Friday, January 18, 2002
Good morning, where today finds me in Moscow (that's Russia, not Idaho!); and due to being out of the country, this will be a shorter newsletter than normal.

My plan had been to travel today - Friday, but I decided that it was better to avoid the potential chaos as the new bag screening laws take effect today.  Many people are predicting extended delays with a system that plainly is not ready for the new bag screening requirements - we'll know the reality as the day unfolds.

This week's good news - little luxuries are returning to the skies.  Airlines which had shamefully even removed pillows and blankets (in the name of security?) are now starting to return them to their planes, meals are returning, and even some of the airport lounges are reopening.

This Week's Lead StoryWhere the Best Seats Are :  They might all look the same, but different seats, in different parts of the same plane can give you a very different flying experience.  Following on from last week's column, this provides more information on airline seat related issues.

Why all the secrecy?  This week's security horror story concerns the pilot who was arrested after making what were described as 'inappropriate' comments at a security checkpoint in Philadelphia.  "The pilot made some comments that the (security) screeners thought were inappropriate," said Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Arlene Salac, who declined to elaborate on what was said.

"There was no immediate threat to anybody," said U.S. Airways spokesman David Castelveter, who also refused to give specifics about the comments.

The pilot, after spending the night in jail, is now believed to be facing charges of disorderly conduct and making terrorist threats.  We live in an open free society (I think) and something is wrong when people are thrown in prison and are facing serious charges which the authorities will not detail to the public.  Why are we not being told what the pilot said?  It must have been an extraordinary series of statements, don't you think, for a duty pilot in uniform to be arrested, and not allowed to fly his plane!

Now, let me tell you what the pilot actually said.  He was being frisked with a metal detector, and he said to the security person, "Why are you worried about tweezers when I could crash the plane?"   That single comment is apparently all he said, and look what happened to him!  (Just as well he didn't tell the screener about the huge big fire axe in his cockpit, making a concern about tweezers even more ridiculous!)  In a carefully worded statement, the Airline Pilots Association says 'The arrest of an airline pilot for making a factual statement about incongruities in our security practices at airports underlines just how much of a strain the Sept. 11 attack has placed on the air transport system and on all Americans.'

What has happened to our country?  Where has common sense gone?  Instead, we're living in a police state where one seems to give up all rights to due process upon arriving at an airport!

I was speaking with some flight crew prior to my journey to Moscow, and they were claiming, off the record, a perception that they are being unfairly singled out by security screeners.  One person told me a fascinating story - in one of the DC area airports, he noticed the 'African-American' screener was singling out white people for random searching, allowing a large contingent of middle eastern people to pass through unchallenged.  This person asked the screener 'Why are you searching us but not the Arabs?'  The screener replied 'I don't know what Arabs look like'!

Next time you book yourself onto a Continental 'flight', you might be in for a (pleasant) surprise.  Continental is now codesharing with Amtrak so that their flight numbers can be found on some Amtrak services in the northeast that connect at Newark's rail station.

Kudos to Delta :  Passengers who were stranded for up to ten hours during a snowstorm recently in Atlanta are being offered credits for future travel as compensation.  Delta is not saying how much they are giving passengers (hint - if you were one such person, it is probably negotiable and if you ask nicely/forcefully you might get more than their initial offer!).

Lastly, some 'tales from the front lines' of travel agencies.  These may or may not be true stories.

I had someone ask for an aisle seat so their hair wouldn't get messed up from being near the window.

A client called in inquiring about a package to Hawaii. After going over all the cost info, she asked, "Would it be cheaper to fly to California and then take the train to Hawaii?"

I got a call from a woman who wanted to go to Capetown. I started to explain the length of the flight and the passport information when she interrupted me with "I'm not trying to make you look stupid, but Capetown is in Massachusetts." Without trying to make her look like the stupid one, I calmly explained, "Cape Cod is in Massachusetts, Capetown is in Africa." Her response ... click.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels.....

David M Rowell aka The Travel Insider
ps :  Don't forget to visit Joe Brancatelli's site for his weekly updates, too.

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