New York passes passenger bill of rights
It’s official: New York governor Eliot Spitzer signed a passengers’ bill of rights, which kicks in January 1 for flights grounded for three or more hours at New York airports. Note that the law won’t require airlines to allow people off the planes after three hours. Rather, it will require that the airline keep the toilets clean and the beverages flowing — thereby creating a roundabout requirement for airlines to link back up to the terminal. Lawsuits will fly. Pass the popcorn.

But the fact that this is a local law, and not a federal one, is absurd. Will we now need a separate contract of carriage for every possible way station on our trips? I’m all for states taking the initiative when the federal government won’t act (think California emissions), but laws like this one or the Chicago bill just indicate how broken the system is, from top to bottom. Those “customer service plans” that the airlines have offered up as a self-regulation alternative haven’t done the job, and Congress hasn’t acted quickly enough to address the systemic problems — air traffic control as well as passenger rights. We’ll see if this lights a fire under the collective asses of our legislative branch.

How to make Amtrak fun again: Free booze!
Drunken passengers are happy passengers. So says Amtrak, which is offering $100 in free drink vouchers for long-haul sleeper car trips. Sponsored in part by “Night Train”?

Virgin America debuts tomorrow
Tomorrow is Virgin America’s first flight. Anyone out there flying them on day one? (or heck, week one?) Hit the comments and tell the tale!

gatwick poledancer Upgrades and Downgrades    June 18, 2007    Aerial poledancing, greener rental cars, inflight wine, on ground sippy cups, and profitable granniesDowngraded: Odds of seeing pole-dancer art on London-Gatwick approach
First it was the Kentucky Fried Chicken ad featuring a Colonel Sanders image visible from space. Now, a website’s advertisement featuring a giant chalk outline of a poledancing stripper is causing controversy in the UK. The image, in a field below a common approach path for flights to London’s Gatwick Airport, is only visible from the air, but is still causing an affront. It’s likely to be removed soon. But thanks to news reports and posts like this one far more people will see it online than ever would see it from a plane. (Yes, I’m guilty of supporting their marketing machine… I know…)

Upgraded: introduces alliance-based search
Aggregator tweaked its search tools ever so slightly, allowing you to sort by alliance (Star, oneworld, Skyteam) and not just by airline. But you can only sort it that way AFTER you’ve the basic search. (You can search preferred airlines up front, so why not alliances? Meh.) Orbitz has allowed alliance search for some time, but this is the first aggregator that I’m aware of that’s doing this.

Upgraded: Hertz’s environmentalist credibility
Last September, Hertz rolled out its “Green Collection” of rental cars and I was thoroughly unimpressed. Buick LaCrosse? Come on. Where were the hybrids? Well, it took nine months, but Hertz finally got around to buying more genuinely eco-friendly vehicles, with a purchase of 3,400 Toyota Priuses (or is that Prii?). That’s more like it.

Upgraded: Wine in coach. Viva jetBlue!
JetBlue is serving up some slightly more interesting wines than usual the usual coach fare. Thanks to a partnership with Best Cellars, the airline is giving their all-economy class passengers a slightly better guzzle. Choosing wine for coach can be challenging, since it has to be a) cheap, b) in tiny ready-for-sale bottles, unlike in premium cabins, and c) pair-able with a wider range of foods. I hadn’t thought about that last one before: After all, the wine in business and first can presumably be paired with the menu (though that’s not always obvious). But in coach, a wine demands “versatility in pairing with a wide assortment of airport meals people bring on planes, including pan pizzas from Pizza Hut and Taco Bell burritos with chicken and mole sauce.” (Taco Bell has a mole sauce? Really?) Either way, good for jetBlue, and good for their wine-imbibing passengers. (Thanks Tyler!)

Downgraded: US Airways right to serve any wine
Unlike jetBlue… US Airways, which got into trouble for selling booze without a license in New Mexico a few months ago, and which has been serving the sauce with a temporary scrip since then, was denied an extension of its license this past week. Tough break. BYOB, anyone?

Upgraded: Marriott; Downgraded: Ian Schrager (or is it the other way around?)
Look, I happen to like Marriott hotels for what they are: Consistent, clean, competent, and overall comfortable spaces to spend the night. (4 C’s!) They usually don’t have too much bling or pizazz, though some of their big-city properties have that 1980s glitz that has an odd appeal to my mid-to-late-30s, graying-gracefully, receding-hairline self. So when I hear that they’re teaming up with Ian Schrager, king of the boutique hotel, to create a new boutique-y brand, I’m skeptical. It seems like a late-to-the-game attempt to create a “W” chain within a chain. If it adds a little funk to the Marriott decor, great. (Bye bye brass fixtures, please!) But it also smacks of desperation. And isn’t Ian Schrager past this? Seems like he’s here to cash in while the cashin’ in is good.

Upgraded: WestJet’s honesty; Downgraded: Little old ladies’ pensions
Canada’s WestJet (hearts) little old ladies. Not because they’re nice grandmas, but because they’re walking piggy banks, and the airline’s got a hammer. Consider this nugget from the airline’s president:

“There would be a little old lady coming up and she’d have a table and she’d have a chair and she’d have six or seven bags and we’d say ‘Yeah, take it on the plane. No problem.’ Now we’re actually going to charge a little bit of money for taking that table and chair and those extra bags on board. And that incremental revenue that we extract from that little old lady is very, very profitable to us. Some 85% goes to the bottom line.”

Good for him, for saying publicly what other airline executives discuss privately. So I guess the business traveler isn’t the company profit center; the rarely-traveled senior citizen is. Bank it.

Upgraded: Amputees and their TSA experience
Got a prosthetic? The TSA wants to make your security checkpoint experience kinder and gentler. Good! On the other hand…

Downgraded: Sippy cups, and TSA cinema verité
A former Secret Service agent reports that she was harassed when she accidentally carried her child’s sippy cup of water through security. Stupid enough, but it gets more absurd: The TSA actually released a silent security tape of the incident, labeled “Mythbusters,” in their own defense. Feel free to view the videos, read the incident report, review the embarrassed mother’s story, and decide for yourself.

Upgraded: Demolition
Let me make myself perfectly clear: I want to help destroy this hotel. I’ve never been to it, but I want to help Spanish hotel chain NH Hoteles wreck the Alcala Hotel in Madrid. The company is holding a contest to see who can take a sledgehammer to the joint. Only 30 lucky few will get to play rockstar-cum-wrecking ball. Let the spirit of Keith Moon guide you.


hot coals Enjoy having Memorial Day off?  Thank a travel agent.

For those of us in the United States, Monday, May 28 is Memorial Day, commemorating those who died in military service. For many people, it also means picnics, barbeques, and travel, so the media are once again pitching the predictable, dog-bites-man story that the roads will be busy with travelers. What a shocker! But why does Memorial Day fall on a Monday?

The backstory comes to us from Eric Felten’s always-informative spirits column in the Wall Street Journal. Leave it to a boozehound to give us a civics lesson:

Memorial Day wasn’t always on a Monday. Inaugurated shortly after the Civil War, the holiday was originally known as “Decoration Day,” and came to be observed in most states on May 30 of each year. Come the 1950s, NATO started militating for Memorial Day — and a slew of other holidays, including the Fourth of July — to be moved to Monday. This particular NATO, Frank Sullivan noted in a 1955 New York Times Magazine article, was not the defense alliance, but rather the National Association of Travel Organizations, a lobbying group that wanted to boost the number of three-day weekends.

Fantastic! So now we know to not only honor fallen soldiers, but travel agents of yesteryear as well. The three-day weekend is clearly a goal to which all Americans can raise their glass. Perhaps even in Mr. Felten’s recommended cocktail for the holiday: The Tom Collins.

1½ oz gin
Juice of ½ lemon
¼-½ oz simple syrup, or 1-2 tsp. sugar
2-3 oz soda water.
Build on the rocks in a short highball glass (what was once called, appropriately enough, a “Collins glass”). Garnish, if you like, with cherry, and orange or lemon slice.

Enjoy your picnics and barbeques, and cheers!

Thanks Dr. Vino!


Categorized in: bizarre, booze, travel

 Life imitates the Simpsons: Las Vegas transportation that Homer would love

“Hey, they have chairs with wheels and here I am using my legs like a sucker!”
Homer Simpson

Travel better? How about travel like a really lazy slob?

Increasingly, travelers to Vegas are renting scooters designed for the handicapped, even if they themselves are perfectly healthy, or even downright fit. Why?

“It was all the walking,” 27-year-old Simon Lezama said on his red Merits Pioneer 3. Lezama, a trim and fit-looking restaurant manager from Odessa, Texas, rented it on day three of his five-day vacation, “and now I can drink and drive, be responsible and save my feet.” (emphasis added)

Lazy and hooked on the sauce. Nice. Try doing THAT on a Segway!

So not only are these folks lazy, they’re tying one on and then tooling around the sidewalks and casino carpets. Watch for traffic next time you’re in Sin City.

Truly, the bar has been raised. And these people are limbo-ing below it at 5 mph.

Go read the whole thing.

Categorized in: bizarre, booze, travel

mini liquor bottles Reader mail: Whats wrong with empty bottles?

Reader Barbara writes:

I purchased some Bailey’s on a Southwest flight. I got it without a cap in a small bottle. I asked for the cap so I wouldn’t spill it during the flight. The flight attendant grudgingly gave it to me. After I was done, I wanted to take the EMPTY bottle home with me. I showed her it was empty. She required/demanded that I throw it away. No explanation. Is this an FAA regulation, or is Southwest just overly obsessive about alcohol and containers?

Perhaps she really cared about recycling?

I think you’ve got an overzealous flight attendant interpreting “open container” laws in an overly strict fashion. I’m pretty sure there’s no FAA, TSA, ATF, FTC, IMF, or CIA rule banning empty mini-bottles on airplanes. I sure hope not.

Heck, next time, you could always bring your own under-3 ounce mini bottle on board (loaded in a one-quart plastic bag, of course, for security screening). You’re not technically allowed to drink your own alcohol on board a flight in the U.S., but you can argue that the bottle was yours, and you’re keeping it.

But hopefully that was the worst thing to happen on that flight, and you weren’t hitting the sauce to take your mind off the rest of your in-flight experience…


chicago fountain spitting Upgrades and Downgrades    April 23, 2007    Liquids, luggage, and taxisUpgraded: Carnival’s beverage policy
Carnival Cruise Lines has revised its recently-changed policy prohibiting passengers from bringing beverages onto the ship. “Guests may bring a small quantity of non-alcoholic beverages,” but the booze is still off-limits. Spokesman Vance Gulliksen admitted the company was “monitoring reaction to the ban” (cough, blogs, cough) and changed the policy in response to the grumbling. “Small quantity” is subjective, though, so expect some hassles if you bring multiple bottles of anything. Got an eyewitness report of Carnival’s beverage enforcement in practice? Hit the comments or drop a line.

Downgraded: The accuracy of Ryanair’s scales
Euro-ultra-discounter Ryanair is accused of improperly maintaining its baggage scales, leading to wide variations in the weight measurement of checked bags. Since Ryanair charges £3.30 (about US$6.60) for every kilogram over 15kg, the numbers could add up to real profits. One bag weighed 17kg in Girona, Spain, while only weighing 14.6kg back in the U.K.

Upgraded: The rights of taxi passengers at Minneapolis Airport
Remember the Minneapolis taxi drivers who were refusing to transport anyone they suspected was carrying alcohol? (Those duty-free bags were a dead giveaway.) First, the city’s taxi commission allowed the discrimination, by labeling cabs “wet” or “dry.” Then came reports that the taxis were refusing service to people with seeing eye dogs, too, since these were “unclean.” So the commission created economic disincentives, by forcing cabs to move to the back of the line if they refused a passenger. Now, the city’s taxi commission is finally imposing real penalties — license suspensions — on drivers who discriminate: First offense is 30 days, second offense 2 years. Good. “Cab driver” probably isn’t the right line of work for these guys, anyway.