It is Jan 3rd, 2010 9:00a EST or 6:00a PST (aka the time zone I am accustomed to) and as I write this I am flying high over the U.S. aboard Alaska Airlines — returning from a quick trip to Miami, FL for my sister-in-law’s wedding. This trip could not have come at a worse time for me from a business stand point as I had a large amount of work to complete. I loaded up my standard compliment of travel gear and my MacBook Air — with the hope to get work done on the plane.
MacBook Air and Flying
On the way to Miami we flew coach and I was position in a middle seat. The work that I needed to do was in Adobe’s InDesign app (report design) and I can tell you that after 10 minutes of trying there was no comfortable way to do this type of work. A trackpad and a middle coach seat are not conducive to this type of work. I stowed my computer and caught some ZZZ’s before we landed.
Fast forward to the end of our trip and on our return flight to Seattle my wife and I were able to finagle a cheap first-class ticket. First-class is far from an ideal spot to type in, but it certainly is not uncomfortable. I don’t care much for the distractions that in-flight WiFi offers so I have forgone paying for the service.
I feel confident now in saying that the 13” MacBook Air is not usable for anything other than video watching in the coach cabin of Alaska Airlines — it is very usable in the first-class cabin. I would gather that you would be fine typing on an 11” model in coach, but heavy trackpad use would still remain challenging. The tray tables are a bit too high for natural typing and resting the computer on your lap will cause strain on your neck after a bit. Overall I was pretty happy with using the Air in first-class and miserable in coach with it.
Sunny Isle, Florida & AT&T
The wedding was held at the Trump International Hotel in Sunny Isle, FL and that is also where my wife and I stayed. We were fortunate enough to get a room on the 30th floor facing the ocean — a beautiful and distracting view. The Trump hotel and the area surrounding it offers some of the worst AT&T data speeds that I have ever experienced.
The coverage seemed adequate (I usually had at least two bars), but the network speed was almost unusable. It was not unusual to not be able to refresh Twitter or check email. I had to precariously hold the phone on the top to get some Internet access.
I talked to a few other AT&T users without iPhones as well as some Verizon users with Blackberries and everyone seemed to experience the same problems. From talking to some local residents this is the norm for that area, in part due to the amount of users in the area and also complicated by the tall structures and dense walls. Frustrating for sure.
WiFi & MiFi
As with most hotels, the Trump offered its guests WiFi Internet for a fee. There were two levels as I tweeted — the first was priced at $10 a day for 512kbps and the faster optioned was $13 a day for 1.5mbps access. Both were less than stellar options. I would be at the hotel for 5 days, and there was no way I would be willing to pay this monster rate for each of the five days.
Instead I decided that I would use my Verizon MiFi, tethered to my Laptop via USB (doing this gives you slightly faster Internet speeds and infinitely improved MiFi battery life).
This worked out great for the most part with the MiFi averaging a 4/5 bar signal strength on the EVDO network. The problem though: the internet speed I was getting was around 0.3MBPs — which is anything but good.
The work I was doing was minimal (aside from uploading stuff to Flickr) so the Internet speed didn’t kill me, but it certainly was not enjoyable. Perhaps the fact that I am getting older is making me more frugal, but I just despise when hotels deem it necessary to charge guests for WiFi access.
I will say this once more: cheaper hotels offer free WiFi and business travelers love it, expensive hotels charge you for crappy internet access and everyone complains. Perhaps expensive hotels need to pull a page from the Starbucks playbook and convert their WiFi to free. Starbucks is leading the charge in how to offer better customer service for a cheaper price — there is a reason I like to go to Starbucks for remote working — time to wake up hotel industry.
The second day at the hotel presented a new challenge: two people set to give toasts at the wedding were told that it was preferred that they not talk while reading from an electronic device — instead they were encouraged to use paper. No one brings a printer along though, so I being the resident geek was tasked with printing about 7 pages worth of stuff.
I grabbed my iPad and MacBook Air and headed down to the business center. There were instructions for hooking up your laptop to print — though all were for PC users and not having a lot of time (and that I am not Rhone) I decided it would be best to use the PCs that were available.
10 minutes, 14 pages and $24 later I was done. The computer cost $7.50 to use for 15 minutes and $0.50 for each additional minute. The black and white printing I did was priced at $1 a page. Outrageous. (I ended up printing two copies of each speech in two different formats to allow the reader to select which ever would be more comfortable for them to read.)
Overall the trip was fun, but the AT&T network was unbearable and Verizon was hardly better. The 13” MacBook Air was a perfect companion once in the room and fit perfectly in the small room safe. My iPad was perfect all around once again.
My iPhone made me understand why people want a Verizon model so badly and the hospitality industry is responding to the recession by adding fees instead of providing incentives for people to stay with them. Overall all this made me feel as though I was constantly being ripped off.
I miss Seattle with its robust AT&T network. And my own bed.
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