Friday, March 29, 2002
Good morning, and either belated wishes for Passover or best wishes for Easter.  How I envy those of you in countries that mark Easter with two or three days of holiday!

Talking about holidays, several of you noticed the lack of a newsletter last week.  Apologies for the break in service, due to a massive pile up of time commitments during my last visit to Moscow.

An 'inside' job :  An international Virgin Atlantic flight had an emergency declared back on 19 January when a threat was found scrawled on a bathroom mirror - 'American must die', and a second message, on an airsick bag, said 'Bin Laden is the best.  Americans must die.  There is a bomb on board.  Al Quaida.'  The flight made an emergency landing in Iceland (no bomb was found) and the 322 passengers and 18 crew were questioned.  Yesterday, the FBI made an arrest.  The alleged perpetrator?  None other than, ooops, one of the flight attendants, a 25 year old French citizen, who now is facing up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

This Week's Column :  Travel Agents - Obsolete or Essential? :  If the airlines are to be believed, travel agencies are now completely valueless to them, and, by implication, to you, too.  But, who among my regular readers is about to start believing what the airlines tell them!  Read the article to find the real reason why the airlines are trying to railroad travel agencies out of the game; then call your local travel agent and tell her how much you appreciate and support her!

A common tactic in the high tech industry has often been to announce 'vaporware' - hardware or software that a company says it will shortly be releasing, and which is claimed to be very much better than competitors products.  The company usually ends up substantially delaying the release of the product, which seldom ends up being, when finally released, any much better than competing products then available, but its early announcement has effectively robbed competitors of sales for months or even years.

I was reminded of this tactic when I read that Boeing's much vaunted 'Sonic Cruiser' may now be delayed by two - or more - years.  Earlier reports had suggested it could be in service by 2006, and now Boeing is talking about 2008 at the earliest, with some experts predicting a delay until 2010.  A cynic might observe that the plane's major mission has already been completed - it has acted as a 'spoiler' to sales of the Airbus super-jumbo A380.

One of the reasons for the latest delays is to enable the plane to be constructed from much less metal and much more composite material (is that a fancy name for 'plastic', I wonder!).  Most modern planes are about 80% metal, the plan is for the Sonic Cruiser to be only 10% metal.  This is progress?

Am I the only one to notice the near deification of firefighters post 9/11?  I've had a large increase in fundraising phone calls from telemarketers that manage to work the word 'firefighter' into their pitch.  Best seller fiction and nonfiction books have been rushed to print covering the life of fire fighters.  Don't get me wrong, I have a lot of respect for firefighters, as well as for many other people that work at thankless or dangerous or poorly paid jobs primarily to help their fellow men.  And now, having attempted to regain some political correctness, I can't help but read the following item with a measure of amusement.

Framingham, Mass, Attorney Rodney Gould is defending a travel agent whose honeymooning clients sued for a full trip refund because - well, because the view from their Mexico hotel window included piles of seaweed. They also were unhappy that one of the property's restaurants was closed, and because, ooops, the bride came down with turista on the trip!

This happened almost five years ago, and the travel agency was just about to give in and pay the $4,000 that the couple were claiming - it would have cost more than that to defend the lawsuit in court.  But then, the bridegroom had a sudden change of heart and now believes he is entitled to $35,000.  According to Gould, the bridegroom gave no explanation other than the fact he happens to be a New York firefighter -- one who was not among those working at the World Trade Center site on Sept. 11, the attorney noted.  Hmmmm......

This week's security horror story :  It turns out that all those intimate searches of young women (and old men) haven't actually improved our nation's airport security at all!  Yes, it has sure inconvenienced us, but a 'confidential report' indicates that during a series of tests by the DoT of the new enhanced airport security measures, airport screeners missed knives 70% of the time, simulated explosives 60% of the time, and guns 30% of the time!!!  Sadly, the report doesn't also advise what percentage of the time the screeners were obsessing over nail files and old ladies while guns and explosives were slipping past.

And, lastly, there'll be no need for ladies to ask the classic question 'Is that a gun in your pocket or are you just pleased to see me' if they have access to the new 'metal detectors' (which, ahem, detect a lot more than just metal) now being deployed at Orlando's airport.  Check out this article (and its pictures) to see more (almost everything, in fact!).....

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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