Friday, November 30, 2001
Due to the miracle of modern technology, I'm filing this from London, after a depressing flight over from Seattle on Monday night.

If you're like me, the thing that you hate the most about bad airline service is the arbitrary random way that it sometimes strikes and sometimes doesn't.  On my last BA flight to London two months ago we had a wonderfully attentive crew that were almost continually in the aisles offering water or juice and doing all they could to look after their passengers. This time the crew offered a perfunctory service and only once (on a nine hour flight) came through the cabin offering water. What puzzles me is why BA (and all the other airlines, too) don't set minimum standards for their crew - eg, 'once every hour you will go through the cabin offering passengers water'. It seems such a simple and basic thing for them to establish!

In a world where McDonalds can train their minimum wage casual staff to ask 'would you like fries with that?' and smile; surely the airlines can train their much better paid career staff to a comparable level of civility and service!

The flight got off to a bad start when BA advised that they are now seeking a 2 1/2 hour checkin for their flight to London, even though two months earlier they were only requiring two hours (and had no lines back then).  Upon arrival at the airport 2 1/2 hours early there was no line at all to check in, no line at all for security, and my wife and I then spent 2+ hours unnecessarily waiting for the flight.  Maybe it is unusual for someone to complain about no lines, but my complaint is at the foolishness that inspired BA to unnecessarily increase its required checkin time for no good reason.

The Domino theory is at work again.  You may remember in the late 80s/early 90s, a common refrain from airlines was that they were being forced to compete against unprofitable airlines in Chapter 11.  This is of course very difficult to do, and drove the whole industry close to bankruptcy.  Now the same may be occurring in the rental car industry.  The Chapter 11 filing for National and Alamo is reportedly now resulting in National dropping the rates they are offering cars at, and the flow on effect now seems to be risking Budget's viability too.  Here's a story that provides more details.

The controversial introduction of the Euro currency on 1 January took a new twist this week with a report indicating that the 1 (about 88c) and 2 coins release up to 100 times the maximum allowable amount of nickel when handled.  Up to 15% of women and 5% of men are allergic to nickel and could develop hand eczema from the new coins.

Some things are truly no laughing matter.  The 'A grade' 18 year old student in Britain, who made a prank call claiming there was a bomb in Heathrow on 15 Sept, received a two year prison sentence.

In the US, airlines are taking a different approach.  AirTran Airways this week filed a civil suit against a man who breached security at Atlanta's airport earlier this month, causing the entire airport to shutdown for four hours.  The suit claims a minimum of $75,000 in damages - a small reimbursement to the airline but a potentially massive cost to the passenger.

Meanwhile, in some of the worst chaos since 9/11, a metal detector was 'accidentally unplugged' at Seattle's airport for perhaps 15 minutes on Sat 24 Nov.  Not only did this cause the now traditional 'evacuate the entire airport' scenario to be triggered, but because two flights had already departed, all passengers on those flights needed to be rescreened upon arrival (at Oakland and Reno).  Question :  If the airlines are starting to sue passengers who cause travel delays at airports, can passengers also start suing airlines?

In my column two weeks ago I predicted that Ryanair would soon start giving away free tickets, and now it is doing exactly that, with a promotion giving away 300,000 free tickets on its various European flights.  Any airlines in the US care to match?

This Week's ColumnSpinning Our Wheels :  Exactly as I predicted last week, this week the DOT is admitting that it won't have baggage checking measures in place by 18 January.  However, they are also saying that they want to immediately reduce delays at security checkpoints down to ten minutes.  Ummmm - anyone care to guess at exactly how long the word 'immediate' actually means?

There is actually some good news struggling to make itself felt.  Thanksgiving travel seems to have gone smoothly in most airports for most passengers.  Northwest has reinstated its self service electronic checkin points.  Delta, American and United are trialling accelerated checkin services for their frequent flies.

And some good news for the airlines - but  not for us.  Jet fuel costs have halved over the last year.  Does that mean that we'll see the fuel surcharges (typically $10-20 per one-way ticket) removed from tickets?  Ummm, actually, no!  For my part, I hate the dishonesty inherent in such a practice.  If the airlines need to charge more for tickets, okay, they can do that; but let's call the extra ticket charge what it truly is - merely an increase in fare, not a fuel surcharge that no longer can be justified by any stretch of the imagination.

This Week's Stupidest Idea :  London-based dance music company 'Ministry of Sound' says it has plans to turn four jets from collapsed Australian airline, Ansett, into airborne nightclubs.  Director Richard Mergler said that with several modifications the planes would recreate the night club experience and fly to dance parties in Australia and overseas.

"We're going to be doing Sydney-Melbourne to begin with where you fly from Sydney to Melbourne late in the evening, there will be DJs on board, special DJ decks will have been installed into where the business seats were," Mr Mergler said.

Australian Transport Minister and Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson was uncertain about safety requirements for flying nightclubs (here's a hint, John - they're not safe!).

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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