Allen On Travel

A 30 year veteran of world travel (but knows nil about Orlando-area attractions), Will Allen III writes about his weekly odysseys by air on business and how the airlines rob him--and you--of time, the most precious commodity on earth. Time: It's all we have, and the airlines routinely take it from us. This blog challenges the airlines to keep their basic promises.

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Location: Raleigh, North Carolina, United States

Born 1948 in Kinston, NC and raised there in beautiful eastern North Carolina, I now live in Raleigh and commute around the country and the world.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Tattling About Toiletries

OK, I admit it: In the countless hundreds of hotel rooms rented over many decades I have very often filched some or most of the in-room toiletries provided for guests.

Well, the fancy or unique ones, anyway. The best of the best of such treasures invariably come from top lodging properties overseas, but I've been surprised once in awhile by what nice stateside hotels have to offer.

When I pack my bags on that last night to go home, I find it irresistible to raid the bath counter and see what's there that might be worth the extra weight. Sometimes it's soap (hand or bath); sometimes shampoo or hair conditioner; sometimes combs, shoe mitts, Q-tips, cotton balls, or even shower caps! Whatever gets palmed and packed, it can't be mundane; it's got to have special appeal, something that attracts my fancy.

Come on, who can resist a soap perfumed with real sandalwood or violet blossoms? Especially if packaged in a luxurious pastel tissue paper wrapper with a brilliant crimson-colored hand-tied bow of some exotic twine (yep, I've seen that very soap, emanating an alluring floral aroma of unknown origin, in a deluxe Hong Kong hotel--and took it home).

Soaps in weird shapes or colors grab my attention, as do strange or extraordinary fragrances. A plain-Jane thin bar of Hampton Inn soap? Forget it. Not worth the trouble. Ditto for Marriott Courtyard amenities.

In fact one of the uses I make of the luxe soaps is to keep one or two handy in my Dopp kit for those times when I find myself in a Best Western in rural North Dakota with those pitiful, dinky chips
of soap that BW maid service staff have been placing in guest rooms since about the early 1960s (one could certainly not call the microscopic bit they provide a "bar" of soap). When in such modest circumstances, what a pleasure it is to unwrap a beautiful soap from, say, the Grand Hyatt Bali before stepping into the shower. As the sumptuous fumes of my elegant soap from halfway around the globe waft up through the warm water, why, I can almost forget that I am residing in a Red Roof Inn in Chicken Foot, Arkansas. (Or was that Bentonville?)

Another use of those stolen soaps is to provide an uplift to mood at home. Washing with a
tropical scented soap acquired from an island paradise hotel in Fiji or Barbados can do wonders to pick up my spirits on a frigid mid-winter weekend. I also keep a supply of exotic soaps and grandly-packaged shampoos and such for spiffing up the guest bath when friends overnight. Why not give them a taste of what the best foreign hostelries have to offer?

Over the years, though, I've stopped taking home most shampoos and bath counter doo-dads other than soap because, well, because most of it is no longer worth the trouble (to me at least). It's not because of the absurd 3-oz. TSA liquid carry-on rule, either. Rather, it's that most of the counter-top goodies are not special enough to merit my attention these days.

However, one item that I almost always grab, even at the lowliest place of lodging, is the shower cap. Why? Because of its utility in my mother-in-law's kitchen. She goes through hotel shower caps like crazy covering bowls of leftovers and salads and desserts and so on. My wife's mom has amazed me demonstrating the usefulness of a round piece of plastic with an elastic band in her kitchen. I sheepishly admit that my wife and I have even tried it at home--to good advantage.

So, who else out there will admit to purloining the bits and bobs used for
grooming and hygiene that hotel marketeers use to lure us to their properties?

And is it thievery to take their bathroom baubles? I am not taking their fluffy towels or the flat-screen HD TV, after all. I'm merely making off with some of the consumables that I, you, everyone pays for in the room rate, right? If we don't take the soap, will they credit back a dollar or two per night? Answer: no.

So far I've never had a hotel GM interrogate me about the absence of a bar of their extravagant soap from a guest room I recently vacated. In fact many have asked me to return every week for a year or longer. I take that as a sign that my slight but nagging feeling of guilt for sometimes pilfering a few hotel toiletries is not, after all, eroding my probity.

Thus I will probably persist in cramming a stupid shower cap or two into my suitcase to present to my mom-in-law when next I see her. Mind you, I have plenty of extras. Let me know if you need one to keep the bugs off your salad bowl next time you have a picnic on the patio. It's very effective; you really should try it!

Monday, June 09, 2008

Pay-Per-Pee Plan Squelched

I was incensed this morning to read a news item suggesting that airlines might consider charging passengers per pound of flesh. The reason for my peevishness is that the proposed "Fat Fare" (my term) threatens to thwart a nascent revenue-generator of my own (to be revealed). First, as background, here is today's provocative idea (with a tip of the hat to American Express SkyGuide eAlert):

Should passengers pay by the pound?

With fuel costs spiraling out of control for hard-pressed airlines, a new idea for enhanced revenues is starting to emerge on the blogosphere and elsewhere. No airline has expressed an interest in it yet, but some observers say it would be a logical step: Why not charge passengers a fare based on their weight, or a surcharge or fee for excess weight, since weight and fuel burn are directly related?

A recent posting on quoted airline consultant Robert Mann as saying that airlines might soon start pricing passenger travel "like air freight - by the pound. We're treated like freight anyway," he told the web site.

Michele McDonald, the editor of the industry e-newsletter Travel Technology Update, picked up on Mann's remarks in a recent issue. "I can't think of any better motivation to lose weight than the prospect of a public weigh-in" at the airport, she wrote. "Just think what airlines would save if we all lost an average of 10 pounds each."

And the writer of a letter to the editor of USA Today last week suggested the same thing. "I weigh 125 pounds," she wrote. "How many passengers are in the 250-plus range? Why should I be charged for their extra weight?...Let's recognize where the problem lies and address it accordingly."

A few years ago, a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that the average American gained 10 pounds during the 1990s - which, according to the study, required the airlines to use an extra 350 million gallons of fuel annually.

And then there was the announcement in last Friday's Philadelphia paper of a new airline, Derrie-Air, that charges by the pound. See

Why was I upset to read all this? Well, because I had just spent the entire weekend improvising a brilliant set of new charges that airlines could add to the deepening add-on fees already on the books. I won't bore you with the entire menu of thoughtful charges because most of them are dull and boring.

But, if implemented, the above pay-per-pound proposal--the Fat Fare--would pierce my pièce de résistance fee proposal, which is, TA-DAH!, charging each passenger for the right to use the toilet.

I call it the "Pay-Per-Pee" fee for short. My idea is not just a simple payment for the use of the rest room. Heck no, I have developed a full card of possibilities, to wit:

1. Premium Pay-Per-Pee Pass - would allow unlimited use of the toilet for unlimited time periods (would include right to use the First Class head, even if seated in row 46) - $52.90 extra per flight segment.

2. Standard Pay-Per-Pee Pass - unlimited use of the coach cabin crapper only, but each visit could not exceed 4.5 minutes; when the time runs out, an alarm would sound, along with a recorded announcement stating, "Warning! Your time has expired! Please exit the W.C. immediately! Door will automatically open in 5, 4, 3, 2 ..." - $25.50 per flight segment.

3. Pay-By-The-Pee Pass - For the economy-minded traveler, individual passes allowing use of the economy convenience room in 4.5 minute increments (max use of up to 3 passes per visit); same embarrassing warning would sound at end of time period - $7.35 each.

4. Elite-Pee Pass - Super-elite passengers would be mailed 12 Pay-By-The-Pee passes free of charge annually, AND they could be used in either the coach can or the first class latrine! Each Elite-Pee pass would be good for 5.5 minutes, too, a one-minute premium over the plebeian Pay-By-The-Pee pass. Max 3 passes per privy visit would be the rule. As I said, the first dozen per year would be complimentary to super-elite members, and additional Elite-Pee passes could be purchased online for a mere $6.66 each.

Of course, this is just the beginning! The base charges above could be "massaged" upward to squeeze even more extra revenue from the masses. Before increasing the basic prices, however, a very slight discount could be offered to travelers who purchase their Pay-Per-Pee passes at the time of buying their tickets. This would help to avoid Congressional hearings.

The coup de grâce would be to arbitrarily add another $1 to each Pay-Per-Pee pass as a fuel surcharge, and to up the fuel levy every week or so by a dime or a quarter as the price of oil continues its ascent to the heavens. Think of all the money this would bring in!

But I'm not out of ideas just yet. Day-of-purchase Pay-Per-Pee passes could be artifically allocated to increase their value. Announcements could be made at the gate, as for example:

"Attention, passengers on Ding-Dong Airways Flight 443 to Los Angeles. Boarding will begin in five minutes. This is a SIX HOUR FLIGHT, and on-board toilets are STRICTLY RESERVED for prepaid Pay-Per-Pee pass holders! Unless you have purchased your Pay-Per-Pee pass already, WE STRONGLY ADVISE you visit the airport facilities NOW, before you board.

"Alternately, we have A VERY SMALL NUMBER of Pay-Per-Pee passes remaining for this flight, and you may purchase those here at the podium for 150% of their normal prices. We wish to advise you that any passenger without a Pay-Per-Pee pass attempting to use the toilet once airborne will be tasered by our flight attendants and restrained in his seat using plastic cuffs pending arrest by U.S. Marshals at LAX.

"Have a nice flight."

Naturally, if this didn't stimulate a last-minute buying frenzy of Pay-Per-Pee passes, flight attendants could sell them once in the air for 200% of face value.

Alas, this grand plan for generating millions for access to the thunder throne would fail miserably if the airlines instead begin to charge the Fat Fare. The nexus is due to the Law of Unintended Consequence kicking in:

How would the airlines administer the Fat Fare? Probably by weighing passengers as they arrive at the gate and then adding a weight premium to their basic air fare if they were over the average poundage for their age, gender, ethnic group, sexual orientation, religious afiliation, political party, and number of body piercings and tattoos.

So what would people do? ANYTHING to avoid the Fat Fare surcharge! They'd purge their bladders and digestive systems in the airport bathrooms before approaching the dreaded gate weigh-in. They would avoid drinking and eating for hours before coming to the airport for fear of exceeding the average mass when they step upon the Fat Fare scales.

And there would go all that money the airlines could make by selling Pay-Per-Pee passes. Because people who purge and fast before boarding probably won't need to go to the johnny en route.

Too darn bad. I was going to set up a Pay-Per-Pee pass electronic exchange on the Web ( and make a million.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Farewell To First On Northworst

No, Northworst, er, I mean, NorthWEST Airlines is not doing away with its domestic first class cabins, at least not as far as I know.

But NWA, formerly Northwest Airlines, and before that the proud Northwest Orient Airlines, is marching inexorably to oblivion as the merger with Delta bumps along to execution. When the big red Northwest logo with the northwest-facing compass face on the starboard side of its airplane tails (weirdly, northeast-facing on the port side) finally succumbs to the Delta widget, so will NWA's domestic first class product be scrapped and replaced by the Delta version.

The REAL Delta-Northwest merger rationale, by the way, is NOT a drive for efficiency in the airline industry. Rather, it's to generate a hefty donation to the FTMTOCFTURM&AL (Fund To Maintain Torrents Of Cash Flowing To Unimaginably Rich M&A Lawyers). But I digress.

Sure, the Delta first class product in the United States is not what it used to be, and neither is Northwest's. Tatty though first class may be on NWA in 2008, it fields, in my opinion, a far better everyday first class service than Delta does these days.

For instance, will the new Delta continue serving the delicious pistachio nut mix and cinnamon pita chips, along with fresh apples and bananas, in first class? I don't think so: a luxury like that is anathema to the diehard Delta culture, and, anyway, far too costly after paying all that merger dough to the FTMTOCFTURM&AL (Fund To Maintain Torrents Of Cash Flowing To Unimaginably Rich M&A Lawyers).

Will Delta retain the comfortable 12 first class seats laid out in a 1-2 configuration on NW Airlink's fleet of new CRJ-900 aircraft? Methinks not likely. If those RJs aren't grounded, they will be reconfigured with 16-18 seats where those 12 are now. Need more butts in more seats who've forked over more lucre to keep the FTMTOCFTURM&AL fires burning.

What are the chances that bins full of warm Northwest midnight blue blankets will be found, as they are now, after the merger? Nada. Gotta scrape up more wampum to funnel to the FTMTOCFTURM&AL.

Beyond first class, will the new owners keep all four World Club locations open at vast DTW? Despite the fact that I've never been in any of the four clubs when they weren't brimming with customers, I'd be surprised if Delta kept more than three alive. Bucks saved could be paying FTMTOCFTURM&AL's post-merger invoices, after all.

On reflection, though, I probably shouldn't shed a tear for the death of Northwest and the concurrent demise of its first class service. What's it all about, anyway? The airline that's left when the last red compass logo is painted over will have shrunk considerably. And probably, in another decade or less, disappear altogether.

I never thought I'd think this, let alone say it, but when that day arrives, I won't shed a tear then, either.