Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Extra, Extra!: Convene Newsstand

Welcome back to Extra, Extra!, PCMA Convene's semi-regular weekly news supplement.  Lately it's been more semi than regular, and for that we apologize — the Convene editorial staff have been busy putting together our November and December issues, always the biggest of the year, in addition to helping plan our first-ever Convene Forum, in Cancun next week.

But enough prevarication.  On to the news!

When booking flights recently, have you gotten the feeling that more and more seats are off-limits — unless, of course, you're willing to pay an additional fee?  Well, it's not just a feeling: According to the Wall Street Journal, airlines are increasingly charging passengers not only for choice seats (such as those in the exit rows), but even pretty much any assigned seat — other than, say, a middle seat in the back of the plane, snuggled right next to the bathrooms. And it's not just comfort (such as it is) that's at stake: As the story reports, passengers who come to the airport with unassigned seats — i.e., those who decline to play the airlines' game of musical chairs and pay the fee — are more likely to get bumped, in the event of an oversold flight.

Joe Sharkey, who writes the New York Times' "On the Road" business-travel column, got an earful from his readers last week, who responded in droves to an earlier column in which Sharkey said that hotel Wi-Fi was deteriorating — as a result of more and more guests using the connection for data-heavy uses such as streaming Netflix — and "that the time may be coming when hotels would purchase a lot more bandwidth from their Internet providers, but then offer Wi-Fi to guests in a tiered-fee system."

On the whole, readers agreed with Sharkey's observation that hotel Wi-Fi was getting worse, but flat-out rejected any suggestion of tiered pricing for improved access. Instead, as more than one reader suggested:
"Why don’t you get mobile broadband via a 4G USB modem from Verizon for $50 a month, and put your on-the-road data needs to rest?  4G is stunningly fast, and you will have access any place within the Verizon phone network.
Seems like a good idea for anyone who travels any significant amount of time each month — not to mention this would also mean no more having to continually enter login info into hotel Wi-Fi systems.

Remember the $16 muffin story from a few weeks ago?  Sure you do.  Some of you are probably still tossing and turning in bed over it, in cold sweats, up all night.  Well, rest easy: The Dept. of Justice's Inspector General has officially retracted the allegation that led to the whole controversy.  Of course, shortly after the story appeared in the national news media, many people both within and without the meetings industry pointed out big flaws in the story, effectively debunking it.  But the official retraction is still welcome.  A statement from the Inspector General says:
After publication of the report, we received additional documents and information concerning the food and beverage costs at the EOIR conference. After further review of the newly provided documentation and information, and after discussions with the Capital Hilton and the Department, we determined that our initial conclusions concerning the itemized costs of refreshments at the EOIR conference were incorrect and that the Department did not pay $16 per muffin. We have therefore revised the report based on these additional documents and deleted references to any incorrect costs. We regret the error in our original report.
Chalk one up for the meetings industry.

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