Back to basics of air travel

Many of us have learned the ins and outs of air travel in great detail and mastered the frequent-flier game in recent years, but two incidents this month reminded me that we often take for granted some basics that are unknown to many travelers.

Did you know, for example, that there are still people who have no idea they can check in for a flight online, even though they fly at least once a year? Or that some passengers miss their international flights because they are not aware they need to be at the airport by a certain time? Last week, I was stuck at the Minneapolis airport for hours because of bad weather. The airline I was flying had shut down its business lounge there, so there would be no peace and quiet or free soft drinks and snacks for me…

NATO hotels greet America’s military

Access to a wide network of special military hotels around the country is a well-known benefit for members of the U.S. armed forces and their families, but apparently few of them know that they can stay at hundreds of similar hotels throughout Europe at bargain prices.

It’s natural that most service members spend their vacation in the United States — it’s easier, cheaper, and soldiers just back from an overseas tour are not that keen on heading abroad again. There are many decent domestic military hotels offering very attractive rates, often half of what you can find on the regular market. Then there are a few properties that seem to be known by just about everyone. Among them is the Hale Koa Hotel on Honolulu’s Waikiki Beach…

American ends stopovers on ‘awards’

Do you rely on the media to tell you about changes in your preferred frequent-flier program? If you did that when American Airlines introduced its one-way “awards” last week, you missed the loss of a significant benefit — a free stopover previously offered on mileage tickets.

It was no surprise that American omitted that detail in its press release, but it was shocking to see how many mainstream-media reports parroted the corporate line. They apparently didn’t notice the discontinued stopovers — a sign of a successful public-relations campaign. Given the recent rich history of “enhancements” in the airline industry, which has been hit hard by the global recession, one of the first questions I ask when I hear about new features is whether any old benefits are being taken away…

Stories about Sharon Stone

Just after 3 pm on an unseasonably hot spring day, an elegant, black sports car pulls up in front of a posh, downtown hotel in San Francisco, and out steps Sharon Stone. Sporting a stylish red scarf, she takes off her sunglasses and walks towards a virile-looking man in a dark suit and cowboy boots. This is Phil Bronstein, her husband of two years and executive editor of the San Francisco Examiner.

Stone and Bronstein then sit down for their first interview together since their wedding on Valentine’s Day, 1998. At the time, gossip columnists were quick to give their marriage no more than a year. They were wrong, but the couple acknowledge the difficulties of a marriage involving two of the most fickle of all professions.

“You work really, really hard at it, because that’s what’s required for a successful relationship,” Stone says, once the waiters in the hotel’s restaurant finally retire, having assured her of the pleasure of her presence…

Natural-born misfit

Milos Forman has never rebelled against his films being labelled “quintessentially American” — he is just not a revolutionary type, he says — but the Czech-born director passionately dismisses such categorisation every time he is asked about it.

“For me, ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ is a Czech film, because when you are young in a communist country, all you dream about is breaking free,” he says of his 1975 film set in a psychiatric hospital, which earned him his first Oscar and established him as one of the world’s most prominent film-makers.

“Hair” (1979), another Forman movie now considered a classic, “was about young people rising up against the status quo — something we all dreamt about under communism but didn’t dare to do,” says the 70-year-old director…

Albright’s final bow

Madeleine Albright is almost shouting. She can’t hear me any more, she says. The noise on her aircraft has, indeed, become more deafening; but she also seems to be deliberately avoiding my question, and with good reason. This very moment is probably her happiest as secretary of state because of “the most important thing that has happened” during her nearly four-year tenure.

She has just received news about the Belgrade revolution and the ousting of Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, and here I am, asking how she feels about having to leave office in three months. We’ve just spent a 30-hour day, having saved six hours by flying east-west from Egypt to Washington, and she says that’s exactly what she intends to continue doing for the rest of her term — “working every minute and extending the days”…