Laptops May Soon Be Banned on European Flights

This article was recently posted on Wendy Perrin’s travel tip sight.

Very soon, the Department of Homeland Security is expected to expand the laptop ban to include flights coming into the U.S. from Europe. Less than two months after the first ban required that fliers arriving from several Middle East countries pack their laptops, tablets, game consoles, digital cameras, and other devices in their checked lugged, there’s now news that planes arriving from the European Union will be subject to similar rules. As Skift pointed out, this extension “would affect trans-Atlantic routes that carry as many as 65 million people a year on over 400 daily flights”—and we know that includes many of our own readers, who are planning trips to Europe right now.

Unfortunately, any ban on carrying laptops and tablets into the passenger cabin impacts not only business travelers like me, whose work productivity will be affected, but also professional photographers like my husband; families with children who use tablets, game devices, or laptops as part of their long-haul-flight toolkit; and countless other fliers who rely on their tech devices in various ways.

Apart from being inconvenient, the current ban—which affects flights from Egypt, Jordan, Qatar, Kuwait, Morocco, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey—is confusing, and a lot has been left undefined.  The Department of Homeland Security (DHS)’s wording is that nothing “larger than a smartphone” can be carried onboard, but the agency is vague about what that exact size is. A FAQ on its website says, “Smartphones are commonly available around the world and their size is well understood by most passengers who fly internationally. Please check with your airline if you are not sure whether your smartphone is impacted.”

So far, it seems that the ban is being implemented inconsistently in foreign airports. When my husband flew home from Morocco with our two boys, one son’s Nintendo DS game console was confiscate out of his backpack, while the other son got to keep his. As expected, though, in the weeks after the first ban was implemented, a few of the affected airlines started to test out solutions: Qatar is providing complimentary laptops to premium-class passengers, Emirates introduced a laptop-handling service, and Etihad is offering free Wi-Fi (which you can access with your phone).

So in the interest of helping all travelers prepare (not just those flying from airports or on airlines listed in the original ban, and not just those planning trips to Europe), we’ll keep updating this FAQ as we learn more about how airlines and airports will be handling the changes. In the meantime, here are some answers and solutions.

What devices have to be checked now?

While it’s safe to expect that laptops, tablets, game units, and digital cameras must be packed in checked luggage, it seems that you could easily be at the whim of an individual security officer or your airline’s interpretation of what devices are acceptable for carry-on. The DHS FAQ says only: “Generally, passengers will be instructed to place large electronic devices in their checked bags when traveling from one of the last point of departure airports. We provided guidance to the airlines who will determine how to implement and inform their passengers.” How the airlines are choosing to implement and inform is inconsistent. “The manner of a Security Directive/Emergency Amendment is to tell an airline the end result required (no electronic devices larger than a cell phone allowed in the cabin) and allow them the flexibility to implement within their business model.”

What airports does the ban affect?

If you are flying through or from any of the following airports, the current ban applies to you: Queen Alia International Airport (AMM), Cairo International Airport (CAI), Ataturk International Airport (IST), King Abdul-Aziz International Airport (JED), King Khalid International Airport (RUH), Kuwait International Airport (KWI), Mohammed V Airport (CMN), Hamad International Airport (DOH), Dubai International Airport (DXB), and Abu Dhabi International Airport (AUH). The specifics of a European-flight ban are still being worked out.

Am I exempt if I’m part of a trusted traveler program?

No. Membership in Global Entry, TSA Precheck, Clear, or any trusted traveler program does not exempt you from the ban. You still have to comply with the new luggage rules.

Related: The Real Things You Should Be Wary Of When Traveling Abroad (Hint: It’s Not Terrorism)

What can I do to prepare for the inconveniences of the ban?

•Turn your smartphone into a laptop.
Most of us think of portable keyboards as accessories for tablets, but they can be used with smartphones too. The screen may be smaller than you’d like, but at least it’ll let you get through some emails while you’re in the air. (If you’re accustomed to using more than one electronic device in-flight, you might consider getting a second phone. After all, airlines are not limiting the number of smartphones you can bring onboard. You could use one phone as a tablet or computer while you’re listening to music on the other. Get a cheap burner phone that you need not activate with a mobile carrier; you can just use it with Wi-Fi.)

•Read offline.
E-readers are part of the ban, so if that leaves you without something to peruse on the plane, you still have options. Add the Kindle app to your phone and do your reading there; the app will maintain your library, with bookmarks and notes, across all your devices. If you’re a periodicals reader, check out an app such as Instapaper, which lets you save any article or video from the web and read it later offline. And of course, you could always go back to old-school books. Now that there aren’t any tech devices in your carry-on, you may have room for the latest bestsellers.

•Travel with an inexpensive “travel laptop.”
If you’re like me, you cannot possibly travel without your laptop, and you’re loath to check it. After all, even with TSA locks, most checked luggage is easy to open and subject to sticky fingers. That’s why I plan to buy a cheap laptop for trips on which my flights will be affected. I’ll probably buy a ChromeBook, which costs as little as $165. I’ll copy the files I need from my “real laptop” onto USB drives and carry these in my carry-on, and I’ll relegate the ChromeBook to my checked bag when necessary, leaving my “real laptop” safely at home. Should the ChromeBook get lost or stolen, it won’t be a big deal.

Related: A Pro Photographer’s Solutions to the Airline Electronics Ban

•Insure your checked luggage.
If you’re willing to entrust your laptop to your checked luggage, know that airlines reimburse very little if your baggage is lost, stolen, or damaged; and they don’t cover valuables (such as laptops) in checked luggage. A few credit cards do provide loss and damage coverage for valuables in checked bags. The American Express Platinum Card provides up to $2,000 for checked-bag losses, although it caps electronics at $250. Travel insurance company TravelGuard reimburses up to $500 for electronic devices in lost luggage.

Related: How to Buy Travel Insurance: What It Covers, When You Need It

•Take the time to install anti-theft software and features on your devices.
In case you’re forced to check your laptop, install or activate theft-protection apps on it. Apps such as Prey or Find My Mac allow you not only to track where your laptop is, but also to lock it and erase it completely—and, depending on the software, even enable you to take a photo of the thief.

For an additional bit of tracking service, consider attaching a Tile to your various devices. These little squares have GPS locators in them that speak to a master Tile you keep somewhere safe. Most commonly, they are used for helping the perpetually forgetful find their misplaced keys and wallets; use the master Tile (or your phone) to set off a sounding beacon on your lost item. This isn’t so helpful if your laptop, camera, or game unit is thousands of miles away, but the app has a cool secondary feature: Activate the “Notify when found” option, and if anyone who has a Tile comes within range of your tiled item, you’ll get a notification of its location.

Stay tuned because we expect to see a burgeoning industry of travel-specific anti-theft gadgets to fill this heightened need. For example, the new PetaPixel is a remote shutter button for digital cameras that comes with the added bonus of geotagging for theft protection.

•Choose your airlines carefully.
Some of the impacted airlines are innovating to make life easier for premium-class passengers. Qatar Airways has begun offering first- and business-class passengers a complimentary laptop loan service; passengers can download their work onto a USB before stepping onboard and collecting their loaner laptop. Etihad Airways is lending premium-class passengers iPads and free Wi-Fi. Some airlines are offering a service at its gates where they say they will collect and securely pack passengers’ electronic items, for pick-up at the destination airport.

 

Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

What Entry Program is Good For You

Mike Shaw doesn’t want me to write about the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s new Mobile Passport app. He used it on a recent trip from Beijing to Seattle, and it worked flawlessly.

“I breezed by the line and went directly to the document-checking agent,” remembers Shaw, who works in Beijing as an operations-support supervisor for an American company. “I was through customs in 90 seconds. Amazing.”

Shaw is accustomed to three-hour waits. When he mentioned his positive experience to a customs agent recently, the officer just rolled his eyes.

“Yeah,” the agent replied, “until everybody starts using it.”

Between passports, passport cards, mobile passports and a constellation of trusted-traveler programs such as Global Entry, Sentri and Nexus, international travelers have a lot to choose from this summer. Chances are, there’s a program that will suit your itinerary and help you avoid long lines when you come home.

Passports and passport cards : If you cross the border, you’ll need either a passport book ($135 for adults) or a passport card ($55). Unless you use the Mobile Passport app, you’ll have to stand in all the usual lines. (Yes, the three-hour ones that Shaw complained about.) Which one is right for you? A passport card, while cheaper, only works when entering the United States at land-border crossings and via ports of entry from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda. It can’t be used for international air travel. Get a passport book instead.

Mobile Passport app: This free smartphone app, now in use at one cruise port and 20 U.S. airports, lets you cut some of the customs lines by filling out your paperwork in advance online. Arriving passengers can head straight to the “Mobile Passport Control” line. “This is a particularly good option for those who do not travel frequently enough to justify the cost of Global Entry,” says Gina Gabbard, vice president for leisure sales at Tzell Travel Group.

Global Entry: This is the gold standard for expedited border crossing. Global Entry lets you cut the line at customs at U.S. airports and land borders when you arrive, and includes TSA PreCheck, the Transportation Security Administration’s trusted-traveler program. A five-year Global Entry membership costs $100 and requires online pre-enrollment, as well as an in-person visit to an enrollment center for an interview, where you’ll have to verify your ID and be fingerprinted. “The application process is brutal,” says Michelle Weller, a travel agent with Travel Leaders Network in Houston, “but it’s worthwhile.” Weller says the background check is thorough: One of her clients was denied because of a bar fight in college that resulted in a misdemeanor assault charge.

Nexus: If you travel between the United States and Canada, this is the program for you. Nexus lets you cut the line at airports and land borders when entering the two countries. It’s half the price of Global Entry ($50 for five years) but the requirements are similar — pre-enrollment, an interview and fingerprinting. Nathan Smith, an American who lives in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, likes Nexus because it helps him avoid long waits at the border when he’s driving. If you’re an American, you get Global Entry benefits with your Nexus card. “Also, it automatically qualifies you for PreCheck,” he says.

Sentri: This trusted-traveler program allows expedited clearance for preapproved, low-risk travelers from southern land-border crossings. The benefits and requirements are virtually the same as for Nexus, but the cost is $122.25 for five years. If you have to cross the Mexican border in a car frequently, you should consider this program. Keith Shadle, who runs an information site called EasySentri, which helps travelers apply for trusted-traveler status, knows the benefit of Sentri well. He says it saves him hours whenever he navigates one of the world’s busiest land-border crossings at San Ysidro, Calif. But for American citizens, he says there may be a better path to the fast lanes. “Sentri benefits are included with Global Entry membership,” he says. “If you are a U.S. citizen and are thinking of using or wanting to use Sentri lanes, get Global Entry.”

By the way, if you want to figure out how much time these cards will save you, check out the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Wait Time website.

So what’s the bottom line?

If you’re an infrequent international traveler — one or two border crossings a year — get a passport and use the Mobile Passport app. If you want to avoid the intrusive questions of an in-person interview or are uneasy about a government background check, this is also the way to go. If you live near the Canadian or Mexican border and make a lot of land crossings, consider Nexus or Sentri. If you travel abroad more than a few times a year, you’ll want Global Entry. Time and again, that’s what experienced travelers recommend.

“Nothing is as time-efficient as Global Entry when returning to the United States,” says Andy Abramson, who runs a marketing firm in Los Angeles and spends almost as much time in the air as on the ground. Global Entry is even accepted in other countries, he says. He recently used it for entry to New Zealand, which saved him hours of waiting in line.

This summer, there are more ways than ever to avoid long waits at the airport or at land-border crossings. But don’t wait too long to decide. The application process can take weeks, and in some cases, months for some of these trusted-traveler programs. If you take too long to decide, you could find yourself stuck in a line.

Elliott is a consumer advocate, journalist and co-founder of the advocacy group Travelers United. Email him at chris@elliott.org.

Read more from Travel:

How to Pack for a Cruise When Flying

(This article was recently posted in Travel Plus)

Packing for a cruise is not as easy as it once was. Mostly because of airline restrictions on bags, gone are the days of bringing multiple suitcases coming or going weighing more than 50 pounds, unless of course, you are traveling from a homeport without the need to fly to embark the ship. So, for now, let’s look at packing tips requiring airfare before and after a sailing.

BAG QUANTITY AND WEIGHT

Before considering anything else, it’s most crucial to check with your airline to see what limits apply to you in regards to how many suitcases you can take, at least for free if at all, and what weight restrictions are in place for each. Some airlines are more lenient on first bag fees than others, and loyalty levels will get you the furthest with extra free luggage and even weight limits closer to 75 pounds.

Also, consider buying a small looping bag scale to ensure you’re always within the numbers. There’s nothing worse than discovering you’re over at the airport. If you do happen to have the chance to bring more than one bag, consider packing an empty duffel for any non-fragile souvenirs to bring with you on your return too.

DRESS CODES

As far as outfits are concerned, you’ll want to consider the dress codes of your specific cruise line next. Fewer expect formal wear than in the past, but some still expect it. If you’d rather not bring suits and cocktail dresses, most brands offer casual dining options on the very few evenings when formal is the designation.

OUTFITS

If you are keen to bring the greatest variety of outfits as possible to be well prepared for any event, you can wear the same base formal clothing, for instance, while changing up the accessories such as ties, scarves and jewelry the next time.

For daily casual options, my wife recommends a mix-and-match wardrobe in which all tops work with all bottoms. As far as weight distribution is concerned, also be mindful of packing heavier items such as shoes in a carry-on versus a checked bag.

LAUNDRY

It’s fairly easy to pack enough clothes for a weeklong cruise in a single suitcase. Once voyages get longer, however, laundry starts to become necessary. When cruises exceed seven days, consider still packing only a week’s worth of clothes and then plan to either self-launder or pay for full-service cleaning. Some cruise lines occasionally offer a special flat rate for stuffing a single laundry bag with clothes, which is a much better value than a la carte pricing.

PLASTIC BAGS

A helpful thing to bring that does not take up any more room or weight are plastic bags — trash or resealable ones.

For any laundry that is left upon your return home, trash bags are ideal to keep them separate from any remaining clean clothes. Also, resealable bags are great to take anything that might leak such as sunscreen as well as for to bring home any wet items such as swimwear that did not have a chance to dry before flying again.

Additionally, they can be a great way to protect delicate electronics from moisture on shoreside beach outings or in inclement weather.

FRAGILE ITEMS

If ever you have any fragile items, it’s always best to pack them in a carry-on, but if you have something such as a bottle of wine, liquid restrictions require that they are checked. The best-case scenario would be to ship such items home, but if you must have them with you, keep them as far away from the edges and sides of the suitcase as possible and pad them to the center with plenty of shock-absorbing clothes. Just be sure to also put them first in a sealable plastic bag to avoid unintended merlot colored T-shirts upon arrival.

———

Alaska Airlines Tops in Quality

Alaska Airlines was named the top airline in terms of quality in the latest Airline Quality Rating (AQR) report by Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

Virgin America, which recently merged with Alaska Airlines and had spent four years in the top spot, slipped to third. Delta came in at a close second. The results were released at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.

A joint research project funded as part of faculty research activities by Dr. Dean Headley at the W. Frank Barton School of Business at Wichita State University and Dr. Brent Bowen at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Prescott, AZ, campus, the most recent AQR also showed that industry performance improved in all four core elements tracked by the study: on-time performance, rate of involuntary denied boardings, rate of mishandled bags and the rate of customer complaints.

Nine of the 12 airlines improved in three categories (on-time, baggage handling and customer complaints), and seven of the 12 airlines improved in all four categories. Airlines that performed better in 2016 were Alaska, American, Delta, ExpressJet, Frontier, SkyWest, Southwest, Spirit and United. Those whose scores declined in 2016 were Hawaiian, JetBlue and Virgin America.

Below is the 2016 numerical ranking of the nation’s leading 12 airlines, according to the Airline Quality Rating, with the 2015 ranking in parentheses:

  1. Alaska (5)
  2. Delta (3)
  3. Virgin America (1)
  4. JetBlue (2)
  5. Hawaiian (4)
  6. Southwest (6)
  7. SkyWest (7)
  8. United (8)
  9. American (10)
  10. ExpressJet (9)
  11. Spirit (13)
  12. Frontier (11)

Airlines are Getting Better in Annual Survey

 

DALLAS (AP) — Airlines are getting better at sticking to their schedules and are losing fewer bags. Their customers seem to be complaining less often.

Those are the findings of an annual report on U.S. airlines’ quality released Monday by researchers at Wichita State University and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

Many passengers may have trouble believing those conclusions, however.

In just the last few days Delta Air Lines suffered a multi-day meltdown — canceling more than 3,000 flights after a one-day storm in Atlanta. And on Monday, United Airlines was in the spotlight after a video showed security agents dragging a man off a plane; he had refused to give up his seat on a flight that United overbooked.

“People don’t look at the numbers,” admitted Dean Headley, a marketing professor at Wichita State and co-author of Monday’s report. “They just know what happened to them, or they hear what happened to other people.”

The researchers used information compiled by the U.S. Department of Transportation to rate the airlines for on-time performance, baggage handling, bumping passengers off oversold flights, and complaints filed with the government.

They judged Alaska Airlines to be the best U.S. carrier, followed closely by Delta. Frontier Airlines ranked last, followed by another discount carrier, Spirit Airlines.

The report’s general observations:

— ON TIME PERFORMANCE: The percentage of flights that arrived on time or close to it rose to 81.4 percent in 2016 from 79.9 percent in 2015. Of 12 leading U.S. carriers, only American, JetBlue and Virgin America got worse.

— LOST BAGS: The rate of bags being lost, stolen or delayed fell 17 percent.

— BUMPING PASSENGERS: Your chances of getting bumped by the airline dropped 18 percent, which doesn’t include people who voluntarily gave up their seat for money or a travel voucher.

— FEWER COMPLAINTS: The rate of complaints filed with the government dropped about one-fifth, with complaints rising only for Hawaiian and Virgin America.

The official complaint rates don’t include the larger number of complaints that passengers file directly with the airline. The airlines are not required to report those figures.

The Wichita State and Embry-Riddle researchers have been issuing their report for more than 25 years, making it useful for comparing airlines. But some observers of the airline industry dismiss their number-crunching approach, and there are many other surveys that purport to rank the airlines.

The Transportation Department counts a flight as being on time even if it arrives up to 14 minutes late. “Airlines are happy with that (grace period) because it makes them look better and misleads the passenger,” said aviation consultant Michael Baiada. He said airlines can do better, and besides, travelers pay to be on time — not 14 minutes late.

More broadly, a statistical analysis of government data “really doesn’t take into consideration how the customer is treated,” said Bryan Saltzburg, an executive with travel site TripAdvisor LLC. “How comfortable are they on the plane? How helpful is the staff? What’s the value for what the customer paid?”

TripAdvisor released its own airline rankings Monday, which it said were based on analysis of “hundreds of thousands” of reviews posted by users. It placed JetBlue and Alaska Airlines among the top 10 in the world, and it rated Delta ahead of American and United among the largest U.S. carriers.

Other outfits including J.D. Power and Skytrax also put out ratings. Airlines boast when they win. Recently, American Airlines started putting stickers on all 968 of its planes to note that a trade publication, Air Transport World, named it airline of the year.

When Is the Best Time to Buy Airline Ticket

CheapAir.com has released the findings of its Annual Airfare Study, which crunched 921 million airfares from 2.9 million trips to find the best and worst times to buy an airline ticket. For the second consecutive year, the study found that 54 days out is, on average, when travelers can get the best deals on domestic flights. However, the best timing depends on when and where passengers fly.

CheapAir.com found that the lowest fare for a given flight changes an average of 71 times between the time it’s announced and the day the plane takes off. In other words, the price of a flight changes on average every 4.5 days, and each change averages $33 up or down.

“The most important rule is fairly obvious: don’t wait until the last minute, as that rarely works out,” said Jeff Klee, CEO of CheapAir.com. “But beyond that, you also want to be careful not to buy too early. I always suggest that travelers check fares early and often and get familiar with the market. Then, when you see a good deal pop up, grab it, because it likely won’t last very long.”

The Airfare Study identifies five booking windows in which travelers buy flights which CheapAir has labeled:

  • First Dibs” approximately 6 – 11 months in advance, when flights first open for sale and fares tend to be on the high side.
  • Peace of Mind” 3½ – 6 months in advance, when fares are at a modest premium but options abound.
  • Prime Booking Window” 3 weeks – 3½ months in advance, when airfares are the cheapest, on average. This is typically the best time to buy airline tickets.
  • Push Your Luck” 2 – 3 weeks in advance, fares can vary dramatically but are often rising significantly, particularly as flights fill to popular destinations.
  • Hail Mary” 0 – 2 weeks in advance, this is when airfares are highest, on average $150 more than booking in CheapAir.com’s “Prime Booking Window.”

How to survive a Long Flight in Coach

 

(this article was recently published in the Washington Post)

Let me start by saying one thing: If I can do this, you can, too.

When I lived in China and traveled home three times a year, making a 14-hour trek from Beijing to Dulles, people would say, “Oh, I could never do that kind of trip.”

They’re wrong. If I — a fidgety person who needs a body-space buffer most of the time — can do it, you can do it. And the payoff is that if you can survive a long-haul flight, whether it’s from Los Angeles to Sydney or Hong Kong to New York, you have just expanded your world.

This is not really intended for those who travel business or first class, those lucky ones who can pretend they’re curling up in the comfort of their living rooms, where the only downside is a little boredom and the wrong kind of chardonnay on the menu. No, this is for the humble masses, those who figure a cheaper flight is worth the reward of waking up in a place where breakfast might be spicy Asian rice noodles or where the smells might be an Australian eucalyptus tree.

You just need to keep a few tips in mind:

1. Choose your seat wisely. Most of the time, an aisle seat is best, even if you think you might want to sleep. Sleep on planes is overrated. Even in comfortable seats, you won’t be sleeping as much as you want. An aisle seat gives you the luxury of being able to pop up to stretch your legs. Of course, if this is an overnight and you want to be fresh when you land, a window seat and a good pillow might be better — if you promise yourself you’ll still move around. Deep vein thrombosis is real.

2. If you do end up with a window or the dreaded middle seat, remember this: You have the right to move. This means you must be brave enough to ask the person in the aisle seat to get up whenever you want, even if he is asleep. I learned this once the hard way when a guy in the aisle seat announced that he hadn’t slept in two days, popped an Ambien, and then became an unyielding wall between me and freedom.

3. This might be controversial, but I’m a seat-back proponent. Those folks who say you should never put your seat back at all have not traveled for 14 hours in coach. It doesn’t have to go all the way back, but no one should have to sit up straight for that long.

4. Food is overrated. Even if the meals surprise you with their quality — in which case you’ve been hitting the chardonnay a little too hard — don’t indulge in every last crumb of that brownie or roll. Your digestive system will thank you.

5. Do eat something, though. There is nothing worse than the feeling of having passed up the middle-of-the-flight meal only to realize you’re ravenous and you have another three hours before any kind of sustenance will be offered. A snack with protein (think nuts, not that pork knuckle you bought before you got on the plane in Munich) is a good backup plan.

6. Stay hydrated. Take every cup of water that is offered and don’t be shy about asking for more or walking to the service area. On many flights, trays of water are set up so passengers can help themselves.

7. Remember the accessories. I have tried the sling that wraps around your tray table and offers foot and leg support. The one I tried bunched one foot on top of the other — fail. Other people put some kind of book or solid item under their feet so the pressure is off their lower spine. A good neck pillow and eye mask are also helpful if you think you’ll sleep. A lightweight jacket, sweater or scarf is a godsend on over-chilled international flights.

8. Make sure your devices are charged. Some older-generation iPads, Kindles, phones and laptops don’t hold 14 hours of juice, and if you don’t have a battery pack and your seat doesn’t have a charger, you’re out of luck. Bring a paperback or magazine as backup, so you don’t end up browsing Sky Mall or staring at the seat like Elaine’s boyfriend Puddy in that one “Seinfeld” episode.

9. Be disciplined about entertainment. It’s best to start with reading when your brain is fresh and the dry air hasn’t made your eyeballs feel like cotton. When you can no longer read, go for a movie. Choose wisely: “Boyhood,” at 2 hours and 46 minutes, once ate up a good chunk of a flight. Next, move to music or podcasts. I recommend Krista Tippett’s “On Being.” If I’m going to have a voice in my ears when I drift off, let it be Krista’s. When you wake up from your catnap, you can start the process over again.

10. If the thought of wearing shoes for that long bothers you, bring a pair of soft socks or slippers to protect your feet from the bathroom floor.

11. Women, don’t wear a lot of makeup. You’ll feel gross after 10 hours. Pack some makeup removal wipes for the end of the trip to freshen up.

12. Remember that alcohol is rarely worth it. Airline wine is generally unimpressive, and if you choose red you’ll have purple teeth and lips for longer than you like. And the beer is generally bad. Besides, it’s really too cold to be drinking beer.

13. Try very hard not to look at the little screen that tells you how much time remains in the flight. When you feel as though you’ve been traveling forever, it’s no fun to glance at the indicator and learn that — nope — you still have nine hours left.

14. Finally, this might feel like Stockholm syndrome, but I have found that being nice to the flight attendants pays off, even when they seem to be scolding passengers and rushing by you so fast there’s a breeze. You never know when one might slip you an extra Dixie cup of ice cream or look the other way when you grab an entire empty row for a good long rest.

Must Pay to have TSA PreCheck

Thirteen percent of frequent travelers expect to lose or have lost their complimentary TSA PreCheck status, according to surveys conducted by GO Group, LLC, an international transportation provider and GO Airport Express, a Chicago-based ground transportation provider.

The Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) announced that as of February 2017, it was significantly reducing access to expedited screening for non-enrolled travelers, GO Group said.

Of the 446 survey respondents who responded to the surveys, 83 percent said the change will not affect them because they already pay for TSA PreCheck. Forty percent said the new rules did not apply to them because they were not frequent flyers and 28 percent were unsure if they would be affected.

Of those who responded they were losing their free PreCheck, 23 percent said they would pay the fee because it was worth the price to go through security faster without having to remove clothing items and electronic devices from luggage. Twenty-seven percent noted they would not pay for the privilege, deeming it too expensive. Forty-two percent had not made a decision yet at the time these surveys were conducted.

“TSA PreCheck offers a valuable and convenient service for those who spend a lot of time in airports, but some frequent travelers are willing to give it up because it is still cost-prohibitive,” said John McCarthy, president, GO Group, LLC, in a written release. “But based on these results, more are likely to be willing to pay the fee to avoid the long lines, especially if, as predicted, air travel will increase this spring and summer.”

Source: GO Group

What Will Flying be Like in the Future?

by Kashmira Gander, from The Independent, March 29, 2017

In what is sometimes perceived as the golden age of flying in the mid-twentieth century, air travel was an event, where – depending on the airline – planes had piano bars, inflight sommeliers, and waiters in white suits who dished out caviar. Now, airlines are ditching free food all together and nightmarish diagrams of cabins where passengers are packed in like sardines don’t bode well for the future of air travel.

But air cabin designers aren’t the bad guys, argues David Kondo, the Manager of Cabin Interior Development at Finnair. He insists they’re up not only against budgets, but also the laws of physics when it comes to making air travel pleasant for passengers.

Kondo has been working in the travel industry for seven years. Now based in Helsinki, he was born in Japan and grew up in Canada and Australia, meaning he was a frequent flyer when he was still in school. “I often joke I was raised on a Boeing 747-200,” he says. At Finnair, he’s introduced innovations including lighting that supposedly eases jet lag and lie-flat business class seats.

But even if you’re stuck in the cheap seats at the back, take heart: Kondo reckons the golden era of air travel is yet to come. Part of that will see the space above our heads and beneath our feet being used more efficiently; you can also expect technological upgrades, he says. And if you don’t believe him, remember that it really wasn’t that long ago that we were all watching films on a screen at the front of the cabin.

“Imagine boarding a plane and the seat recognising who you are and remembering exactly how you like to sit, in what configuration, and setting up your entertainment playlist based on your personal preferences and what you were watching at home before you came to the airport,” he says.

Not that Kondo wants us all to be attached to the world below. Although airlines are starting to roll out inflight wifi, he says his favourite aspect of flying is being cut off from the digital world and having time to eat, read, and watch films uninterrupted. His ideal plane wouldn’t isolate us from other passengers; it would give us more options for socialising. A passenger could then choose between shutting themselves off, or starting their holiday early at the sky bar.

“In a dream world, each passenger would have their own mini cabin, like a small hotel suite,” explains Kondo. “You would have different sizes and configurations to cater to different passengers – larger cabins for families, for example. The cabin would have everything you need, but there would be different social, lounge and dining areas available as well. It would be somewhat similar to what luxury rail or cruising is like.”

We’re still pretty far away from an Orient Express-style experience in the sky. Before Kondo and his peers can work their magic, aircraft manufacturers need to sort out the engineering complexity of getting all that gear into the air. And yet he’s not the only one with such high hopes. Anita Hawthorne, General Manager of Customer Experience for Air New Zealand, has a similar vision of the planes of the future. The digital revolution will “create personalised space for customers,” she says. And ANZ is already toying with innovation.

“We recently experimented with virtual reality headsets at our 75th anniversary exhibition,” she told The Independent. “Members of the public had the opportunity to sit inside an aircraft cabin mock up and wear a virtual reality headset to see what the future inflight experience might look like.” She remains tightlipped as to what that might include, but points out that Air New Zealand is already using biometric bag drop technology, allows customers in several premium lounges to order coffee via a mobile app, and has developed a tech-embedded wristband for children flying solo, allowing parents to track their kids’ journeys.

ANZ looked into bunk beds and pods when it developed its Skycouch (a row of economy seats which turns into a ‘bed’ for two) in 2010, she says, but they were too heavy. For her, the ultimate cabin would allow travellers to act exactly as they would on the ground – working, sleeping and entertaining in the sky. But because it takes so long to develop a new product, airlines take about five years to introduce any new innovations.

“The most annoying part I would say is all the limitations you face in designing a cabin, though part of the fun is working in such a constrained environment,” agrees Kondo. “The materials and design you choose are subject to stringent flammability and toxicity requirements and have to endure all sorts of extreme conditions like fluctuations in pressure, temperature and movement. It also needs to be extremely durable.”

Although we may lament sardine-style seating in economy, Kondo says you can thank regulations and legislation that it’s not worse. And anyway, he is swift to point out that those golden age photos you’re weeping over are probably from business class. In comparison, economy seats from 50 years ago weren’t that different. “Yes it’s slimmed up a bit but it’s not drastically different,” he argues.

And he believes seats will never get smaller than 29 inches. “We humans are not getting any smaller generally, so there comes a point where you physically cannot fit into the seat any longer. That’s obviously quite problematic.”

In the nearer future, Kondo just hopes to get a decent coffee onboard a plane and comfier seats.

“Yes, we have espresso machines but it just doesn’t taste the same as what you’d get at your favourite café,” says Kondo. “I think it has a lot to do with the fact that you physically can’t get water hot enough, as the boiling point at altitude in a cabin is about 80-85 degrees, and our taste buds also change at altitude.

“I also think we have a long way to go in economy class and think there is plenty of room to really fine tune the ergonomics and provide greater comfort to passengers. For example in headrest design, leg support, back and lumbar adjustment.”

On the whole, despite the nostalgia stoked by grainy images of planes from the 1950s where passengers had sofa-style seating and personal butlers, in reality we already have a lot to be thankful for, he argues.

“Generally, passengers have never had it better and also flying has never been more accessible. 50 years ago flying was reserved for the extremely wealthy. Today flying is for everybody.”

 

 

Demand for airfare to Cuba has slowed

Regularly scheduled passenger jet service to Cuba had been cut off for more than 50 years. Americans who wanted to go there had to go through third countries or take expensive charter flights that were notorious for long delays and steep baggage fees.

President Barack Obama renewed diplomatic relations with Cuba in 2015, and then brought back commercial airline travel last year. The companies that were authorized by the Department of Transportation booked routes not just to Havana, but also to less traveled cities such as Manzanillo and Holguín. With no history of commercial airline traffic to judge by, the airlines were largely guessing how many United States citizens and Cubans would line up for tickets.

United Airlines has service from Newark and Houston, and Alaska Airlines flies to Havana from Los Angeles. Delta offers three daily flights to Havana from Atlanta, Miami and Kennedy International Airport in New York. Destinations like Santa Clara proved to be less popular than the airlines had hoped, and some were forced to scale back.

“We started pretty big in Cuba,” said Laura Masvidal, a spokeswoman for American Airlines. “We made some adjustments to adjust to the market demand.”

Until February, American Airlines offered 1,920 seats a day to Cuba. The number dropped last month to 1,472, a nearly 25 percent reduction. The airline cut flights to Holguín, Santa Clara and Varadero to one daily flight from two, Ms. Masvidal said.

JetBlue Airways, which on Aug. 31 was the first to fly to Cuba, still offers nearly 50 weekly round-trip flights between the United States and four Cuban cities, but the airline recently switched to smaller planes.

“We have made some adjustment to aircraft types assigned to the routes, which is common as we constantly evaluate how to best utilize our aircraft fleet within our network,” said Doug McGraw, an airline spokesman.

Silver Airways has been flying 22 flights a week with smaller aircraft to nine Cuban destinations other than the capital, including Santa Clara, Holguín and Cayo Coco. Demand, Ms. Pinson said, was depressed by complications with online travel agency distribution and code-share agreements that still have not been resolved. The airline had already tried reducing its offerings.

The airline’s decision comes even as passenger traffic to Cuba is actually increasing at a brisk pace.

“The market is exploding,” said Chad Olin, the president of Cuba Candela, which specializes in booking trips to Cuba for the millennial traveler. “There is some demand adjustment happening as well, but net outcome is still one of the fastest growing markets in global tourism history.”

Mr. Olin said restaurants, bars and private home rentals are now much more crowded with Americans than even just a few months ago. “You hear American English spoken everywhere,” he said in an email.

And to hear the Cuban government media tell it, Americans interested in visiting Cuba were triggered by a message that told everyone to “travel now.”

The number of Americans who visited Cuba was up 125 percent in January, compared with the same month last year, the government reported, calling it a “virtual stampede.” Americans, the report said, were prompted by President Trump’s administration calling for a total review of the Cuba policies enacted by Mr. Obama.

Under the administration of George W. Bush, Cuban-Americans were limited to how often they could visit their families, so that niche also had a 38 percent increase, the Cuban media report said.

But it was still not enough to fill the flights.

“I think that a lot of airlines thought that there would be more demand than there is,” said Paul Berry, a spokesman for Spirit airlines, which flies twice a day to Havana from Fort Lauderdale. “Loads are not very heavy.”

Mr. Berry said there are still glitches, including not being able to easily use American credit cards. Cuban hotels are pricey, and some travelers are turned off by the extra costs for things like required traveler’s medical insurance and visas. The landing fees alone, Mr. Berry said, are sometimes more expensive than the actual airfare.

American citizens are still required to report which of the 12 authorized types of travel they are undertaking, which could also be limiting the number of potential passengers, he said. Religious and educational trips are allowed, but tanning on the beach is not. Many Americans are “not willing to flat-out lie” about why they are going, Mr. Berry said.

“A lot of people are not traveling; I think that’s why you see other airlines scale back,” he said. “There’s just not as much demand to go around.”