Tag Archives: United

US-CUBA: Sanity At Last?

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.

The details are this official White House announcement.

The President said in part:

“We will end an outdated approach that for decades has failed to advance our interests.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.”

IBIT has said that for five years now.

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.

Still, it’s hard to see how normalized relations and the old isolation policy toward Cuba could peacefully coexist, when even conservatives are starting to view that policy as a Cold War relic that needs to be retired.

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.

ALSO CHECK OUT:
CUBA: Endangered species?
LA Travel Show: Cuba in the house for 2014
RACISM: Cuba faces its demon
TRACY GROSS: To be black in Cuba “no es facil”

URGENT: US airlines drop Israel

Delta Airlines flight landing at Lindbergh Field, San Diego | ©Greg Gross
Delta Airlines flight landing at Lindbergh Field, San Diego | ©Greg Gross

Delta and US Airways pull the plug on their Tel Aviv flights after a rocket lands near the airport there. No word on what American and United plan to do.

The fighting now raging in the Gaza Strip between the Israeli Defense Force and Hamas militants just scored a direct hit on travel to the Holy Land.

News media worldwide are reporting that both Delta Air Lines and US Airways have cancelled all of their flights to Israel indefinitely after a rocket landed near Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv (TLV).

They were later joined by Air France and Germany’s national flag carrier, Lufthansa.

American and United also fly to TLV. No word yet on what they intend to do.

UPDATE
The FAA has banned all US airlines from flying to Tel Aviv for 24 hours.

This comes on the heels of the downing of Malaysia Airlines Fight MH17 over Ukraine. The main difference between the two incidents centers on intent.

The Malaysian jumbo jet was struck down by an advanced weapons system that “acquired” the doomed plane on radar, tracked it in flight and guided a sizable surface-to-air missile to the kill. There’s no question that it was a deliberate act.

Most of Hamas’ small Qassam rockets have no guidance at all. They just fire them in the general direction of Israeli territory and they hit what they hit.

In any case, the close call at Ben Gurion was enough for Delta and US Air to pull the plug on their Israel flights until further notice. A Delta flight already en route to Israel has been diverted to Paris.

US Air had planes on the ground at TLV; they have been moved. A US Air flight to Tel Aviv from Los Angeles was ordered to land in Philadelphia.

This announcement effectively trashes the travel plans of thousands of travelers, especially students and religious groups that conduct trips to sites important to Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

What would you do if it happened to you? What are your rights and what are your options? If your travel plans gets shot down, can you deal with it? More on that later.

AIRLINES: No more carrying on?

Frontier Airlines

Frontier joins the ranks of airlines charging passengers for carry-on bags.

If you regularly fly Frontier Airlines, you might want to downsize your backpack.

That’s because Frontier is now charging passengers for each piece of carry-on luggage stored in an overhead bin — $25 per bag if you pay in advance while booking online, $35 on check-in at the airport.

If you wait until you get to the gate, it’s $50.

If you can fit it under the seat in front of you, no charge — but be warned. “Under the seat” means all the way under. If any part of it is sticking out, it won’t count.

Frontier already charges $15 to $25 for your first checked bag.

It’s not exactly precedent-setting to charge for carry-ons. Spirit Airlines broke that ground five years ago. Still, it’s noteworthy.

BIN THERE, DONE THAT
Charging people for carry-ons, the airline’s executives say, mean fewer passengers cramming all manner of cases into the overhead storage, meaning less chaos and competition over the overhead bins.

Anyone who has traveled by air in the United States since the airlines began charging fees to check passenger luggage knows there’s at least a grain of truth in that assertion.

We’ve all known the frustration of arriving on time at the airport and boarding with our assigned group, only to find no room in the bin by the time we board.

It’s also a safety hazard. I’ve been clocked in the head more than once by some pint-sized passenger trying to heft a bale-sized suitcase up into a bin.

So I’d really like to believe Denver-based Frontier when it says it’s doing this for your benefit and mine.

I’d like to…but I don’t.

This has little to do with your convenience, even less to do with your safety…and everything to do with profit margin.

To put it another way: Who among us consumers does it benefit for Frontier to charge $1.99 for a drink of water?

SHELL GAME
That’s right. Frontier charges you one copper coin short of two bucks for an in-flight sip of H2O.

If they ever figure out a way to charge for air per passenger, look out.

(I hope I’m not giving some airline executive ideas).

It’s all part of a financial shell game the airlines are playing, one that’s been going on now for nearly a decade.

On the one hand, they make a great, noisy show of lowering their base airfares. Frontier just cut their cheapest Economy fare by 12 percent. On the other, they bombard you with a laundry list of add-on fees.

What am I talking about? Here’s an example of what you’ll encounter at Frontier:

  • Reserve a specific seat? $3-$8.
  • Want to sit toward the front of plane? $5-$15.
  • Want an extra 5-7 inches of legroom? $15-$50.

You pay that extra legroom fee not per flight, but per flight segment. Meaning that if you have a connecting flight on Frontier, you pay twice. Each way.

Isn’t that cute?

All this comes against a backdrop of fewer flights and fewer seats available across the US on airlines in general, especially in smaller markets.

THE $6 BILLION PLAN
The counterpoint from the airlines is that add-on fees give you, the consumer, more flexibility by allowing you to pay only for those services you want. As the saying goes, there’s no free lunch.

Or in the case of Frontier Airlines, free water.

Lest you think I’m picking on Frontier, the US airline industry is nickel-and-diming passengers to the tune of nearly $6 billion a year in add-on fees.

Spirit Airlines alone has 24 different baggage fees.

The airlines argued that they needed to do this to keep their profits aloft during the recession. All those who believe the add-on fees will disappear once the US economy makes a complete recovery, raise your wallets…uh, I mean your hands.

I fully expect the big players like American, United, Delta and Southwest to follow this trend…but not immediately. I suspect they’ll wait to see how Frontier’s customers react to this change.

CONSUMERS’ OPTIONS
If there’s no major backlash — or loss of business — to Frontier as a result of this carry-on charge, look for one or two of the major carriers to belly up to the fee trough.

If this trend continues, it’s going to:

  1. Prompt travelers to travel a lot lighter, which would actually be a good thing.
  2. Make even more consumers despise air travel even more than they do now, or
  3. Lead more air passengers to use luggage shipping services to transport all their bags. They’ll pay more than the airlines’ baggage fees, but get far better service.

The first two are going to happen for sure. With Amtrak setting new ridership records every year for more than a decade and inter-city bus travel growing in popularity, the second may be happening already. The third will depend on whether enough travelers switch to the luggage shippers to justify lower rates.

AIRLINES: The “Wings of Nigeria” reach the US

Arik Air Airbus A330
Arik Air Airbus A330

Nigeria no longer needs to rely on Europeans to operate its trans-Atlantic airline flights to the United States.

Amid all the mystery and tragedy of Malaysia MH370, a little good news from the airline world…and it comes from West Africa.

Last week, an Airbus A330-200, flying the colors of Arik Air, touched down at New York’s JFK International Airport after about an eight-hour flight from Lagos, Nigeria.

It wasn’t the Arik Air flight ever to land in the United States; the airline has been making that run since 2009. But it was the first time in 20 years that a commercial aircraft registered to Nigeria had made the trip.

Before that, Arik Air’s other US flight had been operated by a Portuguese company. Now, Nigeria is reaching across the Atlantic on its own, with its own jumbo jets.

Not bad for an airline only seven years old.

It took more than a smile and a nod from President Barack Obama to make this happen. The airline to jump through three years’ worth of hoops from the Federal Aviation Administration and the Department of Transportation before receiving the official go-ahead.

Of the 18 major airlines currently based in Africa, Arik Air, which calls itself “the Wings of Nigeria,” is one of only six allowed to fly to the US. The other five are:

  • Air Maroc
  • Cape Verde Airlines
  • Egyptair
  • Ethiopian Airlines
  • South African Airways

Two US airlines, Delta and United, offer direct flights between the US and African destinations. Others connect to the Mother Continent via codeshare flights with European airlines like British Airways, Air France and Germany’s Lufthansa.

Having US government clearance to operate its own planes to US airport should enable Arik Air to add flights to more East Coast destinations, making it easier for American travelers to visit Africa.

And as new-generation airliners with longer range come into service like Boeing’s Dreamliner and the new Airbus A350, perhaps one day, I’ll see jumbo jets rocking the colors of African airlines at LAX.

Am I dreaming? Sure. But small dreams are a waste of sleep.

AIRLINES: Is Eastern coming back?

Eastern Airlines L1011 TriStar
Eastern Airlines L1011 TriStar

A group of investors is quietly making moves to return one of the most storied names in US airline history back to American skies.

If you’re a “millennial,” you almost certainly don’t remember Eastern Air Lines, one of several US airlines that died off not long after you were born.

But if you’re that 20something’s parent and grew up on the East Coast of the United States, there’s a good chance you do.

Now, it looks as if there are some other folks who remember Eastern, and they’re positioning themselves to bring it back.

Travel Weekly is reporting that “A group of investors and entrepreneurs has acquired the rights to the trademarks of the old Eastern Air Lines and hopes to start a new airline using the old name.”

They’re got the rights to the name, the trademarks and symbols, right down to Eastern’s old “hockey stick” logo that adorned everything from its stationery to its wide-bodied jets.

No dates have been announced yet, but the plan is to start with running charter flights with a single leased Airbus A320, and easing into regularly scheduled passenger service over time.

*U P D A T E*
The new Eastern Air Lines hasn’t made its first flight, but it’s already growing.

Bloomberg is reporting that Eastern 2.0 is already shopping around for more airplanes — up to ten used airliners from Boeing — and eyeing new one from Airbus. These boys are serious.

Even more intriguing is word that Eastern’s new owners have been chatting up the Chinese aircraft maker Comac about possibly acquiring their new narrow-body C919 airliners for use in the United States.

Comac, aka the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China, is working in tandem with Canada’s Bombardier Inc., on long-term plans to build airliners — and break the grip of Boeing and Airbus on the world’s airlines.

Media reports describe the main mover in this deal as Edward Wegel, an airline industry veteran who worked with Eastern back in the 1980s.

A lot of this country’s aviation history is tied to Eastern. Over the decades, it was owned by a carmaker, bought by a flying ace and run by an astronaut.

Along with American, United and Delta, it was one of the “Big Four,” going toe-to-toe with them in New York, Chicago and Atlanta.

Based in Miami, it pretty much owned Florida, so much so that when Disneyworld opened in Orlando in 1971, it became Disney’s official airline.

Eastern Air Lines first took off in 1934, but it didn’t really seem to take off in the public’s imagination until its owner, General Motors, sold it to World War 1 fighter ace Eddie Rickenbacker, for $3.5 million.

By the time Rickenbacker left with the dawn of the Jet Age, Eastern seemed invincible east of the Mississippi. It could take you north to Canada, west to California or south to the Caribbean getaway of your choice. It was the unofficial airline of the American snowbird.

It was the first to fly the iconic three-engined Boeing 727, the Boeing 757 and was the first US airline to fly the Airbus A300, the world’s first twin-engined jumbo jet.

So what went wrong?

It was slow to embrace change. It staked the company’s fortunes on a jumbo jet that proved to be a dog, the Lockheed L-1011 TriStar.

For a little while, things got better when former astronaut Frank Borman took over as president after leaving NASA, but it couldn’t last.

Airline deregulation threw Eastern against low-cost, low-fare competitors that it couldn’t match. Trying to save cash by forcing wage cuts started an ugly war between labor and management — at exactly the moment when each side needed to have the other’s back.

Bleeding money from multiple wounds, Eastern folded in 1991.

Now, if Wegel and his cohorts get their way, Eastern may soon be taxiing for a fresh takeoff into the 21st century. Can they pull it off? We’ll see.

VANISHED WINGS
When Eastern Air Lines closed up shop in 1991, it joined a long list of US airlines that, in the words of a popular New Orleans Christmas song, “Ain’t Dere No More:”

  • Pan Am
  • Continental
  • National
  • Braniff
  • TWA
  • Western
  • PSA
  • Air California
  • Hughes Airwest
  • America West
  • Piedmont
  • Frontier
  • Midway
  • Northwest
  • Ozark
  • Transamerica

And believe me, this is only a small fraction of the actual total.

AIRLINES: Crackdown on carry-ons

United has started cracking down on the size of bags allowed on board as carry-ons. Expect other airlines to follow this lead. One more reason to pack lighter.

Sooner or later, the airlines were going to start enforcing the regulations governing the size of carry-on bags. If you’ve ever seen the chaos that ensues when passengers start muscling their bale-sized bags into the overhead bins, you knew it was inevitable.

The only question was which airline was going to do it first.

United answered that question this week when the airline announced that it was tightening up on the rules on what would and would not be allowed as a carry-on.

You know, those rules that almost everyone who flies have been routinely and blithely ignoring for years?

The same way we’ve all been pretending not to see those bag sizing racks in the airport that let you instantly check the size of your bag to see if it meets the regulations.

Don’t look at me like you don’t know what I’m talking about.

For the record, the carry-on baggage rules as stated by United on its Web site are:

  • “Maximum dimensions for a carry-on bag are 9 inches x 14 inches x 22 inches (22 cm x 35 cm x 56 cm), including handles and wheels.”
  • “Maximum dimensions for your personal item, such as a shoulder bag, backpack, laptop bag or other small item, are 9 inches x 10 inches x 17 inches (22 cm x 25 cm x 43 cm)”

If it doesn’t fit in the overhead bins or under the seat in front of you, it gets checked.

These dimensions are standard throughout the airline industry and United isn’t changing them. It’s just getting serious about making us all adhere to them.

It would be easy to presume that this is just a ploy by an airline to squeeze more checked bag fees out of passengers, but United insists it’s acting in response to passenger complaints.

Actually, I can believe that.

After years of watching passengers hog the overhead bins with oversized, overweight bags while trying to evade baggage fees, I think United may be tapping into a vein of genuine discontent.

Cramming too-large bags into the overheads slows down the whole boarding process, unfairly deprives other passengers from using the bins and poses a very real safety hazard when the bin hatches pop open in flight — which they can when airliners hit turbulence.

TIP
If you routinely fly one airline more than the rest, check the terms of the credit card that airline offers. Some airlines waive the cost of your first checked bag if you buy your tickets with their card. Combined with the frequent-flier miles or points your get with each purchase, that just might make that card worth having.

On flights with lots of empty seats, this is a non-issue. But with the airlines making a point of reducing the total of flights on their route systems, the words “this is a full flight” are now heard on a regular basis.

We’ve talked about all this before here on IBIT. If United is to be believed, a fair number of its passengers have been talking to them about it, as well.

Don’t be surprised if cabin crews and their union representatives also have been complaining, and for good reason. Dozens are injured every year when one of these oversized bags comes flying out of an overhead bin.

So United has legitimate reasons for cracking down on carry-ons.

Meanwhile, if the crackdown results in more passengers spending more money on baggage fees, I doubt you’ll see much wailing and gnashing of teeth from the United brass.

You also can bet your locked and upright tray table that United’s competitors will be monitoring this very closely, and if it looks as if enforcing the carry-on rules results in smoother boarding, safer flights and a fatter bottom line, expect them to follow suit.

The days of the car-sized carry-on may shortly be coming to an end. And this traveler couldn’t be happier.

Don’t get it twisted. I don’t like paying to check bags any more than the next traveler.

But I like getting nailed in the head by a 40-pound suitcase even less.

ALSO CHECK OUT:
Battle of the bins
AIRLINES: Bin Wars
STUFF IT! SHOVE IT! CRAM IT!

AIRLINES: Changing the game for frequent fliers

Delta Airlines flight landing at Lindbergh Field, San Diego | ©Greg Gross
Delta Airlines flight landing at Lindbergh Field, San Diego | ©Greg Gross

Delta is the latest airline to award miles based on money spent instead of miles flown. It points to the airline pushing the bargain-seeking leisure traveler out of the picture.

If you’ve had the feeling for the last several years that the airline industry would love to get you out of the frequent-flier game, Delta may have just confirmed your suspicions.

The Atlanta-based airline announced Wednesday that it will no longer award miles toward free flights based on the number of miles its customers fly. Instead, it will award those miles based on how much money passengers spend on tickets.

The changes take effect in 2015.

The mainstream media are treating this as a major shakeup in the airline loyalty program game, but in fact, Southwest, JetBlue and Virgin America already were doing pretty much the same thing when Delta made its big announcement last Wednesday.

Of course, none of those airlines are the size of Delta, so in that sense, it is a big deal. And you can bet that the other big boys on the tarmac, especially American and United, are thinking hard about doing exactly the same.

This comes after Delta and United had already made it substantially more costly for travelers to earn elite status, which carries lots of perks, everything from free seat upgrades to the waiving of fees, including those onerous checked baggage fees.

To reach elite status via purchases made with airline credit cards, you now have to spend a minimum of $2,500 per year and fly at least 25,000 miles. And that only gets you to the lowest rung on the elite status ladder.

If you fly only once or twice a year for vacation, seek out the lowest possible fare on every flight and never fly in Business or First Class, all these changes are aimed straight at you — and not for your benefit.

The idea here is to encourage more flights by well-heeled business travelers armed with generous corporate expense accounts, the kind of travelers who can afford to sit in the front of the airplane whenever they wish.

The rest of you: Tough takeoffs.

What all this amounts to is the airline industry trying to slay a dragon of its own design.

When the airlines first launched frequent-flier programs back in the late 1970s, it was done mainly with the business traveler in mind. But once the banks got into the act, enabling consumers to amass miles just by using their credit cards, it caught on with bargain-seeking consumers.

Let’s face it, who among us doesn’t love the idea of free flights?

It didn’t take long for the airlines to realize they had created a monster. Individuals were piling up hundreds of thousands — and in some cases, millions — of frequent-flier miles, which the airlines were obligated to honor. Multiplied by tens of thousands of consumers, the numbers were eye-watering.

Especially to airline beancounters and CEOs.

The airlines countered with a carrot-and-stick approach, creating elite status programs aimed at their business clientele on the other hand, and slapping expiration dates on those outstanding miles on the other. Apparently, however, it wasn’t enough. Hence the latest move to convert the airline loyalty programs from miles to money.

The airline industry is reshaping the frequent-flier concept to lure the people for whom it created those programs in the first place. And if you’re not that aforementioned well-heeled business traveler, it definitely wasn’t you.

What remains to be seen is how the folks who fill the rest of the airplane respond while the perks go increasingly, if not quite exclusively, to the ones up front.

the IBIT Travel Digest 1.19.14

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

IMG_1201.jpg

AMERICANS: GIVE YOURSELVES A BREAK?
Are Americans the most vacation-deprived people on Earth? According to the folks at Expedia, we’re one of them.

It’s long been known that we Americans tend to get fewer vacation days than those of almost any other developed nation. A lot of us even end up working on days when we could taking vacation time.

Paid vacation time we’ve already earned.

Now, a little research by the Expedia folks we’re doing even more of that now than before. In what they called a Vacation Deprivation Study, they claim that Americans on average who could have taken 14 vacation days last year only took ten.

Further, those four vacations days left on the table were double the average left untaken in 2012. In all, 144 million working Americans left more than 500 million vacation days unused in 2013.

Are we nuts?

You can read the entire study here.

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CRUISING: LOOKING TO THE EAST
If you’re looking for new venues for cruise travel, you’re not alone. Princess Cruises and its parent company, Carnival Cruise Lines, are right there with you.

And they’re looking to Asia.

This May, Princess will begin running three-day and seven-day cruises to South Korea, out of Shanghai, China. Another Carnival-owned cruise line, Costa, has been sailing out of China since 2006.

Travel Weekly reports that this is all part of a major move by Carnival to target the Chinese market. But there’s nothing preventing you from taking the same cruises.

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MAKE YOUR OWN BED, AND SAVE
Since I founded this blog back in 2009, I’ve been telling IBIT readers to look seriously at short-stay apartment rentals as a more cost-effective alternative to hotels.

It seems that the man I call “the Godfather of Travel,” Arthur Frommer, agrees with me.

Speaking yesterday at the Los Angeles Times Travel Show, Frommer told the audience they not only can save money, but wind up with more space, more comfort and a better vacation overall.

Two of the Web sites he suggested for finding vacation rentals likes are familiar by now to regular IBIT readers, Airbnb and Homeaway. But he also mentioned a third — Rentalo, a site we’ll examine in depth in the coming days.

Meanwhile, why not play around a bit with all three sites. Pick a destination, here in the United States or anywhere else in the world, enter some dates and see if they find a vacation apartment that looks as if it would suit you.

The Godfather and I bet you will.

“I’ve learned it’s just as comfortable and just as interesting — most deluxe hotels are the most boring places anyway,” he said.

To read more of Arthur Frommer’s remarks and advice, check out the LA Times story here.

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AND FINALLY…
One of the more bizarre promotional gimmicks of 2013: The Breezes Bahamas all-inclusive resort in Nassau offered to pay their guests $100 if their legal first name (as it appeared on their passport) matched the list of hurricane names as designated by the National Hurricane Center.

Will they do it again this year? I don’t know yet, but just in case, here are the designated hurricane names for 2014. But the NHC actually has to give one of these names to an Atlantic storm for you to qualify:

Arthur, Bertha, Cristobal, Dolly, Edouard, Fay, Gonzalo, Hanna, Isaias, Josephine, Kyle, Laura, Marco, Nana, Omar, Paulette, Rene, Sally, Teddy, Vicky, and Wilfred.

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And now, here’s The Digest:

AIR

from the New York Times
How to choose an air travel Web site. One size does not fit all.

from Travel Weekly
Do you have a constitutional right to fly? An Oregon judge says yes.

from Travel Weekly
United looks to reach deeper into China with its new Boeing 787 Dreamliners.

from Travel Weekly
SCOOT, Singapore Airlines’ low-fair subsidiary, becomes the second Asian airline to add a no-kids section to its airplanes.

LAND

from the New York Times
The NYT’s annual list of the top 52 places to see in 2014 include three from Africa — including Cape Town as Number One — Nepal, downtown Atlanta and…the Arctic Circle?

from the Los Angeles Times
Hot new travel app sightings from Jen Leo.

from Travel Weekly
More cities are making a point of providing free wifi access at major tourist attractions and elsewhere. Hotels may not like it, but travelers love it.

from the New York Times
Yo! The Generation Gap rears its ugly head in travel. Give a shout-out to Yomads, adventure travel operators in Europe and Australia. Those over 40 need not apply.

SEA

from the New York Daily News
Stomach bug, possibly norovirus, hits Royal Caribbean’s Majesty of the Seas. Wash your hands. Wash your hands. Wash your hands!

from Travel Weekly
The small luxury cruise ship Seabourn Pride is in its last season of sailings under the Seabourn name. In April, she will be re-branded, refurbished and re-launched as the all-suite Star Pride.

FOOD & DRINK

from CNN
Is London a better food city than Paris? British TV chef Gordon Ramsay thinks so — and there’s at least one famous French chef who agrees.

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AFRICA

from The Herald (Zimbabwe) via allAfrica.com
Zimbabwe’s Mount Nyangani is a beautiful hike, and easy enough for a child to do it — but a wealth of steep ravines mean it’s not for the careless.

from Biz-Community.com (South Africa) via allAfrica.com
Some non-standard attractions to freshen up your tourist itinerary in Cape Town.

from This Day (Nigeria) via allAfrica.com
After one of its university hospitals successfully performs a kidney transplant, a southern state on the Gulf of Guinea sets its sights on becoming Nigeria’s destination for medical tourism.

AMERICAS

from the New York Times
Affordable adventure travel in northern Brazil. http://www.nytimes.com/video/travel/100000002535592/brazils-north-zones.html

from the Toronto Sun
Laid-back Los Cabos at the tip of Mexico’s Baja California peninsula has something for just about everyone.

from the San Francisco Chronicle (SFGate.com)
Excursion train trip through a California rain forest.

from Associated Press via ABC News
New travel reforms in Cuba has Cubans traveling abroad in record numbers, with no sign of mass defections or a “brain drain.”

ASIA/PACIFIC

from the New York Times
The H7N9 bird flu virus, which had faded away last March, is making a comeback in China, just in time for the Lunar New Year travel season.

from the South China Morning Post
Hong Kong braces for a tourist tidal wave, mainly from mainland China.

from CNNgo
The annual Harbin Ice and Snow Festival in northern China just might be the world’s most spectacularly artful expression of frozen water. Festival Web site.

from Voice of America
The gang rape of a Danish tourist once again turns an international spotlight on crimes against women in India. This time, however, it’s having an impact on Indian tourism.

EUROPE

from the New York Times
Paris as famed black American author and activist James Baldwin would have seen it.

from the New York Times
There was a time, not all that long ago, when if someone said “London” and “Underground” in the same sentence, the only thing that probably came to mind was a subway train. That’s starting to change.

from BBC Travel
A look at life in Milan, Italy’s fashion and financial capital, and one of its most multicultural cities.

from the Wall Street Journal
Is Paris, long heralded as the world’s most visited city, about to lose its crown to London?

from The Guardian (London UK)
The best places to eat in Britain for less than 10 pounds. At today’s rates, that’s $16. MAP

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AIRFARE ALERT: AirTran

The great thing about airfare sales is that when one airline offers dramatic temporary discounts, one or more of its competitors offer matching deals. But there’s no guarantee that they will.

Good news this morning: AirTran has a 10-day fare sale laid on for spring travel.

The airline is advertising fares as low as $69 one-way, but those sharp-eyed folks over at Smarter Travel have found some AirTran sale fares as low as $57.

The amount of money you could save varies like mad, depending on your departure/destination cities and your day of travel, but there’s no denying you could save you a few bucks. As an experiment, I priced a trip between Atlanta and Los Angeles on AirTran and three other airlines for Sunday, March 3:

                      ONE-WAY ROUND-TRIP
American..         $195         $390
United……         $203         $437
Delta……..         $239         $358
AirTran….         $158         $316

So far, there’s no indication on whether AirTran’s rivals — or for that matter, its owner, southwest Airlines — will choose to match the sale. But that often happens.

With some of these airlines, you might actually be able to beat some of AirTran’s sale fares if your travel dates are flexible by a day or two. But with work or school resuming following the Christmas/New Year’s holiday, most folks are more likely to be locked in to specific dates.

Of course, such sales don’t take into account all the various add-on fees that the airlines charge nowadays, but they do include taxes and surcharges, the ones the airlines used to conveniently leave out of their announcements to make you think that their fares were cheaper than they actually were.

So the prices you’re quoted now are a lot closer to reality than they used to be.

Another good thing about the AirTran sale is that the airlines gives you ten days to pull the trigger, rather than creating a one-day frenzy. Just because you can wait that long, however, doesn’t mean you should.

Airlines often limit the number of seats they offer at sale prices. Further, if they think their fare discount is drawing too hot response from consumers, they can cut it off early, at their discretion.

So if one or more of these fares works for you, don’t dawdle.

AIRFARE ALERT: Southwest jumps in big

The day after JetBlue discounts 20 US and Caribbean routes for summer, Southwest fires back bigtime — 1,200 routes with one-way fares as low as $60. But it’s only a two-day sale, so don’t dawdle.

In the spring, a traveler’s fancy turns to summer airfare sales — and it’s not just the weather that’s heating up.

Yesterday, the folks at Smarter Travel alerted us to a modest summer sale by JetBlue on 20 of its routes. Five of its competitors, including Southwest, matched JetBlue’s move. I thought that was the end of it for now.

Not even close. The ST crew is back with word of a huge summer sale.

A day after JetBlue dipped its toe in the summer fare sale waters,Southwest is going all-in: 1,200 of its routes discounted for summer travel, with some fares down to $60 one-way.

You know Southwest’s rivals weren’t going to let that go unchallenged. Seven of them are matching, including JetBlue. The other six offering up their own reduced summer fares are American, AirTran, US Airways, Delta, United, and Frontier.

This sale basically covers the first half of summer, for travel starting May 8 and concluding on the Fourth of July. That’s the good news.

The bad news: As usual, the better the sale, the tighter and more numerous the fare restrictions. Also, the shorter it lasts: You only have until Thursday, April 26, to pull the trigger.

Further, Southwest’s competitors are not exactly matching date for date and route for route. Check carefully.

And as usual, the super-cheap one-way fares will be based on a round-trip ticket purchase and all flights will be scheduled for mid-week only.

Still, when an airline serves up discounts on 1,200 routes, one of them’s bound to have your luggage tag on it. But with this sale lasting only two days, you can’t afford to dither and dawdle about.

He who hesitates pays full fare.

AIRFARE ALERT: JetBlue summer sale

JetBlue tosses out a small summer fare sale, and five competitors follow suit. Who wins? Maybe you.

The folks at Smarter Travel have spotted a summer airfare sale by JetBlue on 20 of its routes to U.S. and Caribbean destinations.

Twenty discounted routes is hardly a blockbuster offering, but if it’s taking you where you want to go this summer, one may be enough. Especially when those fares could be as low as $47 each way.

The really good news about this sale is that, as they often do, several of JetBlue’s rivals are matching it — Southwest on the shorter routes and American, United, US Airways and AirTran on the longer ones.

You have until midnight Monday, April 30, to pull the trigger on any of these deals. No weekend travel on any of these fares, and they have to be purchased 21 days in advance instead of the 14-day advance purchase typical of many sales.

More the rest of the details and restrictions, go to the Smarter Travel page here.

And beware of all those nasty little add-on fees the airlines have lurking in their fare structures these days. What looks like a great deal could turn out to be something quite different once all the airlines tack on all their extra charges.

Still, with fuel costs already kicking the airline industry’s butt, and political tensions with Iran having the potential to raise those prices even further, non-sale summer airfares could cause heart palpitations this summer.

So any sale offering you a chance at lower rates is something worth investigating.

Good luck, and happy travels!

AIRLINES: US Air moves on American

US Airways cuts deals with the unions representing the struggling American Airlines, the first step in what is now an open takeover bid.

Remember when I told you that American Airlines as we know it today might not be around a year from now? After today, the end could come a lot sooner than that.

US Airways has announced that it has reached agreements with the three labor unions representing American’s employees. Those unions have since come out publicly in favor of a USAir–American merger.

It may be painted as a merger, but what we’re talking about amounts to a hostile takeover, and there may not be much that American can do about it.

American’s parent corporation, AMR, wants to see American remain a stand-alone airline. Frankly, it may no longer be up to them.

American Airlines has been bleeding money more or less since 9/11 and the losses just haven’t stopped — roughly $1.5 billion in the first three months of this year already.

The airline has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, claiming it’s paying out too much in salaries, benefits and pensions to its employees. If we’re to take American at its word, the airline couldn’t survive wouldn’t a massive give-back from the unions.

It really wants to void its contracts with those three unions — the Allied Pilots Association, the Association of Professional Flight Attendants and the Transport Workers Union, which represents American’s mechanics. It needs the blessing of the bankruptcy judge to do that.

What you don’t hear is that those unions already gave back $4 billion in concessions to American nine years ago. The deal with USAir is a clear sign that the unions are done with concessions.

It also means they think they can get a better deal from USAir once the takeover is complete.

They’ve gone as far as to put their support for a merger on the record:

“This significant step represents our shared recognition that a merger between American Airlines and US Airways is the best strategy and fastest option to complete the restructuring of American Airlines, enabling it to exit the Chapter 11 bankruptcy process and restore American Airlines to a preeminent position in the airline industry.”

This is a giant middle finger in the face of AMR.

You see, part of the bankruptcy process included creating a nine-member creditors committee of American’s major bond holders, three of whom just happen to be…

…wait for it…

…the three unions who just signed off on merging with USAir.

When your own employees would rather roll the dice with a predatory rival than work with you to save the company, you’re probably done.

Meanwhile, USAir is now quietly courting the other six committee members. They only need to sway two of them to have a controlling voice on the committee.

Clearly, USAir is painting American into a financial corner — and from the looks of things, they’ve got a pretty large brush.

So what would all this mean for the traveling consumer?

  • Another shrinkage of US air routes? Almost certainly.
  • The demise of American’s older jets, and their popular two-seat sides? Absolutely.
  • More direct domestic flights for USAir passengers? Probably.
  • New international destinations for USAir customers? Clearly.
  • Less domestic airline competition? No question.
  • Higher airfares across the entire domestic airline industry? Definitely.

Overall, does all this represent a win or a loss for travelers? Wait a year or two after the deal is done, then you tell me. The only thing that looks certain right now is that the days of American Airlines as an independent carrier are numbered.

And the number’s not all that large.

ALSO CHECK OUT:
AIRLINES: The end of American?

Edited by P.A.Rice