Catch up on the travel stories you may have missed over the past week.
The TSA Is a Waste of Money That Doesn’t Save Lives and Might Actually Cost Them
Vox makes a provocative case against the beleaguered TSA, which has been under fire in recent weeks for extra-long lines. Not only does the TSA not ensure our safety, the author argues, but it actually causes more deaths (because travelers elect to drive instead of fly to avoid the hassle of security, leading to more road accidents).
The World’s Most Polite Country?
BBC Travel investigates the Japanese concept of omotenashi, a combination of “exquisite politeness” and “a desire to maintain harmony and avoid conflict.” From toilet seats that spring up when you enter a bathroom to people wearing masks to protect others from catching their colds, politeness is a Japanese way of life.
EasyJet Develops a Vibrating Smart Shoe to Help You Navigate a New City
European discount airline won’t just fly you from one city to another, reports Travel + Leisure — it’s also trying to get you from one neighborhood to another using vibrating sneakers that tell you when to turn. The shoes, called “Sneakairs,” sync up to your smartphone to help direct you with GPS.
Malaria Vaccine Protects Half Who Try It
NBC News reports that an experimental new malaria vaccine protected 55 percent of the volunteers who tested it — which beats out the performance of the current vaccine on the market, which protects just 30 percent. This could benefit future travelers to malaria-stricken regions, but the new vaccine is still years away.
Life on the Other End of an Airline Reservations Line
An AFAR writer got a chance to work as a customer service agent for Delta Air Lines, and discovered the most efficient way to raise a complaint, what the agent can see about you when your call pops up on his or her screen, and how much power a phone agent actually has.
This Is 2016. Why Can’t We Still Book Specific Rooms in a Hotel?
Skift raises a good question: We can book a certain seat on a plane, so why can’t we choose our own hotel room? The answer is that we can … sometimes … and that there are a couple of sites out there that are working to make this capability more widely available.
How Travel Insurance Saved My Life
If you skip buying travel insurance on some trips, you may change your mind after reading this piece from Conde Nast Traveler. After coming down with dengue fever on a trip to Vietnam, the author didn’t get adequate medical treatment until her travel insurance company stepped in to advocate on her behalf.
In the face of government warnings against travel to Iran, these travelers show another side of the country in this thought-provoking video.
How do you really know if the cost of an airline ticket is on the money? A new formula came out late last week, providing travelers with a gauge to determine whether the airfare you’re considering is a good deal.
If you book a U.S. domestic roundtrip airfare, the total cost of the ticket should come to less than the total number of miles you’re traveling, times 3.2 cents, plus $230, according to Adobe Digital Index’s 2016 Travel Report. In other words: roundtrip miles x $0.032 + $230.
For international flights, the formula is this: roundtrip miles x $0.08 + $200.
These seemingly simple calculations are based on months of “slicing and dicing” more than 15 billion pieces of data from Adobe’s travel industry clients, explained Luiz Maykot, a data science analyst with the Adobe Digital Index.
“It always seemed to me that the price of tickets was random. But I had a feeling there was a connection,” Maykot told us in an interview.
For example, the 828-mile roundtrip flight between San Francisco and Las Vegas averages $256.50, according to the Adobe formula — which means the $87 United fare we saw in a recent search is a real steal.
While the formula isn’t intended to perfectly predict airfare costs, Maykot explained, it does show that there is “a basic structure to airfares” that can help you judge whether you are getting a good deal.
Adobe Systems Inc. has a cloud-based marketing system used by seven of the 10 largest airlines in the world, nine of the 10 largest hotel groups and countless other travel industry companies. That data, plus the results of a 1,000-person survey in March, guided the analysis, which is one of the most exhaustive in the industry.
Other interesting facts uncovered by the Adobe team:
-The cost of U.S. domestic airfare is down 6.6 percent this year over last year; international flights are 1.8 percent lower. Interestingly enough, more than four out of five people said they think airfares are the same or higher this year.
-Booking flights 90 days in advance will get you the best rate, except if you’re flying over the July 4 or Labor Day weekends. In those cases, you need only book 40 days in advance.
-In all cases, hotel rooms should be booked 30 to 40 days out.
-Waiting till the last minute can hurt; once you hit 20 days before your trip, airfares tend to rise by 3 percent a day up until six days before the flight. This is just on average, Maykot points out; flights to California go up at a higher rate than flights to Florida.
-Though travelers say they plan to spend 20 percent less on travel this year, the data tells a different story. Spending is expected to go up 5.5 percent.
I’m sure there are still plenty of people simply staring at their phones the whole time, or curled up on an uncomfortable bench trying to catch a snooze. But there are a lot more interesting things to do at airports these days during a long layover.
Learn CPR. Chicago O’Hare International is the latest airport to introduce free kiosks where you can learn CPR. The video arcade game-like tutorial shows you how to do hands-only CPR and practice on a rubber torso attached to the machine. Push hard and fast in the center of the chest to the beat of the Bee Gees song “Stayin’ Alive,” the tutorial advises.
And if you ask one University of Dayton student, the tutorial is time well spent. He learned CPR during a three-hour at Dallas/Fort Worth international. The lesson took 15 minutes, and he ended up saving the life of a fellow student two days later.
Take a free city tour. A number of airports offer free city tours to airline passengers with layovers, writes Jennifer Dombrowski of Luxe Adventure Traveler in 5 Things to Do at an Airport During a Layover. Tokyo Narita, Singapore Changi and even Salt Lake International Airport are among those offering free tours.
Icelandair launched a new program called Stopover Buddies this winter to pair up travelers with airline employees who take you skiing, ice skating, out for a spectacular meal, horseback riding or for a dip in a thermal pool, among other activities. The sky’s the limit, depending on how much time you have. The Stopover Buddies program concludes on April 30, but I hope they continue it again later this year.
Get sporty. As this Lonely Planet article details, you can go to the gym at Changi Airport in Singapore, ice skate at Seoul Incheon International, go surfing — actual surfing, not on the web – at Munich International or do yoga in a studio at Dallas/Fort Worth International.
Hang out in a first-class lounge. You don’t have to be a first-class ticketholder to pass your layover in an airline lounge. According to the website Sleeping in Airports, more than 190 airports around the world have 300 lounges that you can access by prepurchasing a pass. Or check with the airport information desk to ask about lounges that allow you to purchase access. For more information, see 7 Ways to Score Airport Lounge Access.
Be a foodie. So many airports have specialty or themed dining options that you could design your own eating tour. Travel Pulse suggests a Latin food tour at Miami International by sampling Cuban and Venezuelan dishes at various eateries. Likewise, you could go on a wine tasting tour. Two dozen U.S. airports have outposts of the winebar Vino Volo.
Rent a day room. I’ve hit the age now where trying to nap in an airport has zero appeal. So I love the concept behind Hotels by Day, in which hotels offer unsold rooms for day use at lower rates. There are a number of airport hotel options if your layover doesn’t afford enough time to travel into a city but you still want a chance to shower, take a nap or watch television.
You’ve arrived at your destination, but your luggage hasn’t. It’s annoying enough to have to buy new clothes and toiletries to get by before your bag is delivered by the airline (if it comes at all). It’s even more annoying if you paid a nonrefundable fee of $25 or $30 for the privilege of checking that bag.
The newest bill to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration includes language that would require airlines to refund baggage fees in cases when your checked suitcase is delayed, reports the New York Times.
You’d think this would be a no-brainer, but as the author of the Times piece notes, there are numerous barriers that currently keep you from getting your money back. First, many airlines, including United, Spirit and American, declare that their baggage fees are nonrefundable. (United’s Contract of Carriage does note that baggage fees will be refunded if your suitcase is lost — but makes no such comment in the case of delays.)
If you do get a refund from the airline, it may be in the form of a voucher to be used on a future flight, often with a one-year expiration date. For people who don’t fly often, such a voucher may be pretty much worthless.
No luck with the airline? You can try contacting your credit card company to dispute the charge — a strategy that is sometimes successful, but can take some persistence.
Travelers should cross their fingers for the Senate version of the reauthorization bill to pass; it would require airlines to give an automatic refund of baggage fees to anyone who hasn’t received their luggage within six hours of arrival on a domestic flight or within 12 hours of an international arrival. The House has a more lenient 24-hour deadline and would not mandate automatic refunds.
Catch up on some of the best travel reading of the week.
A Long Love Affair with the Scottish Isles, in Pictures
This post from National Geographic’s Proof photography blog captures the misty landscapes and unique culture of the Scottish Isles, including St. Kilda, Lewis and the Orkneys. (Our favorite? The shot of inquisitive Atlantic puffins.)
Thank You for Flying Trash Airlines
Need a laugh? Read this quick New Yorker piece, which is a series of text-message updates about a flight aboard an imaginary budget airline. Example: “Be advised that there are no seat assignments on $uper Air flights. To keep tickets cheap, we replaced all of the chairs with subway poles. Stand anywhere you like!”
Advice for Women on the Road
Mary Beth Bond, founder of Gutsy Traveler.com (a site for adventurous women travelers), shares her wisdom from decades of travel in this New York Times interview. “Don’t let fear keep you at home, but it is more important now than ever to do your homework,” Bond says. “There is never a perfect time. So don’t wait, go now.”
Around the World by Budget Airline
What’s it like to fly all the way around the world on nothing but low-cost carriers? This Telegraph writer found out, testing out 10 different airlines including JetBlue, EasyJet, Ryanair and AirAsia. He discovered that despite the low prices, not all LCCs are created equal.
5 Travel Tips for People with Anxiety
For those who struggle with anxiety in day-to-day life, the uncertainties of travel can be particularly stressful. Bustle offers five tips that can help, including writing yourself a letter to read when things get difficult and keeping some money aside for emergencies.
Fed Up with Uncomfortable Air Travel? Blame Yourself
This essay in the Boston Globe argues that we shouldn’t expect the government to protect us from shrinking airline seats and sneaky ancillary fees because travelers have more control over conditions in the skies than we think. Instead of always booking the lowest possible fare, we should vote with our wallets and travel with the airlines that offer the best in-flight experience.
Travel to Iran: Is It the Next Cuba?
Travel Pulse investigates the rising popularity of Iran as a travel destination, with tour operators expanding their offerings and more Western hotels opening across the country — despite continued warnings by the U.S. State Department that the country isn’t safe.
We love this short video shot in Venice, which beautifully captures the city’s quiet corners.
For the many travelers who can’t sleep on planes but also can’t afford an upgrade to the front of the plane, a new economy-class bed/seat design could revolutionize the way they travel. Italy-based seat manufacturer Geven debuted its Piuma Sofa — a concept that would turn economy-class seats into a lie-flat bed — at the Aircraft Interiors Expo last week, reports Flightglobal.
The “sofa” effect is created by detaching the headrest from the top of the seat and affixing it to the front of the seat cushion. When all three or four seats in a row are given the same treatment, the result is a bed that stretches across the seats, wide enough for up to two adults. Check out the video below to see how it works:
Geven envisions the concept as a way for airlines to make extra money. Much as passengers can pay a fee at check-in to upgrade themselves to a premium economy seat with extra legroom, they could also pay $200 or so to move to an empty row fitted with the Piuma Sofa. The airline wins by monetizing unsold seats, and the flier wins by getting a good night’s sleep on an overnight flight.
This isn’t a brand-new concept. It’s inspired by Air New Zealand’s Skycouch, a spokesperson told Flightglobal, but it’s a less bulky option since there’s no need to store any part of the bed under the seat. Other airlines that already offer similar lie-flat seats in economy include China Airlines and Kazakhstan’s Air Astana, according to the Daily Mail.
South African Airways will be the first airline to debut the Piuma Sofa; Air Asia X has signed a letter of intent.
Catch up on the most interesting travel pieces you may have missed this week.
Please Stop Saying You Want to Go to Cuba Before It’s Ruined
In this incisive op-ed for Flood Magazine, a Cuban writer challenges the widespread view of Cuba as a romanticized, “stuck in time” destination that’s going to be ruined by a wave of mass tourism from the U.S. “What exactly do you think will ruin Cuba?” Natalie Morales writes. “Running water? Available food? … Access to proper healthcare?” It’s a must-read for anyone interested in visiting Cuba and seeing what it’s truly like to live there. (Warning: There’s some colorful language.)
Inside the Radical Airline Cabins of the Future
Vogue offers an intriguing look at how airplanes might be designed in the future. Windowless cabins? Stackable sleeping pods? A small viewing bubble on top of the plane? Welcome to a brave new world.
In Praise of Small-Town Travel
National Geographic celebrates the pleasures of visiting towns and villages rather than just big cities, including the slower rhythms of life and the chance to connect with local people. The writer also recommends her favorite small towns on each continent.
Doctors Share What Really Happens When There’s an Emergency Mid-Flight
Conde Nast Traveler interviewed several medical professionals to gather these stories of in-flight emergencies. One doctor delivered a baby; another couldn’t save a patient but used the tragedy to petition the U.S. government for a requirement that all planes have defibrillators and expanded medical kits. (Fortunately for all of us, he was successful.)
The Abandoned Mansions of Billionaires
BBC Travel takes us into the fascinating Shekhawati region of Rajasthan, India, where a collection of opulent havelis (mansions) are falling into decay. Covered with magnificent frescoes, these buildings are only just starting to be preserved as museums or heritage hotels.
I’m always on the prowl for the best items to pack in the carry-on bag that stays under the seat in front of me during a long-haul flight. The coziest socks, the perfect snacks, the best neck pillow, the yoga pants with the most comfortable waistband, the best-tasting toothpaste in the smallest tube. It’s a bit of an obsession of mine — and one day in the hopefully-not-too-distant future, I will master my quest.
If you too are always seeking out new ideas of what to pack in your carry-on for a lengthy flight, these recent articles may also provide you with inspiration:
The Complete Guide to Faking Your Own Business-Class Upgrade: Just because you’re flying economy, it doesn’t mean you can’t have a first-class experience, writes Dan Frommer at Quartz. One of his genius tips: Bring a Thermos with you to the airport. Once you’ve cleared security, go to McDonald’s or another restaurant, and have an ice cream sundae made in the container. It’ll stay cold enough for you to enjoy after your in-flight dinner. He also packs hot sauce and noise-canceling headphones, and prepays for in-flight Internet access through Gogo to save money.
A Must-Have Travel Kit for Your Coziest Flight Ever: Why have I never thought to bring my own teabags on a flight? Zoe Eisenberg of Care2 recognizes that in-flight tea options are “bleak.” She also suggests bringing a scarf; according to Ayurvedic medicine, wearing a scarf can bolster your immune system by offering extra warmth around the neck — vital when you’re surrounded by sneezy travelers. (See also our tips for Avoiding the Airplane Cold.)
10 Smart Things to Pack in Your Carry-On: Most of the tips in this article from Mental Floss are pretty basic, but a few are items the typical traveler may not consider. One of my favorites: a collapsible water bottle that takes up little room in your bag.
Among the world’s busiest airports, Seoul’s Incheon International Airport and Singapore Changi Airport provide the best customer services and amenities, according to a new survey from Airports Council International (ACI).
The two Asian airports provide modern amenities and entertainment options for travelers, including Incheon’s ice skating rink and Changi’s butterfly garden. Amenities like those make for a better traveler experience, an ACI representative told Skift.
The Airports Council International, a trade association for the world’s airports, interviewed 550,000 passengers at more than 300 airports around the world, asking them about such topics as checking in, cleanliness, security, airport facilities, food and beverage, and retail offerings. Seoul and Changi tied for first place among airports handling more than 40 million passengers a year.
Indianapolis International Airport was ranked the top airport in North America for the fourth straight year. The airport, which sees more than 7 million travelers annually, has 2,000 acres of protected land surrounding it. Researchers study bats there, and last year, conservationists added an apiary to breed honeybees. The airport is also home to the largest solar farm at any airport in the world. Inside, the airport is filled with art and local eateries.
Five North American airports tied for second place: Grand Rapids, Tampa, Dallas Love Field, Jacksonville and Ottawa.
The best airports in other regions, according to the survey, are:
Africa: Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport in Mauritius
Europe: A three-way tie among three Russian airports — Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International, Pulkovo International in St. Petersburg and Sochi International
Middle East: Amman Queen Alia International Airport in Jordan
Latin America/Caribbean: Jose Joaquin de Olmedo International Airport in Guayaquil, Ecuador
For Americans, taking a trip to Cuba got a little easier on Tuesday, when the U.S. and Cuban governments agreed to reinstate commercial air travel between the two countries for the first time in more than a half-century. Yahoo! News reports that up to 110 daily flights will be permitted between the U.S. and 10 different airports in Cuba, with 20 of those going to Havana. Before this agreement Americans could only fly to Cuba from the U.S. aboard charter flights or by connecting in another country such as Canada or Mexico.
The new flights aren’t available just yet, but odds are that your favorite airline is interested in offering them. According to USA Today, most of the major U.S. airlines have expressed their intent to apply for flights to Cuba, including American, Delta, United, JetBlue and Spirit. Southwest and Alaska are considering putting in bids as well.
Per Yahoo! News, the airlines have about two weeks to submit their applications, and we should find out which flights will be available within about six months.
Americans should keep in mind that visits to Cuba for simple “touristic” purposes are still not permitted — so if you’re dreaming of wandering freely around Havana or lying on a beach in Varadero, tap the brakes. Even after commercial flights are in place, you’ll still need to verify that you are traveling to Cuba for one of the 12 purposes permitted by the U.S. government, including “educational activities” and “support for the Cuban people.” (You can find the full list at Can Americans Travel to Cuba? Yes — and Here’s How.)
For now, the easiest way to visit Cuba is still to travel with a group such as Intrepid Travel, smarTours, Insight Cuba or Cuba Explorer, all of which offer government-compliant itineraries and will arrange charter flights for you.