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The Stay-Over Rule Doesn't Fly

Airlines with this asinine provision will be the losers.

June 01, 2002|JO GIESE | Jo Giese, a reporter on "Marketplace Radio," is the author of the forthcoming book "My Doggie Lama."

The airlines got their billion-dollar bailout, and I want mine.

As a frequent flier, I want the airlines to bail me out of their stupid Saturday night stay-over requirement. Think about it: What other mass transit people-mover--train, bus, ferry--dictates how travelers must spend their weekend?

The Saturday night stay-over is bad for business and awful for families. No matter what shenanigans a company pulls to make an expense-paid weekend in New Orleans before a company meeting on Monday sound enticing, employees do not want to be separated from their families.

I came up against this concrete wall again recently. My radio series "Breaking the Mold," which is heard on Minnesota Public Radio's "Marketplace," won the 2002 Exceptional Merit Media Award from the National Women's Political Caucus. I was invited to the awards ceremony at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on May 8, a Wednesday.

I don't know about you, but I don't win awards every day, so I wasn't going to miss it. After my news editor said that, because of lean times, Public Radio wouldn't be footing the bill, I started scrambling to find tickets for my husband and myself. I discovered that to accept my award for an exceptional radio story, the price was also exceptional: Two tickets on American Airlines from L.A. to D.C. would be $4,600 round trip, and that's economy. A discount broker was offering American Airlines at $258 per person if we stayed Saturday night.

"They're still doing that?" my husband asked.

Like millions of airline lemmings, we decided (were forced) to make a vacation out of it. Except by Thursday I'd had my moment in the sun, I'd collected my award, we'd cruised the Potomac and we wanted to go home.

From our hotel in Georgetown, I called Jet Blue, an airline that 10 days earlier had inaugurated its Dulles-Long Beach run. For $238 per person, we flew home on Friday.

A fellow Jet Blue traveler from Los Angeles, a stockbroker and father of a 4-year-old boy and a 5-year-old daughter, had this to say: "Sunday is Mother's Day, and I can't stay overnight. My wife and mother would kill me."

While I was in D.C., I met with Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic whip. Pelosi said she flew to San Francisco "every single, solitary week" and spent 25% of her life on planes; at the end of our interview, I asked how she did it. "Don't get me started on the airlines," she said. Then the highest-ranking woman in Congress admitted that she buys double tickets, a method that enables her to avoid the Saturday stay-over.

I've flown the future, and it's a small airline with no Saturday night stay-over requirement. The future is also Southwest, the only airline that announced a profit this year, and it too does not require a Saturday night stay-over. Even though Jet Blue and Southwest are expanding into long-haul markets, they don't serve all the markets.

That still leaves us and our companies hostage to those arbitrary rules that prevent us from going home. I propose a stimulus package to the airlines. Stop bellyaching about business and threatening bankruptcy: It's the Saturday night stay-over, stupid.

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