Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Ralph Whiner

If Andy Rooney ever leaves 60 Minutes, CBS should hire Ralph Nader as a replacement.

I am taller than is facilitated by the cramped seats of the airlines that try to put in two extra rows. For tall people, they basically sell a ticket for all of you to go on the plane but your knees. Their motto could be, "Will travel, leave your knees behind."

You know what I say to people when I'm in one of Delta's or United's cramped seats? I tap the man or woman in front of me before we take off and say, "My knees and resultant circulation are now at your mercy." They know that means they should refrain from pushing their seat back. Because if they do, they will hear:

For airline passengers, we need a six-footers club.

While George W. Bush has Air Force One and John Kerry has his own Boeing 757, I have my unofficial campaign airline, called Southwest.

I don't have just one plane; I have the whole airline at my disposal. If you arrive late or have a special need, they give you a wink and say, "I'll take care of that.'' And they give you peanuts. And they are roasted. Do you realize how important a factor that is for a hungry campaigner?

I'm looking at a package of Kings Delicious Gourmet Party Mix. It says: "Made especially for United. A premium blend of cashews, honey-roasted sesame sticks and mini-pretzels."

I proceeded to open it with heightened anticipation, fully prepared to separate out the mini-pretzels from the rest. Are you ready? There was one little lonely shrunken cashew, two sesame sticks and the overwhelming denizens of this little packet were mini-pretzels. I counted them out, believe me. What else do you do on the plane where you're cramped?

Can you imagine an executive decision at the pretzel company, whoever is in charge, saying, "No one at United is going to count the number of cashews."

Hampton Inn is the motel of preference for our campaign. Breakfast is part of the price, and it is so diverse, you stand there stroking your chin saying, "Decisions, decisions, decisions."

I have seen emblazoned on the check-in counter that if you're not satisfied with the service for any reason, you can ask for your money back. From personal experience, I know they mean it.

But I have checked in at other hotels where they say, "We need your credit card in case there's damage to the room."

I say: "You're accepting my patronage and you're assuming I may break up the furniture? I'm accepting your service and assuming you're not going to unleash vermin and present me with a filthy room. I trust you; why don't you trust me?"

The answer is, "It's company policy, sir."

You know why I don't give them my credit card? Because I have never had a credit card. To participate in a mechanism that increases prices, induces impulse buying, violates privacy and makes you vulnerable to intimidation whenever you complain is against my consumer-protection principles.

At a Boston hotel, I once made a call of around 11 minutes. They charged me 40-something dollars. I told the hotel clerk, "You didn't indicate you were engaged in extortion.''

They immediately cut it in half. That was around four years ago; now, of course, I don't even try using the room phone.

One story I've got to tell: In the early 70's, when planes were being hijacked to Cuba, we demanded that the F.A.A. require airlines to harden cockpit doors and strengthen the latches.

The airlines objected, saying it cost them too much money, and the F.A.A. obeyed for around 30 years. When I turned on the TV on Sept. 11, I almost threw up. Now all the planes have been fitted.


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