Joe's Travel Newsstand
It's Jeff Smisek's World. We Just Pay to Fly in It.
June 11, 2017 -- Not to bring up bad memories, but remember Jeff Smisek, the hideous chief executive who almost single-handedly destroyed United Airlines after the Continental merger? He was quickly dumped in 2015 after being implicated in a "chairman's flight" bribery scandal at Newark Airport. And by dumped I mean left the airline with a separation package worth more than $28 million. Everyone involved in the scandal paid a legal and/or financial price for their respective parts--except Smisek, the man who approved the bribe of a special flight in exchange for favors at Newark. And at least one of United's shareholders, a Florida-based pension fund, wants to know why. At a minimum, the pension fund asks in a court filing, why hasn't United invoked a "clawback" clause in Smisek's contract to regain some or all of his golden parachute? As Gretchen Morgenson explains in a column for The New York Times, the United board's excuse for its inaction strains credulity. By the way, Morgenson coined the term "insanity squared" to explain the deal United gave to Glenn Tilton, Smisek's predecessor. Her literary flourish in the Smisek column? She said he was "defenestrated" from United in 2015. Good for Gretchen.

BA's Meltdown? Fake News, Claims BA Boss Willie Walsh
Willie Walsh, the boss of IAG, parent company of British Airways, wants you to know that BA did not have a computer meltdown last month. The days-long mess that stranded and delayed tens of thousands around the world apparently never happened. Or, at least, wasn't BA's fault. "It wasn't a computer meltdown," Walsh said (feet-stomping optional) in comments captured by Air Transport World. "It was not a failure of IT," Walsh said. "It was a failure of power."

Walsh's attempt to gaslight the entire planet conveniently ignores what virtually everyone else at British Airways has confirmed: A power failure knocked out the airline's primary systems and its back-up procedures were corrupted. Walsh, who's always doing an imitation of the petulant Squire of Gothos from Star Trek, is no stranger to playing fast and loose with facts. I recounted a truth-bending interview with him in a 2010 column.

Meanwhile, the computer meltdown--yes, Willie, it was a computer meltdown--also became a PR nightmare for the British carrier. It originally told customers to get compensation from travel insurance rather than make a claim directly against the airline, a right of any passenger flying in the European Union. As the UK's Independent says, the ham-fisted misdirection "infuriated passengers" who already were unhappy with British Airways' delays, cancellations and lousy communications during the meltdown. The meltdown and subsequent ugliness also has BA chief executive Alex Cruz defending his job performance. Belatedly, BA promised to make sure the mess would never happen again.

Just for good measure, though, BA and Iberia, another IAG subsidiary, have decided they'd follow Lufthansa and charge customers a new fee if they book tickets anywhere but an IAG-approved Web site. The US$10 upcharge is effective on November 1. But credit where credit is due: Walsh didn't add a fee for using BA's power, which, as we know, is a bit of a "problem."

Oh! What a Tangled Web--Arabian Gulf Edition
Two endless Middle East flash points--the Shia-Sunni struggle and the Arab-Iran rivalry--are driving the current conflict between Qatar and the other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council. Al Jazeera has a good overview of more than 25 years of internal strife at the GCC. Of course, Al Jazeera itself is part of the collateral damage since some hotels in the region are now blocking the signal of the Qatari-owned news network. The big travel disruption, however, involves Qatar Airways, which, like Al Jazeera, is owned by Qatar's ruling Al Thani family. Other GCC nations have banned flights to and from Doha, capital of Qatar, and some are barring Qatar Airways from their airspace for flights to other destinations. Since Qatar is tiny and basically surrounded by the airspace of others, Qatar Airways has scrapped much of its schedule and must fly bizarre routings to avoid suddenly verboten air space. Although its flights to or from the United States are not affected, Qatar Airways relies on connecting flights and its network has been devastated. No one doubts the political crisis eventually will be solved, but it's ugly right now. (And, by the way, if you think this is about Qatar funding terrorism, I got bridges to sell you in Madison County, Brooklyn and Abu Dhabi.) Of course, the Trump Administration has made a hash of the dispute. Trump's too-friendly-by-half visit to Saudi Arabia last month ignited the current round of GCC conflict and the President himself continues to attack Qatar, home to a huge U.S. military presence. Yet Trump's secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, wants the Qatar blockade lifted.

From the Archives: Israel After the Six Day War
Speaking of endless Middle East conflict, it's exactly 50 years since the end of the Six Day War, when Israel delivered a crippling blow to three of its nearest Arab neighbors. (Ironically, while the rest of the Arab World remains officially committed to destroying the nation of Israel, there's at least a cold peace and diplomatic relations with Jordan and Egypt, two participants in the war.) Three weeks after the end of the battles, Martin Deutsch visited Israel and reported on it for his column in Argosy magazine. He describes a country that is generally happy, obviously confident, relatively comfortable and safe after the conflict--and, amazingly, a nation actively soliciting immediate tourism, especially from the United States. It's a riveting read, to say the least.

Tight Connections ...
ABC News reports on a raft of safety problems and billing scams at Payless Car Rental. Even the Better Business Bureau urges renters to stay away. ... An 82-year-old passenger lost it over an 8-ounce bottle of soap in her carry-on luggage and ended up in a Wichita clink after her confrontation with the TSA. The Texas woman admitted she was wrong and said that she suffers from bipolar disease. You'd think she would be more worried about her meds than soap, but, hey, who are we to judge. ... Ted Reed of cannily notes that airline-employee wages are finally on the rise again after a decade of givebacks. But kitchen workers at the third-party firms that cater flights for the airlines haven't shared in the comparative bounty. ... Delta Air Lines and the government of Nigeria are fighting over new rules that limit invasive manual searches of baggage. A Joe Sent Me member who travels frequently to Nigeria tells me that the manual searches are, in fact, invasive--and also haphazard, humiliating and ridiculous. But he also notes that the machines the Nigerian government insists the airlines use break down frequently and he understands Delta's reluctance to comply. -- 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.