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airport terminal chairsUgly architecture, crazy traffic patterns and parking in the hinterlands. Confusing signage, endless corridors, torn carpeting and uncomfortable seating. Not to mention endless delays, lost baggage and I-have-to-take-a-what-to-get-there gates. Airport terminals can seem soulless, sapping the joy from a trip. And the biggest offenders have made it onto Frommer’s list of the 10 worst airport terminals.

At the top of the list (or should we say the bottom?): JFK Airport’s Terminal 3 in New York City. Built in 1960 and now Delta’s international hub, the eyesore is set for demolition. Frommer’s describes it as having “a sense that the cleaning crew gave up in despair a while ago.” Perhaps they were given a different tear-down date.

Poor Terminal 3. Its neighbor, JFK Airport ‘sTerminal 5, made it onto Frommer’s earlier list of the World’s 10 Most Beautiful Airport Terminals. It’s not easy being the ugly house on the block.

What Makes a Great Airport?

Smack in the middle of the worst list is Amman Queen Alia Airport. Tell me how an airport named for a woman can receive such a bad rating for bathroom cleanliness. Sad but true: Skytrax, a global consulting firm, ranked it low on such basic necessities.

Chicago’s Midway Airport, which the U.S. Bureau of Transportation recently ranked as the nation’s worst for on-time departures, was only 10th on the Frommer’s list. (They decided the Windy City’s notorious winter weather should take the lion’s share of blame.)

Except for three hours stuck on the tarmac in Philadelphia with a stranger squeezing my hand (she was seriously afraid of flying and her meds had worn off), I’ve had fairly good luck in airports. I do remember nearly missing a flight out of Orlando International Airport years ago, just barely catching that ridiculous train to the gate in time. While the airport’s Web site insists it’s only about a 68-second ride, it seemed interminable as I worried that my attempt to reach my flight in time would be, well, terminal.

Which airport is at the top of your worst list?

— written by Jodi Thompson

airlines behaving badlyThis post is the first in a new series called “Airlines Behaving Badly,” which will chronicle the oft-wicked ways of the air travel industry.

“This is an emergency announcement. We may shortly need to make an emergency landing on water.”

Not what you want to hear at 3 in the morning, cruising about 35,000 feet above the North Sea. But that is exactly what happened to some 275 passengers aboard a British Airways flight from Miami to London Heathrow on Friday night, according to Britain’s Daily Telegraph.

As expected, the passengers — many of whom were awakened by the calm female voice on the automated announcement — panicked. Fortunately, they didn’t have much time to work up a frenzy as the cabin crew quickly canceled the alert.

Oops. A flight attendant reportedly announced on the public address system about 30 seconds later that the message was played by mistake.

Readers’ Worst Airplane Horror Stories

In August 2010, that same terrifying message was accidently played aboard a British Airways flight from London to Hong Kong. If it’s that easy to release the beast, perhaps it’s time to jettison it.

Should the need arise for such a message, just let the flight attendant scream into the mike: “We’re going to die! We’re going to die!”

The response would likely be the same. Well, not exactly the same, but passenger reaction might well be just as terrified.

The plane landed without incident on Saturday, and British Airways issued an immediate apology to the passengers, although some complained that the airline had trivialized their fear.

The Daily Telegraph reported that a passenger said he couldn’t think of anything worse than being told your plane’s about to crash. Hmm, can you?

— written by Jodi Thompson

jelly beans independenttraveler.com mugLast Friday, we asked readers to guess how many jelly beans would fit into our brand-new IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. The answer was 449 jelly beans (laboriously counted three times by the site’s editor, who only ate a few afterward as a reward). Randy, who answered with 413, has won the travel mug. (There was another guess closer to the correct answer, but it was submitted outside the stated entry period of the contest.)

If you weren’t the lucky winner, don’t worry. You’ll get another shot at winning a mug this Friday, when our How Much Is This Hotel? contest returns.

— written by Sarah Schlichter

IndependentTraveler.com readers, meet our brand-new travel mug. This sealable red and black logo cup will tote your coffee, cola, water or wine everywhere from cars to trains to planes (just be sure to fill it up after you’ve gone through airport security). To celebrate the arrival of our new mug, we’re giving one away to a clever reader.

To win the mug, all you need to do is figure out how many jelly beans fit inside it. Here are a few photos to help you guess:

independenttraveler.com mug jelly beans

independenttraveler.com travel mug map

We’ll award the mug (jelly beans not included!) to the reader who guesses closest to the correct number of jelly beans without going over. In the case of a tie, the mug goes to the person who answers first. Leave your answer in the comments below, and be sure to include a valid e-mail address so we can contact you in case you win. You must enter by Monday night, January 16, at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time. We’ll contact the winner and reveal the answer on Tuesday.

Update, January 17: The correct answer has been posted! See the answer and find out who won.

Editor’s Note: Our weekly How Much Is This Hotel? contest will return next Friday.

— written by Sarah Schlichter

museum of celebrity leftoversIt doesn’t exactly have the “ooh” factor of a Lucille Ball caricature hanging on Sardi’s wall. It does, however, inch toward the “eww” factor of, say, a faded 34C underwire tacked up on the ceiling of a dive bar. What is it? Just a wee crumb of a toastie eaten by the Libertines co-frontman Pete Doherty.

That’s right. There’s a museum where you can view the dried-out crust of a British pop star’s cheese, tomato and pesto panini that he ate at a cafe in a Cornish seaside village. Owners Michael and Francesca Bennett wanted to commemorate the visit of celebrities to their seafront cafe, the Old Boatstore. When photographer David Bailey visited, the couple told the BBC, they were so excited they decided to keep a bit of the sandwich he’d consumed. The Museum of Celebrity Leftovers grew from there.

Now, when you visit Kingsand in the U.K., you can view about 20 “artifacts” sealed under tiny glass domes and kept on a bright blue shelf hanging on the cafe wall — the museum’s entire collection. Ogle actress Mia Wasikowska’s wedge of zucchini. Examine the end of comedian Hugh Dennis’ ice cream cone. Ruminate over retired BBC weatherman Craig Rich’s pasty crust.

No preservatives have been added to the remains, and Michael Bennett assured the BBC that none of the exhibits seem to be getting moldy, just dried and shriveled.

The Bennetts have owned the cafe for nine years and serve mainly vegetarian fare with locally sourced seafood when available. So don’t expect to see a bite of Prince Harry’s burger anytime soon. However, Charles and Camilla have paid a visit. The Museum of Celebrity Leftovers has a tiny silver crown adorning the glass dome protecting Charles’ relic: a teensy crust of bread pudding.

It’s unlikely that the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall came just to see the odd exhibit, as the display of food waste is more kitschy than captivating. It may, however, have some competition for the world’s most underwhelming excuse for a museum. Consider the Asphalt Museum with its chunks of tar at Sacramento State College in California. Or the Barbed Wire Museum in LaCrosse, Kansas. And you might just get “sucked in” — their pun — at the Vacuum Museum along Route 66 in Missouri. (For more, see our list of the world’s weirdest museums.)

No reason to cross the Hermitage or Smithsonian off your must-see list just yet. En route between the two, you might want to stop in the Old Boatstore for a bite to eat. Who knows who may be seated next to you.

What’s the stupidest museum you’ve ever visited?

— written by Jodi Thompson

The job of a flight attendant can be monotonous. Rote tasks include spouting lobotomizing FAA-approved safety briefings, maneuvering a heavy wheeled cart down a too-narrow passageway and repeatedly telling passengers to turn off their surreptitiously running electronic devices.

But there are those who’ve managed to elevate the craft.

In that rarified air, flight attendants rap, sing and execute pre-flight safety talks rife with wry quips about seatbelts fitting “low and tight like tailored pants.” The checked bags might be extra, but the instantaneous mood enhancement is included in the fare.

Here are three of our favorite flight attendants. We’d thank them personally if we could.

1. Many travelers argue that Southwest Airlines flight attendants are given the most comedic leeway — so long as they touch on the federally required safety points. Case in rap: Behold the rhyming flight attendant, MC David Holmes, who transforms a banal briefing into something a bit more bumpin’.

2. This sartorially inclined Southwest flight attendant believes that life vests, seat belts and “buttercup yellow” oxygen masks are the epitome of high fashion — more so if worn snugly to accentuate your waist or face. He even dispatches his coworkers down the aisles to see that passengers’ seat belts are fastened and that their shoes match their outfits.

3. Fly enough and you may witness a flight attendant leading the cabin in song (again Southwest seems to pop up most). But no stewardess has ever entertained like Trans American Airlines’ Randy, who belts out an ovation-worthy rendition of Peter, Paul and Mary’s “River of Jordan.”

(Look familiar? The above clip is from the satirical film “Airplane!”)

For more in-flight shenanigans, check out Richard Simmons’ flight safety video and the controversial dancing flight attendants at Cebu Pacific.

— written by Dan Askin

airplane seatsA couple of weeks ago, we highlighted The Most Bizarre Travel Stories of 2011 and invited readers to share their own tales of travels gone awry. You responded with a raft of uncanny anecdotes about everything from holy rollers in Nigeria to a harrowing van ride in Rome.

But our favorite story came from Christina S., who shared a tale of a truly “breath-taking” flight to Chicago. Christina has won a set of packing cubes and a pair of SuperSmartTag luggage tags. Her winning story is below. (Editor’s Note: This comment has been edited for length. To read the full version, see Christina’s original comment.)

“We boarded American Airlines flight 547 in a relatively orderly fashion. Our flight pushed back from the gate a few minutes early, but then we stopped and sat on the tarmac for a few minutes before the pilot came on the intercom system and said, ‘I love working for American Airlines, I do. I love flying. Except on days like this. We’re getting a message from the control center that there’s an issue with our air-conditioning unit, which also controls the cabin pressurization system. Unfortunately, we’re going to have to pull back into the gate to let maintenance take a look at it.’

“They put the entertainment system on, because apparently some people want to watch ’30 Rock’ at 6 a.m., & flight attendants even came through the aisles to hand out water while we were waiting. A little while later, maintenance had finished up their fixing & we were on our way. Before taking off, the captain said that we would be flying at a lower altitude — only 28,000 feet — as is required when maintenance is done on the cabin pressurization system. My husband commented to me that he hated to fly on planes that had maintenance issues worked on, to which I responded, ‘Well, if you’re going to have an in-flight emergency, having the oxygen masks drop is probably the best one to have since it’s not that big of a deal & it’s not like the plane is crashing.’



“Soon, our flight was on its way, cruising over to Chicago at 28,000 feet. The flight attendants were about halfway done with drink service & I was snoozing on my husband’s shoulder. Some yelling & loud voices woke me up. A woman across the aisle was having a medical emergency. The flight attendants hopped to it in a controlled, professional manner. Emergency bags were fetched. Giant oxygen tanks appeared out of nowhere. A doctor was summoned (a young man in a hoody responded). After the woman had come to from being out cold with the supplemental oxygen, the woman next to her fainted. Then someone else complained about not feeling well. Meanwhile, my husband & I were half watching the situation/half trying not to be nosy. I said to him, ‘I bet we divert, this seems like a big medical issue.’ Almost simultaneously, the flight attendant came on the intercom & said, ‘There’s a problem with the cabin pressurization. We’re going to drop the [oxygen] masks.’

“Once our masks were on, I looked at my husband & we both laughed. What kind of adventure had we gotten ourselves into? Here’s the Twitpic seen ’round the world of the masks down (it was even picked up by a U.K. newspaper!).

The Worst Airplane Horror Stories

“By the time the flight attendants got around to make sure everyone had their masks on & to check to see that everyone was okay, we were below 13,000 feet, the level where supplemental oxygen isn’t necessary. I took my mask off & could breathe normally. The pilot announced that we were diverting to the airport in Dayton, Ohio.

“We flew at a low altitude for a while & landed normally. As we taxied to the gate, we saw a fire truck & ambulance speeding across the tarmac toward our plane. I commented that it was surely the most exciting thing that had ever happened to these emergency responders. They boarded the plane (the firefighters in metallic, fire-resistant suits) & attended to those who needed medical attention. Once those folks were off the plane, the rest of us got off like normal.

“It was definitely the weirdest, craziest travel experience of 2011 — and probably one of the craziest travel experiences I’ve ever had!”

Can you top this story? Share your most bizarre travel tale in the comments!

— written by Sarah Schlichter

support group signYou crave it when you wake up in the morning, throughout the day and before you fall asleep at night. The more you do it, the more you want it, and there’s no such thing as “too much.” It’s travel. We here at Independent Traveler have heard some crazy stories of travel addiction from friends and relatives, and of course we’ve got a few of our own. But now it’s your turn.

Do you spend so much time at the airport that you know the TSA officers by name? Do you have more bottles of free hotel shampoo than you do pairs of underwear? If so, we want you to finish this sentence: “You know you’re addicted to travel when ____.”

Leave your submission in the comments below. We’ll gather your ideas, take the best of the best and craziest of the craziest, and compile them into a list that will have you seeking the nearest 12-step program. And, as an incentive, everyone who provides a submission will be entered to win a set of two shoe bags, perfect for keeping those nasty hiking boots or running shoes away from the rest of your wardrobe while traveling. We’ll choose a winner at random on Friday, January 13. (Be sure to include a valid e-mail address so we can contact you in case you win.)

— written by Ashley Kosciolek

old bangkok inn lotusHere’s the answer to last week’s “How Much Is This Hotel?” quiz. Play along with future hotel quizzes by subscribing to our blog.

We have a winner! The correct answer to last week’s How Much Is This Hotel? contest is 9,000 THB per night (we also accepted $226 USD as an answer, as both rates are given on the hotel’s Web site). Dorinda, who gave the first correct answer, has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug.

The room pictured was the Lotus Suite at the Old Bangkok Inn in Bangkok, Thailand. It’s the largest of the accommodation options at this intimate guesthouse, offering two bedrooms and a private garden with a lounge and outdoor tub. The Old Bangkok Inn is located in the Banglamphu district of the city, a haven for affordable accommodation.

To check rates at other properties in Thailand’s bustling capital city, see Bangkok Hotels.

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Every Friday, we’ll feature a photo of an unidentified hotel here, on our blog, and we want you to guess how much it costs to stay there. Leave your guess in the comments below and you could win a prize. Get the answer in your inbox by subscribing to our blog.

What’s the price of a night in one of Asia’s most popular capital cities? Enter your guess in the comments, and be sure to include a valid e-mail address so we can contact you in case you win. The first person to guess closest to the price of the accommodations without going over wins an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. Here’s the property:

Here are three hints to help you win:

-This suite, named after a flower, sleeps up to four guests.

-The hotel is a short walk from the city’s famous Democracy Monument.

-The nightly rate includes complimentary breakfast, an in-room Playstation 2 console and DVD player, and a private garden area.

We’re looking for the maximum nightly price based on double occupancy as listed on the property’s Web site, excluding holidays, coupon codes or package rates. Enter your answer by Sunday night, January 8, at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time to win. We’ll contact the winner and reveal the answer on Monday.

Editor’s Note: The answer has been posted here.

— written by Sarah Schlichter