Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Glass Ports for Underwater Housings Are STILL Susceptible to Staining or Etching

I've been a fan of acrylic domes for underwater housings over glass domes for years.  I recently was convinced to try glass domes again -- and I discovered that manufacturers STILL have not solved the problem of these glass domes etching or staining!

Many underwater housing manufacturers are moving towards using glass ports for housings now.  I first encountered this problem with a Subal dome 20 years ago.  According to Subal, if one did not scrupulously wipe off the water off a glass port, it would stain over time.  Sure enough, that glass dome stained.  No one that I know, in all the world of underwater experts, knows how to remove the stain once it hits a glass dome.  I would never have bought a glass dome if I had known that this sort of thing was still a problem.

So underwater shooters -- be careful.  If you have a glass dome, be sure to dry it off with a microfiber cloth after every dive.  Never leave a wet neoprene cover on a glass dome.

I've just been jumping in and out of the water off Isla Mujeres, several times a day, so trying to wipe down my dome port and keep it dry and maintained to prevent further staining has been a real pain in the butt.  I am going back to acrylic domes.

I've always preferred acrylic domes because I can fix any scratches myself.  In Bali a few years ago, I forgot my dome polishing kit, and I just used sand from various beaches and ended with toothpaste!

One source tells me that glass is preferable to acrylic because it flares less when shooting into the sun.  I hope to test this sometime. 

Berkley White, prolific shooter and owner of Backscatter, wrote me:
To prevent etching, you must never leave a wet dome cover on the dome and blot off the dome after rinsing.  Even then I use a little Novus2 every few days to minimize mineral build-up.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Traveling Through Fort Lauderdale Airport Is a Great Big Hassle

I try not to complain too much about airports and airlines, unless the situation cries out for someone to write about it.  I fly United Airlines the most, and even though they are very lowly rated in most surveys, I am still loyal to them.  But here are some observations about flying through Fort Lauderdale airport and United, from a trip I just made last week.

Let's start with FLL airport.  This is a pretty big airport, with four terminals.  I flew from SFO to FLL direct, which was nice, then had an overnight and had to fly United's partner airline, Silver Airways, the next morning from FLL to BIM.  Last year, flying Silver Airways to Bimini was a disaster.  Their planes had not flown to Bimini for the past four days, stranding quite a few passengers, so our flight to Bimini was packed, and our luggage did not come with us.  Two folks from Hong Kong had to sleep in the FLL airport for a full day since their Silver flight the day before had not left, and there were no hotel rooms available in the entire FLL area.  I wrote about this last year.

This year I had no complaints about Silver Airways.  The problem was that I booked a flight on United's website all the way from SFO to FLL to BIM.  The last leg was FLL-BIM, and United's itinerary and paperwork showed clearly that I was allowed two bags at 70 pounds each at no charge.  Here's a copy of the paperwork: 

So, United shows me the itinerary and it collects my money.  It shows clearly on the paperwork that I am allowed two bags at up to 70 pounds for no charge.

Of course, I was not born yesterday, so I did not load my bags up to 70 pounds.  I was prepared with my paperwork, and when the agent for my FLL-BIM flight said "give me $65 for your bags", I showed him the paperwork.  It did not matter.  He said that United was at fault and I had to pay, and I had to take the matter up with United.

So a word to fellow travelers: if United says you will get two bags at 70 pounds if you are traveling on United/Silver Airways, be careful.  I would advise you to limit your bags to 50 pounds if you can.  In my case, one of my bags was 55 pounds, and the agent wanted to charge me $225 to check that "overweight" bag in!  I took out five pounds and the agent relented.  I was lucky that he allowed me to put those five pounds of gear in my carry-on. 

On the way back, I checked two bags once again from Bimini to FLL.  I had bought the ticket on the United website, and United's paperwork did state that I was going to pay $25 for the first bag and $40 for the second bag, and that the limit was 50 pounds per bag.   I was prepared to pay and did so in Bimini.   No problem -- if United says so in advance in its paperwork, then that is a contract and I will honor it -- just as I expect United to honor its end if it states that I won't be charged for excess bags.

So let me state again: I paid $65 in excess bag charges in Bimini, for the United/Silver Airways flight all the way from BIM-FLL-IAH-LAX-MRY (all the way home) -- just like the United itinerary said I should. 

Much to my surprise, however, upon lugging my bags to the United desk at FLL that same day (direct from getting off my BIM-FLL flight), the kiosk stated that I owed $65!  I already paid the $65 that the United paperwork said I had to pay.  The United agent could not have been less helpful (I recorded the entire incident with my smartphone).  Only after showing her my United credit card, which allows me two free bags, did she finally relent and admit that their system was flawed.  I had showed her my United Gold elite card also, and for some reason that had zero effect on her.  She was tired, ornery, and unhelpful; but after finally realizing that I was in the right, she asked me to write United "or nothing will ever get changed."

Why don't United's employees at FLL solve this evidently recurring problem, rather than asking its passengers to contact United.  We passengers are busy too.  

So, some advice to travelers planning a trip to the Bahamas and flying some portion on Silver Airlines.  You will likely be BETTER off buying a United ticket and Silver Airways ticket SEPARATELY, rather than trusting United's website and paperwork, and paying United for the entire ticket.  In my example, I purchased my entire itinerary on the way back as a one-way ticket all the way from BIM to Monterey (MRY).  The itinerary had five separate flights: BIM-FLL-IAH-LAX-MRY.  I saw this itinerary on the United site and figured that since all flights were United flights and on United's website, that I'd be covered if the BIM-FLL flight was late, and that my bags would be checked all the way through.  I was wrong.  Instead, I was almost PENALIZED for buying this all-in-with-United itinerary. 

I was charged by Silver Airways $65 for my bags from BIM-FLL, and I would have been charged another $65 by United in FLL for excess bags from FLL-IAH-LAX-MRY (the US domestic portion of my itinerary).  I only got out of paying the second $65 because I have a United credit card that gives me two free bags when flying United!  If I had not had this credit card, I would have paid less by buying a separate Silver Airways ticket and a separate United ticket to get home.  I would have paid $60 in Bimini for the BIM-FLL leg.   Then for the domestic portion, assuming I had  no elite status or United credit card, I'd pay $25 for the first bag and $35 for the second bag (total of $60).  OK, that's only $5 less, but I trust my fellow passengers see my point here.  Also, the gate agent who insisted that I owed $65 was wrong as was the kiosk -- my charges when flying domestically should have been $60 rather than $65.  This should have been a red flag to any United agent who cared about Premier service (I was in the Premier line). 

Now, here's a major problem with FLL Airport: when you arrive from the Bahamas on Silver Airways, you arrive at Terminal 3 (4?), the international terminal.  You have to go through customs and get your bags, then re-check them.  For just about every airport that I've been to in the past years,  if you are changing from international to domestic or vice versa, the airlines have desks right outside the international terminal to re-check your bags.  This makes it easier on the traveler, who does not have to lug all his bags around a giant airport to the airline's check-in counters in a separate terminal.  At FLL, if your airline was American or Virgin, you were in luck and could immediately upon exiting customs, check your bags on to your next flight.  But if you were flying United, you were sh** out of luck.  Again.

Several in our group flew United, and all of us lugged our many bags (we were divers and photographers, thus had a LOT of bags) to the fairly remote area where the airport shuttle bus to various terminals supposedly would pick us up.  I sat there in the sun (luckily, it was winter) for thirty minutes as three different buses to the parking lot, and even one to the terminals 2, 3, and 4 stopped, declined to pick us up, and went on their way.  I discovered that there is only ONE bus in the entire FLL airport that picks up and drops passengers to all terminals.  This is ridiculous!  Perhaps six of us waited for a full 30 minutes before the one bus finally arrived.  If any of us had had a tight connection, this would have been maddening.

My advice, therefore, to passengers with tight connections at FLL who need to check bags into different terminals than the international one -- call Uber or a taxi rather than attempting to wait for the free shuttle bus.  The free shuttle bus may take over 30 minutes to reach you.

A last complaint: because I use a United credit card, I have access to the United Clubs at various locations in the US.  Now, these Clubs aren't that great.  They are almost always crowded, sometimes the bathrooms aren't kept clean, and there is hardly any food to speak of.  The coffee machines are almost ALWAYS broken or being cleaned.

The United Club at FLL airport is the worst I've seen.  It's quite small.  The men's bathroom is single use -- there's a door that a user locks, and no one else can use the bathroom if it is occupied.  What I'd like to point out in this post is that when you, as a member, approach the United agent/gatekeeper to gain entry to these crappy Clubs, you have to hand over your Club membership card and your ID.  The gatekeepers scrutinize your ID for longer and harder than any TSA agent I've encountered, and they are deadly serious about this.  Quite often, they are scrutinizing member's credentials so carefully that a line forms up, to get into the Club.

When I asked the gatekeeper at FLL why she was so careful in inspecting my identification, she said "You paid for your membership, didn't you?  So how would  you feel if folks who didn't pay got into the Club?"  I answered that United gives away Club passes like spare change and that the Clubs were always crowded, so I didn't care, and I would prefer not to have to stand in line just to get into a Club. She had no answer to that, but did ask me what flight I was on, making me wonder if she was going to f*** with my itinerary.  The agents in these Clubs supposedly have great power. 

Hey, United!  Your Clubs kind of stink.  They are crowded, usually small, and they aren't that great.  So there's no reason to have your gatekeepers act like they are granting you entrance to some noteworthy or singular area.  Your Clubs are always crowded, and it's ridiculous to have to stand in line or have my ID scrutinized carefully just to get into a crappy United Club. The United Clubs are better than nothing but they aren't so great that you need to make your members stand in line or make your members wait for your gatekeepers to read every last detail on their drivers licenses.