Explore. Experience. Engage.

Home Travel Tips Travel Deals Destinations Trip Reviews Forums Blog
The IndependentTraveler.com Blog

Just last week, I greeted a new airplane cabin design from Airbus with cautious optimism. Sleeping boxes that might allow us long-suffering folks in cattle class to catch a few winks during a long flight? Yes, please.

But this week, we’re back to being appalled by the increasingly horrifying ways aircraft designers are trying to squeeze more humans onto each plane. Wired describes the latest design for which Airbus has filed for a patent as “a bit like blocks in a game of Tetris,” with seats stacked atop other seats. Take a look:

airbus cabin design

airbus cabin design

Airbus notes in its patent application that this design might be most appropriate for a business-class cabin because it allows passengers enough space to recline. Based on these diagrams, though, I have a hard time imagining paying economy-class fares to sit in this configuration, let alone front-of-the-plane rates. That said, this design might look a lot better if there were clear barriers or walls between different levels of seats, allowing fliers to feel like they have their own little contained area (and letting them forget that they’re stacked atop of other passengers like cans on a grocery store shelf).

Also worth asking: How safe is such a configuration? Could the cabin be evacuated efficiently if passengers have to climb down ladders, and would there be increased chance of injury during heavy turbulence?

7 Mistakes to Avoid When Booking a Flight

Of course, the same disclaimer we gave last week applies: Airbus and other companies apply for numerous patents, and an idea in this stage may never come to fruition.

You can read the full patent application here.

— written by Sarah Schlichter

For fliers who love to travel to exotic places but hate being stuck in a cramped coach-class seat for 10 or 12 or 16 hours at a time, an end just might be in sight. The Singapore-based Straits Times reports that Airbus has applied for a U.S. patent for a design involving “sleeping boxes” on long flights.

The boxes would be stacked in the rear of the plane, padded in case of turbulence and furnished with pillows, a reading light, a TV and an air conditioning vent. Check out the video below to get an idea of what they’d look like:

Passengers could remain in the boxes during take-off and landing, though they’d have to be strapped in. If you wanted a seat as well, you’d need to purchase it at extra cost. (The Strait Times suggests that a couple could purchase one seat and one box, and switch places as desired.)

It’s important to remember that this idea is still in the patent stage and might never make it onto an actual plane. An Airbus spokesperson told CNN, “Airbus applies for hundreds of patents every year in order to protect intellectual property. These patents are often based on R&D concepts and ideas in a very nascent stage of conceptualization, and not every patent progresses to becoming a fully realized technology or product.” In other words: Don’t hold your breath.

10 Ways to Survive a Long-Haul Flight

Would you book a spot in a sleeping box if the cost were reasonable?

— written by Sarah Schlichter

passport driver's licenseStarting next year, travelers from certain U.S. states may no longer be able to use their driver’s licenses to get through security checkpoints at the airport.

Time reports that the four states in question include New York, New Hampshire, Minnesota and Louisiana (as well as American Samoa), which currently issue driver’s licenses that do not meet the security requirements of the Real ID Act. This act was passed by Congress in 2005 in response to a recommendation from the 9/11 Commission; it sets minimum security standards for driver’s licenses and other identification cards.

Although implementation of parts of the act began last year, it will not affect air travelers until “no sooner than 2016,” says the Department of Homeland Security website; this is when the new standards will apply to travelers boarding any federally regulated commercial plane.

So what does this mean for you? If you’re a resident of one of the affected states, you’ll need to bring a passport or passport card to use as identification in order to board a domestic flight. For international flights, all U.S. citizens must continue to show their passports as usual.

How to Get a U.S. Passport
10 Things Not to Wear When Traveling Abroad

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Like many travelers these days, I prefer to pack light and fly with nothing but a carry-on. I hate the lines for checking luggage, waiting in crowds at baggage carousels and hoping against hope that my checked bag didn’t get lost in transit. Airlines, though, keep adjusting allowable carry-on sizes, and some, like Frontier and Spirit, charge you for a carry-on that must be stowed in the overhead bin.

So naturally, I was intrigued by the CarryOn Free bag, which is designed to be a suitcase that fits underneath your seat — even on Spirit — which makes it a “personal item” and is, thus, free to travel with. The bag retails for $69.99. I gave it a whirl for a three-day getaway to Vegas and a two-day trip to New York City. Read on to learn how it fared — and find out how to win one for yourself.

carryon free

The Good
It fits! The bag’s design is unique. It’s a true rolling suitcase with a telescopic handle, but it’s compact, and the top is narrower than the base so it can be slid under a seat. And at 16 inches tall, 14 inches wide and 12 inches deep, it really does fit. We tried it on a United flight and found that it didn’t require any fancy maneuvering.

It’s sturdy: This is not a flimsy suitcase that feels cheap. The polyester fabric is thick and doesn’t stain easily. The handle, which extends to 40 inches, isn’t shaky, as we’ve seen with some suitcases. The zippers operate smoothly, and the fabric inside seems durable. We gave this case a workout, dragging it through the streets of Manhattan, over sewer grates and through packed sidewalks, and it rolled smoothly. The handle also pulls up (and pushes down) quickly and easily, for when you need to transition between pulling and carrying. My 6-foot-4 husband liked the length of the handle and didn’t have to stoop to use it.

There’s lots of room: Despite its compact size, this case can fit a lot. I was easily able to pack for our trip to Vegas in this case alone, and I included three pairs of shoes in addition to day clothing, nightwear, fitness clothing and pool garb. My trip to New York was a business trip, and I had plenty of room for several pairs of shoes, business attire and even my laptop and tablet.

carryon free

The Bad
No legroom: The problem with putting the CarryOn Free bag under your seat is that you sacrifice legroom — which is especially troublesome if you’re tall or traveling in economy class. The suitcase takes up the entire space beneath the seat, so you can ‘t stretch out at all. This can get fairly uncomfortable on longer flights.

Digging around: While there’s enough space in the bag for a long weekend’s worth of packing, it’s because the suitcase is so deep. If you don’t like to unpack, you’ll be digging around in the suitcase all the time to find what you’re looking for, which inevitably is at the bottom of the case. An inside pocket on the lid is sufficient for holding small items like toiletries, but the deep bag itself lacks dividers (though two straps at the bottom can help prevent items from shifting).

In-flight access: Once this case goes under the seat, it’s there to stay, so don’t plan to pack anything into it that you might need to access mid-flight. When it’s packed, it can be heavy and difficult to maneuver from under the seat without jostling your seatmates.

The Carry-On Challenge: How to Pack Light Every Time

Want to give it a try? You can win our gently used suitcase! Just leave a comment below by 11:59 p.m. ET on Wednesday, September 23, 2015. We’ll pick one winner at random to win the suitcase. This giveaway is open only to residents of the lower 48 United States and the District of Columbia. To read the full contest rules, click here.

Editor’s Note: This contest is closed. The winner of the bag is Lisa Dudding. Congratulations!

— written by Colleen McDaniel

I’ve taken many a trip, been on many a flight, and maybe because I’ve been (knock, knock) lucky about not having my luggage lost, I’ve never contemplated what happens to my suitcase after I drop it at the luggage counter. Without much imagination, I always assumed baggage handlers industriously gathered the checked luggage onto carts and wheeled them out to some kind of freight elevator where they journeyed to the tarmac below and were then loaded by another industrious group of baggage handlers onto the plane.

What Do I Do if My Luggage is Lost?

Little did I know, while I’m thumbing through magazines and finding the nearest Jamba Juice before settling in to await the boarding process, my luggage is having the ride of its life — at least it would in Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, where a first-person (bag) video has recently been released, chronicling a checked bag’s journey through an intricate series of conveyor belts and robotic platforms. Seriously, if this thing were designed for humans, it would be the hottest new theme park attraction.

We found the video on Time.com, but if you browse the airport’s website, you can find a version that allows you to scroll for 360-degree views.

What other inside view of travel would you like to see a video of? Share with us in the comments.

Four High-Tech Luggage Tags and Apps That Will Save Your Trip

— written by Brittany Chrusciel

cabin crew flight attendant pilot planeThere are several areas on planes where access is restricted to crew only. The cockpit is one; baggage storage areas are another. But many passengers — even frequent fliers — don’t realize there are also bunk areas where cabin crew sleep during long-haul flights.

Thanks to an article from Business Insider, we’ve gotten a small glimpse of what these areas look like (although we’re pretty sure they’re smaller than they appear and don’t lend themselves to having, as one commenter put it, “a pre-teen slumber party”).

What’s neat about them is how they’re accessed. Often reached via a secret door near the cockpit and a tiny set of winding stairs, most of these areas can sleep anywhere from six to 10 crewmembers via bunks or side-by-side mattresses divided by curtains or other partitions. Some airlines also offer pajamas.

Even cooler: On certain plane models, these areas have emergency exits that feed into the main passenger cabins through what appear to be normal overhead bins.

10 Ways to Survive a Long-Haul Flight

Did you know these areas existed? What are some of your favorite travel secrets? Be sure to share in the comments below.

— written by Ashley Kosciolek

The airline that brought us in-flight safety videos featuring Betty White, Bear Grylls and Richard Simmons is at it again. Air New Zealand has released yet another fun and elaborate safety video, this time starring the All Blacks rugby team in a spoof of the “Men in Black” movies. (Yes, the famous theme song is prominently featured — we apologize in advance for the earworm.)

Along with current All Blacks players and coaches, actor Rip Torn (from the first two “Men in Black” films) makes an appearance, as does Frank the Pug. You can watch the video below:

Do funny in-flight videos make you more likely to tune in to the safety briefings, or would you rather the airlines just stick to the facts?

More fun in-flight videos:
Safety’s Up: Air New Zealand’s Tubular New In-Flight Video
Betty White Stars in Latest Air New Zealand Safety Video
Bear “Man vs. Wild” Grylls Takes On In-Flight Safety
Richard Simmons Sweats to a New Flight Safety Video

— written by Sarah Schlichter

baggage claim airportAirlines often have us jumping through hoops — okay, metal detectors — before boarding their planes. You’ve seen fellow fliers looking panicked (read: me) as they hastily unpack luggage contents into other bags to redistribute weight, or shove carry-on bags into the rigid metal sizers and pray the wheels and handle jutting out won’t raise any eyebrows. However, a few air carriers seem to have another stipulation in mind before letting you on their next flight: stepping on the scale yourself.

An article in USA Today reports that Uzbekistan Airways has unfolded a plan to weigh passengers along with their bags as a safety measure. While the airline promises this information will not be made public, it has not specified whether this individual weight designation will determine whether you get on the plane or not. In 2012 Samoa Air, another small airline, took the precaution one step further and began charging passengers by weight. Surprisingly, the regulation has held up three years later with the airline’s site even boasting the slogan, “A kilo is a kilo is a kilo!”

Could such a policy be enacted here in the U.S.? Doubtful, according to a New York Times article from 2013: “While no major airline would consider the folly of actually weighing passengers, passenger weight is factored into overall calculations for any flight on any airplane, partly based in the United States on Federal Aviation Administration average weight estimates that have been revised upward in recent years as waistlines have grown.”

Do You Know Your Passenger Rights?

While it’s true that planes adhere to strict weight regulations, the majority of major carriers seem to get around this issue without getting personal (well, any more personal than a body scan, a possible pat-down and a look at all of your identification). On Southwest, passengers who cannot fit comfortably into one seat (and by comfortably, the airline means travelers who don’t fit at all) must purchase a second seat. The same holds true for American Airlines, Alaska Airlines and United.

If there was a promise that your trip would not be changed regardless of the outcome, would you feel comfortable stepping on a scale before your next flight? Where do you draw the line for safety in the sky?

— written by Brittany Chrusciel

baggage claim airportLast month, the Los Angeles Times came out with a surprising report: According to academic studies, airline baggage fees have actually improved flier satisfaction.

Per the article, these oft-complained-about fees have “led to fewer lost-bag reports, fewer delayed flights and a drop in bag-related passenger complaints.”

While it’s not the news most of us want to hear — we’ll never get rid of these fees now! — it makes logical sense in some ways. The surcharges make passengers less likely to check bags, which means there are fewer bags for the airline to lose. Flight delays are also less likely since there aren’t as many suitcases for baggage handlers to load onto the plane.

But when we shared the L.A. Times report with our followers on Facebook, they didn’t seem too inclined to agree with the researchers’ conclusion that baggage fees have actually made fliers’ lives better.

“People try to drag much more in carry-on bags onto a plane, which causes issues when there is not enough room,” wrote Tom Vertrees. “Makes disembarkation much longer and more stress on travelers.”

Staxy Morrison concurred: “It adds to more people having to check baggage at the gate and more confusion when boarding!”

7 Smart Ways to Bypass Baggage Fees

Colleen R Costello pointed out that the airlines have an ulterior motive in the way they charge baggage fees: “From what I read it’s only been a way for them to divert income from one category to another! Seems baggage fees aren’t taxed or treated the same way as fare revenue is! Sneaky.” (Colleen is right: Airlines must pay a 7.5 excise tax on the base airfares that they charge, but this tax is not applicable to ancillary charges such as baggage fees.)

But our favorite response might just be the one from Mickey Morgan: “What bag fees? I fly Southwest.”

Quiz: How Well Do You Know the Airlines?

What’s your take? Do you think that baggage fees have been a net positive for fliers overall?

— written by Sarah Schlichter

calendar, notepad, model airplane, camera, hand writing, various travel planning paraphernaliaThere’s good news and bad news when it comes to buying airfare. The good news: It is possible to time your flight for the lowest possible price. The bad news: That time will almost never be summer. According to a recent analysis of airfare data by Hopper, a flight search app, seasonal travel price drops can be predicted and taken advantage of — just start planning trips for fall, winter and spring.

Using the drop-down of the 15 most popular U.S. origin airports on Quartz, the cheapest time to fly to major worldwide destinations can be determined by seasonality, but also based on your domestic airport. We all know Europe is generally cheapest to travel to during winter, but for Dallas, a flight to London is actually cheaper in the fall.

Top Tips for Finding Cheap Airfare

Don’t believe prices can fluctuate that much outside of holidays and peak times? If you’re looking to head to Istanbul, you might want to reconsider that notion. Of all the major flight paths analyzed, three of the five with the largest seasonal price difference are en route to Istanbul — starting at a 50 percent price difference originating in Washington D.C. and totaling as much as 57 percent more on flights from Chicago in the summer. Flights from Los Angeles to Barcelona and London are 52 and 53 percent more, respectively, in the summer season.

If you’re set on one of the elusive flight paths that are actually cheaper in summer, Dallas is your best bet followed by the capital of Taiwan: Boston to Dallas, Houston (Bush) to Dallas (and reverse), Houston to Taipei, New York (La Guardia) to Taipei and D.C. (Reagan) to Toronto all run low in the summertime. (Think of the heat.)

Maybe this is a concept we always knew about air travel, but finding my familiar home airport, and watching the lists of destinations appear in conjunction with the cheapest season, is reassuring. With everyone already bemoaning “the end of the summer season,” it gives me three more seasons (and potential trips) to look forward to.

— written by Brittany Chrusciel