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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Plane Sense

The news has leaked--Japan's All Nippon Airways (ANA) is outfitting its planes with women-only lavatories. According to the airline, it's what women want. A recent airline survey showed that a female-only W.C. was the second-most requested onboard amenity, after dessert. Dessert?

Why do women want their own place to, ahem, wash? An ANA spokesperson says the reason is, "Many women said that they feel uncomfortable taking their time in the lavatory knowing that a male is waiting just behind them in line." While I am not privy to Japanese culture, methinkst that answer is plumb crazy. Anyone who has taken a long-distance flight is well aware of the cumulative mess men tend to make in the commode. However, the ANA spokesperson took pains to point out that female-only lavs are not being introduced due to complaints about men soiling the bathroom, although she did admit that Japanese women do not like it when men leave the seat up.

The fine print: Most international flights will sport just one female-only lavatory and men will be allowed to use it in case of emergency. As for what qualifies as an emergency...let's not flush that one out.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Get A Whiff of This

First, Kevin Smith bellyaches about getting booted off Southwest for being too fat (see previous post). Now, another deplaning, courtesy of Canada's Jazz Air, is crinkling some noses. What happened? Well, on a February 6 flight heading out of Prince Edward Island, a passenger with "brutal" body odor was asked to leave the plane after his fellow travelers raised a stink.

I say bravo to Jazz Air for giving the guy the old heave-ho. While the airline doesn't have a policy on pungent passengers per se, Jazz Air, while vague about this specific incident, did state that "as an airline, the safety and comfort of our passengers and crew are our top priorities. Therefore, any situation that compromises either their safety or comfort is taken seriously…the crew will act in the best interest of the majority of our passengers. It's important to understand that our crew members make every effort to resolve a situation before it becomes an issue. Unfortunately, in some circumstances, it may become necessary for our crew to remove passengers."

What do you think, dear readers? Let's dial up the conversation. Do your thoughts dovetail with mine? To what degree does the odoriferous passenger (who, incidentally, happened to be an American) have a right to be incensed? Was he appropriately banned? Did he deserve the axe? Did the airline make a suave move? What's the secret to dealing with these delicate issues? Are all of these anti-perspirant puns making you sweat? If so, please don't board an arrid (sic) airplane anytime soon.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Here's the Skinny

Don’t hate on me because I’m skinny. Don’t sit on me, either.

Now, I realize the following may be politically incorrect, but hear me out. Because for every overweight Kevin Smith who takes up a seat and a half on an airplane, there’s a .5 of us with an equal right to a full seat, even if we don’t fill up the space.

In case you missed it, the kerfuffle about overweight fliers has been re-inflated, thanks to the unceremonious de-boarding of one Kevin Smith, a semi-famous Hollywood director. While hardly a heavyweight like Orson Welles (in all manners of speaking), the increasingly-zaftig Smith normally buys two seats when flying. He says he does so because he can afford it (after all, he's a big Hollywood director) and he doesn‘t want to have someone sitting next to him. He neglects to mention that he is concerned about sitting on someone next to him.

Earlier this week, Smith chose to trade in his two tickets on a Southwest flight for a sole standby seat on an earlier flight. Said flight was fully booked. A flight attendant witnessed Smith overlapping into the next seat and ejected him, per Southwest Airlines policy (see footnote at end of post). Smith tweeted about the incident to his 1.6 million Twitter followers. Southwest apologized and refunded his fare.

Of course, in our 24-7 media age, that wasn’t the end of the story. Rage ensued and large people everywhere protested. Unheard during the coverage, however, was the view of the little guy. So, I'm here to represent.

You see, while I am no Victoria Beckham, I am a size 2. Thus, I am much smaller than the average American. And, I do not fill a seat. Therefore, I am seldom left to sit alone on a two-seat subway car. But that's public transportation, so what can you do?

On an airplane, however, it's a different bottom line. After all, consider what happens when someone with a fanny pack larger than the 17-to-18-inch-wide coach seat sits next to me. If Milton Burly gets to the row first, the armrest gets lifted and suddenly, my seat is reduced by one-third or one-half. Where, I ask you, is Lady Justice? That would be Justitia, that blindfolded babe who sometimes flashes a boob and always travels with a scale. (Incidentally, Justitia’s Greek equivalent is named Dike. If Dike were hanging out between seats, I suppose she could prevent seepage).

Apologies for the parenthetical odyssey. My point is, if my plump seatmate doesn’t have to pony up for taking up space and a half, then perhaps I should get a discount proportional to my width. To wit, in the interest of serious journalism, I just measured my butt. It’s approximately 11 inches across. Accounting for spreadage while seated, let‘s make it 12 inches. If a seat is 18 inches, and I take up 2/3s, I should get a 33% discount on my seat.

Or perhaps airlines could start charging fees for, ahem, extra baggage. While that specific strategy is unlikely, it may be that one day airlines do start taking total weight (you and your bags) into account.

Alas, I don’t have an answer. If you do, please weigh in. In the meantime, speaking from the skinny side of the seat, please stay out of my lap.

A footnote: While many carriers that don’t have official policies about this matter, Southwest does, and it’s been in place for 29 years. You can find details at http://www.southwest.com.
The policy states that large passengers must buy two seats. If there are fewer passengers than seats on a flight, Southwest will refund the second seat and give the customer side-by-side seats. If the flight is sold out, the passenger can opt to buy an extra seat on a less full flight. The reason behind the policy is that Southwest “could no longer ignore complaints from customers who traveled without full access to the seat purchased due to encroachment by a large seat mate." Bravo, Southwest.

Incidentally, the airline says its oversized passenger policy impacts fewer than half of one percent of its customers. That translates to about 127,000 people a year.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Soaking Up Beantown

Are you a member of that darned Red Sox Nation? Has the cold weather got you clamoring for chowder? If so, take a listen to my recent report on Boston for Around the World Radio.

or visit the archives of AroundtheWorldRadio.com. The date of the program is February 11.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Weathering Winter Travel

With wicked winter weather whistling through the Midwest and Southeast (as it is wont to do in January), several airlines are once again proactively cancelling flights and encouraging ticketed customers to rebook itineraries. They are also waiving certain change fees.

During the last huge storm in Washington, DC, I was called upon by local television stations to give advice to airport-bound travelers. Given this week’s weather forecast, said advice bears repeating.

1. Whenever a big winter storm is looming, either in your hometown or anywhere in the country (storms in the East or Midwest can snarl air traffic as far west as Hawaii), go online or call your airline to check on delays and cancellations BEFORE going to the airport. There is absolutely no sense standing in long lines at the airport when it is just as easy...or easier...to monitor and rebook travel from the comfort of your Laz-E-Boy.

2. Especially in the winter, fly non-stop whenever possible. Note: Direct is NOT non-stop. Direct means there is an intermediate stop, although a change of planes is not required. For example, a non-stop flight from Boston to Denver goes from Boston to Denver. A direct flight from Boston to Denver may stop in Chicago, make this flight a triple threat for winter travel delays.

3. If you have a one-stop flight, try to travel earlier in the day. That way, if there is a snafu at Airport #2, the odds of catching a later connecting flight are greater. If you book a one-stop in the evening, be prepared to spend the night at the intermediary airport or at a local hotel.

4. Check on airline refund and rebooking policies due to weather problems. This year, airlines are being quite generous about change fee waivers and the like. Still, I can guarantee you that airlines are not going to give you free room and board in cases of delays to due acts of God and Mother Nature.

Saturday, January 2, 2010


Laura Powell
PO Box 9444
Washington, DC 20016
(202) 415-6455  (202) 248-4622

Career Summary To Date: 25 years covering travel and lifestyle topics for a range of media outlets. Work has included television and video production; writing for print and online outlets; custom content development; strategic consulting; and spokesperson and media training work.
Current Positions:
1990- Executive Producer, LP Productions/DailySuitcase Washington, DC
Produce/host/write travel-related content. Also write speeches and do consulting and project work for associations and corporate clients.
1993-Content Writer, The Washington Post
Write special sections on travel, lifestyle, education, and the environment.
2005-Travel Correspondent, Around the World Radio Santa Barbara, CA
2007- Contributing Television Travel Expert, Great Day Washington and NewsChannel 8, Washington, DC
2015- Regular Contributor: CNN.com, ShermansTravel, Orbitz Blog

Professional Writing Experience:
Writer, Travel Supplements and Custom Content
Special supplements have appeared in National Geographic Traveler, Reader's Digest, The Sunday Times (UK), Conde Nast Traveller (UK), and other publications.
Writer, Groupon Washington City Guide
Contributing Editor, Hotel F and B

Writer, Travel Supplements, USA Today
Contributing Editor, Lodging, Washington, DC
Contributing Writer, Good Housekeeping New York, New York
1998-2002; 2007-2009
Writer/Columnist, MSN sidewalk.com Redmond, Washington
Producer, CNN TravelGuide Atlanta, Georgia
·        Created and produced CNN TravelGuide.
·        Provided management direction to production of CNN's travel coverage, including daily segments
on business and leisure travel.
·        Coordinated and planned field production at domestic and international locations, and wrote and produced daily packages and weekly programs.

Selected Television and Radio Appearances:
ABC World News This Morning, ABC News Now, CNBC, CNN Headline News, CNN Airport, WUSA (Washington, DC), NewsChannel 8 (Washington, DC), WTTG (Washington, DC), Fox News Channel, Good Day New York, Today Show/New York, WABC (Los Angeles), CBS 2 News This Morning (Los Angeles), AM-Philadelphia, WTOP-AM (Washington, DC), WOR-AM (New York), WGN-AM (Chicago), NPR, Martha Stewart/Sirius Radio.

Some Other Print and Online Freelance Outlets:
National Geographic Traveler; Forbes; Hemispheres/United: Alaska Airlines Magazine; Open Skies/Emirates; Travel Weekly

Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York B.S., Broadcast Journalism
Distinction: Summa Cum Laude and Class Marshal-Newhouse School of Public Communications
University of Essex, Colchester, England M.A. International Relations
Distinction: Rotary Foundation Scholar
European University Institute, Fiesole, Italy