BETCHA YOU DON'T KNOW THIS STUFF
By Joe Brancatelli
October 9, 2014 --Business travelers are, by definition, smart cookies. After all, companies value what we know enough to spend tons of money sending us on the road and we've all compiled a long list of tactics and strategies for surviving as we weave our way from Point A to Point B via Point C and an inevitable plane change in Chicago or Atlanta or Dallas.
But there's plenty of stuff we don't know about life on the road. Stuff that maybe we should know, but never understood or never took the time to think about. Here are five things you really should know.
TSA agents are not law enforcement officials
And what they are not are law-enforcement officials. TSA agents do not have the power to arrest you, cannot carry firearms and have no policing powers in any traditional sense.
But what about the police-like uniforms, the name tags that say "officer" and the shiny gold badges? It's all for show.
In 2008, TSA bosses thought new outfits and dime-store stars would imbue airport screeners with a certain gravitas. All it's done, however, is make real cops angry. And if you want to see how little authority the agency actually has, watch one well-informed traveler ignoring dumbfounded TSA "officers" as they ineptly attempt to detain and screen him after a flight because they screwed up.
None of this is to say you should be nasty or abusive to TSA agents. Respect them and the job they are trying to do. All but one or two of TSA agents I've dealt with at airport checkpoints over the years have been decent folk — and much more rational than the pompous, power-obsessed bosses for whom they work.
My suggestion is to know your rights and your responsibilities — and print out the relevant pages from the TSA website. Have the rules at hand at the checkpoint if things get confusing. Politely stand up for your rights and don't be bullied. And, if things really go south, demand the TSA agent call for an actual law-enforcement professional.
Smartphone cameras don't have inalienable rights
Ironically, one place where you can take photos is at a TSA checkpoint. The agency has been at pains to discourage you from doing so, but you can legally document your interaction with TSA agents.
But other key places we visit on the road? Not so much.
Aircraft, for example. Airlines are private corporations and private companies have property rights — or, as Mitt Romney once so eloquently explained, "corporations are people, my friend." They have the right to bar you from taking pictures of their planes. And many do. At least officially. The restrictions are widely ignored, of course, but if a fussbudget flight attendant doesn't want you taking pictures on a flight, you can't do it. Don't push your luck, either. A blogger was unceremoniously tossed off a United Airlines flight last year when he thought he could snap away at will.
As for airports, rules differ. When you return from an international flight, you are not allowed to use your mobile device in the Customs and Immigration area. Many visitors, including our Canadian friends, find that weird, especially now that you can use your phone after the plane lands and before you disembark. But trust me: I've been firmly told more than once to shut it down while waiting to clear the customs/immigration area.
Many airlines say you can't take pictures of their airport facilities such as check-in areas and boarding gates. Some airports are rather prickly, too. One example: the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, which operates most airports in the New York Metropolitan area. "The Port Authority reserves the right to restrict videotaping and photography at its airports," its policy says.
Of course, if you're taking a selfie or shooting something innocuous like a meal, you probably won't have problems. But try to avoid documenting crucial facilities or taking photographs that could be construed as "casing" an airport for nefarious purposes.
Hotels block phone signals
The days of hotels blocking mobile calls or the personal WiFi hotspots of individual guests are mostly over. But as the Marriott case shows, some hotels still attempt to profit from rapacious rates for Internet access in convention facilities and conference, meeting and function rooms. If you're arranging an event, make sure that the contract stipulates your right to use hotspots and mobile signals — or, better yet, gives free hotel WiFi to all attendees.
Airlines and hotels own your frequency points
And don't bother making a federal case about it: The Supreme Court has already sided with the travel industry. The Justices unanimously ruled earlier this year that airlines and hotels have the hammer — and the right to hammer you whenever or however they see fit. Or, as one airline lawyer argued, customers have no right to "superimpose the duty of good faith and fair dealing" on the travel industry.
The decision by the Supremes concerned a traveler who'd reached elite status in the Northwest Airlines WorldPerks program. Northwest executives summarily revoked his status, closed his account and took his points. The airline never claimed he'd done anything against the published or unpublished rules of WorldPerks. Northwest's bosses just didn't like the fact that he was a frequent complainer as well as a frequent flier.
He couldn't possibly have two tickets to paradise. Or anywhere else for that matter. Why? Because airline tickets aren't worth the paper they're no longer written on.
If you read an airline contract of carriage— and you should because you agree to one every time you purchase a ticket — you'll realize that carriers guarantee nothing. Not the time of your flight, the day of your flight or even your destination, be it paradise or Paducah.
Don't believe me? Then consult Rule 3 of the Delta Air Lines contract, a fair representation of the verbiage that all airlines employ: "Delta may without notice substitute alternate carriers or aircraft, and may alter or omit stopping places shown on the ticket in case of necessity. Schedules are subject to change without notice. Delta is not responsible or liable for making connections, or for failing to operate any flight according to schedule, or for changing the schedule or any flight."
ABOUT JOE BRANCATELLI Joe Brancatelli is a publication consultant, which means that he helps media companies start, fix and reposition newspapers, magazines and Web sites. He's also the former executive editor of Frequent Flyer and has been a consultant to or columnist for more business-travel and leisure-travel publishing operations than he can remember. He started his career as a business journalist and created JoeSentMe in the dark days after 9/11 while he was stranded in a hotel room in San Francisco. He lives on the Hudson River in the tourist town of Cold Spring.
THE FINE PRINT This column is Copyright © 2014 American City Business Journals. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2014 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.