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“This flight has been oversold, we are looking for volunteers to give up their seats and in exchange we will offer a $275 flight voucher with no blackout dates.”

I found it odd that the gate agent used the term “oversold” instead of “overbooked” as if to skirt the connotation that it was any fault of the seller; that the demand in the free market is really what generated the selling of more seats than actually exist on the plane.  And there is the exact problem, a seller offering something they can’t follow through on.  Consumerism has suffered and debt has ballooned in historically painful pasts and present as average Joes have purchased goods on credit they didn’t have the assets to back up.  The dilemma seems no less problematic from the other end where a company is taking money for a product it can’t actually deliver on.  All too often on airlines, “this flight has been oversold” is the opening salutation that marks the beginning of the painful boarding process.

Fuel costs are at all time highs, overweight passengers cost more to transport, security costs are through the roof; we’ve all heard the headlining explanations as to why airlines are collapsing as if the age of air empires is being grounded.  So, like any modern business they begin to rely more on economics and statistics.  The carriers know that a certain number of passengers will not make it onto the plane.  They will reschedule flights, change plans altogether, or who knows, just not show.  Big data is the emerging technology that is shifting the way that all businesses conduct themselves and effective tracking/use has made gross national trillions. Although, the problem is that complex data sets can’t reliably track human behavioral outcomes without fail.

Computational matrices will say based on past traveler habits, seasonal trends, weather, and whole variety of other proprietary coded secrets to sell five more tickets than actual seats on the plane.  The data shows the likelihood that 5 people won’t show up and instead of an airline missing out on that potential $1,000+ in ticket sales, they overbook.  Intentionally.

Last night at Ronald Reagan Airport (DCA) as the clock rolled closer to midnight and delays for the last flight to BDL (Hartford) compounded, the gate agent announced with increasing fervor that,

“This flight has been oversold, we are looking for volunteers to give up their seats and in exchange we will offer a $275 flight voucher with no blackout dates.”

I have always heard these announcements and been so jealous of the lucky travelers who could lay claim so just an offer of gold.  With no churning agendas, they could confidently delay their plans and pocket a free flight for another day.  Well last night, I was in the lucky position to have the same circumstances cast upon me.  Feeling bad about the prospect of abandoning my CEA group on the last leg of our journey together, I didn’t have specific Saturday plans so I at least humored myself in talking to the US Airways employee manning the microphone.

No sooner had we entered the airport had we gotten notification that our already late flight had been delayed.  Are delays becoming more standard than on time flights?

No sooner had we entered the airport had we gotten notification that our already late flight had been delayed. Are delays becoming more standard than on time flights?

“This flight has been oversold, we are looking for volunteers to give up their seats and in exchange we will offer a $275 flight voucher with no blackout dates,” she said in response to my inquiry.

“Yea…I caught that part…what is the next flight we would get booked onto?” I queried

“805 tomorrow morning.”

As I processed how that would stick me with yet another night around 5 hours to sleep, I asked about hotel accommodations for the night.  I was met with the response of, “We are not offering hotel rooms at this time.”  I did that sideways head turn that dogs do when they are either confused by your actions or hoping you feed them table scraps.  Knowing the cheapest hotels in DC are around $400, this struck me as downright dumb.  This offer might only entice a person who lives in DC and already has lodging to take this deal.  Otherwise, by my count, it would be a net loss to the customer of $125.

I felt bad for the 5 angry people who were standing in a separate line up against the wall in desperation just hoping someone would give up their seat, but this was just a bad offer I walked away from.  I was with a union group and figured there was no need to negotiate at this time, simply wait for the airline to feel more pressure and wait for a better offer. This unfortunately did not happen for the next 30 minutes of pre-loading organization.  As Zones 1 and 2 boarded the plane, no deals had been made.  The same 5 people stood in the same line, only the general atmosphere had transformed from frustration to anger and was teetering on rage.   I was ¾ of the way back in Zone 3 boarding (out of 4 zones total).  Just before my boarding pass was scanned, I asked the agent if she was still looking for people to get bumped off the flight.  She responded with an emphatic “Yes, yes, yes…pleeeeeeease!!” I asked if they were offering a hotel yet, and if so, I would also need cab-fare to get there.  I was particularly impressed with myself for mentally mapping out that last part.  I unfortunately had failed to ask about food vouchers, which, note to self: do next time.  She called up her supervisor, brokered the deal in no more than 20 seconds of desperation and told me to step out of line so they could process everything after the plane was loaded.  I asked her if I could have a later flight than 805 so I could have time to explore the city a little more, and she snapped back, “Yes, there is an 1100 flight, just please step out of line.”

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Another teacher with our group asked for straight up cash.  She was told they “couldn’t offer that anymore” to which she speedily sidestepped onto the plane.  One other man took the deal that I got and in the mean time the 5th person in the stand-by line gave up hope and walked away.  That meant there were two bodies left yearning for this nighttime flight and the comfort of their own Connecticut beds.  The girl in front, sporting a UCONN sweatshirt unabashedly broke into tears that dribbled down onto Jonathon the Husky.

My information was processed minutes later.  I was given a hotel voucher, flight voucher, and told a shuttle would pick me up in 10 minutes.  I walked toward ground transportation and stood statue like, frozen in the cool wind, wishing I had packed a jacket while I waited for a bus bearing the Hyatt Regency Crystal something-or-other markings.  Shortly thereafter, I was whisked away to my hotel. In 8 minutes, I entered the stunningly modern and breathtaking lobby, was processed by reception and entered a chic and impressive hotel room, which for the third night in a row had an extra bed I wouldn’t be using.  I smugly paused at the threshold and thought to myself about how proud I was of my decision.  I had beaten the system.  I wouldn’t have to drive until 2am to get home from Hartford; I would claim a good night’s rest in a different and exciting environment.  I turned on the TV which was a treat to watch for once and fell asleep to the MSNBC reportings of corporate greed.

For $810, I would not have thought this was a good deal, but a clean, modern hotel room just asking to be slept in for the cost of $0 is a warm and welcome sight.

For $810, I would not have thought this was a good deal, but a clean, modern hotel room just asking to be slept in for the cost of $0 is a warm and welcome sight.

This morning was leisurely as I woke up at 8:30, made a chamomile tea, and flipped through a DC sightseeing coffee table book after a long shower.  I had time to peruse the gift shop before I caught the 920 shuttle back to the airport.  I spent all of that time wondering where I would go with my new flight voucher.  I dreamed of exploring Denali National Park, touring my family around San Francisco, or relaxing on picturesque beaches in Cancun (wait, does US Airways fly to Mexico?).

TSA regulations are definitely made for worst case scenarios.  I have never taken longer than ten minutes to get through security and after that minor yet reassuring inconvenience of de-belting and barefoot body scanning, I settled in at my gate to trek onward past the first 95 pages of Gone Girl. The 1100 flight delayed to 1150.  1150 delayed to 1245.  1245 delayed to 215.  215 delayed to never.  The flight was cancelled all of a sudden.  The false hope all of the delays gave the mob around me only increased the irate shouts of passengers who were tired of being jerked around.  We were fed constant lies over the PA system of our plane being late to arrive from another location (even though it was already parked on the tarmac), of our captain and crew running late (but told they would be there in only 5 minutes on three separate occasions), and of weather issues.  As everyone around me got incensed, I just kept trying to crack what was going on with Nick and Amy in this growing murder-mystery of a book.  Every 15 minutes I heard “Attention military members, the USO lounge is open from 6am-10pm and can be accessed through…” blah blah blah. It would be the thing I heard most by the end of the day, because it is now 900pm and I have been in this terminal for almost 12 hours.

The customer service line hadn’t shrunk to under 20 people in the first 10 hours I was here, and I reckon when I hopped in it, I was a solid 60 people deep.  I tweeted and called US Airways with my dying phone as I inched toward the counter in an hour total.  I was told I was automatically rescheduled to the 835pm flight because the 4pm flight was booked and that I just had to stay in line to get my new ticket printed.  I wanted to make sure that I would actually get home tonight so I asked what the reason for the cancellation was.  I had heard it was weather, but the rep on the phone said that was not the case, nothing was posted in her system, but if it was weather, they would have known.  For that reason, she confirmed that I could request food vouchers in response to me directly asking.  Once at the counter, I was told no food vouchers because the original flight was cancelled due to weather (lies!) and that I would be put on standby for the last flight of the night at 835pm.  I was dismissed and given a ticket with no seat number or boarding zone.  Normal me would have been enraged, but I just didn’t really care.  I wanted to make sure I was going to get home, but the waiting didn’t bother me as much as it visibly did the passengers of the other flights around me that were cancelled.

I stood at a charging station to get my phone some juice, and went through 5 customer service phone calls, 3 internet confirmations, and 45 minutes of being on hold.  While I wish these numbers were exaggerations, they are not.  In the end, all it took was one competent person, the last man I talked to who said he just had to click one button on his end to assign me a seat and I could see any ticketing agent 4 hours before the flight to print out a boarding pass.  While the process sucked up a lot of my day, I ‘m not mad because I’ve been super productive.  With no bed to nap on, no wifi to be distracted by, and consequently no Netflix to be consumed by, I was stuck with a book and my mind.  I let my phone battery die down so no one could text me, and I just fell in to my book.  This must be why Thomas Jefferson was able to read as many books as he did in his life.  I had just seen his collection at the Library of Congress for the second time in my life and am still in awe.  What does my generation do when given free time? We distract ourselves, we do something mentally passive while the time ticks by.  It felt good to immerse myself in something that required brainpower and long periods of focus even if I did have to spend a whole day in a noisy airport with food I can’t eat (Still going strong on Whole 30 even though it’s around day 65).  And at the end of the day, I still have a free flight to somewhere.

Replica of Thomas Jefferson's library on exhibit at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC. Photo taken from washington.org

Replica of Thomas Jefferson’s library on exhibit at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC. Photo taken from washington.org

 

To see the high resolution photo album from the trip, click here: Brian F Germain’s Flickr Account, CEA/NEA Orientation Album

 

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Every year, the Connecticut Education Association takes $489 from my paychecks.  The National Education Association takes $183, and my own local union takes…well I’ve never actually looked into it since the deduction is automatic and I can’t stop it anyway.  I teach units in US History about the importance of unions, workers’ rights and collective bargaining, yet I regarded my own union as a convoluted pyramid scheme I was locked into since there is no “opt-out” option.  How’s that for professional cognitive dissonance? I know they negotiate our contracts, which being the arrogant, invincibility-complex young man that I am, always left me wondering if I could have done a better job striking a deal on my own.  The only other thing I knew about our teacher’s union was that they will provide a lawyer if you either do something bad, or get accused of doing something bad.  As I didn’t ever plan on doing anything wrong or making any enemies that would bring false allegations against me, I felt this money to be unjustly stolen.  Around $800 each year is taken and I have gotten nothing in return.

CEA Orientation Group, 2015. Taken from CEA Facebook page.

CEA Orientation Group, 2015. Taken from CEA Facebook page.

 

The CEA boasts 43,000 active members and 6,000 retired members, who can either pay a lifetime membership fee of $250 or $55 each year.  They also boast 3,000 student members, but I’m not sure what the financial obligation for a college student is.  Overall, this inflates the Hartford cash-cow to $22 million of annually flowing dues money.  Now, rest-assured, every single penny brought in is also spent, as verified by outside CPA firm audits; but what does such a powerful sum of pooled capital really get? How is it put to use? What does it buy?

 Had I been as resourceful as I pride myself in being, I could have just logged onto the CEA website and figured all of this out.

The CEA headquarters across from the Capitol is owned outright by CEA and was built in 1991.  CEA itself is housed on the 5th and top story where membership, media, policy and all of the things one may associate with the union actually go down.  Each floor below it is devoted to its own specific role that is vital to CEA’s mission and a whole 292 parking spaces exist in the convenient underground garage to support the individuals working in this 113,000sq.ft. facility.  All of this is according to Glenn Silva, Director of Technology, Administrative, and Building Operations.  I’m not sure why one job title covers technology and the building, but if it works, it works.

CEA Board Room

CEA Board Room

It is up on the 5th floor where Vinnie Lofredo, Director of Government and Political Relations organizes testimony to be given before the General Assembly.  He showed off his stylish lanyard and tag that all lobbyists are required to wear in conjunction with regulation policies that require they report all money and time spent politically.  I’m absolutely positive these regulations came amid the shady, closed door dealings for which lobbyists are renowned in pop culture.  While many policies that make the legislative agenda through the time and effort of his team seem like they should be common sense initiatives anyway, I recognize I am looking at this from the bias perspective of an educator.  If the existence of lobbying is necessary in this modern day labyrinth of laws, I’m happy to have the gears of the political machine greased by people in my own self-interest.  At least the peculiar organization that is the education lobby is funded by educators as opposed to some sketchy third part conglomerate and maintains wholesome and moral goals.  At the end of the day we are trying to shape laws to benefit all students and provide more equitable learning opportunities.

Of course, political relies on public opinion and a valuable asset to any reform is to win the hearts and minds of the people.  Laurel Killough is the New Media Coordinator/Editorial Assistant for Communications who connects educators and the general public to the issues.  Utilizing tried and true methodologies like the CEA Advisor, coverage of special events and projects, 21st Century media tweets its presence as well.  Social media of all types are leveraged which in part help provide a platform for digital content which go beyond blogs and standard web applications to include sublime videography most recently coming out with this official commercial:

 

The CEA will help local chapters establish a web presence and give tips for growing a platform that will function properly and attract real usage from the membership.  Dave Canales, webmaster and lead designer at CEA has invested three years of coding his golden vision into CEA.org to transform it from an antiquated plop on Google’s baziliionth page of search results for “CEA” to a number one result that offers streamlined and user friendly information diffused through a gorgeous web platform.  The site houses resources that union members want, need, and use. All negotiated contracts are posted on the site, so if members are entering negotiations and want to see what other districts have used for legal language to establish a clause for sabbatical, or class size caps, the previously unavailable information gives teachers negotiating power.  Teachers can see decisions being made in Hartford that will affect them and unite to take courses of action in support or defense of proposed policy.  One other beautiful feature of the webpage is a listing of upcoming sponsored events, many of which the union covers costs for.  Want to learn about racial inequality in education, teaching sexual tolerance, education and the law, or connect with other educators at political events? There’s an event to suite your needs! The webpage is an important tool that unites us as a profession.  Knowledge is power and that’s exactly what the CEA website offers us all.

 

The CEA contract section has tons of valuable resources.  Looking at job postings and wondering what the salary schedule is for certain districts? Look it up at cea.org

The CEA contract section has tons of valuable resources. Looking at job postings and wondering what the salary schedule is for certain districts? Look it up at cea.org

 

Linette Branham, the director of Policy, Research, and Reform took from and center of the CEA boardroom to explain her role in the noble cause of education.  She first warmed us up by saying that there is an “Evaluations” tab on the CEA website to see policy letters that the Governor and other higher-ups send to Superintendents.  I think everyone was pleased to learn of the transparency available and the fact that if we wanted to see initiatives or political information coming down the pipe, we could easily do so.  Loving this option, she next stated that she was in charge of TEAM.  Now her immediate inclination was to go on a jaunt about how superior this program is to BEST, the old system of new teacher training and induction. Being one of the only young bloods around the table, I think I was one of a handful who understood the stressful fury of TEAM, but I also recognized that compared to BEST, this was a cake walk.  I have in fact never, EVER, heard one good thing about BEST, so am thrilled it has been trashed.  As I pondered on the words Linette spoke and thought about my own early education excursions, I realized just how important the program was.  While it was a stressful struggle to be a new teacher and balance the million things a new classroom bombarded me with, I had to research and experiment in the classroom while tracking results, being observed, and log a final report.  The process for 2 years was daunting, but I can honestly say it made me a better educator.  I still use pieces of a token economy I implemented in year one and all of the research in innovation has led me to where I am today: constantly trying new things.  I have flipped my class, gamified learning, and am rolling out Mastery Based Learning and Standards Based Grading next year.  My mentor has continued to be my guide in the district long after the program has finished, and knowing that many educators don’t get the guidance to find current trends in education post-college, I always provide information on that topic at the start of professional development seminars I run.  So, TEAM, to me you are like high school English class.  I hated you at the time, but looking back, I am so fortunate you were there to give me the skills that are contributing to my current success.  Thanks, Linette. Just for fun, if you want to see an unknown draft of my first TEAM paper, you can do that here: Brian’s First TEAM Paper.

The entire fourth floor of CEA’s building is devoted to workman’s compensation, which is a legal matter that my mind has never dwelled on much.  Still this seems like a floor worthy cause, especially as we are first of all a labor union and also looking to include mental impairments in coverage as well. For more information on that, please see the following article: Workers Comp to Cover Mental Impairment

The third floor houses legal counsel.  Everything I gleaned about their operation comes from Chris Hankins, head of that department. From his seven minute synopsis, I could tell this is the type of guy I’d love to have a coffee with; authentically enthusiastic and humorous at the evening hour he spoke with us, his demeanor definitely made him a joy to listen to.  Chris and the two other members of his counsel have a 72 page booklet for distribution called “Teachers and the Law” which they will bring to a PD of the same name if 30 or more educators in the district attend.  He says the 3rd floor is rather empty, but that legal has to have its own floor because when the press comes to cover CEA activity, if they caught crying teachers seeking consultation, it would be bad publicity.  On that topic, Chris says it is their official policy to have a box of tissues in every single room and that “men cry harder than women.” He hit a noticeable number of tangents cursing DCF, so while legalities restrict him from talking about what exactly he sees teachers for, it is not good.  The hierarchy for problem solving in the union goes like this: 3,000 building reps–>157 Union Presidents–>24 Regional UniServ Reps–>3 Counselors.  We were assured that the counselors get involved only after the hierarchy has been exhausted and it is almost certainly a career ending event.  Basically, if you see Chris Hankins come into your school, you’re going to want to talk to him because he’s probably an awesome guy, but you’re also about to have the worst day of your life.

 

Men cry harder than women.

 

The second floor houses the American Federation of Teachers, which I believed was the other “rival” union in the state.  When I worked in New Haven, they represented us and as I learned in orientation, they serve mostly large urban districts.  Apparently in the 1980’s these two unions were poaching each other’s members.  If CEA was perceived to not handle something properly, a teacher from a district where this happened was likely to call AFT who would then rally the district to switch the entity that represents them and the long, expensive tug-of-war with membership would begin.  By the late 80’s the strain had been seen, and for the greater good, both unions called a truce.  They decided to join their powers and collectively bargain with politicians for better schools, better support, and better outcomes.  So while the unions remain two separate entities, they act as friends of a common cause that have united to improve the lives of educators, students, and families which will have an untold ripple effect across our state and nation.

 

Sandy Hook Memorial. It was promised to be built on Capitol property, but was denied for unknown (to me) reasons. It's now housed in the CEA lobby across the street.

Sandy Hook Memorial. It was promised to be built on Capitol property, but was denied for unknown (to me) reasons. It’s now housed in the CEA lobby across the street.

To see the high resolution photo album from the trip, click here: Brian F Germain’s Flickr Account, CEA/NEA Orientation Album

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