Why Hospitality Companies Are Cybersecurity Laggards

by Robert McGarvey

For some years I have reported on cybersecurity fails on the part of airlines, hotels, and miscellaneous other travel players. In the background always a question haunted me: why are so many travel companies so bad at cybersecurity? Sure, hackers hack just about everything but travel companies seem favorite targets, in part because they are indeed sources of valuable data of affluent people but also because, somehow, they just seem less capable at protecting their digital valuables (our digital valuables).

And now there’s a suggestion from Bitglass, a cloud app security broker, that just maybe hospitality companies are in fact utterly deficient in cybersecurity. In its report An Analysis of Cybersecurity in the Fortune 500, Bitglass said it “conducted research on the 2019 Fortune 500 in order to identify whether the world’s leading companies are prioritizing information security and customer privacy. Their websites were scoured for keywords, phrases, and executive security personnel in order to learn about the steps that they are taking to protect personally identifiable information (PII) and customer privacy.”

Bitglass added: “The results demonstrate that many organizations lack an authentic, lasting commitment to enhancing cybersecurity.”

It gets worse. Bitglass found that 77% of Fortune 500 companies “make no indication on their websites of who is responsible for their security strategy.”

Guess what sector is most derelict. Hospitality. 0% – none – have a named executive in charge of cybersercurity on their websites. And that’s despite the industry’s many breaches. Eight hospitality companies are in the Fortune 500, all failed.

Manufacturing is next worse. Only 8% name a cybersecurity exec on their websites. Telecom comes in third worst with 9%.

Hair splitting time. In this context “hospitality” refers mainly to hotel companies and some restaurant groups. Not airlines which are grouped under “transportation.”

Hospitality also comes in at the bottom regarding the percentage of companies with website info “about how they are protecting the data
of customers and partners.” Just 25% of hospitality companies offer this info, tied at the bottom with oil and gas companies and construction companies.

That double fail wins hospitality a starring role in Bitglass’ list of least security conscious industries.

Transportation, by the way, does much better. 57% list an executive in charge of cybersecurity and 36% have a statement. This is not to say breathe easily at airline sites (loyalty programs have had their hacker problems). But they do do better than their hotelier brethren.

Here’s the question that matters: What are we to do to stay safe? The start is accepting it is our job. Hospitality companies don’t have our backs. If we are to be safe it is because of what we do (or don’t do).

Rule one: Assume that any hospitality site you use will be hacked. Take that seriously. It means that any data you leave at the site may end up in criminals’ hands. Personally I am just as suspicious of airline sites. I follow the same precautions at both kinds.

Never use passwords that are used at important accounts – a credit union or bank, for instance – at a hospitality site. Hackers use computers to automate testing of stolen passwords at leading banks precisely because they know many of us are lazy and dumb and use a password at multiple locations. Just don’t.

Personally I use Google generated passwords at most hospitality and airline sites, mainly because I generally log in on a mobile phone with a fingerprint and a long, complex password is fine. Either way, though, remember that a hospitality site probably will be hacked.

Do keep tabs on anything of value that you have at hospitality websites. Loyalty programs have for some years been hacker targets. Your points may already have been stolen. A corrective is to regularly monitor balances. How often is enough? It depends upon how valuable a stash is. I think I have some Delta miles but couldn’t tell you when I last looked because I know there aren’t many.

But with the sites where I have large deposits of loyalty points I log in at least monthly. I can’t say I have personally seen miles stolen but I nonetheless do check regularly.

While you are at this, stop using hotel WiFi – it’s dangerous.

Personally, just this week I ignored my advice because my cellphone hotspot was anemic and I had free hotel WiFi via Hilton Honors and I was traveling with an old Chromebook that had no personal data on it. I also didn’t access any sensitive sites (banking for instance).

But whenever possible, use something safer than hotel WiFi.

Can you travel and not get hacked? Maybe. Sure in fact. I don’t believe I ever have been. But my inflexible advice is to always assume you will be hacked. That’s how to stay safer on the road.

Who’s Dumber – Us or Hoteliers?

by Robert McGarvey

Hoteliers know they have a problem in their little used lobby spaces and their similarly unused business centers but now they believe they have a solution and it involves a bet that we are dumber than they are. Here’s the Travel Weekly story. The subhead lays it out: “Hotel companies, recognizing that their public areas are often used as coworking venues anyway, have followed the example of WeWork and its temporary office spaces by renting out portions of their facilities as communal workplaces. But will guests pay to use space that has been free until now?”

It’s that last sentence that boils my blood.

Understand, I do not dispute that hotels might – perhaps even should – seek to impose charges on non guests that use their public spaces as offices. It is one thing to stop into a hotel lobby and have a coffee or a cocktail and do a little business. It’s another thing to park in the space for six hours and do a full day of work. A hotelier has every right to seek to monetize that occupancy. But charging guests?

I applaud the hotelier quest to monetize otherwise under-used spaces – but not at the expense of paying room guests.

Fine by me, too, if hoteliers want to open their fitness centers to the public. Most aren’t much used anyway and if the public can be lured in, why not?

But charging guests for what has been free is where a line needs to be drawn.

Personally I prefer working in my room, I also do not much use hotel wifi and instead create a hotspot on my phone – it’s much more secure internet access. So I’m not exactly the target market for this use of public spaces.

Indeed, I have never parked myself for a workday in a Starbucks – although I know many who do and who enjoy it.

At least one hotel group seems to be doing this right: Crowne Plaza. The chain’s Plaza Workspace program offers – free – access to spiffy work pods. But for those who need more privacy there’s The Studio which is available for booking by the hour (and there’s a dandy online tool for that). Cost where I looked was $50/hour – but, remember, there’s no need to incur those costs unless you need that privacy. The free workspaces look quite inviting and comfy.

Why do some hoteliers believe they can gouge guests for use of what amounts to public meeting spaces? Don’t ask me, ask them. All I can guess is that they think we are dumb enough that we will pay for spaces that had been free (and largely underutilized in recent years – despite the outlier and outsized successes such as enjoyed by Ace Hotels). And to pay when there almost certainly is a Starbucks, or other coffee shop, a block away from the hotel and with free work space in the bargain.

Travel Weekly did quote one skeptic about our willingness to pay, Filipa Pajevic, a grad student at McGill’s School of Urban Planning: “Coworking has already been happening at hotels, in the sense that they’ve already been providing people a place to work while they’re away from their official workplace or home. So for hotels to say, ‘Look, we’re also going to offer coworking spaces,’ I don’t know if that’s going to necessarily go well. You’re asking me to now pay extra for something that I’ve already been doing in your hotel for free.”

And that just may apply to non guests as well. Why indeed would a person who has been using a nearby hotel for business meetings in the lobby – something done for many years by Manhattan dwellers, also San Franciscans – now suddenly dip into his/her pocket for lobby access? I don’t begrudge hoteliers their desire to nick those non guests for $20 or $50 – it’s just that I don’t see people doing this when there are those other nearby, free work spaces (Starbucks).

The bottomline here, however, is that when you are a guest don’t even think about paying to use hitherto free public spaces. Just say no. And walk outside and into a coffee shop (and, yeah, the java probably is better than the hotels’ too).

A Kinder, Gentler United?

by Robert McGarvey

Just when it seems United had resolved to being crowned the most despised airline – it’s lowest ranked in the recent J D Power survey – the carrier may be making a break in the direction of kindness. Will we be persuaded?

Two recent events have me pondering whether it’s time for me to give United another chance. Hear me out before deciding I am nuts. And, yes, I remember JoeSentMe columnist Ralph Raffio’s apocalyptic pronouncement: “United is a bad airline run by bad people and it’s dead to me forevermore.”

But, still, hear me out.

Exhibit A: yesterday’s email brought me this tantalizing subject line: “We’re upgrading you to Economy Plus for your Chicago flight.” Say what? I am flying to ORD imminently, I am booked in economy, and that subject line on a United email got my attention.

The email continued: “To thank you for flying with us, we invite you to enjoy the comfort of an Economy Plus® seat free of charge on your upcoming trip.”

I do not recall the last time I flew United. In days past I frequently flew Continental and I know my frequency plummeted after the merger and then hit bottom when I moved to Phoenix a few years back. However, when Chicago popped up on my travel schedule I checked the United schedule out of PHX and it worked well for me, and the prices worked for the client. So I booked the ticket. Why? I can’t say I have been especially pleased with any recent economy flight, United has ORD covered well, and why not roll the dice and see what I get? Call it a journalist’s duty to investigate.

Odder is that I won’t take the free economy plus seat – which, as far as I can tell, genuinely is free. I have an aisle seat a few rows back and mainly I saw free middle seats in economy plus so I passed. A quirk of mine is that an aisle seat is non negotiable, or as close to that as we can get in today’s aviation world.

But the United offer intrigued me. I had not earned it based upon recent behavior. Why me? Is this just a random act of kindness? It can’t be, it’s an airline. So why?

Call this a riddle I don’t know the answer too.

Which bring us to Exhibit B, detailed in a Skift story headlined, “United Airlines Simplifies Seat Upgrades With Points Incentives.” The story’s gist: “Many flyers stick with an airline not because they want miles, but because they hope they can upgrade to a flatbed to Europe or Asia for free, saving thousands of dollars per trip.

“United Airlines knows this, and on Tuesday, it outlined a new program executives claim will make it easier for the carrier’s best customers to sit in premium seats. Starting Dec. 4, United no longer will award frequent flyers chits they can use for upgrades, replacing them with a new proprietary currency, called PlusPoints.”

I agree that the perk of frequent flying with one airline is that, when enough miles are logged, the upgrades are the reward – until, in recent years, they slowed significantly as carriers decided they would rather monetize front of the cabin seats. Better to sell a seat for $100 than give it to a frequent flyer has become the carrier philosophy. As Scott McCartney observed in a 2017 Wall Street Journal column, “the most important loyalty benefit—an upgrade—has gotten much rarer because airlines are selling more first- and business-class seats, auctioning them off, and in some cases shrinking those cabins and reducing legroom there as well.”

Just maybe United is giving a little back to frequent flyers with this new policy. According to the press release, “On December 4, United will replace Regional Premier Upgrades and Global Premier Upgrades with PlusPoints. Each RPU will be worth 20 PlusPoints and each GPU will be worth 40 PlusPoints. Members using one RPU today to upgrade from Economy to United First on domestic U.S. and North American flights will use 20 PlusPoints from their banks. A member using one GPU today to upgrade from Economy to United Polaris business class on international long-haul flights will use 40 PlusPoints.”

How to earn points? Skift explained: “Customers will start earning points when they fly 75,000 miles in one year, with United giving them 40. But they won’t start racking up a lot of them until they reach 100,000 miles. Then, they’ll get another 280 points.”

A bottomline: the United promise is that the new plan will give elites much more flexibility about how they spend their elite status and, to my mind, that is a very good thing.

United also stressed that you can still try to depend upon the luck of the draw – that is not spend your new points and pray for upgrades. Per the carrier, “PlusPoints does not replace or change United’s Complimentary Premier Upgrades benefit. In recognition of their loyalty, all Premier members will continue to be placed on upgrade waitlists for flights operated by United and United Express when available.”

Right. But for those who have given up on the quest for free upgrades, the option to spend earned points just might be a tempting offer. It isn’t a magic bullet. But it just might be a better deal for many. As Gary Leff observed in View from the Wing, “This is basically the same program (with a few tweaks) but a new currency that allows members to spend fewer points for less valuable upgrades, more points for more valuable upgrades.”

Stay tuned. I may be giving a United another chance. At least I am flying it next week and, you know, I hope it works out.

Business Travel’s Wellness Hoax

by Robert McGarvey

The Skift headline got me smiling: “Wellness for Business Travel Is An Uphill Slog.” You betcha.

From my perspective of perhaps 45 years of business travel, I’d say the industry can measure its wellness progress in centimeters. No more. We drink less booze – certainly I do – and eat fewer steaks and for that we can congratulate ourselves (and maybe mourn the passing of the “good times”). But as for a real wellness commitment, who is kidding whom?

Hoteliers and event planners talk a good wellness game. Just about every chain now has a “major” wellness initiative. But talk is still cheap. It’s the doing that matters.

Or the non doing in this case. Both on the part of the hoteliers and – truth be acknowledged – us.

I am just back from three nights in Las Vegas – a conference hosted by a financial technology company – and I returned a pound or two lighter than when I left home. But I skipped dinner every night, I also skipped the event cocktail hours, and every day I logged about 10,000 steps, just walking around a huge Strip resort.

But was my trip healthy? A role model for wellness?

Don’t be silly. I swilled maybe six large cups of coffee daily – at least double my norm – to keep me fueled up for long meeting days; I ate more scrambled eggs, bacon and sausage in three mornings than I had in the three prior months; and I also ate close to zero fresh and raw vegetables and fruit.

The breakfast buffet stands as an exemplar of progress not made. Sure, there was a platter of beautiful melon slices, an artistic palette of green, orange, yellow. It remained largely intact throughout service. I am not pointing fingers. I too admired its looks but otherwise ignored it. I dove into the scrambled eggs, the crispy bacon, the sausage links and, shudder, also grabbed a croissant one morning. The bread wasn’t good so I skipped it the other mornings.

Don’t tell my cardiologist about that morning feast. He would double my statin dosage.

Lunch – another buffet line. Fresh salads to start, also largely ignored. Visually appealing but shunned. Onto the chicken, the steak, and – of course – a small heap of cooked veg, just for appearances sake, no need to actually eat them.

The good news about lunch: desserts were at a separate table which I never visited and, by all means, give me applause for my discipline.

Or, more to the facts of this matter, question what happened to my culinary sanity as you review my daily intake of cholesterol, fats, and stuff that we know isn’t good for us.

Note: this was at a lovely, upscale Strip hotel. No faulting execution. It’s the underlying concepts that I question. The concepts are ours, by the way. Hoteliers are giving us what we want.

Here’s the reality: we all are talking a dandy game of enhanced wellness on the road but it is a mirage. Very little has changed in a half century. Perhaps a few more of us use the hotel or resort gym (although I am skeptical about that as are Cornell researchers). But we are a heckuva lot more obese than we were a half century ago. Maybe 10% of men were obese in 1960. Now it’s nearing 40%. Around 15% of women were obese in 1960. Now it is over 40%.

If it had been available, would I have eaten a bowl of oatmeal with almond milk and a handful of berries for breakfast? A feast at home. But on the road?

For lunch would I have eaten a veggie burger on a whole grain bun with an arugula, tomato salad on the side? Well, yes, actually. That’s become a personal favorite meal.

But count me as a no on the oatmeal. What about you?

We – most of us – are wellness laggards.

“The business travel industry is taking baby steps to incorporate more wellness, but there is a ton of room left for growth,” Sahara Rose De Vore, founder of the Travel Coach Network,told SKIFT. Indeed.

It’s not their fault, however. It’s ours. They are giving us what we want.

Are You Covered for Medical Issues on the Road?

by Robert McGarvey

The United States Travel Insurance Association (USTiA) just issued a report that says only 6% of us buy travel medical insurance. Are we all fools?

Uh, no. Answer a few questions to start.

Question: how old are you?

Another question: where do you work?

A third – crucial – question: Do you travel out of the US?

The last question sets the table. If you don’t, or rarely, travel out of the US, you probably have little to worry about especially as regards emergency care. Even if you are in Medicare Advantage – a managed care approach – you are covered for emergencies in the US even if your network has no presence. Ditto for holders of other managed care policies: you probably are covered for emergencies in the US.

So this story tosses a match on fears but there may be nothing to fear here but fear itself.

But probably, like me, you travel outside the US occasionally. Maybe once a year. Maybe a bit more often.

Listen up: that foreign travel could wreck your bank account if a medical emergency hits. Few policies cover foreign care. Not even emergencies.

Even some domestic medical treatment may ding your wallet if it happens away from home. Read that again. If you live in the Bronx the care you get in Bayonne may not be covered. Ouch.

First the good news. Most of us in fact are covered for emergencies in the US. Then there’s the fine print. The word to notice is “emergency.” If you break your arm, it’s an emergency. It’s probably covered. What if you sprain it? What if you really only pulled a muscle? Hang tight because you may be getting billed personally if you are out of network.

Be very cautious about seeking care when you are away from home and out of network, even if you are in the next state. Many plans will deny coverage for what they deem routine care that’s delivered out of network. Said Consumer Reports: “if you have a relatively minor problem—say, you sprained your ankle or suspect your child has strep throat—how much of your bill is covered can depend on where you seek care and the type of insurance you have, says Cathryn Donaldson, director of communications at America’s Health Insurance Plans, a trade association for insurance companies.

“Your insurer may treat your out-of-town healthcare as an out-of-network claim. As a result, you could be on the hook for a larger portion of the cost or the whole bill.”

If in doubt – and you often should be – contact the insurer for advice before seeking out of network care.

The bigger problem is with foreign travel and, yes, we hear stories of travelers with significant medical issues, a broken limb for instance, getting dinged for several thousand dollars in US cash before a hospital will admit the patient. These stories aren’t in Europe or Canada but traveler beware in a lot of the world.

Which brings us back to the money question: are you covered abroad? The first step: if you are an employee, ask your HR department. Also ask if you are covered when traveling for work and how about on vacation. The answers may differ.

Don’t be surprised if a rider covers business travel incidents – but not personal travel. For that you may need special coverage (see below).

You have a personal, Obamacare type policy? Check the fine print but the odds are high it offers no coverage outside the US. You too need special coverage.

What about Medicare recipients? A very, very few Advantage plans offer international coverage. So do a few traditional plans. But the vast majority provide bupkis. If you are on Medicare and you travel outside the country – and that means exactly what it says: you ordinarily aren’t covered in Canada or Mexico either – get travel medical insurance unless you know your plan specifically says otherwise.

Can you count on the kindness of strangers, that is, hope you will get gratis emergency care? Stories of same were numerous a generation ago, especially among travelers to European Union countries where the hospitals generally do not bill patients and many simply winked when a US patient came in. Do not count on that nowadays as many national health programs are straining under use and lack deep pockets. Ireland for instance says forget about it.

Bottomline: most of us need to take special steps to be sure we are covered when we travel abroad. That usually means buying a policy.

Want coverage? JoeSentMe subscribers get a deal on MedJetAssist Global Evacuation. That’s a $35 discount on a personal policy, $50 on a family deal.

Many others offer one-off policies for specific trips. Shop carefully, buy only from names you know and trust. This is a space with a lot of hucksters and you don’t want to find out you got fleeced when you are on the operating table in Rome.

Personally, for years, I have had a medical protection policy via American Express that provides up to $50,000 in expenses per incident and, no, in today’s medicine that isn’t a lot. But the policy costs me just a notch above $100 annually. Alas, that policy may not be available to new customers, but other outlets offer similar.

Just don’t go out of country without knowing you are covered. And don’t go out of network domestically without knowing similar.

Has Uber Ruined the Drive to the Airport?

By Robert McGarvey

A huge slice of any air travel day is the time it takes to get to and from the airport and yet we don’t talk about that. We do talk about flight times, also about security line times.  Valid topics both. But not so much transit times to/from the airport.

That topic is presently on my mind because Phoenix voters recently voted down – by a two to one margin – an underhanded proposition aimed at destroying the area’s light rail system.  Partly bankrolled by Koch Bothers funds, Proposition 105 aimed to withdraw funding for the light rail.

I applaud that and in fact also voted against it.  Here’s the deal: I cannot imagine why anybody who uses the airport would have voted otherwise. The light rail has significantly reduced automotive congestion at the airport and, a local’s tip, if you are heading from the airport to a downtown Phoenix hotel, take the light rail.  It’s as fast as a car – it won’t take more than 30 minutes – and it costs $2. ($1 if you are 65 and older.)  

And your contribution to global warming is near zip.

The other reality: airports around the country are faced with crumbling road access to airports. Drive times are becoming overwhelming. From Laguardia to Logan to Sea-Tac, airport road access is a descent into circles of Dante’s hell.

Mass transit is the way to go.  

Especially because if you think airport traffic access is worse now you very probably are right.  The New York Times headline tells why:  Ride Sharing Adds to the Crush of Traffic at Airports.

Wrote Julie Weed, “Traffic at the airports — even before you get inside — has gotten worse. The cause is not just the record number of travelers. It’s also the shift to ride sharing.”

Weed continued: “The explosion in ride-share demand has caught airports off-guard, ‘and operations staff are scrambling to address it,’ said Kama Simonds, spokeswoman for the Portland International Airport in Oregon. Ride-share pickups there, she said, have climbed to 106,000 from 48,000 in the last two years.”

Weed also notes that airports, along with ride sharing companies themselves, are seeking ways to address a problem that frankly irritates increasing numbers of travelers.

But a reality is that many airports have limited choices.  They just don’t have space to build new roads.

Meantime, many ride-share drivers behave differently than traditional taxi drivers did.  The latter, historically, have had to wait in a holding lot until dispatched and told to drive to a specific terminal because passengers are waiting.  Years ago, when I drove a cab in Boston, I remember waiting in the holding lot as long as an hour – but the good news is that I did not drive around Logan Airport in never ending circles on a hunt for a fare. My contribution to airport traffic congestion was close to nil.

At many airports, rideshare drivers too have holding lots for their use – but some are fidgety and circle the airport.  That adds to congestion.

Sure, the rideshare companies say they are trying to change driver behavior and maybe they will, maybe they won’t.

And the access roads around airports are more clogged than a foie gras eater’s arteries.

That won’t change soon. Not for those who insist on driving in and out of airports.

Enter mass transit. The silver bullet for many passengers, at many airports, is mass transit. The light rail definitely is in Phoenix. But the same is true of other cities.

I am a big fan of BART from SFO to downtown San Francisco. It’s as fast as a cab and costs about $9.60 compared to maybe $45 in a cab.

LAX now has its Flyaway – another good mass transit option,

Even EWR has a PATH station on the drawing board.

In much of the country similar is true.  That’s why I usually check my mass transit options wherever I fly. It’s increasingly the smart transit play – environmentally best but also often as fast as a car.

But then there are the exceptions. You are flying into PHX but are heading to Scottsdale? For you there’s Lyft. Sorry, no lightrail.  Scottsdale has sat out the lightrail and, looking at a longterm expansion map, it is still a holdout. Why? Ask them, not me. Here’s what the AZ Republic reported the last time Scottsdale knifed light rail.

Fortunately, light rail can thrive without Scottsdale and in fact it presently serves Phoenix, Tempe, and Mesa. There are plans to extend it to Paradise Valley, Glendale and Avondale.

And now the voters have once again spoken up and once again defeated the anti mass transit lobby. So if you are heading to PHX always check the lightrail options. For me, it’s the only prelude to flying.

Too Old To Fly?

by Robert McGarvey

When are you too old to fly?

The question is getting asked. We are living longer, many of us still want to see the world around us, many companies – and definitely universities – are keeping older employees on staff and active, and the upshot is that seniors are still on the road, both in pursuit of personal bucket list destinations and also as traditional business travelers.

At the other end of the age spectrum, just about all carriers have restrictions on kids flying solo. Delta, for instance, won’t allow children younger than five to fly alone and it won’t allow unaccompanied minors on redeye flights (except for those originating in Alaska or Hawaii or connecting with international flights). At least some airlines require children to be declared as unaccompanied minors – who receive special supervision, for a fee.

Now the question is beginning to pop up: what about seniors? Should there be limitations on their travels? Possibly including special fees?

Understand, this is a Pogo moment where they are me. I am not pointing fingers at others.

A trigger for this inquiry is that lately I have heard more stories from friends – also leading edge Baby Boomers – about how hard travel has gotten for them, how jet lag lasts longer, how more medical issues seem to crop up when far from home. Are these anomalies? Or part of a broader trend?

Let’s start by removing the elephant from this cabin and that’s cognitive impairment (Alzheimer’s etc). I know a 60 year-old with tragically profound cognitive impairment. I know many people in their 80s who are as clever as they were at half the age. Those with cognitive impairment bring significant challenges to the travel experience. There also are no blanket prescriptions. The best advice is such issues have to be decided individually. No more will be said on that topic.

Ditto for severe physical impairments. Delta offers sound advice on this, other airlines do similarly.

What about the rest of us, on the kinds of flights we usually take?

Short flights honestly do not seem to pose a significant issue to the 65+ who are otherwise in good health. Scan the literature and there is not much written about geriatric travel and the one and two hour flights that make up the bulk of my business travel. And using myself as a case study of one I can say no health issues arise on those flights.

It’s the long-haul flights where the literature grows dense. For instance, a St. Louis geriatrician flatly says, “jet lag worsens as you get older.” Definitely my experience, also what I hear from others. Recovery from a hop to Paris 20 years ago that took a day or two now may take a week. “As you get older you feel more tired for longer. It takes about five days for me to recover from jet lag now,” traveler Tim Huxley, 58, told the South China Morning Post.

A key issue is that older travelers have less ability to make the physical compensations often made necessary by long-haul travel, Dr. Winston Goh told the South China Morning Post. Our aged bodies are less resilient and we don’t generate new cells as swiftly.

Alcohol also hits senior harder and that applies all the more to booze at 30,000 feet or in an airport club. It’s why I rarely drinking booze on the road.

The SCMP adds that deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is more of an issue for seniors on long haul flights. That’s a potentially deadly blood clot. The usual precaution is to get up and walk every hour or so. I know I’ve done that since I first wrote about DVT going on 20 years ago.

And then there is a grim finding that longterm, chronic jet lag and related sleep deprivation are associated with cognitive impairment.

At least some physicians also insist that a heavy travel schedule may be associated with more pronounced aging – very probably because our sleep habits are disrupted and so is our diet (who eats as healthy on the road as at home? I know I do not). We simply live unhealthier lives traveling and that may be associated with more signs of visible aging (say hello dry skin and wrinkles).

Business travel indeed may be killing us.

Bottomline: travel definitely is harder past a certain age. What age? For some it’s 60. Others, 80. Still others haven’t hit that age for themselves yet and that’s key: this is a personal matter.

Here’s the other reality however: most of us know when it’s time to put the rollaboard in storage. I have personal friends who have done exactly that in the last year, a decision triggered – in every case I know – by a medical issue that made it prudent to dramatically cut back on travel.

Makes sense to me. My plan is to travel until I no longer can depend upon myself, physically and/or mentally, to navigate through airports and in unknown cities (where the usual chore is no more complicated than getting from the airport to the hotel). I commend that philosophy to you.

Do we need airlines to get involved, to force seniors to fly with designated supervision? Absolutely not. Most seniors – especially most who are still actively on the road – are fit, healthy, perfectly capable of making their own travel plans and decisions.

Let’s leave it that way.

Plastics Bans Coming to an Airport Near You

by Robert McGarvey

SFO fired the first shot – on 8-19 it forbade airport shops, restaurants, vending machines, et. al. from selling plastic water bottles. We are instructed to bring our own refillable bottles and to grab our water at some 100 hydration stations.

Watch for this to spread to airports across the country and globally. Single-use plastics are cluttering our planet. Can we recycle our way out of this? Hah. “As investor Rob Kaplan of Circulate Capital recently told National Geographic, ‘There’s no silver bullet to stop plastic pollution. We’re not going to be able to recycle our way out of the problem, and we’re not going to be able to reduce our way out of the problem.’”

Much recycling is ineffective. Maybe even a scam. Just don’t use single-use plastics. That’s the exit and water bottles are a good place to start.

There’s a loophole in the SFO bans, by the way. Water can be sold in plastic bottles bigger than one liter, reports SFGate. My reaction to that is big deal. (1) What traveler buys a half gallon water jug? Not me. (2) It’s as easy to ban big bottles as it was smaller ones so if there’s a flagrant parade of giant jugs watch for a broader ban.

The bigger loophole is that the ban does not apply to juices, sodas, etc. It should.

Globally we use more than one million plastic bottles a minute. No one wants that much trash. Recycling efforts are noble but Sisyphean. Mountains of trash accumulate daily.

Repeat: no one wants this much garbage.

We can do our part. Personally as I walk around Phoenix where I live, I usually have a metal water bottle, stamped with the name of one resort or another, I couldn’t tell you which, or maybe it was a handout at a business meeting where, in recent years, there are ever more giveaways of logo metal water bottles. Point is: they are free.

It’s no big deal to carry a small metal water bottle in a carryon bag. For years I’ve carried a small travel umbrella (go to New York or Belfast enough and you’ll never fly without an umbrella). A water bottle is a little smaller and lighter.

Some pundits report that business travelers are grumbling about the SFO ban. Reported WAPO: “Although public reaction has mostly been positive, the news has resulted in some disgruntled business travelers who bristle at the inconvenience of having one more item to pack.”

I don’t get. What’s the inconvenience of toting a lightweight refillable bottle when measured against a planet that is choking with waste plastics?

Water bottles are just the first shot.

Color me also opposed to plastic straws which I never use. If you like straws buy a metal straw. They are cheap and small. California has a plastic straw ban (customers have to ask for a straw to get one); more states will follow. Plastic straws simply are bad. Something like 7.5% of the waste plastic in the environment is from straws and stirrers. Stop it.

I’m on record in my attempt to support the flygskam movement – but I am equally on record noting that it just isn’t easy to cut back on flying because our transportation alternatives suck.

It is easy to cut back – eliminate – a lot of plastic. I remember as a kid liking the feel of glass Coke bottles. Paper straws were fine too in that era (although I think reusable metal straws are a much smarter solution in 2019).

While we’re at this, ban single-use plastic bags too – as many nations already do. So does California. It’s easy enough to carry a small string sack, or cloth bag.

We can make a difference when it comes to plastics. I hear the pain when the talk is about flygskam. Single use plastics are different. They are easy to eliminate – we won’t miss them – and the planet will thank us.

You want some plastic in your life? Have at this.

The Eyes Have It: Cameras Are Spying on Travelers

By Robert McGarvey

On a May 5th United flight from San Diego to Houston, an unnamed female passenger in first class entered the bathroom where she noticed a blinking blue light. She did not know what it was but she took the device to the flight crew. United Corporate Security subsequently determined it was a video recording device.

Then, per a document compiled by the FBI, “After viewing the information on the device, a male was caught on video installing the device in the first class lavatory of this particular flight.”  Apparently the man’s face wasn’t visible but – using his clothing and also jewelry – an ID was made. The arrest of Choon Ping Lee, who works for Halliburton, an oil field service company, followed.  

Creeped out? Justifiably. But here’s the grim reality: throughout your travels, very probably you are being spied on.  In some cases it’s by state sponsored security forces. In other cases it’s by miscellaneous creeps, perverts, and miscreants.

Does it really matter who?  Is it more comforting to know the Chinese government has eavesdropping devices in your Beijing hotel room – which it probably does and it also probably has your cellphone tapped – than it is to know that your Airbnb host is a perv who has cameras in rooms?

Guess what, it’s nothing new. In 1983 I co-wrote a book called The Complete Spy, which detailed the hundreds of legally available devices that let ordinary citizens spy on their spouses, children, neighbors, co-workers, bosses, you name it.  A theme of the book was that our privacy was evaporating and we seemed uninterested in fighting back.  

It is much, much worse today.

You don’t have to be Erin Andrews to have your privacy robbed. But a take away from the Andrews caper is that a determined eavesdropper can – with few roadblocks – easily spy on us in hotels.  And spying in hotels is surprisingly common

There’s even a claim that a hidden camera was found in a cruise ship cabin.

Why would anyone want to spy on me or you? Who the hell knows.  

Some nation states spy compulsively.  The Soviet Union and East Germany did it routinely (and if you visited either, you were eavesdropped upon. This is beyond question).  Today, Russia ranks high among nations that eavesdrop on foreign visitors. But China does likewise (maybe even more so).  The Saudis do too. Ditto the Israelis.  But you also hear about the French, Singapore, and many, many more nations. It’s not just nation states however.

As for who else eavesdrops in hotels, it can be anything from a business competitor to a jealous spouse or a just plain weirdo.  Remember Gay Talese’s The Voyeur’s Motel, where he documents a motel owner who systematically spied on guests.

Don’t say it can’t happen where you are staying.  Especially not because spying has gotten easier.

What’s new today is that eavesdropping has become very cheap and very low skill.

Around $40 will buy you a perfectly good spy camera.

For a few extra bucks, you can get a camera disguised as a clock or a bluetooth speaker.

Such cameras are usually wireless and battery powered. It takes essentially no skill to set up a camera.  

That’s a scary difference. A generation ago, cameras were expensive but also high maintenance.  Now cameras are installed by dropping them in place and, very probably, forgetting about them. Who needs to retrieve something so cheap?

How can you fight back?  The good news is that self-defense detection weaponry too is proliferating.

Now for Spy vs. Spy. There is plenty of technology that says it can find hidden eavesdropping technology and that has a prima facie credibility in that these devices typically connect via wiFi and/or Bluetooth. A device, or app, that hunts for Bluetooth and WiFi in the immediate vicinity may well pinpoint a nearby camera.

Some also hunt for a glint from the lens of a hidden camera and they just may find them.

But they may not, too. The better, pricier eavesdropping tools are built to foil the cheap detectors.

Dial up the price of the detector to north of $50, or even better, north of $100 and your odds of finding spy gear escalate.

Experts also recommend an oldfashioned physical inspection. Look for what’s out of place – a blinking blue light in a United lavatory – and you’ll hit the bullseye without any tech.

But even with preventative steps, don’t count on having privacy wherever your travels take you.  For 40 years people have asked me what I do to avoid being spied upon. My answer has always been the same: nothing.  I assume I may be spied upon, I act accordingly, and if I am spied upon, so be it.

I really cannot think of any surer strategy. Especially not today.  

Practicing Flygskam in Phoenix – Really?

by Robert McGarvey

I am looking at my travel schedule and in September up pop a couple trips to Las Vegas. A trip to Santa Fe is also a definite maybe. Is it time for me to put up or shut up, to practice flygskam abstinence or just stay home?

In June I wrote – somewhat favorably – about flygskam aka flight shame, the Sweden born movement to scorn air travel that is fast trending across Europe. The core idea is that air travel is hideously polluting – and global warming is no joke. The ice is melting in the North Pole, South Pole, Greenland, you name it. And summer temps in Phoenix where I live crest ever higher (especially the daily lows which are higher and higher. It’s not unusual to walk out into 90+ weather at 6 a.m.) so for me global warming isn’t an academic issue. It’s in my face daily.

What can I do about it?

I can pollute less. Understand, I rarely drive and when I do it’s a 2017 BMW which runs very clean. Mainly I walk or take the light rail around town. Now I see a Washington Post piece headlined, “Europe’s flight-shame movement has travelers taking trains to save the planet.” I have to ask myself: what about me?

The Wapo story’s lead focused on one Johan Hilm, a Swede traveling from his home country to Austria. That’s a flight of about two hours. Mr. Hilm chose to take a combination of train, bus, and ferry in a journey that took more than 30 hours.

Explained the Wapo reporter, “one passenger’s share of the exhaust from a single flight can cancel out a year’s worth of Earth-friendly efforts.” He added: “so they are digging out their parents’ yellowing Europe-by-rail guidebooks and trading tips on the most convenient night train to Vienna. “

What about me?

A flight from Phoenix to Las Vegas is about 70 minutes, costs around $150, and, for me, the airport is maybe a 20 minute light rail ride from my door step which happens to be where the light rail stops. Talk about convenience. In a lifetime of flying I have never had it so good in terms of ease of airport access (and inside Sky Harbor is a well run place). That makes flying a slam dunk – except for the pollution and the global warming.

So I hunt online for a train and indeed there is one, also for around $150. There also are nine departures daily. Of course there are many more flights but with nine, a train departure will suit me.

But then there is the duration. The distance between Phoenix and Las Vegas is around 250 miles – the drive time is about four and one half hours. How long is a train ride? The quickest train is about 10 hours. The typical duration is 20 hours.

Read that again: 10 to 20 hours. For a trip you can make in a little over an hour by plane and under five hours in a car.

Is walking the only way left? That would take about 80 hours (plus sleeping and rest time).

But there is a flygskam style option: a bus. Trips take about five hours, there are nine departures daily, and price is around $25.

What about Santa Fe? Trains there take around 10 hours and cost about $135. A flight on American takes an hour and a half and a round trip costs under $200. A bus costs around $50 one way and the trip takes from 12 to 18 hours.

There indeed is the problem. Going full in with flygskam flight abstinence necessitates suffering. Standing up for the environment necessitates long flight alternatives that, at least with trains, often cost around the same.

The US is not alone in this. A UK Guardian writer recently noted, “Taking a flight from London to Edinburgh results in 193kg of CO2 emissions; opting for the train means you produce 24kg – that’s 87% less. But as I compared both prices and travel times for my journey, opting for air travel was not only quicker, it also cost much less. Later in the year I’d like to visit a friend in Barcelona: I can fly in November for £37; train travel is more than £250.”

Plainly we need more and better alternatives to planes if we in fact are going to use them. It is well and good to talk flygskam purity but until viable alternatives are on the table, only zealots will ditch air travel and cheers to them – sincerely – but I just am not sure I am ready for long, long train rides. I haven’t been on a long distance bus ride in maybe 45 years and can’t say I much liked it when I took them so I am not keen on that option.

Will I take the train to Las Vegas? Ask me later, I haven’t decided. And, frankly, I’m not quite sure how to explain to the client that the trip took many multiples longer and also cost the same as a flight. Maybe more. That just isn’t easy to justify.

But neither is contributing unnecessarily to global warming. There’s our dilemma. How do we get where we’re going while doing the least damage? How indeed.