Flying 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.
Well, aren’t these the cutest first-class fliers you’ve ever seen?
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.
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.
Some people consider their desire to travel as an undeniable need. Despite the fanciful title of “wanderlust” that most people give it, this passion for constantly exploring new places could be deeper than a preference; it could be in your blood.
According to an article in Elite Daily, researchers believe they have isolated a gene in human DNA that predisposes some to that get-up-and-go urge. Called DRD4-7R (7r denotes the mutated form of the gene), the “wanderlust gene” is relatively rare — found in only 20 percent of the population — but explains increased levels of curiosity and restlessness, according to one study.
Another study by David Dobbs of National Geographic explored this research further, concluding that the 7r mutation of DRD4 results in people who are “more likely to take risks; explore new places, ideas, foods, relationships, drugs, or sexual opportunities,” and “generally embrace movement, change, and adventure.” These traits are linked to human migration patterns. Dobb found that when compared with populations who have mostly stayed in the same region, those with a history of relocation are more likely to carry the 7r gene.
Other scientists doubt that something as complex as human travel can be whittled down to a single gene mutation, but — for better or worse — a number of “exploratory character traits” have been found in association with 7r.
If you occasionally like to see a new place, take a yearly vacation and have a general interest in travel, you’re probably a completely normal person. But if you have an unquenchable, insatiable necessity for traveling, and often do so without a set plan, then you might just be the product of millions of years of human development. Are you a 7r carrier?
When the much-anticipated Apple Watch debuts next month, the accompanying Apple Watch store will introduce numerous nifty features for travelers as well. Skift lists six different travel apps you’ll want to watch out for (no pun intended).
We think the coolest one is the SPG app, which will allow travelers to use their watches to open their Starwood hotel room door — without having to fiddle with a room key. You can also use this app to check in or get directions to the hotel.
American Airlines’ app will send you notifications of gate changes and baggage claim information, while Expedia will give you details on hotel check-in/check-out times, flight seat assignments and more. Other travel apps that will be available on the new watch include OpenTable (restaurant reservations), TripAdvisor (hotel/restaurant/attraction reviews) and Citymapper (public transit information). Numerous others are sure to follow.
The Apple Watch debuts on April 24, with prices ranging from $349 (for the most basic sports model) up to $10,000 for a luxury version. Note that the watch does not work as a standalone product; according to Apple’s website, it requires an iPhone 5 or later.
Will you buy an Apple Watch?
— written by Sarah Schlichter
Editor’s Note: IndependentTraveler.com is published by The Independent Traveler, Inc., a subsidiary of TripAdvisor, Inc.
Last month we mourned and gnashed our teeth when SkyMall, that lovable in-flight catalog of incredibly useless items, declared bankruptcy and stopped its print publication. But take heart: Turns out you may still be able to purchase a six-foot Statue of Liberty replica or a Tyrannosaurus rex trophy head to hang on your wall.
Yahoo! Travel reports that the CEO of ScotteVest, Scott Jordan, is hoping to bring back the print catalog on planes — but there’s a catch: “We’re going to include items in the magazine that people actually want to buy.”
Well, that’s no fun.
Or is it? According to Yahoo!, the new SkyMall could feature some pretty nifty features. You could, for example, purchase a digital camera in the air and have it delivered to your hotel the day after you arrive. There may also be a page in the new magazine for app reviews, including a special code so you can buy the apps at a discount. Along with plenty of catalog items for sale (including travel gear and even tours and hotel rooms), there will also be articles about topics relevant to travelers, such as how those clever noise-canceling headphones work.
But the best news of all is that some of the wacky products SkyMall is known for will still be in the magazine, only in a small section rather than spread throughout the publication. What a relief!
The new SkyMall could be onboard flights as soon as June if all negotiations go well. In the meantime, if you need a hit of cow-shaped benches and porch potties for your dog, you can still visit SkyMall.com.
Every once in a while, it’s nice to be reminded that the airlines aren’t all unfeeling, bean-counting, baggage fee-charging corporations, but that they have a human side as well. This time the reminder comes courtesy of JetBlue, which recently launched a campaign called Flying It Forward, in which the carrier has been giving away free flights to passengers with inspiring stories.
JetBlue’s latest giveaway sent a passenger named Johannes from Medellin, Colombia, where he was working to fight poverty, back home to Washington D.C. to reunite with his wife over Valentine’s Day. (They’ve been living separately for two years.) Before that, a man named Jon flew for free from Portland to Medellin on a mission to spread his love of cycling with kids in the local community. In a nice touch, each flier helps select the next recipient of the free flight.
The following video offers a moving overview of the first four trips in the campaign:
While this is clearly a sophisticated PR and social media campaign, it’s impossible not to feel a little inspired — especially as you look over the photos and videos from each passenger’s journey.
Next up? The ticket is on its way to West Palm Beach and will be departing from there for its next trip. If you want to be considered as a recipient, tweet @JetBlue with your story and the hashtag #FlyingItForward.
In 2013, Elon Musk, CEO and CTO of SpaceX and CEO of Tesla Motors, unveiled his idea for the hyperloop — a form of transportation that would move passengers from city to city at roughly the speed of sound via a network of vacuum tubes.
Two years later, three companies, all headed by teams of people close to Musk, are pushing to make the technology come to life. However, even with millions of dollars in funding at the ready, there’s still a long way to go. Safety issues need to be addressed. The logistics of actually constructing the transportation network still need to be hammered out. And what effects, exactly, would moving at such high speeds have on the human body?
Forbes’ report says that, at least initially, the project would focus on moving cargo from one place to another (possibly even through underwater tubes), so perhaps that human body bit wouldn’t come into play right away. But the rush to get the project moving is well under way, given that it would beat the pants off of air travel time and cost less than taking a train. Plus, since no carbon dioxide would be emitted by the capsules, it seems like it would be far more environmentally friendly than any currently existing form of getting around. (Note: The system would still be responsible for some carbon emissions, according to one expert, who believes the solar panels in Musk’s original plan would need to be supplemented with coal power.)
Musk has also said he’ll likely be funding a prototype track in Texas.
What do you think? Would you try this type of travel? Leave your comments below.
The 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.
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.
The world’s largest city is also the world’s safest, according to a new report. Tokyo has been declared the winner in the 2015 edition of the Economist’s Safe Cities Index.
Right behind Japan’s capital were two other Asian cities, Singapore and Osaka, with European favorites Stockholm and Amsterdam rounding out the top five. The highest ranked U.S. city was New York at number 10. At the bottom of the barrel was Jakarta, Indonesia, coming in at number 50. Its overall safety score was just 53.71 out of 100 (as compared to Tokyo, which scored 85.63).
On hearing the word “safest,” you might picture a place where you’re unlikely to get pickpocketed or mugged, but this type of personal safety is only one of four broad categories measured in the study. The Economist is also looking out for your digital security — how common are cybercrime and identity theft? — as well as health safety (pollution, quality of hospitals) and infrastructure safety (roads, rails, pedestrian deaths).
– Barcelona, long infamous for pickpockets, has taken steps to get safer; crime has dropped by 32 percent over the past three years.
– In a comparison of perception vs. reality, the study found that Americans tend to feel less safe than they really are (based on their cities’ rankings in the list), while locals in Middle Eastern cities such as Riyadh and Abu Dhabi are not actually as secure as they feel.
– Safety is only one factor in determining the world’s best cities. After combining various indexes — including not just Safe Cities but also Liveability Rankings, Cost of Living and more — the Economist came up with a different winner: Toronto was voted the overall best place to live.
Far from the romanticized travels of Kerouac in 1960s beatnik America, hitchhiking is not the most viable option for travelers looking to rideshare in 2015. But with the millennial generation so concerned about aiding the environment (decreasing gas emissions) and keeping costs down, the idea of a rideshare is the perfect way to split fuel costs and keep an additional car (or two or three) off the road. The problem was until now, combing boards and listings looking for a reasonably trustworthy person going in the same direction was a tad haphazard.
A new ridesharing community called Tripda plans to take the idea of hitching (or offering up) a ride in to modern times. Available via a website and an app, Tripda connects travelers seeking transportation with those looking for extra passengers to split costs. Think of it like a long-distance Uber with a social aspect (the drivers are people like you already headed in your direction). The company promises security with verification on the identity of drivers, and even a Ladies Only option for women more comfortable traveling with other women. By using Facebook for its login system, Tripda claims that it is easier to connect with your fellow riders, get to know them before you set off into the sunset, and potentially connect with mutual friends or affiliations so there are talking points before you even hit the road.
As a driver, you only accept the passengers you want to accompany you, and as a passenger, you pick travel companions based upon how much you’re looking to contribute, whether you prefer silence to music or conversation, and even whether you mind sharing the backseat with a furry, four-footed traveler. The whole process is intended to eliminate waste, but also to enhance an otherwise lonely or lackluster journey.
Founded just last year, Tripda is intended to be a global platform for transportation and is currently coordinating rides in 13 countries in North America, Latin America and Asia. However, because the site is so new, it can be tricky to find a ride that will suit you. It seems like the “recent rides” are concentrated in California and New York so far.
Tell us: Would you use Tripda on your next road trip?