American Airlines’ $5 Million Baggage Fee

A Washington woman has filed a $5 million class action law suit against American Airlines for losing her luggage. Danielle Covarrubias was flying from Seattle to Washington last May when the airline lost her luggage, a single bag with about $800 worth of possessions. She waited for the next flight with no luck. She then went and spent $300 on new toiletries and clothing while she waited for the bag. After 24 hours, she checked back in with the airline. She asked for her $25 baggage fee to be refunded, but the airline reportedly refused. “In her last conversation with American Airlines…she was told nothing could be done,” the lawsuit says. If only they’d just given her the 25 bucks.

American Airlines says, “We already do allow customers to include a checked bag charge refund request in their baggage claim if they file one for other damages and the claim is accepted for full or partial payment.” It’s unclear filed if she such a claim, and either way, that sounds complicated.

What is clear is that American Airlines loses a ton of luggage. 2,400 pieces are lost or delayed each day. Last year, 299,257 bags were reported “mishandled” by the airline, making it the second worst in the industry. (Southwest is number one!) American began charging for checked bags in 2008, at a cost of $25 for the first and $35 for the second.

Covarrubias’s lawyers say the fee represents a “clear and unambiguous agreement with passengers to handle bags with care, and deliver them to their destination in a timely fashion.” An agreement that in her case, and many others, was broken. While $5 million sounds like an outrageous sum, any winnings would be divided up among all customers who have suffered since it’s a class action lawsuit. In fact, you’d actually need nearly $7.5 million to refund the 299,257 who had their bags mishandled last year. An American Airlines spokesperson offered no comment and said the lawsuit was being reviewed.

Gansevoort Park Avenue Coming Soon

The Gansevoort Park Avenue, one of a number of notable new hotels coming to New York in the coming months, will soon be opening its doors. The hotel is slated to debut on August 2, and there’s a low, low (said in cheesy TV voice) intro rate of $275/night. After that, the regular rack rate is $395, so get it on the cheap while you can. Just what can you get at the Meatpacking madness hotel’s new location?

First, rooms. You get a lot of space for your money. The hotel’s 249 rooms average 475 square feet. Even the entry-level superior rooms are 350 square feet, palatial for New York. There are 400 thread-count Egyptian cotton sheets, Hi-def LCD TVs, iPod docks, free Wi-Fi, and all the other nice stuff there’d better be. The style is modern but warm, with contemporary four-poster beds and a muted, gray-and-neutral color scheme punctuate by splashes of chartreuse and fuchsia. Of course, you’re not coming to the Gansevoort just to relax in your room.

There’s a rooftop indoor/outdoor pool twenty stories up and a Plunge Rooftop Bar and Lounge, just like the MePa location. Downstairs, a restaurant called Asselina will serve “half-portions and finger-foods to meet our various clientele’s dining preferences.” Perfect for models! A bar called Twenty33 will serve infused liquors. There will also be an Exhale spa, offering its signature Core fusion class to work off those half-portions.

Nazi Soup Artist Returns, Sorta

The New York man made famous on Seinfeld’s “Soup Nazi” episode for his tasty soups and strict rules has reopened his original Manhattan stall. Al Yeganeh, who calls himself the Original SoupMan — surprisingly, not the Soup Nazi — is getting back to the kitchen after yesterday’s reopening, though he avoided the fanfare and was a no-show at a ceremonial “zucchini cutting” to celebrate the comeback. Yes, zucchini, not ribbon.

Yeganeh served up soup and strictures for 20 years out of his 100-square-foot stall on 55th street. The rules were simple but important: “Pick the soup you want! Have your money ready! Move to the extreme left after ordering!” In 2004, he closed his stall and sold the rights to his business, but he still controls his brand and soups. “We cannot change the recipes, we do not change the recipes, every time we want to have a new soup he develops it for us,” says Bob Bertrand, the president of “The Original SoupMan” company.

Bertrand was understanding about Yeganeh’s no-show yesterday. “He’s an artist and all artists are a little bit eccentric. This is his passion, he takes pride and he takes his soup very, very seriously,” he said. “That’s his mystique.”

While SoupMan is reopening and the recipes will be the same as always, the atmosphere may be a bit different, according to Bertrand. “We have the rules,” Bertrand says, “but they’re not enforced.”

Notorious Monkey Smuggler Caught in Mexico

A Mexican man has been arrested after trying to smuggle monkeys back from Lima, Peru. Authorities searched Roberto Sol Cabrera at the Mexico City international airport when they noticed he was behaving “nervously.” The search quickly revealed the reason behind his funny behavior: He has hidden 18 small titi monkeys in a girdle around his waist.

Cabrera was arrested on charges of trafficking an endangered species. He told authorities that the monkeys had traveled in his luggage, and that he had put them under his clothes to go through customs and X-ray machines. Police say the little animals had been tied into socks and two died in transit.

South American titi monkeys are an endangered specie; those that Cabrera transported were reportedly only six-inches tall. Cabrera said he paid about $30 a pop for the monkeys, which can fetch around $1,500 from people who want to keep them as pets.

Animal trafficking is a big issue in Mexico, where it’s long been a tradition to keep wild animals as pets. It’s also an easy stopover for smuggling animals into the U.S. from South America. The government has placed increased restrictions on importing of primates, but monkeys are still openly sold at Mexico City’s Sonora market.

Crazy Rich People Getting Closer to Space

Exorbitantly priced private space travel is closer to being a reality for a very, very small number of people! Late last week, a private spaceship built for rebel billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic made its first crewed flight. Don’t get too excited, though. The spaceliner didn’t go to space — it just cruised over California’s Mojave Desert.

Named the VSS Enterprise, the spaceliner flew for just over six hours, according to a Virgin Galactic statement. During the flight, two crew members evaluated systems and functions and not crashing and all that. As planned, the spaceship remained attached to its mothership, VMS Eve, for the entire flight.

If and when the Enterprise goes into space, it will first fly attached to the mothership to about 50,000, where it will then launch, its rocket engine propelling it 60 miles into space. Passengers will be able to see the curve of the earth and experience zero gravity.

According to the Virgin Galactic website, over 340 “Virgin Galactic astronauts,” aka people who are dropping $200,000 for space travel, have signed up for a spin on the spaceship. Future astronauts must put down a $20,000 deposit. Test flights of the VSS Enterprise are expected to continue through 2011.

Drunken Aussie Learns Crocodiles Aren’t Ponies

The headline sort of says it all: “Drunken guy bitten after attempting to ride saltwater crocodile.” After being thrown out of a pub in the western Australian town of Broome for being too drunk, 36-year-old Michael Newman had the brilliant idea to climb over a fence and try riding an 1,800-pound crocodile named Fatso. Yeah, this isn’t going to end well…

The crocodile, who’s a whopping five-meters-long, ripped chunks of flesh from Newman’s right leg while the drunkard tried to straddle him. Perhaps sensing that it was almost too easy, Fatso let Newman go and he was able to climb back over the fence.

Malcolm Douglas, the owner of the animal park that houses Fatso, says the drunk got lucky. “Fatso was a bit more sluggish than normal, due to the cooler nights we have been experiencing in Broome…If it had been warmer and Fatso was more alert, we would have been dealing with a fatality.”

Bleeding profusely, Newman staggered back to the pub. Staff there recall that he had chunks of flesh hanging off his leg.The man was taken to the hospital where he underwent surgery on the wounded leg and is said to be recovering, though officials expect he’ll be there for some time. Apparently crocodile bite wounds are prone to infection. We can only assume Fatso is fine as well.

Shocker: Eccentric Rich Guy Moves into The Plaza

Wealthy old people. They’re everywhere in New York, especially at The Plaza. So it should come as no surprise that wealthy older person Steve Wynn has moved into the Plaza Hotel. The Vegas resort mogul, who’s credited with revamping Vegas and making it an exciting town where everyone can blow money, catch an STD, and eat at a celeb chef outpost, closed yesterday on a four-bedroom duplex condominium in the famed building for around $23 million. Just how big is the pad?

The penthouse apartment is a whopping 5,613 square feet, making it one of the biggest in the building. Wynn bought the apartment furnished—it has custom-built Italian furniture by Giorgetti that was brought in a couple years ago when architect Gal Nauer, daughter of an Israeli billionaire (only rich people in this story!), spent six months giving the interior a total overhaul. The 20th-floor apartment has nine rooms, a private elevator, a 24-foot-long terrace facing Central Park for sundown Belve martinis, and, we’re guessing, plenty of wall space. Wonder if Wynn will decorate it with the priceless Picasso his elbow put a hole through a few years back.

DVF Hotel Rooms Revealed

Last month we told you about the rooms Diane Von Fursternberg was designing for Claridge‘s hotel in London, and since then, we’ve waited eagerly for a glimpse of the style maven’s handiwork. The wait is over.

HotelChatter has a slideshow showcasing the designer’s makeover of the hotel’s legendary Piano Suite, and it’s a stunner. As we’d expect from Ms. Von Furstenberg, bold patterns and colorful statement pieces—animal print carpets, a sofa with fuchsia lips, geometric-print curtains and headboards—are mixed elegantly throughout. Repetition of the same pattern on a chair, headboard, bedskirt, and curtains in the bedroom, helps keep things from getting too chaotic.

In the marble bathroom, there are, naturally, zebra-print DVF robes. Shaded lamps and mirrors, most notably a freestanding number on the vanity, figure heavily, adding to the feminine sophistication. Black doors and even the occasional wall lend a sense of drama and a crisp simplicity to all the pattern work. Gold accents on sconces, mires, and molding “add just the right amount of metallic” in away that’s thoroughly modern, not retro. We’d expect no less from DVF.

Jennifer Lopez Learning Valuable Lessons about History, Contracts

Jennifer Lopez could be fined up to $40 million for flaking out on a concert she was scheduled to perform at hotel in northern Cyprus later this month. Lopez cited the “political realities” of the region as her reason for pulling out of the show, but the “reality” of her contract might be that she has to pay or play.

Lopez had signed up for a gig at the Cratos Premium hotel and casino on July 24th to celebrate her 41st birthday, but she didn’t take into account the pesky, decades-old conflict on the island.

Since a 1974 Turkish invasion, the island country has been de facto divided in two, with Turkish Cypriots claiming sovereignty in the north. In 1983, the Turkish Cypriots declared an independent Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, a country nobody aside from Turkey recognizes. UN Peacekeeping forces have been on the island since ’74 to maintain a buffer between the two sides. Enter J-Lo.

Earlier this month, Greek Cypriots called on her to cancel her gig, furious that she was performing at a five-star resort in the Turkish-occupied north and worried that her gig would further polarize the island. Lopez eventually ceded and canceled, but resort owners aren’t letting her get away so easily. “The cancellation…is not covered by any clause in the contract she signed with us,” says Murat Bozoglu, CEO of the Turkish-based company behind the resort. “If she does not show up for the concert, we will begin a procedure in the courts to claim $35-40m in damages.”

It seems Lopez did her homework a bit too late, but oh well, after the tremendous success of The Back-Up Plan, which coincidentally has made a whopping $37 million in domestic box office to date, we’re sure she has plenty of extra cash around.