Traveling is a pricey proposition, and flying adds even more nickel-and-dime expenses to your tab. Checked baggage fees. Extra leg room fees. In-flight movie fees. Wouldn’t it be great if you could get someone else to pay for your airport parking while you globetrot?
FlightCar, a new company based in California, may soon match up travelers looking for rental cars with travelers who have cars sitting, unused, in long-term airport parking lots.
According to the company’s Web site, the idea hasn’t yet come to fruition, but the service is slated to launch later this year in Oakland and San Jose.
What’s in it for renters? Cars rented through FlightCar will supposedly be up to 50 percent cheaper than cars rented through standard rental companies like Hertz, Avis or Enterprise.
What’s in it for rentees? Your car will be earning you money — instead of costing you — while you travel. Plus, FlightCar will even clean your vehicle for you, pre- and post-rental. When you register online, you can set the daily rate and the mileage limit, and each car is insured up to $1 million, according to the company’s Web site.
For more info, check out the video:
What’s your take? Would you let a stranger drive your car while you’re out of town? Share your comments below.
In August, we reported that Cuba trips could be in jeopardy for U.S. travelers, as many tour operators and cultural institutions that offered educational excursions to the long-verboten nation had not had their licenses renewed by the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).
Fortunately, Americans can put Cuba back on their bucket lists, as a number of license renewals have finally been issued over the past few weeks. Organizations including Friendly Planet Travel, Insight Cuba and Grand Circle Foundation are now once again authorized to offer “people to people” trips to the Caribbean nation. These trips, authorized by the Obama administration last year, are required by the government to have a focus on cultural exchange with “meaningful interaction between the U.S. travelers and individuals in Cuba,” according to the OFAC’s guidelines.
We asked Peggy M. Goldman, president of Friendly Planet Travel, why it took longer than expected for licenses to be renewed. “We were not given any explanation by OFAC as to the delay,” Goldman told us. “However, there was a change in the rules for granting people-to-people licenses in May of 2012, and that change, coupled with fewer people to work on the many applications, no doubt added to the delay in reviewing the applications.”
The rule change was sparked by a speech from Cuban-American Congressman Marco Rubio that questioned whether the trips were “cover-ups for tourism,” reports the Associated Press. After this, the application for a license got significantly longer, incorporating increased scrutiny of the day-to-day itineraries of each proposed trip to Cuba. (Rubio had taken issue with such activities as salsa dancing and visits to the Cuban Ministry of Culture.)
“For Friendly Planet Travel, it meant a lot of extra time in preparing very detailed descriptions of each day on tour, plus other information,” said Goldman. “The sheer scope of the new applications must have been daunting for OFAC to review, and from what I understand, there was less staff than before to cope with the work. However, it appears OFAC has gotten on top of the work, because from what I’ve heard, a number of renewals as well as new licenses have been granted in recent days. We are obviously thrilled that we’ve been renewed for a period of two years.”
Given the high demand these trips have seen over the past year, we’re betting many travelers are thrilled too.
Today we bring you three stories from around the airline industry, including JetBlue’s toe-dip into presidential politics, a robot suitcase and a new approach to reducing airplane aisle gridlock.
If That Stupid [Candidate A/Candidate B] Wins…
I’m leaving the country on the next JetBlue flight. Even after Goodwill trucks pack up the last box of “Yes We Can (Again)”/”I Built This!” T-shirts on November 7, the losing side can take some solace. Nonpartisan airline JetBlue is giving away 2,012 flights to destinations outside the United States after the election. Entering is easy: Go to JetBlueElectionProtection.com and pick Obama or Romney. If your guy loses, you have a shot at becoming a temporary expat via one of JetBlue’s international routes, which include the Caribbean and Mexico. All of America wins.
About Time: Robot Luggage
Aussie air travel news site Terminal U is reporting on a new type of robot luggage that could someday hit an airport near you. An inventor has created a prototype of a hands-free suitcase, called “Hop,” which stalks its owner via signals from a cell phone’s Bluetooth. You move, Hop moves. You move, Hop doesn’t move? Hop alerts you by making your phone vibrate. (Hop moves, you move? The TSA bans Hop and you end up on the no-fly list.)
Check out this video of Hop in action:
About Time: Moving Airplane Seats
Reports the U.K.’s Daily Mail: U.S. company Molon Labe Designs claims that its “Sider Seat” — an aisle seat that can slide over and atop the middle seat — will save airlines two hours of extra flying time a day. Molon Labe says the movable seats would expand aisle width from 19 to 43 inches, allowing for whimsical twirling and quicker loading and unloading. The seats are not robots — a passenger or member of the flight crew must physically move them — and they do not recline. As one commenter on the Daily Mail site correctly pointed out, the approach to boarding would have to change in tandem with the furniture. What happens when the already beleaguered middle-seater finds he now has no seat?
IndependentTraveler.com has requested access to the airport bar napkin the idea was originally scribbled on.
Those of us stuck in coach on every flight now have a silver lining to console us as we wedge ourselves into those cramped seats: we may be more likely than first-class passengers to survive a plane crash.
This was the primary takeaway from a recent safety study in which scientists crashed a Boeing 727 into a desert in Mexico, reports the U.K.’s Daily Mail. “During the $1.5 million experiment — which was arranged by Channel 4 and television production company Dragonfly — the first 11 rows of seats ripped out as the nose of the plane dipped and the front of the fuselage sheared off,” says the Daily Mail.
Because the front rows are where first-class passengers are normally seated, the scientists noted that no one in the more expensive cabin would have survived the crash. However, 78 percent of the remaining passengers would have survived — and the farther back in the plane they were, the better their chances.
The study also found that the “brace” position, in which passengers prepare for impact by bending forward to touch their heads to the seats in front, does offer meaningful protection in the event of a crash. The scientists included dummies in three positions during the experiment: one in the brace position and wearing a seatbelt, one sitting upright with a seatbelt fastened, and one not wearing a seatbelt. According to the Daily Mail, “The dummy in the brace position would have survived the impact, the one not in the brace would have suffered serious head injuries, and the dummy not wearing a [seatbelt] would have perished.”
While the success of the brace position has been corroborated by multiple researchers, the equation of “back of the plane = safer” is not quite as conclusive. One study by Popular Mechanics supports the idea that the rear of the plane is safer, while a British Civil Aviation Authority/Greenwich University study found that passengers near the front of the plane were more likely to escape a crash-induced fire. Boeing’s own Web site simply says, “One seat is as safe as another, especially if you stay buckled up.” Survival rates vary widely depending on the circumstances of each crash.
So what’s a safety-minded traveler to do? Being in or near an exit row is generally a good idea, and fliers sitting in the aisle seats may be more easily able to escape than those who are in less accessible window seats. Wherever you’re sitting, read the safety card, know the location of your nearest exit, keep your seatbelt fastened and follow all crew instructions in the event of an emergency.
Would this study make you think twice about upgrading to first class?
Understanding geography is something travelers take for granted. It’s both a requirement and a side effect of travel. For Sandy and Darren Van Soye, it is a passion.
In 2003, the couple took their daughters, then ages 10 and 12, on a nearly five-month trip around the world. Through e-mails to their teachers, the family shared the voyage with the entire school. Classmates loved the missives from across the globe, and the experience changed the Van Soye daughters.
“Both girls came home understanding where places are and that much of the world lives differently than they do in California. They had more confidence and were also not afraid of interacting with adults,” said Sandy.
Years later, the couple read that 29 percent of U.S. 18- to 24-year-olds could not find the Pacific Ocean on an unlabeled map. “We decided then and there to find a way to give back as we travel, to hopefully get kids around the globe excited about geography,” said Darren.
The couple saved for seven years to take a 14-month trip to 50 countries on six continents. Now 229 days into their trip, they have covered 36,000 miles, hiking to some of the most remote places on Earth between visits to cities and towns. Lest you think the extensive trip is just a scheme to acquire bounteous frequent flier miles, the Van Soyes stay “close to the ground” using local public transportation (bus, train, ferry) whenever possible. Their goal is to experience the world more closely and minimize their carbon footprint.
Far from being just a vacation, however, the Van Soyes are using their excursion as a “teaching moment” for 55,000+ schoolchildren across the globe. Some 850 educators from 20 countries are following the Van Soyes’ journey with their students on the couple’s Web site, Trekking the Planet. There are also 300 or more “armchair travelers,” many of whom are fellow cruisers (the Van Soyes, avid cruisers, have incorporated five Princess cruises into their itinerary so far).
The couple provides weekly newsletters with a country-specific educational module, an article or two and often a video. “The goal is to establish a two-way link with students where they can witness first-hand the world ‘out there’ and even pose and receive answers to their questions in near real time,” said Sandy. The materials are free and accessible via their Web site as well as Facebook (Facebook.com/TrekkingPlanet) and Twitter (@TrekkingPlanet).
They’ve visited schools in American Samoa, Thailand, Laos, Nepal and Latvia so far. “The schools in Laos were some of the most remote places we have visited – the buildings were made of bamboo and had dirt floors. But to see the kids’ faces as we talked about our journey made the trip worth it! During our visits, we always ask the students questions that we received from the classrooms that are following us,” said Sandy.
“Technology has changed so much since our last trip in 2003. Last time, we used a stylus-based Casio Cassiopeia to write our e-mails and resize our photos. We used Internet cafes to send the e-mails along with our photos. Now we can do the whole thing with our smartphones,” said Darren.
The Van Soyes are doing their part — first for their children, now for the world’s children — to broaden the understanding of young people, helping them prepare for a future that is, as the Roper report says, increasingly global.
Today, Frontier Airlines made a preemptive strike against booking sites like Expedia, Travelocity and Orbitz by penalizing fliers who purchase Frontier flights anywhere except the carrier’s own Web site. According to the airline’s press release, “For customers purchasing Frontier’s lowest fares through outside booking channels … customers will get their seat assigned at check-in, earn 50 percent EarlyReturns miles, and pay higher fees [for services like itinerary changes, unaccompanied minors and pets in the cabin].”
In other words, the fares may be the same, but if you want to choose your own seat and get full credit for your frequent flier miles, you’ll have to book directly through the airline’s own Web site. FlyFrontier.com is also the only place travelers can access the airline’s Classic and Classic Plus fare options, which offer perks such as free checked bags and itinerary changes.
Although most airlines sell a large percentage of their tickets through online travel agencies, they make more money on bookings through their own sites, for which they don’t have to pay a commission. According to an Associated Press report, the booking sites charge the airlines about $10 to $25 per ticket — which adds up quickly in an industry with such tight margins.
But forget what’s best for the airlines; which booking experience is better for the consumer?
The booking sites’ clear advantage is the ease of comparing schedules and prices among multiple airlines (although I’ve found that aggregator sites like Kayak.com and TripAdvisor Flights are even better, as they include multiple booking sites as well). If you’re looking to buy your flight in combination with a hotel stay or car rental, the Expedias of the world make it easy and convenient.
Personally, though, after I’ve done my initial research, I nearly always find myself making my purchase on the airline’s Web site. If the price on the booking site and the airline is the same — and it usually is — I prefer to cut out the middle man. In the past, I’ve occasionally had problems checking in on an airline’s site when I booked through an outside agency, as the airline didn’t seem to recognize my confirmation code. I also find that fare and fee options are spelled out more clearly on the airline’s own site. And if anything ever goes wrong with my flight arrangements, booking directly through the airline means there’s no question about who’s responsible and whom to contact for help.
Which booking option do you prefer?
Editor’s Note: IndependentTraveler.com is published by The Independent Traveler, Inc., a member of the TripAdvisor Media Network.
Blame Isaac for scattering Caribbean-based cruise ships, upending tightly coordinated shipping schedules, and deluging popular cities and islands. But apparently, none of this should come as a surprise.
According to a recent blog on Weather.com, over the past 11 years, those ornery “I” storms have been among the most destructive of the Atlantic hurricanes. Seven “I” names have been retired by the World Meteorological Organization, a United Nations agency with the curious task of humanizing the potentially catastrophic (among myriad mandates). Storm names are retired by the WMO when the specter of seeing another Hurricane Katrina is deemed too painful.
The “I” storm phenomenon can partly be explained by the position of the letter in the alphabet within the context of Atlantic Hurricane Season, which runs from June 1 to November 30. According to National Hurricane Center data, a typical Atlantic season is composed of some 11 storms, (±4), with the seasonal peak generally coming around September 10. All seven retire-I’s spawned between August and early October. Weather conditions during this period — low wind shear, higher sea temperatures — are the inspiration for more and bigger storms, right when the “I’s” are statistically set to materialize.
Still, during that 11-year stretch, zero “H’s,” two “J’s” and that very deadly “K” have been put to pasture. Compare that to Irene (August 2011), Igor (September 2010), Ike (September 2008), Ivan (September 2004), Isabel (September 2003), Isadore (September 2002) and Iris (October 2001). Some would call it an I-jinx.
Fortunately, Isaac didn’t have nearly the gusto of 2011′s Irene, which diverted dozens of cruise ships in the Northeast, Eastern Caribbean, Bermuda and Bahamas, and caused billions in damage and some 40 deaths. No one will soon forget Ike either, which holds the dubious honor of being the United States’ second-most expensive tropical storm, causing nearly $29.5 billion in damage (source: weather.com).
Whatever Isaac’s legacy, here’s hoping that he won’t be retiring any time soon.
At the beginning of this year, IndependentTraveler.com named Cuba one of its 9 Destinations to Visit in 2012, thanks to the relaxation of travel restrictions for Americans wanting to visit the long-forbidden nation. Under the loosened rules, many tour operators and cultural institutions began offering educational trips to Cuba that any traveler could book (prior access had largely been restricted to Americans visiting family in Cuba or traveling for religious purposes).
But these trips appear to be in peril once again. According to a report in the Detroit Free Press, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), part of the U.S. Treasury, has been extremely slow to renew licenses for travel organizations who want to offer educational Cuba tours — putting future trips in jeopardy.
InsightCuba.com, for example, has “pending OFAC license renewal” at the top of its list of tour offerings; the Free Press notes that the company has had to cancel its last two months of trips because its license expired in June. Other companies affected include National Geographic, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and more.
It’s not clear if license renewals are not being promptly issued for political, bureaucratic or other reasons. In a statement provided to the Free Press, the U.S. Treasury had only this to say: “We have issued approximately 140 people-to-people licenses. We are doing our best to process both first-time applications and requests to renew existing licenses. We receive numerous such requests which are being handled in turn. It is our goal to respond in a timely matter.”
For now, if you see a company advertising Cuba tours, avoid disappointment by calling to ask when its OFAC license expires and whether the trip is guaranteed to run.
We travelers like to brag. Whether we’re at the beach for a day or backpacking through Europe for a month, there’s no better way to say “thinking of you” (or, more specifically, “thinking of you while I’m being awesome on my awesome trip”) than a postcard. But with the rise in smartphone usage and the popularity of social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook, postcards are a dying medium.
According to Web site Tnooz, only 16 percent of 2,000 adults in a recent survey said that they send postcards while traveling. Many cited slow mailing times and the added headache of finding stamps and mailboxes as reasons why they opt for other forms of communication instead. It seems that phone calls, texts, Facebook posts and mass e-mails have increasingly pushed postcards in the direction of the dinosaur.
However, companies like Postcardly offer ways to combine the two by using technology to send printed postcards as easily as sending an e-mail. Although it’s a cute idea, some just don’t find it as appealing as having a Facebook album that all 500 of your friends can see and “like.”
Do you stay in touch with folks back home while globetrotting? Do you prefer sending and/or receiving hard copies, or are you more partial to the virtual version? Be sure to vote in our poll, and leave your comments below.
August 9 is Nagasaki Day, a day set aside to memorialize the 70,000 killed when the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city in 1945, prompting Japan’s World War II surrender. U.S. Ambassador to Japan John Roos was in the city to take part in a peace memorial. Just three days earlier Roos and Harry Truman’s grandson attended a similar ceremony marking Hiroshima’s dark day.
When we travel, we’re often focused on visiting destinations that are festive and fun, that bring us great joy. But Nagasaki Day reminded us that many destinations are focused on more painful history. We visit the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington D.C., the Waterloo Battlefields, the Normandy American Cemetery and the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum.
Some of these destinations not only call attention to a disturbing past, but also celebrate our ability to rise above it. Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was held for 18 years, is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Chosen, according to the UNESCO Web site, because the buildings “bear witness to its somber history” and “symbolize the triumph of the human spirit, of freedom and of democracy over oppression.”
We visit such sites to learn from history, much of which we must be certain to never repeat. We honor those who have fallen. We feel connected to humanity — at its best and worst. Some of it is just so uncomfortable, though. It evokes the phrase “to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” Through the lump in our throat that these places may form, we find strength and hope.
There are elements of so-called “dark tourism” in mainstream travel as well, though we often forget that fact. Who winces at the pain inflicted within the crumbling walls of the Coliseum or the majestic Tower of London? Do we consider the loss of life required to build the Great Wall or the pyramids when we snap photos of ourselves smiling in front of them?
And is there a point at which we should we draw a line? Do we visit Chernobyl, Saint-Laurent of “Papillion” fame and its neighbor, Devil’s Island? Even seemingly innocuous sites such as Salem, Massachusetts, have a murky history.
We may visit macabre sites to pay homage to courage and perseverance. Perhaps sometimes it is more exploitative — a titillating, glad-it-wasn’t-me experience. Either way, we know we’re visiting someplace important, someplace where events changed the course of history. And, if we’re lucky, we walk away a little more human for the experience.
Do you make pilgrimages to sites with dark or painful histories? And are you comforted or afflicted by your trip?