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google glass virgin atlanticThe travel industry doesn’t tend to win many kudos for its customer service (see our Airlines Behaving Badly series for evidence), but one airline is hoping to change that through the introduction of cutting-edge technology.

Virgin Atlantic announced yesterday that staff members in its Upper Class Wing at London‘s Heathrow Airport will be using Google Glass — a wearable mini-computer that’s not yet broadly available to the public — to check in passengers and perform other personalized customer service tasks. This includes things like giving flight status updates, translating information in foreign languages and providing a weather forecast for the passenger’s destination.

For now, Virgin Atlantic’s economy-class passengers are out of luck; the pilot test of this program affects only those in the Upper Class cabin. The test will go on for six weeks, with the possibility of expansion in the future. Eventually the technology could also be used to identify passengers’ inflight preferences (such as special dietary needs or preferred drinks).

Does Your Flight Attendant Hate You?

Would you find it appealing to be greeted with such personalized service at the airport? Let us know in the comments below.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

tripadvisor flightsWhat’s most important to you when booking a flight — price? Schedule? Number of connections? Legroom? The in-flight experience? For many travelers, the answer is “all of those things.” And airfare booking sites are responding.

Today TripAdvisor introduced a new version of its flight search engine that includes information such as legroom ratings (tight, average or spacious), whether seats with extra space are available for purchase, the cost of a first checked bag, and whether your seat has a personal TV screen and/or power outlet.

The default search results are sorted by lowest price, but you can also choose to show only nonstop options, to “avoid early flights” (before 8 a.m.) or to see the flights offering the “best value.” It’s not immediately clear what qualifies a flight for “best value” status. In one search, the site gave me a happy medium between an expensive nonstop flight and a cheaper but less convenient option with two layovers. In another, it suggested a nonstop flight that cost about $300 more than the cheapest, multi-leg flight (about a 25 percent increase in price).

9 Ways to Make Travel Less Stressful

These offerings are similar to those on other sites like Routehappy.com — which assigns flights a Happiness Score based on entertainment options, seat configuration, trip length and other factors — and Hipmunk.com, whose Agony Index sorts flights by a combination of price, length and number of layovers.

What’s cool about TripAdvisor’s flight search is that it has user photos so you can catch a glimpse of what your plane will look like. The site also pulls in seating charts and ratings from sister site SeatGuru.

For most of us, flying will never really be fun — but now at least we’ve got one more option to help us save money and make that in-flight experience just a little bit brighter.

How to Hack Your Way to a Cheaper Airfare

– written by Sarah Schlichter

Editor’s Note: IndependentTraveler.com is published by The Independent Traveler, Inc., a subsidiary of TripAdvisor, Inc., which also owns SeatGuru.com.

We’ve seen some fun in-flight safety videos in our day, guest starring such notables as Betty White, Richard Simmons, a bunch of hobbits and even a dancing nun. But for this Gen X’er, Delta’s newest air safety video, like, totally takes the cake.

It’s got women in side ponytails with neon nail polish and lace gloves, and men with mullets or more hair than Crystal Gayle. There’s even an Atari game console, a Teddy Ruxpin doll and a man inchworminghis way down the aisle. All of it, plus way more(!), had this 80s gal laughing and, more importantly, paying attention.

My favorite moment? The guy trying to fix his cassette tape with his pinky.

So grab the keys to your time traveling DeLorean and take a peek below as heavy metal rockers, Valley girls, Alf and a special guest pilot take you through the ABCs of airline safety.



More In-Flight Fun:
Betty White Stars in Latest Air New Zealand Safety Video
FAA: Harlem Shake in the Sky Might Not Fly

– written by Dori Saltzman

A few months ago, Virgin America jazzed up its in-flight safety presentation with an up-tempo music video featuring a young, limber cast of flight attendants, businesspeople and even a nun(!) singing and dancing their way around a virtual aircraft cabin. But one Virgin America flight attendant thought that just wasn’t quite entertaining enough — and added a live performance to go along with the video on a recent flight.

Below you can watch the flight attendant strutting down the aisle, lip-synching to the lyrics of the song and generally getting his groove on, much to the amusement of his passengers. Check it out:


Props to this flight attendant for pretty much guaranteeing that his passengers will pay attention to the safety demonstration!

More In-Flight Fun:
Betty White Stars in Latest Air New Zealand Safety Video
FAA: Harlem Shake in the Sky Might Not Fly

– written by Sarah Schlichter

2013 2014 beach new yearBefore we jump head first into 2014, we’re taking one last look back at the year that was. Of all the travel tips and trends we covered in 2013, there were a few that got our readers ranting, raving or simply laughing. Read on as we count down our 10 most popular blog posts of the past year.

10. Air New Zealand did it again. The airline known for its creative and hilarious in-flight safety videos came out with another winner in November, this time featuring the inimitable Betty White.

9. We reviewed and gave away dozens of travel products in 2013, but the biggest hit was the ultra-innovative Suitcase That Beats Bed Bugs.

8. When an Asiana Airlines plane crashed at San Francisco Airport in July, it spurred us to wonder: Where Are the Safest Seats on a Plane?

7. It isn’t often that we can bring readers good news from the travel industry, so when T-Mobile Eliminated Roaming Fees for Cell Phone Users Abroad, we and our fellow travelers rejoiced.

6. Few things get travelers more riled up than the topic of kids on planes. This year saw several Asian airlines introduce child-free zones on some of their flights — and while many of our readers were supportive of keeping kids as far away as possible, one parent took a different tack in her controversial Open Letter to People Who Hate Flying with Kids.

5. Turns out that even a so-called “travel expert” makes the occasional packing blunder. See what happens When a Travel Writer Ignores Her Own Advice.

4. A guest contributor from a currency exchange service shared his best practical tips in Buying Foreign Currency: Get More Bang for Your Buck.

3. Our post on 5 Signs You’re Not a True Traveler stirred up some strong emotions in the comments section. Reader Christy said our list was “spot on,” while Clare accused us of “imposing [a] very restrictive idea of what an experience must be.” What’s your take?

2. On a long, boring flight, leafing through the SkyMall catalog is always entertaining. Readers got a good laugh from our list of 9 Useless Items You Can Buy at 35,000 Feet, ranging from a mounted squirrel head to a porch potty for dogs.

1. Catching Zs while crammed into a tiny airplane seat is always a struggle. Could the perfect travel pillow help the cause? We reviewed four of them in Travel Pillow Challenge: The Quest for Good Airplane Sleep.

The Weirdest Travel News of 2013

– written by Sarah Schlichter

time fliesThis post is part of our Time Flies series, highlighting unique ways to spend your down time at airports around the world.

With the holidays upon us and busy travelers scurrying about to reach their final destinations, I was hoping some airport, anywhere, would be able to bring the holiday spirit forth. Lo and behold, the Munich International Airport delivered in grand style.

For those unfamiliar, this year marks the 14th year that the Munich International Airport has brought the Bavarian spirit front and center with its seasonal winter market. What better way to start your holiday than by visiting a traditional German Christmas market before your holiday trip even begins?

Within the market, travelers will find 50 authentic stands filled with everything from schnitzel and mulled wine to cuckoo clocks and ornaments. To make things even more seasonal — keeping in mind that all this is at an airport — there is the smell of fresh ice emanating from the oversized skating rink combined with some 300 Christmas trees, the highlight of which stands nearly 50 feet tall.

munich airport winter market


While the seasonal market is sure to delight, the Munich International Airport is not without its year-round staples to enhance your layover a bit more. Along with the usual airport staples, it happens to be the proud owner of the largest roofed-in beer garden in all of Germany.

Yes, that’s right — an airport with an actual beer garden. With space for more than 600 thirsty travelers, it’ll make you feel like you’ve stepped from Christmastime into the middle of Oktoberfest. Order an Airbrau, a highly rated, relatively inexpensive beer brewed on site. As you suck down that cold (lukewarm) one, you’ll take in the chestnut trees, a real maypole and jaw-dropping (by airport standards) views of the architecture. If you didn’t fill up on German fare at the Christmas market, this is your second chance to grab that schnitzel (apologies for the writer’s personal bias, as plenty of other options exist).

Photos: 12 Unforgettable Germany Experiences
Best Airports for Layovers

So if you’re planning a jaunt through Germany this time of year, and airport options abound, consider Munich International Airport as a place that a layover just might not be so bad. Do you know of any other airports getting into the holiday spirit? If so, please share them in the comments below.

– written by Matt Leonard

Just when we’ve finally figured out how to comply with those complicated liquid and gel restrictions at airport security, they could be on the way out — at least in Europe.

Last week, London’s Heathrow Airport began installing screening devices that can test liquids, gels and aerosols in a variety of containers, reports the Los Angeles Times. The devices, made by the Ohio-based Battelle company, use radio waves and ultrasonic technology to scan for explosives. To see the machine in action, check out the following video from Battelle:


The Los Angeles Times reports that Heathrow will begin using the technology in January, but only for medicine and duty-free liquids. Assuming the initial results are good, the airport may start to permit other liquids and gels through the new screeners within the next year. The European Union is hoping to lift the liquid and gel ban in all of its airports by 2016.

Here in the U.S., Battelle’s liquid scanner is one of several types of technology being considered for use in airports, but the Los Angeles Times quotes a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) statement that doesn’t seem to bode well for any quick changes: “Liquid explosives are a serious threat, and we aren’t ready to move away from the ban on liquids.”

Bottom line: Don’t leave your quart-size bag at home just yet.

How to Hack Your Way to a Cheaper Flight

– written by Sarah Schlichter

“Lord of the Rings” director Peter Jackson, exercise guru Richard Simmons and Bear Grylls of “Man vs. Wild” are just a few of the celebs who’ve made appearances in Air New Zealand’s always entertaining in-flight safety videos — and now it’s Betty White’s turn. Along with Gavin MacLeod of “Love Boat” fame, the nonagenarian actress has taken to the seatback screen with a humorous take on “Safety Old School Style.”

Set in a retirement community, the video plays up the senior citizen jokes — so if you’re sensitive to cracks about hearing aids and oxygen tanks, you might want to give it a miss. But the mostly elderly cast is clearly having such fun that it’s hard to take offense. Give it a watch:



Note: The part about turning off electronic devices for take-off and landing may soon be outdated, following the Federal Aviation Administration’s recent announcement permitting the use of such devices at altitudes under 10,000 feet for all approved aircraft.

For more laughs, check out Air New Zealand’s past safety videos below.

Bear “Man vs. Wild” Grylls Takes On In-Flight Safety
Airline Safety Briefing: Middle Earth-Style
President Obama Makes Cameo in Air New Zealand Safety Video
Richard Simmons Sweats to a New Flight Safety Video

– written by Sarah Schlichter

airplane tabletThe days of having to stow your Kindle, cell phone or iPod at the very beginning and end of a flight will soon be coming to an end. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced today that “airlines can safely expand passenger use of Portable Electronic Devices (PEDs) during all phases of flight.”

The decision comes after the FAA consulted with a panel of pilots, aviation manufacturers, airline representatives and other experts, who determined that devices being used in airplane mode should not interfere with the safe operation of most commercial aircraft.

This doesn’t mean you can whip out your laptop during takeoff on a flight this weekend. The new policy will be implemented on an airline-by-airline basis, with each carrier having to assess its own fleet and present evidence to the FAA that its planes won’t be affected by radio interference from PEDs. The FAA expects that many airlines will be approved for PED use by the end of the year.

Taking Photos on Planes: On the No-Fly List?

A few things to note:

– You still won’t be able to use your cell phone for voice calls, and other devices must be kept in airplane mode.

– You may only use Wi-Fi on your device if the plane has installed a Wi-Fi system and the airline allows it to be used.

– Heavier devices should still be stowed during takeoff and landing.

– Finally, says the FAA, “In some instances of low visibility — about one percent of flights — some landing systems may not be proved PED tolerant, so you may be asked to turn off your device.”

How to Fix the TSA

Personally, we think it’s about time — what’s your take?

– written by Sarah Schlichter

nickel and dimingIf price is no longer the differentiator between legacy airlines like Delta, United and American Airlines and so-called discount carriers like JetBlue and Southwest, what is?

I say it’s the way they treat their customers.

The legacy carriers, who used to be all about providing the best customer experience, now seem to look at their passengers simply as cash cows. On the other hand, the “discount” lines, excepting small carriers like Spirit and Allegiant, are dedicated to the idea that a good customer experience with amenities included in the airfare is the path to success.

Case in point: a recent Forbes article argues that overhead bin space will be the next formerly-included amenity to be unbundled from the airfare.

Already the most deeply discounted carriers, Spirit and Allegiant, have gone that route charging for carry-on bags.

16 Ways to Get Through the Airport Faster

And while it seems inconceivable that the major carriers would follow suit, some experts argue overhead been space has already being monetized via the sale of priority boarding passes, which passengers on legacy airlines buy almost exclusively in order to gain access to overhead bins first.

A New York Times article, cited by Forbes, quotes Jay Sorenson, president of airline consulting firm IdeaWorksCompany, who said revenue for early boarding is increasing; he predicts airlines will implement more such fees.

On the other end of the spectrum, JetBlue is making flying easier — and possibly less expensive — for its customers with a new frequent flier program called Family Pooling.

The program enables families of up to two adults and five children to combine their TrueBlue frequent flier points together to make it easier to earn enough points for a free flight. Even better, the two adults don’t actually need to be related; two friends can pool their miles, then split the cost of a second ticket. And the airline is doing this without having to charge extra for bags, either checked (first checked only) or carry-on!

How ironic that the airlines that used to have to separate themselves from the pack through low fares now only have to go back to the good old days of treating passengers like valued customers rather than piggy banks on two feet.

Seven Smart Ways to Bypass Baggage Fees

– written by Dori Saltzman