In what it admits is a “shameless act of self-promotion,” FareCompare.com will announce today that it is sending its very own Santa on a fun-filled trip to all 48 contiguous states, starting this weekend. Why? “We want to highlight what’s right and what’s wrong with the airline industry through the eyes of a holiday icon,” says FareCompare’s chief executive, Rick Seaney. Isn’t a 12-day, 25,000-mile trek on 66 flights enough to make Santa a little … cranky? Of course. That’s why they’re calling him Grumpy Santa. Here’s an exclusive interview with Michael Federico, who will soon be channeling Kris Kringle’s darker side.
Q: Why do you think you were chosen for this assignment? Is it that you resemble St. Nick or that you have his attitude?
Grumpy Santa: I’ve always assumed I was chosen for my overall handsomeness and charm. That’s what they told me, anyway. No, I don’t really look like St. Nick. I’m what the people call short. I am a little bit grumpy, though, and I’m pretty sure most of my co-workers are smart enough not to agree to something like this.
Q: What do you do when you’re not crossing the country in a bad mood?
Grumpy Santa: I’m a writer and researcher at FareCompare. I spend a lot of my time tracking down data and looking for interesting stories. I also write for our Deals blog and our Standard Upright Position blog.
Q: Figures that they found a blogger to do this.
Grumpy Santa: I must say, there was no mention of a Santa suit during the interview process, so I might demand a more impressive title when all of this is over.
Q: You should. Now, just for the benefit of all the kids out there who are reading this — you’re not saying you’re really Santa. You’re just a guy dressing up as Santa. The real Santa is — and I hope you’ll pardon me for saying this — a nice guy. Right?
Grumpy Santa: For all the kids out there, the real Santa is a very jolly, very nice guy. I am a guy in a Santa suit dealing with adult issues like long delays and tarmac-strandings and what can done to fix the system. Things the real Santa shouldn’t have to deal with. I’m also willing to be a corporate shill, and I believe the real Santa would shy away from that.
Q: Don’t feel bad, Mr. Claus. We’ve all been there. So I’m assuming you’ll be traveling in uniform, then?
Grumpy Santa: Oh, yes. I will be in the Santa suit, and I hear some people from the office will show up in other Christmas uniforms to meet me along the way. Although, I think we’re going to leave off the beard, so you can better see the passage of time etched on my face.
Q: I’m sure people will be wondering about this, so let me just ask: Are you nuts?
Grumpy Santa: Fair question. If I’m not now, I know I will be in a few short days. Honestly, it was one of those things that just seemed so bizarre that I figured I might as well do it. If nothing else, I think it will give me a great story to tell. And who else gets a chance to to break a world record involving a Santa suit? I keep saying that to myself, anyway. Probably, I’m just nuts.
Q: Why 48 states? Why not just the North Pole, like the other Santa?
Grumpy Santa: Well, some of the people around the office wanted me to end my journey by flying to the North Pole, but luckily for me that didn’t pan out. I do think there are a couple of reasons that we chose this particular stunt. I think you know that shameless self-promotion is right up there, but so is focusing attention on some of the problems within the airline industry, and how to solve them or just deal with them. Passengers have a lot of concerns, and we want to talk about that.
And I don’t want people to think were just dumping on the airlines, because I hope to get some perspective on what airline employees have to deal with on a regular basis. We just want to see what’s really going on out there, and hopefully a grumpy Santa can add some much needed humor to the situation. Also, most of the news we get is from places like NY, Atlanta, and Chicago, but what’s going on with air travelers in Billings, Mont.? I think their story must be told.
Q: I’m getting the the impression — and I hope you’ll forgive me for saying this, Father Christmas — that this is a shameless act of self-promotion.
Grumpy Santa: It is a publicity stunt, but there is a point. We want to highlight what’s going on in air travel today, and that this is something we’re all involved in, whether you’re an airline executive, a passenger, or an airline employee. How do we all get the biggest bang for our buck? And, how do we all get the best travel experience possible? I also think my bosses think it’s funny. Seriously, I think they are somewhat amused by my excruciating agony to come.
Q: What was the most difficult part of booking your itinerary?
Grumpy Santa: Rick and our chief technical officer, Graeme Wallace, spent two days analyzing flight schedules just to see if this was feasible. Once they saw it could be done, they got everyone together to convince me to do it.
Q: So how did you buy your tickets?
Grumpy Santa: Rick and Graeme booked everything like anyone else would, instead of how a travel agent would, just to go through the entire process and see which sites were easiest to deal with and how hard it would be to change flights and times.
Q: Was that the most difficult thing for you?
Grumpy Santa: For me, the hardest part was having people come into my office every few minutes to tell me how insane things were getting and how miserable I was going to be. Fortunately, I was too busy with costume-fittings and generally hiding to help much with the planning.
But in talking to Rick and the others, it sounds like simply getting me everywhere was a major headache, because it’s not like you can just hop from state to state. Some of the smaller airports really only have flights coming in from one or two places, so I end up having to land in a few states more than once.
We’re also all aware that we need a back-up plans in place in case flights get delayed or there are weather problems, so I know they have those plans in place. We’re holding off on booking hotels until a few days before, so we don’t get stuck paying for a lot of rooms we don’t use. Ultimately, we wanted to do this quickly. I do have somewhat of a life to get back to and, as always at FareCompare, we wanted to do it cheaply. And, for the most part, we did.
Q: What part are you most looking forward to, other than being finished?
Grumpy Santa: Well, I was looking forward to my final stop in Hawaii, but Rick ultimately ditched plans for Hawaii and Alaska because it was going to add a lot of time to the trip. And I did want to be home for the holidays. Also, we were booking with so little notice, the only seats left were full-fare first class. I do think with something like this, though, I am bound to meet some interesting folks and see some crazy things, so I’m looking forward to that. I am also looking forward to going to North Dakota. I mean, who wouldn’t want to go to North Dakota in the dead of winter?
Q: Do you have any concerns about your Santa contraband at TSA checkpoints? I think cookies are OK, but last time I checked, milk was a liquid. You might even get into some trouble with the whole bowl full of jelly routine.
Grumpy Santa: I think I’ll have to pass on cookies and bring power bars and beef jerky or something. I have more concerns about eating each day, what with our schedule. I am concerned that three ounces of any liquid isn’t really enough for my trip. Since most of my flights are one-way, I am afraid my ticket will be branded with the dreaded SSS, and I will have to go to the grumpy line in security.
Q: Alright, before I let you go, please explain the rules for your trip. What do you consider “visiting” a state? A stopover? A flyover? Is there some kind of minimum time spent in a state?
Grumpy Santa: I consider that I have visited a state when my plane has landed there. Most of the time, I will just have time to get into the airport to say ”hi” to some folks. And that’s about it. I tried to convince them that flying over a state was just as good as landing there, but they didn’t buy it.
Q: If I told you that my five-year-old was being naughty, and asked Grumpy Santa to visit him to set him straight, would you consider coming to Orlando?
Grumpy Santa: I think I am in Orlando for about an hour, so if that’s enough time, I will do my best to help you out. Thanks for the questions, Chris. Happy holidays to you and your family!