When you fly as often as we do here at IndependentTraveler.com, those in-flight safety demonstrations can get a little boring — so we always perk up when an airline decides to have fun with them. And nobody does that as well as Air New Zealand. Richard Simmons had us wishing we were in pink spandex, while a planeful of elves, wizards and hobbits had us longing for a Middle Earth getaway.
Now Bear Grylls, lately of “Man vs. Wild,” has us readying our fire starter kits and emergency rations. In the latest iteration of the “celebrity” safety briefings, Bear takes viewers on an adrenaline-filled romp through the New Zealand mountains while still buckling up for safety and heeding the flight attendants’ instructions. Take a look:
Do new twists on standard briefings make you any more likely to pay attention? Sound off in the comments below.
Pillows, headphones, meals, checked bags … these are just a few things that travelers used to get for free but currently have to pay for on most flights. And now there’s someone out there arguing that airlines should eliminate the free beverage and snack service as well.
John Nicholson at the Huffington Post writes, “Stop forcing that default complimentary soda and snack on your economy passengers on domestic flights. Most of us don’t want it, all of us can do without it and we all know you can’t really afford it.” He goes on to argue that we can easily live without a soda or a mini-bag of pretzels for a couple of hours on the ground, so why do we need them in the air? If we actually do want some refreshment, he says, we should be able to buy it at a reasonable price, rather than paying the airlines’ current inflated prices for anything more substantial than a handful of potato chips.
While I see his point, I’m not quite convinced. First off, does anyone really think the airlines would suddenly give us reasonably priced food options if they eliminated complimentary snacks? Call me crazy, but I think they’d just pocket the profit.
And yes, most of us can live a few hours without eating, but in the ultra-arid environment of a plane, it’s nice to have that extra drink to help us stay hydrated, even on shorter flights. If you must take my snack away, at least let me still have some water for free!
Finally, well, let’s face it: flying is boring. Having the drink/snack service to look forward to is one thing that gets me through the hours. Especially since the airlines have taken just about everything else away.
I love to globetrot, but I’m not the biggest fan of air travel — particularly because I get bored on flights longer than an hour (which, unfortunately, is most of them). Cue SkyMall, the infamous and ubiquitous mail-order catalog found in most seatback pockets. Targeting impulse buyers who have nothing better to do while soaring, it provides a means of procuring “Star Wars” plush toys, talking dog collars, gold-dipped roses and even Harry Potter’s wand. If those examples aren’t ridiculous enough, check out our list of the nine most head-scratching, money-wasting, dust-collecting products from the company’s early spring 2013 catalog.
Editor’s Note: Click on the thumbnail images for a larger view of each product.
9. SkyRest Travel Pillow: If you’ve ever fallen asleep on a flight and woken up with a stiff neck, this lap-based, wedge-shaped travel pillow appears to offer an affordable ($30) solution. Its cumbersome size may initially be a turn-off, but don’t worry — it’s inflatable, ensuring that you’ll thoroughly disturb the person in the seat next to you with all of the huffing and puffing required to blow it up.
8. Nano-UV Wand: Pack this $160 bad boy when you travel, and you can instantly kill dust mites and their eggs on pillows, bedding and carpets, according to the ad. Awesome — now you can sleep on dead bugs instead of bedbugs. If your sheets aren’t what’s worrying you, you can also pick up less expensive models for killing foodbourne bacteria ($60) or for sanitizing dinner plates and tap water while traveling ($100).
7. Bacon Throw and Pillow: Now bacon lovers of the world can do more than just eat it; they can sleep on it, too. This polyester pair is expensive at about $65 for both items, and apart from the hefty price, my question is simply: Why bacon? Why not eggs? Why not pancakes? I’d imagine the hash browns feel pretty left out too.
6. DermaTend: Talk about getting personal. With this handy-dandy tube of miracle cream, you can “safely remove your unwanted moles and skin tags at home.” Ranging in price from $40 to $100 (depending, of course, on how many moles you have), this product can be described in one word: gross.
5. Porch Potty: Has your pooch ever wanted his very own patch of synthetic grass on which to do his business? This wicker-enclosed 52″ x 6″ faux lawn — including a drain hose for outdoors, a catch basin for indoors and a scented fire hydrant — is certainly one step up from a Wee-Wee Pad, but at $260, it should be. For an extra $20, they’ll even throw in a sprinkler system to clean the Porch Potty. (After all, if you’re too lazy to take your dog outside in the first place, it’s likely you’ll also be too lazy to clean this darn thing.)
4. Tabletop Photo Studio: If you find yourself wanting to take professional photos on the go, be sure to pick up this portable 40-inch foldable photo studio ($200), which will give you the perfect shot … after you set up one of four backdrops, a tripod, two lights and whatever it is you’re hoping to photograph. For a smaller — but equally intricate and infuriating — experience, you can always try the 20-inch one instead ($100).
3. Bigfoot, the Garden Yeti: Pink flamingos are SO last-century. If you agree, show your disdain by snagging yourself one of these statues. It’s sure to be a conversation-starter at any garden party. (“Pssst! Did you SEE that thing? It’s so tacky!”) Ranging in height from 21″ to nearly 6 feet, medium ($90), large ($125) and life-size ($2,250) versions are available. Oh, and don’t forget to budget up to $200 extra for delivery charges.
2. Mounted Squirrel Head: Don’t hunt? Don’t worry! Pretend you do with this disturbing and not-at-all-lifelike squirrel head … and torso … and arms. Ew. This item is perfect for anyone interested in glorifying roadkill or a “Deliverance” revival. I beg you, spend your $25 elsewhere.
1. iGrow Hair Rejuvenation: If you’re in flight and really wishing you had more hair, this is one product you won’t want to pass up. Expose your scalp to 51 lasers and LED lights that will regrow what nature has taken away. This gadget, which will set you back a cool $695, looks like a cross between a space-age bicycle helmet and unnecessarily large headphones (for use with the built-in iPod interface, naturally). Whether you’re a male or a female, you’ll look stunning in this … contraption.
When I moved back to the United States from Romania, where I’d been living for two and a half years, I brought home a new husband and, just as importantly, our cat. We’d rescued her from an animal shelter two years before and there was no way we were leaving her behind. So we jumped through all the hoops presented to us — finding an FAA-compliant crate outside of the U.S., getting our cat micro-chipped, having a vet create a pet passport (basically just a record of her health and vaccines) — before my husband crated her up one November morning and brought her with him to the airport for his Lufthansa flights from Bucharest to Frankfurt and then Frankfurt to New York City.
Fourteen hours later my husband and cat arrived safely at JFK. It never really occurred to me that he would land safely and she wouldn’t. But after reading about a recent investigation by NBC Bay Area, I’m counting my lucky stars it turned out so well.
Turns out lots of animals don’t make it. Most stories don’t get into the news, but some do — like the case of former model Maggie Rizer. Back in September 2012, her 2-year-old golden retriever died during a flight from the East Coast to San Francisco.
Perhaps the most famous of all mistreated pets was Jack, the Norwegian forest cat that disappeared in JFK airport after an American Airlines baggage handler dropped his crate. Though he eventually turned up after falling through the ceiling in a customs area, he was so sick and dehydrated that he had to be put down.
Sadly, these stories are not as uncommon as we’d like to think. According to the NBC Bay Area investigation, 302 animals have died, been injured or disappeared while in the care of commercial airlines over a six-year span. The most common cause of death as determined by the airlines was “unknown.” Other common causes — again, as determined by the airlines themselves — were pre-existing medical conditions, escapes from the kennels, self-infliction and natural deaths.
The investigation even revealed which airlines have the worst record. Delta Airlines saw the most tragic outcomes, followed by Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Continental and United (those last two are now one single entity).
So, does knowing all this make me think twice about flying my cat in the future? You bet it does! What’s worse than knowing that my animal may not be safe in an airline’s care is reading about how the airlines do everything in their power to deny any responsibility for the deaths. Going forward, if I can’t drive to a destination with my cat, then she’s just going to have to fly coach with me.
Have you ever flown your pet somewhere? What was your experience like? And do you think airlines have a responsibility to get your pet to their ultimate destination safe and sound? Weigh in below.
After months of rumors and speculation, American Airlines and US Airways officially declared yesterday that the two carriers plan to merge into the country’s largest airline.
It’s the latest of several merger announcements over the past few years in an airline industry that continues to contract. Delta and Northwest joined forces in 2008, and United absorbed Continental in 2010. After American Airlines and US Airways become a single carrier, to be named American, the U.S. will be left with only three major legacy carriers. And don’t forget Southwest Airlines, which is currently in the process of assimilating AirTran’s flights and services after their merger in 2011.
Airline mergers typically lead to less competition, higher fares and plenty of glitches as the carriers try to integrate two different operating systems. (Remember the computer problems that stranded some United fliers last year?) Elite fliers will also want to keep a close eye on their miles to be sure they’re credited correctly when the two programs are integrated.
How do you feel about the American/US Airways merger — excited? Worried? Indifferent? Post your thoughts in the comments below.
Today we bring you three stories from around the airline industry, including a viral image of a flight attendant flipping the bird, the possible end of airline fees and an attempt to make airline loyalty programs “sustainable.”
Middle Seat, Middle Finger
The image, taken from a flight attendant’s rear cabin point of view, shows an outstretched arm with a certain finger aimed skyward. The sentiment is directed towards the fliers. Now Tatiana Kozlenko, an Aeroflot flight attendant said to have posted the pic on her Vkontakte page (Vkontakte is a social network in Russia), has been deplaned from the company. Russia-based news and TV outfit RT.com reports that the pic was posted back in October 2011 and had been languishing in relative obscurity until a popular Russian blogger reposted it on Twitter.
Kozlenko says it’s 1) not her in the photo, 2) not an Aeroflot plane and 3) not something she posted herself (she says she just tagged herself to it). Regardless, the airline has still laid down the long finger of the law. Aeroflot tweeted Monday morning that the firing was justified: “The fact of posting a photo shows Tatiana’s attitude towards passengers and her duties. She acknowledged her fault when she spoke to the leadership of the company.”
Airlines Running out of Fee Ideas?
Around the globe, airlines charged an estimate $36 billion in ancillary fees in 2012. But on Time.com, Brad Tuttle ponders whether a la carte pricing may have reached maximum altitude. Simply put, there’s almost nothing left to charge fliers for. What gave him that idea? The CEO of Spirit Airlines, the undisputed czar of deconstruction, recently told American Media Public Marketplace that the wellspring of added-fee innovations is starting to run dry. We’re not convinced. (Still left on the docket are a fee to talk to a human, fines for in-flight flatulence and an up-charge for armrest dominion.)
In the end, Tuttle doesn’t buy it either. He argues that any dearth of new ideas would be outweighed by ascending fees for baggage, onboard meals and the like.
Loyalty Pays Less
Veteran travel writer Chris Elliott reports that Delta is the first legacy airline to bind the value of its frequent-flier program not only to the number of miles passengers fly but also to the amount they spend. From January 1, 2014, loyalists will reach new echelons through a combination of miles or segments flown and annual spending on Delta flights. The key downside, among others: Snagging a great deal will help you less in the loyalty program game.
Naturally, Delta’s new program will help the airline’s bottom line. In the airline’s mind, too many undeserving fliers were benefiting. For Elliott, “As painful as these changes are, they make sense.” JetBlue, Southwest and Virgin America already have programs that reward fliers based on how much they spend, he says. “Air travelers tempted to give their loyalty to an airline like Delta now won’t cling to an empty promise that they can reach elite status any other way than by spending their way there. Some will refuse to participate and will instead purchase a ticket that makes sense for them, and not for their loyalty program.”
Remember United Breaks Guitars, the song that became a social media sensation after a country musician had his instrument destroyed at the hands of an airline? Well, it turns out Delta breaks guitars too.
Dave Schneider, a musician with the band the LeeVees, was carrying a vintage 1965 Gibson ES-335 guitar — worth about $10,000 — on a flight from Buffalo to Detroit last month, reports Yahoo! News. On trips for past gigs, Schneider had always carried the valuable instrument onto the plane with him, but this time Delta employees at the gate wouldn’t allow it. “They said it was their policy,” Schneider told IndependentTraveler.com. “They had let me carry the guitar on [our previous Delta flight] from Portland to Philly, so why not here in Buffalo?”
Schneider reluctantly gate-checked the guitar, even though he told us that there were empty seats on the plane where he could have put the instrument, and that it would also have fit into an overhead bin. (On its Web site, Delta says, “Guitars and other smaller musical instruments, such as violins, will be accepted as your free carry-on baggage item on Delta and Delta Connection carriers flights. These items must easily fit in the overhead bin or other approved storage location in the cabin, based on available space at the time of boarding. Musical instruments may be gate claimed at the discretion of the passenger and as a result of limited overhead space.”)
After the plane touched down in Detroit, Schneider waited at the gate for his instrument to be returned, only to hear a screech from the elevator — where the guitar case was caught between it and a rail on the loading dock. Here’s how it looked when it was finally freed an hour later:
The guitar was damaged to the tune of $1,980 — more than the $1,000 Delta initially offered as compensation. After a whirlwind of media coverage, including an appearance on CNN, Schneider told us that he and Delta finally settled the issue yesterday. “They’re paying for the repairs and more,” he said.
The story has an even happier ending: Gibson, the maker of the damaged guitar, recently reached out to Schneider. The company offered him “a brand new 1963 50th Anniversary Cherry Red ES-335 due to the incident with Delta Airlines,” Schneider wrote on his Facebook page. “THANK YOU GIBSON!”
But what happens the next time Schneider needs to fly? “I might start just using ukeleles,” Schneider joked. “I really don’t know what to do. A lot of people ship their guitars, so that is a good option. But even that makes me nervous. It shouldn’t be that hard. I would pay a $50 fee to bring an instrument on the plane. I think that’s a great idea.”
As a experienced traveler, I know all the right things to do when it comes to making sure you go home with your own luggage. I have a very distinctive red Rimowa suitcase (I’ve never encountered one quite like it), I’ve tied colored ribbons around one handle, and there are some flight and hotel labels stuck on it — so it’s hard to miss.
But last year, after a 10-hour flight from Helsinki and a 1.5-hour wait at Newark’s border control, I was tired and distracted, and when a red suitcase came around the belt, I grabbed it and set off. The wheels were wobbly, which I chucked up to yet another annoyance in an annoying day. Literally 10 steps past the customs agent, I bent down to check out what had happened to the wheels, and that was the moment I knew: this was not my suitcase. It was an absolutely identical model, but there were no ribbons, no decals.
I immediately went back to the customs agent to ask if I could swap the suitcase, but he said, “No can do” (which was understandable). He called an agent from my airline, who told me that I’d eventually get my suitcase back — but because I had cleared customs it would take three or four hours. Hanging around wasn’t a palatable solution, so I anted up about $82 to have it delivered the next day.
I consider the whole affair an $82 learning experience. And I felt badly for the person whose suitcase it really was (and hope she’ll get those wheels fixed someday).
What’s the silliest travel mistake you made in 2012?
How would you like to touch down at Ozzy Osbourne International?
One music exec is calling for this to become a reality, according to the Birmingham Mail. Liverpool is currently home to John Lennon Airport, so why shouldn’t Birmingham, Osbourne’s home town, be renamed after the Black Sabbath rocker? The proposal comes from Jim Simpson of Big Bear Music, who discovered the band.
“The message that would carry is instantly international, confident, powerful, unforgettable and says ‘Hey World, we are proud of our own,’” said Simpson in the Birmingham Mail.
“Ozzy might not always have been a paragon of virtue, but he is a genuine flesh and blood Brummie.”
Whether this will come to fruition is anyone’s guess — but, of course, it got us thinking about other airports that could carry a musical moniker. How about adding Bruce Springsteen’s name to New Jersey’s Newark Airport? Or giving Elvis Presley top billing at Memphis International? Tony Bennett left his heart in San Francisco, so surely we could leave his name on the airport. And with all due respect to Prime Minister Trudeau, perhaps Montreal‘s airport could be renamed after Celine Dion.
Which airports and musicians do you think would make a good duo?
If you’ve ever wished for a crystal ball, you might be in luck — at least as far as air travel is concerned. Imagine the scenario: You’re flying home for Christmas, presents crammed carefully into your carry-on. After arriving at the airport, you learn that due to impending snow, your flight has been delayed by hours or, worse, canceled completely. Talk about a holiday headache. That’s where KnowDelay comes in.
The new service, which covers 36 of the United States’ busiest airports, uses a combination of weather tracking and airline flight schedules to predict when your flight might be impacted by impending bad weather.
It’s free to sign up, and when you create an account, you can have “Captain Delay” — the mastermind behind the site — track your flights and send you alerts, allowing you to know as far as three days in advance whether you should attempt to rebook before your flight is canceled.
KnowDelay will also provide you with a list of alternate flights that are available, should you choose to change your plans. Keep in mind that you may face change fees for rebooking or canceling your itinerary in advance (although airlines often waive these during severe weather events). For some travelers, paying a change fee may be cheaper in the end than having to shell out for a hotel during a weather delay or missing an important client meeting.
If you’re a last-minute traveler and you’re booking your flight within three days of your trip, you can use KnowDelay proactively to determine which flights are ideal and which ones to avoid.
Here’s a more in-depth look at how the service works:
Have you had a flight delay fiasco in the past? Share your story below.