A guide to hotel doublespeak

I had just finished the most expensive lunch of my life at the chichi Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, when I glanced at the clock and noticed I was late for an appointment. An hour late. I sprinted to the lobby and zeroed in on the concierge desk. “Please,” I gasped at the young attendant who looked as if he was dressed for a St. Patrick’s Day parade. “I need the phone number for the observatory in Green Bank. I’m late for a meeting.” The employee slowly bent over and picked up a phone directory from under the desk.

Motorists fume at cell ban proposal

I’m still digging out from under a pile of hostile e-mails after last week’s column about criminalizing cell phone use on the road. To recap, I lashed out at the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association for endorsing a USA Today editorial that skewered cities such as Brooklyn, Ohio, for banning cell phone use while driving. The story in question, you’ll recall, says the new no-talk laws are “misguided” and suggests that chatty drivers are statistically just as safe as any other motorists.

All passengers not created equal

The gap between the “haves” and the “have-nots” is widening in the air, and the circumstances are enough to confuse even Karl Marx. Listen to what the carriers are saying, and you’d think the skies are becoming more egalitarian. American Airlines claims its new steerage seats have “more class.” United Airlines insists it’s won a “race for space” in the back of the plane. Startup JetBlue Airways says its larger leather seats will “bring humanity back to air travel.” Yet flying remains a very uncomfortable ordeal for a majority of passengers. What’s going on?

Second-generation site hits Europe first

When EuroVacations.com launches next week – just in time for annual invasion of the continent by American tourists – it will become more than the latest “second generation” travel dot-com that specializes in complex itineraries and packages. The site is also part of a more ambitious plan to combine a series of Web-based applications that will sell vacations globally, according to Bernard Frelat, the White Plains, NY, company’s chairman and chief executive. “Eventually this could be a worldwide market,” he says.

Driving under cell phone influence is a crime

A note from Jeffrey Nelson, the director of communications at the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA), left me more or less speechless last week. “In perhaps the most thoughtful mass-media editorial in recent memory to date on the important issue of using a wireless phone safely while driving, USA Today’s policy editorial of Thursday, April 27, 2000 cuts through the emotionalism and to the facts,” the representative of the wireless industry trade group writes.

Shipboard safecracker raises security questions

How safe is the safe in your room? Not very, to hear Esther Peck talk about it. On a recent trip with her husband through the Panama Canal on Norwegian Cruise Line’s Majesty, she returned to her cabin to find a handwritten note from a security officer pinned to the dresser. “I have had to open your safe,” it read. “The combination has been re-set. Please contact reception for number.”

Living and dying in an online travel world

One of the cool things about having your commentaries posted on the Internet is that you get calls from principals at startup companies who want to pick your brain about online travel. When the topic of conversation turns from them to me – as it sometimes does – I’m both flattered and wary. I’m honored that someone thinks enough of my stories to want me to join their venture, but I’m also skeptical, because only one quarter of “dot-com” startups survive. I believe the failure rate is even higher in the travel industry.

Is the travel industry ruining our music?

George Gershwin must be rolling in his grave. Air travelers on the world’s largest carrier will never listen to his enduring 1923 tune “Rhapsody in Blue” the same way. Even now, after United Airlines wisely jettisoned its “rising” advertising campaign following a surge in customer service complaints, its image makers remain captivated by “Rhapsody.” They play it on every TV commercial, every radio spot and on every in-flight briefing announcement. Are they destroying the song? Maybe, says David Goetzl, who covers the travel industry for Ad Age magazine.

The joys of the red-eye

It starts with the pills. Peter Shankman pops them like candy the day before. Then he goes on a drinking binge – “a liter an hour, at least” – and doesn’t stop until it’s all over. “Afterwards, you’re not necessarily the friendliest person,” admits the Manhattan marketing consultant. “If you’re not careful, you might even end up with a cold.” Shankman is engaging in an increasingly common travel ritual: preparing for an overnight flight, otherwise known as the “red eye.” The pills are vitamin C capsules; the drink, bottled water. The payoff is undeniable.

Not every travel niche is taken – yet

When Michael Kilgore decided to turn his love of diving and boating into an online business, the Key West, Fla., entrepreneur faced a formidable set of obstacles. While cruising remains a growth industry, the dive market is generally thought of as “fickle,” he admits. He also had to confront a perception that the prospects for an Internet-based venture involving either industries had about the same chance of success as the Titanic on her maiden voyage. I’ll resist the temptation to use a silly maritime metaphor.

Mining for gold yields new rule

Remember Moore’s Law? The Intel founder’s prediction that transistor density on microprocessors should double every two years is routinely applied to discussions about computing speed. Gordon Moore is invoked whenever a manufacturer like Advanced Micro Devices leapfrogs its PC processors to the 1.1 Gigahertz mark, for example. Or when Intel matches the AMD challenge – as it recently did – with its own 1-GHz Pentium III.

Airlines punish back-to-back passengers

Daniel Bopp is grateful to the American Airlines reservationist who told him too much. When the Dallas management consultant called the carrier recently to see if he could score an upgrade using his frequent flier miles, the employee let it slip that he was in trouble. “She looked at my record and said, ‘Oh, there’s a note in it,'” he recalls. “She said that when I checked in, the airline would confiscate my ticket.” Bopp’s offense? He booked an itinerary that circumvented the airline’s Saturday night stay-over clause, commonly called a “back-to-back” or “B-to-B” ticket in the trade.

Family travel niche is wide open

Family travel is a blazing hot trend on the Internet. Everyone from the usual suspects, like Disney’s Family.com, to less likely players, such as adventure travel site Gorp.com, are clamoring to attract the so-called “family traveler.” The stats go a long way to explaining what the fuss is about. The oft-quoted Travel Industry Association of America claims that a quarter of family travelers use the Internet to make travel plans. More than two-thirds of the purchases are big-ticket leisure trips, and the median household income of the family traveler is around $50,000.

IBM user has second thoughts about Pad

It’s not every week that this column features a single issue raised by a single reader. Then again, Steve Holden’s gripe isn’t with an ordinary company and his experience probably isn’t unique. Holden’s complaint involves none other than IBM and its popular line of ThinkPad laptop computers, which are the darlings of hard-core business travelers. The Oakton, Va., Internet and networking consultant is having second thoughts about buying one of Big Blue’s best-selling portables last September.

Travel’s bad reputation not entirely deserved

What’s so good about travel these days? Not much, it would seem. Complaints to the federal government about airlines more than doubled last year. A recent Gallup Poll suggested that only 85 percent of Americans are confident in the aviation industry’s safety standards down from 92 percent in 1996. Ditto for hotels and car rental companies, which have hiked prices recently. Consumer attitudes aren’t tracked as closely in those industries as in the airline business, but it’s easy to do the math.

Being wired isn’t what we think

During the good old days of the 20th century, John Patrick remembers having to unscrew the wall plates in his hotel room to make a modem connection. On several occasions, he even dismantled the telephone and used alligator clips to get online. It may be a new century now, but the good old days are still very much here. Although many properties now offer dedicated phone jacks that let you hook up to a modem without a toolkit, the progress has been slower than a 9600 bps connection on a 486 processor PC.

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