Who doesn’t love a list?
Time magazine has unleashed a doozy. Earlier this week, Time named the top 100 most influential gadgets produced since 1923 (the year the mag began publication), noting that many items “get the nod simply because they were the first of their kind. First may not always be best, but it’s surely a sign of smart innovation.”
I was intrigued, and not only because I’ve always gotten a kick out of the Clapper and the Roomba (no, I don’t own them, and, yes, they’re on the list). What piqued my interest was the fact that so many of Time‘s gadget greats turned out to be invaluable travel aids. For every Taser and Cordless Electric Drill included, there’s an equally useful tool for road warriors.
Here are five of Time‘s picks that travelers can particularly relate to:
I used to think the Sony Walkman (also on the list) was indispensable, then I got my hands — and ears — on the iPod. Now, the moment the flight attendants give me the all clear to use small electronics, I can’t turn that thing on fast enough and start zoning out. Bonus: It’s ridiculously easy to pack.
Bose Noise-Canceling Headphones
Ok, I never sprang for the $350 version, opting instead for (much) cheaper Bose wannabes. Still, credit goes to the company for coming up with the technology, and I’ll take the soft hum of nothingness over the drone of airline engines any day of the week.
Mattel Electronic Football
I’m a bit ashamed that I’m old enough to remember this gem (it came out in 1977). This portable electronic football game kept me occupied for hours in Dad’s station wagon on road trips — until the batteries died, that is, and the back-seat battles with my sibs would begin.
Ah, yes — every traveler’s little helper. Without it, how would we book online, eat in restaurants we can’t afford and make impromptu decisions to buy overpriced knickknacks when we don’t have enough foreign currency on hand?
From my wallet to the pockets in my travel pants to the handle on my duffel bag, it’s literally the one thing that keeps my vacations from going to pieces.
What do you say? What gadgets do you swear by when you’re on a trip?
— written by John Deiner
Who doesn’t love a list?
I couldn’t count the number of times I ran into Rod Blagojevich last October. And now this year, a thousand Steven Slaters will be walking the streets of America, issuing requests for candy on Halloween night.
Halloween costumes are an annual barometer of the pop-culture ruffians du jour, from famous folk heroes to politicians and nefarious public figures. In 2008, Obama, McCain and Palin costumes filled the shelves of Halloween superstores everywhere. Last year, it was Susan Boyle, Billy Mays and, of course, the floppy-haired Blago.
We’re thrilled that one of 2010’s most popular Halloween costume is — finally — a guise that evokes the horrors of air travel. Ricky’s NYC is currently selling the Angry Steward, a costume inspired by the JetBlue attendant who grabbed two beers and slid down the emergency inflatable slide after an in-flight altercation with a passenger.
The costume includes a navy flight attendant shirt, a tie and a bandage (reportedly, Slater was hit in the head with luggage that a passenger had been attempting to pull from the overhead compartment — hence the bandage). Unfortunately, Ricky’s is no longer taking online orders for Halloween costumes. But a trip to your local Salvation Army store could yield a navy dress shirt with blue tie. Add some bandages and beer, and you’re on your way to anti-establishment infamy.
Rickey’s Angry Steward costume has been selling quite well — which isn’t surprising, as Slater is still firmly planted in the public eye. Yesterday, Slater pleaded guilty to two counts of criminal mischief in a Queens court, and so far this week he’s been on Larry King Live, Good Morning America and NBC’s TODAY, explaining why he did what he did (short answer: he made a mistake and regrets the whole thing).
If you’re into the Steven Slater costume idea, I wouldn’t suggest waiting until next Halloween. By then, Slater’s 15 minutes will be long expired, and you’ll inevitably have to answer to curious onlookers asking, “What are you supposed to be?”
–written by Caroline Costello
An ExpressJet pilot recently reported to work at Memphis International Airport and touched off what has turned into a firestorm of controversy.
The pilot, Michael Roberts, refused to go through one of the TSA’s new full body scanning machines, reports the Baltimore Sun. The machines, which are being introduced in select airports around the country, use advanced imaging technology to produce a rather revealing picture of a passenger’s naked body — and they’ve sparked debates about the importance of individual privacy versus safety in the air. The health risks of the machines, which emit low levels of radiation, have also been questioned. (The TSA claims the radiation is well within acceptable limits.)
Roberts — like all airline passengers — was permitted to opt out of the full body scan. However, he also refused his second option, a manual pat-down. “I’m not onboard with federal agents putting their hands on me every time I go to work,” he tells the Sun. Because he refused both the full body scan and the pat-down, he was denied access to the airport and sent home — and now his job may be in jeopardy. He is planning to file a lawsuit against the TSA.
Many travelers are celebrating Roberts’ protest as a heroic struggle for privacy and civil rights. But the TSA defends itself in a recent blog post (which coyly does not mention Roberts by name), stating that everyone — including flight crew and TSA agents — is subject to airport security, and that “security is not optional.”
While I’m hardly one to defend the TSA, I’m not so sure I agree with Roberts either; is a pat-down really that big a deal? But then again, I haven’t yet had to go through one of the new full body scans. Readers, what’s your take — do you think a pat-down is a reasonable alternative to the full body scan, or is Roberts justified in standing up to the TSA?
–written by Sarah Schlichter
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking from the flight deck. The skies are nice and clear today — which is good, since we only have enough fuel for perfect flight conditions. Oh, and please feel free to judge my flying skills based on the quality of our landing….”
This isn’t the kind of in-flight announcement you’ll ever hear during a real flight — but it turns out that there are quite a few things your airline pilot may not be telling you. Reader’s Digest recently interviewed 17 pilots in the U.S. to get their insider take on airplane safety, flight delays and other aspects of air travel. The 50 secrets that the pilots revealed are sometimes funny, sometimes frightening — but they all offer a fascinating peek at what goes on in the cockpit at 35,000 feet.
Here are a few of our favorites:
“Pilots find it perplexing that so many people are afraid of turbulence. It’s all but impossible for turbulence to cause a crash. We avoid turbulence not because we’re afraid the wing is going to fall off but because it’s annoying.” — Patrick Smith
“I’m constantly under pressure to carry less fuel than I’m comfortable with. Airlines are always looking at the bottom line, and you burn fuel carrying fuel. Sometimes if you carry just enough fuel and you hit thunderstorms or delays, then suddenly you’re running out of gas and you have to go to an alternate airport.” — Captain at a major airline
“Most of the time, how you land is a good indicator of a pilot’s skill. So if you want to say something nice to a pilot as you’re getting off the plane, say ‘Nice landing.’ We do appreciate that.” — Joe D’Eon
“If you’re going to recline your seat, for God’s sake, please check behind you first. You have no idea how many laptops are broken every year by boorish passengers who slam their seat back with total disregard to what’s going on behind them.” — John Nance
“No, it’s not your imagination: Airlines really have adjusted their flight arrival times so they can have a better record of on-time arrivals. So they might say a flight takes two hours when it really takes an hour and 45 minutes.” — AirTran Airways captain, Atlanta
“Remember this before you complain about the cost of a ticket: Fares today are about the same as they were in the 1980’s.” — Patrick Smith
“Here’s the truth about airline jobs: You don’t have as much time off as your neighbors think you have, you don’t make as much money as your relatives think you make, and you don’t have as many girlfriends as your wife thinks you have. Still, I can’t believe they pay me to do this.” — Commercial pilot, Charlotte, North Carolina
What would you ask a pilot if you could?
–written by Sarah Schlichter
Step aside, fanny pack. Halloween is still more than a week away, but scads of publications are already coming out with holiday travel gift guides featuring the latest inventions in the travel world (stay tuned for the far superior IndependentTraveler.com holiday gift guide — to be published soon).
I’ve taken a look at what’s on offer this year, and it seems to me that some of these companies may be running out of ideas. While there’s no shortage of novelty among the gadgets and gizmos for sale this season, there are a few things that, quite frankly, I’m going to leave off my Christmas list. Like the infamous fanny pack or sandals with socks, these products get the job done — but only if you’re willing to sacrifice a little dignity.
The Tugo is a cupholder that rests between the handles of your upright rolling luggage. For a mere $9.95 (or $12.95 for the deluxe version), your previously restrained drink-holding hand can swing freely in the breeze, slap the airport security guy high-five and leaf through trashy magazines in the terminal book store.
PlaneSheets are said to “keep germs at bay” while bringing color and style to your drab airplane seat. The sheets come in washable ($24.99 – $29.99) and disposable ($14.99) varieties, with colors like black toile, leopard print, zebra and camouflage. Those of us who traditionally opt not to advertise that we’re obsessive germaphobes can now come out of our closets and show the world that our inflated fears of filthy public spaces can, in fact, be fashionable!
Teragram Solutions, Inc. is bringing burka-inspired sleepwear to a plane near you. The Snazzy Napper is a lightweight sleep blanket with a face-covering eye mask atop its billowing folds. A clever nose hole keeps travelers alive and breathing as they slip into an identity-free dreamland. This product is perfect for fugitive travelers and passengers not interested in friendly chats with seatmates.
I’ll admit it — this looks comfortable. Still, I gather that travelers passed out on the trashcan-shaped SkyRest might garner curious stares from fellow fliers, which may make the experience, well, less comfortable. This thing brings to mind so many questions. If you’re not sitting in a window seat, wouldn’t this pillow block your seatmates’ access to the bathroom? And wouldn’t a large inflatable beach ball work just as well?
The XShot is a pole that you attach to your camera so that you can snap thousands of pictures of yourself without having to balance your equipment on the cruise ship balcony or rely on the dubious photography skills of buskers. It’s not a terrible idea — this thing is great for the “Look at me!” Facebook generation. Just be careful, as dangling your $300 Canon in the air three feet in front of you screams “Free camera!” to thieves bold enough to snatch and run.
–written by Caroline Costello
Airline meals have a well-deserved reputation for being mediocre and bland (that is, of course, when the airlines bother to feed us at all). But instead of blaming high altitude, dry air or cheap ingredients, researchers are now offering a new explanation for why that rubbery chicken on your transatlantic flight is so lousy: engine noise.
A recent study conducted by Unilever and the University of Manchester shows that the more background noise you hear while you’re eating, the less able you are to distinguish salty or sweet flavors, reports ABC News. In the study, participants were blindfolded and asked to eat various foods while listening to different levels of white noise (or no noise at all). Participants who heard higher volumes of noise noticed less intense sweet and salty flavors, and were more sensitive to how crunchy their food was.
According to the researchers, it’s not just the volume of noise that matters but also your feelings about it. If you like the sounds you’re hearing, even if they’re loud (such as music and chatter in a trendy restaurant), you’re more likely to enjoy your meal. But in the air, the constant noisy whine of the plane’s engines could make your dinner significantly less palatable. Add to that the fact that airline food rarely looks all that appetizing either, and it’s no wonder most of us are scowling into our trays.
So what’s an air traveler to do? Andy Woods, one of the researchers who contributed to the study, recommends wearing noise-canceling headphones as a way to overcome the effects of engine noise. Bon appetit!
–written by Sarah Schlichter
By now, most of us are accustomed to the tedious but familiar procedures of airport security: wait in mile-long line, take off shoes, pull out quart-size plastic bag of 3.4-ounce liquids and gels, place metal items in tray, step through scanner, fumble to put belongings back in order while shuffling around in untied shoes. But wouldn’t it be great if we could cut out a few of those steps?
Within a few years, maybe we can — thanks to a couple of up-and-coming security screening devices.
The Associated Press reports that a new bottled liquid scanner, now being tested in New Mexico by the Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency, could be a more effective way for airport security screeners to identify liquid explosives. The scanner uses magnetic resonance to determine the molecular makeup of liquids, and is so sensitive that it can distinguish between red and white wine, says the AP. A machine this advanced could potentially make the TSA’s confusing liquid and gel restrictions obsolete, and allow air travelers to once again bring water bottles or full-size tubes of toothpaste through the security checkpoint.
While the new liquid scanner is probably still a few years away from being implemented in U.S. airports, another innovative security device, the MagShoe, has been used for several years at Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion International Airport and was recently tested at an unidentified airport in Western Europe. The MagShoe is one of several machines designed to scan travelers’ feet and ankles for metal without necessitating the removal of shoes.
The TSA has tested similar technologies in the past without success, but announced earlier this year that it would give the latest crop of shoe-scanning devices a try, reports USA Today. Unsurprisingly, the TSA notes that many travelers find removing their shoes to be the biggest hassle of the screening procedure.
Will the U.S. will eventually adopt any of these new technologies? We’ll keep you posted.
–written by Sarah Schlichter
Having recently returned from a late-summer soujourn to Nevada, I can report why August is not a good time to visit Las Vegas in one sentence:
It was 104 degrees.
Besides the heat (forget all that “it’s a dry heat” nonsense — hot is hot), the crowds also made it a tad unpleasant. Not that crowds are a bad thing — the economic tumult we’ve all been experiencing the past few years has taken a particularly hard toll on Sin City. Happily, there appears to a reversal of fortune underway. According to a recent report in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, in August the city experienced its 12th consecutive monthly increase in visitors. Hotel occupancy is up, as is the number of conventions. Las Vegas tourism still has a way to go before it reaches pre-recession levels, but the signs are there.
That said, now’s a great time to visit Vegas. Here’s why.
1. It’s nicer. The pools are closed or closing (most are seasonal), but there’s still plenty of sunshine and cooler temps to boot. In July, the average high temperature is 106 degrees, falling to 74 at night. Now? Expect highs in the 80’s and lows in the chilly-but-bearable mid-50’s. In addition, weather is fairly calm coast to coast before the winter snows crank up, so air transport is more dependable.
2. It’s cheaper. Well, it can be cheaper. Good deals, particularly midweek, abound at resorts across the city. In particular, Vegas is a ghost town between Thanksgiving and Christmas, so if you don’t mind flashing neon clashing with tinsel on trees, you can have your pick of lodging. Check out a rate calendar at a hotel Web site (I use Mandalay Bay’s, but most sites give an overview of tariffs for the coming months) to get an idea when the lowest priced rooms are available, and go from there. Also, check out the hotel sites for late-breaking deals; for example, Mandalay Bay recently spotlighted a 72-hour sale that offered 20 percent room discounts and a $25 resort credit. And keep checking right until you depart for the desert — rates fluctuate wildly and can go down. If they do, cancel and rebook.
3. It’s more interesting. Okay, Vegas is always interesting, but the recent opening of CityCenter — a massive hotel, retail and entertainment complex — has added a whole new dimension to the place. The construction eyesore has been replaced with a sleek, sophisticated and somewhat incongruous collection of buildings that won’t be ignored. Crystals, a gorgeous if ridiculously luxe mall, sports stores that I’ll never buy anything in, but it’s fun to explore nonetheless. And “Viva Elvis,” the new Cirque du Soleil show at the Aria Resort & Casino (one of several hotels in the complex), is a hoot. If you don’t go expecting the typical Cirque acrobatics, you’ll have a good time — and if you click the “summer promotion tickets” button on the show’s home page, you’ll get a huge discount.
4. It’s relatively kid-free. If you like gamblin’ and carousin’ without little ones underfoot, now’s the time to go. They’re in school — and you’ll have the Roller Coaster at New York-New York to yourself.
For more information on the city, see Las Vegas Essentials.
— written by John Deiner
Delta Air Lines evidently doesn’t want you to know about a certain travel jacket that transforms passengers into walking carry-on bags. The airline refused to print an ad featuring the 24-pocket fleece jacket by SCOTTEVEST/SeV Travel Clothing, which had been submitted for Delta’s in-flight magazine, Sky.
The ad, pictured here, shows an X-ray view of a travel jacket that has various items — passport, iPad, iPod, pen — stuffed into a multitude of pockets. Note the headline: “The Most Stylish Way to Beat the System, SCOTTEVEST Travel Clothing Has Specialized Pockets to Help You Stay Organized & Avoid Extra Baggage Fees.”
According to SCOTTEVEST C.E.O. and founder Scott Jordan, who’s been posting video commentary on this issue on his YouTube channel, Delta claims to have rejected the ad for two reasons. First, the “How to Beat the System” headline coupled with the image of an X-ray jacket implies that the “system” travelers are beating is the airport security system. Second, Jordan says the airline deemed the ad misleading because the jacket doesn’t actually help anyone save money on baggage fees, as each Delta passenger is entitled to one free carry-on bag.
Scott Jordan begs to differ. He argues that passengers can pack in their travel jackets what they would have otherwise stowed in checked bags, consequently saving them an extra piece of luggage in some cases. And, of course, this jacket is not designed to thwart airport security, says Jordan. Check out his response:
According to Tnooz, a Delta spokesperson released this statement: “Our discrepancy with this particular vendor was strictly based on creative standards. Delta and MSP Communications, publishers of SKY magazine, reserve the right to decline advertisements which do not appropriately represent Delta Air Lines or the travel industry.”
Whether or not Delta truly rejected the ad because of “creative standards,” the airline has gotten caught up in a blaze of bad publicity, fueled — in part — by Jordan’s clever promotional tactics. (SCOTTEVEST is the same company that paid for travel writer Rolf Potts to trek around the world with no bags and just an 18-pocket jacket, as we previously reported in our blog).
Ultimately, Scott Jordan — just like Delta — is making money from this modern epidemic of airline baggage fees. If we didn’t have to pay 50 bucks to check a bag, we probably wouldn’t need a 24-pocket travel jacket that sells for $140. Is Scott Jordan looking out for the little guy, or is he simply a shrewd C.E.O. taking advantage of public opinion to sell his product?
–written by Caroline Costello
Just dance, indeed.
Unless you missed it (and with more than seven million hits on YouTube and a flood of Internet chitchat, that’s increasingly unlikely), you probably have an opinion one way or the other about the dancing flight attendants of Cebu Pacific, the Philippines’ biggest airline. Take a look:
Since it was unleashed upon an unsuspecting public a few days ago, the video has torn the flying populace. Critics say it makes light of an important safety procedure, while the Flight Attendants’ and Stewards’ Association of the Philippines calls it “demeaning” and notes, “while it may look like a harmless publicity stunt to attract passengers at first glance, in the long run the stereotyping of flight attendants as entertainers will surely have a negative and sexist impact in the minds of the public.”
According to a New York Times blog, the airline contends that the safety song and dance was a supplementary demonstration that took place after the regular drill was conducted. Plans call for the routine to be performed on flights lasting an hour or longer.
Some travelers … well, some just dig it. And I’m among them. Maybe it’s because I like Lady Gaga (yeah, I admit it), or because I’ve been the aisle-seat pin cushion for one cranky flight attendant too many. Attendants have it tough trolling the oft-unfriendly skies, and I can understand the angst some are feeling about their choreographed cohorts.
While I’m not sure I’d glean the all important info I’m supposed to be gleaning from this safety schtick, I’d definitely look up from my in-flight magazine to watch the show (besides, how many of us actually give undivided attention to the unadorned drill?). It’s the same reason I pay heed to Southwest flight attendants, who invariably add a little swagger to just about everything they do.
–written by John Deiner