Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Does Medical Malpractice Include Medical Billing?

The saga of how much I owe or don't owe for a procedure at the offices of Schofield Hand and Bright Orthopedics in Sarasota Florida continues.

First its obvious that Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Florida (aka Florida Blue) is reluctant to settle the claim.  Last week I received a form from them regarding this claim in which I was asked 1) do I have additional insurance? 2) does my spouse have insurance that would cover part of the claim and 3) why was I not on Medicare and that I should supply written documentation from the Social Security Administration as to why I'm not on Medicare.

I wrote back to Blue Cross and said 1) just like last year when you asked this same question I have only one source of medical insurance and that is you.  2) If you looked at my profile you would see that I am not married so why are you asking if a spouse has additional coverage?  3) If you looked at my profile you would see that I am 63 years old and do not qualify for Medicare.  I ended the letter saying "Why don't you stop stalling and settle this claim?"  I haven't heard back from Blue Cross

However today I received a bill for nearly $7000 from Schofield Hand and Bright for the injection of Xiaflex I received on October 27, 2014.  This $7000 was in direct contradiction of the amount the office manager at Schofield Hand and Bright said I would be billed.  Incensed I wrote the following letter to Schofield Hand and Bright.

There are millions of examples of why we need single-payer health care in this country.  This collosal circle jerk involving Schofield, Hand and Bright, Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Florida, and me is just the latest in those millions of examples.

My letter to Schofield Hand and Bright follows:

January 13, 2015

Office Manager
Schofield, Hand and Bright Orthopedics
Suite 111
1950 Arlington Street
Sarasota, Florida 34239

Account: 20340

Dear Schofield, Hand and Bright

In late September I visited Dr. Hand for a consultation on Duputryen’s Contracture in the ring finger of my left hand.  At the time of the visit I was told by both Dr. Hand and his Physician’s Assistant that the cost of an injection of Xiaflex was $3,500 and that it could take up to 3 injections to cure me of the issue.  After thinking about the issue and checking with my insurance carrier (Blue Cross/Blue Shield) I contacted your office and made an appointment for an injection of Xiaflex.  This was done on October 27 2014.  I returned to your office on October 28, 2014 and Dr. Hand was able to break the cord that was contracting my finger ensuring that I would need no additional injections of Xiaflex.  At that time I paid you $525 out of my pocket using my American Express card.  This was the amount you told me would not be covered by Blue Cross (you said they would cover 85 percent of the $3500).

In late December 2014 I received an explanation of benefits from Blue Cross in which they showed me that you had billed them $6,930 for the Xiaflex or exactly twice the cost that I was told by Dr. Hand and his assistant.  Concerned I drove to your office and talked with you about this issue.  At that time, while standing in your office you showed me a bill from the manufacturer of Xiaflex indicating the cost to you for one vial was $3331.00.  At that time you assured me that the cost I would be billed was $3,500.  I specifically said to you “so, I won’t be getting a $7000 bill from you?”  You said beyond a shadow of a doubt that I would not.

I then asked you why if I was told the cost was $3,500 you were billing me twice that amount.  You said, with a straight face “If we want to get the cost out of your insurance company we have to bill them twice the cost to recover what we need.”  You then added “we do this all the time.”

Suspecting you of committing fraud against my insurance company I visited the Florida Blue Cross office on Cattleman Road and told this entire scenario to a claims agent there.  She very diligently looked up my claim in their computer system and then showed me that the maximum benefit Blue Cross would pay to you as a preferred carried for an injection of Xiaflex was $3,680 or $180 more than the $3500 you quoted me.

I left the Blue Cross office that day confident that they would cover the $3,500 you quoted me for the injection and that the claim would be settled soon.

Given that as background you can imagine the shock and rage I experienced about 20 minutes ago when I removed from my mailbox a bill from your office showing that right now I owe you $73.78 (over and above the $525 I paid you out of pocket on October 28).  The attached bill also shows in the balance that you are billing me $6,930 for the injection of Xiaflex.  That is exactly twice what you told me the cost would be in late September and that is EXACTLY what you told me I would NOT be billed.

Your bill also shows that you have an “Insurance Pending” column in which you are waiting for $6405.00 from my insurance carrier.  As stated earlier I saw on Blue Cross’s own computer screen that the maximum they will cover is $3680.00.  Thus if they cover the amount their computer says they will then I still face $2725.00 that I will owe you after the insurance claim is settled.  This is not what you told me was going to happen before I agreed to this procedure.

One of two things has happened here.  Either 1) you have lied through your teeth to me and to Blue Cross or 2) at 63 years old senile dementia has set in to the point that I can no longer understand written words or words spoken to me by your office manager.

The purpose of this letter is to affirm that I have received your bill dated December 31 2014.  It is also to affirm that you are not going to get a penny out of me until this is all settled by the insurance company and that I receive a claim that shows I owe you no more than the $73.78 currently due in your December 31, 2014 bill.  If I have to have a lawyer and a district court judge figure this out for me then fine.  I’m sure they will take interest in your comment that you charge my insurance carrier twice what you told me.  That should make for interesting testimony.

Attached :  December 31, 2014 bill

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Foraging Sandhill Cranes

Yesterday on a hike around the neighborhood (5 mile hike - big neighborhood) I came upon my resident pair of Sandhill Cranes busily foraging in the lawn-like vegetation adjacent to Honore Avenue.  Unlike cranes on the prairie that spook and take flight when you are 18 miles from them, these urbanized cranes have become habituatied to humans and allow very close approach as long as there are no colts around.

My pair was busily probing the ground as I walked up to them.  At first I sat on the grass 2 feet from one of them (I could hear it breathing) and watched as they probed the soil.  They were probing so quickly it was like watching Dowitchers or Stilt Sandpipers do their sewing machine-like foraging technique.  They are fast.  The birds probed with their mandibles open and very rapidly scoured the earth.  Whenever they found something they'd stop, pick it up with the very tip of their bill, and then quickly swallow it.  Curious about what they were eating I laid down on the ground so my eyes were almost at ground level with the tip of the birds mandibles and saw that they were catching ants.  Lots and lots of ants. Granted one ant isn't going to provide much nourishment but given the volume they were consuming I'm guessing they were obtaining lots of their dietary needs. 

The exoskeleton of ants is made up almost entirely of chitin which is very high in protein.  For instance the skin of shrimp is made up of chitin which is where most of the protein humans receieve from eating shrimp lies.  Another important component of ant exoskeleton is calcium carbonate.  My guess is that with the onset of nesting season the female of this crane pair was pigging out on ants to get protein for the embryo that's going to form in her egg and calcium to help create a solid shell for the egg in which the embryo will develop.  Once again, like everything else in nature, everything is connected.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Lois Nelson Died on Wednesday

A recent picture of Lois Nelson and her daughter Greta

Very few of you reading this knew Lois Nelson or her husband Glen M. or their daughter Greta.  However, even if you didn’t know them, you lost something Wednesday when Lois passed away unexpectedly.

Lois was from Milltown, Wisconsin, a little farming community at the edge of the great north woods in Polk County about 40 miles west of where I grew up in Barron County.  Her husband Glen M. was my college roommate my second, third and fourth years as an undergraduate student at the University of Wisconsin – River Falls.  Even though there was only one Glen Nelson on the entire campus all four years of college Glen signed everything, including his test papers, as “Glen M. Nelson” and soon we all referred to him simply as Glen M.

Glen M was one of my groomsmen when I married Ruth in 1974 and a few years later I was one of his groomsmen when he married Lois, a farm girl from near Turtle Lake.  Together for many years they operated Forest Park Farm at the very edge of Milltown where they bred and raised award winning Ayrshire cattle.  Despite working full time on their farm they both went back to college and received Master’s degrees from UW River Falls, commuting the 90 mile each way distance each day. Somewhere along the line they had time to have a beautiful daughter who in true Norwegian tradition, they named Greta.

With the passage of time and distance I lost contact with Glen M and Lois until one day a few years ago when she contacted me on Facebook and asked to be my friend.  Soon Glen M was my Facebook friend and Greta shortly thereafter.  We shared all kinds of stories and got caught up on important Wisconsin news like the Green Bay Packers.  Given her educational background it wasn’t surprising that Lois was a staunch liberal like me who was beyond incensed with people attacking Barack Obama and especially his championing of the Affordable Care Act.  After all as Lois once said to me “Why do people oppose other people being healthy?”   It was a damned good question

On Wednesday morning January 7 2015, Lois sent me a private message in Facebook asking if I had heard about the large number of Snowy Owl’s that had migrated to the Cheesehead State this winter.  She sent a link to a story that summarized the several hundred Owls that have taken up residence around the state.  Our conversation then drifted to the Packers and their chances in the upcoming playoffs.  We talked about the weather and how bitter it was there this year and we chatted about other things until finally we had to sign off and go about our daily tasks.

Lois died a few hours after we said “see ya later” on Wednesday.  She wasn't feeling well.  She laid down to take a breather and died instantly from a massive heart attack.  She was only 59 years old.  One second she was jovial and telling stories and the next second she was gone. Poof. Just like that.

I will never understand why kind and sensitive people like Lois have to die and why their loving and caring family and friends have to suffer her loss.  There are truly wicked people on earth and they seem to skate by unscathed yet someone with a heart as big as Lois’ dies out of the blue and with no warning.

As a kid growing up when I would get in trouble with my parents I used to say in my defense that whatever the issue was “it just isn’t fair.”  My mom would instantly reply “nothing in life is fair” and time has proven her correct over and over again.  Lois Nelson dying so young and leaving Glen M and Greta hurting isn’t fair either and that sucks.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The North American Airport and Airline Listing Association

In 37 years I've flown Continental Airlines more than any other airline; more actual flight miles on Continental than any other airline and more segments in 737 aircraft than any other aircraft type

Some people collect stamps and others collect coins while others (although less frequently now) collect Barbie dolls. I on the other hand collect airports and the airlines I flew on to get them. And I have John Sidle to blame for this silliness.

John was the Assistant Manager of the Arrowwood National Wildlife Refuge in North Dakota in the late 1970s and early 1980s.  Arrowwood was located near the tiny town of Pingree which consists of about 8 people, a bar, and a church – a typical North Dakota town if ever there was one.  Living in relative isolation among the endless wheat fields of the Drift Plain, John occasionally drove to Jamestown, forty miles away, for some social interactions.

One of those social interaction trips occurred in mid-January 1983 during what seemed that winter like an endless string of blizzards and snowstorms that clogged roads and made life generally unpleasant on the prairie.  During a Sunday afternoon visit while the snow blew sideways outside, John and I sat in the living room of my house watching my two daughters be active little munchkins as their mom put in time at her clothing store where she worked.

As the snow continued to fall and the conversation began to slow, out of the blue John made the bold statement that “I bet I’ve been in more airports than you have!”

Reacting as any 5th grader would to such a claim, and with no information to back me up, I said “Bet you haven’t!”

John said, “Bet I have…” It went downhill from there.

After several minutes of debating who had been in more airports, John and I took out pieces of paper and two pens and wrote down the names of every airport we could remember we had landed at or taken off from.  At the time John had many more airports because of his possession of a pilot’s license and his service in the Peace Corps in Africa that took him to many parts of the continent.

With the issue of which of us had been in more airports at the time the 5th grade level discussion turned to airlines.  John began with “Bet I’ve flown on more airlines than you have!”

“Bet you haven’t.”

“Bet I have!”

Out came the pens and paper again and after a hurried few minutes of memory jogging it was determined that once again John had creamed me with the number of airlines he’d flown.

Owning an excessive-compulsive personality I could not let this issue die easily so over the next few months I devised a scheme for not only recording the number of airports I’d landed at or taken off from, and the number of airlines I’d flown on, but also came up with a way to make it competitive.

Despite the Jane Hathaway vision that most people possess of birdwatchers, the sport of birding is a highly competitive venture.  It starts off slowly for most people as they become familiar with the birds in their backyards and then in their neighborhoods and eventually maybe the county they live in.  Eventually, however, for many people simply seeing a bird is not enough.  We begin to keep lists of them.  The most important list is the life list – the list of bird species you have seen everywhere on earth in your life time.  We break down our lists into state lists, or county lists, or regional lists, or year lists (number of species seen in a calendar year) or the number of species seen while sitting in baseball stadiums watching baseball games. 

I’m a severe victim of that listing mania and as of today I maintain 527 separate lists of birds observed ranging from the world (6,087 species observed) to 827 species observed in the United States, to 123 species observed in Baker County, Florida, to 6 species observed on Johnston Atoll a tiny island in the South Pacific.  Were it not for the superb software produced by AVISYS none of this listing would be possible and were it not for the American Birding Association encouraging the listing of birds and the development of rules for which species to count, there would be little organization to the sport of birding.

Because of the organization and rules for birding, John and I decided that an organization similar to the American Birding Association complete with rules and oversight committees (akin to the state “rare bird records committees” in birding) was needed to give legitimacy to airport and airline listing.  Thus, during a February 1983 snowstorm (or was it still the same one from January?) we concocted the North American Airport and Airline Listing Association.  Over time and with the dogged persistence and downright annoying insistence of Dwight Lee (now unfortunately deceased) the rules for the North American Airport and Airline Listing Association were born:

                                                       LISTING ASSOCIATION

The North American Airport and Airline Listing Association (NAAALA) was founded in 1983 to provide information and competition in the avocation of airline and airport listing.  The growing nationwide interest in keeping track of the airlines one has traveled on, and the airports one has landed at or taken off from gave birth to the NAAALA.  The NAAALA is the only organization that can certify a U.S. or foreign national as a national or international traveler and the level of his or her travel experience.  For further information, contact the NAAALA.

To qualify for the official airport list, the airport, seaplane base, or heliport must now have, or have had in the past, scheduled passenger service amd it must have an official three-letter designator code as outlined in the Official Airline Guide (OAG). The purpose of this rule is to delete from the competition any military airports, or any obscure landing strips out in the middle of nowhere.  This eliminates the ability of those with access to military bases to gain an unfair advantage over non-military people in their pursuit of countable airports.  NAAALA encourages airport enthusiasts interested in military bases to count those airports on their own.  However they are excluded from the official tallies based on fairness.  You can land or take off from the airport, seaplane base, or heliport in a private, charter, or scheduled aircraft.  For example, you can count the Jamestown, North Dakota airport (formerly served by Northwest Airlines) if you land or take off there in a private aircraft.  You cannot, however, count the landing strip at Central City, Nebraska, if you land or take off there because the landing strip does not have scheduled passenger service, now or in the past. 

Seaplane bases and heliports that meet the above requirement can be counted separate from a nearby major airport if the seaplane or heliport base is currently listed, or has been listed in the past, in the Official Airline Guide (OAG) and has a three-letter designator code.  For instance, the downtown seaplane base in Miami, Florida (formerly served by Chalk's International Airlines) is countable, but the seaplane base at Lake Hood, Alaska, adjacent to the Anchorage International Airport, is not countable because it is not listed in the OAG, now or in the past.  If in the future  an airline begins service to an airport that does not meet the current criteria that airport can be counted when the criteria are met even if you landed at or took off from the airport before it was officially countable.  Any challenge to these rules will be reviewed by the NAAALA list verification committee.

Listing an airline simply involves counting any commercially flown airline including charter airlines and charter helicopter companies.  If you are new to airline listing, you will be happy to know that the NAAALA does not lump merged airlines.  If you have flown the airline before the merger date, the airline is countable (this is a significant departure from bird listing where participants worry continuously about the next round of lumps and splits).  For example, Delta Airlines is a conglomeration of Northwest Airlines, Northwest Orient, Republic Airlines, Hughes Airwest, Western Airlines,  National Airlines, Pan Am, Southern Airlines, and North Central Airlines.  If, prior to the merger, you flew Hughes Airwest, you can count it as well as Delta Airlines if the latter has been flown since the merger date.  A verification committee exists to resolve conflicts with countable airports and airlines.

Good listing.

The rules of the North American Airport and Airline Listing Association were developed over several years though consultation with other crazed individuals who enjoy counting the airlines they have flown and the airports at which they have landed or taken off. 

The issue of lumping airlines is not the same for the NAAALA as it is in birding where people fret over the next set of genetic analyses that show species A and species B are the same species and they are lumped into species C (blue goose and snow goose becoming just snow goose is a good example).  When a lump occurs you lose a species from your bird list.  Not so with airport and airline listing.  Under NAAALA rules if you flew Hughes Airwest back in the 1970s when it was still Hughes Airwest you can still count it despite its eventual acquisition by Republic Airlines which was purchased by Northwest Airlines which was purchased by Delta Airlines.

In airline listing we don't fret about losing airlines if they are purchased by another airline like birders worry about bird species being lumped by new genetic evidence.  If you flew on Hughes Airwest, or North Central Airlines, or Republic Airlines or Northwest Airlines before they were all eventually purchased and consumed by Delta Airlines you can still count them on your airline list.  You can't however get retroactive credit for them if you have only flown on Delta since the mergers

The other major rule in NAAALA listing is that any airport is countable IF 1)it has a 3-letter designator code available from the Official Airline Guide (such as ORD for Chicago O’Hare or DCA for Washington National) and 2) it is now or has been served at any time in the past by a commercial airline.  The purpose of this rule is to remove obscure landing strips out in the middle of nowhere (the grass landing strip at Ord Nebraska is one example) from listing. It also eliminates from the list military bases that are available only to military personnel.  It’s all about keeping the listing playing field even and fair.

Flying from a new airport to a new airport on a new airline is one of the most exciting aspects of airport and airline listing. I accomplished this most recently in October 2014 when I flew LOT Polish Airlines from Copenhagen Denmark to Warsaw Poland.  Not nearly as satisfying was returning to Copenhagen later that day on SAS Scandinavian Airlines.  It was also a new airline but the initial excitement of the morning had diminished 

Although I have been listing airports and airlines for more than 30 years I still pursue finding new ones with the same child-like glee that I pursue new birds for my various bird lists. Just last summer I purposefully flew to Youngstown Ohio’s airport to add it rather than nearby and much closer Pittsburgh International when traveling to Pittsburgh to watch the Pirates play baseball. In October I experienced one of the biggest thrills of NAAALA listing when I flew from a new airport (Copenhagen, Denmark) to a new airport (Warsaw, Poland) on a new airline (LOT Polish Airlines).  And for icing on that cake Poland was a new country for my country list (now 113 countries visited).  In February 2015 we are taking a cruise to Central America that has a one-day stop in Belize and another on Roatan Island in Honduras.  Currently I’m wringing my hands trying to squeeze as many new airports (and 2 new airlines) as possible out of the day in Belize and also trying to figure out how I can fly out of Roatan and back in time to catch my outbound ship!

As of today I have flown on 206 different countable airlines.  They have taken me to 334 domestic airports in the 50 United States and 211 International airports scattered from Stavanger Norway to Hobart, Tasmania to Ushuaia, Argentina (the southernmost airport in the world) or 545 airports world wide.   All of that travel has caused me to also form opinions about airports and airlines. 

There are airlines and then there are airlines and then there is Singapore Airlines.  I flew Business Class in this Boeing 777 between Bandar Seri Bagawan, Brunei and Singapore for the greatest 3 1/2 hours of my flying career.  Try them.  You will never want to fly another airline

Without doubt the finest airline in the world is Singapore Airlines.  I flew them once, in Business Class, for 3 ½ glorious hours from Bandar Seri Bagawan, Brunei to Singapore.  Singapore annually wins awards for being the best airline in the world and despite having only 210 minutes of flying time on them I whole heartedly agree.   

Its really difficult to say which airline is the worst in the world. In my estimatation its a virtual tie between Bahamasair and LIAT.  Both are so bad they each earned a separate chapter about them in my book Somewhere South of Miami.

There is a virtual tie for worst airline in the world. Although the experts always say that Aeroflot Russian Airline is worst they obviously have never flown on Bahamasair (the worlds largest unscheduled airline) or LIAT from the Lesser Antilles. Although LIAT's actual name is Leeward Island Air Transport in the islands they say it means "Leave Island Any Time."  I have to completely agree.
Royal Brunei Airlines gets my vote for the strangest airline in the world.  Don't ask the flight attendants for anything alcoholic - unless you want to cause them to have a stroke.

The award for the strangest airline has to go to Royal Brunei Airlines whom I flew from Kota Kinabalu, Borneo to Bandar Seri Bagawan, Brunei.  The female flight attendants were required to wear burqas, a prayer to Allah asking for a safe journey was given before we pushed back from the gate, and being a devoutly Muslim airline from a devoutly Muslim nation, no alcoholic drinks were offered even in First Class and when I asked for a glass of wine just to see the reaction I thought the flight attendant’s burqa was going to self-destruct.

Cape Town (South Africa) airport is one of the most efficient and cleanest airports anywhere in the world

Internationally Singapore’s airport has to rank as the finest and most efficient international airport in the world with Cape Town, South Africa a close second.  Hands down John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City is the ugliest international airport in the world and Merida, Venezuela, the old Kai-Tac airport in Hong Kong, and Tegucigalpa Honduras are tied for having the scariest, most dangerous final approach in the world.

There is a very good reason I  think the approach to Tegucigalpa Airport in Honduras is one of the scariest in the world.  Passengers on this TACA airlines jet found out the hard way. I've flown in and out of there 3 times and have zero desire to ever do it again!

Seeking new airports and airlines has also provided me with some scary moments as well as some joyous ones.  Bahamasair, the national carrier of the Bahamas Islands, flew from Nassau to Mayaguana one day and 1 hour 15 minutes into the flight the propeller on the right engine quit going around.  The pilot came on the intercom and told us in his Bahamian accent “Ladies and gentlemen, we have a slight problem but there’s nothing to worry about.”   A few weeks later when lifting off from Salt Cay bound for Grand Turk in the Turks and Caicos Islands the Britten-Norman Islander aircraft shuttered as a loud “thud” could be heard just as we left the ground.  A few minutes later the pilot announced that as we lifted off we hit a burro that had ambled out onto the runway and the force of the impact tore the left landing gear off the plane.  We would now have to burn off fuel and make an emergency landing on two tires at Grand Turk.

Then there was the night in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, when I exchanged my Eastern Airlines ticket for a flight on Haiti Air (this was back in the days when you could do these things without being called out as a terrorist) solely so I could add Haiti Air to my list.  Just after our midnight departure as we cleared Haitian airspace a loud cheer rose from the Haitians onboard.  I didn’t understand why until the next morning when I read the Miami Herald and learned that this flight, the last ever on Haiti Air, was removing more than 100 Haitians from the deadly grip of their crazy Dictator Jean Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier who himself, just two hours after our flight left, escaped Haiti with his life as thousands poured into the streets at the start of a Civil War that led to his ouster from office and removal from the country.

Ever since my first flight on a commercial airline (Ozark Airlines from Minneapolis to St. Louis on October 31, 1977) I have kept track of each flight segment I have flown, which airline I was on, the routing for each segment, the aircraft flown and the number of statute miles flown on each segment.  I soon found my green notebook to be indispensable for keeping track of my flights.  Later when frequent flier programs became even more popular those same records were essential for making sure that the airline didn’t forget to credit me for a segment (or segments) that I flew.

Beginning with that first flight on October 31, 1977, I have completed 3,014 individual flight segments (a segment is, for example, Sarasota to Atlanta) and I have kept records of every one of those segments.  For each I have recorded the date, the itinerary flown, the airline flown the type of aircraft flown and the distance (in statute miles) flown.  Importing all those data into an Excel Spreadsheet has resulted in some interesting if not totally anal results.  

Aircraft Name     # of Times Flown     Miles Flown
Boeing 737 630 368946
Boeing 727 356 203151
Airbus A320 319 202471
McDonald Douglas DC-9 289 130332
McDonnell Douglas MD80 218 157834
Beechcraft 1900 147 18973
Boeing 757 143 153185
Shorts SD.330 95 17541
Canadian Regional Jet 89 31928
Embraer RJ135 79 25278
Ranking of the top 10 aircraft types I've flown the most times. 

Things like – I’ve flown on 630 segments in 737 aircraft – the most of any aircraft type.  I’ve also flown 368,946 miles in 737 aircraft – the most of any aircraft type. The longest average distance flown is 5,718 in 747-200 series aircraft and my longest flight in both time and actual miles was 8,421 miles in a Boeing 777 aircraft flown by Delta Airlines from Atlanta to Johannesburg, South Africa.

Airline Name # of Times Flown    Miles Flown
Continental Airlines 640 428796
Northwest Airlines 497 336222
United Airlines 373 235710
US Airways 318 117698
American Airlines 196 175632
Delta Airlines 142 91517
Republic Airlines 136 65122
Eastern Airlines 80 44945
Alaska Airlines 43 24353
BahamasAir 33 3945
I've flown more individual segments on Continental Airlines than any other airline

The most segments flown on any airline was 640 on Continental and the most miles flown on any airline was 482,796 miles also on Continental.  The greatest mean distance flown on an airline was 4,347 miles on Virgin Atlantic Airlines. 

Airport Name

Total # of Times in Airport
Washington - National

Minneapolis - St. Paul

Detroit - International



Houston - Intercontinental

Miami - International


Chicago - O'Hare

Los Angeles


I've landed at or taken off from Washington National airport more times than any other airport in the world.  Living 14 years in the DC suburbs certainly helped 

Among airports I’ve flown into and out of Washington National Airport (never EVER call it Reagan Airport) the most times – 351 departures from DCA and 356 arrivals.  Second in that list is Minneapolis – St. Paul with 141 departures and 142 arrivals.  Nassau, Bahamas with 46 arrivals ranks first among International airports and San Juan, Puerto Rico is second with 26 arrivals.

Many people have laughed at me over time as I have told them about my passion for airport and airline listing and that’s ok with me.  It was all made worth it a year ago when I stood on the deck of a cruise ship sailing into Montego Bay, Jamaica, harbour talking with a Boeing 777 captain for Delta Airlines.  I told him about my listing fever and he asked me how many airports I had on my list.  At the time it was 542 airports worldwide. When I told him the pilot stopped and thought for a minute and then said “You’ve been in more airports than I have and I fly for a living!”

Well, Captain, that’s the point.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

The End of a Travel Tradition?

These green covered 5 x 8 inch notebooks, issued by the US Government, have been the backbone of my travel plans for 30 years.  The era of green notebooks might now be coming to an end.

When I began my odyssey of travel in June 1984 I was overwhelmed with all the information involved with travel and especially to a foreign location.  There were flight numbers and reservation confirmation numbers to remember.  

I have flown on 2,909 flight segments since 1984 and the information about each one of those flights has been recorded in a green notebook. Like this information for two flight segments between Orlando - Sanford airport and Little Rock, Arkansas between April 10 and 13, 2014

Then there were hotel reservations (or in the case of every time I’ve traveled to Mexico – there were hotel reservations that I had but for which the hotel never once has had a record! Once!) and there were rental car reservations.  This was all before computers and palm pilots and other data storage machines were available to fit on your lap or in your palm.  To keep it all straight I just wrote everything on pieces of paper and then hoped that I would not lose any of those pieces of paper.  Invariably I lost the pieces of paper and had to begin all over again.

Every year I keep a record of the state and provincial license plates I see, the first time I see them in a year and where they were seen and I keep all that information in a green notebook

There was also a need to keep notes on things that I saw, people I met, appointments that were made and birds that I saw.  This was on top of my obsessive-compulsive passion since high school of trying to see the license plate of each of the 50 states and the various Canadian provinces in a calendar year.  All of these important parts of travel could have been managed on individual pieces of paper.  However the ability to lock them all up in one convenient place was going to make life for a fanatic lister so much easier.

Exploring my new office on the University of Georgia campus just after my move from the Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center in Jamestown, North Dakota in April 1984, I found a stash of green-covered notebooks that the US government had issued.  Each notebook had about 100 sheets of two-sided paper, each page was lined with wide lines making information entry easy and reading the information later even easier, and there was ample room on the front and back covers to record phone numbers for rental car companies, hotel chains and other vital parts of travelling extensively.  I grabbed a handful of those green notebooks in 1984 and used one on my first trip to the Bahamas a month later.  I have not stopped using them since. 

Ever since my first flight on a commercial airline (Ozark Airlines from Minneapolis to St. Louis on October 31, 1977) I have kept track of each flight segment I have flown, which airline I was on, the routing for each segment, the aircraft flown and the number of statute miles flown on each segment.  I soon found my green notebook to be indispensable for keeping track of my flights.  Later when frequent flier programs became even more popular those same records were essential for making sure that the airline didn’t forget to credit me for a segment (or segments) that I flew.

Still later I discovered that the green notebooks were perfect for recording which country I had visited (one year I was in 32 different countries in a calendar year) and which states I had visited and the dates they were visited.  As I became more serious about visiting each of the 3,076 counties or parishes in the United States it became imperative to have a place to store that information and the green notebooks rose to the occasion.

With the exception of the 1985 booklet I have kept every one of them I have used for the last 30 years.  The 1985 booklet found a resting place in the Gulf Stream off of Marathon Florida after a Coast Guardsman on the Coast Guard cutter I was hitching a ride on became extremely sea sick and barfed all over my green notebook. That seemed appropriate because the face of the Coastie and the cover of the notebook were about same color when he lost that morning’s breakfast all over my hands and my book.  I simply tossed the book overboard and resigned myself to trying again next year.

My first travel book, Somewhere South of Miami, is 70 percent factual and 30 percent fictional. Much of the information for the factual part of the book was obtained from notes kept in a green notebook.  The fictional stuff I just made up as I went along

As time has passed I’ve found the notebooks to be an invaluable resource.  Many of the cryptic notes I wrote from my early travels were used in writing my first travel book Somewhere South of Miami.  Other times I’ve been asked where I was on a certain day or in a certain period (and not by the police!) and would simply refer to my green notebooks for the answer.  Still other times in periods of melancholy I’d pick up a notebook, strum through it looking at all the flights I took, and relive part of some of those journeys as a way to rid myself of the melancholy. 

As time and technology have moved forward I continued to use the green notebooks but recently I’ve discovered fewer and fewer reasons to rely on it.  That began 10 years ago when my sister purchased a Palm Pilot for me as a Christmas present.  I had every intention of using it for my travel information until one night someone (turned out to be a temporary employee) in our office in Washington DC stole the Palm Pilot and pawned it before I could get it back.  Luckily I had my green notebook as a backup so all of that important information was not lost.

Alaska Itinerary
July 18 – August 4 2015

July 18 – Saturday
Leave   Tampa              6:30 pm            Alaska Airlines 775
Arrive   Seattle              9:25 pm                                                
Leave   Seattle              10:15 pm          Alaska Airlines 89

July 19 - Sunday
Arrive  Anchorage        12:42 am                                                                                            

August 4 – Tuesday
Leave   Vancouver        8:15 a.m.          US Airways                  685
Arrive   Phoenix            11:17 p.m                                         
Leave   Phoenix            12:15 p.m         US Airways                  1851
Arrive   Charlotte          7:05 p.m.                                          
Leave   Charlotte           8:30 p.m.          US Airways                  5597
Arrive   Sarasota           10:15 p.m.                                            

I used to rely on my green notebooks for all of my travel information but now I simply type out the itineraries, dates, flights and seat numbers and print out the file to carry with me on a trip

In the last several years, as my volume of travel has decreased (in 1997 I was on 197 commercial airline flights; in 2014 only 15) I have begun to rely more and more on my computer and my phone for recording important travel information. Now for instance, when I make a plane reservation or rental car reservation I simply store the email confirmation on my cell phone and have it for back up if there is ever a question.  Now I type out the itineraries for trips as a Word Document and after printing out the itinerary stick it on my clipboard and carry it with me on the trip.  After finally discovering how to use Excel Spreadsheets, I now maintain my yearly license plate lists and flight lists and every other conceivable list, on spreadsheets.  Still I maintain the trusty old green notebook just to be safe.

1  RSW-FNT RSW FNT WN 737 1140 2014
2  FNT-LAS FNT LAS WN 737 1730 2014
3  LAS-MDW LAS MDW WN 737 1520 2014
MDW-RSW MDW RSW WN 737 1110 2014
5  SFB-LIT SFB LIT G4 M80 764 2014
6  LIT-SFB LIT SFB G4 M80 764 2014
7  PIE-YNG PIE YNG G4 M80 929 2014
8  YNG-PIE YNG PIE G4 M80 929 2014
9  TPA-MSY TPA MSY WN 737 487 2014
10  MSY-TPA MSY TPA WN 737 487 2014
11  SRQ-JFK SRQ JFK B6 175 1040 2014
12  JFK-KEF JFK KEF IcelandAir 757 2590 2014
13  KEF-CPH KEF CPH IcelandAir 757 1330 2014
14  CPH-WAW CPH WAW Lot Polish 175 414 2014
15  WAW-CPH WAW CPH SAS 175 414 2014

I used to summarize my yearly travel by adding up each segment, the miles flown, the number of flights on various aricraft and the routes flown and the process was laborious. Now I simply put each flight in an Excel Spreadsheet and let the computer do the compliations for me at the end of the year.

Aircraft Aircraft Name         #  Times Flown      Miles Flown        Mean
146 BAC 146 2 577 288.5
330 Airbus A330 8 29238 3654.75
707 Boeing 707 1 295 295
717 Boeing 717 11 4067 369.7272727
727 Boeing 727 356 203151 570.6488764
737 Boeing 737 630 368946 585.6285714
744 Boeing 747-200 12 68626 5718.833333
747 Boeing 747-400 9 26177 2908.555556
757 Boeing 757 143 153185 1071.223776
767 Boeing 767 33 103780 3144.848485
777 Boeing 777 11 48670 4424.545455
A32 Airbus A320 320 203511 635.971875
If I am ever curious (and I regularly am) about how many times I've flown on a 747-400 series jet, or how many miles I've flown in a 737 or the average distance flown every time I've been in an Airbus A320, the Excel Spreadsheet automatically updates the information for me. In the past this was all done by hand calculation and it took forever and a day.

I just now put away my 2014 green travel notebook and when I did I looked at my bookshelf and saw that I have two green notebooks remaining. Usually in years past I have prepared the next year’s green notebook during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day.  That always proved essential because I would be out searching for license plates at 1 minute after midnight on New Year’s Day and in the days when I was obsessed about maintaining Platinum Elite flier status on Continental and Northwest Airlines I was on a flight somewhere on January 1 to start chalking up miles.  However this year I haven’t prepared my notebook.  Instead I’ll simply print out the blank forms from my spread sheets and attach them to a clipboard each time I want to record something.

Still, old traditions die hard and maybe just to be safe I will prepare another green notebook before New Year’s Eve.  I’ll use the same excuse I’ve used for the last few years and keep the green notebook with me just in case. 

If I do that I’ll be down to only one green notebook remaining in my bookcase.  Mother Nature might have other plans but my personal plan is to keep living a few more years after 2015 so I’ll have to replenish my stash of green notebooks.  Maybe I’ll make a trip up to Washington DC this summer and stop by the Department of the Interior building and tell the rent-a-cops at the front door that I want to visit my old agency’s suite of offices on the third floor.  And then when nobody is looking I’ll sneak into the storage room by one of the Assistant Director’s offices and borrow another handful of green notebooks.  Yes.  I like the sound of that plan.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Mrs O'Brien Would Be Spinning in Her Grave

Delores O'Brien was a stickler for the proper use of English and I thank her today for giving me that gift.  This image is photographed from the 1969 volume of "Aurora" the Rice Lake (Wisconsin) Senior High School's annual. That is Wilbur "Fig" Newton's left cheek overlooking Delores' right shoulder.

As the winds of time blow over our heads at the warp speed of the Starship Enterprise, it remains difficult to fathom that the world-wide Class of 1969 entered high school fifty years ago this coming August or September.  Fifty years ago in most cases we shyly and cautiously entered that next big stage of our lives.  We may have been real hot shots in the 8th grade, but now we were bottom feeders in an aquarium filled with sharks swimming much higher up in the water column.    

Looking back at my background, I can think of so many things that happened in those four years that shaped and continue to shape my life.  Many of us lost our virginity in high school (and those of us who didn’t certainly wished we had).  Many of us smoked our first cigarette in high school and some of us while sitting in his black 1965 Ford Mustang in the parking lot of the Catholic school smoked our first joint in high school.  We earned letters in various sports in high school, and excelled at debate or theater in high school, and most of us also learned how to better socialize in high school, while some of us may have accidently dunked David Hennekens' head in the toilet and kept flushing it over and over one day in high school.  Three of us even learned how to break into the Omaha Bar in the early hours of an April morning and steal a six-pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon while we were in high school. Most importantly, however, we learned much about how to survive in high school. 

Despite our best efforts to the contrary, we all left high school with more knowledge than we ever thought possible to absorb. For the Valedictorians and the Salutatorians absorbing knowledge came easily.  However for others that absorption rate was akin to watching molasses flow in a January blizzard.  Much of our collective success in knowledge absorption can be traced back to a teacher or to teachers who remain memorable for many reasons and some of them still loom large in our thinking even today.

William Transburg was my 9th grade Biology teacher.  He and his wife (whose name I forget now) used to take me with them on winter and early spring weekend days and we would go seining for fish and other aquatic life in streams, and looking for birds in the forests of Barron County, Wisconsin.  Those experiences cemented my passion for being a biologist and because Transburg went to the University of Wisconsin – River Falls for his biology degree, I decided I would do the same.  And I did.

Arlen Mortensen was my 10th grade World History teacher.  Although it was difficult for anyone to admit they liked history, Arlen was so good at teaching it that a deep-seated interest in history was spawned that remains with me today.  I busted my ass in his class and thought I had earned an A each quarter.  Arlen’s grade book however showed instead that I earned four B+’s.  I often wonder if I could talk to him today and convince him to change those grades almost 50 years after the fact.

Orv Olson was my 11th grade Geometry teacher.  Try as he might Orv could not get the Pythagorean theorem or any other concept of math to sink into my thick skull.  I once took a 200 point tests of his and scored 4 points on it. I could not even guess the true-false questions correctly.  After that he warned me if I did not improve I would fail the semester.  I failed the semester.  Several years later after earning my Bachelor’s Degree I returned home to show my diploma to Orv.  When he asked what I majored in I told him Geology and Biology and added “with minors in physics and in math.”  It was true, I had a double minor in physics and in math and when Orv heard that I thought his head was going to spin around like the little girl’s did in the movie “The Exorcist.”

Orvin "Spot" Olson was my geometry teacher in high school.  Try as he might he could not get me to understand basic principles and theorums of mathematics.  Scoring 4 points on a 200 point test was one example of how hopeless it was to try teaching me geometry.  This image is photographed from the 1969 edition of "Aurora" the Rice Lake Senior High School annual.

Delores O’Brien was my 12th grade College Preparatory English teacher.  On the first day of her class Mrs. O’Brien said to me very snidely “What are you doing in a college prep class?” (She put special emphasis on the word “you”).  When I told her I was going to River Falls to be a biologist she said “Only if you pass my class.”  It was a veiled threat and warning all wrapped in one.  Once I picked up The Catcher in the Rye from the back of her room and told her I wanted to read it because “this must be a baseball book.”  She shook her head and said, “You big dummy. That book has NOTHING to do with baseball.”  The only thing I liked about Mrs. O’Brien was her daughter Maureen after whom I lusted many many times while walking behind her down a school hallway between classes.

With considerable resignation in her voice, Mrs. O'Brien was the one who informed me that The Catcher in the Rye was not, in fact, a book about baseball

Despite the hate-hate relationship that Mrs. O’Brien and I developed and nurtured from the first day of class until the end of the school year, she taught me to have a deep and abiding respect for the English language, and the proper use of its many words and phrases.  And that brings us to the point of this article.

It was because of Mrs. O’Brien and her dogged pursuit of perfection in English that when it came time seven years later to write the thesis for my Master’s degree, it went through only one re-write before my graduate committee approved my work.  My major professor was so impressed that he asked me where I learned how to use English so well.  I told him about a crabby English teacher in high school whose daughter I still enjoyed occasional fantasies. When I started writing papers for publication in scientific journals I used the techniques of proper word usage and conjugation taught to me by Mrs. O’Brien and rarely if ever did a journal editor return a manuscript with anything other than superficial changes to meet his or her writing style.

In 1969 the preposition “like” was not used as filler nearly as often as it is today.  Now, however, it is used so often that it has become nearly an everyday form of speaking. An online dictionary defines “like” as a preposition having the same characteristics or qualities as "there were other suits like mine in the shop.

Like can also be used as an informal conjunction in the same way as. “people change countries like they change clothes"

The dictionary also recognizes that “like” can be used as an informal adverb used in speech as a meaningless filler or used to convey a person's reported attitude or feelings "so she comes into the room and she's like “Where is everybody?”

It was the use of “like” as meaningless filler that drove Mrs. O’Brien crazy even before its overuse in contemporary speech.  More than once Mrs. O’Brien would call me out in front of the class and even occasionally slap my fingers with the narrow edge of a ruler when I made the mistake of improperly using “like.”  Of course today she and the school district would be sued for uncountable sums of money if she smacked my hand for any reason.  However it was a lesson well learned and an excellent technique.  Today when I’m surrounded by people saying “like” as meaningless filler I begin mocking them repeating “like” each time they say it incorrectly.  As I do I try to imagine Mrs. O’Brien standing over them smacking their fingers with that same god damned ruler with which she would regularly whack my fingers.

If you were an undergraduate student at the University of Wisconsin – River Falls in the late 1960s and early 1970s and you wanted to eventually graduate and receive a diploma, one of the courses you were required to take was Fundamentals of Speech 130.  At the time it was viewed with scorn but as life has taught me, Speech 130 was one of the most often used classes throughout my career.  My class was taught on the second floor of rickety old South Hall and my professor (whose name I have forgotten) was a stickler for the proper use of English in our speeches.  She had us present speeches extemporaneously from subjects she gave us at random while we stood behind her lectern.  We gave persuasive speeches and debate speeches and argumentative speeches (I always received an A on those three) and informative speeches.  Before each speech we were warned that if we used the word “like” as a filler 1 point would be deducted from our total grade for each misuse.  Thus it was theoretically possible to receive a negative number for a grade on a speech if you went wild with the word “like” and filled your speech with it.

The other misused word that drove Mrs. O’Brien bonkers in high school was “got” and especially when it was used with the contraction I’ve as in “I’ve got milk.”  “I’ve” is a contraction of the words “I have” so to say “I’ve got…..” is actually saying “I have got…”  Cows produce milk and when holding a glass of it you ‘have” milk so get over this “got milk” nonsense!

No I do not!  Female bovines produce milk and I may occasionally "have" a glass of it in my hand.   

Got is the past tense of the word “get” which means obtaining or possessing something.  “Have” is a verb that means to possess something.  Thus “I have got” is the same thing as saying “I have”….so why add the second sense of possession?  Just say “I have” and be over with it.

Long ago in high school Mrs. O’Brien used to hound me when I improperly used “got” in a sentence and I still am aware of it and frustrated by its improper use today.  Much of the angst being directed at immigrants to the United States by a certain largely uneducated group of tea drinkers is that immigrants allegedly are unable to correctly speak and use English in conversations.  I often wonder how many of those tea drinkers frequently and incorrectly use words such as “like” and “got” in sentences and especially when they are discussing immigrants whom they claim don’t know English!

Comedian George Carlin was relentless in pointing out how people misue words in every day speech. His last book "Final Words" was published shortly after his unfortunate and untimely death

Comedian and language satirist George Carlin made millions of dollars from skits and routines about the use (proper or otherwise) of words in every day conversation.  Who among us of my age group will ever forget Carlin’s famous “Seven Dirty Words” routine that ultimately was the subject of a court case heard before the United States Supreme Court.  These were seven words that the Supremes deemed to be indecent and could not be used on public airwaves although today two of them (piss, tits) are used regularly on television and radio.  Carlin went to great lengths to lampoon people who improperly and incorrectly used words in every day speech. 

George Carlin's "Seven Dirty Words" remains a classic

The only person I have ever known who was even more dogged in their lampooning, at least when it came to me, was Delores O’Brien.  If only she could be aware how frequently “like” and “got” are misused in every day speech, I have a hunch Mrs. O’Brien would be spinning in her grave at the speed of a Cuisinart.