Sunday musings: Competing cell phone fates, hotels unbundling room rates, rental car collision damage

by Charlie Leocha on December 30, 2012

From planes to hotels to rental cars, here are issues that have different facets. Is using a cell phone on flights heaven or hell? How much can hotels deduct from their room rates in their drive toward a la carte prices? When do you need a rental car collision damage waiver?

Cell hell or cell bliss in the air

“Which is worse: not being able to use a mobile phone while on board an aircraft — or being able to do so?” That is the opening of a thoughtful article that ran in The Economist.

As the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) begin to look into allowing the use of certain electronic equipment during take-off and landing, the question of cell phone use rages into the forefront. If the only discussion were about reading a novel on one’s Kindle or iPhone, the discussions might be civil and strictly limited to technology. But when cell phones are involved, human passions explode.

And, what about all the rulebreakers? I personally know of many who leave cell phones on and continue to text during take-off. I have forgotten a cell phone in my carry-on luggage only to hear it ringing as the plane rolls down the runway.

Just about the last thing most people want is to be trapped next to someone nattering endlessly into a mobile phone, oblivious of everyone within forced earshot. Rudeness and lack of consideration know no bounds for some folk. And sad to report, as mobile phones have proliferated, such crass behaviour is no longer the isolated exception within an otherwise civil crowd. Were the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to relax its rule banning the use of mobile phones once an aircraft leaves the ground, there would be fist-fights aplenty above the clouds.

There are dozens of anecdotal reports of instruments on the flight-deck being affected by passengers using portable electronic devices, or PEDs as they are known in aviation circles. Unfortunately, duplicating these under controlled conditions has proved nigh-on impossible. Both Airbus and Boeing have bombarded their aircraft with electromagnetic radiation at frequencies and power levels used by mobile phones, only to come away empty handed.

In practice, then, the chance of unintentional transmitters doing any harm is infinitesimal. Indeed, that is just as well, because flight crews have had permission from the FAA to use portable computers called “electronic flight bags” in the cockpit since the early 1990s. Today, they carry iPads and other tablets as replacements for the bulky aircraft operating manuals, flight-crew manuals and navigation charts. These portable electronic devices are in much closer proximity to the aircraft’s avionics than anything passengers are likely to bring aboard, and remain switched on throughout the flight.

As hotels follow airline “unbundling” with their own “decontenting,” where does it stop?

Where airlines removed customer service items from their airfares and force passengers to cough up more money for things like checked baggage, reserved seats and food, hotels are moving in a different direction, providing discounts to clients who opt out of services like daily room cleaning, fresh towels, breakfast and so on.

The addition of resort fees has already drawn the ire of the FTC and the commission has been studying drip-pricing for some time. Many see the hotel moves as a shift towards a system that will allow for drip pricing or, in its present opt-out form, reverse drip pricing.

Is change coming? According to a recent study, “…almost 80 percent of respondents were willing to barter for the daily cleaning.” That means they would opt-out of the service for a reduction in room rate, food and beverage coupons or hotel loyalty points.

Or, do we love our amenities such as the chocolate on the pillow and tiny bottles of exotic shampoos and conditioner that we might never purchase ourselves? Money talks.

Known as decontenting, guests are prompted at check-in to opt out of daily housekeeping services with primary compensations including additional loyalty points, room discounts or food-and-beverage vouchers. Many independents and a few major brands, notably select Westin hotels, are already employing this alternative tactic.

Decontenting can pertain to much more than just housekeeping —bathroom amenities are another obvious occurrence, but also think basic cable, breakfasts, newspapers and even the comfort of meeting a person at check-in instead of completing this process via a mobile device. Ask yourself: At what point does a hotel stop being a hotel and become an a la carte service?

Rental car companies keep the pressure on when it comes to collision damage waivers (CDW)

Ed Perkins explains the basics of rental car CDW. He notes that, “The rental companies are happy — eager, in fact — to sell you CDW, through which they waive their right to collect anything from you in case the car is damaged while in your possession.” But do you need it? That’s another question.

When you rent a car, the base rate does not cover you for collision damage — physical damage to the car you’ve rented — so you absolutely need a way to protect yourself against that substantial financial risk. Over the years, a “standard model” of rental car insurance has evolved.

I strongly recommend that you take pictures of a car when you first take possession and again when you return it. These days, just about everybody has a smartphone with a good enough camera. Those pictures can be invaluable when a rental company tries to fob off a previous renter’s damage on you because the previous driver bought CDW and you didn’t.

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  • Johnp

    With regard to your comments on “the basics of rental car CDW” you failed to mention credit card protections. I have the Amex Platinum credit card and Amex has informed me I don’t need to purchase any additonal collision coverage since using their card fully protects me. May I suggest you clarify the credit card holder’s protections in that regard. Thank you.

  • Anonymous

    The Sheraton Maui starting giving guests a credit of $10 if they didn ‘t have housekeeping come in daily. Now I have stayed at some very nice properties over the years being in the travel business, and one area I find that keeps gets worst is room cleaning. If guests are declining this service, does housekeeping come in and do a more thorough cleaning or does the next guest get the typical light cleaning that seems to be the norm these days?

  • Denali89107

    I can’t imagine what chaos would be created by authorizing audio use of cell phones while in flight. It doesn’t matter whether the annoyance is direct or indirect (blue-tooth), I don’t want nor need to be FORCED to overhear somebody and all the “you know”, “like” or the inevitable “*%$*@”. It’s bad enough in public, especially in restaurants or at a theater
    (one reason I almost NEVER go there anymore) but, there is no way that I can get away from the offender, or ask them to step outside while they finish their call (heh, heh). Please FCC, keep them blocked, and be honest about it, it’s to stop confrontations and has nothing to do with avionics.

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