Home

Explore. Experience. Engage.

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

woman on airplane listening to headphonesThe next time you’re hitting 35,000 feet in altitude aboard a JetBlue or Virgin America airplane, you might want to pull out a spiral notebook and start taking notes. That’s because in addition to the usual assortment of also-on-DVD Hollywood blockbusters, these airlines are serving up some educational entertainment options to fliers who crave a little mental stimulation with their bag of pretzels.

JetBlue started the trend in December when it began offering 10 recorded college lectures to passengers. Using their own mobile devices, fliers can audit an introductory marketing class from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School or learn about the dynamics of infectious diseases from Penn State University. Music lovers can sit in on an introduction to guitar class from the Berklee School of Music, while astronomy nerds can geek out on the science and technology behind astronomical discoveries from the University of Edinburgh.

10 Ways to Survive a Long-Haul Flight

The airline also is providing access to a few practical, how-to courses as well, with video classes on how to cook vegetables, brine meats and read nutrition labels.

This month, Virgin America followed JetBlue’s lead when it began offering “Great Courses” audio and video. The selection of recorded lectures from well-known professors include excerpts from “The Inexplicable Universe: Unsolved Mysteries,” “The Secret Life of Words: English Words and Their Origins,” “The Skeptic’s Guide to American History,” “Being Human: Life Lessons from the Frontiers of Science” and many others.

Volunteer Vacations

Both airlines will rotate new lectures in every few months.

What types of lectures would you be interested in — or would you rather just watch a movie?

— written by Dori Saltzman

bigfoot garden yeti statue skymallSkyMall — the catalog of quirky, useless and overpriced items for purchase at 35,000 feet — declared bankruptcy and halted its print publication on January 16. Below, I pay tribute to my favorite source of entertainment in the air.

Our hearts are heavy today as we mourn the loss of an old friend. A stalwart travel companion on many a flight, SkyMall kept us sane when screaming babies and snoring rowmates were just too much to bear. When our hard-earned paychecks were burning holes in our pockets. When the lack of cabin pressure convinced us we absolutely needed a life-size Sasquatch garden statue. (Seriously, if nobody’s ever gotten a good look at Sasquatch, how do they know what size to make the statue, anyway?)

Born to proud parent Robert Worsley (founder and current Arizona state senator) in 1990, SkyMall loved long flights, traveling the world and the feeling of recycled cabin air rustling through its glossy pages — pages offering senseless tchotchkes and gadgets that beckoned to us, begging us to embrace our impulses. Marshmallow shooters. Space helmets that regrow hair. Pajama pants that look like jeans. The options were seemingly endless, blatantly ridiculous and, frankly, downright awesome.

One of my favorite SkyMall memories takes me back to a time when I flew home from Chicago in major turbulence. It wasn’t long before a few strong bumps caused my travel companion to spill a full cup of water all over my tray table and everything on it. Even though I hadn’t paid it much attention on that particular flight, SkyMall was there to help me sop up the mess in all my napkinless glory.

We may have come to terms with the grim reality of SkyMall’s death, but the pain still haunts us. Never again will we feel the magazine’s slender figure, admire its red block logo or accidentally stab ourselves in the thumb with one of its quality staples. For the first time in history, we’ll look at the “Free copy — Take it. We’ll replace it!” line on the front of the few remaining copies so tenderly clutched to our chests and hold back tears as we realize: No, SkyMall. No, you will not replace it. The demise of this novelty reminds us that life is short. Taken from us too soon at the tender age of 25, by the dastardly likes of Candy Crush Saga and in-flight Wi-Fi, the catalog and its marked absence will forever leave a hole in our souls and a void in our seatback pockets.

But just when we thought that void might be filled by fatter wallets and a decline in junky knickknacks, we learned that SkyMall’s website is still alive and kicking. Apparently it listened when we pleaded for it to stay away from the light.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, there’s a pizza-scented T-shirt calling my name.

The Best of SkyMall:
9 Useless Items You Can Buy at 35,000 Feet
7 More Useless Items You Can Buy at 35,000 Feet

— written by Ashley Kosciolek

Fliers on a US Airways plane found their mechanical delay unexpectedly brightened by an impromptu serenade a few weeks ago. According to the San Francisco Globe, a barbershop quartet called Port City Sound was onboard the flight from Indianapolis to New Orleans, and their flight attendant, Kari Mann, encouraged them to sing a song for their fellow passengers.

Fortunately for all of us, she taped the performance. Check it out below:


In her video post on YouTube, the flight attendant said the song put everyone in better spirits: “It was such a great moment… The mood changed and our passengers were awesome for the whole 5 hours they were on the plane!”

If only every flight delay came with a little free musical entertainment.

Patrick Stewart Hilariously Acts Out 5 Most Annoying Fliers

— written by Sarah Schlichter

southwest luv seat duffel bagSouthwest Airlines, long known for its inexpensive fares, unassigned seating, free checked bags and singing flight attendants, is now jumping into the world of fashion. Partnering with an Oregon-based company, the airline has turned scrap leather from its airplane seats into high-end handbags.

According to Forbes, Southwest was left with 43 acres of used leather after replacing seats on some of its aircraft with lighter ones to reduce fuel costs. It took most of the material to Looptworks, a company that uses industrial scraps to create unique pieces that reduce waste and aim to help the environment, where it will be made into vintage-inspired bags. (In another admirable move, Southwest also sent some of the leather abroad to SOS Kenya, which benefits orphaned children, and Massai Treads, which makes shoes for people in need.)

Looptworks is offering three bag designs — backpack, duffel and tote — which can be preordered as part of what has been dubbed “Project LUV Seat.” The company claims that each bag produced saves 4,000 gallons of water and reduces CO2 emissions by 72 percent (when compared with what would be required to use brand-new leather for the same bags).

As if this idea couldn’t get any more awesome, Looptworks employed disabled adults to deconstruct and clean the leather.

Part-Time Voluntourism: How to Give Back During a Trip

The irony, though, is that the bags are retailing for anywhere from $150 to $250 each — more than the cost of some of Southwest’s roundtrip flights.

Would you purchase one of these bags? Leave your comments below.

–written by Ashley Kosciolek

Sometimes the only way to get through an unpleasant travel experience is to laugh about it — and that’s why we love Sir Patrick Stewart’s recent appearance on “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” The legendary actor brings to life five of the most annoying types of airplane passengers (as voted on in an Expedia poll).

Our favorite? The Seat Climber, which had our entire office laughing out loud. Take a look:


We only wish Stewart had gotten a chance to do his screaming baby impression.

Check out the following links for more in-flight hilarity:

JetBlue Introduces Funny Flight Etiquette Videos
Betty White Stars in Latest Air New Zealand Safety Video

— written by Sarah Schlichter

airport happy coupleEvery once in a while, a stellar airfare deal presents itself. Generally, though, the cost of a flight is enough to fund an entire week’s vacation at a place within driving distance, and it makes me sick to have to pay it. What’s a budget-strapped globetrotter to do?

Apparently there’s a little-known loophole in town, and it’s called hidden city ticketing. Say, for example, you want to fly nonstop from Newark to Phoenix, and the cheapest fare you can find is $494. It turns out that the same airline offers a flight from Newark to Los Angeles, by way of a stop in Phoenix, for just $304. All you need to do is book the second flight, take carry-on luggage only and not show up for the second leg of the trip. You’ll get to your destination for almost $200 less.

However, it can be a pain to do the legwork to find such flights; that’s where Skiplagged.com can help. Created by Aktarer Zaman, a 22-year-old techie from Brooklyn, the site is currently rubbing a few airlines the wrong way. According to The Higher Learning, United Airlines and Orbitz are suing Zaman, claiming “unfair competition” and seeking $75,000 in compensation for lost revenue.

Although hidden city ticketing has been around for years, whether it’s actually allowed is questionable. Skiplagged simply allows potential travelers to search for hidden cities more quickly and easily, but many airlines prohibit this type of booking.

Note that it’s not a particularly sound method of finding airfare if you check bags, as they’ll end up at your ticket’s final destination instead of yours. Hidden city tickets also don’t work for roundtrip flights; if you don’t show up for the second leg of your outgoing flight, it’s likely the airline will consider you a no-show and cancel your return ticket altogether.

How to Hack Your Way to a Cheaper Airfare

Have you tried this method of finding less expensive fares? Do you think it’s “unfair competition”? Weigh in with your thoughts in the comments below.

— written by Ashley Kosciolek

Ever sat next to a chatterbox, a space hog or another undesirable seatmate on a plane? One airline feels your pain — and it’s taking a light-hearted look at the issue with a new series of videos called Flight Etiquette.

JetBlue has released two short, humorous videos on its YouTube channel, with more to come. The first one features the world’s most obnoxious napper. Take a look:


In an interview with Skift, a brand analyst from JetBlue explains the sentiment behind the videos: “Flight Etiquette is not only entertaining and humorous, it also says to our customers that we get you. We understand that on a plane, you’re sometimes forced to rub elbows — literally — with people you don’t know, and a little etiquette goes a long way. We’ve all been there.”

The second video shifts its focus from inconsiderate seatmates to the eternal dilemma of being stuck in the window seat when you have to use the bathroom. Watch and squirm:


10 Annoying Habits of Our Fellow Travelers

Did the videos make you laugh? Which scenario should JetBlue tackle next? Sound off in the comments below.

— written by Sarah Schlichter

klm amenity kit delft house I’m the worst kind of luxury traveler: I crave the perks of first class, but balk at paying unreasonably high prices, particularly for flights. So unless I get an upgrade, more often than not you’ll find me in premium economy, glaring enviously at the curtain ahead of me.

My luck changed recently on a trip to Athens, where I had the good fortune to try KLM’s World Business Class cabin on a flight between JFK and Amsterdam. The carrier has installed lie-flat seats on all of its 747s, and I knew as soon as I was ushered to my cocoon that I would actually be able to sleep.

While the seat’s features — roomy storage space, a shelf for shoes, a USB and electrical outlet, and noise-canceling headphones — were certainly thoughtful, I was more impressed by the amenity kits handed out by the flight attendants.

The small pouch, created by the Dutch design team Viktor & Rolf, was adorable, with a cute leather bow (the kits are distributed by gender; the male version is dark and has no bow). Contents included lip balm, a small toothbrush and toothpaste, footie socks, ear plugs and eye mask. The kit came with a strap so it could be used as a wristlet.

First Class for Free: How to Get an Airline Upgrade

I thought that was the end of the swag. But then, as we approached our destination, attendants came around with a basket full of small ceramic Delft houses, based on real properties in Amsterdam. These figures, which are filled with the Dutch liquor jenever, are apparently highly collectible and are often auctioned off on eBay (KLM has its entire collection on view in its Crown Lounge at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport).

Intrigued by KLM’s approach to courting luxury travelers, I took to Instagram to see if other airlines have stepped up their amenity game. Sure enough, there’s a hashtag called #businessclassswag, where high fliers post photos of their comfy corner in the sky. Expect to see pictures of hot fudge sundaes, gourmet meals, complimentary Champagne and tricked-out entertainment systems, uploaded by grinning frequent fliers swaddled in duvets (#businessclass is also popular).

Now it will be even harder to go back to the back of the plane.

5 Things You Shouldn’t Wear on a Plane

— written by Chris Gray Faust

Details of Delta Airlines’ newest seat classes — Comfort+ and Delta One — were released on Monday. Comfort+ will replace Economy Comfort, the airline’s extra legroom seats, while Delta One is its new Business Elite cabin.

We caught wind of the changes from the blog View from the Wing, which questioned whether the upgrades were noteworthy.

Highlights of the rebranded classes came via a video on Delta’s YouTube channel. While the free drink vouchers known as Have One On Us have been eliminated, Comfort+ will include complimentary beer, wine and spirits. These vouchers were previously available to elites in economy class who weren’t upgraded. Premium snacks will be available to passengers of this class on domestic flights of 900 miles or more. Dedicated overhead bin space has also been added to this cabin. Priority boarding remains a perk.


The main perk in the Delta One class is the flatbed seats on select flights, along with Tumi amenity kits and regional dining selections.

How to Hack Your Way to a Cheaper Airfare

Both cabins, as well as First Class, will feature new quilted seat covers.

If you’re a Gold Medallion member, the bad news is you’ll no longer be able to choose Comfort+ at booking for free. Access to these seats will be released 72 hours before check-in for Gold Medallion and 24 hours before for Silver Medallion.

The new cabin classes take effect March 1, 2015. I guess the question is whether these upgrades come at a cost, or if airlines are making a genuine effort to improve the in-flight experience. If that’s the case, when can we expect to see improvement to coach? What do you think? What upgrade is the most important to you?

— written by Brittany Chrusciel

Today’s post is part of a weekly series called “Travel Toss-Up,” in which we ask you to take your pick between two amazing travel experiences.

In honor of Thanksgiving, this week’s toss-up offers a choice of two travel scenarios to give thanks for.

Would you feel more grateful for …

… an entire row to yourself on a long-haul flight, or …

airplane seats



… an upgrade to a suite at your hotel?

hotel suite


If you can’t afford a seat in business or first class, having a row to yourself in coach can be the next best thing, especially on a lengthy overnight flight. But is that better than getting an unexpected upgrade to a roomy suite at your hotel?

How to Get the Best Hotel Room

Vote for your preference in the comments below!

— written by Sarah Schlichter