Friday, 19 April, 2002
Good morning.  It is a beautiful sunny day, and I am writing this from Moscow yet again.  For that reason the newsletter might be a little shorter than normal.

The flood of feedback continues to my travel agent series, and apologies to the several people I haven't replied to.  Being in Russia with uncertain internet access and working 12+ hours a day seriously cuts into my ability to respond to all comments.  With a definite feeling of regret I now announce the final in this four part series.

This Week's Column :  Solutions to the Travel Agency Problem :  Agencies are closing up everywhere.  Will the corner 'mom and pop' travel agency disappear, just as so many other small retail institutions have?  Here are four suggestions for travel agencies as to how to adopt, adapt and improve to meet the changed requirements of today and tomorrow's travelers.

Here's an amazing item that acts as a lovely backup to my support of travel agents.  Topaz International, a company that audits travel agent tickets on behalf of corporate clients to ensure that they are getting the lowest fares, reports that, on average, clients save $170 per ticket when booking through a travel agent compared to booking on the internet (average agency fare of $459 compared to internet fare of $629).

This is redhot information - want to bet how many major newspapers will feature it prominently???

This survey - by a company dedicated to 'checking up' on travel agents, is as conclusive a proof as could ever be imagined that internet travel sites are not the best way to book tickets!  Websites that were compared with travel agencies in the study included Travelocity, Expedia, Orbitz, Cheap Tickets and the major airline Web sites.  The survey could not and did not consider the extra time cost associated with booking through the internet compared to a quick simple phone call or email to a travel agent, either.

Meanwhile, unaware of this survey, people are using the internet more than ever to research and often book their travel needs.  Last month, traffic to travel websites increased a massive 12%.  The most popular website was Expedia (11.6 million visitors in March) and second was Travelocity at 10.2 million visitors.  Controversial airline website Orbitz came third at 6.6 million visitors.  Hmmm, I can't access my own website statistics from Moscow, but I'll guess that my site had between 15,000 and 30,000 visitors in March - it is a long time before Expedia needs to feel threatened!

Reader Lyn sent in an interesting follow up to last week's item about SFO airport police blowing up a pair of shoes with electrical heaters inside them to keep the wearer's feet warm.  Lyn points out that there is a product -  The North Face's MET5 jacket - that uses a new Polartec fabric, called Heat, that has metal filaments woven into the fabric. The filaments are plugged into a battery, and at the flip of a switch the entire garment heats up. Cost? A paltry $499.  Any volunteers to try and wear that through security and onto a plane?  There's a danger that security might blow you up along with your jacket (just to be on the safe side!).

And reader Jeff, who describes himself as 'not an expert on ditching airplanes' (but he is most assuredly an expert on flying them safely, I might add) writes in with more comments on water landings.  He says 'probably all on board would have survived had it not been for the fact that the hijacker was in the cockpit fighting the pilot, trying to make it crash. Had the pilot been able to make a proper "ditching", with the wings level  and the nose at the right attitude, it would have been similar to the old Boeing that ditched in Seattle a week or so ago.  There is excellent video of this 767 ditching from a tourist. Recklessness programs rerun it from time to time when telling us how dangerous flying can be in those sensationalized magazine-like stories they sometimes do.'  Jeff goes on to explain that, based on his 20 years of experience, he believes that a 'proper' water landing would be survivable.  I want him flying if the plane I'm on needs to land in water!

This week's security horror story :  Weekend at Bernies, Part ?.  If you've seen any of the several movies in this series, you'll know that they are stupid comedies based on the unlikely premise of trying to make a dead person look like he is still alive.  Ummm.  Maybe not so unlikely.  An America West Airlines crew on a flight from Phoenix noted that passenger James Walsh, 80, was "kind of stiff" when they arrived in Des Moines. He was in fact dead, and they aren't sure if he was alive when he boarded! Walsh's son Mark says he is "pretty much convinced" his father died in Phoenix. He "just kind of slumped over in his wheelchair and got real quiet" in Phoenix, but his father was placed in the seat between Mark and his wife by airline personnel.  "We never would have allowed a passenger who had passed away to board an aircraft," an America West spokeswoman insists, though she did acknowledge that the airline does allow unconscious people to board.  I'm absolutely not going to comment on this!

Lastly this week, some good news.  A court case in Britain concluded with the judge determining that, as a point of law, air passengers are entitled to a seat pitch of at least 34" (modern planes have pitches as small as 29").  A traveler brought a lawsuit against a charter operator, and was awarded $700 plus costs of $4500 due to being forced to sit in a seat with 29" pitch on an eight hour international flight.  The judge said this might be acceptable for a short two hour flight, but was not merely uncomfortable but actually intolerable for an eight hour flight!  The claimant said 'We have got to stop the corporate sector driving us into conditions which they claim we want'.  Many thanks to Judge Edwards, QC, for such a fine decision.  The case is subject to appeal.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels, and remember that it is only American Airlines that gives you decent legroom in coach class!

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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