Thursday, December 20, 2001

Merry Christmas to All

One of the most memorable highlights of my travel life to date was a trans-Atlantic crossing on the QE2 (see this week's column for an interesting way to enjoy a crossing yourself), and so I've been watching with interest Cunard's building a new super-liner, the Queen Mary 2, due to go into service late in 2003.  Now Cunard have announced yet another liner, as yet unnamed, to be launched in 2005, while, in related cruising news, a 'battle royal' is raging between Carnival (the world's largest cruise company and parent company of Cunard) and RCCL (second largest); both are trying to take over P&O/Princess Cruises.  The cruise industry is suffering a glut of ships and desperately needs rationalization; meantime we can all enjoy an abundance of amazing cruise bargains.

Adding insult to injury - Alaska Airlines has increased the deadline for the time at which you have to be both checked in and at the gate for their flights to 20 minutes prior to departure (and 30 mins for international).  My question - how do they know if you are at the gate or not 20 minutes prior?  Sure, they know if you have checked in or not, but are they now going to do a roll call at the gate?  This is just a stupid meaningless and unnecessary rule and adds still further to the worries and leadtimes involved in taking a flight.  Shame on them.

A different type of industrial action :  Air Traffic Controllers in 19 Russian cities have mounted a hunger strike in protest against new labor laws that will restrict their ability to form a trade union.  They are also seeking higher salaries - currently they earn between US$200 - 265 a month.  Maybe some of our own well-fed pilots should consider a hunger-strike instead of a disruptive 'sick out' next time they feel their own salaries are 'too low'!

This week's security horror story This article uncovers a startling find - back in 1970 the Airline Pilots Association wrote to the FAA asking for cockpit doors to be strengthened.  Otherwise, the pilots of 1970 said, hijackers could do something to the cockpit crews that would "mean certain disaster for all aboard the airplane."  Thirty one years later, with no action having been taken in the meantime, they were proved correct.  Meantime, my column of 23 November continues to prove prescient - after having the DOT reject a proposal by the airlines to delay the new baggage screening requirement, replacing it with what they claim is 'improved passenger profiling', they are now lobbying Congress to delay the 18 January baggage security deadline.  Why are the airlines so obsessed with impounding nail files from little old ladies while desperately doing all they can to avoid implementing 'behind the scenes' security measures to protect us all?  And, proving the old adage that 'those who can't learn from history are doomed to repeat it' another airport (Charlotte, NC) accidentally switched off a metal detector for an unknown amount of time, inconveniencing 6000 passengers.

With all these continuing nightmares, is it any wonder that a new survey of the American Customer Satisfaction Index shows that more Americans would prefer a visit from the taxman over a trip to the airport!  However, some sense is appearing; for example, on a recent flight, when a 'security incident' occurred, the pilot allowed the passengers to vote on whether the plane should be completely emptied and subjected to a full security sweep or not (the passengers voted not to undergo such an inconvenience!).

This week's Lead StoryMore Ways to Save on Business and First Class Fares :  In what is now part two of a three part series (yes, folks, there are just so many ways to avoid paying full fare!) here are more tips on how to keep more of your money where it belongs - in your pocket!

Good news for some e-ticket travelers.  E-tickets on United, Continental and Northwest are now accessible through all three airline systems and - within the rules of the fare - interchangeable, just like paper tickets.  NW hope to have their e-tickets universally accepted some time next year, which will go a long way to removing one of the current prominent disadvantages of e-tickets.

Higher?  Further?  Faster?  Exciting news, but definitely in the 'maybe' category - Boeing announced that its proposed 'Sonic Cruiser' plane might be redesigned to travel at supersonic speeds.  Their original concept had the Sonic Cruiser traveling only 10% faster than present planes - enough to trim an hour off a nonstop flight to London or two hours off a nonstop to Sydney, but not really noticeable for shorter distances, such as on domestic routes.  The new concept has the plane traveling nearly as fast as Concorde, and with a reduced sonic boom that would allow it to operate supersonically over land, effectively halving most longhaul journey times.  Boeing also claim that per passenger costs would be not much more than traditional 'slow' jets.  I'll believe it when I see it (some cynics speculate that the Sonic Cruiser's main role is to act as a phantom spoiler for the Airbus A380!) but at the same time desperately hope that it may prove to be correct.

Meanwhile, if your travels will take you into Canada, feel free to eat even more than normal this holiday season.  The Canadian Transportation Agency has ruled that some obese people could be considered disabled, thereby entitling them to a free second seat on planes!  This ruling potentially benefits up to one third of all Canadians - according to Statistics Canada, one third of Canadians are obese.

Until next week, please enjoy happy holidays and 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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