The Brancatelli File By Joe Brancatelli
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May I Remind You ...
February 23, 2017 -- You're busy. The news moves fast. You can't remember everything or read everything.
So allow me to remind you of some important stuff that seems to be tripping you up on the road.
'THIRD WORLD' LGA IS NOW EVEN WORSE
New York's LaGuardia Airport may not be the worst airport in the world, but it's not far from what former Vice President Joe Biden called it: a third-world country. And the only thing worse than a third-world airport is a third-world airport under reconstruction.
As I explained last August, LaGuardia is a must-avoid airport during the renovation. And things have only gotten worse in the intervening months. Twenty-minute rides from the East Side of Manhattan can become two-hour marathons of gridlock, unexpected diversions and, of course, missed flights. The Travel Advisories page of LGA's Web site reads like an arterial massacre.
Bottom line: Use any other New York Metro airport if you can. And if you must fly into or out of LGA, try to avoid airlines using Terminal B, the central facility that is the first one being remade. If you use Terminal C or D, you can do a local-street workaround and avoid the worst trouble on airport-access roads. That, too, will take extra time, but at least it is manageable.
REAL ID IS FAKE NEWS
Talk about fake news. In recent weeks, the TSA once again has posted ominous signs at airport checkpoints. The gist of the TSA's scolding? Effective next January, travelers living in states with "non-compliant" driver's licenses will not be able to use them as an acceptable form of ID to board an aircraft.
Scary, huh? The Department of Homeland Security, the TSA's parent agency, has an entire sub-site dedicated to REAL ID, a 2005 law that supposedly set nationwide standards for acceptable government identification. Nearly two dozen states are working with REAL ID deadline extensions that will expire sometime this year. Five more are on double secret probation, er, I mean, are not compliant at all.
But why are you worrying about this stuff? Allow me to remind you that REAL ID originally set 2008 as the compliance deadline and the TSA has been inelegantly retreating ever since. There is no reason to believe that the TSA won't continue to defer enforcement for as long as a substantial subset of states resist compliance. Besides, why are you even using your driver's license as ID? That's what passports are for.
TWO TICKETS, PLENTY OF TROUBLE ON ONEWORLD
With little fanfare, the Oneworld Alliance last June began allowing member airlines to refuse checked-through baggage if your itinerary was written on separate tickets and PNR numbers. I didn't even cover the development until the end of July. To be honest, I didn't believe it was particularly important.
But a week doesn't go by now without my getting a note from a member who's been hoisted on that particular bureaucratic petard. It seems to happen most often when you're mixing and matching award tickets. And it causes a world of hurt if you booked a tight international connection and you didn't know you had to collect your bags and recheck before the next flight.
Please remember: Book a single ticket whenever possible. If you must arrange two tickets for a complicated itinerary, call the originating carrier and try to get the onward flight placed on the same PNR or reservation number.
YES, VERIZON PHONES HAVE SIM SLOTS. YES, VERIZON PHONES ARE UNLOCKED.
Unlike most of the world's mobile phones, which rely on GSM, Verizon devices traditionally use CDMA technology. That was once a formidable barrier to using Verizon phones overseas. And since Verizon Wireless, with 35 percent market share, is the nation's largest carrier, many frequent flyers faced a dilemma when traveling almost anywhere outside the country.
But that's old news, something Verizon doesn't like admitting in public or to its customers. In order to get a bigger chunk of the wireless spectrum, Verizon years ago agreed with the federal government to keep phones unlocked. These days, almost all modern Verizon phones also have unlocked SIM slots that accept SIM cards from GSM carriers.
What does that mean? In short, your Verizon mobile device probably has a SIM slot and you can use virtually any carrier overseas simply by purchasing a SIM from them. So this is a reminder to ignore the overpriced Verizon international plans or that $10-a-day scam it suggests you activate. Instead, google your phone's name, the term "SIM card" and "Verizon" to learn where your SIM slot is. Then purchase a cheap, prepaid SIM in any country you're visiting.
AIRLINES ARE BASIC
American and United this week joined Delta and began selling Basic Economy fares in select markets. That set off a media frenzy, most of it ill-informed. As I explained last month, Basic Economy prices are not lower fares. They are the airlines' existing lowest fares stripped of even more perks and basic privileges. On their proprietary Web sites, the legacy carriers do a decent enough job warning you when you're about to book a Basic Economy fare and then work diligently to upsell you. But I remind you to be careful if you book via third-party sites or via traditional travel agents. Neither may sufficiently warn you that you're buying the dregs of the airlines' fare structure.
GROUP 9 FROM OUTER SPACE
American Airlines dropped a cheery E-mail on customers yesterday purporting to explain its new and improved boarding procedures. Lots of you forwarded the note to me wondering what it meant and asking why I hadn't covered it. But I did, last month, and I explained the new boarding was essentially much ado about nothing. All the new AA procedure does is renumber its existing boarding regimen without changing the order of things. In fact, the only innovation is the creation of the aptly named Group 9, a last-of-the-last category for lost souls who mistakenly purchased a Basic Economy ticket.
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