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.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

How to install an Android 5.1.1 and 6.0 update to your Nexus 5 phone: Mac-specific instructions

I have a Nexus 5 phone with FreedomPop, which uses the Sprint network.  This phone constantly downloads Android updates, and the updates always fail because Freedompop altered the ROM. 

I found these very good instructions on how to load an Android update on the Nexus 5 phone.  I am sure that these instructions apply to other Android phones if you are trying to load an Android update manually for some reason.  I have written the below down to make the process more clear for Mac users.

The first thing you want to do before updating your phone is to backup your Android.  I consulted several forums and posts before realizing that there's not any one good way to back up your entire Android phone in one pass.  Instead, you have to use a few different procedures to back up your phone -- and even then, you will miss something, most likely.  The instructions below are for Macs. 

1.  Backup your phone and video files: When you attach an Android phone to a Mac, nothing happens.  This is different from a Windows machine, which recognizes and mounts the Android phone as a drive. 

a.  Transfer your media files: You must therefore use a utility/app called Android File Transfer when attaching an Android phone to your Mac.  Once you've installed this program, AFT will show you the various folders on your phone.  I discovered that this did NOT work with one micro-USB cable, and it DID work with another micro-USB cable.  So the quality of the USB cable determines whether your Mac will even see the phone. 

Once your phone is connected, you will see the contents of your Android phone.  It will look something like this.  The problem is that I don't believe you are seeing all the important files this way.  You are not seeing passwords, Google accounts, various settings, etc.  I use this utility only to put in or back up video and still image files into the folders DCIM (for still images), Download, Music, and Movies.

Here are the contents of an Android phone as shown by Android File Transfer for the Mac

(After updating from Android 5.0 to Android 6.0, AFT did not work properly.  I had to unlock the screen (go to the main home page of my phone) and then swipe down from the top notification bar.  I then selected "USB for file transfer."

b.  Backup and restore your Google settings.  This page explains this better than I can:

I believe, but I could be wrong, that this takes care of backing up most of the data for your phone. 

One note: when researching how to back up my Android phone, I came across several web pages touting Wondershare MobileTrans as a backup solution.  Don't fall for this scam.  Wondershare MobileTrans sucks! 

The app might work, but it is terrifically sneaky.  You can download it as a trial, and then you can use it as a trial to store all your data into a backup file.  However, this app hides its costs until you decide to buy -- and you aren't going to buy until you need the data that it has.  Only then do you find that it will cost you $39.95 to get your data back.  The trial version takes all your contact data and other data, and then when you try to restore, you only get 5 contacts -- NOTHING else -- of your data back.  Using it as a trial is a complete waste of time.  Take my advice and don't bother trying to back up your Android phone with this application. 

Now that you've backed up your phone, here are the instructions for updating your Nexus 5 or Android phone manually to a version of the Android OS.  I updated my Nexus 5 to Android 6.0 manually. 

Notice: I created this post (modified from the forum post above) to help you factory restore your phone. I am not responsible for incorrect firmware, unstable updates, or failed flashes. Proceed at your own risk!***

You have a Nexus! Google makes it easy to update than most. If you follow these steps, you will able to update your device for as long as Google supports it.

FreedomPop supports 3 Nexus devices: Nexus S 4G, Galaxy Nexus, and Nexus 5 (I have all 3). You will be able to re-download all your FreedomPop apps from the Play Store.

I am sure that you are on this page because you are wanting to update your FreedomPop purchased Nexus device. You will notice that when you turn your phone
on, there is an open lock under the word "Google". In order for FreedomPop to offer a phone that can use the Messaging VoIP phone/text app and to mass produce
it, the ROM has been altered to customize the experience. However, in doing so, the ROM is no longer updatable from the over-the-air. So, you cannot update to the latest version available for your phone. I will show you how to update it.

First the disclaimer: Although it is a slim chance, you can mess up your phone if you don't do this correctly. You are doing this because you want the newest
software. This is NOT supported by FreedomPop. Don't let this scare you too much. Most of the time, if you do mess up, you can get back to the bootloader to start over again. You have a Nexus, so it is highly unlikely that you will brick your device. Make sure your phone is FULLY charged. DO NOT ATTEMPT IF YOU SUSPECT A BAD CHARGING/USB PORT!!!!

Second: You will lose all data on the phone, including your pictures, music, documents, and anything else you have of value. Backup anything you don't want to lose to your computer or cloud service.

Third: This may be your gateway to rooting, modding, or installing other ROMs on your phone. The steps you learn here will make it easy to do that too!

Fourth: The files are big. If you are running out of space on your computer, you will need to free up 4Gb of space.


Step one: Download the files that you need
1. The Factory ROM
The instructions are mostly here:

I will try give you some tips to make it easier.
On the back of the Nexus S 4G and Galaxy Nexus and note the model number. For the Nexus 5 and above, there is no Sprint variant. On your computer, go to the link above and find your phone. For example, find the Nexus 5 (Note its codename is hammerhead. Remember that when you want to flash a different ROM). Then find the latest version, which as of July 2015 is 5.1.1 (LMY48B). Click the link and download to some place you can find. It maybe easiest to use the default Downloads folder. Unzip the file.

2. Get the Fastboot and ADB files:
These are 2 essential files that you will need to flash the ROM, or a recovery to flash a different ROM. The official way to get them, is downloading Android Studio and using it to download the Android Studio Development Kit (SDK). It is not efficient, but you  will download a 250Mb file and use almost 500Mb of space to get a couple of files less than 2Mb.

Go here: and download the Android studio for your computer operating system. Install the program and run it. Select the custom option and download only the Android SDK. Please make a note of the install location on that same page. You will need to go there to get the files you need.

Go to the install folder. Go to the SDK folder, then the "platform-tools" folder. If you did not note the location, just do a search on your computer for "fastboot".

Copy the files "adb" and"fastboot" to the same folder as the unzipped ROM.

So in that folder, you should have:
adb and fastboot
bootloader file
image file
radio file
flash-all files

Step 2: Put your phone into FastBoot mode:

Here's the easy way:
Power off your phone.
Nexus S 4G: Press Volume Up and Power at the same time
Galaxy Nexus: Press Volume Up and Down + Power at the same time (If it says ODIN, try again)
Nexus 5: Press Volume Down and Power at the same time
For all other models, Google "Fastboot Nexus x"

At this point, your phone screen should show a drawing of the Android robot lying on its back, and the word Start at the top. 

The phone is now in Fastboot Mode (it should say this in red letter below the green Android robot)

Connect your phone to your Mac with a USB cable that you know works (I tested mine by make sure that Android File Transfer opened up and recognized my phone when I plugged in the USB cable. 

Now, open Terminal for the Mac.  (If you don't know what Terminal is, then you probably should not be trying to do this). 

Note: These next two items were not necessary for me, and they did not work.
Type (in Terminal): ./adb devices
It should start the daemon. Then it should list your phone as a string of characters then "device". If it does not, it is not connected correctly to your computer.
Next type: ./adb reboot bootloader

Step 3: Run the flash all script file:

For those that did it the easy way, you now need to get into the Command Line in Windows or the Terminal in Mac or Linux. Make sure your phone is plugged into your computer with your USB Cable and in bootloader/fastboot mode. (Fastboot mode is described in step 2). 

Mac: In Finder, note the entire path of where the Factory ROM folder is. Press control then click your mouse on the containing folder. Click "Get Info". Highlight under General what it says in "Where:". For example, if you used the default Download folder, it could say /Users/YourName/Downloads/hammerhead-lmy48b

Now you need to adjust the "" script.
In Finder, click on the install folder. Press the control key on your keyboard and click with your mouse "". It will give you a menu. Click "Open With" and select "TextEdit".

You will see a bunch of "#" lines and then "fastboot flash....". All lines that start with "fastboot" add a "./" just before it. It will look like "./fastboot flash...". Do that for EVERY line that begins with "fastboot". You do not need to alter the lines for "sleep". Save the file and proceed.

In Spotlight (the magnifying glass at the top right). Type "Terminal" and click on it.

In the terminal window, type cd + the path that you noted above
Example: cd /Users/YourName/Downloads/hammerhead-mmb29s

This is the final step:
Mac: ./

DO NOT TOUCH YOUR PHONE. Let it reboot into the operating system you just flashed. Be sure to wait until everything is finished -- it takes about five minutes, and the messages on the bootloader screen will be confusing.  Be patient.  My advice is to go do something else for five to ten minutes rather than look at the phone. 

After perhaps four minutes, the phone will reboot.  You will see various colored balls on the screen that finally spell the word "Android" after another three minutes.  It is safe to remove your phone from your Mac when the phone has powered on and you see a Welcome screen.  Until then -- don't touch the phone!

Icons on Mac Desktop or Folder Keep Re-arranging Themselves -- Some Solutions

I keep some folders on my Mac desktop in a specific arrangement that helps my workflow.  This problem has happened to me a few times in the past years -- I have the files (icons) arranged the way I like them on the desktop, or in a folder -- then suddenly my Mac rearranges all the icons into some random (to me) arrangement.  It's a pain the butt. 

Here are some solutions:

The best solution that I have found is below.  In perusing various Mac forums, I see solution number 2 being mentioned more commonly -- but it has almost never worked for me.  In fact, last night, I tried solution number 2 after arranging my desktop the way I preferred (after it got randomly arranged) -- and deleting the .DS_Store file caused my icons to go into chaos mode again!  Talk about wasted work and time. 

1.  The best solution for me: try resetting finder preferences.  Delete the file /users/username/library/preferences/ then control-option-click on Finder in the dock and choose "relaunch". 

2.  Trash the hidden .DS_Store file that is in all Mac folders.  Here are three ways to do it: 
Use the free TinkerTool app.  In Finder options - select 1st one - "Show hidden and system files"
Relaunch finder to activate changes. Trash the .DS_Store file on the right top of the screen. Wait a couple of seconds before it rebuilds or relaunch the finder again.

You can show hidden files using Terminal commands, and here are some other suggestions: 
... I found out that using the freeware Onyx it is very easy to delete the desktop's .DS_Store file.   

I used "COCKTAIL" and made the invisible files visible. I then deleted only one invisible file named ".ds_store" - restarted - and all icons stay where they're supposed to now

...had the same problem of icons ending up on the right after any restart (in both 10.5 and 10.6), which was resolved by deleting the hidden .DS_Store file on the desktop. It rebuilt itself and the problem went away. YMMV

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Miscellaneous Problems and Solutions for Android Phones Excessive Data Usage and Network Connection Problems

I have a Nexus 5 phone that normally works great.  It's a FreedomPop phone which works on the Sprint network.  

Here are some problems and solutions that I've discovered.  These are applicable to most Android phones, not just the Nexus 5.   Thanks to the contributors on various forums where I found these answers. 

To stop excessive data usage on your Android phone:
Open Google Play Store and tap the menu button in the upper left (three horizontal lines). Tap Settings and look at the Auto-update setting. Is it set to update apps over wifi only? If not tap to change it. Do this for Google Services also. 

My FreedomPop/Sprint network phone would sometimes stop connecting to Sprint's 3G (older) network.  Sprint has a 3G (slower, but still works fine for things like Waze, Gmail) and a faster LTE network.  

Here's a solution from a forum:

I had the same problem (no data at all using cellular network) ..., but managed to solve it using these steps:
Type star#star#4636#star#star in the phone dialer. You will see a rather messy dialog "Phone info".
Tap the three dots in the upper right corner and tap "Enable data connection".

Sometimes my phone would give me the message : Sign into Sprint Network.  
Here's the solution: It's called a soft reset, and is for initial activation or if an Android phone says "Sign into Network":  dial ##72786## and press the dial button

PS -- You might have to update the PRL and profile, and then restart the phone. 
Update the Profile and PRL (Preferred Roaming List) on your Google Nexus 5

Keeping your Preferred Roaming List (PRL) up-to-date can improve your network coverage if you are roaming.

From the home screen, tap the All Apps icon.
Scroll to and tap Settings.
Tap More.
Tap Cellular networks.
Tap Carrier settings.
Tap Update Profile
After the update completes, tap Update PRL

Stop Excessive Data Usage:
For the FreedomPop Nexus 5 phone -- this phone had a problem specific to FreedomPop -- FP put a custom ROM on the phone, and the phone would constantly download updates to the Android OS (5.0) and then fail.  
Here's the solution: I did the following to stop data usage from Android updates constantly uploading:
Go to Settings>>Data Usage>>Click "Google Services">> Scroll to the bottom and click "Restrict Background Data - Disable background data on cellular networks". Now your phone will stop downloading the Android 5.1 update until you uncheck this option. I also did this for Google Play settings -- set it to auto update apps over wifi only.  

When I was on a boat in Papua New Guinea, I had a Nexus 4 with a local SIM in it.  I had 1.5Gb of data which had to last me a month.  I made the following settings so that apps would not suck up my data in the background: 

1.  Go to Settings>>Data Usage, and turn off Cellular Data by moving the green button to the left.  Press OK to "Turn off cellular data?"  This way, my phone would only update apps and use up data if I was near a wifi hotspot -- it would not use cellular data at all.  When I was on the boat and had no wifi signal, I turned cellular data back on -- and the phone would update apps and get my Gmail over the cellular connection.  

2.  Another setting is found here: Go to Settings>>Data Usage, and tap the three dots in the upper right of the screen.  Choose "restrict background data" and say OK to "Restrict background data? If you restrict background cellular data, some apps and services won't work unless you're connected to wifi."  By doing this, you aren't allowing your phone to work in the background, updating apps and getting your emails -- unless the phone is hooked up to wifi.  

If I chose setting 1 -- turning off cellular data -- the phone was basically not getting any data at all when I was at sea (the boat had no wifi), even if there was a cell phone signal.  If I allowed cellular data but restricted background data, then I could pick up the phone if I was at sea with a cell signal, go to Gmail, and tell Gmail to get my emails.  Gmail would not download my emails in the background -- it would only get my emails if I opened Gmail up and synced it. 

Note: the DJI Go app sucks up data also, so setting it to get data only over wifi is a good idea. 

Sunday, January 10, 2016

How to Find the Page to Transfer Starwood SPG Points to an Airline

For those of you who have Starwood (SPG) Preferred Guest Starpoints and want to transfer them to an airline, here's how to find the web page to do it.

There's an easy way and there's a hard way.  The easy way is to go to this web page:

Here's the hard way:
Starwood's website has a new glossy, fancy look to it that is very unhelpful, a classic example of design over function.  I spent a good half hour this morning puzzling over how to transfer my SPG Starpoints to an airline.

If you are trying to do this, you might be led astray (probably purposely) by the SPG page that says this:

None of the choices on this page are what I wanted (or what most people will want.).  Ignore this page and try not to get back to it.  I was repeatedly directed to this page.

Instead, click on the Travel icon on the top of the above page.  This takes you to this page: 

This choice looks like what you want -- but it is NOT!  This choice takes you to Starwood's own "redeem SPG points for airline flights" page which is not the "transfer my SPG points to an airline mileage plan" choice that most people want.

Instead, scroll down to the bottom of this page:

Finally, if you can get past and decipher all the clever, cutesie wording, then you will see that under "Sky's the limit" is what you want: Turn your Starpoints into miles.

Click on the weird down arrow thing to open up yet another page, and click "Learn More."  Hopefully you will get to this page:

From this page, you finally get some direct language about how to transfer Starpoints to airline miles.

Good luck!

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Really Annoying Security Password Questions -- Are We Children or Adults?

Look, banks and hotels, and other companies.  I understand that your software guys need to prevent hacking, and part of that is to force me to use "good" passwords and provide answers to security questions that are not already out there.

But how about making it easier for us customers?  For instance, if you are going to require a complicated password that requires at least one special character, one uppercase letter, and numbers, then how about telling us the requirements up front, rather than having us type in a password and just telling us that the password is "not sufficient."  Arrgh.

Even more annoying are the lame security questions that ask us our "favorites".  Listen, I may have had a favorite color or favorite teacher when I was a kid.  However, I am now an adult.  I have many cities that I like, but no favorite city.  I have many vacation destinations, countries to visit, airlines to use, foods that I like, but no "favorites".   So your asking me these childish questions is useless and frustrating, because if I am forced to supply answers to such questions, I will forget what I put down later.  I am an adult, and I don't have "favorites" any longer.

Here's a really annoying, lame example from a hotel chain:

Please.  Enough is enough.

Friday, December 18, 2015

United Airlines -- How About Taking Care of Your United Clubs?

I've been a longtime, loyal flyer with United Airlines.  The past two years I've even had a membership to their United Clubs, something I never would have considered in the past.  The Club membership comes with a United credit card that I use a lot. 

Flying United in the past two years has been a test.  Their flights are rarely on time.  However, I remain loyal to United and have even been happy learning and using their award travel system in the past year. 
The United Clubs are not very good.  They are generally very crowded.  Still, I enjoy using my Club membership because staying for a six hour layover in an airport in a United Club is better than wandering the airport and trying to find a quiet place. 

The one thing about United Clubs that I wish that United management would fix is the sorry, permanently "not in service" automatic coffee machines that they have in all the clubs.  I actually liked the coffee that came out of these machines.  In the past six months of travel, I've encountered more of more of these machines that are out of order or being serviced.  The staff at the United Clubs are universally dispirited and spectacularly unhelpful.  They seem to enjoy getting in customers' way while the customer is trying to get a drink, coffee, or snack. 

Here's a photo of a coffee machine at the Houston United Club.  I've seen the same sign on my recent visits to United Clubs in San Francisco, LAX (so crowded that there was literally nowhere to sit!),  and Atlanta (a pitiful Club).   The United Club in Terminal 4 at Heathrow London was, on the other hand, really nice. 

I've only seen the Virgin Australia lounges in Brisbane and Sydney, but they put all US-based United Clubs to shame.