Friday, January 25, 2002
Good morning, again from Moscow, where the warm weather (32-40 during the day) belies the image of a Russian winter.  Indeed, there's a lot in Moscow these days that is very different to how 'conventional wisdom' has described the city and country, and that will be the topic of next week's feature column.

Be careful - if you complain too vociferously next time a flight attendant spills coffee on you, they might do a lot more than merely rudely flip you off (as has regularly been reported to me).  The FAA is now requiring that flight attendants be given self defense training such that they can actively participate in resisting would-be hijackers, and pilots have been told to 'use the plane as a weapon' as well - including depressurizing the cabin!  Hint - listen very carefully to the instructions about what to do if the oxygen masks drop from the ceiling!

Indeed, there may be more reasons to look carefully at the flight attendants on your next flight.  BA have announced that 255 pairs of handcuffs have gone missing from their planes, and there has been plenty of bawdy speculation about potentially bizarre bedroom uses for these misappropriated handcuffs!  A BA spokeswoman said, tongue in cheek, 'Clearly our crew are so professional, they practice restraint procedures at home'.

A major trap for cruise ship passengers can be the smoking policy on board (I remember, in October 2001, getting into an argument with the Captain on board a ship - he claimed not to realize that the party he was hosting, directly underneath a 'No Smoking' sign, was in a no smoking section of the ship!).  It pays to 'know before you go'.  For nonsmokers, a welcome development this week is Holland America's announcement of an across the board ban of smoking in all dining rooms, starting from February.  There will continue to be designated smoking areas in other parts of their ships.

Imagine this scenario.  A new low-price carrier starts flying a route dominated by a 'full fare' airline.  You can predict what follows from that point, can't you.  First, the 'full fare' airline slashes its prices.  Second, the low-price carrier goes bankrupt.  Third, the 'full fare' airline raises its prices once more.  This is a morally troubling situation - on the one hand, the full-fare carrier should be allowed to compete, but on the other hand, it shouldn't unfairly kill the other carrier.  Traditionally, in the US, there is no regulatory interference in such predatory pricing tactics, but now, in Germany, after Lufthansa dropped its prices by 60% on the Frankfurt Berlin route in response to a new low-priced competitor, the German Cartel Office has ordered Lufthansa to restore its prices, describing the action as a 'misuse of market dominance', noting that its fares on all its other routes remained unchanged.  Hooray for the Germans.

This Week's Lead Story : Getting the seat you want.  After the last two columns discussing the good and bad seats on planes, here now are some tips on how to get the seat you want.

This Week's Horror Story - hard to know where to start, really - there are so many.  But I think my 'favorite' came from faithful reader Luann in the UK, who passes this on to reassure us that it isn't only the US that is infected with madness at present :  Peter Stevenson, 49, a British businessman, was jailed for 13 months in the United Arab Emirates for allegedly making bomb threats on a Cathay Pacific flight to Bahrain. Frustration at poor service led him to say only that the airline “needed a bomb put under it”, he says.

Beware the good news that masks the bad news.  Good news - Northwest Airlines will eliminate blackout dates in its WorldPerks frequent flier program beginning March 1. This move was immediately matched by American, who announced that they would implement the change from 1 Feb.  But, at the same time, and with less public clamor, they eliminated their 20,000 mile award, replacing it with a 25,000 mile award.

Let's understand the smoke and mirrors of this.  Black out dates are an entirely unnecessary artifice of the airlines.  The airlines can and do control blackout dates in a 'virtual' or 'soft' manner merely by adjusting the availability of free seats on their flights, day by day, flight by flight.  Having firm blackout dates is of no use to them, because, even on the busiest days and holidays, they might still end up with unsold seats on the least desirable flights.  Removing the official blackout dates does nothing to improve your chances of getting the free seats on the flights you want.

On a related topic, this week's Lie of the Week Award is shared by Continental Airlines' Chairman, Gordon Bethune, and their spokesman David Messing.  In the January issue of Continental's inflight magazine, Bethune wrote an article promising 'no changes' to their frequent flier program during 2002.  This was immediately contradicted by Continental eliminating their off-peak mileage awards, representing an effective substantial increase in the miles needed for free travel.  Bethune shares the award with his spokesman, who in a desperate attempt to make black seemed white tried to explain away the discrepancy by saying 'The overall thrust of the letter is correct. We are keeping the things in place that matter most to our customers.'  Here's a question to Mr Messing - just how many of your customers did you survey to reach this surprising conclusion?

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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