Tree-Tipping Is A Crime, Not Related To Cow-Tipping

When you buy a wreath made from fresh greenery, you probably don’t give much thought to where those evergreen boughs came from. A tree somewhere: what else is there to know? It turns out that it’s possible to poach tree branches, and tree-tipping, as it’s called, is a thriving illicit industry in the forests of Maine.

The New York Times followed around some legal bough-cutters to learn about the business, as well as the forest rangers who scan forests for tire tracks and signs that pine-rustlers have stopped by. The crime itself is simple and lucrative: snap off branches measuring between a foot and a foot and a half. Sell them to an independent wreath-maker who doesn’t ask questions and who is probably also just trying to get by in a remote and impoverished area of Maine.

If you find the right buyer, evergreen branches can sell for fifty cents a pound. That might not seem like a lot, but imagine how much money that would be for a whole pickup truck bed full of boughs. Legit tippers exist, and they usually pay landowners for the right to harvest boughs.

Tree Tipping Generates Cash and Seasonal Woes in Maine [New York Times]

by Laura Northrup via Consumerist

Sony Releasing “The Interview” Online Today For $6

interview2 The saga of the The Interview may finally be coming to an end, with Sony deciding to release the film for rental and purchase through multiple online outlets a day earlier than it had originally planned to put it in theaters.

The company confirmed to that the movie will be available starting around 1 p.m. ET today via YouTube’s rental service, Google Play, the Xbox Marketplace and through a dedicate site,

It will rent for $5.99 and sell for $14.99.

by Chris Morran via Consumerist

Consumerist End-Of-The-Week Flickr Finds

We’re closing for the rest of this week due to the holiday, but didn’t want to leave you without our weekly picks of cool stuff from the Consumerist Flickr Pool. Here are seven of the best photos that readers added to the Consumerist Flickr Pool so far this week, picked for usability in a Consumerist post or for just plain neatness.

Want to see your most festive snapshots here on the site? Our Flickr Pool is the place where Consumerist readers upload photos for possible use in future Consumerist posts. Just be a registered Flickr user, go here, and click “Join Group?” up on the top right. Choose your best photos, then click “send to group” on the individual images you want to add to the pool.

by Laura Northrup via Consumerist

Should Airlines Be Required To Find Stranded Travelers Flights On Competitors’ Planes?

So far this year, more than 162,000 flights have been canceled for one reason or another, including the polar vortex and a torched air traffic control center in Chicago. While the airlines may call these cancellations a small inconvenience, passengers know that’s not true, especially since it has become increasingly difficult to rebook their travel. Now, passenger rights groups are seeking changes to make traveling an easier experience for consumers.

The Los Angeles Times reports that passenger rights groups have proposed changes that would require airlines to abide by rules employed before airline deregulation in the 1970s.

Those rules, which ended in 1978, would require airlines to transfer passengers to the next available flight, even it that happens to be a different carrier.

“If your flight is canceled, you can use your ticket on another airline,” said Paul Hudson, president of, tells LA Times. has proposed the idea to an advisory committee of the U.S. Department of Transportation, calling the change a “win-win situation.”

Under the previous requirement, known as Rule 240, airlines were required to offer seats on a competitor’s next flight if that would get the traveler to his or her destination sooner. There was an exception for cancellations caused by an “act of God,” which each airline could define for itself.

Most airlines stopped enforcing those requirements after airline deregulation, with the exception of United Airlines and Alaska Airlines.

Despite some airlines’ willingness to continue using the outdated rules, most adamantly oppose creating such mandates today.

A spokesman for the trade group Airlines for America says the opposition stems from the fact that a mandate means the government would have to set the rate one airline pays another for a seat.

Still, advocates and industry experts tell the Times that something needs to be done to address the inconvenience passengers have encountered in 2014.

Most of those inconveniences were due to a combination of airlines proactively canceling flights because of impending inclement weather and higher passenger loads than ever before.

Starting in January and February, airlines began to cancel flights when bad weather threatened as a cost-saving measure to avoid having crews and planes wiring idle in storm-locked airports.

But by doing so, they often left passengers stranded with few options for other flights.

Hudson, the president for, says the effect of cancellations on passengers is only compounded by the fact that airlines now pack planes to record levels.

According to federal data, nearly 84% of flights have been flying full in the first nine months of 2014 – a record.

“If flights are nearly 90% full and yours is canceled, you have to wait three or four planes before you get rebooked,” Hudson said.

While airlines agree that cancellations and passenger capacity is up, they say that computer technology actually makes it easier to rebook passengers on later flights.

“When a customer’s flight is canceled, they are automatically rebooked on the next available flight,” Jean Medina, a spokesperson for industry group Airlines For America, said.

Airline employees tells the Times that despite advances in technology, some passengers are stranded for hours or days before they can get rebooked.

“We like the high load factor, but we need to be able to accommodate the passengers when flights are canceled or delayed,” Charles Cerf, president of the Transportation Workers Union, which represents 10,000 airline employees, tells the Times. “We are concerned that this is not going to change right away.”

Although high load factors and increased cancellations have wreaked havoc on passengers’ travel plans, airlines aren’t exactly hurting.

In fact, an industry trade group projects that U.S. airlines are on pace to record the highest profit margins in decades. Carriers in North America will likely report 6% margins in 2014, exceeding the peak rates for the 1990s.

That means that while, passengers may face more inconvenience in getting from one place to another, they likely won’t be paying any more for air fare.

Full flights make cancellations harder to rebook; new rules sought [The Los Angeles Times]

by Ashlee Kieler via Consumerist

United Passenger Sues Airline, Says She Was Arrested For Changing Seats

Just about anyone who has had the luxury of flying on a plane with several empty seats has probably moved to another seat to gain a few inches of personal space. But a passenger on a United flight says she was removed from the flight for wanting to relocate within the cabin and jailed for then trying to remain on board.

The suit, initially filed in a New York state court but subsequently removed to a U.S. District Court, states that the passenger was flying from NYC to Anchorage, AK, with a couple of stops along the way.

After one such stop in Seattle, during which the flight crew was switched and passengers were allowed to temporarily deplane, the plaintiff says she first sat down in her assigned seat. But then after noticing that there were numerous empty seats on this final leg of the trip, she took it upon herself to move.

However, a flight attendant then told her that if she wanted to sit in this seat, she’d have to pay a premium of $109.

“So I went forward and then another stewardess came along and said ‘Give me your credit card,’” she tells CBS 2 in NYC. “At that point I decided no, I’m not paying $109 and I’ll go back to my seat.”

The complaint states that once the passenger became aware of the upcharge she ““without further discussion, immediately and peacefully returned to her assigned seat.”

According to the complaint, there were no further discussions between the passenger and flight attendant.

But then things went sour when the captain announced over the loudspeaker that “there was a passenger on the plane who did not want to fly to Alaska.”

The plaintiff says she had no idea the announcement was referring to her until she was eventually told that she was being removed from the plane.

She admits to having resisted police efforts to remove her from the plane, as she’d paid a significant amount of money for her trip and did not believe she’d done anything wrong.

“I said ‘no, I paid for this seat and I’m going to stay here,’” she recalls.

The complaint states that so much force was used in taking her off the plane that her clothes were torn in the process. In the video above, she shows the CBS reporter a pair of jeans she claims were ripped during her arrest.

“They did handcuff me, there were three policemen that dragged me out of the plane,” she tells CBS 2.

She ended up spending three days in jail some 3,000 miles from home. She also had no way of getting home, as United had canceled her ticket, meaning she had to go out of pocket for a return fare on another airline. The plaintiff also say she lost money from hotel and other expenses that she’s paid for in advance but couldn’t use or get refunded.

The complaint alleges, among other things, breach of contract, age and gender discrimination, and negligent hiring, training and supervision of United employees. In total, the passenger is seeking $5 million in damages from the airline.

For its part, United isn’t commenting specifically on the case, though lawyers for the airline did file a motion to dismiss [PDF] most of the claims, stating that the plaintiff doesn’t have a viable complaint under the United contract of carriage; that there is insufficient evidence to make a discrimination claim; and that federal law preempts her state-level claims of negligent hiring and training.

by Chris Morran via Consumerist

Google, Microsoft Face Down Hilton, Marriott In Fight Over Blocking Hotel Hotspots

Hotel wifi really sucks sometimes: it can be expensive, insecure, and slow all at once. When there’s a convention in town, the network’s so overloaded you can’t connect at all. So travelers bring their own mobile hotspots. It’s a win for the consumer, but not for the hotel that suddenly loses the ability to charge you more fees. And that’s the core issue behind a regulatory fight that has hotels and tech firms arguing over what consumers are allowed to do.

A Marriott hotel and convention center “solved” this problem by jamming the signals coming from mobile hotspots on the show floor. That left exhibitors and attendants with no real option except to use the Marriott network, which cost between $250 and $1000 per access point. That was great for the hotel (and bad for their customers) while it lasted, but as it turns out, doing that is incredibly illegal. Marriott got slapped with a $600,000 fine over it, which they grudgingly paid.

From Marriott’s perspective, of course, that particular piece of law sucks. But rather than outright flout it again and find themselves handing over more wads of cash in civil penalties, they’re taking a different tactic: demanding to have the rule changed.

Marriott, along with two other hotel companies, formally petitioned to have the relevant FCC rule — or at least the interpretation of it that applies to them — modified so that in the future, they can go back to jamming guests’ personal hotspots with impunity. The issue is now an open FCC proceeding (RM-11737).

Other hotel chains, which also enjoy making money by nickel-and-diming customers for every possible amenity, have signed on in support. In a comment (PDF) to the FCC, the company that owns Hilton hotels called the practice of jamming personal hotspots “reasonable network management” that prevents their own proffered networks from becoming unusable. Network management is perfectly permissible and encouraged under the law so, therefore (the thought goes), the hotels should be a-ok to block everyone else’s signals on-site.

Tech companies, however, are racing to disagree. Google and Microsoft have filed comments in opposition, as have the NCTA (the trade and lobbying group for the cable and telecom industry) and the CTIA (the trade and lobbying group for the wireless industry).

Microsoft (PDF) and Google (PDF) both make the same essential arguments: one, that the unlicensed spectrum wifi uses belongs (or doesn’t belong) equally to pretty much everyone, including both hotels and consumers. Two, that blocking personal devices constitutes jamming, and signal jamming is illegal. And three, that allowing hotels to screw around with other uses of wifi is against the public interest. Since protecting the public interest is the FCC’s mandate, therefore, it follows that they shouldn’t allow hotels to block personal wifi signals.

Both tech giants agree that the hotels have a legitimate and reasonable interest in protecting their own networks, but that preventing other networks from existing in the same space isn’t the same thing. As Microsoft puts it, “Willfully excluding these other authorized devices from using that unlicensed spectrum, under the guise of mitigating so-called threats to the reliability (performance) of an operator’s own network, violates Section 333,” the rule that all of this is happening under.

The FCC — which has a few other things to worry about at the moment — has not yet made a decision on the petition, but likely will in early 2015.

[via Ars Technica]

by Kate Cox via Consumerist

Snoqualmie Recalls All Ice Cream Made This Year Due To Possible Listeria Contamination

pintsSnoqualmie Gourmet Ice Cream distributes its ice cream, gelato, custard, and sorbet in some states in the western half of this country. That sounds delicious, but the company has issued a surprisingly extensive recall: it is recalling all of the tasty frozen desserts that it has produced this year. Yes, from the beginning of 2014 until December 15.

Most of those ice creams have probably been eaten by now. The same thing triggered this recall that triggers many food recalls: Listeria monocytogenes showed up in samples taken by state regulators. The company doesn’t know what caused the contamination or how many containers (if any) might be out there with the pathogen, so they have recalled all of their 2014 output.

Most healthy adults might have experienced passing digestive distress if they ate any contaminated ice cream: they also may have had a fever, muscle pain and stiffness, or a severe headache. Listeriosis poses a particular threat to young children, frail senior citizens, and pregnant women.

The company reports that it’s working with federal and state regulators to find where the bacteria came from, and perhaps also to narrow down the scope of the recall a little bit. They know that affected lots were sold in Arizona, Idaho, California, Oregon, and Washington state; they may have also been distributed in Alaska, Colorado, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming.

Look for date codes on the package that end in 4. If you have any questions about the products or this recall, contact the company at 213-316-8323 from 9 AM to 4 PM Pacific time.

Snoqualmie Gourmet Ice Cream, Inc. Voluntarily Recalls Ice Cream, Gelato, Custard and Sorbet Because of Possible Health Risk [FDA]

by Laura Northrup via Consumerist

Sony’s PlayStation Now Coming To Samsung Smart TVs

psnow Nearly a year ago at CES 2014, Sony CEO Kaz Hirai announced PlayStation Now, a cloud-based gaming service that would lets users access PlayStation 3 games without requiring a PS3. The service has thus far been available only on Sony devices, but the company confirmed today that it will bring PS Now to Samsung Smart TVs at some point in 2015.

Like other services available on Samsung’s web-connected sets, PS Now will be accessed via an app downloaded through the TV’s Smart Hub.

The only piece of Sony equipment you’d need would be a DualShock4 controller. Sony says that users of the PS Now TV app will enjoy the full functionality of the service — including online multiplayer, and cloud-saved games — which currently offers rental access to a library of around 200 PS3 games.

“[O]ur vision has been to open the world of PlayStation to the masses by offering the service on the devices they use every day,” said Masayasu Ito, Executive Vice President of Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. in a statement. “Partnering with Samsung is a key step toward realizing this vision, as we can reach a broader audience of consumers who may not own a PlayStation console to show them why gaming with PlayStation is such a unique and amazing experience.”

No specific timeframe has been given for when the Samsung app will launch, or whether it will be available on current-generation Smart TVs or only newer sets from Samsung.

Some of those details will hopefully be made clearer in a couple weeks when we get our hands on the Samsung app at CES 2015.

by Chris Morran via Consumerist

Check To Make Sure That Box Spring You Buy Off Craigslist Doesn’t Come With A Free Cat

Anyone who owns a cat knows that they like to get into the tiniest, oddest of places. And if you think you can get them out when they aren’t ready, you’ve got another think coming. All those cat factors combined in the most unfortunate of situations when an Oregon man realized he’d sold his girlfriend’s cat along with a box spring.

Camo the cat was hiding in his favorite spot, a hole inside a box spring, unbeknownst to the Portland man who sold the item on Craigslist for $100, reports The Oregonian.

After helping the buyer carry the mattress and box spring out to the car, the man went back inside to check on the cat before he left the apartment. But Camo was nowhere to be found, and now the couple is asking Portland for help to find him.

The guy who bought the box spring even let the couple come over and look for Camo, but no one has seen or heard of him since he was carried away. The community is getting in on the act, but so far there’s been no luck.

“We’re so incredibly thankful that anyone would care about our cat,” the man said.

Come on, Santa. Now’s the perfect time to do what you do.

Portland-area man accidentally sells girlfriend’s cat, now Reddit trying to help him find ‘Camo’ [The Oregonian]

by Mary Beth Quirk via Consumerist

Walmart Loses Customer’s Black Friday Order, Tells Her To Re-Order At Full Price

We know that mistakes happen and things occasionally get lost in shipping, especially when you’re talking about the world’s largest retailer during the year’s busiest shopping season. But if a retailer admits to misplacing your order, it shouldn’t try to cash in on its own screw-up by charging you more than you had already paid.

And yet this is exactly what happened to a Walmart customer in Texas, who ordered a Peg Perego John Deere Gator XUV for her 3-year-old during’s Black Friday sale.

She tells KHOU-TV that the purchase was supposed to be delivered to her local store where she could pick it up, but was somehow delivered to a Walmart distribution center.

She was told there weren’t enough trucks to get the gift delivered to the proper delivery and that customers are not allowed to pick up items at the distribution center.

“The sales rep stated my order would not arrive by Christmas,” explains the mom, who says the rep also told her that she could get a refund and re-order the pricey gift, but she couldn’t get the Black Friday deal.

While the mom could get no love from Walmart, the retailer responded quickly once KHOU called the store out for trying to take advantage of their mistake.

Within a few hours, Walmart was apologizing and scheduling a delivery of the kiddie cart — and a $50 gift card — to the mom.

“We’re gonna get down to exactly what did happen,” a Walmart rep tells KHOU.

We have a hunch what happened. Walmart screwed up and the sales rep that the mom talked to had no idea how to resolve the issue and didn’t want to take the time to figure out how to make a customer whole again.

Shoppers should not need to resort to getting the media involved just to avoid getting screwed out of their holiday shopping money.

by Chris Morran via Consumerist

Reminder: Chugging Too Much Eggnog Will Not Bear A Pleasant Result

eggnogbad Eggnog has gotten a bad reputation over the years. And it’s understandable — the stuff is a combination of delicious holiday drink and very very bad idea for the next day. Even without alcohol, eggnog packs a whopping, creamy punch. So when you chug a quart of eggnog in about 12 seconds, things are not going to go well.

That was the case for a Utah man, who decided to compete for the office mantle of Most Eggnog To Get Chugged Guy, reports The party drink didn’t even contain alcohol, and yet the man managed to drink enough of it to put him in the hospital.

The party was winding down and the man and his wife were on their way out, when he decided to get in on an eggnog chugging contest. He’s a competitive guy, he says, and couldn’t walk away. And if he couldn’t walk away, he was in it to win it.

“I’ve already decided, if I’m going to do it, I’m going to win,” he said.

The record was 22 seconds, and there was a gift card on the line to a steak house.

“I just opened up my throat, didn’t even swallow,” he said. “I pretty much poured it down.”

He drank a quart in just 12 seconds, as a video shows, and didn’t breathe during it. He went home coughing a bit, but soon realized all was not well.

“I was pretty much shaking uncontrollably,” he said. “I was shaking so badly, I was nauseous, and my breathing became a pant.”

After seeking some medical advice from a friend, his pal took him to the hospital, where he was told he was basically “dry drowning,” with the eggnog getting into his lungs and starting an infection.

If you’re tempted to match his feat, know that he spent 24 hours in intensive care with a fever, sweats and chills.

“It was rough,” he said. “Eggnog: not ideal for the lungs.”

Listen before you slurp, folks.

Chugging eggnog at office party lands man in hospital []

by Mary Beth Quirk via Consumerist

Walmart To Raise Base Pay At 1,434 Stores Because Of State Minimum Wage Hikes

As a result of minimum wage increases coming in nearly half of the U.S. states next year, the lowest-paid employees at about 1/3 of Walmart’s U.S. stores are reportedly due for a pay bump in 2015.

Two dozen states and Washington, D.C., are set to introduce minimum wage hikes in 2015. Nearly all of those will kick in during the first month of the year, with a few taking effect later on.

Reuters reports that Walmart recently notified store managers that the changes in local pay regulations means that there will be wage adjustments to make sure that stores are in compliance.

While the lowest paid workers will see a bump to stay in line with the law, Reuters explains there will be a narrowing of the wage gap between low-earning workers and the higher-paid skill job like deli associates and supervisors.

Additionally, Walmart’s three lowest-paid employee types — cashiers, cart-pushers, and maintenance — will be consolidated into the same pay rate.

“Essentially that wage compression at the upper level of the hourly associate is going to help absorb that cost of the wage increase at the lower level,” explains one manager to Reuters.

Walmart has been heavily criticized by labor advocates and unions who claim that the company underpays its more than 1 million employees. The nation’s largest retailer maintains that its average full-time hourly wage is $12.92, but critics say this omits the many employees who are not considered full time because the company has reduced the number of hours they work each week.

Walmart also recently cut insurance benefits for 30,000 part-time workers who had been receiving the coverage.

CEO Doug McMillon also recently stated that only about 6,000 of its workers make the federal minimum wage of $7.25 hour. Again, critics point out that 18 states have already increased their minimum wages in the last few years and the majority of states will be above the $7.25 minimum by 2015.

Walmart has supported previous hikes of the federal minimum wage and has said it won’t fight President Obama’s proposal to increase the federal minimum to $10.10/hour. While it would inevitably compel the company to pay more, it would also mean more spending money in the hands of millions of Walmart customers.

by Chris Morran via Consumerist

A Holiday Classic For Our Time: How To Gift-Wrap A Cat

wrapped catIn case you’re engaging in some last-minute gift-wrapping of oddly-shaped items today, here’s a rerun of a classic instructional video that you might find helpful. It shows you how to gift-wrap a cat. A very gracious, very sedentary cat. Giving pets as gifts is usually not a good idea, but everyone must wrap a gift that isn’t a perfect cube eventually.

How To Wrap A Cat For Christmas [YouTube]

by Laura Northrup via Consumerist

Takata President, COO Steps Down To “Unify” Response To Massive Airbag Issues

takata Takata Corp., the auto parts supplier behind the airbags responsible for more than 20 million vehicle recalls, is apparently taking steps to “unify” its response to the massive safety issue by replacing its president and COO.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Stefan Stocker will be replaced by Shigehisa Takata, the company’s chairman and CEO.

Officials with Takata say the executive shift is intended to speed up decision-making related to the massive safety issue. However, a spokesperson says Stocker’s decision to step down isn’t a move to take responsibility for the massive recall.

“Mr. Stocker decided to resign due to personal reasons,” Akiko Watanabe, a company spokesperson, says.

“He believes it is better for Takata to streamline its efforts to deal with the situation.”

Still, Shigehisa Takata has yet to publicly appear in public to address questions about the recall of the airbags.

His only semi-public address came when he signed a recent open letter published in an advertisement in several major U.S. and German newspapers that promised the company would work with regulators to fix the safety problems.

In fact, the company sent a senior vice president as the only Takata representative to address a U.S. congressional hearing in November. At that time Hiroshi Shimizu said the company wouldn’t initiate a national recall despite federal regulators urging to do so. He said the decision was made, in part, because the company doesn’t believe that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has the power to order such an initiative and because testing hasn’t shown what’s really behind the issue.

Stocker joined the company in 2013 as its first non-Japanese president. He will stay on with Takata as a director.

In addition to the shake-up in the executive offices at Takata, the WSJ reports that Shigehisa Takata’s salary will be halved and Stocker’s will be cut by 30% for four months.

A spokesman for the company didn’t elaborate on why the cuts were being made, but if the company is found to responsible for the issues related to the massive recall, it could foot the bill for the entire ordeal.

Takata President Steps Down Over Air-Bag Recalls [The Wall Street Journal]

by Ashlee Kieler via Consumerist

DirecTV Customers Will Finally Get Access To WatchESPN

While AT&T, Comcast, Charter, Dish, TWC, Cablevision, FiOS, and countless more have access to WatchESPN, DirecTV customers won't get it until "early 2015."

While AT&T, Comcast, Charter, Dish, TWC, Cablevision, FiOS, and countless more have access to WatchESPN, DirecTV customers won’t get it until “early 2015.”

More than four years after cable sports powerhouse ESPN launched its WatchESPN streaming service, DirecTV remains the only major pay-TV provider whose subscribers are unable to access it. But thanks to a new deal between the satellite company and ESPN’s parent company Disney, DirecTV customers will finally be able to get more value out of the most expensive channel on basic cable.

Like HBO Go and Showtime Anytime, WatchESPN requires users to log into the service through their pay-TV provider. But unlike those services, which are from networks that you pay for separately from your basic cable package, ESPN is something that virtually all pay-TV subscribers are compelled to accept — and pay top-dollar for — whether they watch it or not.

So every other pay-TV customer in the country was getting both ESPN and WatchESPN for presumably the same price that DirecTV customers pay for just ESPN. The new multiyear deal between Disney and DirecTV means that subscribers will at least be able to enjoy the access that others have had for years.

In addition to WatchESPN, the new contract adds access to other Disney-owned streaming services like Watch Disney, WATCH Disney XD, WATCH Disney Junior, WATCH ABC Family and WATCH ABC.

So when is the switch going to be flipped so that DirecTV customers will actually be able to stream live sports programming?

ESPNS says Disney-owned channels will “soon” be available via the DirecTV app and through, and is even more vague about when it will begin authenticating the Disney and ESPN apps, saying only “early 2015.”

So DirecTV customers shouldn’t bet that they’ll be able to catch their favorite college bowl games on WatchESPN, at least not without borrowing a friend’s login.

by Chris Morran via Consumerist