A Call to FlyerTalk Members

Every now and then, I write a post that is not directly related to the core concepts of Upgrd, but that touches on topics that involve its readers. This is one of those dispatches.
Recently, I was reading through a forum that aims to unite and assist native-English-speaking residents in a foreign country. While the information on this forum is incredibly helpful, a common and discouraging undertone seemed to be omnipresent: the blatant bashing of anyone, or anything, that wasn’t amenable to a core group of commenters. This core group typically has members with five thousand plus posts - likely a sign of their comfort level on the board.
The people that were being attacked had posted a wide range of topics. Some of these people were too inept - or too lazy - to search with the forum’s adequate tools. Others were suspected of being dishonest. There were also people who had genuine issues, and these issues were simply “easy targets” for bullies. I was particularly taken aback by the story of a young man living in Florida who had recently been left by his girlfriend. This man’s girlfriend was a native of one of the countries served by the forum. He simply sought local cultural insight to help him make some decisions, which were obviously difficult for him in his downtrodden state. In all of these situations, the original poster was attacked with less-than-pleasant remarks by the core group of members.
Sadly, after reading all of this, my thoughts immediately turned to FlyerTalk.
For years, I’ve seen many FlyerTalk members circle their wagons when it comes to questions that they don’t like, or that they are not motivated to answer. “Search the forum” and “you’re an idiot” are all-to-frequent responses to questions coming from new people, or from people that don’t fit in.
A couple of key facts seem to have escaped a portion of the FlyerTalk community: the core group of attackers seems to have forgotten that they were new members at some point. The core group might have asked a question that another member found less than educated. This same angry, vitriol and spite spewing community may have also forgotten that they do not sit atop the ranks of the socially acceptable. How is this core group entitled to disparage those who simply wish to seek information, and who wish walk among them?
I am willing to bet that if we asked Randy Peterson about his intentions for FlyerTalk behavior, we would find some interesting answers that are contrary to what we often see. I would be willing to assume that he didn’t intend for his board to become a closed community, filled with “holier-than-thou” types that thrive on opportunities to tear people down. More importantly, I would think that he would want information to be given out whenever a member asked for it, regardless of distribution repetition or perceived importance.
It’s quite easy to hide behind a computer and issue jabs and angry rants. I challenge any of you to tell me what purpose this antagonism serves. I might make my share of jokes – calling Matt’s voice “child – molester – like” or Ben “an idiot of superb proportions” – but these are jokes, and everyone who knows me realizes that I’m just kidding around. You don’t listen to me on the podcast because I’m ripping people to shreds, you listen because there are jokes, and hopefully some of them are funny.
Not all FlyerTalk members act in this way, and I think it is important to recognize the good things that so many members do in the FT community and beyond. It’s also not lost on me that many other forums operate in a similar, discouraging way. That said, bad behavior in multiple locations does not make bad behavior acceptable in any one place. It might serve some of you well to remember where you came from. If you simply provide the information that another member requests, or say nothing at all, you handle all of these problems, all of the time. You might even help someone. Imagine that.


Josh December 28, 2010 at 11:14 am

First of all, I agree with you 100%, brother.

Even when my frequent business travel (and my participation in FF communities) was at its most intense, I never felt fully comfortable on FT. It felt as if the core clique would be constantly finding ways to make outsiders feel unwelcome: increasingly obscure alphabet soups of acronyms, threads that get combined and combined and combined so that it takes hours of browsing to keep track of a conversation, dozens and dozens of encyclopedic FAQs and wikis and guides that are difficult to use...

But I've always chalked that stuff up to being part of the nature of the beast. If you want to be one of the "big boys" who really knows how to play the FF game, then you have to learn to walk and talk with the "big boys." Use Yahoo! Answers for the basic questions. FT is for people at a different level.

You're right, though, that everyone has to start out as a n00b. The "holier-than-thou" attitude and the bullying shouldn't be ok (though it does seem to be a part of most message-board communities for "super-nerds" of all types: video games, computers, cooking, etc.). I can accept that FT elitists feel like their knowledge/expertise is something that they've invested time and energy to develop and hone, so it's almost rude (and at the very least lazy) when someone expects to join a conversation and reap the benefits of that expertise without bothering to do any legwork themselves. But I've seen too many instances of people getting flamed when asking simple questions in desperate circumstances, or publicly reprimanded for failing to do more research despite the fact that they tried in good faith to use FT's complicated search function and couldn't find what was so obviously! right in front of them.

A while ago (I think it was while recording a podcast in which Gary and Fozz were getting all philosophical about some sophisticated intricacy of award booking) it occurred to me that there are two kinds of crazy FF folks. There are those of us who've taken the time to get good at this because we fly (flew) a lot for our jobs, and because we figure we might as well get the most out of it (and because maybe we're the type of people who get a kick out of feeling like experts at something most people find so frustrating and difficult). But then there are the people in a whole different league. They have a Talmudic understanding of all the rules and tricks and loopholes (and not just for a single preferred airline, but for ALL the airlines), they invest extraordinary time and energy into their pursuit of miles and status, and they reap enormous benefits. I don't get annoyed or bothered by Gary or Ben... I know that they know what they know (and take insane vacations) because they're willing to invest more time and energy in this than I am. (We all make choices about our own personal priorities.) We can all get along on FT (and on sites like these) as long as people like me respect that the uber-experts have earned their expertise the hard way (and so it would unfair to expect them to let any n00b who asks suckle at the teat of their wisdom), and as long as folks like Ben, Gary, Fozz, and Matt remember that some of us are still learning (and may never get to uber-geek status). UPGRD works because the spirit of sharing and respect have always been part of the podcast and the blogs here (thanks to Mike, I reckon, and also thanks to prolific posters like Matt who continues to set the tone). Lots of the forums on FT are more about highlighting the gap between those two groups. And that's why I continue to lurk here, even as I fly a lot less than I used to.

Hunter December 28, 2010 at 12:19 pm

Josh - They do have a lot of information, but that gives them no right to horde it. If a private forum is what they want, then they should make it a private forum. In my opinion, that would be a shame. Life is really not so much about what you say, but how you say it, right?

JamesORD December 28, 2010 at 12:34 pm

Well said Hunter. I am pretty new to the frequent flyer game and I would have had no chance to learn the tips and tricks without the generosity of Ben, Matthew, Gary and all the others on UPGRD. Kudos for taking time out of your busy schedules to help us newbies to discover a great hobby.

Hunter December 28, 2010 at 12:37 pm

JamesORD- You are welcome. Everyone here is always happy to help.

Josh December 28, 2010 at 12:47 pm

I have mixed feelings about the right to horde information.

On one hand, we live in a world that (thankfully) rewards knowledge and expertise. Lawyers have a more sophisticated understanding of the law than I do. That's how they get away with charging me large sums of money for help navigating the intricacies of the legal system. Sure, the law itself is readily available to anyone who knows how to look, but lawyers have no obligation to make it any easier for the general non-lawyer public to access that system themselves. All I'm trying to say is that I don't want to minimize the investment of time and energy that FF experts put into attaining agility with the hieroglyphics of airline rules and regulations. I don't think it's unfair when those folks charge money for personal help with reward bookings, and I don't think it's unreasonable when they get annoyed on FT when people treat the forums as if they have a right to free advice on any question, even if they could get the answer to that question with a quick Google search.

Also, let's remember that we're talking about a (at least theoretically) finite resource. It's probably a good thing that tricks for taking full advantage of FF Programs aren't too easy. As Tom Hanks once said, "It's supposed to be hard. If it was easy, everyone would do it." I'm not a mileage program doomsdayist, but we can all agree that if everyone used mileage programs to their full potential, airlines would have to adjust the model to avoid going broke.

On the other hand, I do think even the most naïve n00bs deserve a basic modicum of respect, the lack of which is what seems to have spurred your original post. If a lawyer hangs out in a public place talking about the law, he shouldn't be a dick to someone who asks for clarification. Furthermore, you're absolutely right that if FF experts want to have their cliquey conversations without intrusion from the plebes, they should make themselves their own private clubhouse and leave public boards to people who don't mind the public.

Hunter December 28, 2010 at 12:50 pm

Well said, Josh. My fundamental point - as it relates to FlyerTalk - is that the bad behavior is contrary to what the site aims to do. Sure, they are welcome to charge for services, and be jerks if they want to - but FlyerTalk isn't the place for that.

magiciansampras December 28, 2010 at 02:40 pm

FT started going downhill when Randy sold out to Internet Brands, IMHO.

NWAsilvELITE January 11, 2011 at 03:55 pm

Hunter, I agree with what you have said as well as the previous posters. We are all (FT'ers and non FT'ers) at different levels in the game. While the search function is a great way to look at things in FlyerTalk, we all know how well the search function works. It is better to go to Google and do a search from there to get your answer in FT. The FT'ers who feel they are "Holier than thou.." just need to remember that they were once where these newbie FT'ers were at some point. FT as well as Upgrd.com is here to help and should be used as such. I know that I have learned a thing or two from both FT and Upgrd.com, so thanks!

David January 29, 2011 at 04:55 pm

So you read ThaiVisa, eh?