Business Travel
Dumpster Dive
SUNDAY, APRIL 5, 2020 -- The world is a terrible and terrifying place just now, but the business traveler's equivalent of a dumpster dive brings us a rare moment of ... well ... not joy so much as a brief instant of happy kismet.

You must already know that the CDC, after many weeks of delay, recommended on Friday that we wear protective "cloth face coverings" (aka masks) to help stop the spread of the Coronavirus. No matter that our wartime president (aka the "great backup") doesn't want to be seen wearing one. The experts say it's a good idea.

The problem? Masks are rarer than passengers these days. Heroic front-line doctors, nurses and other first responders are using garbage bags as gowns and bandanas and scarves as face protection. In the richest nation the world has ever known, we have volunteers sewing makeshift personal protective equipment. In the greatest democracy known to mankind, our federal government thinks it's wrong to make America safe again by operating as a central buying service.

So where are we average folks going to get masks? They ain't going on trees, so to speak. And first responders should be first in line.

Some of us can raid our workshop and repurpose masks we'd normally use when sanding or working with noxious stuff. I found a package of masks down in my basement next to the sander. I didn't even know I owned a sander, but there they were, sander and masks in a little-used toolbox. No matter that the price tag on those masks identified the retailer as Pergament, a long-forgotten New York Metropolitan area chain that slipped into bankruptcy and oblivion just a few months before 9/11.

But here's a source of masks that I bet all business travelers have: amenity kits. Go to your closet or your bedroom bureau or wherever you keep those premium class amenity kits you long ago meant to toss or recycle. Look around inside for the eye mask, a staple of every airline amenity kit ever distributed.

The eye mask makes a great "cloth face covering." Seriously. Extend the fabric folds, slip the elastic band over your head and position the mask over your nose and mouth. It may not be pretty and it surely isn't what the CDC had in mind, but it works. I generally don't keep eye masks--I toss them and the earplugs--but my wife does. She scrounged up eye masks from Air France and TAP Air Portugal amenity kits and debuted them today on a shopping run. I, of course, was resplendent in my 20-year-old Pergaments.

(I can't take credit for this brilliantly innovative reuse of eye masks, this epic business travel dumpster dive. Several travelers--and at least one broadcast reporter--hit upon the hack and posted pictures of themselves wearing the eye-mask-cum-face-covering on social media.)

One other bit of dumpster-diving kismet worth noting: You may find hand sanitizer in those previously disused amenity kits. I've been walking around with a 20-milliliter bottle of sanitizer that I originally found in a Delta Air Lines amenity kit. The Delta-provided sanitizer--made in China, by the way--is long gone, but the plastic, flip-top bottle is the perfect traveling size. (Imagine that! A good travel-size bottle in an amenity kit!) I've refilled it frequently in these terrible and terrifying times.

Best Western went first, followed by Hilton, then Radisson and Hyatt. They've all thrown their elite customers the status extensions they deserve. The hotel chains--Marriott and InterContinental will inevitably follow--know that travel is going to be a long, long time rebounding. Good business sense demands they keep their best pre-pandemic customers happy and engaged.

When, you wonder, will airlines get the message? The answer is today. Delta this morning announced that it was offering SkyMiles elites (and Delta Sky Club members) extensions. There will also be some perks for Delta American Express cardholders. Within hours, United Airlines responded with its own status extension for MileagePlus players. American Airlines is now on the clock, so stay tuned.

Some travelers are still being told by airlines that they don't rate a refund even though the airline has cancelled the flight. They claim all that's available is a "travel voucher," which is now being enhanced with a two-year validity date. And, again, I tell you: Poppycock! Or, you know, something stronger.

You are entitled to a refund. Full stop.

You are so clearly entitled to a refund that the normally compliant Department of Transportation on Friday publicly scolded airlines for their atrocious behavior. If, however, you're still arguing with an airline, stop. Just stop wasting your time and energy. Use your big plastic stick. Call your credit card company--and hold times are lengthening--and contest the charge.