Joe's Travel Newsstand
Pavlovian Passengers at Heathrow
March 30, 2017 -- It was Red Nose Day in the United Kingdom last Friday, which is when the Brits don red clown noses and do other goofy things to support the Comic Relief charity. I say other goofy things because I am not sure that the word "comedy" covers it. For proof, consider the video British Airways produced to celebrate and promote Red Nose Day. It hired Emma Bunton (formerly known as Baby Spice), Olympic diver Tom Daley and comedian/actor David Walliams (best known on this side of the pond for Little Britain) to dress as BA employees and "prank" flyers at London's Heathrow Airport. I'm not so sure it was pranking as much as annoying paying customers. The video does prove one thing, though: We'll do almost anything someone in a uniform at an airport tells us to do. It's like airlines and security staffers have beaten the honor and righteous outrage out of us. If you disagree, however, surf here to see the outtakes and sidebars from the BA shoot.

It Came From the Archives: When Frequency Plans Were Young
When frequent flyer programs were young, just five years old to be precise, your intrepid reporter embarked on a massive research and reporting project for Frequent Flyer magazine. The result--22 printed pages and nearly two dozen charts--was the first time anyone said what we now know so well: Frequent flyer programs aren't about rewarding our loyalty, but getting deeper into our wallets. Until that time, newspapers and magazines were extolling all the free stuff airlines were giving out: free seats, of course, but also cases of wine and steaks, actual travel cases--and even thousands of dollars in travelers' checks and credit card memos. But my stories revealed the other side. "There's been too much attention paid to the fluff," Continental executive Steve Grosvald told me then. "People haven't concentrated on the marketing aspect of these things." My package also appeared at a seminal moment in the history of frequent flyer programs: just before mileage credit cards were introduced and just as airlines embarked on the first of many consolidations.

Report From the Swamp, Hotel Division
The controversy over whether Donald Trump violated the lease of his Washington hotel is settled. The General Services Administration, which, of course, reports to President Trump, says he hasn't. As you know, the Trump Washington hotel is housed in an historic building on land owned by the government and politicians are not supposed to be involved with the project. Bloomberg News has the background on the project and the pre- and post-election jockeying over the lease and the Constitution's emoluments clause. Meanwhile, Politico explains how Trump's deal to maintain control of the hotel will still benefit him financially. And The Washington Post says the Trump Organization is actively searching for a second hotel in the District.

Alleged Criminal Politician Nabbed at the Airport
How many terrible novels and awful television shows have a law-enforcement type rushing to the airport to apprehend a criminal just before he boards a plane for parts unknown? But that stuff never happens in real life, right? Uh, well, see ... We learned this week that former Texas Congressman Steve Stockman was indicted in a $1.25 million charity scam. He apparently diverted funds intended for charity to his political campaigns. And as the Houston Chronicle reports, Stockman was nabbed at Houston Intercontinental Airport just before he boarded a plane for a flight to the United Arab Emirates. According to the indictment, Stockman diverted funds to a failed Senate campaign and also filed false income tax returns.

United Airlines Called Out for Being United Airlines
You can arguably make the case, as Chris Barnett has, that United Airlines has improved. Or you can arguably make the case, as David Danto has, that United Airlines still stinks. What is not arguable is that United Airlines remains a lightning rod for criticism, valid or not, and stupidity, incredible and otherwise. The criticism comes from venture capitalist Stewart Alsop, who decided United Airlines is no longer worthy of his loyalty. The stupidity? A United Airlines airport agent told two young travelers flying on company passes that they could not fly while wearing leggings. As every airline does, United has a dress code for non-revenue and employee travel. So even while it did nothing "wrong," United's bizarre and tone-deaf actions during and after the incident set social media afire. That led the mainstream media to pick up the controversy and lecture United on how not to create a public relations nightmare.

Tight Connections ...
Airports are cleaning house, says Harriet Baskas. Pay phones are out, ATMs are in, she says ... The former police chief of a North Carolina city was hassled for 90 minutes at Customs at New York/Kennedy Airport after returning from Paris. Why? His name is Hassan Aden. ... An Air India Boeing 777-300 landed with no working toilets after a 16-hour flight to Chicago from Delhi. There were 347 passengers and crew on board. ... Michael Solomonov, the Philadelphia-area chef and author of a best-selling Israeli cookbook, explains why Israeli cuisine is trendy and why it's difficult to duplicate in America. I've made Solomonov's hummus. I actually prefer my own recipe. I do like his version of shakshouka, however. -- Joe Brancatelli

This column is Copyright 2017 by Joe Brancatelli. is Copyright 2017 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Joe Brancatelli. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.