Most travelers have heard of the Do Not Fly list maintained by TSA. In fact the information is so public today, you can see who is on the list. Technically called the No-Fly List, I hope you are not one of the nearly 100,000 who have earned their place here.

But there is another government list that hasn’t received much attention. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) created a Do Not Board list seven years ago. Unlike the more famous list, this one doesn’t screen for potential terrorists. Instead, it monitors individuals who may pose a threat due to communicable diseases. Also unlike the ‘Fly’ list, do not expect the names on this one to be posted on the internet due to privacy concerns.

The DNB list was created as a method to deal with an increase in tuberculosis (TB) cases. This is an instance where the government got it right. In the first year, 79% of the suspected TB cases proved to be correct. Today the list is receiving increased attention due to Ebola. In the words of CDC, the list is designed to “prevent travel on commercial aircraft by persons who pose a risk for infection to other travelers.” As I said previously, airlines already have the authority to refuse boarding to anyone they believe may pose a health threat to passengers or crew. This means if they think you are a risk, they can deny you boarding or even remove you from a flight.

The difference between the airline policy and the DNB list for ill travelers is that the latter will keep you from flying on all airlines, though presumably there is nothing to prevent a specific flight from reporting an individual to the DNB list managers if they so choose. While the list is helpful, it is far from infallible. DNB applies only to those who wish to fly into or out of the U.S. It does not apply to travelers who desire to continue their journeys here by car, bus, train, or ship.

Regardless of the type of communicable disease they may have, it is not altogether comforting to know that while they may not fly, potentially contagious individuals can still get around without any monitoring. Not suggesting here that CDC won’t monitor Ebola cases very carefully, only pointing out that Do Not Board is not synonymous with Do Not Travel.

Posted by Carol Margolis | No Comments

The Orlando taxi companies, as well as local government, have developed a lot of angst with Uber and Lyft in a very brief period of time. City leaders are now designing a plan that, in their opinion, levels the playing field among those who transport passengers.

The first thing Orlando will do is create a new category for these ride-sharing businesses. The second thing, of course, is additional fees and costs. The city will require these drivers to obtain (translation: buy) permits for both city driving and use of the airport. They will also have to undergo background checks, submit to vehicle inspection, and carry commercial liability coverage.

At least some of the taxi/ride-sharing drivers shouldn’t be too bothered by this since they offer both services. That is, unless the city requires them to have separate permits for each service, inspections, etc. No word yet from Orlando on this.

The thing that will most hurt riders is the dramatic increase in rates charged to customers. The city is not content that Uber/Lyft only charge the same as the taxi services. No, they want these startups to pay 25% more. In dollar terms, the city taxis charge $2.40 per mile. The ride-sharing companies would have to price their service at $3.00 per mile.

Orlando mayor Buddy Dyer said the motivation for changing this policy was because the taxi services were operating at a disadvantage. He pointed out that in addition to the same fees the city wants to charge to ride-sharing drivers, the city-regulated taxis must also maintain 10% of its fleet as handicapped accessible, must have a local dispatch center, and must take every call.

And Mayor Dyer said something else noteworthy. He added that his primary concern is “safety.” Maybe not a big thing standing by itself but coincidentally, New York’s mayor just said the same thing after beginning legal proceedings against Airbnb. Sorry, call me a cynic but whenever these city mayors talk about the importance of safety, there is always a discussion about fees, costs, and taxes that follows.

This is not yet the law in Orlando. There will be city hearings and Uber/Lyft will be able to present their side. Just like in the New York case against Airbnb, you can bet many cities around the country will be interested to see how this plays out.

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Ebola is still the news of the day but what impact will it have on corporate travel? The Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) surveyed 421 corporate travel managers last week. Eighty percent said that the recent Ebola news would have little or no impact on international travel while ninety percent said the same about domestic travel. Put another way, 20% said this news about Ebola will Read More…

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Controversy is nothing new to Airbnb. As I discussed before, the alternative hotel startup had to deal with a nasty incident in California. Now comes New York City with a lawsuit against the apartment rental hopeful, calling them “illegal hotels.”

No doubt this action was fueled by State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s report called Airbnb in the City. In that 40-page report, Schneiderman pointed out that last year, 4,600 units (primarily Brooklyn and Manhattan) were rented out through Airbnb for a period of at least three months with nearly 2,000 of them occupied this way for six months or more. According to State Senator Liz Krueger, nearly three-quarters of these Airbnb rentals are illegal.

So what’s the problem here? There are three issues. First, these units have not been charging the many New York taxes required for rental units. Of course, the renters haven’t been adding in these taxes because they are not allowed to serve as rental properties. Nevertheless, New York estimates that the past couple years has cost their city treasury more than $33 million.

The second issue is limited hotel rooms. New York, like many other major cities, is enjoying high occupancy rates – at quite high room charges – but there is limited additional supply in the pipeline. High demand is chasing limited supply. Sounds kind of like the airline industry, right?

The third issue is one that New York has talked about as long as I have been alive: How do you have ‘affordable’ housing in one of the most expensive cities in the country? The famed city desires to have these units occupied by residents, not short-term tenants. In addition, some units are rent controlled. Sometimes lease or purchase documents include provisions that they cannot be used for short-term rental. Nevertheless, apartment owners and tenants are doing just that. Hence, why Mayor de Blasio calls them illegal.

In New York’s test case, they were granted a preliminary injunction against two brothers who own a couple buildings in Manhattan. A subsequent release by the mayor’s office said the motivation behind the injunction came from “serious health and safety problems.” What’s not mentioned here is the quandary facing Mayor de Blasio. On the one hand, he wants to shut down these “illegal” operations. On the other hand, the thought of an additional $33 million to pump up the city coffers cannot be ignored.

Stay tuned, this will be interesting. Not only will New York City and Airbnb be working closely on this, virtually all cities where Airbnb operates will be monitoring the outcome closely.

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Ebola is nasty stuff and certainly has the potential to be an extremely deadly worldwide disease. But as I said here, it is not thought to be an airborne virus so most people exposed to someone with Ebola will never get it themselves. Rather, what makes this illness so scary is that those who are exposed to a victim’s bodily fluids dramatically increase their chances of transmission and infection.

The political brain trust in Washington believes that if we ban U.S. travel from West Africa, we are out of the woods. With all due respect to these pols, they are the same people who got us to spend $100 billion on TSA. Please remind me again just how many terrorists TSA has caught? Expect similar results if this proposal becomes law. I am not a doctor and never stayed at a Holiday Inn Express but I am a very frequent traveler. With that pedigree, this is how I size up the situation:

  • In truth, there are very few direct flights between West Africa and the U.S. Most are connecting flights, some through South Africa and even more from Europe, so this proposed travel ban would be meaningless. Sure, it’s possible other nations could have screening procedures for international flights to the U.S. but without American monitoring, there is no way to insure specific compliance.
  • Some members of Congress, led by Sen. Grassley, sent a letter to the President asking for a halt to issuing visas from the infected countries and consider banning all travel to the U.S. from countries that “may not have standards in place to properly screen travelers.” It is not that difficult to get around the visa issue by arriving from a non-visa country. Besides, are we any safer if someone entering the U.S. with active Ebola is a U.S. citizen instead of an African citizen? And don’t forget, travelers also may enter the U.S. from Mexico or Canada by simply walking across the border.
  • Moreover, all the screening does is look for active symptoms like a fever, which could be caused by something else. As I mentioned before, the single biggest problem is the potential for people to go as long as 21 days without any signs of illness. It is very easy for anyone to enter the U.S. with virtually no symptoms but contract Ebola weeks later. The current CDC screening will never pick up these individuals.
  • Flights going to West Africa should be safe, right? After all, they originate in the U.S. so we can be proactive and screen passengers. Unfortunately, this idea also has holes. If flights are allowed to get there but not get out, just what is supposed to happen to those crews, teachers, aid workers, and missionaries who are there? Leave them there indefinitely?

There are only a couple ways to insure that this illness never again arrives in the U.S. The first is to seal off ALL worldwide travel to and from Africa by every method – flight, train, boat, car, camel, whatever. This would mean humankind is giving up on the continent, letting this disease eradicate all life forms to presumably keep the rest of humanity safe.

I am not an Ebola expert but if the CDC can be trusted, the second method for guaranteed safety is a policy that anyone who wishes to travel to the U.S. would have to agree to a 21-day quarantine. This is also totally unrealistic. Who would pay for all U.S.-bound travelers to stay somewhere for 21 days? For that matter, who would agree to this? Virtually no one I know would travel outside the U.S. if it meant that for three weeks before their return, they would be bedridden. Good luck explaining that work delay to the boss. This would virtually stop all international travel to the U.S. and it wouldn’t be limited to flying. All cruise ships and sea cargo also would be affected. Notwithstanding our porous borders, it would effectively mean the U.S. would have to be isolated from the rest of the world and that just isn’t gonna happen.

So what will happen? Can’t speak for Congress but I do expect more international arrival delays as CBP steps up screening. Most likely there will also be more delays due to inbound passengers who become ill inflight. Even somewhat normal symptoms of illness such as feeling feverish or instances where passengers may vomit will be treated with extended care. With some crews, it may mean diverting flights to other airports. Sometimes there will be overabundances of caution where passengers will miss connections and suffer other travel delays. I am on international flights a few times each month and have been asked by CBP if my return flights have taken me through Africa (no, they have not).

I remember similar travel fears when we learned about illnesses like HIV, SARS, and H1N1. We survived all of these and we will get through Ebola. One day science will develop a vaccine to treat this illness. In the meantime, there are a couple things we can do to protect ourselves. The first is bathe daily. Trust me, others around you will be most appreciative of this. The second thing is wash your hands frequently with soap and water. The hands are the easiest way to transmit contagious diseases. While each of us can do our part, there is nothing we can do about others. Therein lies the weak link.

Posted by Carol Margolis | No Comments

SmartDepart

There are many websites and apps out there with hotel reviews. What’s typically absent is the ability to see these properties side-by-side. Enter SmartDepart.

With this app – or through their website – you can sort hotels in a city by price, number of stars, reviews, or amenities. The web version won’t win any awards for beauty but behind the sparse home page sits a wonderful engine. A great feature is the ability to limit your search to properties within a chain such as Marriott, Hilton, or Starwood. For example, you can search only for a Courtyard or DoubleTree or Westin at a specific location. This is a great time saver for those who either have a certain preference or have elite status with a specific chain, though it is additional work to click on all the types of properties within a chain.

What’s missing is the Read More…

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I recently read this article from Business Insider about which airline offers the best award redemption rates. While I generally agree with their conclusions here, it should be pointed out that their angst toward Delta Air Lines is a little misguided. Yes, Delta has long been the devil for award travel but beginning next year – which is only a few months from now – the airline will finally offer one-way awards and they claim that the number of miles required for flights will be more balanced and available. In fact, Consumer Reports recently asked their staffers to try to book award flights and came up with some different results. No, Delta was not the best but they did offer the most choices. Anyway, my take on this is let’s wait until next year and see what the frequent flier program field looks like after the FFP merger takes place between American Airlines and US Airways.

And it was the merger news in the article that really caught my attention. They referenced an article posted on Mighty Travels from last week where the author claims that AA and US will merge their frequent flier programs by the end of this year. Indeed this was picked up by another site on the web. Wow, this is news to me.

The article author and website founder, Torsten Jacobi, wrote that “Both loyalty programs will likely be merged into one by the end of 2014.” My best projection has been mid-2015 but will not be surprised if that date gets stretched out.

I searched for news and as recently as a few months ago, Ben Mutzabaugh of USAToday was saying the FFP merger will be next year. This is consistent with an event I attended only about a month ago where CEO Doug Parker said he was not at all prepared to give a timeline when the two loyalty programs would merge. Nevertheless, it is conventional thinking that as the other operations merge throughout this year – which seem to be going smoothly – the frequent flier program should be on track for next year.

But maybe I just missed major news like this. Is Mr. Jacobi right about the merger date or is his definitive statement in reality nothing more than a guess?

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It is very common for guests to check out of a hotel but leave their bags with a front desk clerk or bellhop while the travelers spend additional time seeing the sights or attending to business. At most hotels, you are given a receipt for your bags and they are placed in a locked room until you return. Your bags should be safe, right? Maybe not.

What if your bags are not there when you return? Sadly, this story is a great reminder that this can happen. Not surprising, some properties are more diligent about safeguarding guest bags than others. However, this was a Read More…

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Based on a recent survey, it seems most travelers are ready for wearable tech. A whopping 77% said they are ready for it if it helps them with their travels.

The survey had 6,300 participants from 15 countries. They tell us, for example, that 97% of their respondents carries either a smartphone, tablet, or laptop. A bit more surprising; 20% travel with all three items. This suggests a lot of business travelers in their response mix.

But that doesn’t reconcile with the fact that only 76% use airline apps. Less than half (43%) say this has improved their travel while even more (53%) want to receive personalized travel alerts on their devices. Half of respondents want to be able to use their smartphones for boarding while more than half (57%) want airport maps and directions.

Respondents were also almost equally divided on things like Read More…

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I don’t usually go out of my way to agree or disagree with contrary opinions but Fortune’s recent article on airline loyalty programs by Stanford University professor Jeffrey Pfeffer is simply wrong in so many factual ways.

Sounding like he was separated at birth from soon-to-be BoardingArea blogger Christopher Elliott, Professor Pfeffer thinks everything about frequent flier programs – and elite status in particular – is one large scam. (Note: Chris and I are friends and I admire his work, though we live in different camps in regards to frequent flier programs.) “Loyalty programs seduce and abandon you,” he says. I am fine with the learned professor’s opinion. What I don’t like is when he makes conclusions based on incorrect facts.

First, Prof. Pfeffer says that airlines “invariably make it harder to earn miles”. This is not quite accurate. Read More…

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The Hilton Buenos Aires was the first of two hotels I stayed at while in this great city. This property is a newer hotel (built in 2000) and is in the upscale Puerto Madero area. It has a large convention area and a stunningly beautiful lobby. It’s a great place for enjoying a coffee or glass of wine while enjoying the music of their piano player.

I booked the hotel for a business trip knowing full well going into the trip that the Hilton was sold out on my last night in Buenos Aires. I was confident that a room would open up or that my Diamond status would grant me the room for the final night. Well…. it didn’t quite work out that way.

I arrived around 3pm, flying in from Rio de Janeiro where I had previous business. There was no available room on the concierge lounge floors. I could wait or take a room on another floor. Since I would have lounge access regardless due to my status, I took a room on the 6th floor.

The room was spacious and the closet was amazing! A full walk-in closet with a built-in luggage rack and plenty of drawers and hanging space. My view overlooked an apartment and office building across the street. The bed was very comfortable. The desk and chair worked well and there were convenient outlets.

The bathroom was Read More…

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