Tag Archives: airlines

Reclining airline seats:
Do (not) unto others

Rather than pricey seat-blocking gadgets or juvenile, combative behavior, try this old-school alternative when you fly: courtesy. Works every time.

The buzz in the airline industry these days is about passengers apparently losing their minds when the passenger in front of them reclines their seat.

Airline travelers of a certain age will remember when there was enough space between each row of seats for every passenger to recline in comfort. No need to worry about bruising someone’s knees or maybe breaking their laptop…or their nose.

To put it mildly, things have changed.

The airlines’ determination to squeeze every possible dollar out of every flight has seen them cram extra rows of seats into their aircraft.

That’s how it is in Economy, anyway.

The farther you go toward the front of the airplane, and the more money you pay for your seat, the more legroom you get. Which makes all this a non-issue in First or Business class.

Back in Sardine Class, unfortunately, “it’s on!” Instead of Star Wars, we now have Seat Wars.

Nowadays, when we recline our seats, or the passenger in front of us reclines theirs, it’s increasingly becoming a cue for airline drama. Passengers are defending their precious few inches of “seat pitch” as if they were the Alamo, and the entire Mexican army were occupying the seat in front of them.

Complaints to flight attendants. Foul language. Kicking the back of the offender’s seat. In some instances, fights have broken out — three in the last week or so.

Some passengers are even resorting to using expensive gadgets designed to block the seat in front of them from reclining, leading to yet more drama.

The result: Flights having to be diverted due to disturbances on board. Passengers have been kicked off airplanes, even arrested after unleashing their inner brat at 35,000 feet.

(NOTE: Some airlines prohibit the use of seat-blocking devices. In some cases, breaking them out will automatically get you in trouble.)

Seriously, people, is this the 21st century? Are we grown-ups? Air travel isn’t already miserable enough?

IBIT has a solution to stop this madness. It’s simple. It’s been around forever. Best of all, it’s free.

It’s called “courtesy.”

If you want to recline your seat, ask the passenger behind you. If they object, don’t recline.

As soon as you can, even before the plane takes off, politely ask the passenger in front of you to give you a heads-up when they want to recline their seat. Or even more politely ask them not to.

Anything beyond that, explain the situation to a flight attendant and leave it with them.

I’m reluctant to call this “common courtesy” because, frankly, it no longer seems all that common, if it ever really was. But I’m convinced it still works, especially if we all commit to using it.

And there’s no better time to break out a courtesy jihad than when encapsulated in an aluminum tube moving at not quite the speed of sound seven miles above the ground.

We paying passengers may not have created this situation, but taking our frustration and discomfort out on one another is unlikely to make any of it better.

We’re all in this misery together; we might as well cut one another some slack and make the best of it until we reach our destination, yes?

Carry-ons: For shame?

airport baggage graphic

Carry-on scofflaws with their oversized bags move a writer to act. Can social media succeed where the airlines themselves have failed?

If you’re one of those airline passengers who insists on dragging suitcases the size of hay bales onto an airliner and calling them carry-ons, you know the airlines are starting to come after you.

The people who do this slow the boarding process to a near-standstill, causing flights to take off late, which means they often arrive late, disrupting flights through throughout the air travel network.

Part of that delay includes having to take cases that wouldn’t fit in the overheads off the plane to be checked at the gate, a process that’s not only become increasingly common but becoming more expensive to travelers.

(Some airlines are now charging as much as $100 per bag if they have to take your bag out of the passenger compartment and check it. Ouch!)

Well, it turns out that the airlines aren’t the only ones ticked off by all this. Some of your fellow passengers aren’t too thrilled, either.

They’re tired of waiting for you to muscle your over-sized, overly heavy bag into the overhead bin, holding up scores of people behind you, many of whom waiting for their chance to do the same thing. They’re tired of you hogging the bin space with suitcases that were never intended to be stored overhead.

They’re especially tired of having your bag fall on their heads, either when it slips from your grasp or when the overhead bin latch pops open in flight and it comes flying out.

“We’ve all seen them,” says San Francisco Chronicle writer Spud Hilton. “The passengers at the gate dragging roller luggage that is more the size of a clown car than a carry-on. And of course they have a “personal item,” a bag or case in which you could smuggle a small pony.

“They stand in line at the airport, 2 feet from the airline’s carry-on sizer rack, clearly transporting the entire cast wardrobe for “Beach Blanket Babylon” (including the hats). Then they walk past the gate agents with an air of entitlement that says, “Those silly rules don’t apply to me.”

Evidently, Mr. Hilton has had enough of this nonsense. He’s launching his own one-man online shaming campaign against travelers who go to extreme lengths to evade the airlines’ much-despised fees for checked baggage.

He wants other travelers to snap cellphone pics of passengers slipping past airport gate agents with their ridiculously over-sized carry-ons, then post them on Twitter, Instagram and Vine with the hashtag #CarryonShame.

He has his reasons:

“If it were just passengers rationalizing their behavior as trying to cheat the airline out of checked baggage fees (or fliers just trying to save money), we wouldn’t care. But the increasingly aggressive disregard for the size standards — which has led to flight delays, a much longer boarding process, abusive passengers, and increased theft from gate-checked bags — also is disregard for everyone else on the plane. When your steamer trunk inconveniences someone else, there’s no excuse for that.”

Flight delays. A much longer boarding process. Increasingly aggressive passengers. I’ve seen all that with my own eyes. Theft from gate-checked bags, however, is a new one to me. New and disturbing.

This could get interesting. Actually, I could see it getting out of hand. Then again, when I watch the boarding process degenerate into a theater of the absurd, I suspect it’s gotten out of hand already.

ALSO CHECK OUT
AIRLINES: Crackdown on carry-ons
WTF: Pay for your carry-ons?
AIRLINES: No more carrying on?

AIRLINES: All’s fair in love and fare wars

Sunset landing, Los Angeles International Airport
Sunset landing, Los Angeles International Airport

Airline fare sales are a lot like playing the lottery. You have a chance to win big — just not a good chance. You’re better off tracking down airfare bargains on your own.

When I started publishing IBIT almost five years ago, one of the easiest ways to get my heart racing was to find out that Airlines A, B and C were staging a “fare war.”

Airline A would announce these eye-popping airfare reductions “for a limited time only.” Within a day, sometimes hours or even minutes, Airlines B,C — and sometimes through Z — would follow suit. And I’d breathlessly jump on here to spread the word.

Regular IBIT readers will tell you they don’t see such posts here nearly as often anymore. Here’s the reason: Over time, I’ve learned that these “fare wars” too often are far more style than substance when it comes to saving you money.

For most consumers, scoring a major bargain in a fare war is a bit like winning the lottery. Can you hit it big? Theoretically, yes. Are the odds in your favor? Definitely not.

By the time you’ve waded through all the exceptions, exemptions and restrictions, there’s virtually nothing left for you to consider buying. It’s enough to make you wonder why the airlines bothered in the first place.

What am I talking about? Consider:

  1. Time frame
    Usually short to extremely short, the better to try to stampede consumers into making hasty spending decisions likely to cause them to spend more than they planned.
  2. Gimmicks
    That gorgeous-looking fare to your preferred destination either will be based on the purchase of a round-trip ticket or requires you to pay a higher fare for the return leg. You have to spend a minimum number of days or nights, or stay over on a Saturday. In the case of major cities with more than one airport, the fare may apply only to the one that farther from the city center, which means more expense in ground transportation for you. And on and on and on.
  3. Limitations
    The discounts don’t apply to the airline’s entire route system, only to certain carefully chosen destinations — none of which remotely interest you. Your travel must be started by a certain date and completed by a certain date. And there are blackout dates when you won’t be allowed to fly in either direction on that discounted fare.

And those are the catches the airlines tell you about. What they don’t tell you is that there may not be that many seats per flight available at those bargain-basement prices.

Another hidden catch: If the airline thinks its fare-war sale has grown too popular with the public, it can cut it off at any time, without warning.

By the time you’ve waded through all those airline “clauses,” too often you find there’s no bargain left to be had.

When it comes to fare wars, I no longer believe the hype.

When it comes to finding an airfare at the right time to the right place for the right price, you’re better off tracking it yourself. The Web has lots of ways you can do that.

Many of the more popular travel booking sites — including one or more you may be using already — have airfare alerts you can use. Other sites are dedicated strictly to tracking airfares. Both work in basically the same way.

Just enter your departure point, destination and the amount you want to pay. The site will take care of the rest, sending you email or smartphone text messages to “pull your coat” when the fare has dropped to the level you’re looking for.

(NOTE: When setting your alert price, be realistic. I’d love to fly from LAX to Paris for $100 round-trip, too, but the odds of the fare ever dropping that low are slim to none.)

While some booking sites will let you know when fares drop to your chosen destination, there are other sites designed exclusively to keep tabs on airfares that might prove more useful.

Some even track the rise and fall of specific fares over the course of a year or more, allowing you to follow airfare patterns and time your trip to get the best possible fare.

You can find some of the best sites for both airfare booking and fare tracking right here on IBIT:

  1. Go to the AIR-LAND-SEA pull-down menu at the top of this page.
  2. Roll your cursor over the linked marked AIR.
  3. Roll your cursor over the link marked AIRFARES and click.

Look them all over. See which ones work best for you. Then start stalking those bargain fares on your own.

ALSO CHECK OUT:
AIRLINES: Changing the game for frequent fliers
AIRLINES: Bin Wars
AIRLINES: Prejudice takes wing

Reposition yourself, Part 2

Just as the cruise lines periodically have to move their vessels around, so do the airlines. But when it comes to offering bargains on repositioning flights, the airlines aren’t nearly as accommodating.

Once you’ve seen what kinds of deals you can get on repositioning cruises, it’s not unreasonable to wonder if airlines do the same thing.

Well, they do…and they don’t.

Actually, the airlines reposition aircraft all the time. Unlike the cruise lines, however, they don’t make a point of trying to sell seats on them.

An airliner due for maintenance may be flown from its last commercial stop to the city that hosts the airline’s maintenance base. Likewise, a plane that was used to fly, say, the Dallas Mavericks to to New York for a game against the Knicks may return to DFW.

These are known in the airline industry as “ferry flights” and the planes fly empty.

An airlines may list an extra flight when repositioning one of its aircraft and sell seats on it. They call these extra flights “sections.” They are publicly listed and you can find them online.

The trick is finding them because — again, unlike the cruise lines — the airlines usually won’t even tell you when one of their commercial flights is a repositioning flight.

But there is a way to spot one of those “sections” for yourself. According to Airfarewatchdog, the terrific airfare monitoring site led by George Hobica, the key is the flight number.

Regular flights have three digits in their flight number. The repositioning “section” flight has four, often starting with an “8” or a “9.”

It’s a good clue, and also the only one the airlines are likely to give you.

I’ve never tried calling up a reservations clerk and just asking him or her to point me to a repositioning flight. I might try that one of these days, just to see what happens.

Perhaps the most important divergence between the cruise lines and the airlines on repositioning is in pricing. The cruise lines sell cabins at loss-leader prices on repositioning cruises. The airlines, if they sell seats on a repositioning flight at all, will sell it at their standard rates.

There was a time, several years ago, when an airline might cut you a deal every now and again on a “repo” flight, but it was infrequent even when they did it.

Like their airline cousins, charter air services also reposition their aircraft, especially when they need to fly them back after delivering their VIP clients to their destinations on their small private planes.

They call these “empty legs” and are more than willing to sell you a seat on them at discounted rates, perhaps as much as $75 percent off their normal airfares.

With rates for private planes being so much higher than regular commercial airfares, even a 75 percent discount might not be that much of a bargain. But if you can put together a group large enough to fill an empty leg, you just might be able to score a major deal — and an unforgettable flying experience — at the same time.

ALSO CHECK OUT:
Reposition yourself, Part 1
CRUISE: Go “repo”

Travel Clubs: Savings by the numbers

Second of two parts

You’ve got your travel club up and running. Time to start stalking those group travel deals.

In Part 1 of this series, we looked at what it takes to organize your own travel club — and as you saw, it takes a lot more than the snap of your fingers and the click of a mouse.

But you’ve done it. Everything is in place. You have your first members, your first officers. You’ve even decided as a group when you want to take your first trips and where you want to go.

Now you can start planning those trips, and stalking the bargains that are unique to group travel.

Airlines, cruise lines, railroads, bus lines, rental car companies all do group sales, as do hotels and resorts, worldwide. Likewise, there are travel agencies, tour operators and a host of other travel providers that routinely handle group travel.

The same also applies to sellers of the various forms of travel insurance.

They all love nothing better than knowing that on a given day, they can count on a large number of customers, which is why they’re willing to reward clubs like yours with discounts.

In addition to conventional airlines, there also are charter outfits that fly many of the same types of airliners as the Americans, Deltas and Uniteds, but deal only with privately arranged group trips. Instead of fixed schedule, they go when you want, where you want.

You provide the passengers and the payment; they provide everything else.

THE DEVIL AND THE DETAILS
However, organizing group travel will be a little different from planning trips for yourself.

For one thing, the process itself is a lot less automated. Whether via a company Web site, email, “snail mail,” phone or some combination thereof, making these arrangements will require you to deal with real, live human beings. Old-school travel planning.

And you can bet the Devil will be lurking in the details.

To that end, make the trip planning a team effort. Get your club officers and other members involved. Having more than one set of eyes looking everything over could avert costly mistakes.

You’ll need to determine with each provider how many travelers, in their view, constitutes a “group.” That number will vary from one provider to another. But don’t worry. Whether your group can barely fill a van or is large enough to fill a cruise ship, there are group travel providers out there who will gladly hook you up.

Even after your numbers are established, group rates can still vary, depending on whether yours is a leisure, educational, business or religious group.

Lead time is going to be important, and you’ll need plenty of it. Group travel, especially for large groups, is seldom something you can set up on a spur of the moment.

PASSPORT PERILS
Many group travel providers will want everyone’s name and initial deposit several months in advance, and will insist on final payments at least a month before your travel date.

All of the above is just for trips within the United States. Planning a group trip out of the country becomes even more involved, starting with passports. Everyone will need a valid passport. Men, women, children, right down to the newest of newborns.

But what constitutes a valid passport? Having one that’s not expired may not be enough.

Some countries require you to have at least three months left on your passport after your visit begins or ends. For many others, it’s six months. If your passport is too close to expiration, the host country may refuse to issue you a visa.

Travel providers in this post-9/11 era are increasingly strict about this, and since new or renewed passports are good for ten years, there’s really no excuse. Show up with a passport that’s “short,” and you won’t even be allowed on the airplane, much less in the country.

Remember that Devil? Something as small as a typographical error can destroy a trip.

Let’s say you’re planning a Caribbean cruise or a flight to Ghana. The tour operator or travel provider will want a list of all the travelers in your group.

If anyone’s name on that list doesn’t match exactly how their name appears on their passport, that person won’t be allowed to travel. No excuses. No exceptions. Nothing.

You need to make sure that every member knows all the rules governing passports and visas, and doesn’t get tripped up.

DID YOU KNOW?
If you are behind $2,500 or more in child support payments, the feds will not give you a new passport nor renew an expired one until you pay up. Word to the wise, fellas.

Then, there’s the issue of health. Make sure club travelers have the latest information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about what vaccinations or medications might be needed for certain parts of the world, and urge them to talk to their doctors. Also advise them to check with their health insurance provider to see what kind of coverage they have ojtside the United States.

Everything I’ve laid out might make group travel planning sound horrendously complicated. But as if does with most things in life, the web is ready to help with trip planning sites designed specifically for group travel.

Some group travel planners available online include:

DON’T DO IT YOURSELF?
Many travelers are already familiar with Tripit, using it for their individual travel planning.

Perhaps, after reading all this, you’re hesitant to get directly involved in planning a group trip at all. In the words of the Travelstormer site: “Travel planning is 90% decision-making. Try it with a number of people and you’ll reach chaos in no time.”

Wouldn’t it great if there were someone out there who could handle all this for you? Well, there is.

There are professional Group Travel Planners out there who will handle the trip planning for your club, just as travel agents do for individual travelers. And like travel providers specializing in groups, they can offer some pretty cool perks.

Example: Bring a travel planner a certain confirmed number of bookings in your group and the group leader gets to travel for free.

As you would any other vendor with whom you’re not familiar, you need to check out these planners through the usual filters — TripAdvisor, the Better Business Bureau and so on. Due diligence, always.

Never deal with any travel provider with whom you don’t feel completely comfortable and confident.

Once it’s all done, the only thing left is to hit the road, ride the rails, take to the skies or set sail.

Next stop: The trip of a lifetime, just you and your small — or maybe large — army of friends.

ALSO CHECK OUT:
Travel Clubs: Make it happen

FAA: Use your cell phone on the plane! Kinda. Sorta. Maybe.

The federal government announces loosened restrictions on the use of personal electronic devices aboard airliners — with enough qualifying clauses to hold a convention at the North Pole.

The Federal Aviation Administration made an announcement last week that a lot of you have been waiting for. It is rewriting the rules governing the use of Personal Electronic Devices aboard airliners.

© Leestat | Dreamstime.com
© Leestat | Dreamstime.com

Basically, you now will be able to use your smartphone, laptop or tablet computer throughout your flight in ways that have been prohibited up to now:

“Passengers will eventually be able to read e-books, play games, and watch videos on their devices during all phases of flight, with very limited exceptions.” So says the FAA itself in its press release.

And yes, that includes during takeoffs and landings. Further, if the aircraft has wifi available for airborne use, you’ll be able to use it with your own device.

Bluetooth devices like wireless keyboards are now okay, too.

A word of caution, however, before you fire up your iPhone or iPad in the friendly skies. Did you notice that “…with very limited exceptions” clause there? It won’t be the last one.

And as you’ll see in a moment, you haven’t seen the last of “Airplane Mode” just yet.

You can read the entire FAA announcement here.

For years, the FAA has been under pressure to change its rightly conservative but admittedly arcane safety rules governing PEDs.

Air passengers increasingly travel with electronic gear — smartphones, tablets and the rest — and they increasingly chafe at rules limiting their ability to use them aboard airliners. Many, if not most, have long suspected that the safety features designed into modern avionics rendered the regulations outdated years ago.

At long last, it looks as if the FAA agrees. Sort of. But to understand what this announcement really means, you need to be clear on what the FAA is not doing.

It is not issuing a blanket approval of using PEDs on airliners. It is not setting a date after which passengers will be free to use their devices on all airlines.

And you still won’t be able to place calls on any of your personal devices from 35,000 feet.

What it’s saying, in effect, is that it’s comfortable enough with the safety features of modern avionics that it will leave it to the discretion of the individual airlines whether to allow PED use in flight:

“Once an airline verifies the tolerance of its fleet, it can allow passengers to use handheld, lightweight electronic devices – such as tablets, e-readers, and smartphones—at all altitudes,” the FAA says.

Short form: You’ll need to check with your individual air carrier to find out what it does and doesn’t allow where PEDs are concerned.

Be prepared for it to vary from one carrier to another.

The day after the FAA made its announcement, both Delta and JetBlue got Washington’s official blessing to allow PED use in flight. JetBlue claims it was the first.

Meanwhile, remember those FAA “clauses” I mentioned earlier? Here are a few more:

  • Changes to PED policies will not happen immediately and will vary by airline.
  • Current PED policies remain in effect until an airline completes a safety assessment, gets FAA approval, and changes its PED policy.
  • Devices must be used in airplane mode or with the cellular connection disabled.
  • In some instances of low visibility – about one percent of flights – some landing systems may not be proved PED tolerant, so you may be asked to turn off your device.
  • Devices must be used in airplane mode or with the cellular connection disabled.

A special caution for international air travelers. As goes the United States, so goes the world when it comes to commercial air safety rules, so you can expect the airlines and regulatory bodies of most other countries to follow the FAA’s lead on this.

However, these new FAA regulations don’t apply worldwide — at least not yet. So just because you board that non-US airline at JFK or LAX, don’t automatically presume that US rules apply. Check with the airline first.

Another caveat: all airline wifi is not created equal. Some works at all altitudes, while others are null and void below 10,000 feet.

Which airlines have which wifi? According to this Business Insider story, only Southwest and Allegiant airlines have wifi that works everywhere up there.

Still, even with all the regulatory hems and haws, this will be a welcome change to millions of travelers. The next step — electric outlets at every seat.

We can only hope.

the IBIT TRAVEL DIGEST 10.27.13

The good, the bad and the bizarre in the world of travel

A Boeing 747 at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport. Is the 747 era coming to an end? -- ©IBIT/G. Gross
A Boeing 747 at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport. — ©IBIT/G. Gross

747 — END OF AN ERA?
After more than 40 years, her familiar humpback silhouette is still instantly recognized around the world and she’s still the largest airliner built in the United States. But there are signs that the famed Boeing 747, the aircraft that more than any other transformed modern air travel, is rapidly nearing the end of the runway.

Several media outlets, including USA Today, are reporting that Boeing is drastically cutting back production of new 747 models and has yet to sell a new one this year.

Bottom line, the airlines just don’t want four-engined airplanes anymore, especially big ones that burn a lot of fuel to carry less than full loads of passengers.

All good things come to an end, but this traveler will be sorry to see the big bird go.

My first real international trip was aboard a Japan Air Lines 747 from LAX to Tokyo in 1976. Boarding one for the first time was a thrill — even if your Economy Class ticket didn’t entitle you to visit the swank upholstered lounge at the top of the spiral staircase.

When they began flying commercially in 1970, airports used to boast that they were a destination for 747s — even as they struggled at first with massive new volumes of passengers, freight and luggage. And even after four decades, it remains one of the most comfortable airliners in the sky.

But while successive waves of upgrades have kept the 747 technically viable, it looks as if economic realities will shortly be its demise.

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A BOLT COMES TO CALI
The airlines aren’t the only ones going the low-fare route. Bolt Bus, a spinoff of the iconic Greyhound inter-city bus line in operation since 2008, is hitting the highway in California.

Already in service in the Northeast and the Pacific Northwest with super-cheap fares, the New York Times reports that Bolt is opening up a new route starting Oct. 31 between Los Angeles, San Jose and Oakland.

To mark the occasion, Bolt is selling one-way tickets for the first four days of the new service for $1.

That’s right…a buck.

In a sense, it’s a throwback to the days when Greyhound and Continental Trailways buses roared up and down Highway 101 and Interstate 5 between Northern and Southern California, usually loaded with college students, budget-conscious vacationers and others who couldn’t cope with the cost of air travel — or just didn’t want to.

Those Trailways buses were pretty comfortable back then, with real legroom and even attendants who served coffee, sodas and sandwiches on board. None of that on Bolt buses, but you do get free wifi, electric outlets and leather seats. Unlike the old days, you also can get reserved seats if you buy your tickets online.

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AFRICA — One region, under a visa
Little by little, the stable regions of Africa, looking to boost their tourism, are moving toward regionalizing their immigrations and customs controls for travelers.

West Africa, through multi-nation trade group ECOWAS, already has a visa that allows citizens of the 14 ECOWAS member nations to travel freely among each other’s countries on a single visa.

Comes now Univisa, which would allow visitors to travel between multiple countries in southern Africa on a single visa, instead of having to get separate visas — and pay separate visa fees &mdash for each country.

It’s only in the idea phase at the moment, but according to Travel Weekly, it’s an idea that generated a lot of traction at this year’s meeting of the UN World Tourism Organization in Victoria Falls.

This is an idea whose idea is long overdue in arriving — not just for the sake of non-African tourists, but travelers within the Mother Continent. In too many instances, it currently is easier to travel from Europe to Africa than it is to move between African countries.

If African travel, tourism and commerce are ever to reach their full potential, that has to change.

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THE EUROPE THAT EUROPE KNOWS
When we Americans first start traveling to Europe, the fascination is endless, and why not? Centuries of history to pore through. A multitude of languages, cultures, interwoven histories. It’s all layered amid cutting-edge architecture, fashion, music, food — and all stitched together by perhaps the most streamlined and sensible transportation et on the planet.

Soon enough, though, you may find an uneasy feeling coming over you as you contemplate yet another visit to London, Paris, Rome or Barcelona. That been-there, done-that, got-the-T-shirt feeling.

If that’s you, hidden europe is here to help.

It’s the Web site for hidden europe magazine, which reveals the less-familiar pleasures of Europe for travelers, especially to Europeans looking for something a little different for their own vacations. In their own words, “we criss-cross the continent to bring our readers the very best of what’s new, what’s overlooked, what’s odd and what’s fun.”

What’s more, they’re big on travel by train and ferry, which makes them travelers after my own heart.

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And now, here’s The Digest:

AIR
from the Washington Post
Have airline reservation change fees climbed so high that it’s now cheaper to just not show up? Sometimes, the answer is yes.

from USA Today
Ryanair, Europe’s ultra-cheap airline, has built itself an image — low fares and no respect. And by its own admission, the latter may be wearing thin with its customers.

LAND
from Travel Weekly
Zipcar and its contemporaries are forcing Hertz to get into the self-serve car rental game.

SEA
from Travel Weekly
Princess Cruises will have five cruise ships instead of seven for European summer cruises in 2014. So where will the other two ships be? Alaska.

from Travel Weekly
Viking River Cruises is no long Viking River Cruises. These days. it’s Viking Cruises. Why? Because it’s elbowing its way into the ocean cruise business, starting in 2015.

FOOD & DRINK
from the New York Times
Going beyond fast-food chains, airports around the United States are bringing in restaurants offering travelers some truly local flavor.

from Travel Weekly
Some travel purists are fond of looking down their noses at “foodie” travel. The industry is not. Food-oriented travel has become a major niche category all its own, and its growth shows no signs of slowing.

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AFRICA
from The Point (Banjul, Gambia) via allAfrica.com
The Gambia — Africa’s smallest, least populous nation becomes a magnet for tourism investors from Russia.

from NewZimbabwe.com (Zimbabwe) via allAfrica.com
Zimbabwe looks to tap into religious tourism in the country, partly as a way to prevent Victoria Falls and Great Zimbabwe from becoming over-saturated.

from Angola Press (Angola) via allAfrica.com
Angolan citizens are being asked to select the country’s own seven national wonders — and it looks as if they have nearly 30 impressive sites from which to choose. Voting is being done by SMS, naturally.

AMERICAS
from SFGate.com
Good reasons to visit some of the less-visited travel destinations in Mexico. And no, I haven’t lost my mind.

ASIA/PACIFIC
from the Washington Post
In Thailand, elephants have been so badly mistreated by logging — and tourism — that the Thais felt compelled to create a sanctuary for most badly abused of them. SLIDESHOW

from The Guardian (London, UK)
File this one under “Who Would Believe It?” A 460-mile hiking trail that criss-crosses virtually the entire length of the Korean Peninsula. That’s right, North as well as South Korea.

EUROPE
from the Washington Post
A visual tour by day and night through the twin cities of Budapest, one of the best-preserved treasures of Eastern Europe. SLIDESHOW

from The Guardian (London UK)
Ice skating on the ocean? They do it off the coast of Sweden.

from The Guardian (London UK)
An insider’s guide to beautiful, fun-loving, independent-minded Barcelona.

Spotted something you’d like to see in the next IBIT Travel Digest? Send me a message using the handy form below:

the IBIT Travel Digest 1.27.13

The good, the bad and the bizarre in the world of travel

IMG_1605

DANCING THROUGH CUSTOMS
One of the fringe benefits of writing a travel blog is that you can make some great friends doing great work. One such friend of mine is Renee King, who publishes A View to a Thrill.

In her most recent installment, she gives us the 4-1-1 on of the US government’s trusted traveler programs that can seriously speed you through the Customs process upon your return to the United States. It’s called “Global Entry” and here’s what Renee had to say about it:

“Originally created to target frequent international travelers, the U.S. Global Entry program has been a virtual god-send for travelers who want a fast and secure way of skipping the lines altogether when re-entering the United States.”

To pick up all the details on “Global Entry,” check out Renee’s article here. And then bookmark it. You’ll want to keep this one handy.

Anyone who doesn’t “get” the importance of this program has never walked/stumbled/staggered off a jumbo jet with about 300 other exhausted souls after a transoceanic flight lasting 12 hours or longer, only to queue up in a Customs line…with the passengers of two, three or four other jumbo jets, all doing the same thing you are.

I have. I don’t recommend it.

If such a trip is a one-in-a-lifetime deal for you, then you may not need this program, especially when it costs $100. You’ll also have to make an appointment to be interviewed, electronically fingerprinted and see if you qualify for the program — and frankly, not everyone will.

But when you walk off that plane in a jet-lagged fog and breeze by all those folks suffering in line, you’ll swear it was the best time and money you ever spent on travel.

And if you make more than, say, three or four globe-girdling flights per year, you need this.

To apply for the Global Entry program, start here.

ALL ABOARD…THE NIGHT TRAIN
If it’s true that, in the words of the old Amtrak commercial, “there’s something about a train, then there’s something even more captivating about an overnight “sleeper” train.

Watching the sun set from the privacy of your own compartment, then bedding down for the night with a window full of stars and awaking the next morning in a different city — or a different country — is unforgettable.

It’s also practical. A sleeper train combines transportation and lodging in one. Instead of losing a day traveling between points, you arrive at your destination early the next morning.

It’s not cheap, but a private compartment often includes all your on-board meals, as well as other perks unavailable to Coach passengers, all of which makes the sleeper experience worth considering.

London’s Daily Telegraph newspaper has considered it at length, and compiled a slideshow of what they consider to be the top ten overnight sleeper train runs in Europe, including one between Europe (London) and Africa (Marrakech, Morocco).

Paris-Barcelona? Paris-Berlin? London-Penzance? Yeah, I could happily do any of those.

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AFRICAN FASHION MADE EASY
Not many folks on this side of the Atlantic are aware of it, but Africa has developed quite the fashion scene. We’re talking high-end threads for men and women from high-profile designers from the length and breadth of the Mother Continent.

Until a few years ago, your best shot at checking out this vibrant and growing fashion world was to fly to one or more of perhaps seven African cities:

  • Lagos, Nigeria
  • Nairobi, Kenya
  • Cape Town, South Africa
  • Johannesburg, South Africa
  • Dakar, Senegal
  • Luanda, Angola

And if you want to get a feel for the sources of inspiration that drive these African fashions, that still might be the best idea.

However, you do have alternatives. Lots of them, in fact.

New York City, Los Angeles and Dallas both annually hosts African Fashion Weeks. But if you feel like giving your fashion trip some international flavor — with a bit less expense and a lot less flight time — there’s the Black Fashion Week in Paris and the Africa Fashion Week London, now in its third year.

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And now, here’s The Digest:

AIR
from Business Insider via Yahoo
A Germany-based air safety monitoring group lists the world’s ten most dangerous airlines over the last 30 years. Read with some large grains of salt.

from eTurbo News
An Indonesian airline adopts new Sukhoi Superjet 100 airliners from Russia. The reason: They can operate from the country’s short runways.

from NBC News
Southwest Airlines is betting that you’ll be willing to pay $40 extra to board their planes early. Would you?

from eTurbo News
Ethiopian Airlines cuts flights from Addis Ababa to Europe.

LAND

from Travel Weekly
A heavy late-December snowfall has the skiing looking good at America’s ski resorts.

from The Telegraph (London UK)
What do you get when you take an Amtrak train between Toronto and New York? A 12-hour rail cruise through US history and some of North America’s most gorgeous scenery.

from Forbes via Yahoo
Can you measure a country’s happiness? The Legatum Institute of London says it can, and it’s produced a list of the world’s ten happiest nations. And no, the United States is nowhere in the top ten.

from Time
Has snowboarding lost its mojo?

SEA
from Cruise Industry News
More evidence of the cruise industry’s growing tilt toward Asia: Princess Cruises to homeport a second cruise ship, the Diamond Princess, in Japan.

from Cruise Critic
For those of you dying to escape the frigid winter, there are six cruise ships sailing in warm waters that nearly always have cabins offered at a discount.

from Cruise Industry News
The upscale cruise line Silversea plans to offer shorter (and thus cheaper) cruises in Northern Europe and the Mediterranean.

from Cruise Industry News
As cruises go, this one’s the ultimate icebreaker. Hapag-Lloyd Cruises is planning an August cruise of the Northwest Passage fron Greenland to Alaska on one of its expedition ships, the Hanseatic. You don’t often see the words “expedition” and “5-star” in the same sentence.

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AFRICA
from Reuters
You might want to hold off on that Cairo vacation a little longer. Things are getting hectic — and deadly — again in Egypt.

from al Jazeera
Museum in Mali trying to protect some of the country’s historic artifacts from the threat of destruction by radical Muslim insurgents.

from eTurbo News
British Airways pulls out of Tanzania, and Emirates is the first airline to step into the void.

from The Telegraph (London UK)
Tourism officials in Egypt report that foreign visits are up, but not as much as expected.

from eTurbo News
Ethiopia turning to China, India and Russia as potential new tourism markets.

AMERICAS
from the Huffington Post
George Hobica says Albuquerque NM has been overshadowed by Santa Fe, but it deserves a closer look. Especially if you’re a fan of beer, road trips and under-the-radar cool.

from Travel Weekly
Want a shot at some warm winter weather and a whiff of that new hotel smell? Start saving your coins and circle Dec. 2014 on your calendar. That’s the the 1,000-room $1 billion Baha Mar casino resort is set to open its doors.

from the Chicago Tribune
If you’re a baseball junkie, a visit to Chicago’s historic Wrigley Field is something close to a religious pilgrimage. Now, the Sheraton hotel chain is planning to put up a boutique hotel directly across the street from the old ballpark. Think they’ll pt bleachers on the roof?

from Reuters via NBCNews
More flights and a weaker dollar have combined to create record-setting tourism in Hawaii.

ASIA/PACIFIC
from BootsnAll
Southeast Asia is a great destination for rail travel.

from China Daily
The dispute between China and Japan over the Senkaku (or if you’re Chinese, Diaoyu) Islands is throwing cold water on tourism between the two countries.

from SFGate.com
Walking in the path of samurai. Scenic medieval walkways in Japan.

from The Guardian (London UK)
What would you see on a 40-mile walk across a city of 30 million souls? Marcel Theroux gives us his answers from his trek across Tokyo, the first of a series of walks across the largest cities on Earth.

EUROPE
from ABC News via Yahoo
Welcome to County Kerry in southwest Ireland, where drunk driving is legal. And no, that’s not a typo.

from eTurbo News
Ukraine’s largest airline, AeroSvit, goes belly up, stranding hundreds of passengers in the process.

from The Guardian (London UK)
It wasn’t that long ago that the term “luxury hostel” might have been the ultimate oxymoron in travel especially in Europe. It’s fair to say that things have changed. A lot. SLIDESHOW

the IBIT Travel Digest 1.6.13

The good, the bad and the bizarre in the world of travel

Bay Bridge bike path

Welcome to the first IBIT Travel Digest of 2013. Let’s get going.

SAN FRANCISCO: BAY HEATING UP?
The folks at Smarter Travel have listed San Francisco as one of the travel destinations to watch in 2013.

That might sound a bit like saying the sky is blue and water is wet, since San Francisco has always been a hot travel destination. But the city that calls itself “The City” has some new attractions going on line this year, and it’s all about the bay that gives the city its name.

This year, the Aquarium of the Bay is putting in an exhibit devoted to the rare river otter — one of which recently turned up, almost as if on cue, in the ruins of the old Sutro Baths, to the delight of sightseers and the puzzlement of scientists.

The Exploratorium, which has delighted generations of visitors with its science exhibits, also is getting a new and greatly expanded headquarters this year along the city’s waterfront.

But the main event will be the opening of the sleek new east span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, replacing the old span damaged by the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.

Not only is the new bridge gorgeous and designed to hold up better in an earthquake, but it incorporates something that cyclists have dreamed about for decades — a separate bike/pedestrian path. The illustration above shows you how it will look once it’s in service.

People will be able to ride or walk from Oakland to Treasure Island, the halfway point of the bridge, something that was never possible before.

Plans/discussions/arguments are underway to add a similar deck to the original west span of the bridge.

I can’t wait for the chance to take my bike up to the Bay Area and join my cycling friends, old and new, for a spin over the bay — even if it’s only to Treasure Island. Half a bay is better than none.

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GO SMALL, LEAVE HOME
You already know about the cruise ship industry’s building boom, but it’s not just the big lines building big ships. Less well-known outfits also are turning out new, smaller vessels. One example is Alaskan Dream Cruises, which currently operates three small ships for Alaskan cruises.

How small is small? ADC’s three vessels hold a combined total of 162 passengers. Your typical Carnival or Royal Caribbean cruise ship may hold close to ten times that many — on one deck.

When you board a typical cruise ship, holding anywhere from 2,000 to 5,400 passengers, you may feel as if you brought half of your hometown with you. Not so on a small cruiser. It’s a completely different experience. Faster. Smoother. More intimate.

The super-small cruise ships can easily get into scenic inlets and bays, even explore small rivers, where the floating behemoths would surely run aground. Once ashore, you get more time to sightsee, because your small cruise vessel can dock at much smaller harbors. The mega-ships have to shuttle you back and forth on tenders, which really eats into your limited time in port.

Being smaller, such cruises are seldom cheap. But the experience can more than make up for the price.

AMERICAN + USAIR = ?
With each passing day, a merger between American Airlines and US Airways looks like a done deal.

Even before American filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last year, industry analysts have been expecting the airline to be snapped up by one of its financially healthier rivals. When Delta dropped out of the fray and United opted to buy Continental instead, that pretty much left the field open to USAir.

And as we move into the new year, the wheels are already turning.

Last month, American’s pilots approved a new contract, the last of the airline’s three labor unions to get on board. Having all three unions signed means that American can now come out from under Chapter 11.

The other shoe dropped just last week, when USAir pilots gave their blessing to a proposal by their American Airlines counterparts on how the two groups would handle a merger.

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DRAMA BUILDING ON THE BLUE NILE
Ethiopia kept its plans for the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam so quiet that they first were labelled “Project X.” But when you’re planning the largest dam in Africa on one of the world’s most disputed rivers, that’s a hard elephant to hide.

When finished in 2015, the reservoir it creates on the Blue Nile River will be double the size of Lake Tana, the largest lake in Ethiopia — and the source of the Blue Nile itself.

Issat Falls, Lake Tana, Ethiopia
Issat Falls on Ethiopia’s Lake Tana, source of the Blue Nile. © Cdkeyser | Dreamstime.com

Simply put, the GERD is Hoover Dam on steroids. It will surely become an enormous tourist attraction, and the electricity it generates could transform Ethiopia.

But mega-dams often do major, unforeseen damage to the environment, and Ethiopia shares the Blue Nile with Egypt and Sudan. Both countries already are unhappy about this dam.

Make that very unhappy.

People a lot smarter than me have been saying the next great global conflict will be over water, and observers in East Africa are already sounding alarms over this project.

IBIT says: Expect drama.

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And now, here’s The Digest:

AIR
from Travel Weekly
Could this be the Next Big Thing in airline add-on fees? Bundled fares.

from the New York Times
New screening procedures from the TSA are letting some travelers actually leave their shoes on when going through security. The key word there, of course, is some.

from the Los Angeles Times
Save on airfares to Europe? Think off-season and outside the proverbial box.

from NBC News
Forget the Six Million-Dollar Man. Tom Stuker is the One Million Frequent-Flier Mile Man. And that’s how you get a jumbo jet named after you.

LAND
from the New York Times
How to get the most out of TripAdvisor.

from National Geographic
Ice hotels. If you’re not “cool” after spending a night in one of these places, see your doctor.

from Smarter Travel
For a lot of women, wearing stiletto heels while traveling may be impractical. In Greece, it’s also illegal. One of 11 weird laws around the world that can trip up the unwary traveler. SLIDESHOW

from CNN Travel
Ten cars for every type of traveler.

SEA
from Gadling
Ways to save on your next cruise.

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AFRICA
from Mashable
Take a good look, world. Here they come: A smartphone and a tablet computer, designed by an African, built by Africans. Hitting the market now. This could be IBIT’s future travel gear…and maybe yours, too?

from informAfrica
Forget “The Lion King.” The leopard — not the lion — is the real “king of the jungle.”

from the Washington Post
Not all of Africa’s fascinating sights are of wilderness and wildlife. A look at urban Tanzania and Ethiopia. SLIDESHOW

from Africa Review
Mali’s Islamic extremist insurgency threatens the country’s deep musical traditions.

from The New Vision (Uganda) via allAfrica.com
Bill Gates loves Uganda?

AMERICAS
from the Wall Street Journal
New York City is still America’s biggest tourist draw. Who says so? A crowing Mayor Bloomberg — and a record 52 million visitors in 2012.

from the Los Angeles Times
The many and varied joys of a stay in Santa Barbara. A guide to its sights, sounds and tastes.

from NBC News
The US State Department issues a new travel advisory on Haiti: “No one is safe.”

ASIA/PACIFIC
from the Washington Post
Would you build an entire city around an airport? The place is called Songdo, and if this experiment works, it could change the way the world travels.

from France 24
Not content with making knockoff purses, pirated movies and even fake Apple stores, the Chinese may be counterfeiting a set of skyscrapers.

from CNN Travel
China prepares to open the doors to the world’s largest building.

EUROPE
from The Guardian (London UK)
Twenty bargain vacation options across Europe.

from Associated Press via USA Today
If you’re planning to visit Vatican City anytime soon, bring your prayers but leave your plastic. The Vatican has gone cash-only.

from the New York Times
Berlin. It’s not just about currywurst and beer anymore. The city’s better restaurants are racking up Michelin stars. Ich bin ein foodie?

from CNN Travel
QUESTION: How do you get the world’s largest airliner through a small French village? ANSWER: Very carefully.

Edited by P.A.Rice

the IBIT Travel Digest 12.16.12

The good, the bad and the bizarre from the world’s best travel media

©IBIT/G. Gross
©IBIT/G. Gross

DOWN AND (NOT) DIRTY EATS, WORLDWIDE
I’m not a foodie; I just like food. And I love checking out the hidden, under-sized, under-rated places. The incredible street vendor. The lovingly run Mom-and-Pop storefront.

It’s great when you do that in your hometown. When you can do it on the other side of the world, it’s magic.

So I could hardly restrain the joy when London’s The Guardian newspaper introduced me to a blog after my own heart, or at least my own palate: Culinary Backstreets.

This blog focuses on five cities — Istanbul, Athens, Barcelona, Mexico City and Shanghai. If their content is any indication, you could lose your mind — and gain some weight — in any of them.

It’s a reminder that you don’t need a fistful of Michelin stars to find a galaxy of wonderful flavors.

The specific blog post that The Guardian locked in on was one about a street food paradise in an old Shanghai neighborhood that was almost lost to redevelopment.

A story like that speaks not only to my love of urban street food, but my taste for preserving and enhancing an old community instead of tearing everything down and replacing it with the new, the shiny, the sterile.

Real people, in a real community, making and selling real food. How does “urban renewal” improve on that?

ANSWER: It usually doesn’t.

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AFTER-CHRISTMAS (TRAVEL) SALES
One nice way to beat the post-holiday blues would be to score yourself some after-Christmas travel bargains, and the period between the day after NEw Year’s and Martin Luther King Jr. days is one of the best ties of year to do it.

The folks at The Motley Fool call this period “dead time” for the travel industry. I prefer to think of it as hunting season for the smart travel consumer.

To that end, the Motley Fool folks have some tips on how to snag some killer travel deals during that period.

Happy bargaining hunting.

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LUGGAGE TAGS? TRY LUGGAGE APPS
Believe it or not — and I know some of you won’t — the airlines are getting better at not losing your checked bags. Statistics from the US Department of Transportation say so. Considering that they make you pay nowadays for the “privilege” of checking them, I’d say that’s only fair.

Still, air passengers do sometimes find themselves left waiting vainly at the luggage carousel, something we’d all love to avoid. And yes, there’s an app for that.

Delta Airlines started the ball rolling with its Fly Delta app that, among other things, allows you to track your checked baggage.

The makers of Bag-Claim say their iPhone app sends a signal to your phone and your Bluetooth headset to let you know when your bag is nearby, and it continues until your bag is literally in your hand.

Another possible option, depending on whether the Federal Aviation Administration decides to loosen up its rules on the use of personal electronic devices in flight, would be to toss your own GPS tracking device into your bag.

One example would be the Pocketfinder GPS Locator. Like Fly Delta, it works with iPhones, Android phones, Windows Mobile devices…and for us digital troglodytes out there, even Blackberrys.

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And now, here’s The Digest:

AIR
from Business Week
Eastern Europe’s state-owned airlines are struggling in the post-Cold War era, with some cutting services and one, Malev of Hungary, shutting down altogether. Hopes that their Western European counterparts might buy them — and thus save them — so far seem in vain.

from Associated Press via Yahoo
Can you put your smile on strike? Flight attendants for Cathay Pacific sas they intend to do just that. And no, this is not a satirical piece from The Onion. The’re serious.

from USA Today
Is South Korea’s Incheon International Airport now the world’s greatest air terminal? The Airports Council International says yes. See why, and see how the world’s other major airports fared.

LAND
from the UN News Service via allAfrica.com
The number of tourists worldwide hit the 1 billion mark in 2012, a record. And as ominously huge as that number might sound, the UN World Tourist Organization thinks that could be a good thing. Maybe even a very good thing.

from Smarter Travel
Is duty-free shopping really the bargain it’s cracked up to be? ST’s Ed Perkins says don’t believe the hype.

from Independent Traveler
If you’re traveling in Britain, better keep it down in the hotel. The hotel noise police are looking — and listening — for you.

from Travel Weekly
Washington fires a warning shot at 22 hotel operators over their hidden fees.

from Travel Weekly
Hertz competes its purchase of Dollar Thrifty rent-a-car. What was three car rental agencies not that long ago is now one. Hertz now controls 26 percent of the rental car market. The company that owns Enterprise, National and Alamo controls 50 percent. So much for competition.

from Travel Weekly
OFFICIALLY COOL: Need some exercise? Need to charge your smartphone or your laptop? The Starwood Element Hotels chain is installing exercise cycles in its hotel gyms that simultaneously let you do both. Charge your devices by burning calories? Genius.

SEA
from Friends of the Earth
The cruise industry has sent the last decade or so trying to clean up its image as an environmentally unfriendly industry. If this report card from Friends of the Earth is any indication, it’s still a work in progress.

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AFRICA
from The Star (Kenya) via allAfrica.com
Kenya launches a campaign to promote cultural tourism abroad.

from East African Business Week (Uganda) via allAfrica.com
Turkish Airlines begins flights between Istanbul and Mombasa, Kenya. Flight time, about six hours. Turkey could make a nice stopover enroute to East Africa. Hmmmm…

from The Herald (Zimbabwe) via allAfrica.com
Poaching in Africa is taking a frightening turn. Park rangers in Zimbabwe kill two elephant poachers in a shootout. The rest flee, leaving behind…mortar bombs? If poachers are using mortars, against animals or people, this is no longer a police matter. This is war.

AMERICAS
from the New York Times
Manhattan is for lovers. Book lovers, that is.

from BBC Travel
Think of Idaho and a lot of words may come to mind. “Cultural mecca” probably won’t be among them. Think again, says the BBC.

ASIA/PACIFIC
from The Guardian (London UK)
In Japan, the best skiing is found at small-scale local spots. No crowds and lots of perfect powder. Are you packing yet?

from GrindTV via Yahoo
This is how you get around China’s Mount Hua. When they say the view is to die for, they mean it. If you slip, you’ll be falling for awhile. Actually, you’ll be falling for a mile.

from Travel Weekly
Myanmar, the country most of us grew up knowing as Burma, may or may not have fully abandoned its dictatorial government and fully embraced reform — but that’s not stopping US and other Western travelers from bum-rushing this country. Good idea, or bad idea?

EUROPE
from the New York Times
There’s more to anchovies than those super-salty strips of fish most people want “held” off their pizzas — and anchovy season on the Black Sea in Turkey may be just the time and place to find out why. Ask for the hamsi.

from Reuters
Well, this is not jolly good. A TripAdvisor survey of travelers finds London not only dirty and expensive, but the second most unfriendly city in the world. Only Moscow was worse. Bloody hell, eh what!

from the Los Angeles Times
An early peek at Sochi, Russia, the Black Sea venue for the 2014 Winter Olympics.

the IBIT Travel Digest 12.2.12

The good, the bad and the bizarre from the world’s best travel media

Catalina sunset
Sunset off Catalina Island | ©IBIT/G. Gross

ALL ABOARD — WORLDWIDE
If you love rail travel — or just loathe air travel — The Guardian newspaper in London has one of the best resources for planning a fantastic rail vacation.

It’s created its own Web page dedicated to great rail journeys around the world.

Stories about terrific train trips on almost every continent, planning advice, suggestions from readers, photo galleries, it’s all there.

One such trip that’s definitely on my list is aboard The Canadian, a train that travels across virtually the breadth of Canada, from Toronto in the east to Vancouver on the Pacific coast.

It’s not a high-speed train, but given the beauty of the land, including the Rocky Mountains, you won’t want to go that fast, anyway.

Even if you don’t actually use it to plan a train trip, you’ll probably learn some interesting things from it.

For example, thanks to the English Channel tunnel, it’s now possible to travel not merely from London to Moscow, but from London all the way across Europe, Russia and Siberia to Vladivostok on the Pacific Ocean — crossing ten time zones and nearly 8,000 miles — without ever stepping onto an airplane.

Not that you’d actually want to, but you could.

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STRETCHING OUT ON AMERICAN
There’s a truism in the fashion world that says if you wait long enough, everything comes back in style. That may be the case among the airlines, as well.

About a decade ago, I joined my first airline mileage program. The airline of choice was American. The reason? Back then, American touting the fact that it was removing seats from its aircraft to create more legroom between rows. When you stand 6’3,” you pay attention to things like that.

Sure enough, a few years later, the airline decided it needed the money, so it put all those seats back into all those planes. Bummer.

Fast-forward to November 2012. An email from American Airlines pops up in my inbox:

“Good things do come to those who wait.

Earlier this year, we mentioned that extra legroom in the Main Cabin was coming. We’re happy to tell you that Main Cabin Extra seats have arrived. You’ll enjoy the following benefits when you purchase a Main Cabin Extra seat:

• Extra space to stretch out
• Group 1 boarding to settle in early
• Seats near the front of the plane so you can get on and off the plane faster”

Legroom is back. Cue the Kool and the Gang music. “Ce-le-brate good times, come on!”

Well, not entirely. There are a couple of differences this time around.

A decade ago, the extra legroom was spread through the entire cabin. This time, it’s being limited to the Main Cabin Extra section at the front of a selected group of new jets.

The other difference is one you’ve probably come to expect by now. If you want a seat in Main Cabin Extra, and you don’t have elite status with American, you’ll have to pay for it, anywhere from $8 to $118 per flight, according to American’s Web site.

On the other hand, you won’t be paying hundreds or thousands of dollars extra for a First or Business Class seat.

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AFRICAN VISA
If I had a dollar for every unsolicited credit card application that turned up in my mailbox in the last five years (and went straight to the shredder), I could probably fly someplace nice… in Business Class. But here’s one Visa card I wouldn’t mind having.

It’s called the KQ Msafiri Visa credit card. It’s result of a joint venture between Barclay’s Bank of Kenya and Kenya Airways.

Not only do your purchases with the card earn miles toward free Kenya Airways flights, but you also get priority check-in and boarding, and up to $56,500 in travel insurance, free.

Cool. But what I’d really love to see would be for outfits like Kenya Airways, South African Airways, Ethiopian Airlines or Arik Air to partner up with some American banks — preferably some black-owned American banks — to create a credit card whose purchases would build miles toward travel to Africa.

That’s one credit card application I wouldn’t shred.

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AND FINALLY…
This last item sounds like a punchline, or maybe something from the satirical news Web site, The Onion…but it’s neither.

Starting this weekend on selected international flights, Japan Air Lines will be serving its passengers in-flight meals featuring…Kentucky Fried Chicken.

That’s right, JAL is hooking up with KFC. According to the JAL press release, it’s to be called “Air Kentucky.”

Greasy fried chicken at 35,000 feet? Neither I nor my bowels know quite what to make of this. Believe it or not, however, it does make a certain amount of sense, although perhaps not for the reason you’d expect.

It would be logical to presume that JAL is doing this to placate those Western passengers whose faces turn unnatural colors at the very thought of eating sushi. But you would be mistaken.

According to the press release, “KFC is widely popular in Japan, particularly during the Christmas season.” And according to CNN, it ties in with a JAL gimmick of partnering with restaurtant chains popular in Japan, such as “MOS Burgers, Yoshinoya beef bowls and Edosei pork buns.”

And there you have it. Pass me the sushi, please.

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And now, here’s The Digest:

AIR
from Smarter Travel
A holiday gift from your friends at ST, the ten airlines that give you the best legroom in Coach — or as I like to call it, Sardine Class. SLIDESHOW

from Travel Weekly
Flying to the Caribbean from anywhere in the world? No problem, mon. Flying among the Caribbean islands on regional airlines? Big problem, mon.

from Travel Weekly
Delta to begin flying between Seattle and Tokyo’s Haneda International Airport, which is closer to the city than its other airport, Narita. But Seattle’s gain will be Detroit’s loss.

LAND
from Smarter Travel
The ST crew highlights the cold-and-flu season by pointing out the 10 Germiest Places You Encounter While Traveling. Their title, not mine. Never mind that, just take their advice and stay healthy going into the New Year. SLIDESHOW

from CNN
First, the bad news. Hotels are now going the way of the airlines and hitting their guests with hidden “resort fees.” The good news? The feds have taken notice.

from Smarter Travel
Five off-season travel destinations that are really cool, and not just because it’s winter. SLIDESHOW

from Travel Weekly
Ridership isn’t the only thing growing at Amtrak. Look for a larger number of Amtrak Vacations packages in 2013.

SEA
from Travel Weekly
Houston has had a gleaming new cruise ship terminal since 2009, but no cruise ships ever made port calls there. Starting next November, that will change.

from Travel Weekly
More life preservers, better tie-downs for heavy equipment aboard ship and standardized procedures for bridge officers are among the safety changes being proposed within the cruise ship industry as a result of the Costa Concordia disaster.

from CNN
How do you “undiscover” an island?

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AFRICA
from Travel Weekly
British travelers recently declared Cape Town, South Africa to be their favorite city in the world — and it looks as if Europe’s international airlines are getting the message.

from the South African Government News Agency via allAfrica.com
A cultural, historical and anti-poverty industrial center dedicated to the memory of anti-apartheid martyr Steve Biko opens in South Africa. The Steve Biko Heritage Centre is expected to become a major tourist attraction.

from The Star (Kenya) va allAfrica.com
With foreign tourism starting to dry up, mainly over security fears as Kenyan forces tangle with Al Qaeda-aligned terrorists from neighboring Somalia, the government tries to boost domestic tourism to compensate.

AMERICAS
from CNN
The ravages of Superstorm Sandy are not preventing holiday visitors from pouring into New York City.

from CNN
Take a look at Detroit through the eyes of its mayor, former NBA superstar Dave Bing.

from SFGate.com
Up in the Napa Valley, you can find restaurants that design menus around the finest local wines. Not down in Monterey. This beautiful seaside-scenic town, a two-hour drive south from San Francisco, has gone nuts over local craft beers — so much so that several local restos now feature entire dinners built around local brews.

from the Los Angeles Times
Memories of the California gold rush live on in Yreka.

ASIA/PACIFIC
from China Daily
Have you ever seen any of those ancient Chinese paintings depicting incredibly beautiful landscapes, towering bullet-shaped limestone mountains that couldn’t possibly be real? Well, they’re real, all right, and Guilin is the place that inspired a lot of those paintings.

Travel Weekly
With cruise sales leveling off here and sailing over their own “fiscal cliff” in Europe, the cruise lines are turning to Asia to pick up the slack. Singapore has already built a new ocean terminal large enough to dock the world’s biggest liners, and more are coming.

from CNNgo
Paris? New York? San Francisco? Madrid? You can all sit down. The Michelin Guide to the world’s great restaurants has crowned the gourmet capital of the world — and it’s Tokyo…still.

from Travel Weekly
Canada’s Four Seasons becomes the latest luxury hotel chain to plant its flag in China with a new 313-room luxury tower in Beijing.

EUROPE
from The New Yorker
Paris, that gastronomic capital of haute cuisine, is going ga-ga over its newest craze. Brace yourself: It’s American hamburgers. We’re not talking Mickey D’s, either.

from Cisco
The next time you find yourself in one of those classic London cabs, whip out your smartphone or your iPad and see if its wifi is working. Cyberspace is coming to the hackney carriage.

from Reuters
It’s no big deal anymore to find a Muslim mosque in Paris. A gay-friendly Muslim mosque in Paris? That’s a very big deal.

Edited by P.A.Rice

the IBIT DIGEST 10-28-12

The good, the bad and the bizarre from the world’s best travel media

awash coffee ceremony
©IBIT/G. Gross

HIT THE COFFEE ROAD
In addition to wildlife safaris, history and heritage, you now have a new reason to visit East Africa: coffee. An outfit called ET African Journeys is offering a 14-day tour next month called Ethiopia & the Birth of Coffee.

Don’t expect a lot of “down” time on this trip. The package includes visits to a coffee cooperative and at least three different local tribes — the Erbore, Kanso and Woito peoples. You’ll also head into the Great Rift Valley for 4×4 drives and boat rides on valley lakes, as well as the Blue Nile Falls. You’ll also be seeing two different UN World Heritage sites, the castles of Gondar and the rock churches of Lalibela.

Lest you drop from sheer exhaustion and sensory overload, they’ve also worked a couple of resort and spa stays into those 14 days, as well.

Ethiopia is where coffee was born and there are those of you who will swear it’s the best in the world. It spread east into the Arab world and then to Europe before finally making its way to the Americas and the rest of the planet.

I’ve never been a big coffee drinker, but after getting my first taste of it during San Diego’s African Restaurant Week, I can tell you this: Ethiopian coffee is the only coffee I’ve ever had that I would willingly drink black. It’s smooth, it’s flavorful and it won’t bite your tongue off.

I’ll make my apologies to Juan Valdez later.

The tour departs Washington DC’s Dulles airport on Nov. 30 aboard a long-range Boeing 777 jumbo jet from Ethiopian Airlines. For more information, go to the ET African Journeys site here.

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AMERICAN DELIVERS…SORT OF
Think of this as a kind of pre-emptive strike from American Airlines.

We all know how much travelers resent those airline baggage fees. We also know that travelers are starting to turn toward air freight companies and luggage shipping services to get their bags picked up and delivered, thumbing their noses at the airlines in the process.

Well, before too many more folks opt out of letting the airlines handle their bags, American has decided to partner up with one of those services to offer its own baggage delivery. For a fee, you can now bypass the luggage carousel and let American deliver your bags to your home or hotel.

You can read about it here at Travel Weekly.

Sounds like a great idea, and a pretty slick move by American…until you learn that you pay for this extra service on top of the airline’s checked bag fees. That, I suspect, will be a deal-breaker for a lot of travelers.

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AIR ALTERNATIVE TO PARIS
OpenSkies is a small upscale subsidiary of British Airways that flies trans-Atlantic routes with smaller Boeing 757 narrow-body jets set up to be more comfortable for travelers willing to pay for a pricier ticket.

In addition to offering more legroom, nicer meals and seats that don’t leave you feeling you’ve spent six hours in a vise, the airline is now offering flights from New York into Paris’ other major airport, Orly.

Most international travelers, especially from North America, usually fly into Paris via the massive, chaotic and perpetually packed Charles de Gaulle international airport. If you’ve experienced CDG in the past — and would do anything to avoid a repeat of it — this may be your chance.

And now, here’s the Digest:

AIR
from SmarterTravel
You know those controversial airport X-ray body scanners? The TSA is quietly replacing them with scanners believed to be less potentially harmful. But the old machines aren’t going away, just being moved to smaller airports.

from Yahoo Travel
Coming soon to an airline near you — personalized airfares. Individual airfares based on your personal profile data and travel history. Good deal or something sinister? Read and decide.

from Smarter Travel
Eight foods and beverages to avoid when you fly. Some, like beans and garlic, are no-brainers. Others, like alcohol, are no surprise. But sugar-free gum?

from Travel Weekly
With Orbitz, you may not always know: the federal government fines the online travel agency $25,000 for failing to properly disclose airline baggage fees.

from USA Today
Feel like living dangerously? North Korea’s Air Koryo, judged by aviation experts around the globe as the world’s worst airline, launches a Web site. Apparently, the site is about as functional as the airline it represents. Pyongyang, anyone?

LAND
from the Travel+Lesure via the BBC
The five best neighborhoods in America for authentic ethnic food — and you won’t see a lot of “the usual suspects” on the list. If you have dissenting opinions, list your own nominees in the Comments section. SLIDESHOW

from SmarterTravel
Was it something you said? Five phrases never found on the lips of a good traveler. SLIDESHOW

from Travel Weekly
There’s a little less competition in the rental car business these days. Hertz is buying up Dollar Thrifty. Good news for Hertz. For the traveling consumer, probably not so much. But the feds still have to bless this merger, and there’s no guarantee that they will.

from the United Nations
UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, adds 26 new locations to its list of world Heritage Sites. Meanwhile, the crew at SmarterTravel picks its ten favorites. Your bucket list may need a bigger bucket.

from USA Today
Few visitors to New York City have reason to hit Staten Island, even with the lure of a free ferry ride from Manhattan. That could change by 2016 if plans go ahead to build the world’s biggest Ferris wheel in the Big Apple’s most ignored borough.

SEA
from Travel Weekly
This from Carnival Cruise Lines: No more saving deck chair for someone who’s not on deck.

from Travel Weekly
For those who plan ahead: The Cunard line has already set its world cruise itineraries for 2014 The cruises can last three months — but Cunard will let you buy much shorter segments, as short as eight days.

AFRICA
from CNN Travel
If unique wildlife is your thing, then Tanzania may be your place. Who’s up for a safari?

from Bulawayo 24 via Travel Comments
Ahead of next year’s big general assembly of the UN World Tourism Organization in Zimbabwe, three African airlines are adding more flights to Victoria Falls. You don’t have to be a UNWTO attendee to take advantage.

from Gadling
Forget trick-or-treat. If you want to see something truly spooky, check out the annual migration of 8 million African bats. Relax, they only eat fruit.

AMERICAS
from the BBC
New entry fees and visa requirements going into effect in Argentina and other South American countries. If you’re planning a trip to South America, don’t wait until departure day to get yourself up to speed on the new requirements. If you do, you may never get out of the airport.

from Agence France Presse via France 24
You know all that stuff you’ve been hearing about how the Mayan calendar forecasts the end of the world in 2012? Well, the Mayans say it’s all bogus and they have one word for all the folks out there pushing this myth: STOP.

from the New York Times
Want to really go New Age in Santa Fe, NM — and get healthier at the same time? Explore it by bike.

from The Guardian (London UK)
El Vilsito. Auto mechanics by day, wonderfully fixed up tacos al pastor by night. Only in Mexico City.

ASIA
from Xinhua News Agency via CNNgo
China is taking not quite $1 million to turn its first atomic bomb test center into…a theme park? Swords into plowshares is one thing but, uhh…wow. This is one new tourist hotspot that could be just that.

from China Daily
For decades, travelers from around the world have descended on Hong Kong in search of bargains. Now, te Chinese are doing it, too.

from The Province (Vancouver, BC, CANADA)
There’s a lot to see and do in Hong Kong. There’s even more to see and do outside one of the world’s most densely crowded cities. Venture out.

EUROPE
from The Guardian (London UK)
There are lots of good reasons these days to visit the Czech Republic. Here’s one you may not have heard about — good skiing, incredibly cheap.

from the BBC
In Paris, the Seine is getting a 35 million euro makeover that will make the riverbanks more pedestrian friendly and even more attractive to locals and visitors alike. It comes at the expense of daily commuting motorists, who are less than thrilled.

from CNN Travel
Ten cool and free things to enjoy in Paris, including your own guided tour with a local. Did I mention that it’s all free?