Friday, February 15, 2002
Good morning, and to my delight, after three and a half weeks in Moscow, I'm back in Seattle, where the region has been welcoming me home with a series of gorgeous sunny warm days - surely it is too soon to be spring?

I wish I could say that my return flights were pleasant and uneventful.  Well, actually, the flights were decent enough, but the nightmare of going through LAX was dreadful.  My checked baggage went through one of the new high-tech X-ray machines in front of me - an interesting experience, made all the more fascinating by observing the horrific force with which the machine literally throws suitcases out its far end!  Suitcases go flying into the air for about six feet and drop almost three feet before hitting a stop at the other end - who cares about the damage to film by the Xrays, I say instead, you should worry about the physical damage to any fragile items you might have packed!

I then had to wait fifteen minutes while security screeners tested the entire contents of my checked suitcase for explosives.  If they had found any, that would be the first time ever that an accompanied checked suitcase has contained explosives - makes you wonder if the whole exercise isn't a total waste of time, doesn't it.  Next was a random search at the gate during which the security screener destroyed the zip on my CD player case.  A request for compensation was met with a negative response by the security personnel, who refused to radio for a supervisor.

I then asked the Alaska Airlines Lead Customer (dis)Service Agent, David Mingo, for help, but he first tried to shift blame every which way, then told me that I had a choice between wasting my time trying to complain or catching my flight, and then refused to even view the damage himself - his mind was made up and he didn't want to be confused by the facts!

At the same time, he started busily typing who knows what comments into my computer record - plainly I had become a 'problem' passenger - chances are I can look forward to a bunch more 'random' searches on any future Alaska flights I take.  I guess I was lucky not to be lead away in handcuffs and charged with the new offence of 'complaining about having one's personal possessions destroyed during the course of a security search'.

Last week's column on the security lunacy generated ten good reader replies - and you're still welcome to add your own comments to the record as well if you wish.

This Week's Column :  Sounds of Silence Part 3 :  I test the $99 (batteries not included) Brookstone noise reducing headphones and compare them with the previously tested $40 Noisebusters and $300 Bose units.  Find out which is the best of the three units.

In last week's newsletter I commented on a woman's complaint about being groped by a male gate agent under the guise of being randomly security screened.  This week we learn that dozens of female passengers have already filed complaints with the FAA about similar experiences, and at least 35 others have complained to the Arizona Attorney General.  Which makes the comment by America West that this was the first complaint to be brought to their attention all the more surprising.....

Also in last week's newsletter was an item about the Winter Olympics and hotels now finding themselves with empty rooms.  Here's a fascinating related item about how tickets to major events are now being sold for less than face value by ticket scalpers - $885 tickets to the Opening Ceremonies were being sold for 'only' $600.  (Who would pay $600 a ticket for this???)  And don't you feel so sorry for those poor scalpers, now losing money on the tickets they're trying to offload.  :)

Continuing the theme of last week follow ups, I wrote last week about flights to Mars.  This week, an unrelated item reports on the startup of a new airline - Pluto Airlines.  No, it is based in Sharjah, not on Pluto, but if you're like me, you probably have no idea where Sharjah is (UAE).

One of the corporate victims suffering from the after-effects of Sept 11 is Victorinox - the maker of the famous range of Swiss Army Knives.  Their sales have dropped 30% since 9/11, and in response they are releasing a new range of SAK's - without the knives, or with very small and rounded blades without a sharp point!  I wish them luck in terms of having such devices, still complete with 'dangerous' screwdriver blades, corkscrews, and, of course, those wonderful miniature scissors, accepted by security screeners!

This week's security horror story Read this website for an alternately fun and horrific story of the couple that flew from Orlando to Milwaukee, and then drove back to Orlando by car.  Due to a series of unnecessary and ridiculous security delays, it took them longer to fly from Orlando to Milwaukee than it took them to drive home again!

This week's prize for 'Last with the News'.  On 8 February Boeing proudly announced that it was about to start production of a new version of its 747 - a longer range model than any of its previous models.  Bill Droppelman, the head of marketing for the 747 program, said that the 747-400ER has additional fuel tanks and other improvements that extend the plane's range.  He said that this would now allow the plane to fly from Los Angeles all the way to Melbourne, Australia.  Umm - well done, Bill, but don't you know that both Qantas and United have been flying regular 747-400s nonstop between Los Angeles and Melbourne for several years now!

Don't try this at home (but it embodies a fascinating concept of making politicians accountable) :  Afghan Muslim pilgrims, angry over plane delays, attacked and killed Afghanistan's interim transport minister at Kabul airport, Arabic-language al-Jazeera television reported today.  Air Transport and Tourism Minister Abdul Rahman went to the airport to leave on a trip abroad when he was attacked and killed on Thursday by a large number of disgruntled pilgrims awaiting flights to Saudi Arabia.  There was no immediate confirmation of the report by Afghan officials, and foreign journalists were unable to go to the airport to check on reports of a disturbance there because of a curfew.

Lastly, if you fly United Airlines, keep a close and careful look on what is happening with their Mechanics labor dispute.  This could turn really nasty very quickly and see United suffer a system-wide strike as early as next week.

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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