The stupidest idea to come along in ages looks to have gone down the drain, literally. Last week Michael O’Leary, ceo of the Irish budget carrier Ryanair, said he would install pay toilets for use on short-haul European flights, but the cockamamie scheme turned out to have been more than a piddling matter. A stream of invective followed the announcement in the press.
The latest news: Boeing, which built Ryanair’s fleet of 737-800s, has put the kibosh on the plan for safety reasons, leaving O’Leary up a yellow river without a paddle. In addition to charging one euro to use the facilities, O’Leary had planned to remove some of the existing toilets and replace them with additional seats. But the airline’s planes already are configured for 189 passengers, the most that can be carried safely. Because the planes were made in America, any reconfiguration by Boeing to increase the number of passengers would be subject to FAA approval, which would be unlikely.
Ryanair, the ultra-budget Irish airline known for its low fares and numerous surcharges, confirmed yesterday what had long been rumored: It is serious about charging passengers to use the toilet. If it goes forward, it would be just the latest in a long line of airline industry fees that have dogged travelers over the past several years. The news comes on the heels of yesterday’s announcement from Spirit Airlines that it would begin charging passengers a carry-on luggage fee of up to $45. When I wrote the Spirit blog item yesterday, I said the only fee that could be worse would be a toilet charge.
Spirit Airlines has hit a new low. Four hours ago I received an email from the airline announcing that it would begin charging as much as $45 fee for carry-on bags, the first U.S. airline to add that surcharge. This is only the latest move in the industry’s “unbundling” trend, in which airlines tack on fees for services and amenities that traditionally were included in your airfare. But Spirit’s move today marks the trend’s nadir. Perhaps the only surcharge that could surpass it for egregious gouging would be if an airline charged passengers to use the toilet—a day that certainly can’t be too far off.
Spirit will begin charging the carry-on fee for flights starting on August 1. Exceptions to the carry-on fee include medicine, food for immediate consumption, and assistive devices, presumably because it wouldn’t look right to have passengers going into convulsions for lack of meds or to charge someone for bringing crutches on board. The carry-on rule applies only to baggage placed in overhead bins. Personal items that can be placed under your seat—such as your wallet, your change purse, your ATM card, and loose cash—are free.
I’ve long had a small problem with the Jolly chain of hotels and resorts. Not the hotels themselves, some of which are very good. I love the 1920s-era Whaler Bar at the Jolly Madison Towers in New York City, for instance, although I have to suppress a giggle whenever I tell a friend to meet me there. No, it’s the name itself that bugs me. There’s an enforced gaiety to it, a glued-on marketing smile. At any rate, I was surprised to discover there are three Jolly time-share resorts neighboring one another in Antigua. At least, there were three until the Jolly Beach Vacations Resort changed its name in March to Tranquility Bay.
On the Orwoll 10-point Smart Meter, I rate that name-change a 10. Who could not love a resort with a name like Tranquility Bay? And it got me thinking about more hotels that have changed their names, and even other random corporate name changes—some of which, shall we say, do not earn high marks on the Smart Meter.
HOTEL NAME CHANGES
Cova Hotel (San Francisco). Former name: Air Travel Hotel. After an extensive renovation and a dose of marketing reality, the owners realized that Air Travel is a truly odd name for a hotel. So they changed it to something arcane instead of merely misleading. Not necessarily a huge improvement. Smart Meter: 4
I'm in Berlin for the annual ITB travel fair, and last night had one of those magical moments that sometime happen when we travel, a foruitous experience that can't be planned, only enjoyed. Kismet.
We were a small group of magazine people dining at Grill Royal, one of Berlin's restaurants of the moment, overlooking the Spree River from a quay just below fashionable Friedrichstrasse. The massive restaurant is renowned for its beef— entrecôte from Nebraska, Wagyu from Australia, specialty cuts from Argentina—a decidedly gourmet approach to steak. But the menu is varied, with choucroute (dressed sauerkraut), oysters from the island of Sylt, bouillabaisse, and other regional delicacies.
The restaurant decor is minimalist, with spotlighted artwork on the walls, massive columns, dark-wood banquettes. The real decoration comes from the diners themselves—chic, attractive, some young, others young-ish, all wearing fashions you'd find in the cutting-edge boutiques off Unter den Linden a few blocks away.
In a city that seems to have a catchy nickname for every neighborhood (NoLita, TriBeCa, the Flatiron, et al), no one seems to know exactly what to call that part of Manhattan around Sixth Avenue and 29th Street. A few blocks southeast of Madison Square Garden and a few blocks southwest of the Empire State Building, the neighborhood tenants are nondescript costume jewelers, button-sellers to the trade, and wholesale import companies, interspersed with mom-and-pop markets and the occasional martial-arts supply store.
“It’s an area that you pass through to get somewhere else, but I think we’re going to change all that,” says Thomas Mathes, general manager of Eventi, a new 54-story hotel managed by Kimpton Hotels and set to open on May 15. “We call the area North Chelsea.” Which may be stretching the map coordinates a bit, but in any event it’s more attractive than, say, Garment Center South.
I’m usually cynical about most travel marketing, which often emphasizes self-indulgence and cheap prices. Can’t it ever be uplifting, meaningful, and warm-hearted without being maudlin? Apparently, the answer is yes, it can. The new ad campaign for Colonial Williamsburg, the well-known historical restoration in Virginia, is all that and more. It just launched last week, and although I’ve seen only two of their commercials, if the rest of the campaign is up to that same quality level, it should win not only some awards, but some new visitors as well.
If this is the fifth dirtiest hotel in America, things may be better than they seem. The Quality Inn in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, found itself on the worst sort of list recently: TripAdvisor's 2010 Dirtiest Hotels in the United States. Reporters at the local newspaper, the Pocono Record, showed up with a video camera the next day and posted the results on You Tube. It's hard to discount the numerous bad reviews about the hotel found on Tripadvisor.com; some of the specific complaints are positively disgusting. Yet when you view the video, you wonder how the images could be so vastly different from the Tripadvisor user comments.
Mark Orwoll is Travel + Leisure's international correspondent.
The cruise industry’s largest trade organization let loose on critics of Royal Caribbean International today, saying that the cruise line is bringing relief aid to Haiti despite the ridicule and disdain that has been heaped on the company in the press and online message boards. Richard Sasso, chairman of the marketing committee of Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), told a press conference this morning that RCI should be praised for its efforts, not criticized.
The controversy began soon after last week’s earthquake in Haiti, when the cruise line announced that it would continue visits to the undamaged port of Labadee and its private resort on the north side of Haiti, about 60 miles from the ruins of the nation’s capital, Port-au-Prince. The port calls have been characterized by some in the press and in the blogosphere as an out-of-touch decision to allow sunbathers and umbrella-drink aficionados to lollygag in the tropical sun while the number of dead and dying increased daily on the other side of the country. In fact, according to Sasso, the decision was driven by the need to deliver food, water, and other supplies at a time when the country’s main port has been nearly destroyed and its airport hampered by having only one working runway.
“They didn’t have to go back to Labadee,” said Sasso, his voice rising in outrage as he addressed a crowd of reporters at the annual CLIA media update in New York City. “Not now, not next year, or in three years. They put themselves out there despite all the criticism.”
I recently returned from two weeks in Europe and the Middle East, and as always when I travel my thoughts were occupied by important issues and weighty matters—specifically, what to bring back as souvenirs.