Private airport security screenings, oh my!

The perks (and pains) of a Global Services frequent flyer on the new United

News_John Lamar_head shot_column mug By John C. Lamar
05.06.12 | 10:00 am
It’s barely May and I’ve racked up 65,000 miles so far this year on United alone. Yes, I’m that tired looking man by the shoe shine place (by the way, I am now officially the Mayor of the Houston airport shoeshine kiosk on Foursquare). Many people ask me: “What do you think of the merger of United and Continental?” Well, pull up a chair, sit back, relax (without fastening your seat belt) and enjoy the ride.

The Good
Pre-merger, I complained that Continental didn’t do enough to recognize and reward its elite group of frequent fliers who typically log 100,000 miles. That has changed with United – sort of.

United offers, by invitation only, a highly elite status known under the mysterious, vague moniker of “Global Services.” It is like an American Express Black Card in that you can’t ask to be admitted nor can you buy your way in.

United offers, by invitation only, a highly elite status known under the mysterious, vague moniker of “Global Services.” It is like an American Express Black Card in that you can’t ask to be admitted nor can you buy your way in. You have to fly a minimum of 100,000 miles a year AND spend at least $50,000 a year.

Some Perks
1) The best perk is a special closeted private security screening just for Global Services members. No lines or pat downs here and no problems. They have this set up at the San Francisco, Chicago and Newark airports but for some strange reason, not Houston, their second largest hub.
2) When boarding and if the gate agent remembers (two out of 10 times), Global Services members are boarded even before First Class but not before our men and women in uniform — as it should be.
3) Nine out of 10 times I am given instant upgrades when booking a ticket.
4) Conceptually, before the plane leaves the gate, the First Class flight attendant finds me and thanks me for being a Global Services member (did I have a choice?) and offers me first choice for the dinner selections.
I must admit, it is flattering to be sitting in Seat 4F and watch the entire First Class sector look curiously at me (Who is this guy?) as I place my order for lasagna 20 minutes before anyone else.
But like with all mergers, there are kinks to be worked out. Come meal time, I am served a chicken wrap.
“Where is my lasagna, I ask?”
“Oh, I am sorry,” the flight attendant says, “We ran out.”
“But, I ordered first.”
The flight attendant just shrugs his shoulders and attends to 5F.

The Bad
I am not going to dwell on the negatives of the United merger. Too many other people have done that and I’m a glass half full kind of guy, however, permit me to get on my soap box regarding the continued ban of PDA’s while in flight.

This is not just a United issue (although they are one of the few who do not offer Wi-Fi inflight) and most passengers are indeed “united” in their desire to see this silly rule knocked off the books.

This is not just a United issue (although they are one of the few who do not offer Wi-Fi inflight) and most passengers are indeed “united” in their desire to see this silly rule knocked off the books.
Well, perhaps not all passengers. On a recent flight from Houston to Salt Lake City as the plane descended through 8,000 feet, from Row 4B, I furtively flipped on my IPhone to check email. All of a sudden I heard (as did the entire plane) a loud voice coming from Seat 5C saying “I hope it is important!”

I turned around and replied “Why yes, as a matter of fact it is and thank you for reading over my shoulder.”
He responded: “Cell phones need to be turned off during landing; it’s my landing too!!”
It is a well-known secret that almost anyone who carries a cell phone forgets or intentionally leaves it on during flights. Look around …you can see passengers furtively checking their email from under their topcoat or behind a newspaper.
My unpleasant interchange with “Nosy Ned” would have ended quickly if not for the passenger in Seat 6C who also piped in saying: “Yeah, it’s my landing also.”

To which I replied,“Well you better brace yourself then – this baby is going down!”
Ah, the life of the road warrior!
As managing director of The Alexander Group, an executive search firm with offices in Houston, San Francisco, San Diego, New York, London and Park City, John C. Lamar is a real road warrior. He files periodic reports about his travels for CultureMap.

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