The release of an American imprisoned in Cuba signals the opening of talks to normalize relations between Washington and Havana. This is both huge and long overdue.
Barack Obama was first elected president on a campaign based on hope and change. One of the changes I was hoping for was the lifting of the US trade embargo against Cuba, to let American travelers visit the island nation freely, as the rest of the world does.
Five years later, I’d pretty much given up on that hope. There seemed to be no real movement on either side to change the dynamic between the two countries.
All that changed today, when President Obama and Cuban president Raul Castro simultaneously announced plans to move toward normalizing relations between the United States and Cuba.
Big day. Historic day. Huge. And it should’ve happened decades ago.
“We will end an outdated approach that for decades has failed to advance our interests. Neither the American nor Cuban people are well served by a rigid policy that’s rooted in events that took place before most of us were born.
“Consider that for more than 35 years, we’ve had relations with China, a far larger country also governed by a communist party. Nearly two decades ago, we reestablished relations with Vietnam, where we fought a war that claimed more Americans than any Cold War confrontation.
“I do not believe we can keep doing the same thing for over five decades and expect a different result.”
The signal for this massive policy shift was the sight of Alan Gross being flown out of Havana and landing in Washington DC, where he’s from.
Mr. Gross (no relation to IBIT) had served five years of a 15-year prison sentence in Cuba, ostensibly for trying to bring Internet service to the island as a subcontractor for USAID.
President Obama had insisted that no change in US-Cuba relations could take place until he was freed. That has now happened, along with an exchange of imprisoned US and Cuban spies.
All this apparently has been in the works for a year and a half, with Canada hosting secret meetings and no less than Pope Francis acting as a go-between.
The simultaneous speeches by Obama and Cuban president Raul Castro do not mean that you can now head for the nearest US airport and freely board a flight to Havana. The trade embargo remains. And since it was passed by Congress 50 years ago, it will be up to Congress to lift it.
Given Republican determination to stonewall almost anything Obama suggests, I’m none too optimistic about that.
If that happens, the economic implications for both countries are immense. In terms of tourism alone, the transfusion of American cash into Cuba could transform the island and the lives of its people.
The world’s major hotel chains would descend on Havana and Cuba’s best beaches like locusts in hard hats. The building boom there would be unlike anything North America has seen…maybe ever.
The US cruise industry, desperate to draw new travelers, has long been quietly licking its corporate chops at the prospect of an open Cuba. The chance to see Cuba freely would prompt a lot of Americans to take their first cruise. Every US cruise port serving the Caribbean stands to pick up thousands more passengers, and millions of added tourist dollars.
I’m convinced this was part of Royal Caribbean’s motivation for building the world’s largest cruise ships, and don’t be surprised if Carnival soon matches them.
The airlines also stand to gain by adding Havana’s Jose Martí International Airport to their list of destinations. American, Delta, United, JetBlue, Southwest, AirTran, Allegiant, Spirit…let the jostling for landing rights begin.
The economic boom in Cuba would almost surely be replicated in Florida. The two-way flow of travel between Havana and Miami would be a torrent. The need to service those folks could create an explosion of new jobs and new businesses.
Today’s announcement doesn’t instantly remove all the barriers between US travelers and Cuba. It does mean that the day to seeing the last of those barriers fall just got a lot closer.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The good, bad and bizarre from the world’s best travel media.
AIR AIRPORT APP
You’re at the airport, with hours to kill before boarding, but your laptop’s battery is running low. Ever wish there were a smartphone app that could not just tell you, but show you where the electric outlets are in your particular airport terminal?
Well, according to the folks at TNOOZ, there is one — or soon will be. It’s called AirportPlugs.
It’s stil in beta test mode, and so far, it’s only set for five airports in the western United States, but you’ve got to love the concept. Can’t wait to see how it looks — and performs — once it’s ready to go.
Spirit Airlines, not the most passenger-friendly carrier in the industry, started this nonsense back in 2010. Two years later, Allegiant has seen fit to follow suit. Allegiant president Andrew Levy calls this latest add-on fee part of “an ongoing effort to develop an innovative, new approach to travel.”
I have my own terms for this kind of “innovation,” but I try not to use that kind of language here on IBIT.
from the New York Times
Take advantage of the federal government’s express check-in programs to speed past security lines. You’ll have to pay for them, but the time saved — and aggravation avoided — just might be worth it.
from the Washington Post
Even as those federal express check-in programs take hold, however, one of them may already be on shaky ground. And wouldn’t you know it, it’s from the TSA. What a surprise…
from USA Today
For the airline business, rising fuel costs are becoming like Jason in all those Friday the 13th horror movies, a killer that won’t go away.
A TSA inspector at Dallas-Fort Worth airport finds an envelope with $9,500 in cash inside…and not only turns it in, but tracks down its owner and returns it to him. There may be hope for this outfit yet.
Is airline code-sharing dead? The head of an up-and-coming low-fare Asian airline says yes, among other things.
LAND RENT THY NEIGHBOR’S RIDE?
It was Airbnb that really launched the idea of couch-surfing, travelers saving money by renting rooms in private residences instead of more expensive hotels or even hostels. Now, there’s a new site called Getaround that’s trying to do the same with cars.
It’s still in beta, but it’s a beta worth looking at.
Basically, Getaround connects people looking to rent a set of wheels with individuals willing to rent out their own vehicles by the day or even the hour. It claims to screen the renters, and even provides insurance. The renter gets cheap local transportation. The car owner gets paid.
Couch-surfing…say hello to car-surfing.
from the New York Times
With travelers able to hunt for bargains and book their own trips online, travel agents looked to be headed for extinction, but it’s not panning out that way.
from USA Today
Five smartphone apps that literally could save your life when traveling overseas.
Climate change is gradually turning Greenland into a tourist hotspot. Why? Because so much of its ice has melted that you can actually see the place.
By the time help finally reached the boat, two of the three men on board were already dead from hunger and dehydration. In its subsequent apology, Princess said word of the crippled boat never reached the captain nor the officer of the watch.
Do you buy that? Modern cruise ships have powerful radars to detect surface traffic, and bridge officers with binoculars whose job is to scan the waters around them. It shouldn’t even have been necessary for someone to tell the bridge crew about the fishing boat and its frantically waving victims.
When your passengers are more conscientious than your crew, you’ve got a problem.
from USA Today
If you’re leaving from Seattle on a cruise and need a place to stay before you embark, these hotels come with a “cruise concierge” to help you out.
from USA Today
What do you get when you subject a 15-year-old cruise ship to a $54 million makeover? In the case of Royal Caribbean’sRhapsody of the Seas, you get a virtually new ship.
With the cruise lines trying to shore up sales in the midst of a problematic year, this might be a good time to score some serious bargains on cruises to the Bahamas.
AFRICA CRUISING INTO THE FUTURE?
Quiet as it’s kept, the coast of West Africa has enormous potential as a cruise venue, and some folks are positioning themselves to make the most of it.
Already there’s an outfit called G Adventures offering 27-day all-inclusive cruises between Cape Town, South Africa and Dakar, Senegal.
In both time and money, the G Adventures cruises are out of reach for a lot of travelers for now, but they show what’s possible once more competition and more West African ports enter this market.
It’s not hard to envision a great circle trip from the United States — a flight to Cape Town, a cruise with stops along the West African coast, then a flight home from Cameroon, Nigeria or Ghana, perhaps.
It’s going to happen. You watch.
from IOL Travel
In South Africa, the Protea Hotel Ranch Resort will let you walk with a pride of what it calls “disciplined and well-trained” lions, including three rare white lions. The lions will even let you hold their tails while you walk with them. Am I the only one who finds this disturbing?
from Eyewitness News (South Africa) South Africa has some of the world’s best surfing. Unfortunately, it also has some of the world’s most dangerous sharks.
from The Star(Kenya) via allAfrica.com
The government is urging Kenyans to embrace wildlife conservation as a way of boosting the country’s tourism.
from The New Times(Rwanda) via allAfrica.com
Another sign that tourism in Central Africa is on the rise: Expedia is expanding its presence in Rwanda.
AMERICAS/CARIBBEAN AGRITOURISM: A GROWING ATTRACTION IN HAWAII
There’s always been more to Hawaii than pristine beaches, towering waterfalls, volcanoes and big waves. Even the most casual tourist can’t help but notice everything from pineapples to poinsettias, coconuts to coffee beans, just growing wild along the sides of the roads.
It’s as if the islands were a giant collection of farmers markets.
A NEW MONUMENT
Near Monterey on the central California coast — one of the most gorgeous stretches of the Golden State — more than 14,000 acres of federal land that once belonged to the Army’s Fort Ord installation have been designated by the Obama administration as a national monument.
If hiking, mountain biking and camping on rolling hills overlooking the Pacific Ocean sound like your idea of a good time, you’re going to love this place. The fact that you can take one of the world’s most scenic highways to get there — California’s famed Highway 1 — doesn’t hurt, either.
from the New York Times
Need a reason to visit Bend, OR? If you love lots of good, locally-crafted beers, you’ve already got one.
from USA Today
For those who don’t find the Las Vegas Strip exciting enough, a zipline is being planned between the Luxor and Excalibur resorts, apparently high enough and close enough to McCarran airport that the FAA had to sign off on it first.
ASIA/PACIFIC REAL LIFE, CHINESE STYLE
If you’re like me, you don’t just want to see “the sights” when you visit a different country. You want to get a feel for what real life looks like — or used to look like — before modernization swept over everything.
If you’re in Beijing, China’s sprawling capital, that means you’ve got to check out a hutong, a traditional Chinese neighborhood.
Many have been torn down to make way for high-rise apartments and office towers, while others are runddown, but a relative handful survive as well-maintained communities and are open to visitors. This slideshow from CNTV lists some of the best to visit in Beijing.
At the Bamboo Nest guesthouse in the mountains of Chiang Rai in Thailand, bamboo is everything. and I do mean everything. SLIDESHOW
Want to play soldier? Then put down the remote, put on your cammo gear and head for the jungles of Thailand, where the Royal Thai Army will put you behind the trigger of an M-16 assault rifle or the controls of a tank. As real as it gets, including the insects you’ll be eating for dinner.
EUROPE CATALUNYA: VISITORS UNWELCOME?
Spotted this on the TypicallySpanish.com site. Check out what this commenter has to say about Catalunya, a semi-autonomous region where people have a reputation for being fiercely proud of their Catalan heritage:
“…here, not only do most of those involved with tourists refuse to speak English (apologies but it is recognised as the ‘World’ language) – most insist on not speaking Spanish!!! It’s a case of ‘if you can’t be bothered to speak Catalonian, then I can’t be bothered with you, wherever you happen to be from!’ “
If this is true, it’s a real problem for Catalunya and for Spain in general. This is the kind of word-of-mouth advertising no country can afford, especially one in the midst of an economic crisis.
fromThe Telegraph(London UK)
Speaking of Spain, an extensive guide to the Andalucia region sponsored by the Spanish tourism folks. Extensive and potentially useful.
from The Guardian(London UK)
The tiny Greek island of Kalymnos is carving out a niche for itself as a destination for climbers and cavers.
from The Guardian (London UK)
Europe has a vibrant, diverse music scene, and that extends to its summer music festivals.
With higher fuel costs poised to launch airfares into the stratosphere, it behooves us all to keep an eye on those little fare wars that break out periodically among the airlines. And our friends in cyberspace are pointing out a few of them to us today.
Meanwhile, one airline wants to gamble on the rise and fall of fuel prices — with your money.
You know the drill. Oil companies use the least little excuse to jack up fuel prices, including the stuff the airlines run on.
For once, though, it’s probably justified. In the Middle East and North Africa, oil workers are voluntarily leaving or being evacuated in the face of unrest, violent demonstrations and even civil war.
That’s why airfare sales and fare wars among the rival airlines matter now more than ever. And IBIT will be steering to them at every opportunity.
But first, a few caveats for you emptors out there.
When you see these figures like $39 or $49 or $64 for a one-way or round-trip fare, don’t presume that every route is going to be sold at that same barrel-bottom price. Even with an all-out fare war going, in most cases, the longer the route, the higher the price. And as usual, these fares don’t include those always popular taxes and fees.
Nor should you get fixated on just one airline, regardless of how good their sale looks. When one abruptly lowers fares, its competitors not only often match them, but sometimes even outdo them.
Also, just as not every fare sale is announced, not every bargain fare is published. Whether on a travel agency site, a travel auction site or the airline’s own site, you have to hunt. What do I always say? DO YOUR HOMEWORK!
That said, let’s see what the airlines have out there for us today. The folks at Smarter Travel offer up the following:
Southwest has had a $39 one-way fare sale going for some time now across 1,700 routes, but it ends TODAY. Also, this is one of those airlines that only shows its fares online on their own Web site, so beat that in mind when you start your search.
The other sale that ends today is over at Delta, where they’ve got special fares going not only across the country, but to Europe, Asia and the Americas.
Another difference: the Delta fares are round-trip. New York City to London, for instance, was being offered for $530 and NYC-Madrid for $558.
Here’s the big one of the day so far: A three-way fare slugfest between American, Delta and AirTran, with Frontier, JetBlue and US Airways looking as if they’re trying to keep pace. One-way fares start at $98, but the sharp eyes at St have found some $20 cheaper than that.
Fares are good around the United States for travel through May.
ADJUSTABLE-RATE AIRFARES Chris Elliott, another of those sharp knives in the travel blogging drawer, spotted this little gem from Allegiant Air.
They want to offer you a choice of airfare. one would be the traditional ticket with the traditionally fixed price. The other would rise or fall after your initial purchase, depending on what happens with fuel costs, right up to your day of travel.
It’s an idea not radically different from the idea of an adjustable-rate mortgage. If the airline’s fuel costs go down after you buy your ticket, youy get some of your money back. If they go up after you buy the ticket, you end up paying more.
For all the details on this proposal, and Chris’ “take” on it, go to his blog here.
As Chris sees this, it’s Allegiant’s way of getting its passengers to take on some of the risk of fluctuating fuel costs.
I don’t think it’s a risk at all. Not for Allegiant, anyway. Anybody here see fuel prices, for the airlines or anyone else, going down significantly any time soon?
This adjustable-rate ticket will definitely appeal to the gamblers out there among us — and should something actually cause fuel prices to fall noticeably, you might experience the rare joy of getting money back from an airline.
Realistically, though, how likely is that to happen?
Put it another way: Would Allegiant be proposing this knowing it was going to end up costing them money?
In case anyone forgot, those adjustable-rate mortgages were one of the reasons a lot of people lost their homes over the last few years. When the interest rates shot up, they couldn’t make the payments anymore.
Now Allegiant wants you to do this same dance with them, albeit on a much smaller scale.
(A shout-out to my friend, Jay, of Jay Travels for tipping me to this latest aerial outrage in air travel. Catch him on Twitter!)
Spirit seems hell-bent on becoming the Ryanair of North America. You remember them, right? That Irish low-far carrier that plans to install pay toilets on their airplanes?
The scary thing is, another low-carrier U.S. airline, Allegiant, apparently beat them to the non-reclining seat idea. According to the SmarterTravel.com site:
“Believe it or not, Spirit isn’t the first airline to go with the non-reclining seat. Many Allegiant customers have been sitting in stationary seats for years, as the airline has installed them on roughly three-quarters of its fleet.”
Guess I won’t be pledging my allegiance to Allegiant, either.
One can only wonder how far the airlines prepared to push this insanity, and what it’s likely to cost them in the long run.
All I can say is, the more I see of companies like this, the more I appreciate Southwest Airlines — and the better Amtrak looks.