Monday, July 28, 2014

Why it's so hard to find a newspaper at your hotel

It's always annoying to me when a hotel PR person showing me around a property says with obvious pride, "We don't have any newspapers here because we try to be green."

It apparently doesn't occur to that person that newspapers and magazines are what pay for the food I eat and the roof over my head. Not that it would matter. Although I am always thrilled to find a USA Today -- or any other paper -- outside my hotel room door or in the lobby, that tradition is fading. And it's not just about being green.

Housekeeping staffs just hate newspapers. Fewer people read them these days, so some just sit outside hotel rooms until the staff picks them up. The people who do read them tend to disembowel them and leave them scattered across the room. What should be done with them? Throw them away or put them back together neatly (time-consuming and annoying) and leave them for the guest? Newspapers also trash up lobbies pretty effectively. Finally, there's the expense of getting them. Hotels sometimes try to pass that cost on to guests, but it makes us mad, especially if we aren't told about it in advance.

So: Newspapers are going away. A few hotels substitute a small iPad on which we're told we can not only read the day's news, but also order room service. Meh, I can do without that. I have a phone and a tablet of my own, which I'd rather use than theirs. What I like best, though, is a nice, big, ink-and-paper newspaper to spread out and read while I drink my room coffee, assuming there's room coffee -- but that's a subject to whine about another day.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Charge! The case for never letting your phone go dead in an airport

Frequent travelers, you've doubtless heard that there's a new TSA rule that "from some airports" (undefined; TSA always likes keeping us -- and the bad guys -- on edge), if you're traveling back to the U.S. from another country with an electronic device, you'd better be able to turn it on. Dead battery? Tell your device goodbye. It can't travel, and maybe you can't, either. At the very least, you'll be subjected for more screening.

We understand there's a specific terrorist threat that prompted this action, but, obviously, it does add yet another complication to travel. Your devices -- cell phones, Kindles, iPads, laptops, everything -- MUST be charged up at all times. This requires you to carry many types of chargers, and it's not a bad idea to also bring along a small portable charger in case, as is often the case, you find your phone running low at an airport before your journey is over and all the plugs already are occupied.

When should you make sure your devices are fully charged? All the time. Not just when you're coming back from abroad. Because now we're hearing reports (unconfirmed, I will warn) that some TSA folks are forcing people to turn on electronics on domestic flights. Yes, those within the U.S. And because Austin-Bergstrom International has consistently been one of the most stringent in the U.S. for TSA checks, from my personal experience (this is the only airport that sometimes makes me take off metal-free sandals in the Pre-check line), I wouldn't be the least bit surprised to be asked to turn on my phone here. I don't expect it, but I wouldn't be surprised. I make it a policy never to be surprised by new TSA procedures. Toward that end, I try to travel with as few things as possible that matter deeply to me. I must have my wallet and phone. Beyond that, I consider all my stuff expendable, because who's to say when the bad guys might suddenly start creating bombs in bras, curling irons or cough drops?

Also, of course, you should plan for spending more time in the security line. British papers are already reporting longer lines at some airports, including Heathrow, where phones are being examined. For that matter, I've noticed that the TSA folks who look in the bag-scanning machine have been examining things much more closely -- and for a longer period of time -- at all the airports I've been through this summer.

Finally, I will note that some reports mention that TSA will also be taking a closer look at shoes. They're welcome to inspect mine. They seem to like to do that anyway.