Monday, August 16, 2010

Travel Trends And News About Travel

“All the pathos and irony of leaving one’s youth behind is thus implicit in every joyous moment of travel: one knows that the first joy can never be recovered, and the wise traveler learns not to repeat successes but tries new places all the time.” - Paul Fussel.

8 Things an Airline Would Never Tell You
We asked a half-dozen insiders to expose little-known facts the airline industry would rather you didn't think about. They shared some pretty eye-opening stuff.
By Alexander Basek, Thursday, September 3, 2009
1. "Airport luggage scales often lie." It's bad enough that the airlines charge a fee for overweight luggage, varying from $39 to $300 per bag industrywide. But it's galling that they may also hit you with the fee by mistake. At JFK last November, New York City's Department of Consumer Affairs found that 14 percent of the airport's scales were not properly calibrated. At Boston's Logan airport, 10 percent of the scales recently inspected gave incorrect readings. The South Florida Sun–Sentinel has discovered numerous busted scales at area airports. And the list goes on. What to do? Stand up for yourself, especially when a scale barely tips the balance into the "overweight" category. Brandon Macsata, executive editor of the D.C.-based lobbying group Association for Airline Passenger Rights advises passengers to weigh their bags at home first, and if the airport scale comes up with a different number, insist that your bags be weighed on a different scale. Yes, it's come to that.
2. "Our air may make you sick." The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating whether potentially harmful fumes have been circulating in airplane cabins. Between 1999 and 2008, air became contaminated on 926 flights, reports the FAA, without specifying any possible health risks. Currently, the agency is looking at a particular type of "fume event" that involves "bleed air," or air that's been compressed by the airplane's engines. If there's a malfunction in plane equipment, the air that's fed into the cabin can be contaminated with chemical residues from engine oil—specifically TCP, or tricresyl phosphate. "Passengers may have symptoms like tremors," says Clement Furlong, a research professor of genome sciences and medicine at the University of Washington. So far, federal reviews of the research have been inconclusive about whether bleed air actually endangers the health of passengers and flight crews, though two civil lawsuits about fume events are under way.
3. "That nonstop flight you booked? We can add a layover to it—without explanation." Think you scored a sweet fare on that transcontinental flight? Think again. You may be making a previously unscheduled layover. Airlines can cancel your nonstop and rebook passengers onto flights with connections, which are obviously less desirable. Advises Brett Snyder, author of The Cranky Flier and a former pricing analyst at America West: As soon as you find out that your nonstop flight has been canceled, check to see if there's another nonstop option. If there is, call the airline and ask—nicely—to be put on it. But if nonstop service on the route has disappeared, threaten to switch to another carrier for the trip. Major airlines will typically agree to refund your money without any fees if you refuse to accept a new, multistop flight that will arrive at your destination more than two hours later than you were originally scheduled.
4. "We wouldn't tell you right away if there's an emergency." The FAA leaves it up to the airline to decide if it wants to tell passengers about an engine failure or other significant crisis. And many flight crews opt to keep their lips sealed. The reason? Flight crews don't want to scare passengers or say something they'll regret later. "In one recent emergency, the cockpit crew was faulted for making a public announcement before some of the required procedures were accomplished," explains Kent Wien, a pilot for a U.S. carrier. So attendants tend to err on the side of being secretive to avoid trouble. Last June, passengers traveling from Brussels to Newark on Continental Airlines were not informed when the captain died during the flight. The plane continued along its scheduled route with nary a peep from the rest of the crew, beyond a cryptic question: "Is there a doctor on board?"
5. "When we let you pick your seat assignment, we were only joking." As the airlines decrease the number of seats they fly in an attempt to eke out a profit, they're swapping out larger planes for smaller ones more often. Whenever fliers are put on a new plane, seat assignments are scrambled. A traveler may end up in a middle seat he or she would never have selected. If it happens to you, there's not much you can do—airlines aren't obligated to honor any seat assignment. "Passengers are actually purchasing a fare and not a seat," says Macsata of the Association for Airline Passenger Rights. Checking in online 24 hours prior to departure is often the best you can do to boost your chances of getting the seat assignment you want. Print your boarding pass with your seat assignment on it before you get to the airport as proof in case you need to argue with a gate agent over a last-minute switcheroo.
6. "Our planes are antiques." Compared to the rest of the world, we're flying the airplane equivalent of grandma's Cutlass Supreme—except Uncle Sam isn't interested in paying cash for these clunkers. American owns 268 MD-80 class airplanes, with an average age of 18 years old. Meanwhile, thanks to a geriatric fleet of DC-9s, Delta and Northwest's average fleet age is 13 years old. In contrast, Emirates has an average fleet age of about 5 years. Singapore Air's is 6 years. And, while Ryanair is often faulted for lacking basic amenities, its planes average less than 3 years of age. Luckily, U.S. airlines aren't having problems maintaining their aging aircraft from a safety standpoint, notes Bill Voss, president and CEO of the Flight Safety Foundation. "There's no real indication of anyone cutting corners," says Voss. "Planes don't age like wine, but they do remain flight-worthy with proper maintenance." The FAA doesn't have a maximum age limit for planes, though it does require more frequent inspections for planes that have flown for more than 14 years. But aside from safety there's just plain old comfort. If you've ever wished you had a personal seatback flat-screen TV instead of having to share a view of a cathode-ray tube in the aisle—well, now you know the reason.
7. "Our crew is totally exhausted." Airline jobs are famously hard on the Circadian rhythms, and flight crews simply aren't getting enough rest. Pilot fatigue has been a factor in crashes that have led to over 250 fatalities in the past 16 years, including the recent crash of a Colgan Air flight to Buffalo, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. The night before that accident, the copilot commuted from the West Coast to Newark while the pilot slept on a couch in a crew lounge at the airport. Crews on reserve (that is, crews readily available for service on short notice) don't have it much better. "On reserve, we don't have control over what we're doing," says Heather Poole, a flight attendant for a U.S. carrier and a contributor to travel blog Gadling. "One day we're flying a 5 a.m. departure, and the next day we're working a red-eye. Do this for a few trips in a row—add the delays in there—and that's when it gets bad." Working reserve can stretch crews to the limit. "Once during a terrible reserve month, I remember staring at my emergency exit door, thinking, Is it armed? Is it armed? Is it armed? I could see that it was, indeed, armed (the evacuation slide was attached to the door properly). But it wasn't clicking in my brain because I was so tired."
8. "Your ticket might not be with the airline you booked." Two airlines may sell seats on the same flight, a sales strategy called code sharing. You may think you'll be traveling on one airline, but you actually fly on another. The situation seems harmless enough but can cause major headaches for passengers. For example, most major airlines farm out their short, commuter flights to regional airlines. "By and large, you haven't heard of Chautauqua or Republic, but you may be flying them when you click to buy a ticket on Continental," explains Randy Petersen, publisher of InsideFlyer. "With two airlines involved, there's a constant passing of the buck. Worse, many regional carriers operating on code shares are exempt from reporting their on-time statistics. And God forbid if you need to file a claim with them for lost baggage."
Get your stuff out of the airline seatback pocket pronto! by  Brad Tuttle, Thursday, Aug 27, 2009, 3:49 PM
The airline seatback pocket may not be spacious, but it has at least traditionally been a place to stash your magazine or water bottle while you snooze. Not anymore.The FAA has decreed that no passenger personal items whatsoever are allowed in the seatback pocket, as Joe Sharkey's "On the Road" column in the New York Times reported. The only things that are supposed to be in the seatback sleeve are in-flight magazines, safety brochures, the air-sickness bag, or other official material approved of by the airline.The ban on personal items in seatback pockets is news to a lot of passengers, and news to a lot of airlines as well. Airline spokespeople have said that they had no idea there was such a ban, and that passengers have always been allowed to make use of the seatbacks. So what's this really all about? As Sharkey's column points out, there is probably some concern that the recent introduction of baggage fees has pushed passengers to carry more items onto the plane and stuff them wherever they can, including the seatback pocket. To some extent, flight crews must also like the ban. They probably don't want the hassle of telling passengers to keep their stuff out of the seatback. But if no personal items go into the seatback pockets, cleaning the pockets out after every flight just got a whole lot easier for the crew. How, and how often, will this ban be enforced? It's hard to tell.
Am I Too Fat To FLY? I had heard about the upset airlines were causing by charging their larger passengers for an extra seat, but it hadn’t happened to anyone I knew. That is, until last Sunday morning.

My first Southwest flight was a 3.5 hour stretch from Oregon to Chicago. I arrived early as always, checked my bags, went through security, and got to my gate. I was sitting a stone’s throw from gate with about 45m to spare when one of the airline staff walked up and sat right next to me. “Do you have a ticket for this flight?” he asked. I had no idea what was going on. My first thought was they might have oversold the flight and were going to offer me something above what they normally did for giving up my seat and didn’t want to make an announcement. I was excited because I didn’t need to be there as early as I’d planned and that meant Ivy would have a freebie trip somewhere.“Yes sir, I do.” I said, ready to hear about my proposed reward.“Well there’s a policy that if you don’t fit comfortably in a seat with the arms down that you’ll have to buy a second ticket. Do you think you can?” he asked. I felt sick. There were 100 things I would have said had I not kicked into self-preservation mode. I just wanted the exchange to be over.“Yes, I can sit in a seat with the arm down.” I said, hoping he would accept it on my word and go away. Of course it wouldn’t be comfortable, but I’d taken full flights before and sat squished into a seat with the arms down. I even made a game of it in my head—I’d pretend I was in a space craft designed for a smaller being. If I got too uncomfortable I could always stand for a bit at the back of the plane; no problem. “It’s a 4 hour flight. You can sit comfortably with the arms down for the entire flight?” he asked, doubt in his voice. Still gripped with embarrassment I couldn’t even think straight. “Yes, I can.” I reiterated. “Okay, we’re going to take you down to the plane shortly to let you get settled and make sure.” he said, finally. I felt mad, embarrassed, and scared all at once. I made my living traveling. There was no way I could ask my company (or the customer) to eat a second ticket because I was overweight. I worked out what a second last-minute ticket for this flight was going to run me and felt sick. He came back and took me down to the plane. I stuffed my carry-ons into the overhead and slid into the middle seat, pulling down the arms and showing that I could indeed squish myself between them. At that point I got a bunch of “we’re sorry, but you understand I’m sure” from the attendant who brought me up and the ones working the flight. So, now you
know someone who has come close to getting charged for a second ticket.

Southwest Suddenly Decides Man Is Too Fat To Fly — AgainBy Meg Marco, 11:47 AM on Tue Sep 8 2009, 14,473 views We thought this issue was taken care of the last time a Las Vegas Southwest employee randomly stopped someone from flying without checking to see if they could actually sit in a seat with the arms down (per Southwest's policy), but apparently not. Now a Chicagoland man says he was stopped from boarding a return flight home to Chicago because he was too big (6'2" 350lbs), but the airline wouldn't allow him to prove that he could fit in the seat.

Note: This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.

iPhone: Top Language Translation Apps/Using Your Cell Phone in Europe

iPhone: Top Language Translation Apps
Our favorite apps work with or without Internet access. Because, chances are, Wi-Fi hotspots aren't the only places you'll need help with the local lingo.
By Reid Bramblett, Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Languages: Twenty-three, including Arabic, Cambodian, Cantonese, Dutch, French, German, Greek, Hindi, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Lao, Malay, Mandarin, Nepali, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, Thai, Turkish, Vietnamese, and Australian—the last app is handy for translating otherwise incomprehensible Aussie slang.
Usability: The World Nomads apps present lists, divided into categories, of a few dozen basic travel phrases. After tapping through the categories, such as "places to stay" and "directions & transport," you can select an appropriate phrase and hear an audio clip of a native speaker pronouncing it—a high-end feature we're surprised to find in a free app.
Frustrations: Dining phrases are missing—a big drawback. There are also inconsistencies. The Thai app tells you how to say "yes," but not "no." (For the record, it's mai.) Sometimes, an app suffers the opposite problem and presents the forest rather than the tree you need. For example, the Arabic app suggests five ways to greet people, but none of them is the handy salaam aleikum, which is all you need to know.
Overall: Most of what a tourist needs to understand is covered, including key words (such as "please" and "thank you"), numbers up to 10, and a few phrases useful in transportation ("Where is your ticket?"); lodging ("Too expensive!"); and safety ("Stop, thief!" and everybody's favorite "Those drugs aren't mine!"). There's also a Language Lesson feature in which all of the phrases are strung together in a short audio skit of a "typical tourist situation," complete with background sound effects.
Details: World Nomads and iTunes Store
Coolgorilla Talking Phrasebooks
$1 per language
Languages: Eight, including Dutch, French, German, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, and Spanish.
Usability: The interface is similar to World Nomads'—useful travel phases, divided by category, organized in a simple, straightforward fashion.
Frustrations: Some translations seem less than necessary (guess what the Italian words pizza, lasagne, and tiramisu mean in English?). More languages would be nice. Also, Coolgorilla is a British company, which means you need to translate things into British English in your head first (chips are French fries). The apps are a bit buggy and crash on occasion—not a huge concern, but annoying.
Overall: While they function similarly to the free World Nomads apps, the Coolgorilla apps come with 10 times the number of phrases per language, making them a fantastic investment for just a buck. The app for each language features more than 500 phrases in 40 categories (accommodations, food and drink, activities, shopping, etc.), all professionally translated and spoken aloud. The speakers get amusingly breathy and excited when translating such phrases as "Kiss me" and "I want you." Fittingly, the phrases come after "Would you like a drink?" and "What's your sign?"
Details: Coolgorilla and iTunes Store.
Using Your Cell Phone in Europe

Traveling without a cell phone seems unbearable these days. Here's our guide for avoiding pesky fees—because who factors "astronomical cell phone bill" into their vacation budget?
By JD Rinne, Thursday, April 1, 2010
"Will my phone work?"
Ask your service provider to be certain, but generally speaking, AT&T and T-Mobile operate on a wireless network that works in Europe (it's called GSM). Verizon and Sprint don't, with a few exceptions. A key question to ask about your device: Does it support quad-band frequencies? If the answer is yes, your phone will work in Europe. Also, be sure to ask if international roaming is enabled on your phone. If it's not, your provider can turn it on simply by hitting a button.
"Does it make sense to buy an international voice, text, and/or data plan?"
Think about how much you'll use your phone abroad. Is it just for emergencies? Or are you using it for local calls and texts, say with a group you're traveling with? If it's for emergencies only, going with your provider's per-minute charges is probably your best bet; that's $1.29 per minute in Europe. If you're likely to use your cell phone more extensively, see the info below on rate plans, costs, and other alternatives.
"How do I turn off the data features on my phone (e-mail, etc.), so I don't get hit with a huge charge?"
If your phone connects automatically to the Internet, you'll pay data-plan rates whenever the phone downloads e-mail or connects to the Web. The result can be an astronomical bill you didn't know you were racking up. Every phone is different, so check the user manual or call customer service to turn off these features. AT&T has a helpful guide for iPhone users who are roaming internationally (and trust us—you can get hit with major fees). One overall tip: Use Wi-Fi on your phone instead of a 3G network to check e-mail; Wi-Fi is based in the local area (like the cafĂ© you're in) and doesn't cost anything.
"What other fees should I expect?"
Your destination country may charge you applicable taxes and fees for using its networks locally. It's best to ask your provider.
"Should I buy a 'disposable' phone at my destination instead?"
Yes, if you don't want to worry about fees. You can get a phone at cell phone stores in touristy areas, at cell phone counters in department stores, and even at airports. Budget about $40 to $75 for a phone, which will usually include some prepaid calling time. You'll also have a local number, which means calls and texts within the country will be free.
"Will I get charged if someone calls my phone while I'm in Europe, even if I don't answer it?"
If your phone works in Europe, you can be charged for incoming calls, even if you don't answer them—and even if your phone is turned off! Normal international airtime rates apply ($1.29 per minute for all carriers), so tell people not to call or leave messages. You can also call your service provider to disable your voice mail, but note that setting it up again when you return will probably be a hassle.
Will your phone work? Yes.
Costs $1.29 per minute for voice, 50¢ per text. Data download (e-mail, apps, Internet usage) costs vary depending on the phone type.
Other options AT&T offers special international rate plans that bring the per-minute calling cost down to 99¢ and text messages to 20¢ (add the plan for about $6 a month). Alternatively, you can swap out your SIM, the small card that acts as your phone's brain. It stores your number, your contacts, and other important info. A new SIM card will give you a local number, but your features (applications you've downloaded, namely) won't work. Buy a SIM card ahead of time from companies like and; prices range from $20 to $70. You have to "unlock" your phone to replace the SIM. As a protection against theft, service providers "lock" phones (meaning the phone will work only with your specific SIM). AT&T will unlock your phone if you're a long-term customer in good standing. It will take a few days to get your phone unlocked, so plan ahead.
Will your phone work? Yes (with a few exceptions, like Sidekicks).
Costs T-Mobile customers can call for $1.29 a minute; texts cost 35¢ to send and 20¢ to receive. Download data for $15 per megabyte.
Other options T-Mobile doesn't have any special rate plans. If you plan to make a lot of calls, try using a new SIM card. T-Mobile will unlock your phone if your account has been active for 90 days (it will take one to two days to get it unlocked).
Will your phone work? Maybe. Verizon has seven models that use the GSM technology that works in Europe, such as the BlackBerry Tour and HTC Touch Pro2.
Costs If you have one of the seven models, voice is $1.29 a minute. You can add a monthly $5 plan to bring that down to 99¢ a minute. Texts always cost 50¢ to send and 5¢ to receive. Download data for $20 per megabyte, or buy an international data plan that will offer a 100 megabyte monthly allowance (rates vary depending on the phone type). Other options Verizon offers a free rental phone for up to three weeks. Standard calling rates apply. A new SIM card won't work in phones that are not GSM-compatible, so buy a disposable phone at the airport.
Will your phone work? Maybe. Sprint has five models that are compatible with Europe's wireless technology. Costs $1.29 per minute for voice; 20¢ per text. Data download is about $16 per megabyte.Other options Sprint has a rental program that includes three phones that will work in Europe. One-week rentals range from $29 to $70, and insurance is suggested (starting at $9 for a week's rental). Otherwise, buy a disposable phone when you get to your destination.
Note: This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.