a battery pack trying to steal the login information for your bank.

I had the same reaction the first time I saw the WiFi SSID at SFO. “Surely that can’t actually be the name of the official WiFi here. Let’s let it keep looking for networks...”

I've seen lots of airports etc use this pattern. I've always assumed it's because # sorts before most everything else according to the ASCII code, so their SSID will show at the top of the list.

I thought it was a case of hashtag-itis.

Nah, pretty sure I remember seeing that airport WiFi ssid at sfo long before hash tags were a thing...

15 TB of data went through SFOs WiFi on Nov 26, 2017. To me that is the biggest takeaway. That is a lot of data, even for there being a ton of people flying through.

There was a Windows update that is dated for the 27th. But with timezones it could be the 26th. I’m not sure what timezone Microsoft realeases are in https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/help/4051033/windows-10-...

Assuming a podcast is 50MB, that would be 300k podcasts. If I'm about to jump on a flight, I may download 4-5, which would put that at about 60k people. I just found an article saying 53 million people flew through SFO in 2016. If we distribute those evenly (unreasonable, but ballparks it), we get just under 145k passengers / day.

Obviously web pages and mp3s are much lighter than a typical podcast, so this isn't the best methodology. 15TB is a lot, for sure, but on the busiest travel day of the year, I can rationalize it.

I see extremely few people listening to anything that's not in-flight entertainment on flights.

I bet it's mostly kids watching youtube videos.

That’s funny - I almost never see anyone using inflight entertainment screens any more. People are always watching Netflix or listening to something instead. And I think my view is supported by airlines starting to remove those screens because they’re not being used.

Depends on the airline and the route. On long haul flights on Emirates, who's known for the inflight system, everybody is using it.

Depends on the airline and the plane. If anything, I would have said there was a trend toward in-flight on-demand programming at no charge. It's increasingly delivered over WiFi but, in my experience, there's usually a screen as well. Admittedly, my experience is mostly limited to United (trending toward on-demand) and JetBlue (just free DirectTV AFAIK).

> toward in-flight on-demand programming at no charge

Huh? I've never ever seen a charge for inflight entertainment, and I fly United all the time. Maybe different routes, then.

United charges for DirectTV https://www.united.com/CMS/en-US/travel/Pages/DIRECTV.aspx

On the planes where there's on-demand programming (on your tablet or the seatback), that's free. I mostly bring my own and have never paid but I assume they're phasing out the paid option.

Webpages are pretty huge now, cnn.com is ~2MiB

Easily double that even, if don't use cache (4.4mb on a mobile device, while testing just now).

It’s not that much when you consider the size of the airport and the amount of video people now watch between Netflix, YouTube and FaceTime. You can burn through 1GB and hour with ease, so that’s really only 15,000 video hours of you want to think about it that way. I’d guess on a normal day SFO hosts at least 100,000 people.

SFO had 55.8 million passengers in 2017 so around 150k/day on average.

The graphs are cumulative, so the total is 8 TB (1TB on 5GHz and 7TB on 2.4GHz).

Those iCloud accounts ain't gonna sync themselves!

People get offline versions of podcasts, albums from streaming services, netflix, etc

I feel like Google flights would have given you the same data by showing that flying on the day of Thanksgiving is way cheaper. Just a guess, though.

Cheaper doesn't always tell you "least busy", especially when planning ahead. I'll have the misery of flying the day before Christmas this year and the flight itself was peanuts but I'm not looking forward to the airport situation.

A lot more goes into flight pricing than the available space. They'll look at their data and sometimes hold out on high prices, hoping for someone to bite on 1 ticket they desperately need vs trying to sell 5 tickets at 25% of their current price.

Source: friend works in pricing for a major airline

Given that Thanksgiving 2016's bandwidth is unremarkable, maybe Thanksgiving Sunday of 2017 had some sort of external factor, like weather-related flight delays? Though I didn't find any news specifically calling out flight delays, this was the closest and pretty vague:


Agreed, just looking at a single year at a single airport could be showing some kind of external factor, like weather, operating system updates just released, etc. Would need to repeat for multiple airports and years to get a robust conclusion.

Not that I think the conclusion is wrong - it just isn't robust.

That is a lot of effort and nice analysis, but concluding the story based on the WiFi data usage is a weak support because 1. Flights get often delayed most, during the long weekend days 2. Because it is a holiday season, people like me assume the security clearance line gets busier than the regular days and reach the airport 90 minutes earlier (45 minutes earlier on a non-holiday trip) 3. November it is, places might have covered with snow or fog (SFO might be an exemption)

I think it would have been a great support to your analysis if the peak is measured on passenger count or unique devices connected to the wifi.

I had the joy this year of flying across Europe on New Years Eve. NYE fireworks across Germany (I think it was Germany) were truly spectacular from the air.

Really ? I remember seeing the big 14th July fireworks in Cannes from an aircraft on the Nice landing approach - I found it disappointingly small...

You don’t really see individual fireworks so much as the entire landscape ripples with light

Begging the question has nothing to do with raising a question, it's a type of logical fallacy. And it's also annoying to see misused. /Pedantry

I could also just be a phrase which means just what it seems to mean. Maybe you could point me to the book of allowable phrases. If he used it to describe another logical fallacy, that would be wrong, but in this case it's just a couple words that make sense and also have some other meaning in some other context.

The words only make sense because he's likely heard it in the context of the logical fallacy. The words don't "make sense" without that. The couple of words that he'd be looking for would be "begging me to question" or "raises the question."

Try "begs for the question".

Then remember that the word "for" is often omitted after the word "beg". "beg your pardon". "beg forgiveness".

Taking the phrase as written, outside the idiom for a logical fallacy, the grammar is perfectly adequate.

I sort of discovered this myself when looking for flight prices about 4 months back around this week (flying from the US). I happen to have the whole week of Thanksgiving off from work due to it shutting down that week every year (supposedly not guaranteed but has been given every year since instituted), so I was looking to take advantage of it to travel - I settled on the UK, but picking good days/times to fly was a challenge. I knew that generally early morning/late night flights were cheaper if I could get them in general, but one thing I noticed was flights were expensive the Saturday before to fly out, and expensive the Saturday and Sunday after Thanksgiving to fly back.

I settled on flying out the Friday before Thanksgiving, and flying back on Black Friday for a savings of about $200-300. My flight to the UK though was completely full, in part owing that SFO is a major United hub whose employees take advantage of flying standby whenever they can. I’ll be a little surprised if it is full going back though.

Oh man, how I love data! Good work on this post.

Very cool approach indeed, but there's also this ;)


That data is only monthly

I planned a holiday to the USA last year with my wife. Intentionally planned our trip to Disneyland (1 of 3.5 weeks) to avoid school holidays etc.

Accidentally planned to attend the week of thanksgiving. Fortunately realised before my flights were booked and changed it to the week after.

Near miss :) apparently it’s one of the busiest weeks for Disneyland. And many families end up taking the entire week off not just thanksgiving? I had no idea and found that crazy but there you go :)

Although not universal, a lot of companies give the day after Thanksgiving off as well as Thanksgiving itself. (And, typically, not a lot gets done on at least the Wednesday afternoon as well.) So it's a pretty common week for families (and others) to take off.

The weird thing to me about flying on Thanksgiving (I don't observe it) is how sorry the air staff is for me "of you have to miss out on fly on thanksgiving"). While they have to work on that day and apparently it matters to them!

Since it matters to them I thank them for their concern. But it's really simply an easy day to travel if I have a reason to.

Friends and I, for years, used to go to Vegas for thanksgiving -- late 90s until mid 2000s. The change in travel patterns and when people flew was interesting.

The reason for vegas - multiple people from different areas that mostly had direct flights to Vegas.

These days, I tend to pick areas that are quiet and relatively easy to get to -- a lot of those have been exploring the Sierra or remote parts of the coast.

This reminds me: I procrastinated and haven't booked my Christmas ticket yet... Bay Area to Atlanta — anyone got any tips? I think Google Flights is the best way to find the cheapest ticket, but if there's something else out there I'd be glad to know!

When I was buying a ticket to Europe for study abroad I was checking these sites, in the end I used the first one, but all were helpful:

* http://www.momondo.com/

* https://www.kayak.com/flights

* https://www.cheapoair.com/

* https://www.google.com/flights/ ($$$)

* https://www.hipmunk.com/ ($$$)

* http://kiwi.com/

* https://www.skyscanner.net/

The ones with the dollars signs were the most expensive. These sites are not all equal some are more reputable than others, etc.

Anecdotally, use the brave browser to look for hotels and flights. Since it blocks tracking I’ve heard you will see lower cost flights (I’ve also heard the converse that searching with iPhone/safari may result in higher prices.) https://www.reddit.com/r/BATProject/comments/9gkcow/brave_br...

This is quite an ancient myth of flight pricing, and I'd love to see it die, but alas it will not. Your cookies and/or browser fingerprint has basically no effect on flight prices.

In addition, the "proof" provided on that subreddit has quite a few problems:

A) That route is priced ridiculously anyway, and they are looking at Delta, who always price ridiculously. Delta doesn't care about price-conscious shoppers, so they have virtually no incentive to try and segment fares based on browsing history, etc.

B) They're looking at a third party flight aggregator. These are the WORST ways of buying flight tickets. They're decent for _finding_ deals, but 9/10 times, the airline's website sells it cheaper, and the airline's website gives you more benefits anyway (as you're the buyer and/or owner, not the online travel agent).

C) Furthermore, these online travel agents cache flight lookups _very_ heavily. My guess is that the search with TOR routes to a different edge server with a different cache. API calls to the airlines are extremely costly.

The best way of getting a cheaper flight has nothing to do with your browser, so don't worry about it. The best ways of saving money are based on _when_ you buy, and of course what airline. Don't buy on a weekend, and try not to fly on one either. Holidays are similar, except it's not a bad idea to actually fly ON a holiday, but not around one.

What about using a vpn to change your geo to try and get geo-based deals? This website appears to have some proof of this approach working: https://www.privateinternetaccess.com/blog/2018/07/how-to-ge...

When I tried it with their built in TOR, many travel sites just refused to serve me a page.

It's very advisable to consider a low-cost online travel agent if you're really trying to save a few more bucks (usually 5-10%). Find the flight that works for your budget on Google Flights, then search for those dates on something like Momondo which lists many third-party OTAs, and you'll likely find the same ticket for a little cheaper.

Note that most of them won't offer the free 24-hour cancellation required in the US for airlines, and I have heard about problems with tickets sometimes not being issued correctly, but I have used whichever OTA happens to be the cheapest when I'm booking and have never run into problems.

If you can, just stay longer and work remotely for a couple of days ? Google Flights tells you day-to-day flight prices.

I set Hopper for a date I'm interested in and let it tell me the best time to buy. https://www.hopper.com

Never attempted travel at Thankgiving, but for about 15 years running we would fly home on Christmas day after visiting family in Portland Oregon. We would leave in the evening, after a full day of festivities. The airport was like a ghost town. It was awesome.

Pdx is like a ghost town most days depending on the time. I think it’s what makes the airport so nice.

As someone that is working in an airport on Thanksgiving, this is accurate.

and SFO's free wifi ssid really is kind of creepy.

i'm also amazed still at just how slow and awful a lot of AT&T wifi still is. They should be ashamed of how slow it is.

> I don’t know the backstory of why most FOIA requests end up with data being formatted in the worst way possible

It's malicious compliance. They're required to give you the info, but they aren't required to make your life easier.

I assumed they used PDF because it's a more stable format that is harder to accidentally modify on receipt. They may also need to store it on their end in case they need to prove what they provided, and provide some level of forgery prevention or detection.

Hanlon’s razor

Great post. Is there any resource out there to help non-technical journalists process poorly-formatted FOIA data dumps? (Either a how-to guide, or by directly helping out with ETL pro bono)?

TIL about ghostscript's txtwrite function. A dawn of a new era!

I like to fly international on the afternoon of Christmas day - I get to have breakfast with my family then arrive in another continent to look forward to a stress-free New Years.

Thanksgiving and Christmas - best days to fly. Especially if you are not seeing family either of those days.

Really enjoyed reading this, thanks for the post!

so many numbers !!!!!

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