Oh American Airlines

Online check-in opened up 24 hours before our flight to the US last week, so when I went to check in I was a little surprised to see that ALL the seats were taken aside from some hefty upgrade options. Then I was disappointed.

It seemed a little scammy to me. Would we really have to chalk up more money in order to get seats together after we had bought tickets together (and assigned seats) four months previously?

Kay actually sounded vaguely interested in spending an additional $180 to get some emergency exit row seats together, but the principle of it really disturbed me. I bought two seats together with plenty of time before the rest of the plane filled up. Our seats should be together! I didn’t want to have to pay significantly more just to sit together.

American airlines responded via Twitter and said they would look into it, and after a little while they told me that some seats opened up and we would only be a couple rows from each other, which is easier to ask people to switch than when you are on opposite ends of the plane from one another. But when I checked our reservations later in the evening the night before we flew, we were still in the same seats above. I was frustrated so I went to bed and hoped something would open up in the morning.

Luckily seats had changed again in the morning and I was able to change our reservation to two seats together finally. But the site told me while my seats were confirmed, they would have to print them at the airport. Fine.

At the airport, we received our tickets and our seats were still together, but when we got on the plane I realized the seats were in an entirely different section than I had confirmed online. And on our connecting flight and the flights home, we were also together but on totally different seats than our reservations had told us. It’s really like a slot machine. You have no idea where you will end up on the plane! I can’t imagine paying for business tickets and being treated this way, but it seems to be totally fine to treat economy passengers with these mystery seats.

We were also always in the last boarding zone, group 4. I believe most airlines use boarding zones to fill the plane up faster from the back to the front, but on our last flight by the time group 4 was called and we made our way onto the plane, the back of the plane (row 39 out of 44) was almost completely full already and many people further ahead and further behind had been seated before us.

It didn’t make any sense.

During check-in I was asked if I wanted to upgrade to group 1 boarding for $10 a piece. I said no of course. It really seems like boarding zones are based on how much you paid for your ticket and not where you are sitting in the plane. And in the end, loading people into the plane after it has filled up wastes time and causes more flight delays. Our plane landed in Zürich almost an hour late. Coincidence? I think the poorly planned boarding zones contributed to the delay. Many people straggling into the plane late had issues storing their carry on luggage away because everyone around them had already taken it and we had to wait for flight attendants to help sort the issue out.

Does anybody else have experience with American Airlines having totally bogus seating arrangements and funky boarding groups? I really get the feeling that they are just trying to make an extra dollar off me. I’d rather have them treat passengers normally and roll those costs into tickets if need be. Otherwise, I will be choosing other more dependable airlines in the future.

Starting to think I should write up some airline reviews when we fly… What do you think, is that worth reading?

Filling up the Balcony

We bought our new giant sun umbrella back in August, but it didn’t come with all the parts and Obi took forever to send us the replacement, so it was awhile before we finally set it up.

Of course when we finally got the part it wasn’t very sunny out!

It’s a pretty big umbrella, but on our balcony it still looks surprisingly small. We’ll have to wait until next summer to place it for maximal sun-blocking, but for now the days are really starting to get much darker already so we’ll just leave it before we take it in for the winter.

And before our housewarming party last weekend I found a great lounge set on sale on ricardo.ch that we could pick up just in time for our event.

It’s a super big L-lounge that we can configure in different setups with an additional chair and a generously sized table with glass table top. All the pieces are rattan with white cushions.

I’m really happy that we found everything for our balcony this summer. From the two tables, new Weber grill, lounge, umbrellas and hammocks, it was a lot of expenses, but we were able to get everything on sale or used so we did save a lot.

Next year I can focus on filling up the balcony with plants!

Why is Switzerland so expensive?

Lauren posed this question on my previous entry and it got me thinking: Why is Switzerland so expensive? Especially compared to all the European countries surrounding it?

After living here for a few years, I do have several suspicions why.

(Photo via socialjusticefirst)

First is that Switzerland IS an island of sorts… we are located in the middle of the EU, but not part of it. This makes a huge difference with import and export and VAT going between the different countries, especially if goods are made in one country, filled and assembled in another and then delivered and sold in another country.

The EU-island position also affects supply and demand on a local level as well. Many places online will ship everywhere in the EU but not to Switzerland. Try buying something on Ebay.de and asking them to ship it to Switzerland. No bueno. It’s why we had to ship our Tempur mattress to a town just over the border in Germany and then pick it up ourselves and pay customs tax going back into Switzerland.

The second reason this place is expensive is that minimum wage is much higher in Switzerland. Labor and services all cost more, so the actual prices of the products need to be able to sustain the salaries of the employees. Grocery store clerks earn around $25/hr for example. I’m pretty sure if all the cashiers at Krogers earned $25 an hour, the milk in Columbus would have to cost a little more. 😉

(Image via Blick.ch and an article about the plight of cashiers only earning 3700CHF – $3963 a month)

Restaurant prices seem exceedingly expensive here when a quick lunch can easily run you 20-30CHF and a proper dinner is minimum 50-100CHF. But if you think about how much it costs to import high quality food (Swiss are a bit picky about where food comes from and they have regulations), how much the rent of the restaurant costs ($$$) and that the waitress and cooks are all earning at least 30-35/CHF an hour, it’s not really a surprise. Still, that doesn’t stop Kay complaining in wonder how they can charge 50CHF for a steak entree.

Naturally with such a small country, even if the population is not very dense in some areas, the real estate is still ridiculous. Think San Fransisco. Rent is expensive and with many regulations on how and where you can build, there won’t be tons of sky scrapers popping up in Switzerland to alleviate the housing issue any time soon. That’s why areas like Zürich only have 0.06% free apartments and landlords can charge 4000CHF a month for a run down old flat.

(Personal photo)

Now in addition to the supply and demand restraints from the EU and the higher salaries people enjoy here, there is something even bigger that affects the cost of goods and services: Low taxes.

Let’s be honest, compared to many EU countries (Germany, Netherlands… I’m looking at you!) we do have pretty low taxes in Switzerland. The fact that they are so low is one of the reasons why taxes are such a big problem for Americans here. We are supposed to pay the difference to Uncle Sam what we’d pay in the States. The problem with that is that Uncle Sam doesn’t know that part of why the taxes are so low here are so that Swiss can use their own money to pay for health care, ridiculous rent, unbelievable grocery bills, more expensive restaurants, crazy priced clothing and everything else.

Basically, you could say that goods in Germany are much cheaper because overall German salaries are much lower and their taxes are much higher. They cannot afford to pay more. In Switzerland with low taxes and higher salaries, we make up the difference by paying out of pocket. In essence, they charge more because they can. But if you travel here, out of context everything looks absurdly expensive!

It’s interesting that IWC is able to price their watches much higher in Switzerland because the demand for them here is much higher than in the USA. They know that the Swiss population has money so they price accordingly.

After five years here, I still seem to have sticker shock when I think how much things cost in the US. I actually believe now that goods in the US have to be subsidized for the Americans or many families wouldn’t be able to afford everything they need. That’s why sometimes we see Swiss-produced fondue selling for less in America after export and Ikea products sometimes 1/2 what you would pay in Switzerland. It drives me nuts, but that’s the way it is.

This is why most German towns over the border are filled with Swiss cars doing their weekly shopping, but for many it is simply too much hassle to go to Germany every time you want to re-stock your pantry. And with the limits on how much meat, eggs, milk and so forth that you are allowed to bring in, it’s not worth it for us to go so we shop locally and I just ignore most of the prices on the receipt. 😉

What do you guys think about the pricing in America? Have you ever wondered why some things are so affordable? We Americans complain a lot about gas prices for instance, but they are so much lower than everywhere in Europe. What’s your take on that?

Katie has problems painting

I was curious to see how the taping would turn out. I had told Kay what my suspicions were (leaking and peeling paint off) but I lost the battle. He wanted it taped, so I was going to paint our lines over tape.

I mixed the water in the paint, stirred and then got busy for the next twelve hours on Sunday.

Kay wanted me to cover EVERYTHING so we even had plastic covers drapping down over all the cabinets. I thought it was totally overkill because I never got a drop of paint on anything besides the tops of the cupboards and we couldn’t open the refrigerator the whole day.

Why did it take twelve hours to paint though? Well… the first part was a little slow because I had a lot of edges to do and it was up high. But really, it was the big wall that took forever.

See, the extending roller we bought sucked. Big time.

The roller itself wasn’t terribly long and the extension part broke pretty fast… so it would collapse on my hand and pinch my fingers all the time. I was stuck using it half-way up from then on, while watching my fingers for more pinching. I had to paint the whole 9’2″ ceiling in portions from the top with the ladder, the middle and then the bottom instead of having a nice long roller to do it ALL in one go. I was so pissed we didn’t buy a nice long normal roller.

Our edging brush was as terrible as I thought it would be. It was just big and so imprecise, it made me feel like a two year old painting when I used it. Our saving grace was the small roller I bought at the last minute (at Kay’s request) because it was the only decent roller I had… I painted the entire ceiling line using a very small angled art brush I had laying around and using the roller to do most of the top half of the wall and the bottom half of the wall.

Using a 4″ wide small roller to paint most of your huge wall is kind of sad and pathetic, but I had to make things work.

I also had tons of issues with paint dispersion. The problem with the buckets was that I could not roll paint off with the plastic sieve on the side. The fluffy rollers picked up SO much paint and if I dunked the whole roller it was completely too much. If I only dunked half or so, I couldn’t evenly distribute it with the roller sieve, so I was either stuck trying to use an overly full brush on the wall (and risk having drops splatter back at me) or painting with a patchy, unevenly distributed roller.

All in all, painting with this awful equipment was a terrible, exhausting experience. By 8pm I was done with the first coat of the purple wall and 2 coats of the green wall, so we took the plastic wrap down in the kitchen and had dinner before I finished the purple wall painting, but that’s when we took off the first tape and saw the damage:

Everywhere I had taped in the kitchen had bled through, even on the corner up there. All came through the tape, JUST like I thought it would.

Since I had taped the kitchen ceiling with the pink tape before finding out it peeled off the ceiling paint, I also ripped off a lot of ceiling while I was carefully taking down the tape.

I was SO disappointed and pissed.

Kay was of course also upset that we took the ceiling off with the tape and that the edges turned out so badly.

Look how terrible it looks! It’s awful!

With this in mind, I finished painting the purple wall until midnight and then carefully took off the tape again to see the same wavy lines.

Ugh!! In retrospect, I should have argued that our textured walls made for a bad taping situation, but Kay was seriously so dead set on them.

In the end, our ONLY good line was the ceiling in the living room that I painted by hand with the art brush. It looked totally perfect compared to all the shitty taping lines.

Kay finally admitted that my freehand painting is excellent and that we probably shouldn’t have used tape. Or if we did, we should have painted white down first, but we didn’t have any white paint from our walls.

Despite the annoying flaws at the edges, I do really love the colors. And Kay is contacting our contractor to see if the painting guys can give us some of the white they used on their walls so that we (I) can fix the edges… everywhere. Baaaah.

Did you ever have a project that you knew would go wrong from the start?