United Airlines Teaching Compassion to Employees

United Airlines has a new training program to teach compassion to customer service and other employees.
United Airlines has a new training program to teach compassion to customer service and other employees. (Photo courtesy United Airlines.)

United Airlines’ multiple customer service failures that triggered headlines in the past year appear to be the motivation behind the airline’s new four-hour training program to help its employees learn compassion.

The consequences of a passenger being violently dragged off a regional jet at Chicago O’Hare Airport have been far-reaching. Many airlines have changed bumping policies, several have given greater authority to gate staff, and the two police officers involved in that incident were fired.

Nor is United the only airline expanding its customer service training in the wake of that and other bad incidents.

In addition to enhanced customer service training, American Airlines has also improved its safety training. This was in response to the NTSB’s investigation of a fire on board American flight 383 on October 28, 2016. Although all 161 passengers and nine crew were evacuated and survived, the NTSB found that crew members did not follow standard procedures. One mistake contributed to a passenger’s serious injury.

The somewhat chaotic evacuation of that burning jet reinforces what aviation professionals have long known: passengers do not follow instructions very well. People dragging carry-on bags as they evacuated were caught on video. The NTSB faulted the crew for not coordinating between the flight deck and passenger cabin better.

Read more about the American Airlines changes and its response to the NTSB’s findings about Flight 383 on Paddleyourownkanoe.com.

More on United’s new customer service training is at CNBC.com.

Alaska Airlines expands “Wine Flies Free” program

When Alaska Airlines started flying in and out of the Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport in 2007, part of the deal with the local government and tourism officials was to promote purchase of wine by waiving the fee to check a case of wine on departure.

Map shows airports with Alaska's Wine Flies Free program.
Map shows airports with Alaska’s Wine Flies Free program.

Now, the airline is expanding the “Wine Flies Free” program to 29 West Coast airports serving wine regions. This is a great opportunity to stock up on wines that you might not find at your local stores.

There are a few catches: it only applies if your destination is within the USA, you must be a member of the airline’s frequent flyer program, and the wine has to be packed for travel – not in the boxes without cushioning. And, the TSA may open up wine bottles. If they do, they will re-seal them, according to the airline. The program includes Alaska Airlines flights operated by Alaska, Horizon and Skywest Airlines. Virgin America flights will be added to the program in May.

For full details, including packing instructions, visit the Alaska Airlines website.

Food and wine festival season has arrived

Amador Four Fires is a new festival making its debut May 6, about 2.5 hours east of San Francisco.

One of the most fun ways to learn about specific wine regions and enjoy local foods is to attend one of the hundreds of food and wine festivals across the country. In addition to the well-known mega-festivals like the Aspen Food and Wine Festival in June, there are many small events where just about anyone can meet winemakers and other culinary craftworkers.

Disclosure: The author of this blog post has been a media guest at some of the events mentioned.

Here are a few noteworthy festivals coming up in California:

  • Amador Four Fires – Plymouth, CA on May 6, 2017 – This is the third year of this event at the Amador County Fairgrounds (about 2 1/2 hours east of San Francisco.) Featuring open-flame foods from Spain, France, Italy and California, 40 Amador County wineries, other beverages from the region and a packed schedule of demonstrations and educational opportunities.
  • 25th Annual Monterey Winemakers’ Celebration – Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA on May 7, 2017 – Features more than 100 Monterey County wines, education programs, and other activities, including new for this year Monterey Wine Camp for immersive learning and a chance to win a wine merit badge.
  • Sonoma County Wine Country Weekend – Rohnert Park, CA on Sept. 2-3, 2017 – Moving to a new location this year (which should make the event more accessible,) this event includes two days of tastings, a charity auction, and seminars and demonstrations. The personal involvement of many of Sonoma’s great wineries and winemakers makes this one of the best “mass tasting” events.
  • Eat, Drink SF – San Francisco on August 24-27, 2017 – Organized by San Francisco’s restaurant industry, this combines a wide range of tasting opportunities with educational programs geared both for professionals and consumers.

Nearly every region has events aimed at attracting food and wine lovers, so if you are traveling, check with local winery associations or search on LocalWineEvents.com, which has a database of festivals and other events in many locations. Small or new events are a great way to get familiar with specific types of wines or regional specialties — and meet their producers.

(Updated to correct that this is the third year for Amador Four Fires, not first.)

BBQ, Oakland style: Everett and Jones, still strong after 43 years

One of the bonuses of visiting the San Francisco area is a chance to go across the bay to Oakland or Berkeley for some of the best barbecue in the United States. I know that’s a tall order, but Everett & Jones, with locations in Berkeley, Oakland and Hayward, stands out from the crowded barbecue field for many reasons.

I first discovered Everett & Jones in 1980, when I was in college at nearby UC Berkeley. My friends and I would walk down to San Pablo Avenue where the family’s Berkeley location had opened. The ribs, links, or chicken are served with a scoop of potato salad – and back then, a couple of slices of Wonder bread. And a choice of hot, mixed or mild sauce. When one of us would ask for hot, the kind people behind the counter would question whether we knew what we were doing. Times have changed and so have my taste buds. I go with the hot sauce all the way. And there’s no more white bread: it’s wheat bread all the way.

But look at this serving of barbecue link sausage that I had a few days ago.


Everett and Jones is one of the only places that I know of that has their own sausage for barbecue. There’s nothing like the texture of fresh sausage made from all kinds of meat that I don’t want to think about.

The ribs, beef and chicken are also quite credible. Each location has a brick smoker with plenty of hardwood to fuel the slow cooking that makes this authentic barbecue.

Especially when you add the sauce.

Everett & Jones’ barbecue sauce is hearty, and peppery, and filling. It is a moderately sweet tomato-based sauce, with hints of fruit for sweetness and plenty of crushed hot red pepper to get your attention. And, it is absolutely reminiscent of barbecue sauces from Alabama, which happens to be where the Everett family comes from.

Probably good that I’m usually 3,000 miles away, but it’s great to enjoy this classic American barbecue place every now and then.

Everett & Jones Barbeque Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Warming up the taste buds in New Orleans 

Few places in the world put food and dining on a level like New Orleans, where everyone has their own ways to make Cajun or Creole specialties like Gumbo, Jambalaya or “simple” red beans and rice.

Before I get into the serious eating, I warmed up my taste buds at P&G, a modest, almost nondescript, breakfast and lunch counter in the Central Business District. When I walked in, my eyes immediately gravitated towards the steam table where red beans were calling out to me. Simmered for hours, these beans were infused with flavors from sausage and chicken. Served over rice and topped with a poached egg, this was a perfect way to prepare for the culinary explorations awaiting me in the Crescent City over the next several days.

Red beans and rice as a breakfast centerpiece.
Red beans, rice, sausage, biscuit and poached egg at P&G in New Orleans

The accompanying link sausage had the texture and flavor of sausage made by someone, not a machine. Its ground pork with red pepper flavor proved perfect contrast with the mild spices of the red beans and rice.

And that biscuit. Fluffy, flaky, and buttery, I think I know now why this place is known for them.

Definitely a good warm up to the culinary adventures that await elsewhere in this food-obsessed city.

P & G Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato