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A Short but Heartfelt List of Pet Peeves from the Road : Complaints: From missing washcloths to noisy airports, things that could be improved.


As a frequent traveler, I have a gripe. Actually, I have lots of gripes. And what road warrior doesn't?

The folks who run the nation's airports, hotels and car rental firms say they want to make life easier for business travelers, but they seem to be missing some obvious opportunities to do so.

Take, for example, the irritating placement of washcloths in hotel bathrooms. At home, my washcloth hangs within easy reach of my shower. Wouldn't you think hotels could arrange to do the same? But they don't--well, not many of them anyway. Typically, the cloths are tucked in a basket along with the miniature bottles of shampoo, and the baskets invariably sit on the far side of the bathroom. I should know better, but I usually don't remember this until I've begun to soap up. I'm forced to splash out of the shower and drip across the floor to retrieve an item that should be at hand.

Don't hotel officials ever take showers? You wouldn't think so, based on the way they organize their guest bathrooms.

Now, you're going to say my problem here is a petty one, given the grievances that abound in this world, and I'll readily agree. My pet peeves--I've compiled a list--are essentially quite minor. I've never felt angry enough to complain to the management about any of them. But when you encounter these irritants week after week, as I and other business travelers do, they build into a wearisome hassle that I think could all be resolved quite easily with a little thoughtful effort on the part of the people who cater to travelers.

* Interrupting phone calls. After I've stood in line at a car rental counter, I want the clerk's full attention when it's finally my turn to check in. But surprisingly often, my rental is delayed while the single clerk on duty takes a complicated reservation from someone who has interrupted with a phone call. I wait while the intruder is given priority treatment, and it annoys me every time. In a just world, the rental clerk would place the caller on hold until my rental has been processed.

* Noisy air terminals. In the past year or two, a new and noisy distraction has been inflicted on passengers waiting to board a flight. At too many airports these days, overhead television sets have been installed, and they blare loudly and indiscriminately to the willing and the unwilling. My suggestion to airport officials is to turn down the volume--so only those directly in front can hear--and keep the number of TV sets to a minimum.

* Undecipherable receipts. As a business traveler, I'm expected to fill out an expense account after every trip. One of my big expenses is lodging, and I count on getting a readable bill listing my charges when I check out of a hotel. But it is amazing how many hotels make their bills complicated documents. I run into trouble especially if I have charged meals to my account over a period of days. "Is this item dinner or breakfast?" I wonder, "and on what day?"

* No space for a razor. Who designs hotel bathrooms? Stay-at-homes? When I travel, I tote a ditty bag with toothbrush, razor and other essentials, and I like to lay them out near the bathroom sink when I'm unpacking. But in many hotels, often the only space provided is the top of the toilet. Is it too much to ask for a decent shelf in the vicinity of the sink?

* Missing bed lights. As is now apparent, a number of my peeves stem from inadequate hotel rooms. Somehow many hotel managers seem incapable of providing a user-friendly room--and the luxury properties are as guilty as the budget chains. Every room rented to two people should have two reading lights--preferably installed overhead on the wall above each side of the bed.

* Insufficient airport seating. In many crowded airports, there simply aren't enough seats for everyone waiting for the next flight. Will all airport designers and managers please do something about this?

* Limited athletic facility hours. Hotels tempt business travelers with fancy athletic facilities to keep them fit on the road. I'm all for this, but curiously, time and again I've found that unthinking hotels have restricted the hours of the pool to the point that it is of no use to me. If it doesn't open until 9 a.m., it's too late for me to swim, have breakfast and get to work on time. If it closes at 6 p.m., I'm probably just getting back from work and don't have time for before-dinner laps. When hotels cater to business travelers, I suggest they keep their athletic facilities open early and late--even if this means closing them at midday.

* Uninformed desk clerks. It is surprising how little some desk clerks know about the day-to-day operation of their hotels--witness this little exchange I had over the phone in a big chain hotel in Lynchburg, Va. At about 8 a.m. I called the front desk. "What time does your pool open?" I asked. "Oh, it will open some time this morning," I was told. "But when?" I persisted. The clerk told me she would check, and finally, a voice told me, "Why, the pool is open right now." So I donned my bathing suit and descended four floors to the pool--located not more than 30 yards from the front desk. There an attendant informed me he had just poured in a bunch of chemicals and I would have to wait for half an hour. No guest ought to be put through this, but it happens.

Christopher Reynolds is on vacation.

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