Thursday, December 27, 2001

Most important thing first.  In This Week's Lead Story there are not only two more tips on how to save on your business and first class air fares, but also an amazing deal that can enable you to buy frequent flier miles into most airline programs for between 0.9c and 1.5c a mile.  Endorsed by Mileage Guru Randy Petersen, this is one of those vary rare opportunities when you can beat the system.  But hurry, this deal expires variously on 31 Dec or 4 Jan.  Click over there now and decide if you too want to join the gold rush of people taking advantage of this deal (some people are buying as many as a million miles!).

The prize for this week's most obvious conclusion :  'In October, our industrial engineers quickly recognized that the most effective way to shorten lines for customers was to increase security checkpoint capacity', said Dirk McMahon, senior vice president of customer service at Northwest Airlines.  You have to wonder how many thousands of dollars in salaries and related costs, and how many man hours of time, it took these rocket scientists (no, sorry, 'industrial engineers') to work out that increasing security checkpoint capacity would shorten the lines of people waiting to go through them.  And, what a shame it took them not only a month to develop this stunning conclusion, but then another two months to do something about it!

Here's an article you should read that tells you about anti-terrorist classes being offered to frequent fliers.  Even if you don't attend a class, the article is full of helpful suggestions we all need to consider these days.

This week's security horror story :  No, not the man with explosive in his shoes.  Instead, the US Secret Service agent who was taken off an AA flight before it departed BWI and questioned for an hour and a half by a mix of different officials including even the plane's pilot before being refused to fly.  His apparent crime - he is of Arabian descent.  And the real horror of this - none of the countless people interrogating him would believe he was with the Secret Service (he is actually a member of the President's personal security detail) and - get this - refused to call the Secret Service to confirm his credentials!  Instead, he was not allowed to fly (Why?  What had he done?).  Needless to say, American Airlines are 'not returning phone calls' about this issue - and isn't that the worst thing of all?  A person who the President trusts with his life is taken off a plane for no apparent reason, the authorities refuse to check if he is a real bona fide agent, and now, no-one feels the need to explain or apologize for their actions!

Meanwhile, between Oct. 30 and Sunday 16 Dec, the Federal Aviation Administration closed 26 airport terminals or concourses because of security breaches, delaying 1,111 flights and canceling 408 others. In addition, passengers on 353 flights were taken off airplanes and sent through security checkpoints a second time because of improper screening.

And what about the man with some sort of explosive in his shoes? So now we're increasingly having to put our shoes through the X-ray machines.  Can anyone explain to me how this will protect us?  The explosive isn't metal and will just appear as more shadowy material along with the rest of the shoe!  Most disconcerting of all is, as I said back on 23 November, it only takes a very small lump of plastic explosive to incapacitate a plane, and how long will it be before a determined terrorist hides the explosive internally, in their stomach or, ahem, 'elsewhere'.  There is a solution, but, ooops, it is an expensive one - requiring passengers to walk through explosive detecting portals similar to the current metal detectors.  Anyone care to bet if we'll see these in our airports anytime soon?

Meantime, in an impressive display of misplaced zeal, a Yahoo news item on 24 December reports that 'screening devices at Washington's Dulles airport have been tuned to such sensitivity that even the metal rivets on a pair of jeans are enough to set the alarms off.'  Already the jokes have started about being required to travel completely naked - at this rate, it will soon become a reality.

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying :  A Cathay Pacific pilot fired for throwing peanuts at his chief executive has been hired by Sir Richard Branson, head of Australian airline, Virgin Blue.  Captain Scott Munro was suspended for gross misconduct at a function by Cathay, and subsequently sacked after the pilot's two appeals were rejected.  A Virgin Blue spokesman said "If he threw some peanuts at our senior executives, certainly if he threw some peanuts at Richard, I think the worst thing that could happen is that Richard would throw some peanuts back at him."

Continuing a peanuts theme, Virgin Blue is currently charging only peanuts for flights within Australia - selling flights to/from Melbourne for as little as A$5 (US$2.50).  This would seem to be a desperate attempt to kill off a new startup competitor in Australia, showing that, no matter how much he might protest when it is done to him, Branson isn't above using such bullying tactics himself when it suits him.

Most Bizarre Christmas Vacation (and unexpected ending) :  I came across two news items spaced a couple of days apart.  Here they are.

First -  Colin Wood, a 30-year-old British financial-services worker, is heading underground behind blast-proof doors and 10-foot-thick concrete in a bid to escape the stresses of a family Christmas. He has coughed up $430 to spend two weeks alone in a decommissioned nuclear bunker in Essex, east of London. He has even foregone traditional Christmas fare, opting instead for a frugal diet of the processed luncheon meat known as Spam, baked beans and tap water.

And then, second -  A British man who went underground behind blast-proof doors and thick concrete to avoid a family Christmas has emerged early because he was ``dying for a pint'' of beer.  Colin Wood, a 30-year-old financial services worker, entered the decommissioned nuclear bunker in Essex, east of London, on Thursday and planned to stay for another week.  ``It was great but I was dying for a pint and the idea of a spending another week was too much,'' he told Reuters Monday.  Wood paid $430 at an Internet auction for a two-week stay in the bunker.  He said he took such extreme action because he abhorred Christmas and all its trimmings.  ``It's OK in theory but the running around, the buying of presents for people you don't like, the family bickering, the endless turkey and terrible films on TV are just too much,'' he said.

For those of us having more normal Christmas vacations, the skies were largely clear and free of weather or air traffic related delays.

Lastly, reading the following item reminds me of the debt we all owe to Ralph Nader.  An airline bumped him due to overbooking, many years ago, and so he lead a crusade that resulted in our entitlement now to compensation if bumped off a flight.  This time, we might see a related extension of passenger rights (I surely hope so!).  A family, who felt they were 'held hostage' on a Northwest plane for approximately seven hours last Christmas Day, have announced they will be filing a lawsuit today against Northwest for False Imprisonment, Infliction of Emotional Distress, Negligence and Breach of Contract. Jeffery Sheldon, his wife and two daughters were restricted from leaving the airplane which was sitting on the tarmac at Ontario Airport. There was no food and minimal drinks. Mr Sheldon is a well known attorney with Sheldon & Mac in Los Angeles and specializes in intellectual property law.

Please accept my very best wishes for the New Year.  We're definitely living in 'interesting times' and let's all hope that we can leaven good security with good sense.

Until next year, 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.

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