Monday, May 23, 2005

And now, scenes from the classless society. We give you... the airport.

Dealing with airports has gotten a little more obnoxious for all of us, what with new security measures, which (whatever their effectiveness) are designed to let us all know someone cares... well, at least enough to make us take off our shoes. So, we're all in it together.

Well, some are in it more than others. Friends of bigshots at American Airlines, for instance:

Among those who benefit from the generous travel arrangements are AMR's outside directors, their spouses and dependent children. According to its proxy filing, AMR provides travel to directors and their families and pays the taxes that the perks generate. The company accounts for these perks at cost. Last year, these costs were over a quarter-million dollars. In the last five years, the costs totaled $1.4 billion.

Chump change, of course, for a big airline, but worrisome enough to one unidentified shareholder at the AMR meeting who wondered aloud about excessive directors' travel. One director received more than $61,000 under this perk. That would cover 145 round trips between New York and Tokyo as well as taxes paid at a 40 percent rate...

This at a time when the airline has been reducing salaries and benefits for actual employees. Then again, the airlines don't necessarily offer these folks their most elite perks -- those offered to invitation-only, "super-elite" frequent flyer clubs:

On United and on other airlines, members of the secretive, invitation-only clubs are met at the airport by employees and whisked past the check-in line. They wait for their flights in unmarked V.I.P. lounges and are offered liberal upgrades and personalized attention by airline employees. And at a time when airlines are obsessed with improving their on-time records, it is not uncommon for a plane to be held for a super-elite member who is stuck in traffic.

''Super-elites are the Skull and Bones of the sky,'' said the frequent-flier expert Joel Widzer, referring to the blue-blood secret society at Yale. ''Don't bother asking how to join. If you qualify, they'll let you know.

And why might the airlines offer such perks? Well, they have to compete with the ultimate perk, available to those who can afford charters: bypassing all that "security" nonsense completely. Surely, the terrorists wouldn't be uncouth enough to try to hijack a plane with important people on it?

That last article is a little old... the "no security" threshold has been raised a bit.


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