Friday, February 1, 2002
Good morning, one more time from Moscow, although I'll hopefully be in the air and winging my way back to Seattle (on the nonstop Aeroflot flight) as you read this.

There have been various developments between BA and AA and their proposed alliance, and while it seems that the two airlines have taken a step back from the altar (after refusing to meet US requirements for giving up valuable slots at Heathrow), there are conflicting undercurrents that make the final outcome unclear.  More confusion exists in the again resurrected speculation that maybe BA and KLM might work more closely - or even merge, but that outcome is now looking less likely that earlier in the week also.

Whatever might be happening behind the scenes in the boardrooms, it is plain what is not happening in the skies.  Traffic remains very light across the Atlantic, which incredible bargains being regularly trotted out by the airlines to try and entice more travelers back from the US to Europe.  The airfare bargains are being matched by big city hotel chains, with discounts of up to 50% (and sometimes even more) off their usual winter rates.  My suggestion :  If you want to go for primarily a city/shopping/entertainment type experience, rather than a more weather dependent sun/sea/sand/surf type experience, take advantage of these winter fares.  You'll have uncrowded museums, art galleries, even shops and theatres, and the winter weather doesn't matter so much while you're doing 'indoors' type activities.  'Off-season' travel is the best way to stretch your vacation dollar.

A recent survey indicates a shift in reasons for the ongoing decline in travel.  As we've been claiming for several months, the main reason that fewer people are traveling now is because travel is just so dreadfully inconvenient, rather than due to any fears of the safety of travel.  Since September, there has been a steady decline in leisure travelers who responded to the statements 'The current economic conditions make it difficult to travel' and 'I believe it is not safe to travel' but more passengers are now agreeing with the statement 'Air travel is now too big of a hassle'.

This Week's Lead Story :  Moscow - The Smile on the Face of the Tiger :  Formerly the most expensive city in the world to stay and do business in, Moscow is now affordable and much more 'westernised' than prior to their financial crisis in mid 1998.  Read more about a country that is increasingly becoming a land of bona fide opportunity to business and leisure travelers alike.

'The World's Biggest Welcome' :  This is what Cathay Pacific are calling their latest promotion, giving away 10,000 free tickets for people to travel to Hong Kong.  2,000 of the tickets are reserved for people traveling from North America.  There's just one catch - only Hong Kong residents can enter - if they win, they then give their free ticket to a friend overseas to travel to Hong Kong.

Travel Winners :  Not all is doom and gloom in the travel industry.  Online travel site Expedia posted second quarter results this week showing income rising to $19 million (31 cents/share) compared to a loss of $2.6 million for the same period last year.  The consensus estimate was 10 cents a share, making for a very nice surprise.

And ultra-luxury cruise operator Seabourn Cruise Line reports its most recent quarter as having net revenues increased by 307% compared to the same period last year, which just goes to show that although some parts of the economy may be soft and slow, there's always room for a highest quality high end niche product.

This week's travel horror story :  First of all, the dismaying news that El Al - long hailed as the paragon of airline security - is just as fallible as any other airline.  A passenger flew from Israel to the US, and only upon opening his briefcase in his New York hotel room discovered that he had forgotten to remove a pistol that was in the briefcase!  He had managed to carry his briefcase, complete with pistol, all through the airport in Tel Aviv and on the flight over to New York with no-one realising.  Full story here.

The real horror story this week relates to a security scare at San Francisco a couple of days earlier that caused terminals to be evacuated, etc etc, such as is becoming sadly commonplace.  However, the full details are now starting to become apparent, and the story reports a tremendous comedy of errors.  It starts off with a passenger having his shoes randomly tested for traces of explosive.  The test came back positive (a result that usually indicates merely a false alarm), but the security screener apparently gave the shoes back to the passenger without comment, then went to alert a supervisor.  When he returned, the passenger, apparently not realizing that there was any problem, had disappeared into the terminal.  This is where it gets really bad.  Thousands of people were evacuated from the airport and dozens of flights delayed.  The security cameras did not have any clear images of the passenger (why not???) and no-one knows who he was (described only as a businessman in his mid 40s).  And now for the really bad part.  It appears that there may have been a one hour delay between the incident and an order to evacuate the terminal!  The chance of the mystery passenger still being in the terminal one hour later is close to zero, as evidenced by the fact that no-one was found during the rescreening process.

On a lighter note, an age-old urban legend resurfaced this week and was treated seriously by the media for a while, who reported the myth of a woman who was allegedly on an airline toilet and flushed it while still seated, so as to then be stuck to the seat by the vacuum created by the flush.  It was claimed that the event occurred on an SAS flight and this eventually forced SAS to issue a formal denial.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels (and be careful in the restrooms!).....

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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