… check your pulse. VisitScotland has just released a new video featuring two adorable Shetland ponies named Fivla and Vitamin, standing on a barren winter hillside in cozy-looking wool cardigans. The video was shot to promote the Year of Natural Scotland, a celebration of the region’s glens, lochs, mountains, wildlife and other natural attractions. Check it out:
After watching this, the first thing I wondered was just how they got the ponies into those stylish sweaters! Luckily, VisitScotland has provided a video of that too.
Now I want to do two things: Book a trip to Scotland — and figure out how to get a Shetland pony as a pet.
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.”
In a world where being a green hotel often translates into simply asking guests to reuse towels, a new initiative by several hotel brands to eliminate bottled water has gotten our attention.
According to SustainableBusiness.com, a group of hotels and resorts including Virgin, Ritz-Carlton and Banyan Tree plan to reduce their use of plastic water bottles by filtering, bottling (in reusable glass bottles) and selling their own water.
One of the cool things about the project is not only that it will reduce the number of plastic bottles used by the hospitality companies, but also that a portion of the proceeds from the water sales will go to the nonprofit Whole World Water, whose main purpose is to bring clean drinking water to populations that don’t have it.
Virgin expects to eliminate more than 200,000 plastic bottles a year from its Necker Island Resort, Virgin founder Richard Branson wrote on his blog.
“With Whole World Water, we plan to stop use of almost all plastic bottles on Necker,” he wrote. “We’re aiming to reduce the amount of plastic at our other Virgin Limited Edition properties and our new Virgin Hotels.”
The initiative is modeled on a system used by Soneva Resorts at its Maldives and Thailand properties since 2008. The resort’s founder, Sonu Shivdasani, also is a founding member of Whole World Water. The program has improved clean water access for more than 600,000 people, Shivdasani claims.
What we find particularly impressive is that so many competing companies are working together. For instance, Soneva Resorts is actually providing the seed money to get the project going. But it’s not a free ride for any of the companies; each has to pay $1,000 annually per participating property, plus install a water filtration and bottling system at each property.
Participating brands so far include Virgin Limited Edition, Virgin Hotels, Banyan Tree, Auberge du Soleil, Tao Restaurant Group, The Ritz-Carlton Charlotte, The Ritz-Carlton Lake Tahoe, Oberoi Hotels and Resorts, JetWing Hotels, Dusit Hotels and Resorts, and The Ranch at Live Oak Malibu.
The initiative officially kicks off on March 22, World Water Day.
Ever wanted someone to make your restaurant reservations for you when you’re traveling? Or grab tix to the latest theatrical extravaganza on your behalf? Or let you know what the weather will be like tomorrow and the next day? All these tasks and more are what hotel concierges have been doing for their high-end clientele for years. Hand over an extra 20 and the concierge would get you into the hottest ticket in town.
But no longer is that 20 bucks a necessity. Travelocity is getting in on the action, offering concierge service to any customer who books a packaged vacation through the site — for free!
Some of the concierge services offered to customers (only those who purchased from Travelocity after January 1) include restaurant referrals and reservations; theater, music or sporting event tickets; golf course tee time reservations; driving directions; salon and spa booking assistance; ATM and bank locations; weather forecasts; lost passport/travel document assistance; translation services; and legal referral and assistance.
The concierge will even keep customers who request it ahead of time up-to-date with sports scores.
In order to take advantage of the concierge, customers need only phone a special number given to them with their e-mailed travel documents. The service is available immediately after booking, during the trip and up to two days after returning home.
The service, which launched January 1, 2013, is actually operated by Travel Guard, an insurance company that also offers a Concierge Desk. While the use of the concierge to obtain an item or service is free, the cost of the tickets to a Broadway show, as an example, are still the responsibility of the Travelocity customer.
According to Simon Bramly, vice president and general manager of transportation, vacation packages and cruises for Travelocity, the concierge service is intended to enhance the “value” of the site’s vacation packages beyond simply a low price.
But nothing in the corporate world is done without a real bottom-line benefit and one can only guess at the true reason Travelocity has launched this service — a service that must be costing the company money as it doesn’t actually provide it. Online travel booking sites have some of the highest turnover rates in the industry, as most of their customers are simply looking for the lowest price and will hop from site to site to find it. I think it’s a safe bet to say Travelocity is hoping that by adding this service, its vacation package customers will come back to the site not just for the low price but because they’re also getting the free concierge help.
Will the free concierge service influence whether you decide to purchase a vacation from Travelocity or not?
TripAdvisor announced the winners of its Travelers’ Choice awards for the best U.S. hotels today. Ten hotels in six categories received “top” honors, including top overall, top hotels for service, top small hotels and top bargains. As I was reading through the list, I was struck by two things. First, I haven’t been to a single one of the 60 hotels mentioned (maybe I need to get out more often) and second, when I tried to think of places I would add to the list, I could only think of two properties, neither of which I’d really describe as a hotel.
Now, I’ve been to plenty of hotels (small and large), and I’ve enjoyed myself at quite a few of them, but none that I would actually call a “hotel” stands out enough in my memory that I would consider putting them on any list of top hotels.
In my mind hotels are fairly institutional. They might be gorgeously landscaped or situated in the perfect place, but they’re all similarly laid out and have a similar feel.
Sure, bits and pieces stand out. The Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort & Spa in California had the best-smelling skin lotion I’ve ever come across. And the Virginia Hotel in Cape May, New Jersey, had just the most comfortable porch for sipping drinks on a warm evening. But beyond that … eh, they were hotels.
The Soniat House in New Orleans is probably the nearest thing to a “hotel” that I’d put on a top list. Of course, the small 30-room guesthouse is more like a B&B or inn than a traditional hotel. Comprising three converted townhouses with flower-draped balconies, Soniat House exudes an unparalleled yesteryear atmosphere.
But my favorite U.S. place to stay is as un-hotel-like as a property can get. Called Wellspring, it’s a small, off-the-beaten-path collection of about 17 cottages, cabins and permanent tents located just outside Mount Rainier National Park in Washington. With names like the Three Bears’ Cottage, the Treehouse and Timbuktu, each cottage, cabin and tent is completely different. But all are cozy, calming and completely unforgettable.
‘Tis the season for travel shows! If you’re interested in getting first-hand recommendations from destination experts, checking out cultural performances and cooking demonstrations, listening to talks by travel celebs like Rick Steves or Pauline Frommer, or even winning a free trip, you might want to consider attending one of these upcoming travel trade shows around the U.S. and Canada.
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.”
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?
We recently challenged our readers to write a trip review about the best journey they’d taken over the previous year. We received dozens of submissions detailing our readers’ travels to places like Curacao and Cambodia, Mexico and the Mediterranean, France and the Philippines.
It was tough to pick the best review to win the grand prize, a $250 Best Western Travel Card. But in the end, we gave the nod to Heather Ranes for her review of her trip to the Emerald Isle, Ireland – The 40 Shades of Green. Here’s a snippet of her winning review:
“Killarney is the poster-child for what we, as Americans, want to see when we travel to Ireland. The city is surrounded by lush meadows and forests, its adorable Main Street is bursting with pubs and eateries, and there are lots of stone ruins to explore. Taking the advice of friends, we rented bikes (about $20 USD per person) for the day and spent most of the morning and early afternoon biking around Ross Castle and one of the lakes nearby (the bike rental shops have plenty of advice and maps available). This decision was one I consider to be a once in a lifetime experience … being on bicycles, we were able to pass the pedestrian traffic (Ross Castle is a walkable distance from downtown Killarney) and spend several hours in virtual isolation surrounded by the mystical forests of Killarney National Park. If I were a fairy, I’d want to live here.” Read the rest!
We also chose five runners-up at random to win IndependentTraveler.com duffel bags. Click on the title to read more of each review.
Aloha from Morro Bay by Tim Owens: “We paddled near some sea lions gathered in the middle of the bay, and later came close to a couple of flocks of beautiful white pelicans.”
Those of us who fly frequently don’t usually get too surprised anymore by stories of airlines treating passengers like cattle. Yet the experience of a disabled U.S. Marine aboard a Delta Air Lines flight earlier this week shows that the airlines are capable of sinking to shocking new lows.
The Washington Post reports that Marine Lance Corporal Christian Brown, a double amputee wounded a year ago in Afghanistan, was “‘humiliated’ to the point of tears on a Delta flight from Atlanta to Washington after being clumsily wheeled to the back row of the plane, according to a complaint sent to the airline by an outraged fellow passenger.”
The passenger, retired Army Colonel Nickey Knighton, said that Brown was offered a seat in first class by another traveler, but flight attendants would not allow the switch because the doors had been closed for take-off and no one was supposed to move around the cabin. Instead, Knighton wrote, Brown was “paraded through the aircraft,” leaving him “visibly upset.” The Post reports that Brown was ill with a fever at the time and was traveling to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for treatment.
It’s unclear why Brown was brought onboard so late in the boarding process; Delta’s own Traveling with Disabilities brochure says that “Preboarding is offered on any Delta flight if you meet all check-in requirements and notify the gate agent.”
Delta’s corporate communications office responded to the incident with this statement, quoted in the Post: “The story in no way reflects either Delta’s standard operating procedure or the very high regard we hold for our nation’s service members. We are sorry for the difficulties that transpired and are investigating this event to determine the appropriate next steps.”
On Brown’s Facebook page was a comment from another Delta employee that seemed a bit more heartfelt:
“So sorry for your treatment on Delta,” wrote Facebook user Demian David Brooks. “As a pilot for Delta, I just wanted to tell you that we are with you, and when I fly, there are no more important passengers than our military. I personally do everything in my power to ensure all military personnel have a great experience on Delta. I have proudly transported many Wounded Warriors and make it a point to introduce myself and say thank you for your service. I have transported fallen heroes and always stand on the tarmac at full salute to pay respects. A few weeks ago in the terminal, I was fortunate enough to see 3 military personnel in uniform, and secretly paid for their lunch as I slipped away. Again, from one line pilot, sorry. And thank you for your service.”