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credit cards money We’ve all tried to dodge the airlines’ ever-present fees at least once or twice — maybe you’ve overstuffed your carry-on so you didn’t have to check a bag, or packed your own headphones so you didn’t need to shell out five bucks for the ones offered in flight. But a British student recently went far beyond that, legally changing his name because it was less expensive than paying Ryanair’s fee to correct a booking error.

The Guardian reports that Adam Armstrong made the change after his girlfriend’s stepfather booked him a flight to Ibiza with the wrong surname. (“Her stepdad got my name from Facebook but I had put it as Adam West as a joke, because he was the actor who played Batman on TV,” Armstrong told the Guardian.) Ryanair wanted 220 GBP (about $337 USD) in administrative fees to change the name on the booking to match the one on Armstrong’s passport.

Armstrong balked at the cost, calling it “completely ridiculous,” and instead decided to change his name legally (at no charge) and expedite a new passport for 103 GBP (about $158 USD). Gotta admire his creativity!

16 Ways to Get Through the Airport Faster

Ryanair is hardly the only airline to charge steep fees for making changes to an existing booking. Delta charges anywhere from $200 to $450, depending on where you’re flying; American quotes a range of fees from $200 to $750(!) for any “voluntary change to ticket made prior to day of travel.” One notable exception: Southwest, which does charge any applicable fare difference for a rebooking but does not assess a separate administrative change fee.

Most airlines, including Ryanair, will give you a 24-hour grace period to correct errors.

In a statement published by the Guardian, Ryanair explains, “A name change fee is charged in order to discourage and prevent unauthorised online travel agents from ‘screenscraping’ Ryanair’s cheapest fares and reselling them on to unwitting consumers at hugely inflated costs.'”

10 Ways Air Travel Has Gone Downhill

Do you think the airlines’ change fees are fair? Share your thoughts in the comments.

— written by Sarah Schlichter

overhead bin airplane flight attendantAs part of the eternal struggle to speed up the process of getting fliers onto planes, Delta Air Lines is trying a new strategy: preloading carry-on bags for its passengers. According to USA Today, the carrier will be offering a complimentary Early Valet service on select flights this summer, which will involve having airline employees take passengers’ carry-ons at the gate and put them into the overhead bins nearest their assigned seats.

The airline’s hope is that its employees will be more efficient in loading the plane than passengers would, helping ensure a timelier departure. USA Today reports that the airline has previously tested this strategy and found “some reduction in boarding time.”

The theory makes sense. After all, how often have you seen fellow passengers holding up the line while they heave and ho to get weighty bags into the bin? And then there are the fliers who force others to find other spots for their bags because they put their rolling suitcases in sideways instead of wheels first, taking up twice as much space. Let’s face it: Airline employees are almost guaranteed to be better at loading a plane than we passengers are.

16 Ways to Get Through the Airport Faster

The question, though, is whether the process of taking people’s bags at the gate will cancel out most of the time saved during the actual boarding procedure. Frequent flier expert Gary Leff, quoted in the USA Today article, also raises a good point: “‘This has the potential to come across as a nice, high-end service,’ Leff said, ‘but I’m skeptical that it will go mainstream’ because of labor costs.”

How do you think airlines could optimize the boarding process?

— written by Sarah Schlichter

intel science fair raymond wang winnerWhat would you give to feel less stuffy after your next flight? You may start to feel the difference soon, thanks to a 17-year-old high school junior from Canada. Raymond Wang recently won the top prize at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair for his innovative solution to reduce the spread of pathogens on airplanes, while promoting fresh air to passengers.

According to a story in the Washington Post, Wang began to think about disease transmission on airplanes after the ebola outbreak last year. Although ebola isn’t transmitted through the air, many other contagious diseases are, and this spurred his research into cabin airflow.

Current airflow is spread down and across the rows by “two, large turbulent swirls,” according to Wang in the Post article. With the addition of fin-shaped devices into a plane’s air inlets, airflow is redirected more efficiently to each passenger in what Wang calls a “personalized ventilation zone.” Check out a video simulation of the difference:

The cost-benefit ratio of Wang’s new airflow system is a no-brainer. Installing the fins would cost approximately $1,000 per plane with overnight installation, and is estimated to increase fresh air to the cabin by 190 percent — reducing the concentration of airborne germs and pathogens 55 times over.

For his idea, Wang took home a $75,000 cash prize and has filed for a patent. Let’s hope it’s put to good use.

Avoiding the Airplane Cold
18 Surefire Ways to Get Sick While Traveling

— written by Brittany Chrusciel

Unless you’re a first-time flier and everything is shiny and new, it can be awfully hard to pay attention to the safety video onboard your flight; either you’ve heard it all before, you assume it’s common sense or you’re breathing into a bag because you’re already that nervous to fly.

Air New Zealand is among the airlines who’ve made a noticeable effort to infuse some entertainment value into this necessary safety briefing (last year Delta went ’80s and Virgin America flight attendants rocked out). From a Lord of the Rings-style presentation to cameos by Betty White, Richard Simmons and President Obama, Air New Zealand has set the standard for high-budget safety cinema.

In the airline’s latest installment, shot in stunning surf locations such as Malibu, Australia’s Gold Coast and Raglan and Piha, New Zealand, “Air New Zealand’s Safety Safari” showcases world surfing champions Gabriel Medina of Brazil, Australian Mick Fanning and American surfers Laird Hamilton, Alana Blanchard and Anastasia Ashley as they breezily guide you through in-flight safety.

If you’re a fan of beautiful, smiling people running around world-famous beaches and instructing you with charming accents, then you won’t be bored. However, because they are beautiful people running and surfing around (at times shirtless) on world-famous beaches in charming accents, you also might be too distracted to glean the important safety information. Now if only emergency lighting on airplanes were as enchanting as paper lanterns…

In conjunction with the Safety Safari video, Air New Zealand is hosting a contest giving away a Malibu surf lesson for two with legendary surfer Laird Hamilton, roundtrip air to Los Angeles, a five-night stay in Santa Monica and a five-day rental car.

13 Best New Zealand Experiences
11 Best Australia Experiences

— written by Brittany Chrusciel

airplane frustrated womanThere’s one on every plane: a person who kicks the back of your seat, puts stinky feet in your general vicinity, gives the flight attendant a hard time or just plain forgets to shower before a long-haul flight. With the dawn of social media accounts like Passenger Shaming, it’s becoming easier to publicly call out the cretins who can’t seem to mind their in-flight manners. But one fed-up flier, Mun Yee, crafted an eloquent letter to chastise a particularly awful flightmate on a recent trip from Singapore to Sydney.

“Despite my common economy seat, you offered me a full back massage by repeatedly kicking the back of [my] chair,” Yee writes. “To date, I have yet to regain full mobility of the lower half of my body.

“Also, could you tell me where you bought those obnoxious snacks? I assume that they must have been delicious ’cause you rip[ped] one open every 30 minutes.”

Reports of excessively loud talking also appear in the letter, as does this:

“… my nose was assaulted by a putrid smell of death and decay. It was so nice of you to take off your shoes and put your feet between my seat and the plane window.”

Patrick Stewart Hilariously Acts Out 5 Most Annoying Fliers

We want to give a shout-out to you, Mun Yee. We congratulate you, sympathize with you and hope your letter reaches the eyes of anyone who thinks this conduct is socially acceptable.

What’s the worst behavior you’ve encountered on a flight? Be sure to comment below.

JetBlue Introduces Funny Flight Etiquette Videos

— written by Ashley Kosciolek

rendering of a new kind of airplane seatFrom infants to overweight adults, there are plenty of people who don’t fit in the stereotypical airplane seat mold. That’s why we’re tipping our proverbial hat to the SII Group of Germany, which has developed adjustable plane seats.

Known as the SANTO (Special Accommodation Needs for Toddlers and Overweight Passengers) Seat, the concept involves extra-wide seats, which can be used for larger passengers or divided into an adult/child combo for parents traveling with babies or small children.

The invention makes use of space at the back of the plane, where cabins are generally narrower.

Complete with proper arm rests and seatbelts, which can be easily installed and adjusted by cabin crew, the idea earned SII a recent award in the “Passenger Comfort Hardware” category at the Crystal Cabin Awards.

Get the Best Airplane Seat

The seats haven’t been installed on any planes yet, but we’re waiting to see which airlines will be the first to bite.

What are your thoughts on this idea? Share your comments below.

–By Ashley Kosciolek

road sign that says rewards aheadSwapping unused airline miles for magazine subscriptions is so passe. Forget Rolling Stone magazine — use those miles to go backstage at a rock concert or snag tickets to the 2015 Billboard Music Awards. Music doesn’t interest you? How about an authentic replica of Gandalf’s “Magical Silver Scarf” from the Lord of the Rings movies? Made of 100 percent New Zealand wool, it’s woven by the same weavers who made some of the costumes for the movies.

These are just two of the many unusual rewards frequent fliers can turn their award miles in for nowadays.

Research company IdeaWorks, in partnership with Switchfly, recently reviewed the frequent flier programs of 160 airlines, highlighting 25 of the most unusual and innovative reward options in the report, “Airlines Woo Members with Wild, Weird and Wonderful Rewards.”

Offerings range from unique products to one-of-a-kind travel experiences, and everything in between. Some can be “bought” straight up with miles, while others have to be bid on in auctions or won in raffles.

Here is just a taste of some of the most unique rewards on offer:

* ANA All Nippon Airways: For 15,000 miles you’ll get a four-course meal for two — with Champagne — at the Lexus experience store in Tokyo.

* EVA Air: For 100,000 miles you’ll get access to a flight simulator and trainer for a 90-minute session.

* El Al: For 120 points (plus $60) you can propose to your partner with the line’s Inflight Marriage Proposal Kit, which includes a bottle of wine and two elegant glasses delivered by the flight attendant after she has said yes, plus premium chocolates.

* Cathay Pacific: 15,000 miles gets you a very unique eight-hour Hong Kong handicraft tour that includes visits to a tailor, shoemaker and wood engraver.

* Avianca: A few slices of New York City’s famed pizza can be had for 5,803 miles. It’s part of a walking tour that stops at three pizzerias in several Manhattan neighborhoods.

* Qantas: For a whopping 536,500 points you can take part in Earthwatch’s Conserving Koala Country program in Australia. You’ll spend 10 days in Great Otway National Park in Victoria conducting measurements, collecting samples and tracking koalas by radio. Room and board are included.

* Air Canada: For 128,000 miles parents can purchase a $1,000 (CAD) gift certificate to a Me to We Adventure and Volunteer trip for their child. Participants may lay bricks for a new school, dig for a water project or teach English in a school in destinations like Kenya, Tanzania, India, Ecuador, Ghana and the Amazon.

* Emirates: It only takes 12,000 miles to get a first-level ticket to a Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) football/soccer match with access to the Emirates Club at the stadium.

* Auction and raffle rewards included TAP Portugal’s auction of a four-night cruise; Etihad Airways’ raffle of an Abu Dhabi Grand Prix package for two with four-night hotel stay, VIP race seating and air tickets; and American Airlines’ auction of a Justin Timberlake Live in New York package for two, which included flights, hotel accommodations, transfers, meals and a $600 prepaid credit card.

If you had unlimited air miles, which experience would you select? Or if you could make one up, what would it be?

— written by Dori Saltzman

tsa airport security lineFlying is a process. Getting to the airport. Checking bags. Removing shoes and laptops and toiletries and shuffling along through security checkpoints. Although I sometimes question whether all this adds up to better security or just security theater, it’s nice to think that the TSA agents are looking out for our safety by screening passengers. But who’s screening the TSA agents?

According to the TSA’s Aviation Security Advisory Committee, it would cost too much and be too logistically difficult to do complete security checks on all of its employees, and full scans wouldn’t help that much anyway since such screenings are “incapable of determining a person’s motivations, attitudes and capabilities to cause harm.”

But wouldn’t that also be true of the system’s effectiveness when scanning passengers — people who don’t have clearances that allow them access to restricted areas?

Apparently the issue of restricted access is being addressed, as well. CNN reports that the number of access points to these areas is being reduced. TSA employees will also have to undergo background checks once every two years and go through the same security screenings as everyone else when traveling as airline passengers themselves. Employees are also subject to random, unannounced screenings, and increased surveillance of baggage handling and cargo areas has been recommended to combat theft of passenger items by employees.

Airport Security Q&A
10 Things Not to Do at Airport Security

What do you think? Is the TSA doing enough to police its own? Leave your comments below.

— written by Ashley Kosciolek

Well, aren’t these the cutest first-class fliers you’ve ever seen?

qantas koala

Australian flag carrier Qantas recently flew four koalas called Paddle, Pellita, Chan and Idalia from Brisbane to Singapore, where they will live at the Singapore Zoo for the next six months, reports Travel Pulse. The loan is in honor of Singapore’s 50th anniversary of independence.

qantas koala

The airline shared a few photos on its Twitter account that capture the cuddly creatures in first class (#KoalaClass), being served a delicious snack of Schweppes and eucalyptus leaves by a flight attendant. Travel Pulse notes, however, that the koalas ultimately flew in the cargo hold (standard for transporting animals) in climate-controlled carriers stocked with eucalyptus trees. Qantas will fly fresh supplies of eucalyptus to Singapore every two weeks throughout the koalas’ stay abroad.

qantas koala

All together now: “Awwww.”

Need More Travel Cuteness?
Shetland Ponies in Sweaters
Puppies and Kittens Make Everything Better — Even Flying

— written by Sarah Schlichter

This Friday’s challenge is a photo of an unidentified place somewhere in the world. Can you tell us where the photo was taken? Leave your guess in the comments below — and check back on Tuesday to see if you were right!

world destination

Hint: Where in the world is this field that gets its distinctive yellow hue from canola flowers?

Enter your guess in the comments below. You have until Monday, April 13, at 11:59 p.m. ET to post your response. We’ll keep all comments private until then. On Tuesday morning we’ll choose one winner at random to receive an IndependentTraveler.com prize. Note: Although all are welcome to play, we can only ship prizes to the Continental U.S.

Editor’s Note: This contest has ended. The winner is Todd Burr, who correctly guessed that this week’s mystery location was Luoping, China. Todd has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations! Stay tuned for more chances to win.

See All “Where in the World?” Challenges

— written by Brittany Chrusciel