There has been no shortage of screenplay-worthy travel stories in the past few weeks. Dennis Rodman’s holiday in Pyonyang with the reclusive dictator, Kim Jung-un? Lifetime should be on it. The Carnival Triumph cruise fire? Bet on it being retold in a three-part epic on ABC Family. The sequester’s impact on air travel? That one’s still under discussion, but there’s no doubt the right network will make it work. Here are three would-be plots.
The TV Movie Version, “Mr. Worm Goes to Pyongyang”: An American basketball star (retired), hair dye aficionado, pro wrestler and self-proclaimed “bad boy” travels to North Korea to secure a peace treaty with the country’s ruthless supreme leader, Kim. Like his piercings and tattoos, the Worm’s methods are unconventional — and pooh-poohed by stiff-collared American foreign service elites. But with the help of the Harlem Globetrotters’ feather-on-your-funny-bone brand of non-verbal hijinks, coupled with all-you-can-drink of apple soju-tinis, he succeeds in melting the dictator’s heart. (Kim’s favorite gag: Player pretends he’s pregnant with a basketball.) Choking back guffaws and sobs, the glorious ruler reveals that he feels ostracized by the West; all the tiny, tracksuit-wearing tyrant really wants is to hear the smooth baritone of the American supreme leader. Worm and Kim embrace during a moment filmed by a cell phone, and the video goes viral. Having proven the cynics back home wrong, the Worm earns the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Thomas Jefferson Star for Foreign Service and, due to a clerical error, the Distinguished Honor Award from the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.
The TV Movie Version, “Triumph Over Adversity”: The vacation of a lifetime, a four-night voyage on a 14-year-old Carnival ship, becomes a cruel Darwinian experiment when an engine room fire leaves the ship without power in the Gulf of Mexico. Raw sewage sloshes around the decks, the now-infamous red bags for toxic waste are dispensed and essential supplies quickly dwindle. Despite food and medicine shortages and a growing intolerance toward poop jokes, a perky cruise director tries to keep the mood upbeat. But after only 24 hours adrift, hungry passengers have formed into splinter groups, with a maniacal Texan leading a powerful sect of pseudo-religious cannibals. Their first victim: the chipper cruise director. Screaming headlines (procured from a handful of surviving cruisers who managed to salvage cell phone batteries) and a CNN helicopter that surveys the scene from a safe distance tell the story to the world. Even as tug boats manage to reach the ship and slowly pull it to Mobile, the carnage continues.
When it seems that all hope is lost, President Obama reaches for the red phone and dials. A voice can be heard over the receiver: “I was wondering when you’d call.”
“We need your help, Dennis Rodman,” the president says.
The TV Movie Version, “Sequestration, the Movie”: With the U.S. government unable to agree on some sort of budget by some sort of date, $85 billion in spending cuts are initiated. Services the American public depends on may be ravaged. Most importantly, lines at airports are getting dangerously long. “Get there 90 minutes before departure” becomes “get there three months early and rent a hibernation pod, a new for-fee option introduced by the airlines.” (First-class hibernation pod passengers get to board in Zone 1 in the unlikely event their planes take off.) It gets worse. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, played by Kathy Bates, announces that the TSA is sending out furlough notices to its workers. As TSA staff numbers dwindle, fewer and fewer bags make it onto planes and fliers grow increasingly confused by the lack of ineptitude, condescension and rude interactions. Republicans and Democrats refuse to budge on spending, despite a growing number of airport horror scenes captured on cell phones and streamed out on CNN. Travelers angrily refuse overtures from train companies, preferring to form angry mobs at airports instead. Is the president out of options? Not yet. Dennis Rodman, one of the most decorated non-military heroes in U.S. history, is called in to mediate.
Would being able to eliminate jet lag make your next long-haul flight more bearable? What about knowing your food tray wouldn’t be jammed into your sternum if the person sitting in front of you decided to recline?
Solutions to both of these air travel problems have recently been proposed, and we at IndependentTraveler.com couldn’t be more excited.
Jet lag is an especially tiresome problem (pun intended) for travelers. But now you can just lather up those photons and erase your jet lag woes, Delta Air Lines promises. And though the “Photon Shower” conjures up futuristic images of a world with hovercrafts and Mars vacations, the device is real — almost.
Designed by a New York firm for Delta, the “Photon Shower” is a vertical shower-stall-style chamber that provides light therapy to users. According to an AdAge blog post, here’s how it works: users input their travel information, then step in and bask in a light sequence that recreates the effects of sunlight, which scientists say combats jet lag and provides a pick-me-up to tired travelers.
Though it was displayed at the latest TED conference in California, the Shower has not yet been rolled out to airports — and Delta is offering no timeline on when it might be available.
A second technology development, equally as exciting, is sadly even farther away from reality. The result of a global student design competition sponsored by the James Dyson Foundation, the AirGo economy seat is something we’d really like to see installed on airplanes. (ABC News agrees.)
The seat, designed by Malaysian engineering student Alireza Yaghoubi, aims to give fliers access to all their limited seat space, even when the person in front of them reclines. To accomplish this, the tray table and TV screen are housed above the seats, so that when a seat is pushed back it does not force the tray table or TV back as well. In Yaghoubi’s design, the two are attached to an individual bulkhead, which also provides guaranteed baggage storage space for each individual seat (another problem many fliers face!).
Yaghoubi told ABC News he got the idea for the seats after several uncomfortable eight-hour flights. On a typical flight, he said, the person in front of him reclined his or her seat, occupying one-third of the space he had paid for.
There’s just one problem with the design. It takes up 16 percent more floor space than the seats most airlines have now. But perhaps fliers would be willing to pay a little extra for the security of knowing they’d actually get to use all the space they paid for.
Given a choice, which of the two technological advancements would you like to see become reality first? Let us know below.
After months of rumors and speculation, American Airlines and US Airways officially declared yesterday that the two carriers plan to merge into the country’s largest airline.
It’s the latest of several merger announcements over the past few years in an airline industry that continues to contract. Delta and Northwest joined forces in 2008, and United absorbed Continental in 2010. After American Airlines and US Airways become a single carrier, to be named American, the U.S. will be left with only three major legacy carriers. And don’t forget Southwest Airlines, which is currently in the process of assimilating AirTran’s flights and services after their merger in 2011.
Airline mergers typically lead to less competition, higher fares and plenty of glitches as the carriers try to integrate two different operating systems. (Remember the computer problems that stranded some United fliers last year?) Elite fliers will also want to keep a close eye on their miles to be sure they’re credited correctly when the two programs are integrated.
How do you feel about the American/US Airways merger — excited? Worried? Indifferent? Post your thoughts in the comments below.
Here in the Northeast, we’re bracing for a winter walloping. A storm moving into the region today could bury New England in several feet of snow and has already forced the cancellation of thousands of flights into and out of area airports.
While past winter storms have resulted in notoriously bad experiences for fliers — like being stuck in a JetBlue plane on the tarmac for up to 11 hours back in 2007 — the Associated Press reports that airlines are now taking a more proactive approach, canceling flights in advance whenever bad weather is expected. Keeping fliers out of airports and planes safely on the ground may lead to a backed-up schedule after the storm, but should minimize those agonizing tales of hours stuck on a plane or sleeping in the airport for days at a time.
For today’s Friday Free-for-All, we want to hear about the worst weather-related experience you’ve suffered while traveling. A extra-long flight delay? A hurricane-soaked week in the Caribbean? Post your story in the comments below.
And for all those in the path of today’s storm, stay safe!
… check your pulse. VisitScotland has just released a new video featuring two adorable Shetland ponies named Fivla and Vitamin, standing on a barren winter hillside in cozy-looking wool cardigans. The video was shot to promote the Year of Natural Scotland, a celebration of the region’s glens, lochs, mountains, wildlife and other natural attractions. Check it out:
After watching this, the first thing I wondered was just how they got the ponies into those stylish sweaters! Luckily, VisitScotland has provided a video of that too.
Now I want to do two things: Book a trip to Scotland — and figure out how to get a Shetland pony as a pet.
Today we bring you three stories from around the airline industry, including a viral image of a flight attendant flipping the bird, the possible end of airline fees and an attempt to make airline loyalty programs “sustainable.”
Middle Seat, Middle Finger
The image, taken from a flight attendant’s rear cabin point of view, shows an outstretched arm with a certain finger aimed skyward. The sentiment is directed towards the fliers. Now Tatiana Kozlenko, an Aeroflot flight attendant said to have posted the pic on her Vkontakte page (Vkontakte is a social network in Russia), has been deplaned from the company. Russia-based news and TV outfit RT.com reports that the pic was posted back in October 2011 and had been languishing in relative obscurity until a popular Russian blogger reposted it on Twitter.
Kozlenko says it’s 1) not her in the photo, 2) not an Aeroflot plane and 3) not something she posted herself (she says she just tagged herself to it). Regardless, the airline has still laid down the long finger of the law. Aeroflot tweeted Monday morning that the firing was justified: “The fact of posting a photo shows Tatiana’s attitude towards passengers and her duties. She acknowledged her fault when she spoke to the leadership of the company.”
Airlines Running out of Fee Ideas?
Around the globe, airlines charged an estimate $36 billion in ancillary fees in 2012. But on Time.com, Brad Tuttle ponders whether a la carte pricing may have reached maximum altitude. Simply put, there’s almost nothing left to charge fliers for. What gave him that idea? The CEO of Spirit Airlines, the undisputed czar of deconstruction, recently told American Media Public Marketplace that the wellspring of added-fee innovations is starting to run dry. We’re not convinced. (Still left on the docket are a fee to talk to a human, fines for in-flight flatulence and an up-charge for armrest dominion.)
In the end, Tuttle doesn’t buy it either. He argues that any dearth of new ideas would be outweighed by ascending fees for baggage, onboard meals and the like.
Loyalty Pays Less
Veteran travel writer Chris Elliott reports that Delta is the first legacy airline to bind the value of its frequent-flier program not only to the number of miles passengers fly but also to the amount they spend. From January 1, 2014, loyalists will reach new echelons through a combination of miles or segments flown and annual spending on Delta flights. The key downside, among others: Snagging a great deal will help you less in the loyalty program game.
Naturally, Delta’s new program will help the airline’s bottom line. In the airline’s mind, too many undeserving fliers were benefiting. For Elliott, “As painful as these changes are, they make sense.” JetBlue, Southwest and Virgin America already have programs that reward fliers based on how much they spend, he says. “Air travelers tempted to give their loyalty to an airline like Delta now won’t cling to an empty promise that they can reach elite status any other way than by spending their way there. Some will refuse to participate and will instead purchase a ticket that makes sense for them, and not for their loyalty program.”
In a world where being a green hotel often translates into simply asking guests to reuse towels, a new initiative by several hotel brands to eliminate bottled water has gotten our attention.
According to SustainableBusiness.com, a group of hotels and resorts including Virgin, Ritz-Carlton and Banyan Tree plan to reduce their use of plastic water bottles by filtering, bottling (in reusable glass bottles) and selling their own water.
One of the cool things about the project is not only that it will reduce the number of plastic bottles used by the hospitality companies, but also that a portion of the proceeds from the water sales will go to the nonprofit Whole World Water, whose main purpose is to bring clean drinking water to populations that don’t have it.
Virgin expects to eliminate more than 200,000 plastic bottles a year from its Necker Island Resort, Virgin founder Richard Branson wrote on his blog.
“With Whole World Water, we plan to stop use of almost all plastic bottles on Necker,” he wrote. “We’re aiming to reduce the amount of plastic at our other Virgin Limited Edition properties and our new Virgin Hotels.”
The initiative is modeled on a system used by Soneva Resorts at its Maldives and Thailand properties since 2008. The resort’s founder, Sonu Shivdasani, also is a founding member of Whole World Water. The program has improved clean water access for more than 600,000 people, Shivdasani claims.
What we find particularly impressive is that so many competing companies are working together. For instance, Soneva Resorts is actually providing the seed money to get the project going. But it’s not a free ride for any of the companies; each has to pay $1,000 annually per participating property, plus install a water filtration and bottling system at each property.
Participating brands so far include Virgin Limited Edition, Virgin Hotels, Banyan Tree, Auberge du Soleil, Tao Restaurant Group, The Ritz-Carlton Charlotte, The Ritz-Carlton Lake Tahoe, Oberoi Hotels and Resorts, JetWing Hotels, Dusit Hotels and Resorts, and The Ranch at Live Oak Malibu.
The initiative officially kicks off on March 22, World Water Day.
Ever wanted someone to make your restaurant reservations for you when you’re traveling? Or grab tix to the latest theatrical extravaganza on your behalf? Or let you know what the weather will be like tomorrow and the next day? All these tasks and more are what hotel concierges have been doing for their high-end clientele for years. Hand over an extra 20 and the concierge would get you into the hottest ticket in town.
But no longer is that 20 bucks a necessity. Travelocity is getting in on the action, offering concierge service to any customer who books a packaged vacation through the site — for free!
Some of the concierge services offered to customers (only those who purchased from Travelocity after January 1) include restaurant referrals and reservations; theater, music or sporting event tickets; golf course tee time reservations; driving directions; salon and spa booking assistance; ATM and bank locations; weather forecasts; lost passport/travel document assistance; translation services; and legal referral and assistance.
The concierge will even keep customers who request it ahead of time up-to-date with sports scores.
In order to take advantage of the concierge, customers need only phone a special number given to them with their e-mailed travel documents. The service is available immediately after booking, during the trip and up to two days after returning home.
The service, which launched January 1, 2013, is actually operated by Travel Guard, an insurance company that also offers a Concierge Desk. While the use of the concierge to obtain an item or service is free, the cost of the tickets to a Broadway show, as an example, are still the responsibility of the Travelocity customer.
According to Simon Bramly, vice president and general manager of transportation, vacation packages and cruises for Travelocity, the concierge service is intended to enhance the “value” of the site’s vacation packages beyond simply a low price.
But nothing in the corporate world is done without a real bottom-line benefit and one can only guess at the true reason Travelocity has launched this service — a service that must be costing the company money as it doesn’t actually provide it. Online travel booking sites have some of the highest turnover rates in the industry, as most of their customers are simply looking for the lowest price and will hop from site to site to find it. I think it’s a safe bet to say Travelocity is hoping that by adding this service, its vacation package customers will come back to the site not just for the low price but because they’re also getting the free concierge help.
Will the free concierge service influence whether you decide to purchase a vacation from Travelocity or not?
TripAdvisor announced the winners of its Travelers’ Choice awards for the best U.S. hotels today. Ten hotels in six categories received “top” honors, including top overall, top hotels for service, top small hotels and top bargains. As I was reading through the list, I was struck by two things. First, I haven’t been to a single one of the 60 hotels mentioned (maybe I need to get out more often) and second, when I tried to think of places I would add to the list, I could only think of two properties, neither of which I’d really describe as a hotel.
Now, I’ve been to plenty of hotels (small and large), and I’ve enjoyed myself at quite a few of them, but none that I would actually call a “hotel” stands out enough in my memory that I would consider putting them on any list of top hotels.
In my mind hotels are fairly institutional. They might be gorgeously landscaped or situated in the perfect place, but they’re all similarly laid out and have a similar feel.
Sure, bits and pieces stand out. The Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort & Spa in California had the best-smelling skin lotion I’ve ever come across. And the Virginia Hotel in Cape May, New Jersey, had just the most comfortable porch for sipping drinks on a warm evening. But beyond that … eh, they were hotels.
The Soniat House in New Orleans is probably the nearest thing to a “hotel” that I’d put on a top list. Of course, the small 30-room guesthouse is more like a B&B or inn than a traditional hotel. Comprising three converted townhouses with flower-draped balconies, Soniat House exudes an unparalleled yesteryear atmosphere.
But my favorite U.S. place to stay is as un-hotel-like as a property can get. Called Wellspring, it’s a small, off-the-beaten-path collection of about 17 cottages, cabins and permanent tents located just outside Mount Rainier National Park in Washington. With names like the Three Bears’ Cottage, the Treehouse and Timbuktu, each cottage, cabin and tent is completely different. But all are cozy, calming and completely unforgettable.
‘Tis the season for travel shows! If you’re interested in getting first-hand recommendations from destination experts, checking out cultural performances and cooking demonstrations, listening to talks by travel celebs like Rick Steves or Pauline Frommer, or even winning a free trip, you might want to consider attending one of these upcoming travel trade shows around the U.S. and Canada.