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Friday, September 12, 2008

Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum: Part VI

United Airlines has a very special present for its passengers, right in time for the holiday travel season. Just when people are most likely to be loaded down with baggage, the airline is doubling its fee for checking a second bag. The $50 one-way charge kicks in November 10. The fee applies to coach passengers traveling within the U.S. or to Canada, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Passengers who purchased tickets prior to September 15 may be exempt from the charge.

But here's some good news for United customers. The airline has decided that feeding the masses is a good idea after all. The airline has backed off of its much-criticized plan to stop serving free meals for transatlantic coach passengers. But United continues to tinker with its onboard menu. Starting October 1, business class customers flying on any of the airline's domestic routes with three-cabin service will find there's no longer a free hot meal. Instead, business class customers will be treated with a tasty box lunch. Upgrading to a hot meal, even for a price, will not be an option. As for those in the back of the bus, cold box lunches will be available only for those willing to pay cold cash.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Read Me

Greetings one and all. It's back to school time. For me, it's back in print time.

Check out my special Going Green section in The Washington Post on September 3. It's filled with interesting eco-information and all sorts of ways you can save money on energy bills while reducing your carbon footprint.

In the October issue of National Geographic Traveler, look for my brief on Albania.

And if you are in the mood for a chuckle, check out the Jane Air archives at www.wyndhamworldwide.com/women_on-their_way/jane-air/archives. The most recent post deals with how hotel guests can green their stay. Sense a theme here?

Friday, August 29, 2008

Term Limits

Thank goodness summer vacation is over. Maybe it means that I won't have to endlessly hear two of the most obnoxious marketing terms the travel industry has ever come up with. The two terms that have me vocabularily vexed are "stay-cation" and "girlfriend getaways." IMHO, stay-cation is simply an oxymoron of the most annoying sort, while girlfriend getaways just sounds so darn condescending.

Hear me out. Let's start with girlfriend getaways. Admittedly, sometimes girlfriends do travel together. In fact, they do so in far greater numbers than male friends. There is, by the way, a term for the latter as well. It is man-cations. Somehow, that term hasn't caught on like its female equivalent, perhaps because it sounds too much like man-scaping, and well, much as metrosexuals may partake in said ritual, it's unlikely they enjoy it. Equating vacationing with getting a chest wax--well, I can understand why my male friends haven't bought into the man-cation concept.

But I digress. I can't exactly put my well-manicured finger on it, but girlfriend getaways just irks me. Perhaps it's because, even though some women do refer to their gal pals as "girlfriends," for the travel industry to refer to female friends as such sounds demeaning. After all, we are not girls. We are women, hear us roar. (Even the recently-evolved Chris Matthews would agree. When Pat Buchanan was rambling on about what a great "gal" and "girl" Sarah Palin was, the verbose Hardball host interrupted to remind Pat that the term for a 44-year-old female was "woman"). But I digress. The point is, women have money to spend, grown-up thoughts in our mind (even as we seek fun vacation destinations), and, by golly, we deserve to be treated with respect. The industry doesn't call vacations for men "boyfriend getaways" (can you imagine?) or "boy-cations." Why are women getting the diminutive treatment?

Stay-cation, on the other hand, is simply, as previously noted, an oxymoron. One goes on vacation to get away from the stresses of everyday life. Yes, one can hang out at home and have fun. But staying at home is not a vacation. Vacation = to vacate, no? Indeed, a vacation is the chance to leave behind the hum-drum of daily existence. If you are surrounded by your stuff, if your regular grocery store and dry cleaner and bank are all within striking distance, if your home office is footsteps away, how can you truly get into the vacation mindset? After all, if you are at home, there's always an errand to be run, a desk to be dusted, a meal to cook, an e-mail to send.

So, girlfriends and all others, no stay-cations for you this year. And if your fall vacation plans do include going away with your buddies, please boycott the term "girlfriend getaways." It's just not womanly.

*The original version of this post can be found at www.wyndhamworldwide.com/women_on_their_way.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Apropos of Nothing But Skinny Politicians

The Wall Street Journal recently graced its front page with an article asking if Senator Barack Obama is too skinny to be president. Actually, the premise was that Joe and Jody American, who are likely to be out of shape or hefty (the article notes a statistic that 66% of the voting-age population is overweight), are unlikely to vote for a beanpole. Anecdotal evidence might suggest, absurd as it may seem, that the article isn't far off the mark. After all, the last rail-thin dude to be elected president was one Abraham Lincoln, circa 1860.

But I wonder what would happen if the politician running to be leader of the pack were a woman? Would tall and skinny, the hallmark of success in Hollywood, work? Well, judging from the bulk of the females who are world leaders these days, when it comes to politics, there is not a gender double-standard when it comes to weight. Tall and skinny--definitely not in vogue among men or women politicians.

Being in vogue when it comes to fashion is also not stylish among female politicians. Look at Germany's Angela Merkel, who, when it comes to fashion, could be dubbed Fraulein Frumpy. IMHO, even though they've been made over, Hillary Clinton and Condolezza Rice lack in sartorial splendor. The president of Finland, Tarja Halonen, is best known in this country for being the doppelganger of Conan O'Brien, complete with a similar hair-do. Not the stuff of high fashion.

recently published a piece about stylish women in politics. Other than a few Italian and French (naturally) parliamentary ministers, the writer was hard-pressed to find chic politicians. He ended up citing French First Lady Carla Bruni Sarkozy, who is Italian by birth and a supermodel by trade. So of course she's stylish. But she's not a politician. She's just married to one. And certainly, there is no shortage when it comes to fashionable first ladies. Look at Jordan, where Queen Rania follows in the fashionable footsteps of her predecessor, Queen Noor. The wife of Russian president Dmitry Medvedev is heavily involved in fashion, promoting Russian designers around the world. Potential first ladies Cindy McCain and Michelle Obama are both striking women.

Why is it that being stylish and/or tall and skinny is fine for a first lady, but is anathema for a politician? Would it be impossible for a modelesque woman to become a successful politician? Underneath it all, do we believe that someone who can do style surely must lack substance? Please weigh in with your thoughts.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

What's Up in Albania

If you are interested in reading about how tourism is developing in Albania, please check out my article at National Geographic Traveler's blog. The address is www.intelligenttravel.typepad.com. The entry was posted July 16, 2008.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Boarding Pass or Billboard?

Can a boarding pass be a billboard? Apparently, it is so, according to cash-starved airline executives. You have gotta love the creative twists and turns airline executives are taking as they scheme up new ways to make money. The latest twist in the revenue ramp-up is the addition of ads on the boarding passes that passengers print up at home. That's right--valuable printer ink will now get consumed publishing advertising for the airlines.

Of course, the airlines would have us believe that new policy is merely a service for passengers. For the boarding pass that's printed will be highlighted with targeted ads, coupons, and shopping and dining recommendations based on where passengers are going. People can opt out of printing the ads. On the other hand, they can also choose to provide the participating airlines (Continental, Delta, Northwest, United and US Airways) with a host of information in order to get ads that are specially personalized. Of course, this option is also likely to get people bombarded with unwelcome e-mail blasts as well.

The five participating airlines have minority stakes in Sojern, the Nebraska-based start-up that's behind this venture. While revenues will be split among the concerned parties, the potential size of the purse is unknown. Sojern figures 40 percent of 700 million annual flight check-ins are conducted online, leading to 280 million blank billboards. Methinks Sojern overestimates that percentage, and neglects to take into account those who will opt out of the game. Time will tell if this commercial scheme goes the way of advertising on airsickness bags.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Mr. Bill: Priceless

Apropos of nothing, kudos to MasterCard for bringing back Mr. Bill. Oh no, I'm showing my age, but Mr. Bill was one of my favorite Saturday Night Live bits way back when. For those who don't remember Mr. Bill, he was a little clay figure who was regularly subjected to humiliation, torture and angst at the hands of Mr. Hand. As he gamely endured his trials and tribulations, he would wail "Oh, noooooooooooo" in falsetto exclamation.

It's interesting that MasterCard has chosen to revive Mr. Bill for this summer's version of its "Priceless" ad campaign. After all, Mr. Bill's catchphrase seems to be a mantra for this year of economic woes. What current day consumer can't relate when Mr. Bill is scalded by hot coffee ("coffee-$2")*; hit by a briefcase ("briefcase-$120); and sent out an office window to find himself splat on a windshield of a city bus. Just as Mr. Bill comments, "Hey, the bus is right on schedule," the windshield wipers go into gear. Oh, noooo. Still, for Mr. Bill, what's priceless is making it through the day.

I wonder if MasterCard first pondered a Mr. Bill scenario where he's going to take a flight. After all, doesn't every airline traveler feel a bit like Mr. Bill these days, with the airlines playing the role of Mr. Hand? Baggage check--$25. Fuel surcharge--$50. Bottled water on the plane--$2. Finally, getting to your destination with your sanity intact--priceless.

To watch this priceless ad, go to www.youtube.com/watch?v=BxMqDxtjw1U

*Two dollars? Clearly, Mr. Hand is not getting his caffeine fix at Starbucks.