Jim’s Notebook — April 11, 2012

TSA Misfits … Titanic Still Making a Buck … Getting Extra Room on Your Next Flight … 80% Cruise Discount … Hurry to Get a Cheap Fare to Berlin … the World’s Most Outrageous Hotel Amenities

One of the unpleasant aspects of travel continues to be the attitude of some TSA agents at airports around the country. I’m in Quito, Ecuador at the moment, but I’m still thinking about the TSA agent who doesn’t seem quite right for the job I encountered in Miami on the way down here.

Waiting in line to have my passport and boarding pass checked before reaching the luggage scan, I watched one of two agents continually and loudly call out “have your boarding pass in the page where your photo is or you may need to wait.” The other agent appeared to just ignore him. And, as far as I know, there isn’t any TSA regulation that requires this.

A few moments later he looked at the passport of a 60-ish women and reprimanded her for not having her boarding pass on the correct page. He then made her step over to the side as he took two other passengers, looking over their documents very slowly, before calling her back to reexamine hers. Obviously, the whole episode was embarrassing for her.

What is it with some agents? Do they feel good demonstrating the power they have over us, since they know they can get away with such behavior? After all, none of us complain.

We all keep quiet and endure the moment since we fear being pulled out of line, and then missing our flight. Or having Mr. TSA-bizarro have us arrested for “interfering” with him.

We all know there are many helpful TSA employees who do their best to help us. Many are courteous and try to expedite the security process. But every once in a while there’s the bully who needs to bolster his/her self image by showing that he’s the one in control of you at that moment in your life.

A simple question: since it’s now been more than 10 years since 9/11, isn’t it about time TSA started to better manage its front-line employees and weed out the misfits? Hello TSA, are you listening?

Has anyone had similar experiences, either good or bad? If so, leave us a comment below.

And, by the way, things could get worse since TSA budget cuts likely mean even longer airport waits.

On the other hand, one of the great things about traveling is the opportunity to meet other travelers and engage in mind-opening (hopefully) banter. Oftentimes this happens in a hotel bar when you stop by for a pre- or post-dinner drink. In Quito one evening I sat chatting with some fellow travelers, two from England and another and his family from Northern Ireland.

I don’t know how it happened but after a while the subject of the Titanic came up. “Can you believe our government is sponsoring a Titanic Centenary exhibit?” he asked incredulously. “They’re promoting a ship we built — that sank!”

Then added, with that typical wry Irish humor, “Well, as we say in Belfast, it was fine when it left here…”

The conversation reminded me that the Northern Ireland Tourism Board is hosting a celebration of the famous ship, turning Hamilton Dock and other areas of the city involved in the ship’s construction, into a tourism attraction they’re calling Titanic Belfast. Perhaps a better name would be The Titanic, Still Making a Buck 100 Years Later.

Whether you fly to Belfast or anywhere else, here’s an interesting strategy to make your flight more comfortable: if you’re traveling with someone, you can sometimes get an empty seat next to you on your next flight by booking the window and aisle seat. Since the middle seats are the undesired ones, and are usually booked last, if the flight isn’t full you may wind up with that extra space. And even if the plane fills up you can always ask the third person if they’d like the aisle or window seat. Who’d pass that up?

Speaking of interesting strategies, I’ve noticed that since it’s filing for bankruptcy American Airlines appears to have become very aggressive with all kinds of offers, such as bonuses for buying frequent flier miles, etc., probably to raise needed cash. They’re also now promoting some good cruise bargains (hoping you’ll fly them to the port of departure) such as a 4-night Carnival cruise for $169 (an 80% discount) and a 7-night Western Mediterranean cruise for $439. Plus they’re giving double miles on the package.

I mentioned Lufthansa last week and it’s still promoting its good deals to cities all over Germany but you have to hurry since it must be booked by April 12 (that’s tomorrow). Sample fares to Berlin, including all taxes, are $983 from Washington, Philadelphia, Phoenix and Orlando and $933 from Atlanta. Better yet, you can also fly on its partners (Air Canada, Austrian, Swiss and United). The catch: you must depart before May 17 and return before June 16.

And finally…what to do once you get off the plane. Read about the world’s most outrageous hotel amenities. The Ritz Carlton in New Orleans provides a Recovery Concierge for your post-party hangover, topped only by the Pierre’s Plastic Surgery Recovery package in New York City.

And there’s a Pet Psychic at the Hotel Monaco Portland who helps your pet communicate to you what matters to them, all during a complimentary wine hour. After which you’ll probably want to call the guy from the Ritz in New Orleans.

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  1. says

    Reserving the window and aisle seats for two is a good strategy I’ve recommended for years — every since a United rep suggested it to me! The worst that happens is that someone does fill the middle seat and is always happy to be offered your aisle one. It’s especially helpful to people traveling with “lap-babies” because not many people want to be stuck next to one. I don’t mind but some people do …. On a recent IAD/SAN flight, a man with an AISLE seat opted to sit in the middle seat between me and a stranger simply to get away from the baby across the aisle. Worked out for the mom; she now had an extra seat.

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