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Friday, December 18, 2009

My Hotel Holiday Wish List: Part II

Santa Baby,

I know I wrote to you last week, but I’m snowed in today and thus am using the time to pen you another missive. Normally, I would appeal to other holiday present presences, but Hanukah Harry has already put away his menorah (not that he can compare to you, anyway, in terms of holiday excess), and frankly, I am not familiar with your Kwanzaa equivalent. But lest you think I am being greedy, please note that I write on behalf of nice travelers everywhere.

1. Please have your elves make hotel hangers with hooks. I know hotels once had your worker bees mass-produce hangers with necks resembling Captain Hook’s peg leg in order to reduce theft. But really, now that we are all reduced to traveling in a carry-on, we are no longer in the business of hotel thievery (with the exception of those three ounces-or-less bottles of shampoo and lotion that are just begging to be taken).

2. Please convince hoteliers to discard those pesky resort fees. Yes, I know they are a way to bring in revenue while keeping room rates down, but come on, we aren’t stupid. Ten extra dollars a night is ten extra dollars a night, whether it’s in the form of a “resort fee” or simply added to the room rate.

3. Please ask luxury hotels to furnish us with free in-room Wi-Fi. Why is it that when we pay $59.95 a night at Four Points by Sheraton, we get free Internet, but when we pay $595.95 at some five-star hotel, we have the pleasure of paying another $10.95 a day for Internet access? If your elves are too busy with the hangers, Dancer or Prancer or Donner or Blitzen are welcome to horn in on this one.

4. Okay, Santa, I realize that at this point, I am getting a bit avaricious. But I do have one more appeal to make on behalf of fellow travelers everywhere. Given that we are paying a per-day rate, let us have our hotel room for a 24-hour cycle. Let us check in at 11:00 AM and leave at 11:00 AM the next day. Or let us check in at 7:00 PM and stay until 7:00 PM the next night. We international travelers would be especially grateful for this gift, as we often arrive in a city in the wee hours of the morning. I know that’s when you do your best work, but most of us like to stumble straight into bed after a night flight that arrives at 4 AM.

Thank you, Santa, for considering my requests. Travel safe.

Laura Powell

Saturday, December 12, 2009

My Hotel Holiday Wish List

Dear Hotel Santa:

When stocking hotel rooms for 2010, please have your elves keep the following in mind:

1. Just because we are tea-drinkers, we still need our morning jolt. Therefore, please leave bags of caffeinated tea next to the in-room coffeemaker, instead of just the herbal dreck (which isn't really tea, anyway). One more note: As you are gifting coffee drinkers with upscale brands like Wolfgang Puck and Starbucks, you should provide the teatotalers (sic) something better than Lipton bags, which are a mere step up from generic.

2. However, if your elves would like to get rid of those cheap plastic coffeemakers altogether, that would be a good thing. They always seems to leave the fresh taste of melted plastic in one’s morning beverage. It’s more obvious in tea, since the flavor of said beverage isn’t as brisk, but it can be discerned in a cup of joe as well. Instead, please deliver those nice electric water kettles. Stock with Starbucks Via or another gourmet instant coffee (not a total oxymoron) and Twinings teabags and you’re brewing.

3. The wise philosopher Confucius said, “Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” Said statement is best encapsulated by hotel alarm clocks, most of which are as mind-baffling as a Rubik’s Cube. In reality, all we want for Christmas and beyond is an alarm clock that is easy to set, dependable, and quiet. Leonardo da Vinci, Renaissance man extraordinaire, noted that “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” Kudos to the Fairmont Battery Wharf in Boston for listening to Leonardo. The five-star property resorts to old-fashioned, non-electric, wind-up alarms. Perhaps these might befuddle the 20-something set, but for the rest of us, they are a godsend.

4. Elves, please add outlets. And please add them in spaces not located behind the bed or other heavy furniture. Plug them into logical places--by the bathroom sink (for hair dryers and electric razors); by the desk (for computers and cell phone chargers); and by the closet (for the iron).

That's all for now, Santa. But I'll be back with my airplane wish list soon. Thank you.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Fee-Fi-Fomites: Avoiding Germs Like the Plague

Okay, Ladies and Germs:

It's time to improve your word power. Today's lexeme is fomite. What it is, according to our friends at Merriam-Webster, is an inanimate object (such as a doorknob) that may be contaminated with infectious organisms and serves in their transmission. For the air traveler, fomites are lurking everywhere you look, and even places you don't.

Let's ponder the cribs of fomites at the airport. We'll start with the touch screens on the self-service check-in machines. Next, let's wander over to the elevator and ATM buttons. I like to feel I've escaped relatively unscathed from these areas thanks to the use of knuckles rather than fingertips.

You might want to avoid touching handrails lining stairways and escalators. But admittedly, it's pretty hard to avoid touching the locks on bathroom stalls and the flushing implements on toilets ('nuf said). At the very least, use a paper towel to open the door handle leading you out of the bathroom.

Now, even if you manage to make it through the airport fomite-free, good luck on the airplane, my friend. There's the fomite on your tray table. There's the fomite in your seatback pocket (which is a popular place to stuff used tissues, if you catch my drift). Speaking of drifts, there's the ventilation system to consider. Since you are dealing with recirculated air, the best bet is to avoid using the overhead air vent, which can blow fomites straight into your lungs. Other ventilation notes--air circulation tends to be better toward the front of the plane. So if you sit in the first 10 rows, you are exposed to fewer germs. That said, if a passenger in your row or in three rows behind or in front of you is hacking away, you're screwed, no matter where you are sitting. When you get off that plane, all you can do is take your Emergen-C, use other immunity-strengthening strategies, pray, and get plenty of sleep.

Back to our friends the Fomites. The Fo Fighters are at their mightiest in the airplane lavatory. Ah, yes, those lovely lockers that challenge even the most flexible contortionist when nature calls. Simply put, airplane lavs are disgusting. How often do you see them cleaned during flight? It really makes one question the mental health of those who use said privies to join the Mile-High Club.

But I digress. Even if you wash your hands prior to exiting the W/C, you are not out of the woods. First, consider that the Environmental Protection Agency has found that 17 percent of all water taps on airplanes contain coliform bacteria (and hold that thought as well...we'll get back to it in a minute). So, that water you are using to clean your hands--maybe not so much. Secondly, to escape from the W/C, you must touch that door handle. I have taken to using a towelette to open the escape hatch, so that I don't have to use hand sanitizer upon returning to my seat. (Then I dispose of the fomite-filled towelette in the seatback pocket).

Okay, back to those water taps. Included in the EPA tap list are those in the kitchen galley. That means the water used to make coffee or tea is running through a germ-filled tap 17 percent of the time. And since said water is seldom boiled to the point where germs will be eliminated, consider that your cuppa java may by plagued with pathogens. So, you might want to buy your Starbucks in the airport and bring it on the plane.

Remember, dear reader, I am not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV. But let me proffer a few closing tips for fending off those foul fomites. The best advice I can offer is to be aware of your surroundings, wash frequently, carry hand sanitizer and a brawny supply of paper towels, and run like hell when the person sitting next to you in the waiting area starts sneezing.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Tips on Tipping

I’ve read many articles on tipping at hotels, but today’s USA Today article is one of the best summaries I’ve seen. Even I, the experienced travel expert, learned a tip or two.

To wit, I’ve always been confused about when and how much to tip the parking valet at a hotel. Here’s the deal, according to the six etiquette and hospitality industry experts polled in the article. When a valet opens the car door for you--no tip. When said valet takes your car to park it, no tip necessary (although half the experts say one could tip about $2). However, when said valet returns the car to you from the parking lot, our experts say you owe $2 to $5. I imagine if you have a clunker, $2 is acceptable, while Porsche owners should pony up $5. (Although perhaps there should be a reverse correlation between compensation and the value of the car. After all, the experience of propelling a Porsche is priceless, while prodding a Pacer is not so valuable to the valet).

But we digress. Back to tipping, this time inside the house.

The rules of tipping housekeepers are rather blurry. Many people don’t realize that maids are part of the tipping landscape. Most of the experts in the USA Today survey say $1 to $2 a night is fine, with higher daily amounts for luxury hotels. Instead of leaving one tip at the end of the stay, tip every day to ensure the person who is doing the work gets the reward. Plus, since one interpretation of the word “tip” is “to insure prompt service” (although methinks insure should be replaced with ensure or assure), a daily tip may result in a cleaner room or an extra bottle of skin lotion.

Most of the other basics are well-known: A bellman gets a buck or two per bag; the concierge is only tipped for special services (hard-to-get reservations at restaurants or the theater; filling out-of-the-ordinary requests); waiters get 15% to 20% of the pre-tip bill (unless they are working a buffet, when only 10% to 15% is necessary).

Who doesn’t get a tip? Generally, the front desk staff, the room service deliverer (assuming service is included in the bill), and the Maytag repairman. After all, if something is wrong with a guestroom, the occupant should hardly be required to compensate Mr. Fix-It.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum? No, Free-Wi-Fi-Fo-Fum!

It may cost you an arm and a leg to buy a ticket for holiday travel, and you may have to pay up to $100 more per trip for baggage check-in, in-flight food and a blanket, but Yes, Virginia, there is a skyward Santa Claus. Instead of riding with Vixen and Dasher, though, he’s Wi-Flying Virgin and Delta, courtesy of EBay and Google.

Right now, EBay is only playing Kris Kringle to fliers on select Delta flights during Thanksgiving week. Still, the free Wi-Fi by EBay means fliers can get an early start on holiday shopping. Meantime, Virgin America is teaming up with Google to offer free in-flight Wi-Fi to all passengers on all of its planes from now through January 15. Ho, ho, ho.

But the Google gift-giving doesn’t stop there. The Internet giant is truly getting into the holiday spirit by providing free Wi-Fi at 47 airports across the country through January 15. While most of the airports on the list are located in medium-sized cities (Baltimore, Nashville, Oklahoma City), travelers venturing through Seattle, Boston, Houston, and San Diego will also be recipients of Google’s magnanimity. However, if you’re traveling through JFK, Newark, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, Los Angeles, San Francisco or Washington, DC, there's no Google for the frugal. Still, the airports that Google is covering handle more than a third of all U.S. air travelers.

Travelers can pay the holiday cheer forward by making an optional donation to select non-profits while on line in the airport. Google will match donations up to a maximum of $250,000.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Laura Talks Travel Deals on TV

As promised, here's this week's appearance on DC's NewsChannel8. Please note that after the segment ran, several airlines, including United, American, Delta and Northwest, raised their "bah humbug fees" (for travel on holidates) from $10 up to $20 one-way.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Like a Virgin? For 25¢, What's Not to Like?

Who knew that the term guest quarters could become a double entendre? Well, it is now, thanks to the U.S. Virgin Islands.

In celebration of the release of the U.S.V.I.'s freshly minted U.S. quarter, some hotel rooms on St. Thomas and St. Croix are selling for 25 cents a night. The centsational (sic) deal is available for travel up through December 15, but it has to be booked by Monday, November 2.

Aside from 25¢ guest quarters (for a maximum of three nights), visitors will also receive a $25 per person dining credit and a $25 per person activities credit at participating resorts. Those, by the way, include Marriott Frenchman's Reef & Morning Star Beach Resort, Wyndham Sugar Bay Resort & Spa, Club St. Croix, and Sapphire Beach Resort. They'll also get a U.S. Virgin Islands quarter, which, I suppose, can be used to pay for one room night.

The fine print: the 25¢ rate does not include taxes or resort fees; bookings must be part of an air/hotel package; and quarter quarters are subject to availability.

And remember, folks, the U.S. Virgin Islands is an American territory. That's why it has a special quarter...and that's why you don't need a passport to visit.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Laura Talks Travel & Historic Hotels on the Radio

For those who heard my segment about historic hotels on Around the World Radio today, here's a bit more information.

If you are interested in finding out more about The Jefferson Hotel, visit http://www.jeffersondc.com/.

For more on the Omni Bedford Springs Resort & Spa, which is located just 2 1/2 hours northwest of Washington, DC, visit http://www.omnibedfordsprings.com/.

For those of you who were hanging on my every word, you were probably quite disappointed when the host cut me off. So, let me add in print what I didn't get to express verbally. If you visit the Omni Bedford Springs Resort, be sure to find out what's cooking in the kitchen. Guests can enjoy Cooking With Chef (that would be Konrad Meier), which is a 45-minute midday instruction session during which participants get to eat the fruits and vegetables and meats of their labor. The cost--just $20 per person. For something a bit more extensive and expensive, the Chef's Table dinner experience includes a lengthy cooking lesson; a multi-course meal; wine, wine, and more wine; and plenty of personal attention from Chef Konrad and his staff. The cost--$220.50.

If you didn't hear the travel segment live, click on http://www.aroundtheworldradio.com/, go to the archives section, and search for the October 22 show.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum: Part X

Hallo, ladies and gents: Did you hear the one about British Airways charging a fee for reserving a seat? Yep, in a new twist to the fee-for-all frenzy, BA is saying that if you "want to have more control" over the seat you get, you have to pay for the privilege. To reserve a specific seat more than 24 hours in advance, international business class passengers have to pay $90, while international coach passengers have to fork over a minimum of $30. If one opts for an especially desirable seat in coach, say, the emergency row aisle, the price is $75. If you wait to reserve your seat within the 24-hour window prior to the flight, it's free (woo-hoo), but it's unlikely you'll get a window...or an aisle.

Since it's been awhile since I've fee-fi-fo-fummed, let me catch you up on other recent developments. For a mere $249, United is now offering an annual pass allowing a customer to check up to two bags per flight for "free." This deal might make sense for frequent travelers, except for the fact these types often have elite status in the airline's frequent flyer program. That means they already get to check bags for free.

Then, of course, are the recently-announced Bah Humbug fees. Delta, American, United, Continental, and US Airways are charging $10 extra for those who choose to fly on the weekend after Thanksgiving; on December 19, 26 and 27; on January 2 and 3 (Happy New Year, indeed); and on assorted other key post-holidates (March 14, 20-21, 28; April 11; May 28). Why don't the airlines just increase the cost of tickets on high-demand days instead of tacking on a fee? Partly it's a matter of accounting and partly it's a matter of appearances. Fees are not subject to the same government tax structure as fares, which means the airlines can keep a greater share of the fee revenue. And, of course, doesn't it look better to charge the passenger $199 (plus $10, plus $30 for the bag, plus God knows what else for what else), than to charge a one-size-fits-all ticket fare? Maybe the fare-plus-fees strategy made sense a year ago. But now that consumers understand the system, my belief is that most would prefer to pay a comprehensive fare upfront rather than be nickel and dimed along the way.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

My Kind of Town

So, Chicago isn't getting the 2016 Olympics. The IOC's loss is Chicago's win. Many locals weren't exactly thrilled with the idea of millions of taxpayer dollars being spent to subsidize the Games. Plus, there was widespread fear about how the construction would impact the city's lakefront.

So, forget about the Olympics. There are still Da Bears, the hapless Cubbies, the White Sox, the Bulls, and the Blackhawks (and The Storm, The Sky, The Fire, the Windy City Rollers and others).

Even lengthier than the city's list of sports teams is the roster of museums. There are 70 in The Windy City. The Art Institute of Chicago, the country's second largest museum, is sporting a new modern wing, designed by Renzo Piano. Just opened in May, the wing features 20th and 21th century European art. If you are drawn to older masterpieces, you'll find plenty in the "old wing." To wit, there are 3,500 European works dating from the 12th through the mid-20th century. Holdings include a rare group of 15th-century Spanish, Italian and Northern European paintings, an important collection of French Impressionist paintings, and European sculpture. For those who favor American art, stop by American Gothic by Grant Wood and Nighthawks by Edward Hopper. Museum admission is $18. Art is free on Thursday evenings between 5 and 8 PM.

Opening this Thursday at the Museum of Science & Industry is YOU! The Experience. The exhibit is an interactive tour of the human body. Having attended a preview, I can tell you it's very cool, very fun and very educational for kids and adults alike. Allow at least one hour to explore YOU! Other museum highlights to take in: a 700-ton German submarine, the only one captured during World War II; The Smart Home--showcasing the latest in green living; and the Genetics & Baby Chick Hatchery section. The museum normally costs $13 for adults and $9 for kids (entrance into the submarine is extra, although the surrounding exhibit is complimentary). However, to celebrate the opening of YOU!, general admission during October is FREE!

For more on Chicago, visit http://www.choosechicago.com/. Or listen to my report on Around the World Radio, airing live on October 8 at 1:14 EDT. If you miss it, go to http://www.aroundtheworldradio.com/aarchives.jsp and click on the October 8 show.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

More Pet Peeves

My recent trip to Chicago has reminded me of more pet peeves. Mind you, said peeves are not about Chicago, which is one of the most fabulous cities in the world (despite what the IOC thinks). Instead, visits to three different hotels left me with a brand new pile o’ peeves (see 8/28 post for previous peeves).

Peeve #1: No coffeemaker in the room. Staying at The Hotel Allegro (a Kimpton hotel), I was chagrined to find no coffee-making device was available in the room. My choices: Stay put in my comfy zebra-striped robe (kudos on that, Kimpton) and order an $8 cup of joe from room service, or get dressed and go to the lobby and pay $4 for a large dose of caffeine. As Colbert would say, a wag of the finger to the Allegro. Why, even the Ritz-Carlton brand, a long-time holdout, finally gave in to consumer demand and now provides in-room coffee makers. To be fair to the Allegro, though, I will give the Colbert tip of the hat to the fact that outlets are everywhere. If you want to plug in an iron or your computer (to access the free Wi-Fi available to frequent guest members), outlets are plentiful and conveniently placed.

Peeve #2: Luxury hotels charging for Wi-Fi. I know, no one uses the room telephone anymore, so that profit center is out the window. But when I’m paying $300 a night for a room, throw in the Wi-Fi for free…really. In Chicago, the high-end Trump throws it in for free, while the high-end Swissotel doesn’t (although you can’t beat the Toblerone at turndown at the latter). At the very least, chain hotels should do what Kimpton does--throw in free Wi-Fi for frequent guest program members. It’s a win-win move--Kimpton gets more people to join its program (for free) and members get an immediate money-saving benefit.

Peeve #3: Magical mini-bars. During a tour of theWit Doubletree in downtown Chicago, there were two things I wasn’t amused by--the charge for in-room Wi-Fi (which escalates depending upon the bandwidth you choose), and the automated mini-bar that charges your bill the moment you move an item…even if you do not consume it and later put it back in its rightful place. These mechanized mini-bars chill those of us who prefer to purchase the 75¢ Coke from the 7-11 and chill it in the spot of the $4 hotel version. (As I figure hotels may mysteriously mark their sodas--even though I have no proof--I drink the 7-11 Coke, instead of using it to replace the mini-bar Coke). Yes, you can argue with the front desk clerk about the charge and get a refund, but how many of us don’t even look at the bill when rushing off to the airport?

Now, lest you think I am Wendy Whiner, I do want to offer a tip of the hat to the rooms manager at The Hotel Allegro. After filling out an on-line survey about my stay, which outlined the complaints above, said manager actually called me to discuss my concerns. I'm not sure if said call was due to my status as a travel journalist, but I did stay at the Allegro incognito. At any rate, he did clarify a couple of things. He said that while most Kimptons do not have in-room coffeemakers, most do not charge for morning coffee in the lobby. Secondly, he apologized about the lack of acknowledgment of my frequent guest status upon check-in, and went on to report that the chain tracks the stay of each Kimpton InTouch member in order to "customize" his or her next stay. To which I asked, somewhat rhetorically, does this mean I will have a coffeemaker in my room the next time I stay at a Kimpton? I didn't get an answer.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Standby for Free

Want to know how to make it from downtown Chicago to downtown DC in less than four hours door to door? Fly standby.

In these days of fees for everything from advance itinerary changes to emergency row seats to cabin upgrades, it may surprise you to know that you can still fly standby for free. It certainly surprised a group of travel writers with whom I was recently sharing this tale.

I have this annoying tendency of getting places way too early. That includes the airport. So, on a Sunday morning, I found myself at Washington National Airport (DCA) two hours before my flight to Chicago However, there was another flight to O’Hare in just 55 minutes. Since I only had carry-on, I wanted to take a stab at getting on the earlier flight. Fortunately, a ticket agent assisted me through the steps needed to do so on the check-in kiosk.

Here’s how it works. First, you check in for your original flight, which is confirmed. At a certain point, after rejecting all of the options the airline gives you for paying extra for specific seats, you can opt to fly standby on an earlier flight. The choices are listed on the screen. You touch the flight you want and a boarding pass prints with both your standby status information and your confirmed flight information (you need to print a separate boarding pass for the confirmed flight). Get to the gate on time, and assuming there are seats, you are on your way. You can also do this when checking in on-line.

So, how did I make it from the Loop back home in four hours? By knowing the standby trick. I left my hotel at 11:30, took the CTA train from the Loop to O’Hare, and arrived at the airport at 12:18. My original flight was scheduled for 2:25 (which was likely to get delayed, as storms were developing on the East Coast). There was an on-time departure at 1:05, but I thought catching it would be impossible. I had to get from the CTA train stop to the ticketing area (a lengthy journey, which included an uphill climb on a non-working escalator); press the correct buttons in a speedy manner at the nearest check-in kiosk; get through the security line; and then make it to the gate in less than 35 minutes. That may be an easy thing to do at a smaller airport like DCA, but O’Hare is a behemoth. But guess what? I arrived at the gate area just as they were calling my name for standby approval, and I boarded the plane five minutes later. After a bumpy 90-minute ride, I arrived in DC and somehow managed to perfectly time all of my Metro connections. Travel time from DCA home (including the walk from the Metro station to my condo): 35 minutes. Total travel time from downtown Chicago: Four hours on the dot.

The moral of the story: If you absolutely, positively don’t have to get to your destination earlier than expected, don’t pay to change your reservation. Instead, get to the airport early and try standby…especially if you are traveling a route where a flight takes off every hour or two. True, standby seats may not be available. But then, it’s just a matter of going back to Plan A.

A second moral: The total cost of taking public transportation to and from the airports in both cities, round-trip, was $8.20. Carbon footprint: Baby feet. Four cab rides would have cost at least $115. Carbon footprint: Shaquille O’Neal times four.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Here's the WUSA-TV packing segment in living color. Enjoy.

If the footage does not pop up, please go to http://www.wusa9.com/ and type Laura Powell Travel in the search box.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Laura on TV

Given all of these baggage fees, a gal (or a guy) can always use a few tips on packing light. And who better to give said tips than the moderator of The Daily Suitcase? BTW, if anyone knows how to control the sound on the clip, please drop me a line!

Monday, August 31, 2009

Presidential Properties: The Jefferson Opens in Washington

Well, by George, after a two-and-a-half-year overhaul, a classic hotel reopens in the nation’s capital today. The hotel has been redesigned to make guests feel like native Washingtonians, even though the property is actually named after Thomas Jefferson. The Jefferson Hotel, in honoring our third president (and our first secretary of state), sports Jeffersonian touches throughout. Suites are themed according to the wide-ranging interests of America‘s first Renaissance man (oenology, agronomy, cynology, lepidopterology); 18th century maps on the walls of the bar trace Jefferson’s wine travels through Europe; and original documents exhibiting Jefferson’s John Hancock dot the facade of the lobby.

But even non-historians will enjoy the Jefferson treatment. During my pre-opening stay, I experienced several unique features which, IMHO, are big selling points. To wit, there’s free Wi-Fi everywhere. That, my friends, is a rarity in the luxury hotel realm. There is no iron in the room. Why? Because the hotel will press a suit or a dress for free. Need a quiet place to catch up on reading or to host a clandestine meeting? The main floor is filled with charming nooks and crannies where guests can enjoy quiet privacy without being confined to their rooms. The hotel also has a spa which offers a number of specialized vinotherapy treatments reflecting Jefferson's passion for the grape.

Now, room rates are in the $500 neighborhood, so the property is not for the pecuniarily pinched. However, for the guest who might otherwise stay at The Mandarin Oriental or The Ritz-Carlton, The Jefferson offers a convenient and relaxed downtown option for visitors to Washington.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Maid Too Much Order

Today, I would like to discuss one of my pet peeves--that being the anal retentive housekeeper who takes it upon herself to rearrange a guest's goods for no apparent reason other than her own aesthetic pleasure. Said circumstance most recently occurred to me during a stay at the newly-renovated Jefferson Hotel in Washington, DC (highly recommended--see tomorrow's post). However, by no means is this lovely property the sole offender. Indeed, the practice seems to occur in many luxury hotels. This pattern leads me to believe one of two things--luxury hotels hire housekeepers with OCD, or the powers that be actually train the housekeepers to move every toiletry left on the bathroom counter onto a washcloth. Regardless, I, the guest, don’t want the housekeeper touching my personals, especially when you consider where her hands have previously been.

In the most recent circumstance, I had, on the bathroom counter, carefully placed my toothbrush and accompanying paste in a glass cup. My make-up, floss, lotions, and potions were either in or adjacent to an open cosmetics bag. There was also a pair of (clean) underwear taking part in the countertop action. Parenthetically, I will note that I do not usually leave clean underwear on the bathroom counter, but with limited items to unpack, I didn’t bother with drawers.

At any rate, none of said items were in the middle of the counter, nor in the way of a proper cleaning of the area. Yet, when I returned from dinner, there were my toiletries and my underwear (the latter neatly folded), sitting like a sanitary little family lounging on a pristine white washcloth.

Lest you say, come on, Laura, give the maid a break…she was just trying to keep everything clean, I will ask you, why did the fastidious factotum (look it up) also choose to move some loose change, a bottle of vitamins, and my cell phone from the coffee table in the living room to the valet stand in the bedroom? Such a move could easily have resulted in leaving said property behind.

In fact, I have had friends report losing items after a hotel housekeeper unilaterally decided to rearrange a room. In the most extreme case, one well-traveled colleague reports the housekeeper actually unpacked her suitcase and put items in closets and drawers. Lost in the shuffle--a pair of glasses and a favorite sweater.

So, to the overzealous housekeeper, I say do keep it clean, but please do not disturb.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Airlines Board the Twitter Express

To celebrate my long-awaited arrival on Twitter (http://twitter.com/dailysuitcase), a post about how airlines are using the service to chirp out to customers.

Just as the early bird gets the worm, the Twitterer gets the early word when it comes to amazing airfare deals.

To wit (or to twit?), JetBlue posted its first cheep last month. The deal: $9 one way from JFK to Nantucket. Since then, JetBlue has been notifying its Twitter followers about deals for upcoming weekends on Mondays. There is a little-noted catch, however. Most cheep dates are one way. Sure, they'll get you to Nantucket for nine dollars, but if you want to get back to NYC, you'll probably end up paying a full fare on the return flight. That's the problem with tweets--no space for the fine print.

Meantime, United is offering twares. The Twitter-only fares are randomly timed and randomly located. Whether by tware or by cheep, customers have to act quickly if they want to snap up these so-called bargains. And, to take full advantage of these deals, you have to be spontaneous, flexible, and somewhat of a Crackberry.

Of course, many airlines still offer last-minute fares by e-mail (how retro). While the discounts are not as steep, e-fares tend to have a longer booking time (a few days versus a few hours) and a wider range of destination options.

Announcing cheap seats is just one way airlines are employing Twitter. The smart ones are shifting the focus of their Twitter accounts to relationship building, using the service for real-time customer service. Airlines are using Twitter for frequent flyer outreach, to notify customers about flight delays, and to provide a head's up about Wi-Fi availability on selected planes (Alaska, Southwest).

Meantime, part of the beauty of Twitter is that it is not a one-way street. Customers can have their say. Bags lost at the airport? Tweet Southwest. Encounter a smarmy customer service agent? Tweet JetBlue. Stuck on a tarmac? Tweet Continental. On second thought, given the events of this week, good luck with the latter.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Suddenly Seeking Silence: A Philippic for Plane Passengers

Here's the thing I like about Southwest. You can strategically pick your seat. If you are in the A or B boarding zones, you can usually avoid sitting next to screaming babies, malodorous adults, and other beings offensive to one's senses (while at the same time keeping an eye out for hunky men with washboards abs). And so, upon boarding my 5 and a half hour flight to LAX, I, as B5, was somewhat free to choose a relatively delightful seat. I spied an aisle seat at 14 C. The window seat was taken by a woman whom I assumed was traveling alone (but you know what they say about assuming), as the middle seat was empty. I made a comment to her about our strategic seat selection, and she concurred, happy that no loud babies were nearby. As I settled in, I noticed her wave. Apparently, she wasn't traveling alone, but her companion had been in the C section. I experienced a pregnant pause, pondering the possibility of moving back to Seat 15 D (an aisle next to a mother and her teen-age son, seemingly umbilically attached to an iPod). But, I decided to carry my initial decision to term. Oh, baby.

I soon learned that while both woman were quite the Chatty Cathies, Window Seat had the added bonus of a foul mouth. It was F**King this, and S**TTY that. Apparently, I was cursed.
The conversation never ceased. In retrospect, seeing that the reading material of Window Seat consisted of the Clinton wedding issue of People, and that of Middle Seat was some awful piece of chick lit, I should have realized that they were unlikely to stop talking to, say, read for a spell.

But I tried to, I also attempted other tried and true techniques for hinting to neighbors that I was looking to acquire a piece of momentary peace and quiet. I started typing madly on my Netbook. I feigned sleep. I endeavored to focus on my reading material. Bupkes.

Next, I attempted the deep sigh; the muttering under my breath; and the turn of the head, followed by the evil eye. Finally, I went for the finger. No, not that F**King finger. Rather, I leaned forward on my tray table and put my index finger in my right ear, demonstrating an attempt to create a noise dike between the two woman and me.

The only time I would notice the slightest break in the gabfest was when I started putting pen to paper (my computer having run out of battery hours ago) to vent my thoughts (replicated here) about the sad situation in which I found myself. Maybe, in some way, my written thoughts were seeping through (it certainly couldn't have been a glance at said writing, entitled in large letters NON-STOP CHATTER, largely because my penmanship is illegible to nearly all). Anyway, I did notice this phenomenon several times. I would write; they would shut up. Ah, the power of the written word.

But alas, it was not to be. Minutes after putting down my pen, they were yakking it up...again. After four hours, the conversation started repeating itself. And toward the end of the flight, when a baby five rows away did start screaming, they felt the need to babble on about the noise. Oh, how I wanted to turn to them, my middle finger now in my ear, and say, "Really? What I just went through the last five hours was far worse than any crying baby." But I figured said comment would merely provoke Window Seat to tell me to "F**K off."

My next thought was to tell them I was working on, in the wake of the infamous JetBlue not-so-straight chuter, a piece for the New York Times about obnoxious passengers. Instead, as soon as the signal dinged that we were free to stand and roam about the cabin, I jumped out of my seat and ran as many aisles away from the clamor as possible.

Dear reader, if you would like to contribute a moral to this story, please chime in. But quietly...

Tweeting Twavel

While I am not a cheep (sic) date, I am a real tweet. And more people need to take note of that. So, while I tend to travel to the beat of my own dwummer, I too am now chirping away on Twitter. Please follow me at http:/twitter.com/dailysuitcase.

If you want a look at the bird you are following, please go to http://abcnews.go.com/abcnewsnow/ and then type Laura Powell in ABC's search box. Click on July 4th Getaways and let the fireworks begin!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Blog Round-Up/Ode to Airport Commodes

For those of you new to this blog, note that it contains a mix of current travel news and deals (under the headings In the News, News Updates, Airlines, Destinations, or Hotels), travel tips (under Travel Tips), clips of my television appearances and articles for print (In the Media), and various humor columns (Humor). Among the latter are postings by my alter-ego, Jane Air. Jane has been writing columns for the Women on Their Way website for the past two years. Below you will find one of Jane's favorite pieces.

Sadly, however, Jane has been a victim of corporate cost-cutting. Although her copious archive will remain on the above-mentioned website, newer and snarkier columns will appear from time to time right here. To wit, read about Jane's visit with Prince Philip at Buckingham Palace (June 18 post).

If there are topics about which you would like Jane to comment, please offer up your suggestions. Meantime, Jane and I hope the following leaves you flush with delight.

Jane's Ode to the Airport Commode

A recent round of traveling through some of the country's busiest airports has left Jane pondering. Why oh why, asks Jane, is it so difficult to build a better mousetrap when it comes to bathroom stalls? For in many an airport loo, one truly does feel caught in a mousetrap, squeezed between one's carry-on bags, the toilet, and the door. It's frequently difficult to exit the stall without backing up and nearly falling back into the porcelain throne. Charmin'.

Yet, as several airports demonstrate, the perfect bathroom stall is not an impossible dream. To wit, there's Baltimore-Washington International Airport, where the stalls are big enough to fit two carry-on bags and two adults (not that Jane is suggesting entering a stall with another adult...particularly if you are a senator). Spacious stalls can also be found at Houston's Hobby Airport. Meanwhile, at Kansas City International, the most logical design aspect Jane has observed (leave it to Midwesterners to come up with practical and easy solutions): A door that swings out, not in. Think about it--no matter how small the stall, squeezing in is much simpler when an incoming door is not hitting you in the knee.

Then there's the issue of the toilet seat proper. Is anyone else out there driven nuts by the rotating Saran Wrap seats at O'Hare? Jane wonders whether it's just one piece of plastic wrap that keeps going round and round. After all, has anyone really seen the inner workings of the rotating Saran Wrap gizmo? Jane is curious as to how the little elves sitting inside the pipes manage to unwrap the old stuff and throw on new wrap in a matter of seconds. It's obviously a more challenging position than baking cookies for Keebler.

But Jane digresses. Hooks, my friends, hooks. Why is it so difficult to install more than one hook in a stall? How about three? That's one for the purse, one for the computer case, and one for the coat. Even two would suffice. And remember design engineers, it's called a hook, not a peg. Imagine if Captain Hook had a hook for a leg and a peg, not for his leg, but for his hand. It just wouldn't work. Nor do those little stumps on the back of the door that pose for hooks at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in Atlanta. However, said pegs are perfect if you want your bag to fall, kerplunk, from door to floor.

Jane welcomes your thoughts on how to improve airport bathroom stalls. But in the meantime, let Jane close with an on-board toilette tip. If you are flying an airline with only one class of service, like Southwest, go to the front of the plane. Jane has observed that the lavatory near the cockpit tends to be the least used. Jane believes the reasons are threefold. People who travel coach are conditioned to go to the back of the plane; people are not allowed to line up in the front of the plane for security reasons; and many are not aware of the front-of-the-plane W.C. Upon inspection, Jane has noticed that the forward lav tends to be cleaner than its back-of-the-cabin cousins. Part of this is due to lesser use, but Jane also believes that the flight attendants actually work to keep the facility clean for the use of the pilot and co-pilot. Of course, Jane isn't privy to any inside information....but the proof is in the plumbing.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Laura on TV Talking About the State of the Airline Industry

By clicking here, you can see my most recent appearance on WUSA-TV in Washington, DC. The topic is air travel.

BTW, please forgive the wayward bangs. It's summer in Washington and the ladies know what that means....out-of-control hair.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Frequent Flyer Folio: Part II

For those of you who watched me on WUSA-TV this week, here is the follow-up information I promised you. And for those of you who didn't watch, tsk, tsk. The good news, however, is that the appearance will be posted in a few days....and in the meantime, you are welcome to the information below as well.

Earlier this week, I blogged about frequent flyer deals on American, United and Delta. Here are some more.

American Airlines AAdvantage members who live in the New York City area can get double miles through the end of the year. Pre-registration is required at www.aa.com/nydbl.

Being a New Yorker, or someone who travels frequently to the Big Apple, is also paying off for Southwest passengers. Rapid Rewards members can get double credits on all flights in and out of New York City through the end of October. Registration at the Southwest website prior to travel is required.

JetBlue is offering its True Blue members one-way flight awards for as little as 5,000 points. They’ve also made it easier to redeem points, with all flights eligible and no blackout dates. Members also get additional points for booking flights directly on the JetBlue website, and by paying with a JetBlue American Express card.

Speaking of credit cards, airline frequent flyer program affinity cards are a great way to rack up points fast.

The US Airways Premier World MasterCard with Dividend Select is offered by Barclaycard. For $79, cardholders get 25,000 bonus miles once they make a purchase; day passes to US Airways Clubs; and fee waivers on award processing. There‘s also one of those MasterCard priceless benefits--cardholders get to board right after the folks in first class, no matter how cheap their seat. That means no battles for space in the overhead compartment. Priceless, indeed.

Chase continues its partnership with United’s frequent flyer program by offering three new Mileage Plus Visa Cards. Two are quite pricey, with annual fees of $375 and $275. However, the third card--the United Mileage Plus Select Visa--costs just $130 annually. Cardholders receive triple miles on all United purchases; double miles on Star Alliance, gas, home improvement, grocery and dining purchases; and 5,000 bonus anniversary miles every year.

Now, remember, I’m a travel expert and not an economist. Even so, my notes about these cards come with some financial caveats. The annual fees for affinity cards are often higher than the norm. But if you can take advantage of the travel benefits, the extra cost may end up being a good investment. However, for those of you who carry monthly balances, beware. Many affinity cards carry with them high interest rates. On the other hand, if you are a pay-it-in-full-every-month gal or guy like I am, these credit cards can be a great asset.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Frequent Flyer Folio: Part I

It may seem somewhat counterintuitive, but as airlines try to increase revenue per seat by adding fees and dropping flights, frequent flyer rules are becoming more consumer-friendly. The new rules should, theoretically, make free seats "freer" and easier to obtain.

This summer, I’ve been inundated with e-mails from airline frequent flyer programs talking about their upgrades. For example, the new One-Way Flex feature gives American AAdvantage members the option of getting a one-way ticket for half the points of a round-trip ticket. Makes sense, but previously on American, and still on most other airlines, a one-way ticket = frequent flyer points for a round trip. American is also allowing AAdvantage members to mix and match on round-trip flights--you can book economy one-way and business the other, or combine a restricted award (one that requires fewer miles for the trade) with an unrestricted award. The latter addresses the problem of trying to plan a trip when a restricted seat isn't available on one leg.

Meanwhile, United’s Mileage Plus has gotten rid of its fee for booking frequent flyer travel within 21 days of departure. United is the first airline to make this change. Previously, you had to pay up to $100 per ticket for the privilege of exchanging points at the relative last minute.

Next, we come to those wacky newlyweds (or perhaps we should say nearly-weds)--Delta and Northwest. Through December 31, members of the merged airline's frequent flyer program--Delta SkyMiles--can get double miles for all Delta and Northwest flights in all classes of service. But here’s the catch. First, you have to have an American Express-issued Delta Skymiles credit card. The good news is that if you currently leave home without it, you can apply for the American Express SkyMiles card right now...and the fee for the first year is waived. With card in hand, you next have to pre-register for the program at www.delta.com/double by the end of September to qualify.

Delta’s also offering rollover miles for its elite SkyMiles members. That means if you have Silver or Diamond status, any miles earned in excess of the minimum qualifying threshold will now carry over to the following year. Usually, you have to start at square one at the beginning of each year. Now, with the rollover plan, Silver and Diamond SkyMiles types can get those perks like complimentary airport lounge membership, a 125-percent mileage bonus, and exemption from many baggage and ticketing fees starting January 1.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Project Runway: Part II

First Richard Tyler, now Balenciaga. As I noted previously (see 7/16 post), high fashion designers are taking to airport runways. Over at Delta, Richard Tyler's wares are currently causing a kerfuffle--with newly-incoming Northwest flight attendants in a tiff over the lack of larger-sized designer uniforms. Their union has filed a complaint about the situation.

The skies appear calmer at Air Tahiti Nui, where Balenciaga designs are now being donned by the Tahitian carrier’s flight and ground crews. According to airline press material, “the fresh new look was inspired by Tahiti’s stunning land and waterscapes, and has a Polynesian spirit about it.”

Flight attendants get to sport two different outfits on each flight. As they are boarding passengers, flight attendants wear serene ocean and lagoon blue uniforms. It's only after take-off that the fashion show truly begins. Air Tahiti Nui’s male flight attendants change into short-sleeved, Tahitian shirts, “convivial with floral accents featuring tropical notes of yellow, orange, fuchsia and red." Meanwhile, female crew members change into one of two dresses. A long tight-fitting dress is called a purotu, which means pretty girl in Tahitian. The mamaru’au, or grandmother, is a long loose-fitting dress. Can you imagine the field day the Northwest flight attendants union would have with those names?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Survey Says...

Blame ancillary fees, perceptions of customer service, or lack of free amenities, but airline passengers in North America aren’t happy. According to J.D. Power and Associates, customer satisfaction with air carriers has fallen to its lowest level in four years. J.D. Power conducted a survey of almost 13,000 passengers from April, 2008 to May, 2009.

Even though the overall picture isn't pretty, some airlines fared better than others. Alaska Airlines won the best "traditional network carrier" sash, beating Continental Airlines by two points. (Traditional network carriers are defined as airlines that operate multi-cabin aircraft and multiple airport hubs). At the other end of the heap, United came in second to last, and US Airways was at the bottom.

Perceptions of low-cost carriers, defined by J.D. Power as "airlines that operate single-cabin aircraft with typically low fares," were, on the whole, higher than those of network carriers. For the fourth year in a row, JetBlue came in first among low-cast carriers and was, in 2009, tops among all North American carriers, according to the survey. Southwest and Canada’s WestJet tied for second among low-cost carriers. Even Frontier and AirTran, the other low-cost carriers in the survey, scored higher than the top network carrier.

Survey respondents gave the lowest marks to cutbacks of in-flight services, increases in fees, and flight crew courtesy (or lack thereof). That said, passengers did appreciate expedited service at the airport (probably due to all of those self-serve kiosks), fewer delays (probably due to fewer planes in the sky), and more on-time arrivals (probably due to schedule creep).

For those of you not familiar with the term schedule creep, here’s the deal. In order to avoid the dreaded "delayed" label (defined as a plane arriving 15 minutes after its scheduled time), airlines are randomly increasing flight times, even though flights aren't actually taking more time. In other words, a JFK to LAX flight that was scheduled for six hours ten years ago is now scheduled for six hours and 20 minutes. By saying the flights take longer than they actually do, the likelihood of arriving "on-time" becomes higher.

In hearings before Congress this spring, the Department of Transportation’s inspector general confirmed that schedule creep leads “to a perceived decline in flight delays, (but) results in an increase in average flight time." According to Calvin Scovel III, during the past ten years, airlines have increased flight times on two-thirds of the 2,500 domestic routes his office examined. Some scheduled flight times increased by as much as 18 percent.

And that, my friends, is a large part of the reason airlines are reporting their best on-time performances in years. Of course, there are other contributing factors to better on-time performance, including fewer planes in the sky and less baggage to transfer from one plane to another. However, according to DOT's Scovel, there is no evidence that his agency's initiatives to curb delays have done anything to contribute to their reduction.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Here's the Scoop

July is National Ice Cream Month. In celebration, here’s the scoop on some of the world’s oddest ice cream flavors. Check them out next time you are on the road and report back.

Venezuela, England and Japan seem to take the cake when it comes to alien ice cream additives. Let’s start at the Heladería Coromoto in Mérida, Venezuela. The shop tops the Guinness List of World Records in the category of most ice cream flavors (nearly 1000 served, albeit not all at the same time). The ice cream makers there have a tendency to throw in everything but the kitchen sink. Ingredients like corn, ham and cheese, tuna, and chile have peppered the menu over the years. But the flavor that gets the biggest rise out of customers is Viagra. While the actual drug is not an ingredient, the little blue scoop does stand proudly erect atop the cone. Plus, it is reported that Viagra ice cream does contain plant aphrodisiacs. Olé.

Next, it’s off to Jolly Olde England, where sheep’s stomach ice cream is served at Harrods in London. Yum, yum. If that doesn‘t curdle your own stomach, travel on to Tokyo’s Sunshine City Shopping Mall, where Ice Cream City has a menu containing flavors such as octopus, snake, horse flesh and cow’s tongue.

In comparison, our "ususual" flavors here in the United States seem rather tame. Sure, bacon, garlic, lavender and beer ice creams aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but they aren't that far off the flavor map. That's because the American ice cream palate isn't all that adventurous. According to the International Dairy Foods Association, the top five flavors in terms of market share in the United States are vanilla (30%); chocolate (10%); butter pecan (4%); strawberry (3.7%); and chocolate chip mint (3.2%).

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Project Runway: Delta, Northwest and the (Not-So-Little) Red Dress

Of all of the challenges facing Delta and Northwest as they merge, who woulda thunk that a flap about a dress could create so much hemming and hawing? But indeed, as Delta is trying to sew up the details of its takeover of Northwest (the acquisition took place in October 2008), fashion on the airport runway is in the spotlight.

You see, the Northwest chapter of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA has filed a grievance with Delta, asking it to provide its hip Richard Tyler-designed red uniforms in sizes up to 28. The little red dresses are currently offered only in sizes 2 to 18, although a Delta spokeswoman notes the airline offers a range of other outfits that go up to 28.

Delta hired Tyler in 2004 to reshape its drab gray employee uniforms. Tyler was quoted as saying his designs would make flight attendants "look sexy and great, but classic as well." The uniforms, including the red dress, debuted in 2006.

Patricia Reller, who handles grievances for the union's executive committee, sums up the complaint. "I think red is an eye-popping color and it's not subtle, and to me by not offering it in a size over 18, Delta is saying, 'We don't want you wearing that if you are over size 18,'" Reller says. "But the job isn't about being sexy. It's about safety." Reller also says the dresses just don't measure up. While vanity sizing (labeling a true size 12 a size 10) is in vogue among designers selling to mass retail, apparently, the opposite is the case for Delta. According to Reller, the dress is "a very small size 18, so that makes the numbers a lot larger." In other words, even a true size 16 could not fit in the 18 dress.

Given how few female flight attendants I have ever seen who weigh more than 180 pounds (a size 18 for a five-foot-one woman, which is the legal height minimum), methinks this is much ado about nothing. Hardly model behavior on the part of Delta's newest flight attendants...

It's truly a good thing Reller wasn’t around when airlines had weight restrictions on female flight attendants (the few male flight attendants flying pre-1990 were allowed “extra baggage”). In the earliest days of commercial flight, stewardesses (as they were then called) had to weigh less than 115 pounds. Apropos of nothing, they also had to be single. Even though they were allowed a little more heft through the years, the scales of justice were only tipped in favor of size 10-plus flight attendants in the 1990s (even though the equally-loathsome marriage bans had ended way back in the 1960s).

One footnote: While Northwest’s prime beef is with the dress, it’s not their sole complaint. The flight attendants are also upset with Delta’s requirement that flight attendants who wear orthopedic shoes must wear slacks instead of a skirt or dress. Furthermore, those who want to wear said shoes must obtain a doctor’s note.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Standing Room Only

Ryanair, the no-frills European airline that was the first to introduce fees for everything from luggage check-in to telephone reservations to using credit or debit cards to pay for a ticket, is now talking with Boeing about designing aircraft with standing room. This brilliant move would allow Ryanair to squeeze in more passengers per flight.

The idea would see standing passengers strapped to stools during take-off and landing, allowing Ryanair to fly up to 50 per cent more travelers per flight. Spring Airlines, which calls itself China's first low-cost airline, is also considering this tactic.

Any such move would need approval from local aviation authorities. Here in the United States, regulations would not allow standing room. "The regulations ... are very specific, said Les Dorr, spokesman for the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration. "Everybody above the age of 2 has to have a seat or a berth."

Even if this particular idea doesn't end up passing the smell test, Ryanair continues spewing out unique ways to increase revenue. For example, CEO Michael O'Leary recently has suggested that #1, he might start charging more for overweight passengers or #2, he might make people pay to use the toilet. Given that the latter idea would heavily undercut in-flight beverage sales, it appears highly likely that the revenue-savvy O'Leary was merely tossing out #2 as a publicity stunt.

Still, you can't poo-poo everything O'Leary says. After all, he said passengers would start paying for online check-in in 2009, and voila, in May, it came to pass. Ryanair now charges five pounds for customers to check in online. Of course, since Ryanair no longer has check-in desks at airports, that basically means all passengers have to add five pounds to the price of their tickets. For passengers who check in online but forget to print a boarding pass...tack on another 40 pounds for getting one at the airport.

For those of you not familiar with Ryanair, it's no fly-by-night operation. The airline was established in Ireland in 1985 and has become one of Europe's largest carriers. Flying to nearly 150 airports, Ryanair claims to be “twice the size of British Airways”, having flown 5.8 million passengers in June, compared to BA’s 2.9 million travelers over the same period. The point-to-point carrier sells its seats for next to nothing, but makes up for its low ticket prices, as you might have guessed from reading this post, by figuring out how to charge ancillary fees for everything from A to W.C.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Take a Vacation!

Just because July 4th has come and gone doesn't mean it's too late to get a deal on a summer vacation. For the first time in a long time, this year, when it comes to vacation planning, to the latecomer will go the spoils in terms of deals and discounts.

The most important thing is to choose your destination wisely. Some places are bigger bargains than others.

--Go where summer is the off-season. Sure, places like Phoenix and Las Vegas are scorching hot during the summer. And sure, the Caribbean is prone to hurricanes. But if you are ready to brave the weather, you will find yourself staying in plush surroundings for up to 50 percent off (more if you are going to Las Vegas). Plus, hurricanes are no sure thing and pools and air conditioning offer respite from desert rays.

--Go where tourism is king....and the king is AWOL. Tops in this category is Mexico. Thanks to all of the bad spring publicity about the swine flu, which never hit Mexico's resort areas, no one booked summer trips to Mazatlan, Cancun, and Acapulco.
Empty rooms abounding, Mexico is hot to attract tourists this summer with bargain packages and cheap airfares. Hawaii is another place where you'll find some discounting going on--with hotels throwing in free nights, etc.

--Go where the dollar is strong. Yes, you will still have to pay the airfare (this is where those frequent flyer points that have been accumulating come in handy), but once you get to places like Iceland, Australia, or England, you'll find the dollar resembling a post-workout Charles Atlas. Last summer at this time, $1 US bought 77 Icelandic krona. Now, it buys 127 krona. Last summer at this time, $1 US bought $1.03 Australian. Now it buys $1.25. Finally, last summer at this time, $1 US bought half a British pound (that's why all those Brits were flocking to New York and shopping last summer--remember?). Now, the dollar buys .61 pounds, a 20% increase.

--Check the web site of the destination you are planning to visit for special deals, packages and discounts. Oftentimes, a city's visitor bureau will offer a single admission pass to all area attractions or will provide a discounted public transportation pass for out-of-towners.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Laura Talks Travel in the Twin Cities and NYC

Happy July 4th weekend, everyone. For a special holiday treat, just cut and paste http://abcnews.go.com/abcnewsnow/ in your browser and then type Laura Powell in ABC's search box. Click on July 4th Getaways and let the fireworks begin!

For double your pleasure, check out my visit to the Twin Cities. Go to http://www.showcaseminnesota.com/and look for the June 25th travel segment (or type Laura Travel in the search box). Watch with a magnifying glass and see if you can spot the false eyelashes.

Prince Philip Redux

I know this has nothing to do with travel, but I simply can't contain myself. This post, you see, follows up on my ditty from June 19 about a visit to Buckingham Palace to meet Prince Philip. In said post, I implied that the poor prince just doesn't get any respect.

Well, watching Jeopardy last night once again proved my point. You see, I'm a channel-flipper of the highest degree. I rank up there with any alpha male on that score, although I am quite dainty and lady-like (as you can tell from my column about the meeting with Prince Philip). At any rate, I flipped over to Jeopardy in time for the final round. The topic was Royalty and the "answer" went something like this: "This person, also known as the Baron of Greenwich, shares a great-great-great-grandmother, namely Queen Victoria, with his wife." All thoughts about royal inbreeding aside, I quickly buzzed in with "Prince Philip" and, by golly, I knew I was right. Furthermore, I thought this one was a no-brainer that all of the contestants would ace.

But alas, two of the contestants were downright wrong, answering "Prince Charles" (read the clue carefully, man). And even the one who got Prince Philip right, and went on to gain the Jeopardy throne, spelled his name "Phillip." Fortunately, Alex Trebek doesn't penalize you for spelling, although he's a stickler for punctuation (and pronunciation--don't you love how Alex is always Mr. Know-It-All when it comes to saying things correctly---as if he doesn't have producers whispering in his ears all of the time with the proper patois).

But I digress. Who's with me for starting a Prince Philip Phan Club? The poor guy needs a little PR, don't you think?

Friday, June 26, 2009

From the Top of the Trump

From Buckingham Palace to a penthouse at the Trump International Hotel & Tower in Chicago...how's that for living the lifestyle of the rich and famous while being poor and relatively unknown?

This is an interesting hotel, quite different, in many ways, from other luxury properties I have visited. The Trump Chicago is two hotels in one. In addition to "basic" rooms and suites, the hotel features a spa floor. The 53 spa rooms come complete with healthy mini-bar items, in-room weights, yoga equipment, and Zen art and music.

A few notes of interest: Room service features a menu for kids, dogs, and cats (the menu for kids differs from the one for critters, FYI). The pet menu includes bottled water from Italy. Bella. Bottled waters from Tasmania, Wales and Argentina are available for humans (as, I am gathering, is the Italian brand for canines--the dog-worthy water was what I was provided as an in-room welcome amenity. Woof). The other H2O on offer is the Trump brand, which, as far as I can ascertain, is likely bottled in New Jersey.

The technologically-challenged (I include myself in that category) may have some initial challenges figuring out light switches, drape openers, and coffee makers. But give it a day or two and it will all make sense.

The elevators are slow as molasses. I waited 10 minutes to get an elevator from the spa floor (14) up to the penthouse floor (27). Said elevator never came. I eventually had to go down to go up.

Speaking of molasses, the food and beverage outlets in the hotel are stunning. A new outside terrace area serves up drinks and amazing views of Chicago. Sixteen, the property's restaurant, is one of the loveliest hotel dining spaces I've seen. An nineteen-foot-high chandelier, complete with 20,000 hand-carved Swarovski crystals, is the centerpiece of the main dining room, which also features 30-foot-high ceilings and curved walls paneled with Kazinga wood from West Africa.

For information on room rates and other amenities, click here.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Obamas Aren't the Only Americans Who Get to Meet the Royals....

...although, admittedly, I just got to meet Prince Philip and not QEII or any of the offspring. Still, it was quite an experience to visit Buckingham Palace and give my birthday regards to the Duke of Edinburgh.

Please enjoy a narrative of the event, as written by my alter ego Jane Air. For more Jane Air columns, click here.

Jane Visits Buckingham Palace

Your faithful correspondent is reporting from London, her first time on British soil in 20 years! And what did Jane do on her first day back in jolly old England? Why, she went to Buckingham Palace, of course.

It started with a VIP guided tour of the Queen's state rooms, which contain thrones, art and other royal booty. Speaking of royal booty, after the tour, it was off to a reception room to meet a majesty. The royal du jour was Prince Philip (hereafter referred to as PP), the husband of QEII (the Queen, not the ship). Prior to the encounter, the group was given all sorts of etiquette tips. "Address him as Your Royal Highness first, then sir thereafter; bowing is not necessary" yadda, yadda, yadda. But Jane only learned of a few other etiquette rules after experiencing a royal hiccup. Now, mind you, it was only Prince Philip, not the Queen (poor PP, the Rodney Dangerfield of the royal family). And Jane certainly did not pull a Michelle Obama, that is, touching a royal inappropriately (although in Jane's HO, it is extremely difficult for MO to do anything inappropriately). Nevertheless, Jane's unknowing faux pas did provoke a response in the form of a rather bushy royal eyebrow lift (PP could use a little facial man-scaping).

Jane is still a bit flummoxed about the exact nature of her faux pas. Jane will provide a list of possibilities and you can opt for the one you believe to be royally wince-worthy.

It all started when Jane was told it was Prince Philip's 88th birthday. Jane, being the first in her group to shake his hand, immediately opened with "Happy Birthday, Your Royal Highness." Veddy British, veddy proper, or so Jane thought. Her group members, many of whom were quaking in their boots at the prospect of meeting royalty, were quite awed by the rather nonchalant manner with which Jane addressed the prince (imagine "Your Royal Highness" replaced with "dude " and you can conjure the tone). But all her lovely greeting garnered from said prince was that royal eyebrow.

Now, Jane was both bemused and confused by this reaction. How could anyone, particularly a prince, not be taken with Jane and her friendly nature? But later, three possible breaches of etiquette were pointed out, any of which, Jane supposes, might have aroused the royal eyebrow.

#1: The guide asked, after the meeting with the prince, whether anyone had wished him "Happy Birthday." The group gleefully pointed to Jane. A furrow came across the guide's brow (the British brow is quite expressive). He then expounded that the prince didn't like to be reminded that it was his birthday. Upon reflection, Jane believes that perhaps PP is a bit bitter that, while the Queen's actual birthday is in April, it is officially celebrated around the time of his own special day. So, on his real June birthday, all PP gets is a 41-gun salute, while QEII, for her fake June birthday, gets a big old parade.

#2 Someone, in telling of another meeting with a crowned one, pointed out that royals must always speak first in an interaction with a commoner. Putting aside the fact that Jane is no commoner, she would have let PP speak first, if someone had informed her of the rule. But the fact is, Jane blurted out "HB, YRH" before poor Philip could even open his mouth. Jane can imagine that PP, who has played second fiddle to a woman his entire adult life, might have been a bit bothered that he didn't get in the first word in this particular male-female scenario.

#3 As previously mentioned, colleagues were quite impressed with the breezy informality Jane employed whilst saying, "HB, YRH" with a dangling "dude" implied. Thus, Jane pondered that perhaps her tone was the brow-raiser. One imagines PP is not often greeted with a chirpy American casualness, particularly by one as lovely and fashionably-dressed as Jane.

Whether Jane's faux pas was actually #1, #2, or #3 (please feel free to vote), she supposes that there is now no chance that PP will set her up on a blind date with Prince Andrew (remember him?). And that is a royal shame.

Incidentally, dear readers, while you won't meet a royal, you too can visit Buckingham Palace. However, you can only do so if you come to London between 26 July and 30 September. While the Queen and Prince Philip are frolicking at Balmoral Castle in Scotland, commoners are allowed to take self-guided tours at their London abode. Make reservations at www.royalcollection.org.uk.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

London Calling: Part I

Given a dollar-to-pound exchange rate boost of 25% over last year, many of you may be heading to England this summer. If so, here are a few words of advice about getting from the airport into central London.

For those flying into Gatwick, Gatwick Express trains take 30 minutes to Victoria Station. One way tickets start at 16.9 pounds. If you are flying into Heathrow, there are several inexpensive and traffic-free options for getting into London. The Heathrow Express train takes about 20 minutes door to door (the other door being at Paddington Station). Tickets start at 16.5 pounds one way (free with many rail passes). A round-trip economy ticket is 32 pounds. London Underground's Piccadilly Line also runs into London from Heathrow. The ride takes about an hour into central London. Prices start at four pounds. You can select any Piccadilly Line station to enter and exit the system.

Here's the rub. If you are traveling with heavy luggage, public transportation can be tricky. For example, The Heathrow Express is fine if you are starting at the airport and ending at Paddington. But if you plan to get onto the Tube at Paddington, be aware that there are steps, many steps...and no elevators (remember, the London Underground dates back to 1863). Similarly, some of the stops along the Piccadilly Line are elevator-free. When pondering what stops to use, look at the tube map and note which stations are accessible. Those stations will come equipped with escalators and elevators.

Otherwise, if like me, you end up winding your way through a steps-only station (namely Paddington), you may have to rely on the kindness of strangers for help. Fortunately, Londoners are quite polite and more than happy to help, especially if you are a woman who appears to be struggling with heavy lifting. And one other note on how sexism can sometimes be a good thing--gentlemen actually give up their seats to ladies on the Tube. Imagine that happening in New York or DC!

Friday, June 12, 2009


Once again, apologies for the paucity of recent blog entries. I've been on a whirlwind visit to England, my first time in the country since graduate school some 20 years ago. I will be writing extensively about my tea with Prince Philip at Buckingham Palace (really) and other matters soon. But meantime, a few brief observations--

Much of the trip was spent in Southwest England, an area unknown to many Americans, but well worth visiting. Cornwall and Devon are filled with scenery, yummy food, and American history. After all, the pilgrims did set out from these parts. As we all know (?), Plymouth Rock named after Plymouth, England, located in Devon.

The cathedral town of Exeter was one of the highlights. But let me warn you, if you are staying at The Abode Hotel (formerly the Royal Clarence Hotel), beware of a room with a view. When I checked in, my original room, overlooking an alley, was basking in the noise of a pub below. I asked to change abodes, and to my initial delight, I received a room with a view of the cathedral. Stunning. But the thing about cathedrals--they have towers with bells that ring every hour. That's every hour, morning, noon, and NIGHT. So, while the daytime view was lovely, nighttime meant a wake-up call every hour...at least until I fell into a deep slumber between the hours of 3 AM and 6 AM. Ding dong.

More to come....

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The President and I Jet Off From Dulles--I'm Delayed, He's Not

Again, these television appearances around the country are making it challenging to blog. But just so you know that even travel experts get delayed, yesterday I experienced a lovely five-hour tarmac situation (with a 40-minute break back at the airport), thanks to weather somewhere far in the distance, a need for refueling, and one Mr. Barack Obama. You see, our President decided to fly out of Dulles on his way to Egypt and as a result, all normal traffic was put in a holding pattern. I will give Barack a ba-reak, as he was jetting off in the effort to solve the Middle East crisis, terrorism, and other troubles all in one fell swoop....slightly more important than my television appearance in Jacksonville. Speaking of which, that appearance is not seen below. Instead, a segment I did earlier in the day before leaving DC is available here for your viewing pleasure.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

On the Road

Apologies for the paucity of blog entries during the past couple of weeks. I've been on the road, appearing on Top 20 TV stations in the Southwest and the Midwest. For a taste of what I've been up to, visit www.kmov.com/video/?z=y&nvid=363557.

Meantime, for a bit of reading material, visit my travel humor column at http://www.wyndhamworldwide.com/women_on_their_way/jane-air/

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Summer Travel Outlook 2009

The recession will definitely be taking a toll on summer vacationers...or at least those traveling by air. The Air Transport Association of America expects seven percent fewer passengers will be taking to the skies over the U.S. of A. from the beginning of June through the end of August. That's 150,000 fewer flyers per day, and a total of 14 million less than summer 2008. And last summer was no great shakes in itself. The ATA, the airline industry trade group, points out that traffic last summer was off 3.6 percent from the record-setting year of 2007.

Even though fewer people will be flying, that doesn't mean planes will be less crowded. During the past year, airlines have cut back flights or traded down to smaller planes in order to better match diminishing demand.

Internationally, the forecast is for six percent fewer fliers, for a total of only 24 million overseas jet-setters. There will be 32 fewer flights a day from the United States to Europe, the most popular continent for those from this side of the pond.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum XII

Well, they may not be making a profit on ticket sales, but U.S. airlines are certainly raking in the dough thanks to ancillary fees initiated in 2008. The U.S. Department of Transportation reports that the U.S. airline industry made $1.15 billion from baggage fees last year. Considering that baggage fees were only in effect for part of the year (major airlines started charging for a second checked bag in May, while American started the trend of charging for the first bag in June), and you can estimate that 2009 income from baggage fees may well double or triple.

According to the DOT, American Airlines made the most in baggage fees last year. AA made $278 million, while US Airways picked up $187 million. Delta rolled in $177 million, United made $133 million, and Northwest totaled $121 million.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Where to Get Information on International Travel Conditions

The spread of swine flu is the latest crisis to put travelers into panic mode. SARS, avian flu, terrorism, war, and tsunamis are among the events that have made the list in the past. If you are planning an international trip, there are several online resources that can help you determine if threats are serious enough to consider postponing your travel.

Your first stop for travel advice should be http://travel.state.gov (skip the www). Operated by the United States Department of State, this site contains a full list of Travel Alerts and Travel Warnings on a country-by-country basis. Travel Alerts are issued to disseminate information about short-term conditions, generally within a particular country, that pose imminent risks to the security of U.S. citizens. Natural disasters, terrorist attacks, coups, anniversaries of terrorist events, election-related demonstrations, and high-profile events such as international financial conferences are examples of conditions that might generate a Travel Alert. Swine flu is another such condition.

Travel Warnings are issued to describe long-term, protracted conditions that make a country dangerous or unstable. A Travel Warning is also issued when the U.S. Government's ability to assist American citizens is constrained due to the closure of an embassy or consulate. Among the countries currently on the list are Yemen, Pakistan, and Sudan, which are not exactly tourism hotspots.

Some have suggested that State's advice can be politically motivated. The criticism is that State sometimes cuts some slack when it comes to America's allies.

So, for a more complete picture, particularly when it comes to alerts that have political circumstances attached to them, you might want to check out a few "competing" sites. Canada's view of the world can be found at www.voyages.gc.ca/countries_pays/menu-eng-asp. The Australian government’s travel advisory service can be found at www.smarttraveller.gov.au. For more English language travel advice, the United Kingdom has www.fco.gov.uk/en/travelling-and-living-overseas.

However, do remember that at times there may be threats that apply specifically to Americans. Such potential perils may only be listed at http://travel.state.gov. So do the appropriate homework.

Specifically for international health information, both The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization are fine resources. At www.cdc.gov/travel, there is health information for more than 200 countries, including current outbreaks, necessary vaccines, suggested medications to bring along, and other health and safety tips. The World Health Organization also provides solid information for travelers at www.who.int/ith/en/.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Health Alerts

Let me start with a follow-up to yesterday’s post by saying I told you so. I mentioned with great certainty that there would be an outcry against the statement made by the European Union’s health commissioner against travel to the U.S. Well, everyone from the president to the head of the Centers for Disease Control to the chairmen of various travel industry associations have indeed expressed their displeasure with the comments.

In the meantime, Androulla Vassiliou, the health commissioner in question, did back-pedal a bit from her initial remarks. She pointed out that she was expressing her own opinion and that the European Union did not issue a formal travel advisory. Additionally, the EU health commissioner can only make recommendations to the 27 member countries. The countries themselves issue their own travel advisories and warnings. That said, Vassiliou noted, “Personally, I would try to avoid nonessential travel to the areas that are reported to be in the center of the cluster in order to minimize the personal risk and to reduce the potential risk to spread the infection to other people." Among the places on that list are Mexico City and those U.S. states where there have been outbreaks of swine flu.

Meanwhile, the following travel alert has been issued by the U.S. State Department:

The Department of State alerts U.S. citizens of the health risks of travel to Mexico at this time due to an outbreak of H1N1 “swine flu.” The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued an April 27 notice recommending that American citizens avoid all nonessential travel to Mexico at this time. CDC’s notice also suggests precautions that travelers and U.S. citizen residents in Mexico can take to reduce their risk of infection while in Mexico. CDC provides recommendations for those who must travel to an area that has reported cases of swine flu, and recommends measures to take following return from an area that has reported cases of swine flu. The complete CDC notice can be found at the following link: http://www.cdc.gov/travel. Please check this site frequently for updates. This Travel Alert expires on July 27, 2009.

Monday, April 27, 2009

EU Advises Against Travel to the US

In a case of what's good for the goose is good for the gander, the European Union has announced a travel advisory against visits to the United States.

Today, the EU health commissioner urged Europeans to postpone nonessential travel to the United States and to Mexico due to the swine flu outbreak. The move is sure to raise some hackles among those in the U.S. travel industry, one that is already suffering a huge decline from the European market thanks to unfavorable exchange rates and the worldwide economic crisis.

The United States State Department frequently issues travel advisories or warnings (at http://travel.state.gov) that are questioned by the countries affected. Sometimes the argument is that an advisory is political in nature, while at other times foreign governments argue the warnings are unneccessary, or are issued about matters that are confined to a small region. Methinks that the EU, by lumping the United States in with Mexico, is going to get a complaint or two from this side of the pond.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum XI

US Airways will begin charging an extra five dollars a bag for passengers who don’t go on-line to check-in and prepay for checked luggage. The fee will be in addition to the $15 for the first checked bag and $25 for the second that US Airways already charges. The extra per bag fee will be assessed to passengers who pay to check their bags at the airport beginning July 9.

Perhaps the new fee is being put into place to make up for the revenue lost from US Airways’ ill-advised foray into charging for non-alcoholic beverages. On March 1, the airline dropped its unpopular two dollar charge for soft drinks and one dollar charge for coffee and tea. As no other airline had copied the idea, US Airways realized that the fees had become a competitive disadvantage.

Not so incidentally, last week, the carrier posted a first-quarter net loss of $103 million, or 90 cents a share.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Hotel Rates Plummeting in the Big Apple

New York may still be the most expensive place in the country to stay overnight, but it's getting cheaper. Hotel prices in the Big Apple have been consistently dropping for the last six months. According to PKF Consulting, average room rates in Manhattan dropped 11.5 percent in January from the year before, while occupancy for the same month was down 16 percent. Anecdotal evidence suggests rates and occupancy are down for February and March as well.

With business travel slowing, international visitors staying away, and 38 new properties opening in Manhattan this year, the downward spiral is likely to continue.

Lodging Development Group's 2009 Manhattan Lodging Development Report notes that there are "17 properties comprising 3,074 rooms that are now in permitting or the final states of entitlement." This new supply is in addition to the 12 properties with 1,732 rooms that came on the market in 2008. Interestingly, the bulk of those hotels are midprice and limited-service brands like Hampton Inns & Suites, Four Points by Sheraton, and Hilton Garden Inn.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Rental Rants

If you plan to rent a car during your next trip, there are certain cities where renting off-airport will save you big bucks. That's because, in addition to federal and state sales taxes, many municipal governments also charge fees at airport car rental outlets to fund local development projects like stadiums or convention centers. And most airports charge rental agencies a concession fee, which is then passed along to the consumer.

According to the National Business Travel Association, the places where airport taxes and fees add the most to the car rental bill are Cleveland, Dallas and Phoenix. Cleveland’s airport charges add up to 27.08%. In Dallas, the number is 24.77%, while in Phoenix, it's 24.42%. Chicago, at 23.59%, and Charlotte, at 21.17% round out the top five. In terms of the airports where fees are lowest, St. Louis comes out on top at 7.83%. Detroit is second lowest at 8%, while Honolulu is third at 8.08%. Both Fort Lauderdale and Fort Myers in Florida come in fourth, at 9.17%.

So what's a consumer to do? Consider renting elsewhere, particularly if you are in town for several days. Take a shuttle, public transportation, or a taxi to your hotel and then rent a car from a central location. Some hotels actually have car rental agencies located in the lobby. If your hotel is not convenient to a rental outlet, consider working with Enterprise or other companies that are willing to pick you up and drive you to their rental offices for free.

If you are only in town for a day or two, do weigh the inconvenience, the extra time, and the cost of additional transportation to get to another location against the cost of the ancillary rental fees charged at the airport.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum VIII

A new year, a new fee. US Airways, the only airline that serves up a fee with its soft drinks, is now charging $7 for a blanket and a pillow. Yes, US Airways has managed to become the only U.S. carrier to charge for the two things that miff passengers the most--soft drinks and blankets. Now it should be noted that, among the country's major carriers, JetBlue is also charging for blankets and pillows. But at least JetBlue serves its soft drinks for free. Plus, that airline gives its passengers access to a free in-flight satellite television system.

I wonder if it's any coincidence that US Airways quietly announced the new fee just days before its heroic Flight 1549 crew was to make its victory lap around the media. After all, what grinch is going to say bad things about the airline that is providing us with the feel-good story of the year? Still, despite having a CEO who keeps insisting that passengers just love these fees, I can't help feeling that US Airways is sullying its reputation by constantly being at the forefront of the in-flight fee fiesta.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Laura Does The LA Times

With Valentine's Day coming up, LA Times reporter Hugo Martin called to get my thoughts on romantic places to propose. See the results at http://travel.latimes.com/articles/la-trw-propose5-2009feb05.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

That's Not the Spirit

Just when you think flight attendants might be getting a little respect, thanks to the miraculous US Airways incident, along comes Spirit Airlines with another one of its brilliant advertising concepts.

You see, the low-cost carrier, in its continuing quest to add revenue any which way it can, has a plan to bring ad revenue in through placing Bud Light logos on flight attendant uniforms.

Yes, the company that brought you "Double D" deals and “The Return of the MILF Sale” (classy, guys) is considering turning its flight attendants into walking billboards. The idea is to have flight attendants advertise alcohol on their aprons during the beverage service. Nice.

"Turning flight attendants into walking billboards is unacceptable," Deborah Crowley, president of Spirit's flight attendants union chapter, said in a statement. "The proposed aprons diminish the primary and federally mandated role of flight attendants as safety professionals." Patricia Friend, president of the U.S. Association of Flight Attendants, adds, "I feel as though I have entered a time warp and am reliving the battles for respect and justice for women that we fought for 40 years ago.” Referring to the DD (Double Discounts) and MILF (Many Islands, Low Fares) promotions, Friend says the not-so-subtle innuendoes are demeaning to all of America's professional flight attendants. Furthermore, she says, "They offend not just the female population of this country, but the male members of humanity who admire and respect women."

Believe you me, I’m not one to defend the spirit of said advertising methods, but maybe, more than being sexist, the airline is just an advertising whore. After all, Spirit leads the pack in putting ads everywhere on the plane, from overhead bins to tray tables to window panels. Still, I would feel a little better if the airline tamped down on tacky and chauvinistic tactics not seen since the days of National Airlines' "Fly Me" campaign in the early 1970s. Message for Spirit--National is no longer in business. Bone up on that.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Dances With Turkey

We’ve all heard about big Hollywood stars who take their talents and notoriety overseas to film commercials. They figure they can sell out abroad while protecting their images stateside. Kevin Costner, actor and Academy Award-winning director of Dances with Wolves, is the most recent to take the bait. According to a news report, Costner is in Turkey this month to take part in filming a commercial for Turkish Airlines.

I can’t quite figure out why Costner would be the ideal spokesperson for Turkish Airlines. After all, he’s somewhat of a has-been, kind of a Bull Durham of the acting set. But the airline’s executive board chairman says Costner was chosen because “he was a very good actor and that he was very famous and handsome.” I wonder if the past tense of "is" was used intentionally in that quote. Probably not...but if so, IMHO, it’s apt.

According to the article, Costner has no way out of explaining that he hasn’t actually flown on the airline. He cites his connection to Turkey thusly: "I started playing music three years ago. Turkey was the first country that invited me and my music to come. I was very surprised, I had never thought of coming. This was a very important step in my life. That is why I have accepted this commercial proposal.” Germans love David Hasselhoff’s music; Turks love Costner‘s. Go figure. Perhaps European fans of Tin Cup have tin ears.

If you do start flying on Turkish Airlines this year (which is a member of the Star Alliance), you may actually see Costner on board. He was presented with an Elite Plus card, given to Turkish Airlines’ best customers. Considering Costner’s never flown on one flight, the club can’t be all that elite, can it?