Saturday, August 1, 2009

Unexpected Flight Upgrade Highlight of Woman's Vacation

A woman returning to Los Angeles after a seven day Caribbean cruise with her husband and two children admitted Tuesday that the unexpected upgrade to first class on her flight from Atlanta was actually the highlight of her trip.

"It was amazing," said Kris Anderson, age 54. "I loved boarding first then watching all the suckers in coach file past. I could see in their eyes they were wondering what made us so special or rich that we were willing to pay three times as much for our seats. I tried to play it all nonchalant, like I was just tired of traveling and ready to be home."

Anderson actually paid nothing for her upgrade, which was the result of Delta overbooking the flight. They gave away her seat in coach -- 29B, a middle seat -- but because there was an empty seat in first class they offered it to her.

Her two children, both teenagers, sat with Anderson's husband, Michael Anderson, in row 33.

The flight capped the end to their vacation to the Bahamas via cruise ship. They had paid only $699 per person after seeing a last minute deal on Travelocity. Anderson said that her family was disappointed by the small size of the cabins and grossed out by a cockroach they saw scuttle out of the cherry jello at the buffet. And she also got tired of her daughters' bickering.

Anderson reveled in her first class status by going to the bathroom reserved for first class passengers multiple times. Although they had eaten lunch prior to arriving at the airport so they would not have to pay for overpriced food, Anderson still ate the free meal.

"They served our drinks in an actual glass, not some flimsy plastic cup," she exulted. "And the pasta had portabello mushrooms in it, not just canned ones."

Anderson also took advantage of the free headphones -- which would have cost $2 if she sat in coach -- and the extra large fleece blankets -- which were not offered in coach because of concerns over flu, according to an on board announcement. "I asked a flight attendent why we got blankets if they were so concerned about passing around swine flu and he kind of smirked and said that was just a way for headquarters to cut costs."

The highlight of the trip came when they offered dessert -- ice cream with a coating of dark chocolate. "It was as good as the tartufo I once had at the Olive Garden," Anderson said.

Friday, July 31, 2009

'Bills for Bikes' Program to Follow 'Cash for Clunkers'

The White House will announce a new "Bills for Bikes" program Friday following the unexpectedly overwhelming popularity of the "Cash for Clunkers" program.

The latter program provided up to $4,500 credit for car buyers who traded in high emission, low mileage vehicles and purchased more fuel efficient ones. One billion dollars had been provided for the program, which was expected to last until Nov. 1 or after 250,000 cars had been sold, whichever came first. The program began July 24.

Car dealerships and jalopy owners are holding out hope that additional funds for the program will be forthcoming.

But in the meantime, the White House hopes to entice motorcycle riders with a similar program. Motorcycle and scooter riders who bring in their two-wheelers will get $200 in cash if they buy a new bicycle or a Segway. Although Congress has not appropriated any money for the program yet, the White House is expected to reallocate money from the large Defense Department budget and justify it with a roundabout claim of national defense and reducing oil consumption.

Bikes have zero emissions and Segways have no emissions when operated though they do require an electrical recharge. But they still are three times more efficient than the highest mileage scooters, according to the company that produces them.

A White House aide speaking on the condition of anonymity because the program had not yet been announced said that it had bipartisan support. Reps. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., Jack Kingston, R-Ga., avid bike riders, and Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., a Segway enthusiast, will join President Obama in announcing the program Friday.

They had originally planned to have the lawmakers circle around the White House garden before the press conference but changed plans after worries that the bike-riding lawmakers would crash into camera equipment or that the Segway in action would look too dorky.

The program is expected to cost a scant $50 million, or the equivalent of 25,000 bikes.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Distilled Spirits Council Lobbies for Own High Profile Happy Hour

After seeing the boost to beer brought on by President Obama's meeting with a renowned scholar and a Cambridge, Mass., police sergeant over various American beers, the Distilled Spirits Council has begun a furious, behind-the-scenes lobbying campaign to get the commander-in-chief to publicly partake of hard liquor.

Obama met on Thursday with Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and Sgt. James Crowley. The president drank Bud Light, an unsurprising choice given that it is the best selling American beer. Gates, apparently also watching his calories, went with Sam Adams Light, a Massachusetts-based brew, while Crowley indulged in a more exotic Blue Moon, a Belgian-style beer produced by Coors. Vice President Joe Biden, a last-minute addition, was forced to partake the non-alcoholic Buckler as a public service nod intended to avert criticism that the event was a pro-alcohol public relations coup.

A White House source said that Obama's favorite brew is actually Schofferhofer Hefeweizen, a German wheat beer. But that particular libation was ruled out because "the name was unpronounceable and because of the pretentious way you're supposed to swirl the bottle when you pour it into a glass. It would have been a bigger public relations disaster than him waxing on about arugula."

In addition to drinking, Obama also sought to deflate the biggest race-based controversy of his presidency. But the biggest winners were the beer companies, particularly Bud Light producer Anheuser-Busch, which was acquired by the Belgian-Brazillian beer company InBev last year. His consumption of that one beer is the equivalent of five Super Bowl commercials, said one euphoric Anheuser-Busch marketing executive.

Mindful of that free publicity, the Distilled Spirits Council has been intensely lobbying for Obama to partake of a mixed drink, such as a martini, in a similarly high-profile setting.

One possibility is for Obama to have a martini with England's prime minister, Gordon Brown, according to a source at the council. An even better public relatious coup would be if he could drink a "Vesper" martini with James Bond actor Daniel Craig. That drink includes gin, vodka and vermouth. Even though James Bond has a decidedly British origin, the United States's close relations with England would make such an indulgence forgiveable.

"The White House has made clear that pina coladas, margaritas and mai tais are out. No umbrella drinks or anything that's too girly or has a funny sounding name like screwdriver," said the Distilled Spirits Council source. "A gin and tonic is a possibility."

Hard liquor isn't the only alcoholic beverage seeking favorable publicity. The Wine Institute, a California-based wine advocacy group, is trying to persuade Obama to imbibe some locally grown wines when he meets with lawmakers to discuss the health care reform package. They are leaning heavily on two key Democratic Golden State lawmakers -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman, whose committee oversees the health bill -- to persuade the president to partake.

In addition to being a boost to the domestic economy, the wine advocates are stressing that drinking red wine in moderate quantities can help prevent heart disease, and thus is an appropriate drink over which to discuss health care.