Everything You Want to Know About Traveling This Week
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 16, 2021 -- Everything you want to know about travel this week? I got the horse right here. Or the lyric from some other musical you want to quote.

The 2013 reverse merger of American Airlines into US Airways has gone about as any skeptic would expect: The US Air execs who took over, led by chief executive Doug Parker, have driven American into the lead of the race to the bottom. And American recently revved up the pace of its decline.

The carrier over-scheduled this summer and ended up cancelling nearly 15,000 flights, eleven times more than Delta Air Lines. It rewrote its contract of carriage to disclaim almost all responsibility for delays and cancellations. And it's not interested in helping if you're cancelled or delayed. (You won't be surprised by many of the changes. Just assume the crappy service you've been getting from American has been codified.) For $150 a pop, it'll now sell access to its once exclusive Flagship Lounges. It all but eliminated curbside check-in service and, at airports where it exists, you pay a fee to American's third-party contractor. And in its endless drive to align with substandard carriers, this week it announced a deal with GOL, a mediocre airline based in Brazil.

I avoided 9/11 television coverage last weekend and feel I'm better for it. But I found two print stories compelling because they focused on cause-and-effect in areas we've not much discussed.

Ellen Barry, a New York Times reporter who was at the Boston Globe on 2001, wrote a riveting piece on Virginia Buckingham. Don't recognize the name? I barely did. But back in 2001 she was the politically appointed head of the Massachusetts Port Authority, which operates Boston/Logan. Even though the airlines ran security then, Buckingham was Boston's designated scapegoat when it was revealed that two aircraft involved in the 9/11 attack departed from Logan. The horrific abuse aimed at Buckingham went on for nearly 15 years. Even today, loud-mouth haters like radio talker and newspaper columnist Howie Carr continue flinging insults at her. "I lost 15 years, is how I feel about it, in terms of my being fully present in my life," Buckingham told Barry.

Meanwhile, Vaughn Allex was an American Airlines ticket agent at Washington/Dulles. Just another cog in the airline machine. On 9/11, he helped two late-arriving first class passengers, brothers Salem and Nawaf Al-Hazmi, make their flight. It happened to be American Flight 77 and the brothers were two of five hijackers who took the aircraft and crashed it into the Pentagon. Allex has lived with the guilt ever since and, after retiring from American, went to work at the TSA. ABC News has his tale.

It goes without saying that we're not traveling much internationally. In fact, through the first six months of this year, statisticians say we've taken just 18.4 million trips out of the country. That compares to 48 million trips during the first six months of 2019. What's more interesting, however, is where we've been traveling. Two-thirds of the 18.4 million trips were to Mexico and Canada, up from 50% in 2019. That is especially fascinating considering U.S-Canada land borders were closed to nonessential travel. Those few of us who ventured outside North America didn't go far afield. Forty-four percent of our trips were to the Caribbean, a sharp jump from 23% in 2019. Trips to South America (17%) more than doubled from 2019.

Europe continues to make it more difficult for Americans to visit. Even Italy has tightened up and now requires a negative test and paperwork. And whenever you mention Italy and paperwork in the same sentence, you know there's danger. But this will help. It's the official--and not too daunting--digital form you need. Buon viaggio!

Two weeks ago, I mentioned how Best Western president and chief executive David Kong torched his fellow hoteliers for their lousy service and high prices this year. It seemed like an epic takedown.

But before we give credit to Kong for speaking truth to power, consider: Best Western announced this week that Kong was retiring. In other words, he waited until he was almost out the door to drop truth bombs. You know, when it couldn't hurt him. Not exactly a profile in courage.