Friday, December 14, 2001
In my newsletter last week I asked the question 'Why is it that Southwest's passengers were less likely to reduce their travel, post 9/11, than other carriers'?  (Other airlines were reporting a general drop of about 20% in volumes for Nov 2001 compared to Nov 2000, Southwest reported a mere 1.2% drop).  A flood of extraordinarily well reasoned responses came back in reply, and rather than make this email longer than it should be, I'll put them on the website on a special page (next week).  Thanks to all who answered.

A week or so back we were told that the NTSB were sending parts of the AA587 crashed Airbus tail to NASA for investigation as to why it has fallen off.  As readers know, I've relayed the doubts that professional pilots have expressed about the likelihood of the tail just falling off such a plane, and now there is a news article (but in the NZ not US press) that suggests there are thirteen witnesses who claim to have seen two explosions (one on each wing) while the tail was still on the plane, and unreleased video footage that may confirm or contradict these claims.  What is going on here?

Some good news.  Massive hotelier Six Continents (with 514,000 hotel rooms including the Holiday Inn and Intercontinental brands) reports an increased profit, up to $1.1 billion for the year ended 30 Sep 01.  They expect travel to be back to normal by about April next year.  In related news, revenues per hotel room for US hotels averaged a 16% decline in November compared to a year ago, with the largest drops being in luxury hotels.  This is a slight improvement on October.

Adding insult to injury.  Not only have the airlines continued to massively slash the commissions they pay to travel agencies down to a pittance level that makes it basically impossible for a travel agency to profitably sell any ticket on any basis, but now they're starting to charge travel agencies a fee for each ticket they issue!  This fee - variously 0.4c or 12c - is not a lot of money, for sure, but is the thin end of a new wedge into travel agency viability.

Why do the airlines hate travel agencies so much?  For exactly the same reason you should find a good travel agency and work with them.  Travel agencies help the airlines' passengers to find lower fares and more convenient itineraries than they could find by themselves - this is good for you but bad for the airlines.  A good travel agent is worth their weight in gold - sure, there are a lot of bad travel agents out there, but that is merely a reason to carefully look to find a good one.  Speaking as someone who has been both a travel agent and a corporate traveler, I know that I could almost always find better travel arrangements more quickly and easily wearing my travel agent hat than I ever could without the invaluable assistance of a travel agent's computer system and rolodex.

This week's column How to Save Up to 60% on Business/First Class International Travel :  Beat the airlines at their own games!  Here are three different 'insider secrets' that can save you as much as 60% off published business and first class fares.

A word of caution from a friendly travel agent (another reason to have a good relationship with a travel agent!) which I'm pleased to pass on to you.  If you are renting a car on Oahu - be careful.  Starting next week, private firms using unmarked white vans and laser speed detectors will be on 14 island highways to photograph cars and license plates of speeders who go even one mile per hour over the speed limit.  In Honolulu ten intersections will also be equipped with sensors and digital cameras that record anyone running a red light.  Rental car companies will provide police with information on renters caught on film speeding or running lights.  The private companies will receive about $30 for each ticket issued, a pretty good incentive to cite as many drivers as possible.

They sure do things differently in Britain.  On 7 December Manchester Airport announced that it was cutting up to 140 security jobs (after already cutting 90 earlier this year), and will be reducing staff salaries for those that remain.  The reason for this?  A spokesman said "The events of September 11 have just made this restructuring more imperative...We want to be able to reduce charges to airlines and offer new services to travelers."  Interesting logic!

Yet another low cost carrier in Britain - Go - announced an increase of 63% in its November passengers compared to the same month last year.  Go was originally founded by BA but then sold off earlier this year - don't you bet they wish they hadn't sold it now!  And rival budget carrier easyJet reported a 38.5% increase for its November.

How big is 'very very big'?  Don Carty, CEO of American Airlines, reported on Tuesday that the airline expects a 'very very big' loss for both the current quarter and the full year, but says that there are some encouraging signs starting to appear.  Perhaps because of this, the stock price remained virtually unchanged after his announcement.

This week's airport horror story :  The fifteen year old girl who had to unzip her trousers in public as part of going through airport security.  A similar story relates to the woman and her nine year old daughter who were both physically frisked - even though the metal detector didn't sound an alarm and neither did the 'wand' when it was passed over them prior to the physically intrusive pat-down.  I don't know about what you think about the nonstop nightmares from our 'airport security', but I've got free tickets that I don't want to use at present because flying is just such a horrible experience these days.  This theme is echoed, using the phrase 'Is this trip necessary' in an excellent article in which the writer says that there is a sea-change in American opinion, making travel no longer a commonplace and desirable activity.  If so, that's very bad news for all the other parts of the travel industry, who are having their future viability held hostage by the awful situations at airports these days.

Meantime, the DoT - the people that will be responsible for airport security in the future, have said that they will be placing safety and security ahead of passenger service in their 'new' approach - if that isn't the most ominous threat for the future level of convenience we can expect, I don't know what is!  Joe Brancatelli pointed out, last week, another side effect of replacing the airlines with DoT security - no more priority lines for frequent fliers.  Do you still think that putting the government in charge of airport security is a good idea?

Be careful around planes in Greece! On November 8 (35 days ago) a group of fourteen middle aged and probably lower/middle class British aviation enthusiasts were arrested in Greece.  Their crime?  They are 'plane spotters' - just like train spotters, they like to amass photos of different planes and keep notes of where they have been seen.  The previous day they had attended a public Greek Air Force open day, taking pictures around the air base (presumably like thousands of Greeks).  The Greek police arrested them on suspicion of espionage, primarily because the group has also traveled to arch-rival Turkey on a plane spotting tour in the past (and therefore must be Turkish spies, apparently!).  Amazingly, as of the time of writing this, no charges have yet been filed but the group (13 men and 1 woman) have been refused bail and remain in prison.  Greece and Britain are both members of NATO and the EU - with allies like Greece, who needs enemies!  More on this terrifying tale here.

If you're like most of us, you probably often travel with a laptop.  Last week my current Micron laptop had the latch which secures the screen to the body of the laptop break.  I called them to see if the unit was still in warranty and if this would be covered.  Happily the laptop was still in warranty and covered as a 'depot repair' (I should add that the laptop is a month under 3 years old, making it the longest lived and most reliable laptop out of the six or more I've gone through so far).  The reason I'm telling you this is to lavish praise on Micron and their stunning service.

They immediately couriered out for next day prior to 9am arrival a special shipping box, complete with prepaid priority overnight shipping back to their service location.  The same day that they received the laptop, they not only repaired the latch, but also gave the laptop a complimentary 'work over' including upgrading the BIOS and replacing a fan which they thought was a bit noisy, and then shipped it back, priority overnight, so in total I was without the laptop for only two days!  Service can't get any better than this, and next time you're evaluating computers, you'd do well to consider Micron.

Frontier Airlines is at the frontier of customer service!  Frontier proudly announced today that it will have implemented a positive bag matching program for all checked luggage prior to the January deadline.  To date, it is the only airline to advise of its compliance with the new legislation.  Frontier also announced the return of food to its flights, offering what is euphemistically terms a 'light menu' on flights longer than 90 minutes.  Thank you, Frontier!

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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