Friday, 26 April, 2002
Good afternoon - the newsletter is published late today as I was in transit back from Moscow and just returned now.  And it was thoughts about the 10-11 hr journey that prompted this week's column on a marvelous travel gadget I recently bought.

This Week's Column :  A Musical Revolution :  Imagine a unit no larger than a typical portable CD or cassette player, but which holds almost 300 hours of high quality music. Impossible? No! Amazing? Yes!  Read more about this 'must have' for the frequent traveler in this week's column.

Last week's newsletter item that revealed travel agent fares to be lower than directly purchased ones provoked a couple of interesting comments.  Tim from wonders if the presence of corporate discounts in the travel agent booked fares - discounts that wouldn't appear in a 'normal' web search - might be influencing the results of the survey.  I don't know if the survey results factored in such issues or not, and I doubt that corporate discounts would account for the full 20% or so discount.

Meanwhile, from Peter in Australia comes this response : I have found from long experience that travel agents are usually cheaper than websites, but I am virtually "trapped" into purchasing from the airline (usually UA). This is because UA now issues its 1K members "system-wide upgrades" which can only be used with "published" fares (and I have it in writing that most discounted fares available from travel agents don't qualify). Of course, UA have told me that most fares available on its own website are upgradeable using the certificates.  Recently I could have saved over US$150 by going through a travel agent, but I could not have upgraded to Business Class using such a ticket. There must be lots of other frequent flyers in a similar position, and I really don't mind too much paying a bit extra to get one or more trans-pacific sectors upgraded (who wants to fly in economy for over 13 hours?).

And, talking about travel websites, airline owned website Orbitz continues to be mired in controversy.  Is it just sour grapes on the part of other websites?  I'm not sure.  More details in this story.

This week's security horror story :  I'm tempted to put my own story here - upon returning back to Seattle earlier today, when going through the metal detector, I went through with no beeping, perfectly normally.  But, despite having no trace of metal at all, I was sent over for secondary screening, when a person 'wanded' me all over with a portable detector.  Again, no beeps.  Rather than decide that this meant I was plainly a completely ordinary passenger, the burly guy asks me to undo my belt and then shoves his hands down the front and back of my trousers!  He didn't find anything (well, nothing other than what you'd normally find when shoving your hands down the front of a man's trousers!) and after checking my shoes as well, sent me on my way.  Why do I suggest this qualifies as a 'horror' story - many people are enjoying such senseless indignities every day.  Because, this was security screening not to enter the airport but to leave it!!!

However, the first prize for this week's security horror story goes to American Airlines, who managed to lose a woman passenger (not just her luggage, but the lady herself!)  while changing flights in Dallas.  The woman has been missing since December 5.  The lady, who may suffer from Alzheimer's disease, paid extra to be escorted through the terminal, but the escort didn't appear.  Subsequently, she was spotted twice wandering around the terminal - in RESTRICTED AREAS (question - if little old ladies of uncertain mental state can wander around restricted areas, what can terrorists do?), but apart from those sightings, nothing more is known.  AA have merely said that they do not know what happened.  More details here.

And, lastly on security, this colorful (but actually scientifically correct) comment on the new super luggage scanning machines that cost over $1 million apiece - former FAA Special Agent Steve Elson says 'they can't tell a difference between a bomb and a bowel movement'.  Meanwhile, whether they work or not is a moot point, because although accompanied passenger baggage is being now tested, guess what?  Unaccompanied freight is not!!!  So, if you were a terrorist trying to blow up a plane, what would you rather do?  Try and smuggle a bomb in a suitcase, and fly on the plane yourself, too, or just simply mail yourself a bomb in a package that goes via air freight with no scrutiny at all and no need to be on the same flight?

British Airways have some great fares to Britain and Europe on sale at present.  Best of all (in my opinion) is the opportunity to upgrade from coach class to 'World Traveler Plus' (their new cabin that is a cross between business and coach class) for only $200 more each way.  If you're thinking of travel to Europe in the next few months, check these fares out.

Lastly, do you always wear your seatbelt when on a plane?  While some people speculate that pilots deliberately activate the 'fasten seatbelt' sign just to make it easier for flight attendants to move through the aisles, the fact is that clear air turbulence can occur at any time.  Always, always, wear your seat belt, even if only loosely.  Why do I say this - because, all the time, people are being injured on planes that encounter turbulence.  For example, last week an American Trans Air plane flying through a thunderstorm hit severe turbulence and was forced to then make an unscheduled landing so that 11 injured passengers could be treated.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels, and be careful not to provoke any security scares by packing bowel movements in your suitcases!

David M Rowell aka The Travel Insider
ps :  Don't forget to visit Joe Brancatelli's site for his weekly updates, too.

 If you ever wish to unsubscribe, simply reply to this email and set the subject line to say 'unsubscribe'.