Vacation rental expert offers tips on avoiding scams

Anthony Lipschitz is the chief executive of iStopover, a site that connects homeowners who have spare rooms to rent with travelers looking for affordable accommodations. With several high-profile cases of vacation rental customers being ripped off — including, ahem, some of my colleagues — I wanted to find out how to avoid becoming a victim.

Ex-TSA officer: “Every new controversy breaks down morale further”

Ron Moore is a former Transportation Security Administration officer at Baltimore-Washington International Airport and whistleblower who has called for better Congressional oversight and training for federal screeners. With some of the busiest air travel days of the year still ahead of us, and with the TSA continuing to insist body scans or pat-downs are necessary, I wanted to know what he thought. Here’s our interview.

“Every on-time departure, every bag and every customer interaction really counts”

US Airways ranked number one in on-time performance, baggage handling and customer satisfaction among the major network carriers for May, according to the latest Transportation Department report — a rare trifecta. It’s even more impressive, considering that just a few years ago, the airline consistently ranked near the bottom of the list. I asked Kerry Hester, the airline’s vice president for reservations and customer service planning, to shed some light on the numbers, and what they mean to passengers

Isom: Numbers-obsessed US Airways paid $1 million in “above and beyond” bonuses last year

US Airways is kind of obsessed with its numbers. It’s a good kind of obsession — it regularly touts its improvements in on-time arrivals, misplaced baggage, oversales and other metrics reported every month to the Transportation Department. Why is the airline so fixated on these figures? I asked Robert Isom, US Airways’ executive vice president and chief operating officer.

Forensic weather expert: What to do when you’re snowed in

This weekend’s snowstorm in the eastern United States shut down several major airports and stranded tens of thousands of airline passengers. Most flights are operating normally this morning, but there’s always the trip home. I asked Howard Altschule, a meteorologist with Forensic Weather Consultants, what to do when weather threatens to ground your next flight.

Delta’s Cantarutti: “We don’t have to choose to be profitable versus having happy customers … we can do both”

Perry Cantarutti is the vice president for sales and customer care at Delta Air Lines, the airline’s top customer-service position. I wanted to find out his tips for getting better customer service from an airline — particularly his. So I asked.

“I gained more respect for Miley Cyrus than I would have thought possible”

Chuck Thompson is the author of the just-released book, To Hellholes And Back: Bribes, Lies, and the Art of Extreme Tourism, a follow-up to his wickedly funny Smile When You’re Lying, a takedown of the travel writing business. So where are the hellholes? Congo, India, Mexico City and — “most feared of all,” Disney World. I asked him to explain.

Space agent Upchurch: Virgin Galactic flights will be “life changing”

Virgin Galactic, the commercial space tourism venture by Sir Richard Branson, is scheduled to unveil SpaceShipTwo to the public today. It’s the first spacecraft designed with the sole purpose of carrying paying passengers into suborbital space. Among the first astronauts will be Matthew Upchurch, chief executive officer of the travel agency consortium Virtuoso. Virgin Galactic has trained more than 70 Virtuoso travel agents as Accredited Space Agents. I asked Upchurch to tell me more about space travel — and space travel agents.

“At times it feels as though the airline industry has been pushed over a cliff”

Robert Herbst runs the Web site AirlineFinancials.com, which has provided some of the more memorable and controversial airline analysis for this site and many other media outlets. Herbst is a pilot for a major airline — I agreed not to mention it in this interview, but his employer has been disclosed elsewhere — and has been crunching airline numbers for many years. He flies Boeing 767 and 757 aircraft in the United States, where you’re likely to find him on southern routes during the winter months.

United’s Denny Flanagan: “Being nice is contagious”

United Airlines Captain Denny Flanagan had his 15 minutes of fame — and then some — when he was “discovered” by several prominent print and broadcast outlets two years ago and profiled for his many random acts of kindness. But long after the TV crews left, Captain Flanagan continues to do good at United. I caught up with him recently.

Vail Resorts’ Katz: “If Colorado becomes Texas, we all have a lot more to think about than skiing”

Rob Katz is the chief executive of Vail Resorts, which owns Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Heavenly, Keystone, and, of course, Vail. Parts of Colorado just received record amounts of early-season snow, which is all the excuse I needed to talk skiing with Katz.

JetBlue says customer service “embedded in the core” leads to airline profits

A few weeks ago, I asked Michelle Hansen, JetBlue’s director of customer support operations, if I could interview her about customer service issues. She later asked Morgan Johnston, JetBlue’s manager of corporate communications, to field my questions. Here are their answers.

Deloitte’s Simonetto: “It’s easy to view this as the big, bad airline taking advantage of travelers”

Mike Simonetto is the principal and global leader of Deloitte Consulting’s pricing and profitability practice. With airlines and other travel companies testing our willingness to pay fees, I wanted to ask a pricing expert like him why travel companies were doing this and where it’s all headed.

Orbitz’ Harford: Quoting a total price is “a strategic priority for us”

Barney Harford is the president and chief executive officer of Orbitz. One of the first things he did when he took over eight months ago was institute a “total” price for hotel rooms, making it the first of the major online travel agencies to do so. He also launched a campaign to lift travel restrictions to Cuba imposed by the American government during the Cold War. I asked Harford why he decided to take on prices and politics so early in his tenure.

“Nude recreation is fun”

Erich Schuttauf is the executive director of the American Association for Nude Recreation, a group that represents clothing-optional resorts. There’s been a lot of talk about nudism in the travel world lately, from two highly-publicized incidents this summer in which disruptive airline passengers disrobed, to the groups efforts to coin a new term: the “nakation.” That’s right, folks. AANR has trademarked the word. Do nudists have an image problem? I asked Schuttauf.

Travelocity’s Mahl: “In a perfect world, a guarantee like ours wouldn’t be necessary”

Ginny Mahl is Travelocity’s vice president of sales and customer service — the woman behind the online travel agency’s vaunted “Travelocity Guarantee”. I asked Mahl about getting the best customer service from a travel Web site, and how her company is doing its part.

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