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airplane seatsFor every long-legged traveler who’s sick of being pretzeled into increasingly small airplane seats, a new study offers insight into how to land yourself a few precious extra inches of legroom.

Routehappy.com surveyed U.S. airlines in search of “Roomier” seats — those with at least 32 inches of seat pitch — that travelers could find in regular economy class without having to pay extra. The carrier on which you’re most likely to find these is Southwest Airlines, which offers nearly 1,000 domestic flights a day with Roomier seats (this reflects 31 percent of all Southwest flights). Alaska Airlines came in second with 752 flights, or 96 percent of its daily offerings.

While those airlines win out due to the sheer number of flights they offer, it’s worth noting that a couple of smaller airlines, JetBlue and Virgin America, offer at least 32 inches of seat pitch on 100 percent of their planes. JetBlue’s A320 planes have a generous 34 inches of seat pitch, and they’re wider than average to boot. Virgin America’s seats are also wider than most, offer 32 inches of seat pitch, and have both Wi-Fi and power outlets — a combination that you won’t find fleetwide on any other airline, according to Routehappy.

In all, you can find more spacious seats for free on 13 percent of domestic flights.

Secrets of the World’s Best Airlines

If you’re willing to pay extra for more space, you have plenty of options. Routehappy reports that of the 22,000 domestic flights that take off each day in the U.S., 9,000 of them have more spacious economy-class seats available for purchase. (Delta and United have the most, followed by American and JetBlue.) On international flights, 47 percent of the 1,800 daily departures have Extra Legroom Economy or Premium Economy options.

You can download the full report at Routehappy.com. The site also offers fare searches with results ranked by “happiness score,” which takes seat size, airplane amenities, length of trip and flier ratings into account.

Check out our tips for How to Get the Best Airplane Seat.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

afraidBill Bryson may have been going for a tongue-in-cheek approach when he wrote about the various ways one might die in Australia (“In a Sunburned Country”) and along the Appalachian Trail (“A Walk in the Woods”), but he was more than just a little serious too.

If you’re going to visit Australia, the truth is you’d better watch out for saltwater crocodiles, sharks, stinging jellyfish and redback spiders. And bears in North America are nothing to laugh at (except when Bryson writes about them, that is).

But wildlife predators are not the only thing tourists need to be wary of when traveling if they want to get home in one piece. I’ve read too many tragic tales of travelers killed in helicopter tours (in Hawaii and in New York City, to name a few) to ever climb aboard one.

Drinking Water Safety

And, of course, there’s always the clich√© that rings a little too true about holding on for dear life when riding taxis in Rome, Paris or New York City.

Now, sadly, I may also have to worry about gondolas and water buses in Venice.

Earlier this month a German tourist was killed when the gondola he was on collided with a water bus in Venice’s Grand Canal. As it turns out, the gondolier tested positive for cocaine, but authorities also believe boat congestion on the Canal may have been a factor.

10 Things You Should Never Wear When Traveling Abroad

Will this incident stop me from taking a gondola ride when I finally get to Venice? Probably not. The truth is I have a better chance of being hit by a car on the way to work than dumped in the Grand Canal during my few days in Venice. So, no, fear is not going to stop me, but I’ll certainly be more vigilant. Just as I checked for spiders in my shoes in Australia, avoided taxis in Paris and eschew helicopters everywhere.

Do any destination’s specific dangers scare you? Do you take any precautions?

– written by Dori Saltzman

child kid airplane planeWhen it comes to kid-free zones on planes, Asian airlines continue to be trailblazers. A year after Malaysia Airlines introduced child-free sections on its A380 planes, Singapore Airlines’ low-cost carrier, Scoot, is following suit. USA Today reports that fliers can pay $15 to sit in the new “ScootinSilence” section in the front of the economy cabin, where seats have extra legroom and kids under age 12 will not be permitted. Another Asian carrier, AirAsia X, also recently added a kid-free “Quiet Zone.”

Although no U.S. airlines have instituted similar measures, kid-free zones seem to be a growing trend that could catch on around the globe if they continue to be popular in Asia. Our own Traveler’s Ed has spoken up in favor — check out 10 Reasons Every Plane Should Have a Family Zone. Meanwhile, contributing editor Erica Silverstein offers a parent’s perspective on how we can all just get along when both adults and children are in the same cabin: An Open Letter to People Who Hate Flying with Kids.

Do you think more airlines should add child-free zones? Speak out in the comments below!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

yes or no Here at IndependentTraveler.com, we see a lot of news items about things tourists have done when traveling. Most of the time, the stories are inspirational and uplifting. But sometimes, we just have to throw our hands up in the air and ask: What was that person thinking?!

For all those travelers who seem to have left their common sense at home, we’ve put together three important rules you should never break when traveling.

1. Don’t High-Five the Statues: Here’s the headline: “American Tourist Snaps Finger Off 600-Year-Old Statue in Florence Museum.” Now to be fair, the tourist involved here didn’t actually high-five the statue. He put his hand up against the statue’s to compare sizes. But we think the rule still applies. When encountering art that’s 10 times older than you, it’s probably better to stick to a hands-off approach. Incidentally, when IndependentTraveler.com Senior Editor Sarah Schlichter first shared this story with the office, a colleague asked, “Where were the parents?” Seems fair to assume that the tourist involved was a child, right? Nope. He’s 55.

4 Tourists We Don’t Want to Travel With

2. Don’t Make “I’m Going to Destroy” Jokes: By now most of us realize that cracking bomb jokes in public is not a good idea. But apparently not everyone has figured out that what you say in cyberspace is, indeed, public. So when a British tourist on the way to the United States tweeted “Free this week for quick gossip/prep before I go and destroy America?” he apparently thought only his friends were going to see it. He was wrong. He also mistakenly assumed anyone who did see it would know that “destroy” was British slang for party it up. Instead of the fun Hollywood vacation he’d planned, he and a friend were arrested at LAX and jailed for 12 hours before being sent back to England.

3. Don’t Mess With the Animals: Forget about the tourists who think it’s a good idea to jump into a zoo cage or charge an elephant, though we highly advise against those moves as well. No, what we’re talking about are people who think it’s a good idea to walk off with a zoo animal. Like these boneheads who, after drinking way too much, broke into a SeaWorld in Australia and woke up the next morning with one of the park’s penguins in their apartment. They were caught when they tried to release the bird into a local canal. Now that we think about it, there’s probably more than one lesson in this tale … like being careful how much you have to drink in the first place and staying away from closed tourist attractions.

Traveling in a Developing Country: 11 Dos and Don’ts

–written by Dori Saltzman

british airways club world seats Every 20 years or so, often unfortunately following the crash of a commercial aircraft such as Asiana Airlines Flight 214, the topic of reversing airplane seats to face the rear of the plane, uh, rears its head in the media. To wit, see Rear-facing aircraft seats ‘safer’ in the U.K.’s Telegraph. The newspaper explains that rear-facing seats “provide better support for the back, neck and head in the event of sudden deceleration.”

As one commenter on the article notes, this idea is not really news. Just ask parents in the U.S., where the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that infants face backward in car seats until at least age 2. The first serious research that resulted in recommendations for rear-facing seats was done in 1952.

The Telegraph makes a raft of good points about how airlines, many of which are focused on reducing costs almost to the point of obsession and even recklessness, are highly unlikely to take on the costs associated with reconfiguring their fleets with new seats, new television screens and windows in new positions, not to mention overhauling their seat assignment systems. Besides the initial sunk costs of trashing the old seats and purchasing and installing new ones, most available backward-facing seats are heavier than the ones currently in use, at a time when many airlines are trying to reduce aircraft weight to reduce fuel consumption.

The reason the seats weigh more is important; when passengers are facing backward, the seats have to absorb much more of the impact in the event of a crash, and so need stronger and heavier reinforcements where they are bolted to the floor.

How to Survive a Plane Crash

If a bit of extra fuel seems like a minor sacrifice to make for massively increased safety, it’s informative to keep in mind how aggressive some airlines have been about weight reductions — including that of their staffers. Seriously, if Ryanair has gone so far as to cut the size of its in-flight magazines and stock less ice to reduce aircraft weight — not to mention asking flight crews to watch their weight — are they likely to put heavier seats on their planes?

I wonder also about the passenger comfort issues rear-facing seats might present, especially for those of us who are prone to motion sickness. Ever sit on a backward-facing train seat? I have, and it takes about five minutes before your brain starts sending signals to turn around — now. My recommendation: Don’t do it on a full stomach or after a pub crawl.

That said, there are plenty of first-class cabins on larger planes that alternate forward and rear-facing seats to allow for more room to recline, and for more first-class seats to be put on planes. (British Airways’ Club World, pictured above, is one example.) Readers, have any of you sat in these? What was it like?

Asiana Airlines Crash: Where Are the Safest Seats on a Plane?

All told, given the various forces of resistance to the idea outlined above, and the fact that this idea has been floated since the early 1950’s without becoming more widespread, it is probably a fair assumption that we won’t be staring at the back of the plane on takeoff — at least not anytime soon.

– written by Ed Hewitt

spinning globeImagine this: you’ve planned a fun (or, depending on your circumstances, maybe not so fun) trip, and you’re at the airport, packed and ready to go. Then the vacation fairy comes along and offers to voluntarily throw a wrench in your itinerary. Would you take her up on it?

The idea comes from Heineken’s new ad campaign. It doesn’t involve a fairy, but, rather, four guys who are randomly plunked down in remote locations, and their adventures documented. As part of the promotion, reports AdWeek, Heineken’s marketing agency set up a game of “Departure Roulette” at New York’s JFK airport last week, asking travelers to forgo their scheduled plans on a whim by pushing a big red button to determine a new, more exotic destination (with hotels and spending money provided by Heineken).

I have to admit that I’m a planner, and one of my worst fears is being stuck someplace foreign without knowing precisely when I’ll arrive home (or, in this case, at my original destination). I don’t like disruptions to my itineraries, and, since not all destinations appeal to me, I’m not sure I’d take the risk (lest I end up like one fellow, whose planned trip to Vienna to visit his grandparents rerouted him to Cyprus instead).

Planning vs. Spontaneity: Which Do You Prefer?

Regardless of whether or not you like Heineken, it’s a crazy — but fun — idea. And it brings us to the question of the day: Would you switch (or have you already switched) your plans at the last minute in hopes of more exciting travel? What would be your ideal far-flung destination? Share your comments below.

– written by Ashley Kosciolek

thailand boatWe recently challenged our readers to write a trip review about their travels for a chance to win a $150 Amazon.com gift card. Reading the submissions that poured in — which described trips to places from Alaska to Amsterdam — gave us a severe case of wanderlust.

It was tough to pick the best review to win the prize, but in the end, we gave the nod to D. Rockett for a review called Thailand Epiphanies. Here’s a taste of the winning review:

“A recent trip to Thailand took me to the bustle of Bangkok, the serene majesty of Chiang Mai and the natural beauty of Phuket … all places that made me realize I didn’t really know who I was until I got there. No. I didn’t channel Julia Roberts in ‘Eat Pray Love.’ Real life can’t be weeded down to a 2-hour revelation of life’s big meanings. Instead, epiphanies occur in the margins of your story’s notebook — notes culled during a boat ride with friends that makes stops to let customers feed catfish and allows for bartering for tchotchkes from a vendor in a canoe; life’s big plan can be witnessed in the humble nature of a people via a refugee camp of women and children from Padong, Aka, and Yao tribes; and balance can be pondered when riding in a barely air-conditioned van on the shoulder of a road for miles on end butted next to a truck who will not budge an inch or cause an accident while he is riding in the proper lane.” Read the rest!

While we only had one prize to give, we want to give a little love to a few runners-up that also wrote excellent reviews. Have a sampling:

Road trip to the Grand Canyon North Rim by Katie Matthews: “During our four-day stay we saw sunsets and rain clouds, lightning and rainbows, and Jupiter and its rings (!!!) all from our little spot on the seemingly top of the world.”

My Week as a Marine Biologist by GingerD: “We would then all go down to the shore where we drew a line in the damp sand, had everyone gather behind the line, ‘wash’ their hands with dry sand to remove oils and give everyone a baby turtle to put down and watch as they made their slow journey down the sand and into the ocean.”

Embracing Amsterdam by Christian Dew: “If you like free beer, yes I said free beer, then you must visit the Heineken Experience and that is located at Stadhouderskade 78, 1072 AE, Amsterdam.”

Accessible Santa Fe by Helen Gallagher: “As we traveled around, my husband, with his transport chair, found doors were opening for him, a hand was ready to help over a bump in the road, space was made available in small cafes, and certainly our accessible hotel room was more than gracious.”

Feeling inspired? Write about your latest trip!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

seatbelt seat belt airplaneAs we learn more about how Asiana Airlines’ Flight 214’s crash landing at San Francisco Airport wasn’t as tragic as it could have been, the water cooler debate on network chat shows today is focusing on whether some airplane seats are safer than others.

Conventional wisdom has long theorized that the safest seats are in the back of the plane. And yet, as we report in How Flying Coach Could Save Your Life, studies (and airline experts) don’t necessarily agree. One study, carried out by the British Civil Aviation Authority in partnership with Greenwich University, concluded that passengers are safer in the front of the plane. But Popular Mechanics did an in-depth examination of flight crash occurrences and determined that the rear is a safer place to sit. The Discovery Channel came to a similar conclusion in Curiosity: Inside a Plane Crash, which put cameras inside a Boeing 727 as it crashed in the Sonoran Desert. (The video is worth a watch, though the scientists’ fascination and excitement as they watch the crash footage may strike some as a bit macabre in the wake of the Asiana incident.)

Clearly, there’s no one prevailing view on the safest place to sit on an aircraft, which is understandable when you realize that part of the reason studies are in conflict is that not all crashes — or airplane models — are the same. In the Asiana incident, for instance, the angle of impact severed the plane’s tail, and CNN noted that many injured passengers were seated in the rear.

Boeing’s own Web site simply says, “One seat is as safe as another, especially if you stay buckled up.”

Five Foods to Avoid Before Flying

The good news is that the aviation industry, as ABC World News Tonight reports, has made major and life-saving improvements to protect passengers during emergencies, including sturdier seats, improved flame retardancy on planes and enhanced rescue efforts. But for the moment, as the post-Asiana crash news continues to emerge — and we anxiously await updates on both the status of passengers who were injured and the cause of the crash — we can take some comfort in this, also from ABC News:

“Riding on a commercial airplane has got about the same amount of risk as riding on an escalator,” says MIT International Center for Air Transportation Director John Hansman, Jr.

Poll: Are You a Nervous Flier?

– written by Carolyn Spencer Brown

woman on planeAre the days of disconnectivity at 35,000 feet numbered? They just might be as airlines respond to passengers’ growing demand for Wi-Fi in the air. Already, 38 percent of domestic flights offer the service.

Another nine percent of flights are in the midst of rolling out Wi-Fi, with most rollouts expected to be completed within 18 to 24 months, a Routehappy report revealed. Routehappy.com is a flight search Web site that incorporates information about types of seats available, onboard amenities and flier ratings into its search results.

But how do you guarantee that you’ll pick one of the 38 percent of flights with Wi-Fi when you travel? For starters, choose a Virgin America or AirTran flight if you can. The entire fleets of both airlines are fully Wi-Fi-enabled.

Airport Internet Tips

If neither of those lines is an option, look for a Delta or Southwest flight. Delta offers 3,443 domestic Wi-Fi-enabled flights (about 63 percent of the fleet) daily. The majority of Delta’s non-Wi-Fi-enabled flights are on regional jets used on flights under an hour.

Southwest offers 2,320 (about 74 percent of the fleet) Wi-Fi-enabled flights with another 800 rolling it out.

US Airways is another line to check out; it offers Wi-Fi on 1,293 domestic flights a day (a little over 40 percent of its fleet).

Lagging further behind are: American with 541 Wi-Fi-enabled flights a day and 908 rolling out; Alaska with 393 flights a day; and United Airlines, which is in the midst of rolling out Wi-Fi on 494 daily flights.

Tips for Better Wi-Fi on the Road

Where you’re flying from can also be a determining factor in whether your flight has Wi-Fi. Because Delta’s main hub is in Atlanta, you’re almost guaranteed Wi-Fi if you fly a Delta plane out of ATL.

And, certain routes, like Los Angeles-to-San Francisco, Los Angeles-to-New York and Atlanta-to-Orlando, are highly connected, with 31, 27 and 26 Wi-Fi-enabled flights offered on each route, respectively.

Another thing to look for when seeking out a Wi-Fi-enabled flight is what type of plane you’ll be flying on. Boeing 737s offer the most Wi-Fi, with 3,546 flights operating daily and another 800 in the midst of rolling it out.

How to Escape While Staying Connected

– written by Dori Saltzman

room serviceTwo recent announcements from the hotel and airline industries may signal new travel trends — neither of which is particularly a good sign for consumers.

In a move reminiscent of when airlines began cutting services, a handful of hotel companies have said they will be reducing or dropping room service. According to Fox News, the New York Hilton Midtown revealed it will be getting rid of room service, replacing it with a cafeteria-style eatery. The hotel blamed a decline in demand, but will undoubtedly be saving money with the move. Another New York City hotel following suit is the Grand Hyatt 42nd Street, which reduced room service hours. Outside of New York, the Hilton Hawaiian Village eliminated room service as well.

While I’m not a frequent room service customer, I do appreciate the option … especially if I have arrived at my destination late, feel grungy and am too tired to trudge out to the hotel’s restaurant.

Hidden Hotel Fees

And it’s not like it’s a free service the hotels are eliminating. Room service is notorious for being expensive, so if customers are willing to pay, I don’t really understand why hotels can’t always have it as an option.

Fortunately, not all hotels are jumping onto the bandwagon. A Marriott International, Inc., spokeswoman told Reuters the company has no plans to eliminate room service.

Going in the other direction (at least on the face of it), United Airlines is trying to make it easier for passengers to take advantage of all the “extra” services the line offers, like additional legroom and checked bags. The airline has launched two subscription services that enable fliers to pay one fee to get access to some of the services it normally charges extra for. For instance, from $349 a year you can get “free” checked bags on every flight you take. Or, from $499 a year, you can guarantee yourself an Economy Plus seat. For either subscription, you must select the region you’ll be flying in; the more destinations you want to include, the higher the price.

The subscription service is supposed to save passengers money in the long run. But you have to fly at least 14 times (or seven round trips) in order to start saving on checked bags, assuming you’re only checking one bag in North America.

Seven Smart Ways to Bypass Baggage Fees

The exact number of flights you need to start saving on Economy Plus seats is much more vague, as the pricing of those seats varies by travel distance and when you purchase them.

So unless you’re a very frequent flier within the United States and Canada who wants to check just one bag, you’re probably not going to save a dime by taking out a subscription. Instead, United will just make more money off of you.

It seems to me that’s exactly what both of these companies are trying to do: make more money and reduce expenses by eliminating traditional customer services or continually charging more for them.

And that’s an overall trend I’m not a fan of.

– written by Dori Saltzman