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Frequent fliers: 'Up in the Air' film rings true

George Clooney stars in the dramatic comedy 'Up

George Clooney stars in the dramatic comedy 'Up in the Air,' released in 2009. Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures

In the film "Up in the Air," we see the George Clooney character, a consultant who delivers layoff notices, traveling suavely and seamlessly from workplace to workplace, this as he racks up points leading to premium airline, hotel and rental car status.

>>VIDEO: Haven't seen the movie? Click here to watch a clip

Some of the film's scenarios ring true, say area business road warriors. As for others, well, "dream on."

The film, which on Sunday won a Golden Globe for best screenplay, certainly captures "the sense of restless perpetual motion of frequent fliers - don't delay, keep moving, don't ever stop, head for the shortest lines, pack light, and upgrade, upgrade, upgrade," said Steve Dawson, 50, president of Walkers Shortbread Inc. in Hauppauge, who figures he was on the road about 60 days last year. That falls short of the Clooney character's 322 days, but, still, they both enjoy American Airlines' preferred status, stay at Hilton hotels and drive Hertz rental cars.

Despite the tricky economy and pullback in business travel, those airline frequent flier programs are not skimping on premier travelers. "Life is good, very good in fact," for those in Clooney's mileage category, said Randy Petersen, publisher of InsideFlyer magazine. "Because in tough times an airline never wants to lose a very, very valuable customer, benefits to this group have not changed and, in fact, have even become richer and more available."

At one point we see Clooney empty his wallet to show off an array of elite membership cards, which is Stephanie Leber's favorite scene. Up until last May, Leber, 25, of Roslyn, frequently logged in four on-the-road days a week as a consultant with Deloitte Consulting Llp. "I could understand the thrill," said Leber, now an MBA student at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. "I, too, recently made Diamond status at the Hilton, and the new glittery card is front and center in my wallet. . . . I feel it represents a milestone that justifies the many nights spent away from home."

The lure of such preferred status? The ability to control at least some travel factors, she said: "faster check-in, upgrades to business class, priority boarding, double points earned from hotel stays and premier rental car treatment." Also, Dawson said that "if you're an elite flyer, you get treated better when things go wrong."

Cost control raises its head in the film, as we see Clooney's boss planning to replace face-to-face firings - and all that travel - with virtual layoff by streaming video. Indeed, the National Business Travel Association found 47 percent of 180 corporate-travel buyers polled said they saw a drop of 15 percent or more in travel spending last year, though 56 percent expect an increase this year. And 78 percent saw video teleconferencing replacing some trips last year.

What did not seem true-to-life in the film? The lack of travel glitches. Dawson wonders where were "the delays, turbulence, flatulent seat mates, canceled flights, jet lag, awful food, even in first class?"

And Leber said the movie characters seemed to use travel "as an excuse to escape from the realities of their lives at home - or the nonexistence of a life at home." In her experience, she said, she and her co-workers looked forward to returning to family and loved ones.

"People get used to traveling, as it becomes a regular part of their life," she said, "but this doesn't replace the need to have a home base and supportive relationships."

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