Checking In With The Westin Times Square

One of the most frightening things about FlyerTalkers from a journalist’s perspective is that you make us more or less redundant: I know I can’t possible grill travel industry executives better than a roomful of platinum elites from FT. Their inquisitiveness was once again on display this morning in the Atrium Lounge on the 8th Floor (the Club floor) of the Westin Times Square, where GM Terry Lewis, sales & marketing director Mary Beth O’Connor, and the hotel’s executive chef (I confess I missed his name) soothed the assembled Mega Doers with “superfoods” (not including the caviar) and talked a bit about the hotel — the first of four Starwood properties on this trip (along with Sheratons at FRA, IAH and in Seattle). Some highlights:

• Starwood Platinums are typically offered high floor and corner rooms when suites aren’t available;

• Club rooms are typically priced at just $60 more per night than standard rooms;

• The Times Square location is the only Westin to offer 17″ Apple iMacs in every rooms;

• ”Occupancy is back,” as Lewis put it, although European traffic is still a little off. But the percentage of international customers is rising again, as are prices — although they’re still softer than occupancy levels.

• There’s less cannibalization between Starwood brands in New York than you might think; geography matters to customers, and they stick to their brands.

New TSA Secure Flight Data requirements greet MegaFlyers

TSA Secure Flight Data (SFD) rules begin on November 1, so members of FlyerTalk flying along on the Star MegaDo are hustling to become familiar with this new travel requirement. Essentially your ID has to match your ticket name and the airline needs to provide the TSA with you passenger name, your gender and your date-of-birth 72 hours in advance of flight or as soon as you make a reservation (good to know for future travel). The TSA is trying to cut down on the problems that have plagued the No Fly list. What happens is that unless the TSA sends the airline a message that you are “cleared”, you can’t fly and the airline is forbidden to give you a boarding pass or let you on the plane.

These new wrinkle in travel may cause a little anxiety but there are no surprises expected.

I’ve been thinking about what I need to do with this new regulation. My tickets always say Randy Petersen. My passport says Randy Petersen, so all good there. The problem is for some reason my Drivers License says Randall Petersen. So far in all my travels the TSA hasn’t said anything as it is clear its pretty much the same name. I’m not sure what kind of situation is may be to change my Drivers License, guess I’ll find out soon. But, since I’m headed to Germany on the first wave of the MegaDo, I’m good with the passport name ID.

Note: Anyone flying on the MegaDo who is not sure whether they have their Secure Flight Data on file might want to send along the following to this email address: just to make sure you’re sitting next to me.

FlyerTalk handle:
Gender: M or F
Date of Birth in DDMMMYY format (for example 31DEC1980):

What You Missed (Or Only Remember Hazily) Last Year

With less than a week to go until the trans-Atlantic kick off of Star Mega DO, first-timers may be wondering exactly what they’re in for. So for your sake, here are links to two accounts from last year’s trip.

Scott McCartney’s “A Travel Junkie Field Trip,” published in the The Wall Street Journal offered a nice overview:

The Mega DO—which started in Chicago—gave the road warriors an education in how airlines work. At each stop, airline executives greeted them with singers and dancers, mechanics and pilots, ample food and drink and tours of engine shops, training facilities, airplanes and hangars.

Like kids on a school field trip, they filed through crew briefing rooms at UAL Corp.’s United Airlines in Chicago, quizzed maintenance experts at Continental’s engine shop in Newark, practiced flight-attendant skills at Lufthansa’s training center in Frankfurt and were photographed sitting in various aircraft cockpits opened for them at hangars.

They asked airline workers about snow plows at O’Hare, bird-strikes in engines, access to airport clubs and the environmental impact of deicing fluid. They learned how airlines cycle engines and airplanes through scheduled maintenance, how company workers assign gates and direct aircraft movement around terminals, how pilots prepare for long journeys and how Airbus puts together its giant double-deck plane.

My own “Triumph of the Air Warriors,” published in (American) Condé Nast Traveler, tried to be more philosophical about what it all means, as seen through the prism of Up in the Air:

“If you hate flying, you’re not doing it right,” says George Clooney as Ryan Bingham. Doing it right demands miles. Garner enough to hit the airlines’ targets and you’ll receive elite status with a bevy of perks: priority boarding, waived baggage fees, mileage bonuses, private lounge access.

They’re hackers, really, cracking fare codes and exploiting seams until they’ve twisted the airlines’ own bewildering rules inside out. FlyerTalkers get a kick out of this, and brag among themselves. They use the same freely available tools as travel agents do, peel off the lids of the reservations systems and peer inside, taking detailed notes on ways to fly well and practically for free.

At this point, you might be forgiven for wondering what these people do all day to have this much time on their hands. They are consultants, salesmen, CEOs. The old-school air warriors lived in hotels and first-class lounges—work demanded it. FlyerTalkers are a different breed, masters and captains of their own lives. Rebelling against being herded like sheep, they banded together to assert their flier rights—exploiting loopholes, pooling information, leading a jailbreak from coach to the front of the plane. They made the airlines sit up and return some of their passenger dignity.

The media (including me) is tagging along again this year. Who will be immortalized on the emergency slide this time around?

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