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Counselor Senior Editor Michele Bell's slanted view of the world.

Planes, Trains & Customs Searches: My Travel Wish List for 2013

Filed under: Fun, Personal, Travel

Happy Holidays, Everyone!

As we wrap up one year and prepare to start the next, I’d like to take a moment to give the airline and hospitality industries a little gift (she says with snark): my now-annual list of Things That Make Me Cringe when traveling.

Throughout my 15+ year career at ASI, during which I’ve been able to travel throughout North America, Europe and Asia, I’ve stayed in the best (the Peninsula and the W in Hong Kong, the Fontainebleau in Miami), trendiest (Mon Hotel in Paris) and skeeziest (the Foreign Businessmen Club in Guangzhou, China, which smelled like something my cat, Monkey, does in his litter box) hotels, and traveled well over 250,000 miles. So here’s what I’m hoping will change if I bitch loud and often enough.

1. Pillow Talk. I know this will sound trivial and entitled, but hear me out. I’ve noticed an inverse correlation between the quality of a hotel and the pillows they offer. Meaning, the swankier the hotel, the more craptacular the pillows. For example, in October, I stayed at the Crowne Plaza in downtown Dayton, OH. Was it a five-star hotel? Absolutely not. But, wowza, those pillows were to die for — fluffy, firm and abundant. Cut to the Westbury Hotel in Mayfair, London, where I stayed in September. Located in the chi-chi area of the city where the “young Royals” party at clubs like Mahiki, the Westbury is most definitely a five-star hotel. It also had pillows so thin I could’ve rolled joints with them.

2. Let There Be Light. For those of you who know me, you have no doubt heard me rail on more than one occasion about the horrendous lighting in hotel rooms, which cause me — I’ve been told — to emerge from my room with make up so heavily spackled on that I resemble “a hooker from Bangkok” (thanks, Ron Ball!). I’m now expanding this gripe to include the overall electrical issues in hotel rooms. In this day and age where everyone has roughly 8.5 gadgets that need to be plugged in, how is it that hotels can seriously get away with only having one outlet for use? And why are they never located next to the bed? Am I the only one who needs to sleep next to my BlackBerry while it’s charging? Anyone? (Crickets… Crickets…)

3. Are You Talkin’ to Me? Oh, cab drivers… How I have a love/lament relationship with you. Love, love, love how you’re always there when I need you and, for the most part, are cheery, chipper people always happy to make small talk. But here’s where you lose me: With everyone’s smartphone now fully equipped with GPS and Google Maps, you’ve pretty much taken a laissez-faire approach to your job as nine out of 10 cabs I took in 2012 saw the driver ask me for the address of and directions to my destination. Really? Be prepared. In 2013, every time you ask me to do your job, I’m handing you a red pen and a Counselor article to edit.

4. Come Fly With Me (Or Not). Hands up: Who loves the airlines? To answer that question, I’m going to defer to my pal Dana Zezzo, marketing and social media guru for Jetline and the industry’s favorite road warrior. To put Dana’s travel schedule into perspective, he estimates that he’s flown 85 segments in 2012 alone — more than once a week. However, he still gets relegated to middle seats, even though he has “Gold” status with United. “When your flight arrangements change because of airline delays or plane changes, everything you’ve done to pre-select your seat or get upgraded means nothing,” Dana says.

So, here’s my advice to the airlines: If you want to keep frequent fliers like Dana Zezzo and, to a lesser extent, me — both of us with our big mouths and social media pulpits — happy, try taking a page out of Zappos’ customer service playbook.

5. WTF, TSA? Let me state up front and categorically: I understand and respect what the TSA does and why they’re stationed at airport security areas. Truly, I do. Here’s what I don’t get: the maddening inconsistencies. In the U.S., you’re required to remove your shoes when going through security. In Europe, if you shuck off your footwear, they’ll look at you like you’re having a psychotic break. In China, you have to walk through a device that scans your body temperature before you enter the country, lest you have a fever. In the U.S., I’ve sat next to people on planes who I’m fairly certain had typhus. I’ve been stopped at U.S. airports for having lipstick, perfume and water in my carry-on bag, but waived through with lighters, corkscrews and a Swiss Army Knife that was a self-promo item from a distributor. Not too long ago, a TSA agent in Philly insisted on searching my ponytail. I’ve been frisked in Florida and had my bra set off alarms in Frankfurt, Germany. And I was once detained in China for bringing an apple (yep) on a train from Hong Kong. Surely there must be a way to implement uniform travel safety requirements that make sense. Because, ya know, my red Chanel lipstick isn’t a threat to anyone except the bartender who’s got to scrape it off my Grey Goose glass at the end of the night.

Cheers and hope you all have a fabulous 2013! More in the next few weeks, with tons of photos from the ASI Orlando Show, PSI Dusseldorf and PPPC Toronto!

— M