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woman staring out airport windowThe dreaded airport layover has happened to us all — I’m not talking an hour to grab a snack in between flights; I’m talking mind-numbing half-days. Sure, there are shops and sometimes even massage centers and airport gardens to pass the time, but if you’re an antsy traveler like I am, you’re staring longingly out the window and wondering what new adventures await beyond the tarmac. Unfortunately, exploring a new city in a short amount of time with a lot of unknowns can be just cause for hesitation — get lost, get back late, and another long wait for a new flight might befall you.

Luckily for impatient but practical explorers like us, a number of major cities around the world actually offer tours designed to fit within the span of a layover, and get this: some of them are completely free.

Istanbul: Anyone flying through Turkey’s best-known city with a layover of six hours or more is welcome to a historical jaunt about town, free of charge with Turkish Airlines tour operator Touristanbul. Sites include the Basilica Cistern, the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace and the Grand Bazaar.

London: Self-proclaimed “original founders of the layover tour,” London Magical Tours aims to whisk you away from Heathrow or Gatwick on a customized tour of London, Windsor, Hampton Court or Oxford. A private chauffeur may be a nice way to escape to the city, but these tours aren’t free — a price quote will depend on the needs of your group.

Singapore: While Changi Airport is renowned for being one of the world’s best, that shouldn’t stop you from seeing what’s beyond it. If you have just four hours to kill between flights, you can join the Free Singapore Tour, presented by Singapore Airlines in partnership with the airport. During your two-hour guided tour you will see the world’s tallest observation wheel, the Singapore Flyer; Gardens by the Bay, an arrangement of three spectacular waterfront gardens; Chinatown; Little India; the Colonial District and more. If you have four and a half hours, consider the City Lights Tour — Singapore sightseeing by night.

Best Airports for Layovers

Reykjavik: Turn your layover in Iceland into a mini-vacation. Icelandair allows passengers to turn layovers into a stopover of up to seven days — for no extra cost. That means a few days, not just hours, to tour Reykjavik and its surrounding sights (hey, you might never be back in Iceland). Tour operator Reykjavik Excursions provides day tours with pick-up from the airport. Popular options include a guided city tour and a visit to the Blue Lagoon. Prices vary by package.

Beijing: An eight- to 14-hour layover in China’s capital city is no sweat with a Beijing Layover Tour. Starting from $60 per person, spend the day with a private tour guide and driver to visit a number of themed destinations such as “Olympic Sites” or “Tiananmen Square and Forbidden City.” The value is not as great — just a limited number of stops for the price — but unless you speak the language, a tour is your best way to see some of the things China is famous for, without having to navigate it yourself. (And it beats reading magazines all day in an airport chair.)

9 Ways to Make the Most of Your Layover

Bogota: All you need is five hours to take a layover tour of Bogota, Colombia, with Bogotravel Tours. For a fee, this local tour operator will arrange pick-up and drop-off at the airport, and provide a day trip showcasing the capital’s social, historical and political centers — and, of course, an opportunity to grab a cup of coffee. If you’ve had your share of sitting and want to stretch your legs a bit before flying out, try one of Bogotravel’s bike tours.

– written by Brittany Chrusciel

puppies and kittens are relaxing to nervous fliersPills, booze, loud music, deep breathing — these are some of the desperate methods employed by the nervous flier to get through takeoff, landing and every bump in between. But one airline is encouraging a remedy that is a tad more … wholesome: puppies and kittens.

Starting this September, British Airways will air “Paws and Relax,” an in-flight channel available on long-haul flights that showcases cute and cuddly domestic animals. As reported by the Telegraph, the programs will include “Simon’s Cat” — an animated series about a man and his cat; “The Secret Life of Cats,” a popular BBC documentary about cat cams; and “America’s Cutest Dog” (think Animal Planet’s “Too Cute! Puppies”).

9 Up-Close Animal Encounters

The channel also features cameos from residents of Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, the U.K.’s oldest home for dogs and cats, located in London.

British Airways believes the new pet programming will “enhance the wellbeing of customers,” in addition to being just plain endearing. If viral cat videos on the Internet have taught us anything, it’s that people love watching them.

If, somehow, animals aren’t your thing (or you’ve seen every episode on repeat), then switch over to the “Slow TV” channel, which features footage from a continuous, seven-hour train ride from Oslo to Bergen. (Potentially a better sleep aid than Xanax.)

Which in-flight channel do you hope they have on your next flight?

How to Cope with Fear of Flying

– written by Brittany Chrusciel

airport baggage claimBy next year, there may only be one airline in the U.S. that lets fliers check a bag for free.

While both JetBlue and Southwest currently allow travelers to bring aboard a complimentary checked bag (Southwest even lets you have two!), Bloomberg reports that JetBlue is looking into overhauling its ticket pricing structure, which will likely lead to a few extra fees for those who pay the cheapest possible fare.

According to Bloomberg, the airline plans to create multiple fare classes, some of which would include a free bag and/or other services. Fliers could pay a higher rate for a more inclusive fare, or pony up for their checked bag if they elect the cheapest available fare. The changes are expected to take effect within the first six months of 2015.

This sort of bundling isn’t new. Frontier Airlines and Air Canada are among the carriers that currently offer multiple fare options when booking. Frontier’s Classic Plus fares are fully refundable and include a free checked bag, extra legroom and a beverage, while its bare-bones Economy fares are cheaper and include none of the above. Air Canada offers Tango, Flex and Latitude fares, each of which comes with different benefits (or lack thereof) such as waived change fees, priority check-in and standby privileges. (Worth noting: In all three of Air Canada’s fare classes you’ll have to pay for checked bags.)

How to Hack Your Way to a Cheaper Airfare

Naturally, JetBlue’s proposed changes are all about money; Bloomberg reports that the airline’s profits trail those of its competitors. I know airlines aren’t charities and they need to make a buck, but it’s still a bummer for those of us who appreciate companies that don’t try to nickel and dime us.

Will you still fly JetBlue if these changes go into effect?

– written by Sarah Schlichter

airbus bicycle seatHere’s another cringe-worthy tale to file in your “what the … ?” folder: the Los Angeles Times reports that Airbus filed a patent last year for fold-down bicycle seats (similar to theater or stadium seats but shaped like those you’d find on a bicycle), which would prop passengers in a near-upright position, thereby increasing plane capacity.

The worst part is that they wouldn’t have the comforts of even the most standard airplane seats on other aircraft. The lack of tray tables means passengers would have one less thing to worry about during takeoff and landing, but what sort of safety issues would be created by the absence of proper backrests and headrests in the event of an emergency — or something as minor as turbulence?

How Flying Coach Could Save Your Life

Diagrams show that the seats would be suspended on what appear to be large poles, placed horizontally in each row. That raises the question of where, exactly, fliers would store carry-on items that usually go underneath the seats in front of them. Although passenger capacity would increase with the use of these seats, it’s unlikely overhead bin space would do the same, thereby compounding the problem.

Airbus argues that passengers would be willing to endure the seats for several hours in exchange for cheap airfare costs, created by airlines’ ability to squeeze more passengers onto their planes. If the seats were, say, $20, perhaps we’d bite (depending on the length of the flight, of course), but it seems unlikely that adding a few additional paying customers to the mix would lower costs that significantly.

Face-to-Face Flights? New Seats Could Force Flier Interaction

The Los Angeles Times quotes an Airbus spokeswoman who says that “many, if not most, of these concepts will never be developed.” Here’s hoping this design stays in the realm of the imaginary.

Would you pay to sit on a bicycle seat for the duration of a flight? Leave your comments below.

– written by Ashley Kosciolek

complaintsSpirit Airlines’ wacky new marketing campaign encourages you to hate on them. The ironic thing is that I never had an issue with Spirit until I tested out their Hate Thousand Miles campaign.

Log onto HateThousandMiles.com and you’re greeted by an assaulting yellow screen and an intimidating blonde woman hurling expletives into a cartoon cloud. The video is something you would see on a comedy site like Funny or Die — a man strums a guitar while the blonde woman explains the campaign and encourages one and all to hate on any airline of their choice. They then go on to share some laughable tweet-length complaints about Spirit in the “spirit” of fun and humility. All you have to do is complain, and you will receive 8,000 FREE SPIRIT frequent flier miles within 10 days. You start to think, “Hey, what’s the catch?”

I don’t have much experience with Spirit, but inspired by my recent carry-on conundrum I took the bait of a potentially free flight and vented about the now-uselessness of my carry-on in 140 characters. The first catch is the required fields — the very first of which takes your email, home address and phone number for a free account with Spirit. There’s already enough information about me floating in the Internet ether, so fair enough.

Now equipped with a member number, I submitted the grievance and was greeted by a few expected pages of terms and conditions. Spirit can modify or terminate the program at any time, flight cancellations won’t be credited, I can unsubscribe thusly, yadda yadda. I accepted my fate, still holding out hope for a flight to anywhere (okay, somewhere). Spirit congratulated me for getting my beef with an airline off my chest, and ensured that within 10 days I would receive an email with my miles.

10 Ways Air Travel Has Gone Downhill

I started dreaming about all the places 8,000 miles could bring me from New Jersey. After much investigation I found a chart that explains which destinations I’d be eligible for. Standard flights are out to any region — those start at 10,000 miles. But an array of “off-peak” journeys in regions one through three (up to 24,999 physical miles) came in at 2,500, 5,000 and 7,500 FREE SPIRIT miles. Perfect!

Perfect until I realized I had no idea exactly what qualifies as “off-peak”… and still haven’t had any luck finding it (if you do, let me know). In theory, the nearby Philadelphia airport could whisk me to all but two locations on the chart during off-peak times. I headed back to the terms and conditions for any semblance of sense and I came across an unwelcome surprise: “For members redeeming Off-Peak awards, the Award Redemption Fee must be paid with a Spirit MasterCard.”

Wait, what redemption fee? I don’t even have a MasterCard.

“Members will need a credit card at time of booking and are responsible for paying any and all applicable taxes and fees (including, but not limited to: Customs, inspection, immigration, security, agriculture, facility and departure/arrival charges, any administrative fees and the September 11th U.S. Security Fee of up to $10 USD roundtrip).” Okay, I can handle $10, but how much is all that other stuff? I couldn’t pay it anyway because I don’t have the right card.

In the end, I giggled at the crude comments in the video, I submitted my complaint, I bought into the hype — but if your campaign is to be transparent about what your airline is offering customers, perhaps the same standard should also apply to your campaign.

5 Things You Shouldn’t Wear on a Plane

– written by Brittany Chrusciel

Remember being a kid and wearing those mood rings that changed color based on how you were feeling? British Airways is taking that concept to the next level with its new “happiness blanket,” which uses neurosensors and fiber optics to read and display a wearer’s mood.

CNN reports that the blanket, which is currently being tested in first class on select flights, turns blue when the wearer is relaxed and red if the wearer is tense. You can see it in action below:


Why does an airline need to know your mood? Per CNN, British Airways hopes that keeping track of fliers’ emotional states can help the airline optimize different aspects of the in-flight experience such as the brightness of the cabin lighting and the timing of meals. A laudable goal, but I’d argue that these aspects of a flight are the least of the airlines’ customer service issues these days. What about adding more legroom, cutting baggage fees or letting us change our tickets without paying a fortune?

Personally, I’m glad this is just a test for data collection; I’d rather not have my emotional state on display for all my fellow passengers to see. Here’s hoping that one of these days an airline comes out with a magical blanket that actually brings happiness instead of just measuring it — that would be something we could all smile about.

The IndependentTraveler.com Airport Scavenger Hunt
10 Ways to Survive a Long-Haul Flight

– written by Sarah Schlichter

carry-on bagsIf you’ve ever been irked to see someone stride up to the gate at the airport with a massive carry-on and a second (or third … or fourth) bag that strains the definition of the term “personal item,” you’re not alone. A new hashtag called #CarryonShame is spreading on Twitter, calling out those fliers who seem to believe the entire overhead bin should belong to them.

The campaign is the brainchild of the San Francisco Chronicle’s Spud Hilton, who explains why he thinks it’s important in a post on the Bad Latitude blog: “If it were just passengers rationalizing their behavior as trying to cheat the airline out of checked baggage fees (or fliers just trying to save money), we wouldn’t care. But the increasingly aggressive disregard for the size standards — which has led to flight delays, a much longer boarding process, abusive passengers, and increased theft from gate-checked bags — also is disregard for everyone else on the plane.”

Hilton encourages travelers to snap photos of offending bags and tag their tweets with #CarryonShame; they may be retweeted by a dedicated Twitter account (@carryonshame) or even included in a gallery on SFGate.com.

What Not to Pack

Unfortunately, thanks to several airlines recently changing their carry-on size limits, it’s gotten a whole lot easier to go over the top — especially when, as Hilton points out, many suitcases marketed as carry-ons are actually too large: “We’ve started skulking around luggage and travel stores and have found that 40 percent of the bags labeled as carry-on that we measured did not meet standards for most airlines (45 linear inches, typically no more than 14 inches wide by 22 long by 9 deep).” Hilton urges travelers to post photos of these bags as well under the #CarryonShame hashtag.

Personally, I’ve got mixed feelings about #CarryonShame. On one hand, it drives me nuts when I have to gate-check my own carry-on because I’m in a late boarding group and there’s not enough overhead bin space. On the other, I prefer to travel solely with a carry-on — I don’t trust the airlines not to lose my luggage, and I hate waiting at baggage claim — so I bet I’ve exceeded the limit by a few inches here and there. My take: If I can fit my personal item under the seat in front of me and my carry-on in the bin wheels-first, it’s all good.

But I’d better look out for those #CarryonShame cameras, just in case.

The Ultimate Guide to Travel Packing

How do you feel about the oversized carry-on trend? Post your thoughts in the comments!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

airlinesThis post is part of our “Airlines Behaving Badly” series, which chronicles the oft-wicked ways of the air travel industry.

I’m leaving on a trip this Sunday and for the first time in my life I packed early and I packed light. Save the toothbrush, I crossed the toiletry Ts and dotted all the iPad Is into my carry-on suitcase so I could spend the rest of the week anticipating my travels and not dreading packing. But wouldn’t you know it, three major airlines — American, Delta and United — have reduced the size of an acceptable carry-on yet again (it flew under the radar until recently). I am flying one of these lines, and of course when I measured my bag, roughly 24 X 15 X 9, it was too large. The new size regulation — apparently enacted by United in March but effective immediately — is 22 inches long by 14 inches wide and 9 inches high, skimming a collective 5 inches off of what was a perfectly fine carry-on bag just weeks ago, and rendering my treasured, nearly new (expensive) indigo suitcase totally useless against checked-bag fees.

Pinned to a new FAA regulation (according to this article on Airfarewatchdog.com), it’s curious that fellow airlines JetBlue, Southwest, Virgin America and Frontier have maintained their 24 X 16 X 10-inch carry-on allocations.

Carry-On Challenge: How to Pack Light Every Time

Upon further review, George Hobica, founder of Airfarewatchdog.com, reflects that although the changes are subtle, they are being strictly enforced by the TSA and not as clearly explained by the airlines. The standard of a 45-inch maximum outside linear dimension is made null if the dimensions exceed any of the newly specified maximums. So in other words, 21 X 14 X 10 may meet the 45-inches-total guideline, but not the new 9-inches-high guideline. Therefore, the risk of having to re-pack, being sent to the back of the check-in line and potentially missing your flight is a real one — all traced back to a difference of one inch.

Whether it’s a regulation based in research, a ploy to cash in on more checked bags or simply a way to keep travelers on their toes, it’s exhausting keeping up with all the policy updates. I was finally ahead in the travel race, only to be handed a penalty card.

Have you encountered any trouble at the check-in counter lately? Vent about misguided measurements in the comments below.

– written by Brittany Chrusciel

plane taking off clock tickingThe perfect time to arrive at the airport, according to one mathematician, may be an unsettling one. Despite most airlines advising you to arrive at least three hours prior to international departure, Jordan Ellenberg, a mathematician and professor at the University of Wisconsin – Madison vies that the best time to arrive for your flight is as late as possible, and considers every hour spent waiting to board a plane as a “negative unit.”

According to the article in Huffington Post, Ellenberg considers optimizing your life by cutting it close to boarding time. “If we routinely arrive at airports three hours ahead of time, we’ll accrue hundreds of those lost hours over the course of our lives, and that’s not an efficient use of our time on earth.”

Ellenberg’s strategy puts forth only a one to two percent chance of missing your flight, but he doesn’t seem too concerned about the prospect, quoted as saying, “If you’ve never missed a flight, you’re not doing it right.”

10 Things Not to Do at Airport Security

Although Ellenberg’s theory seems to be about saving precious time, it gives me an anxiety attack just to imagine running late for a flight. I think the notion of saving time is a noble one, but let’s be honest: there are plenty of times in travel that we spend waiting — security checkpoints, hotel check-ins, you name it — but it’s worth it to ensure we have the best trip possible.

I don’t see how my life would be benefitted if I missed my flight — or needed an inhaler to catch one. Do you subscribe to Ellenberg’s time-saving maneuver? Tell us about your arrival-time preferences in the comments below.

– written by Brittany Chrusciel

American Airlines seat chartWhen checking in for an American Airlines flight last week, I noticed that I hadn’t been given a seat assignment, and all that remained were for-fee options, the least expensive of which would have set me back $27. I was confirmed on the flight and knew that if I held off until the day of departure, I’d likely be given the more expensive seat for no charge.

That was exactly what happened, but what didn’t escape my notice during the online check-in process was the description of what, exactly, one would receive for his or her extra $27:

“Easy access to overhead bins.” Golly, that’s just swell, but what does it mean? Do I get to stow my carry-on before the other passengers, thereby eliminating the need for me to gate-check my bag? Do I have access to a special stepstool to help me reach the overhead bin? Or, better yet, am I entitled to the services of a baggage butler who will load my stuff into the bin for me? I mean, seriously, is this really giving me any sort of advantage?

“A seat with standard legroom.” Uh … did you say standard? Heck, who wouldn’t be impressed by something as compelling as “standard.” So, what you’re telling me is that I’m getting the same amount of legroom as everyone else who didn’t pay $27? Forgive me if my expectation of more for, well, more is presumptuous, but something doesn’t quite add up here.

How to Score the Best Airplane Seat

“A streamlined experience at the airport.” I’m sorry, but unless this means I get to arrive a half hour before takeoff and bypass security, it’s not a streamlined experience.


“Moveable armrest.” Ok, this just seals the deal. Who knew armrests could move? Mind. Blown.

I thought perhaps I was misunderstanding something about how great these upcharge seats really are. An attempt to contact the airline for an explanation of the aforementioned “perks” was met with a lovely 20-minute wait on hold, after which I hung up.

Do you pay extra for “special” seats when you fly? Have you found them to actually be “special”? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

– written by Ashley Kosciolek