How Travel Nerds Book Airfare
Houstonia offers an in-depth look at how one traveler got creative to find an affordable airfare to Europe — including trying different cities, checking trains and rental cars, and piecing together itineraries with discount airlines.
16 Evocative Pictures of Sri Lanka
Get inspired by these photos from Rough Guides from a recent trip to Sri Lanka. Be sure to scroll all the way to the bottom — we promise the last one will make you smile.
This week’s video is a short feature film from Holland.com. Yes, it’s basically a 17-minute destination commercial, but the sweet storyline and the dreamy footage of Amsterdam make it an entertaining watch.
A few weeks ago, the airline trade group International Air Transport Association announced that incidents involving unruly passengers increased more than 16 percent in 2015 over the previous year. Unsurprisingly, drugs or alcohol are involved in quite a number of such incidents.
We talked to three people who know all too well what it’s like to be on a flight when a rowdy flier starts acting out.
In the Event of an Emergency, Use Oxygen Masks
“During the 1990s, [I’m] flying home from Europe. A football hooligan goes into bathroom for a smoke. The alarm goes off. A flight attendant opens the loo door and said hooligan punches the flight attendant.
“A cockpit crewmember and a random big dude passenger then wrestle the hooligan to his seat and bind him to the seat using oxygen tubing. When we land at Dulles International, the plane sits on the tarmac until the cops come to squire the dude away.” — Mark Rovner, Takoma Park, Maryland
A Tall Order to Expect Respect
“On a stopover in Las Vegas en route to San Francisco, a very drunk and very tall man boarded our plane. He insisted that, because of his height, he should be in one of the bulkhead seats.
“He tried to bully the people out of those seats. They ignored him and refused. The staff intervened, at which point the man became verbally abusive to the passengers in the seat he wanted and to the flight attendants. The pilot and copilot came out.
“The situation escalated to the point that the police boarded and removed him from the plane. He may have even spat on someone in the ruckus.” — Amy Thomas, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
They Finally Quit in Quito
“Midway through a flight from Miami to Quito, Ecuador, the ringleader of a group of early 20-somethings whipped out a paper bag-masked bottle of liquor and started passing it around among his friends. They got progressively louder and more obnoxious.
“The flight attendants would tell them to stop, they’d say okay and then they’d start drinking again. That happened a few times before the pilot came back and threatened to land in Panama and have them arrested if they didn’t turn over the alcohol. They complied — then started smoking cigarettes! And this was well after all flights became non-smoking.
“After we landed in Quito, the Ecuadorian police came onboard and arrested the obnoxious ringleader.” — James Hannum, Urbana, Illinois
Check out what you may have missed in the travel world this week.
Airline’s Move to Weigh Passengers Before They Board Draws Complaints from American Samoans
The Telegraph reports on a “weighty” issue: two American Samoan business travelers have filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation against Hawaiian Airlines, which weighed them on a recent flight from Honolulu and assigned specific seats to keep the plane’s load evenly distributed. The airline was carrying out a six-month survey to figure out why planes were burning more fuel than expected on flights to American Samoa, which has the world’s highest rate of obesity.
I’m Married, But I Still Travel Solo
A dedicated solo traveler shares a personal essay in the Washington Post about how important her adventures are to who she is — and how she wasn’t willing to compromise that even in an attempt to find a long-term partner.
Budget Airline Bans Kids from “Quiet Zone”
Yet another Asian airline has banned children from certain parts of its planes, reports News.com.au. Following in the footsteps of Malaysian Airlines, Thai Airways and others, India’s IndiGo (a low-cost carrier) has adopted a “quiet zone” where kids under 12 aren’t permitted.
You need a vacation — but if you haven’t settled on a destination and your travel dates are flexible, it can be difficult to find the best possible deal. Enter Fareness.com, a flight search website that launched last year.
While most travel search sites ask you to put in your preferred travel dates (plus or minus up to a few days), Fareness offers larger blocks of travel dates — such as “Next 2 weeks only” or “All of December.” You can select more than one option if you want to search, say, October through January. Enter your departure airport and a trip length of anywhere from 3 to 17 days, and the site will show you fares to destinations around the world.
You can filter your destination results by region (such as Europe or U.S. cities) or theme (beach, popular, family). The results are displayed both on a map and in a Pinterest-style tile layout featuring large, beautiful photos of each destination.
We plugged in Los Angeles as our departure city and came up with some pretty eye-popping fares, including $458 roundtrip to Bangkok and $114 to Chicago, including taxes. (The site lists these as discounts of more than 60 percent over typical fares on these routes.) When you decide on a city and click on it, the site shows a calendar of when the lowest fares are available. Choose your dates and you’re taken to a screen where you can select your outbound and return flights.
The flight selection screen was a little confusing at first, but I eventually figured out that the blue bars under each itinerary represent both the length of the flight and the time of day that you’ll be traveling. You can filter results by departure time, number of stops, airline and airport. Once you choose your flights, Fareness directs you to Priceline to make your booking.
I checked a few of the prices I found on Fareness against those on Kayak for similar itineraries and dates, and discovered that in some cases the fares were the same, while in others Kayak or Fareness was cheaper by a few dollars. This leads me to an unsurprising and time-tested conclusion: You should never book a flight without checking multiple sites.
That said, Fareness is a valuable resource for travelers in the early stages of trip planning who haven’t settled on a destination and/or exact travel dates. While Kayak has a somewhat similar search feature (you type in your home airport and the season or month you want to travel), Fareness offered a more comprehensive calendar of results.
The bottom line? I’ll be adding Fareness to my own personal travel toolkit. Check it out at Fareness.com.
Check out what you might have missed in the travel world this week.
Unruly Airline Passengers Up Worldwide, But Down in U.S.
USA Today reports on a rising trend: airline passengers behaving badly. The International Air Transport Association saw nearly 11,000 reports of unruly air travelers in 2015, up from 9,316 incidents the year before. Such incidents involved verbal abuse, aggression against other passengers, failure to follow crew instructions and more; many also involved alcohol.
Craving a Life Reset? Meet the Woman Who Went Down Under to Start Over
This essay from AFAR details the physical and emotional journey of writer Maggie MacKellar, who moved from Sydney to a New South Wales farm and finally to remote Tasmania in the wake of two major losses. Maggie must learn to live in the sometimes harsh, insular world of a Tasmanian sheep farm.
Fly-Along Companions Offer a Way for Older People to Travel
Most of us never want to be too old to travel, and a new trend offers some hope. The New York Times reports that a growing number of agencies are popping up to provide paid companions that can help older travelers navigate airports and manage travel logistics.
The World’s Oldest Library Gets a 21st-Century Facelift
CNN takes us inside the al-Qarawiyyin Library in Fez, Morocco, which opened in the year 859 and is believed to be the oldest library on the planet. In the face of extensive water damage, the library is currently being refurbished and is expected to open to the public next year.
Thanks to my perfectionist ways, I tend to do pretty well in airports. I arrive early, wear slip-on shoes that are easy to get on and off at security, organize my carry-on items well and constantly check the departure board for changes related to my flight.
But in the same way some travelers are always on the prowl for discounted getaways, my travel obsession of late is studying new strategies to master the airport experience. Fortunately, there are others out there like me, and they’ve shared their tips to hack your way through the airport.
Here are five tips and recommendations that I’ve found particularly useful lately:
Take screengrabs of your mobile boarding pass: This great article on the New Zealand website Stuff reminded me how finicky some apps can be — and that Murphy’s law dictates they’ll give you the most problems when you’re just about to approach the security officer in line at the airport. Avoid such problems by taking a screengrab of your boarding pass and displaying that. Chances are, it’s much easier to open your phone’s photos folder than to count on an airline’s app to work exactly when you need it to.
Pack an outlet splitter in your carry-on: There’s nothing more frustrating than needing desperately to charge your phone at the airport but finding all the outlets are occupied. Insider smartly suggests packing an outlet splitter, which turns one outlet into two. Then you just ask another tethered device addict to share the outlet and you both get to charge up. Outlet splitters cost just a few dollars and are widely available.
Download airport apps: I have plenty of airline apps on my phone, along with GateGuru, but I never thought to download apps for the airports themselves. Airplane News’ 10 Common Mistakes You’re Making at the Airport reminded me to download the airport apps too. I found this especially useful on a recent trip to seek out a decent place to eat and find an alternate restroom when the one near my gate was closed for cleaning.
Pick airport security lines to the left: I should have known this because I’m left-handed, but somehow it slipped my mind: Because most people are right-handed, they tend to gravitate to the right-side security lines. So it’s likely the lines to the left will be shorter, according to our own 18 Best Airport Hacks. This tip has been around for a while, but it’s still holding fast and true.
Check out the best travel stories you might have missed this week.
What the “Sully” Movie Gets Wrong
If you’re planning to see “Sully” — the new Tom Hanks movie about the emergency airplane landing in the Hudson River back in 2009 — you may want to take it with a grain of salt. Conde Nast Traveler reports that the film had to massage the truth a bit, adding in “villains” in the form of National Transportation Safety Board investigators.
Why “Sully” Made Me Proud to Be a Flight Attendant
While the movie may not have presented the NTSB in the best light, flight attendant Heather Poole found the portrayal of her profession to be both accurate and inspiring: “I can tell [my son] a million times that [my job is] not just about serving drinks and snacks, but until you see something like what happens in the movie ‘Sully,’ it’s kind of hard to grasp. To see his face light up like that made me feel good.”
25 Years After Independence, a Country at a Crossroads
This story offers a window into a rarely seen country: Tajikistan. As with most National Geographic features, the photos — stark mountain landscapes and probing portraits of the local people — are at least as striking as the words.
As More Devices Board Planes, Travelers Are Playing with Fire
As if we needed something else to worry about, the New York Times reports that the lithium-ion batteries found in smartphones, tablets and laptops are a major fire hazard on planes. Battery fires have contributed to three cargo plane crashes within the past decade.
Meet Earl, the Gatekeeper to Paradise
BBC interviews a man named Earl, the sole resident of a place called Paradise, located on a rough dirt road that runs between Montana and Idaho. Earl is the “camp host” for Bitterroot National Forest, welcoming hikers, rafters and other outdoorsy types throughout the summer months.
Airlines Mining Consumer Data to Target Potential Passengers
CNN reports that your airline may know more about you than you think — including your birthday, the places you visit most and what you buy besides airfare. It’s part of an effort to “improve passenger experience” (and/or market to you more effectively).
We cracked up over this week’s video, an “honest airline commercial” that sums up so many frustrating aspects of modern-day flying.
What bugs you most when you travel — a kid wailing on a plane? A backseat driver on a road trip? A dirty restroom on a train?
Busbud.com, a site for booking bus tickets, recently conducted a survey of 2,000 Americans to identify travelers’ top pet peeves. There was one common winner for both flying and bus/train travel: body odor. More than three-quarters of the respondents — 77 percent for flying, 76 percent for bus/train travel — found their fellow passengers’ stench to be bothersome. (Perhaps flight attendants should hand out deodorant in addition to headphones.)
The second-largest pet peeve for fliers was delays, with 66 percent of respondents reporting that they found them annoying. Crying babies or small children came in at number three (62 percent). The survey also discovered that people’s annoyance at crying kids varied by gender (66 percent of men were bothered, as compared to just 57 percent of women) and by generation, with millennials having less patience for unhappy babies than baby boomers or Gen Xers. (Just wait till they have kids or grandchildren of their own…)
On trains and buses, the next most common pet peeves behind body odor were unwanted bodily contact (69 percent), loud passengers (57 percent) and crying babies/toddlers (55 percent).
When it comes to road trips, respondents were less upset about assaults on their senses than they were about safety risks; the top two pet peeves in the car travel category were texting while driving (72 percent) and dangerous driving (68 percent).
The survey uncovered a few other interesting tidbits, including one that surprised me: Train and bus travelers would rather have a sneezing, coughing seatmate than one with smelly food. (Personally, I’d prefer to put up with a garlicky stench for a couple of hours than spend a couple of days sick on vacation.) And apparently fliers’ annoyance with checked baggage fees is fading; fewer than half of the respondents (43 percent) named them as a major pet peeve.
Matt Dimmer had just relocated to Los Angeles when his father, living in Michigan, was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. Dimmer flew back and forth frequently, spending as much time with his dad as he could.
As he made the trips, Dimmer kept thinking about others who had loved ones with cancer. He was able to afford the flights to go see his dad, but what about those who couldn’t? It pained him to think about people in that situation.
Just before his father passed away, Dimmer launched a small nonprofit organization to collect frequent flier miles from donors and to use them to book flights for cancer patients and their family members. His nonprofit, The Extra Mile, is marking its fifth anniversary this year.
IndependentTraveler.com: Tell us how The Extra Mile works.
Matt Dimmer: The premise of The Extra Mile is pretty simple. We take donated air miles and money and give them to those who cannot afford to visit loved ones terminally ill with cancer. Currently we are cancer-specific, as that is what my dad passed away from and I wanted to stay true to the nature of my inspiration.
IT: Can you tell us about some of the people you’ve helped?
MD: We’ve helped several people connect with terminally ill loved ones just before losing that individual. We’ve brought people over from Europe to the United States. We flew a 15-year-old with a rare form of brain cancer and his family to an event that was on his bucket list. And we brought a sister to her deceased brother’s funeral so that she could have one last moment with him.
IT: How does someone donate?
MD: There are two ways to donate. You can donate money directly through our website, or you can donate your accrued frequent flier miles.
Donating air miles is a bit more complicated. Because of airlines’ policies, there are fees associated with giving air miles, and the fees raise on a scale depending on the number of miles you’re looking to donate.
Let’s say you wanted to give 3,500 miles. There’s likely a set fee for that ranging from $50 to $150. If the individual donating the miles is willing to pay the fee, that makes for the easiest transaction. Otherwise, depending on the fees and amount of donated dollars in our account, I’ll offer to cover the fee in exchange for the miles. This is a bit more of a process, but has happened a few times.
The cash donations are used mostly for purchasing tickets, but some funds go to paying for taxes on donated mile flights as well as minor operating costs for the organization.
IT: How many miles have you collected in the past five years?
MD: We’ve received hundreds of thousands of miles. They usually get spent as soon as we get them as there’s always an ongoing queue of people who have reached out.
IT: It can be difficult to secure a flight using miles. Do the airlines show more flexibility in helping your recipients?
MD: Unfortunately, not really. The airlines stick to their rules, regardless of the reason for the miles being used. The most flexibility I tend to experience is the airline agent on the other end of the phone giving me a bit more time to pull all the necessary pieces together on that call so I can complete the flight.
I recently started a Change.org petition to encourage airlines to waive or lower the fees for transferring miles to someone else. I got frustrated one day and wanted to set something else in motion that would potentially get the airline’s attention.
IT: What plans do you in mind for the next five years of The Extra Mile?
MD: Within the next five years I’d love to hit a major milestone, whether that’s amassing a team of volunteers, having a corporate partnership develop or making progress with at least one airline.
IT: Since The Extra Mile started, you’ve become a father yourself. How did becoming a father change your perspective on your cause?
MD: Fatherhood is amazing. And it adds another level to the nonprofit. I can now imagine myself in my dad’s position, and all the things that I’d like to share with my sons about the time we had together. It also gives my boys something to continue, something that does good after I’m gone — a legacy started by their dad, in honor of their grandfather, that they can carry on.
Baggage fees are the airline surcharge that most fliers love to hate, but a new study shows that they have an unexpected silver lining: They’ve made it more likely for your flight to leave on time.
The study comes from the University of Kansas, where researchers discovered that the implementation of baggage fees encouraged fliers to check fewer bags, allowing baggage handlers to load planes more efficiently. Of course, it now seems to take longer for passengers to board, given that we’re all trying to find overhead bin space for our massive carry-ons, but this is apparently outweighed by the time saved on checked baggage. Says a University of Kansas researcher, “The below-the-cabin effect dominates the above-the-cabin effect.”
The time savings weren’t huge — the median departure time improved anywhere from 3.3 to 4.2 minutes, and delays went down 1.3 to 2 minutes — but they benefited all major airlines, including Southwest (which doesn’t charge for checked bags). The researchers note that some baggage handling responsibilities such as security checks are shared among all airlines, so the reduction in total checked luggage improved performance for everyone.
The biggest improvements in on-time performance came at large hub airports where layovers are common; fewer bags going through such massive handling systems led to fewer delays.
In other positive news, luggage-related complaints per 1,000 passengers have fallen since baggage fees were first implemented.
Do these findings make you feel any more kindly toward checked baggage fees?