Yes, there is travel related news out there other than TSA and DL/NW 253.  Listed below in no particular chronological order:

  • Japan Airlines’ stock dropped 24 percent today.  Apparently the wheels have started to come off and bankruptcy is a real possibility.
  • Jeff Smisek takes the left seat at Continental on 1/1.
  • Continental, United and ANA filed for antitrust immunity.
  • Royal Caribbean obtained financing for Allure of the Seas.  :)  Sorry, just couldn’t leave that out.  You know I love cruising.
  • I received my Delta Medallion card in the mail.  I heart being Medallion again.

Man, it feels good to talk about something other than terrorism and TSA!  Now back to serious stuff!  :)

I always enjoy Gordon Bethune’s commentary.

Effectiveness of Airline Security – CNBC.com.

Yes, that’s right.  I am going to defend the TSA.  Shocking I know.  While it’s obvious that I don’t agree with some of the things TSA pulled in the immediate aftermath of DL/NW 253, I have to acknowlege that TSA is in a damned if you do/damned if you don’t situation.  They had to do something.  And I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt.

This happened on a holiday weekend, and I can’t help but think that the pincipals were out of town on holiday.  Yes, I know that no one is truly out of touch anymore, but I’m just sayin’…..  Couple that with the fact that TSA remains without a permanent leader, and I can paint a mental picture of well-intentioned people going a little overboard and implementing certain processes that proved unworkable in the end.  Thankfully, TSA seems to have recognized its error.

I support the idea of TSA, and I really do think that the overwhelming majority of TSA employees have the best interests of all travelers at heart.  I also happen to believe that we as a country need to rethink our approach to transportation security.  Our focus remains far too dedicated to finding objects and not finding people.  We expend untold security resources on taking Barney Fife’s belt buckle shaped like a gun (seriously, I saw TSA take a belt buckle from someone because it had a shape of a gun on it) while some jackhole that we knew was a bad seed waltzes onto an airplane unimpeded?  Come on! 

TSA needs to proceed full throttle with deploying the latest screening technology that would’ve spotted the explosives our new terrorist friend was packing in his underwear.  Privacy freaks are going to have to let it go…just a tiny bit.  We can’t hope to make flying 100 percent free from potential terror attacks, but we surely can do a better job.  I support sensible security and I know TSA can provide it.  We as a country have to muster the will to insist that our elected leaders find a way to help TSA meet its mission of keeping the skies as sensibly secure as possible.

Silver lining?  I must be drinking.  No, I’m quite serious.  There is a silver lining in the Christmas Day security incident on NW 253.  How so?  Frankly, it’s been a while since 2001, the shoe bomber, and whatever else.  We’ve had a pretty good run of luck with terrorist activity and aviation.  And I think that has made many of us who fly somewhat complacent.  With this, I think we have all been reminded that there are still some very bad people out there who don’t like us very much, and would love nothing more than to be successful in bringing down an airliner.  Look at the events of the last few days as a wakeup call.  Keep your eyes open, and if you see something suspicious, do us all a favor and let someone know. 

Fellow Boardingarea.com blogger Steve Frischling over at Flying with Fish has posted details of the TSA Security Directive issued in the aftermath of NW 253.  These directives aren’t “classified” and the information is are considered security sensitive information, but this one appears pretty generic.  One thing did pop out at me, there is no additional limit on the amount of carry on luggage.  It would seem that those airlines which have posted limits took it upon themselves to do so.  The TSA did not direct those airlines to do this, they are doing it because of the requirement in the directive to physically inspect every piece of carry on luggage.  Fewer bags to inspect means less time spent digging through bags and gets everyone on the airplane quicker.  Not a bad idea, but the airlines that are implementing this restriction need to be honest about why they are doing so.

The requirement to disable live television programming and internet access is an especially huge blow to those carriers that have invested in such systems, not to mention companies like LiveTV, Row 44, and the rest.  We can only hope that this is relaxed in the coming weeks.  One other item of interest, the directive has an expiration date of December 30th.  We’ll see what happens after that.

I know it can sometimes seem like one hand doesn’t know what the other is doing at TSA.  And no, the actions taken that I am aware of do not impress me as all that helpful when it comes to real enhancements in security, but I have to hope that there are other more useful things going on behind the scenes.  That said, I’ll wait and see what happens in the next few days before getting too exercised about these changes.  Hopefully, things will settle down as the folks in charge at TSA get a handle on what they really need to do.  Hint: the stupid no pee rule isn’t useful.

I’m not going to review the situation with Northwest 253 yesterday.  Unless you’ve been really out of touch, you know that some jackhole managed to burn himself and others trying to blow the airplane up yesterday.  Preliminarily at least, it looks like he was packing some pretty powerful explosives and we are very fortunate that something went wrong in the detonation process, or we could be looking at a much more horrible outcome.

Expect some changes at security right away.  They may already be happening.  Here’s a link to a New York Times article on the subject.  Hat tip to Dan Webb for the article.  Joe Brancatelli reported in an alert to his members this morning (note: I am a subscriber to Joe’s newsletter) that Air Canada and WestJet have already put some more onerous restrictions in place including a limit of one carry on bag.  Here’s a link to an announcement about new security procedures on Air Canada’s website.  The situation is evolving rapidly and I wouldn’t expect TSA to publish every possible change they might implement in advance.  Pack a little patience and extra time into your air travel plans beginning now.

Just a brief missive to wish everyone the best of holiday seasons.  Mrs MJonTravel and I are in North Carolina now celebrating Christmas, but we plan to head back home to DC today.  Look out I-95!  I hope the drive back will be as easy as the drive down.  We left our home in northwest DC at 4:45am on Christmas Eve!

I’ll post more this week, including my vision for the blog moving into 2010.  Looking forward to a prosperous new year!

My best to everyone!

I recently completed a 2-night stay at the Omni Hotel at CNN Center in Atlanta.  This was a business-related stay, and the Omni happens to be the absolute closest hotel to my Atlanta work site.  Given that I’ve done about as much as I can do with my usual hotel programs, and my need to maximize my office time for such a short trip, I booked the Omni.  I’ll talk about Omni’s frequency plan later, but for now, let’s focus on the stay itself which was flawless.

The hotel, as the name implies, is located at the CNN Center in downtown Atlanta.  The south tower is located within CNN Center, and is attached to the north tower via a bridge which is completely climate controlled.  The hotel is easily accessed from the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport via Atlanta’s subway system, MARTA, and the Georgia Dome/Phillips Arena/CNN Center Station

Check-in

Check-in was friendly and would’ve been swift were it not for my corporate credit card.  It seems that my purchase of a MARTA roundtrip at the automated fare machine at Hartsfield tripped off JPMorgan-Chase’s fraud sensor.  Nevermind that every trip I’ve ever taken to Atlanta starts with the same purchase after touchdown, and my airplane ticket to Atlanta had been purchased with the same card for travel that day.  Oh well, a phone call and a few questions answered and I was back in business and on my way to my 10th floor room.

The Room

Access to rooms on all floors at the Omni Atlanta requires insertion of your room key in the elevator.  My room, 1021, was located a the very end of the coridor and was a nice Deluxe King.  Equipped with all the furnishings one might expect, the room was comfortable and quiet, just the way I like them.  If I could improve one thing about the room, I would’ve liked a little brigher lighting at the desk.  Otherwise, it was just fine.  I was offered a mini-bar key at check-in which I turned down, but a review of the iventory list revealed that the mini-bar was equipped with your basic sodas, a few beers, liquors and snacks.  Complimentary wi-fi is provided to Omni Select Guest members, and worked fine as far as I could tell.  I thought the bathroom was larger than usual, but that could’ve been due to my corner location.  Granted, it was a corner with a view a large building, but a corner room nonetheless.

Around the Hotel

The hotel is connected to CNN Center which is home to a few restaurants and bars, a Starbucks, and of course,  CNN.  My work schedule typically doesn’t allow for a tour of CNN, but I hear it’s a nice one.  I know I really enjoyed the CNN New York tour I once had the opportunity to take.  The hotel is steps from the Georgia Aquarium, World of Coca Cola and Centennial Olympic Park.  You can always catch a Hawks game at the adjacent Phillips Arena.

Several restaurants are within walking distance of the hotel, and a few are located within CNN Center itself.  A favorite of mine is Dantanna’s.  The restaurant markets itself as an upscale sportsbar, and I guess that description fits the bill.  I tried the filet this visit, and while I wouldn’t say it was up to Ruth’s Chris standards, it was VERY good, and a great value.  Ruth’s Chris happens to be located a block away, and that’s another dining option if you’re on the prowl for great steaks.  Another nearby restaurant that I highly recommend is Peasant Bistro, which I’ve written about before.  If you’re looking for a quick drink at the hotel, Latitudes Bar is an excellent, is somewhat crowded, option.  If you can’t find a seat there, Dantanna’s offers a full service bar as does McCormick and Schmicks which is also located within CNN Center.  If you want to work off those calories, the hotel offers a reasonably well equipped fitness center on the 6th floor of the north tower.  There’s also a full-service spa, which is located adjacent to the fitness center.

Omni’s Loyalty Program

Given that this was only my 3rd stay at any Omni property, I thought a quick word on their loyalty program was in order.  Omni Select Guest is not a points based program like Hilton HHonors or Marriott Rewards.  Select Guest is pretty basic, you can either choose to earn 1 free night for every 10 nights stayed, or 500 airline miles per stay.  Select Guest’s domestic airline partners are limited to American AAdvantage and United Mileage Plus.  Amtrak Guest Rewards is also an option.  The list of partners can be viewed here.

Although not in line with your more traditional points schemes, their program does have some unique features which I think make Omni worth considering.  One of my personal favorites, Select Guest members can have fresh brewed coffee delivered to their door each morning.  Not a huge deal, but I still like it.  And yes, in-room coffeemakers are still provided.  Select Guest offers 3 levels of membership, Gold, Platinum and Black, with better perqs coming with each level.  With only 3 stays or 6 nights required, the middle status level (Platinum) is quite attainable for most and offers the added benefit of upgrades and late checkout privileges up to 3pm.

The Bottom Line

I really liked the hotel.  Service was great, and the location, unbeatable for me.  Easy MARTA access, and a location reasonably close to downtown Atlanta make the Omni a compelling option for Atlanta-bound travelers.  I’ll be back.

It’s Snowing in DC

It’s been a while since we’ve had this much snow.  I was still working for AA during the big President’s Day storm in 2003.  The airport was closed for at least 2 days, but the customers still showed up.  Advice to the uninitiated:  when there’s a blizzard warning posted for your area, check with your airline before you risk your life getting to the airport for a flight that is likely canceled.  All the airlines have posted storm policies for airports affected by our first big winter storm and will waive change and cancellation fees.

What an Awful Week for a Snow Storm

I remember the week and weekend before Christmas as far busier than the day or two immediately prior to the big day.  A LOT of people are being negatively impacted by this mess.  The only silver lining I see is that apparently airlines have dropped their advance purchase restrictions for Christmas travel.  Translation: there are empty seats out there waiting to be sold.  So there’s some hope for everyone to eventually get home by Christmas.

Why Are There Empty Seats at Christmas?

Answer (my opinion only): airlines jacked fares way up hoping to sell seats at the highest possible price, adding surcharges for days surrounding holiday travel.  I think pricing may have been too aggressive as most leisure travelers are looking for the best possible deal, or they’ll just drive.  One route doesn’t mark a trend, but I have to tell you, there was no way in h*ll I was paying over $600  $700 dollars for the two of us to fly from DC to Raleigh.  And that was the asking price last time I looked.

 

Looks like we’re going to have heavy snow in DC this weekend.  That’s a good thing, because I owe you a review of my stay at the Omni Hotel in Atlanta this week.  Look for that over the weekend as well as my thoughts on the 787′s first flight, the end of Citi AAdvantage Card churning, and more.

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