Friday, 10 May, 2002
Good morning.  We enjoyed our beautiful three day weekend in Leavenworth so much last weekend that we're traveling this weekend to Sun Mountain Lodge for another short break.  Three day weekends, with almost negligible impacts on the rest of one's home and work life, seem to be a great refreshing break from life's routines, and need not cost a great deal either.

Indeed, this article  provides a surprising example of just how cheap packaged tours have become in Britain - it is cheaper for a Londoner to fly to Majorca for a weekend than it is to stay at home and enjoy some 'partying and pampering'!  I'm not sure if this is testimony to the incredible bargains in discounted package tours from London or if it merely records how expensive it is to enjoy oneself in London, but it sure is an amazing fact.

Here's an interesting derivative suggestion.  If you're thinking of a vacation to Britain and the continent as well, it can sometimes be cheaper to fly just to London on one of the periodic special deals to London, and then buy a package tour from London to somewhere else in Europe once you've arrived!

This Week's Column :  Jet Lag Explained :  Is there anything more unpleasant than jet lag?  Even the indignities of the flight itself can be dwarfed by the several days of jetlag that usually follow a long flight somewhere.  Read more about what causes jet lag and how to minimize its effects next time you fly.

Southwest Airlines has been the poster child of the airline industry in the US, with consistent growth and profits.  It has done this by a simple formula - no frills but good service, fast turnarounds of planes, only one type of plane in its fleet, and flying only short haul sectors.  It has seldom gone head to head with major airlines on key routes, choosing instead to grow in 'stealth mode', taking primarily secondary routes, almost without the major airlines noticing or caring.

Is this about to change?  It has now announced its first nonstop transcontinental flights - twice daily between Los Angeles and Baltimore.  With a marvelous introductory fare of $99 each way, it will be interesting to see if this finally sparks a vicious war between Southwest and the 'big guys'.

One of the craziest things about the travel industry has generally been that the more middle men between you and the travel service you're buying, the lower the cost of the service!  For example, an airfare direct from the airline is usually the most expensive way to buy a flight; buying through a travel agent is cheaper, and having the travel agent sell you a fare that they in turn bought from a consolidator rather than direct from the airline is usually cheaper still!  The same can be said for hotel rooms as well, but two of the largest hotel chains are now looking at changing this, at least on the internet.  Starwood (who operate Sheraton and Westin hotels) and Six Continents (Holiday Inn and Inter-Continental) are about to launch 'guaranteed lowest rate' programs on their websites, offering to match any lower rates found on other internet sites plus give an additional 10% off.

What impact will this have on Expedia and Travelocity and other independent web booking services?  The stock market reacted strongly negatively, while of course company spokespeople affected to be unconcerned.  What we're seeing here is 'airlines vs travel agencies' over again, just with different players.  But the bottom line is the same - if you think that you're being benefited by these (almost impossible to claim on) 'guarantees' - think again.  If the airlines kill off travel agencies, and the hotels kill off independent website services, you're then totally at the mercy of the suppliers themselves.  And when there are no other sources of buying their products, how helpful then is a 'lowest rate' guarantee when there is nothing to compare it to!

I continue to get regular emails from people replying to my two columns about cell phones.  A consistent point is the expression of dismay that the US lags behind most of the rest of the world with cell phone technology - quite the opposite of what people would expect!  Most research into the potential harmful effects of cell phone radiation is also being done overseas - for my part, it seems frighteningly possible to me that claims about so-called 'harmless' cell phone radiation are going to prove to be no more accurate as were the claims about cigarettes also being harmless, 50 years ago.

Here's a worrying article from Britain showing that cell phones operated within an enclosed space (such as a train carriage, a bus or car, an elevator, etc) tend to be more dangerous than cell phones operated outdoors (a bit like smoking inside vs outside) - are we now to have to start considering the effects of 'second hand' cell phone radiation as well as that from our own personal cell phone use?  As a lover of cell phones (an 'addict', to extend the analogy!) this is all very worrying.

Happy Birthday to :

  • The modern jet age, which commenced 50 years ago on 2 May, 1952 with the first commercial flight of a jet - the de Havilland Comet, operated by BOAC (the precursor to BA).
  • Frequent flier programs, introduced 21 years ago this week by American Airlines, and now a core part of all our lives.  It is estimated that some 8 trillion air miles remain unredeemed (that is 320 million domestic roundtrip tickets - this would take 1000 planes, each with 150 passengers on board, twelve years of flying to redeem!!!); and so it is unsurprising to learn that four times as many miles were earned as redeemed last year.
  • The 75th anniversary of the first transatlantic solo flight, made by Charles Lindbergh, which was marked in appropriate fashion when his grandson touched down at Le Bourget airport, Paris, last Thursday.  Erik Lindbergh flew the same route as his pioneering relative but in half the time. - 17 hours instead of 34.

To my mind, there are few less healthy places to be than inside a modern airplane cabin with recirculated air.  I often find I end up with a cough or cold after a long flight, thanks to the recirculated germs.  But that's not necessarily the worst thing to fear.  Read this article for a scary insight into alleged toxic air conditions inside planes.  Twenty six current and former Alaska Airlines flight attendants are suing AS, claiming that they have suffered severe neurological damage as a result of being repeatedly exposed to toxic chemicals in the cabin air onboard Alaska's MD80 aircraft.

This week's security horror story :  How about the man in New Orleans that managed to get two loaded guns past the 'security' screening.  A random gate check discovered them in his carry-on luggage.

Meanwhile, our glorious political leaders seem to think that all it takes to improve airport security is to throw more money (and more people) at the problem.  A proposal to double the security surcharge (up to a massive $20 per ticket) is fortunately being greeted with widespread outrage and seems now unlikely to pass Congress.  Meanwhile, the Transportation Security Administration wants to more than double its proposed 30,000 employees up to 67,000!!!  The issue here is not quantity - it should be quality.  One well trained and tasked security guard, concentrating his attention and efforts on high risk passengers, is worth a great deal more than two untrained poorly tasked guards busy frisking old ladies.

Thanks to reader Luann who points out that somehow our security guards have misunderstood their mission.  They regard us as 'the enemy' instead of as the people they are supposed to be protecting and serving.  As Luann aptly says, 'there are some small minds behind very big guns now, and some very rude people being encouraged to be deliberately rude'.  I don't know about you, but being rudely treated by a fool makes me feel less secure rather than more secure!

To finish this week, I'll present this picture without comment.

It was taken just outside a small English coastal town a couple of days ago.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels, and concentrate on the road, not the signs alongside it!

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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