Friday 1 November, 2002
Good morning.  It's great to be back home, especially as my return flights from Geneva through London and on to Seattle were, ahem, 'slightly' delayed.  To be specific, a weather related flight cancellation at Heathrow meant an unexpected 48 hour stopover in London!

I didn't actually mind the delay too much, but what I did object to was the massive inefficiency demonstrated by BA over my baggage.  After being advised at Heathrow that my bags would be forward to whatever hotel I could find in London (a good job I got the employee's name - it was only being able to quote the man's name that encouraged other BA staff to acknowledge and honor his offer), I was then told to expect my bags at the hotel that evening (I arrived into London at 9.30am).  I called their baggage number at 10.00pm, waited on hold for 90 minutes, and then was cut off!

Attempts to contact the lost baggage number on Monday resulted in busy signals.  No bags arrived at the hotel.

When I checked in at BA's counter at Paddington on Tuesday, the check in agent said she had no information about where my bags were, and she couldn't get anyone to answer the phone at any of the internal numbers she tried calling.  I asked again at the airport lounge, where an agent said that the computer showed that the bags had been scanned at 10am and so were almost sure to be on the plane with me.  I asked again at the gate and was told that the computer had no record of them but not to worry because a lot of bags were being done 'manually'.

Upon arrival in Seattle, I asked a BA staff member in baggage claim if my bags had been loaded.  She had my name and my two bag tag numbers on a computer printout with her, but said she had no information at all if the bags had been shipped or not, and told me I'd have to wait until all bags were unloaded to see if they arrived or not.

A long time later, after all bags had been unloaded, only one of my two bags had arrived.  The BA employee gave me a form to fill out and sent me to their lost baggage office to report the missing second bag.  When I got to the lost baggage office, the staff member there said 'Oh yes, Mr Rowell, we've been expecting you.  Your other bag arrived yesterday and has already been delivered to your house'!

So the bags that were promised to be delivered to my London hotel were instead shipped on two separate days to Seattle, and one was even couriered on to my house, but no-one had any record of any of this (except the lost baggage person in Seattle).  Not a very impressive or efficient showing by BA.

But, enough of the negatives of my twelve day jaunt around Europe.  Let's talk instead about one of the positives.

This Week's Column :  Going Global  :  I equipped myself with a new type of Global mobile phone and trialed it extensively in Britain, France, Italy and Switzerland. Did it work? Should you get one? Read more in this week's column.

One of the things I find inconvenient, and which always slows down the lines through airport security, is the need to remove one's laptop from its carry bag, send it through the X-ray machine separately, and then re-bag it on the other side.  While transiting various European airports over the last two weeks, I was intrigued to see signs by the X-ray machines that read 'Please leave all electronic items and computers inside their bags'!  A worried American in front of me couldn't believe what he was reading, and so asked 'Do you really mean this'?  The security screener laughed at him and replied 'Why would you need to take the computer out of its bag?  The X-ray machine sees through it!'  Well, yes.  Why indeed?

Many people like to joke about being sandwiched in a middle seat between two oversized people, but early last year, Barbara Hewson, a passenger on a Virgin Atlantic flight from London to Los Angeles was squashed into her seat, the whole flight long, by a woman who was so large that she had to raise the arm rest to fit into her seat.  Barbara (a diminutive 4'11" lady) suffered injuries to her chest, torn leg muscles, and developed sciatica after being crushed in her seat with the other woman's arm crushed into her chest for 11 hours and was rushed to hospital upon arrival.  She has now accepted a $20,000 payment from Virgin, plus medical expenses and legal fees.

Bumping payments are being increased in the EU, from earlier levels of EUR150-300 to higher levels of EUR200-600.  Some low cost carriers are suggesting that compensation levels should be based on a percentage of the ticket price - they make the totally reasonable point that in some cases full fare airlines charge $500 for the same itinerary that the discounted carriers sell for $50 (or less!).

And, talking about low fares, wherever I looked in Europe over the last two weeks, I would see advertisements promising international flights from as little as $15 each way.  As a friend in London commented, something is wrong when the cost of the transfer to the airport is more than the cost of the international flight.  And, of course, the government and airport taxes are also more expensive than the fare!

Boeing fights back against Airbus' growing marketplace domination?  But does it do so by announcing massive revamps of its inelegantly aging airplane designs?  No.  Instead it trots out the well-worn historical claims that Airbus is being unfairly subsidized by the French and German governments, while ignoring its own massive US government payments (although notionally for defense related projects).  This article from the Seattle Times, headed 'Upstart Airbus threatens to leave giant Boeing in its jet stream' continues the apparently unending stream of bad news about Boeing.

Sort of good news for the road warrior :  T-mobile, the people that have added wireless internet service to most Starbucks stores, are now extending their service into approximately 100 AA, DL and UA airport club lounges.  The good news - as long as you're somewhere close to the lounge, you'll be able to access the wireless internet connection, even if you're not a lounge member!  The bad news - no discounts or free service to lounge members - you'll be up for their full rates, even though you already pay hundreds of dollars a year for the privilege of belonging to the airport lounge.

These days, I always travel with an 802.11b Wi-fi card in the hope of finding an open wireless LAN to connect into, although I have yet to strike it lucky.

This Week's Security Horror Story :  A British Airways flight from Singapore to London made an emergency landing in New Delhi on Tuesday.  A crew member saw what he thought to be a suspicious package on board and concluded it was a bomb. And what exactly was the suspicious package?  Ooops - some toiletries and a toothbrush!  A BA spokeswoman, rather than agreeing that the crew member needs to get both a set of glasses and some common sense, spoke positively about how their crew 'act with great caution at all times'.

Meanwhile, there's a gift from BA that you definitely don't want to receive.  A yellow caution card.  For the last four years, flight crew would give yellow cards to passengers they deemed to be potential troublemakers - the card cautions them.  Now they are extending the scheme to ground staff dealing with passengers on the ground.  A warning on the cards warns that if the recipient does not calm down, they face being refused to travel with the airline.  I have no problems with this concept, but I'd ask that BA's clients - their passengers - also be given yellow cards that they can hand to rude and unhelpful staff, warning them that if they don't start being helpful and telling the truth (eg about where my baggage is!) then they are liable for sanctions!  Yeah, sure, like that is ever going to happen.....

Here's a lovely new term coined by some airline pr type spin-doctor.  KLM Royal Dutch Airlines is discussing "intense cooperation" with Air France, KLM's chief said on Wednesday.  "The idea is to agree on a rather intense form of cooperation, not being a merger though," Leo Van Wijk told an investors conference as he gave details of KLM's current alliance talks with Air France.  I'm sure that the various EU anti-monopoly commissions will be relieved to learn that it is only intense cooperation, not a merger, that is being discussed!

Lastly this week, New York City is proposing to ratchet up controls on cell phone usage.  A year ago NY State became the first state to prohibit cellphone usage while driving.  Now, a proposed new city ordinance, expected to be enacted next month, will impose a $50 fine on anyone who makes a call, or who fails to turn off their ringer, during indoor events at libraries, art galleries and concert halls.  Councilman Reed says he introduced his proposal after hearing from people whose evenings were marred by loquacious cellphone users. ''It's probably the most popular thing that I've ever introduced.''

For my part, I've had more performances ruined by people talking loudly behind me to each other than talking to other people on their cellphones.  Perhaps Councilman Reed could outlaw this as well!  :)

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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