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baggage claim airportAirlines often have us jumping through hoops — okay, metal detectors — before boarding their planes. You’ve seen fellow fliers looking panicked (read: me) as they hastily unpack luggage contents into other bags to redistribute weight, or shove carry-on bags into the rigid metal sizers and pray the wheels and handle jutting out won’t raise any eyebrows. However, a few air carriers seem to have another stipulation in mind before letting you on their next flight: stepping on the scale yourself.

An article in USA Today reports that Uzbekistan Airways has unfolded a plan to weigh passengers along with their bags as a safety measure. While the airline promises this information will not be made public, it has not specified whether this individual weight designation will determine whether you get on the plane or not. In 2012 Samoa Air, another small airline, took the precaution one step further and began charging passengers by weight. Surprisingly, the regulation has held up three years later with the airline’s site even boasting the slogan, “A kilo is a kilo is a kilo!”

Could such a policy be enacted here in the U.S.? Doubtful, according to a New York Times article from 2013: “While no major airline would consider the folly of actually weighing passengers, passenger weight is factored into overall calculations for any flight on any airplane, partly based in the United States on Federal Aviation Administration average weight estimates that have been revised upward in recent years as waistlines have grown.”

Do You Know Your Passenger Rights?

While it’s true that planes adhere to strict weight regulations, the majority of major carriers seem to get around this issue without getting personal (well, any more personal than a body scan, a possible pat-down and a look at all of your identification). On Southwest, passengers who cannot fit comfortably into one seat (and by comfortably, the airline means travelers who don’t fit at all) must purchase a second seat. The same holds true for American Airlines, Alaska Airlines and United.

If there was a promise that your trip would not be changed regardless of the outcome, would you feel comfortable stepping on a scale before your next flight? Where do you draw the line for safety in the sky?

— written by Brittany Chrusciel

baggage claim airportLast month, the Los Angeles Times came out with a surprising report: According to academic studies, airline baggage fees have actually improved flier satisfaction.

Per the article, these oft-complained-about fees have “led to fewer lost-bag reports, fewer delayed flights and a drop in bag-related passenger complaints.”

While it’s not the news most of us want to hear — we’ll never get rid of these fees now! — it makes logical sense in some ways. The surcharges make passengers less likely to check bags, which means there are fewer bags for the airline to lose. Flight delays are also less likely since there aren’t as many suitcases for baggage handlers to load onto the plane.

But when we shared the L.A. Times report with our followers on Facebook, they didn’t seem too inclined to agree with the researchers’ conclusion that baggage fees have actually made fliers’ lives better.

“People try to drag much more in carry-on bags onto a plane, which causes issues when there is not enough room,” wrote Tom Vertrees. “Makes disembarkation much longer and more stress on travelers.”

Staxy Morrison concurred: “It adds to more people having to check baggage at the gate and more confusion when boarding!”

7 Smart Ways to Bypass Baggage Fees

Colleen R Costello pointed out that the airlines have an ulterior motive in the way they charge baggage fees: “From what I read it’s only been a way for them to divert income from one category to another! Seems baggage fees aren’t taxed or treated the same way as fare revenue is! Sneaky.” (Colleen is right: Airlines must pay a 7.5 excise tax on the base airfares that they charge, but this tax is not applicable to ancillary charges such as baggage fees.)

But our favorite response might just be the one from Mickey Morgan: “What bag fees? I fly Southwest.”

Quiz: How Well Do You Know the Airlines?

What’s your take? Do you think that baggage fees have been a net positive for fliers overall?

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Every week in our “Spotlight on …” feature, we’ll highlight a different country around the world.

sintra pena palace

Population: 10.8 million

Currency: Euro

Phrase to Know: Como esta? (How are you?)

Fun Fact: Lisbon is home to the world’s oldest bookstore, Bertrand Livreiros (established in 1732).

We Recommend: Take a graffiti tour in Lisbon to see colorful works of street art around the city.

10 Best Portugal Experiences

Have you been to Portugal? What was your favorite spot?

— written by Sarah Schlichter

This week’s travel puzzle is part of our ongoing Flag Friday series of challenges. Can you identify which nation the following flag belongs to?

Enter your guess in the comments below. You have until Monday, August 10, at 11:59 p.m. ET to post your response. We’ll keep all comments private until then. On Tuesday morning we’ll choose one winner at random to receive an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Note: Although all are welcome to play, we can only ship prizes to the Continental U.S.

Editor’s Note: This contest has ended. The winner is Marcella G, who correctly guessed that this week’s flag was from the Seychelles. Marcella has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations!

— written by Sarah Schlichter

man on plane giving a thumbs upThere’s plenty wrong with the airline industry. From increased fees and decreased legroom to security procedures that leave a lot to be desired, air travel gets slammed on the regular. We figured maybe it was about time for some positive news. Below, we recap three awesome air-related things from the last couple weeks that actually made us feel good. Recline your seatbacks, and read on.

Frontier Offers Fee Discount for Bundled Services
Frontier Airlines — a low-cost carrier notorious for tacking added fees onto everything from carry-on bags to beverages — is now offering what it calls “The Works,” a bundle that includes one checked bag, one carry-on bag, better seating and no penalty fee on ticket changes. On sample flights, the price for the bundle (which is in addition to the base fare paid by each flyer) would be less than half of what it would cost a passenger to purchase each of those offerings a la carte.

Nine Ways to Make Travel Less Stressful

Private Jet Option Offered to Frequent Flyers
Delta is rewarding some of its most loyal customers by doing something unheard of — removing them from traditional Delta flights. Instead of flying with the masses, passengers who have reached Delta’s elite “medallion” status (those who accumulate at least 25,000 miles or 30 segments annually and who spend a minimum of $3,000) will instead be entitled to fly on private jets at a cost of $300 to $800 per flight (in addition to the cost of the original airfare booked). For the time being, the perk is mainly being tested in the East Coast market — on domestic flights only — using Delta’s private fleet of 66 aircrafts.

16 Ways to Get Through the Airport Faster

Lost Luggage? Have a Beer
Travelers waiting for their luggage at a baggage carousel at London City Airport were pleasantly surprised when, instead of suitcases, the conveyor produced cases of beer, emblazoned with the words “Take me, I’m yours.” U.K.-based brewer Carlsberg pulled the stunt as part of its “If Carlsberg did ___” campaign, leaving passengers grinning.

Is there anything about flying that makes you smile? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

— written by Ashley Kosciolek

calendar, notepad, model airplane, camera, hand writing, various travel planning paraphernaliaThere’s good news and bad news when it comes to buying airfare. The good news: It is possible to time your flight for the lowest possible price. The bad news: That time will almost never be summer. According to a recent analysis of airfare data by Hopper, a flight search app, seasonal travel price drops can be predicted and taken advantage of — just start planning trips for fall, winter and spring.

Using the drop-down of the 15 most popular U.S. origin airports on Quartz, the cheapest time to fly to major worldwide destinations can be determined by seasonality, but also based on your domestic airport. We all know Europe is generally cheapest to travel to during winter, but for Dallas, a flight to London is actually cheaper in the fall.

Top Tips for Finding Cheap Airfare

Don’t believe prices can fluctuate that much outside of holidays and peak times? If you’re looking to head to Istanbul, you might want to reconsider that notion. Of all the major flight paths analyzed, three of the five with the largest seasonal price difference are en route to Istanbul — starting at a 50 percent price difference originating in Washington D.C. and totaling as much as 57 percent more on flights from Chicago in the summer. Flights from Los Angeles to Barcelona and London are 52 and 53 percent more, respectively, in the summer season.

If you’re set on one of the elusive flight paths that are actually cheaper in summer, Dallas is your best bet followed by the capital of Taiwan: Boston to Dallas, Houston (Bush) to Dallas (and reverse), Houston to Taipei, New York (La Guardia) to Taipei and D.C. (Reagan) to Toronto all run low in the summertime. (Think of the heat.)

Maybe this is a concept we always knew about air travel, but finding my familiar home airport, and watching the lists of destinations appear in conjunction with the cheapest season, is reassuring. With everyone already bemoaning “the end of the summer season,” it gives me three more seasons (and potential trips) to look forward to.

— written by Brittany Chrusciel

business man taking a photo of a cityscapeThere’s little more frustrating to a diehard traveler than being sent on a packed business trip that leaves little to no time for actual travel. Especially in iconic tourist destinations, it’s difficult to watch as others excitedly get ready for their fun day of sightseeing as you double check your laptop bag to ensure you’ve got everything you’ll need.

But clever travelers don’t let a busy schedule of meetings get in the way of fitting some tourism into their business trips.

Here are five tips for getting your travel on. Give one (or more) a try the next time your company sends you away on business.

Add On Time
The easiest way to fit travel into a business trip is to tack on a day or two before or after your trip. (Especially if that includes a weekend!) Even if you can only fly in the day before, arrange your flight for early in the morning, drop your bags off at the hotel and head out ASAP. You might be surprised how much you can fit into three-quarters of a day if you’re motivated enough.

10 Hardcore Tips for Frequent Travelers

Plan Ahead
The best way to make the most of what little time you have is to know exactly what you want to do and where those attractions are located in relation to where you’ll be. By having already mapped out a plan of action before you arrive, you won’t waste valuable downtime trying to figure out what to do when you find yourself with free time.

A great way to get the feel of a place you’re visiting is to hit the streets, either by walking or, if you’re a runner, on a jog. Jogging might only be doable in the morning or late evening, but if you’ve got lunch free why not go for a quick walk? Look for a nearby park, hit the downtown area or choose some streets at random. (Use common sense though; if it doesn’t look safe, don’t go.)

Skip the Hotel Restaurant
No matter where you travel for work, you should try to get in at least one meal at a local restaurant. If you’ve got business colleagues in the area ask them for a recommendation, get them to take you out for a quick bite or, best of all, wrangle an invite to their home for dinner.

Living Like a Local

Skip the Conference/Airport Hotel Altogether
If you can, skip the generic conference/airport hotel altogether and opt for an extended stay hotel (if you’re staying long enough), an Airbnb location or, if you’ve got friends in the area, someone’s guest bedroom. All of these will give you the chance to see a part of the city you might not have gotten to see, force you out to buy your own groceries from a local shop and maybe even mingle with the residents.

How have you found ways to fit travel into your business trips? Share your advice in the comments below.

— written by Dori Saltzman

Every week in our “Spotlight on …” feature, we’ll highlight a different country around the world.

horseshoe bay bermuda

Population: 70,000

Currency: Bermudian dollar

Phrase to Know: Chingas! (Wow!)

Fun Fact: Visitors aren’t allowed to rent a car in Bermuda (both to prevent congestion and to keep everyone safe on the island’s narrow roads). Instead, you can rent a scooter or moped, take a taxi, or hop on a public bus.

We Recommend: Go underground into one of Bermuda’s many caves — including Crystal Cave, Fantasy Cave and Admiral’s Cave.

10 Best Bermuda Experiences

Have you been to Bermuda? What was your favorite spot?

— written by Sarah Schlichter

This week’s brainteaser is a Friday Word Puzzle. We’ll give you a category and the first letters of five countries that fall into that category, and you fill in the rest. Keep in mind that there may be more than one possible response for each letter. For examples, check out this blog post.

Ready to give it a try? Here’s this week’s challenge:

index card puzzle

Enter your list of countries in the comments below. You have until Monday, August 4, at 11:59 p.m. ET to post your response. We’ll keep all comments private until then. On Tuesday morning we’ll choose one winner at random to receive an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Note: Although all are welcome to play, we can only ship prizes to the Continental U.S.

Editor’s Note: This contest has ended. The winner is Laura M., who has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations! Check out the winning entry in the comments below.

Stay tuned for further chances to win!

— created by Dori Saltzman

As a couple of street cats look on, we ascend a narrow staircase until we reach a ledge overlooking the whole of Istanbul’s Golden Horn. There, at the somewhat precarious top, our guide has placed pillows for our small group to sit; we’ll be picnicking in the open air, with the spectacular Yeni Cami (New Mosque) behind us and the rooftops of the Grand Bazaar in front.

“Welcome to the best view in Istanbul,” said Benoit Hanquet, his longish gray hair blowing in the breeze. Our group of eight murmured appreciatively as Hanquet passed around slices of pide, a pizza-like flatbread created right before us a few minutes earlier.

istanbul view

If you’re tired of tours that bring you to the same old places, it’s time you gave culinary tourism a try. Food tours are about more than stuffing your face with local specialties. Rather, the good ones give you an insight into a city’s culture, allowing you to see how local people eat, drink and spend their free time.

Food tours have taught me more than a typical city stroll. For example, on a walking tour with Frying Pan Adventures in Dubai, I learned how diverse the emirate really is by eating Palestinian falafel, Egyptian pastries and Syrian ice cream as we walked through the Deira district. Many of these foods are cherished by foreign workers, who aren’t allowed citizenship, we were told — which made what we were eating seem far more compelling.

12 International Foods to Try Before You Die

In Istanbul, I took on the Grand Bazaar with Culinary Backstreets, a food tour company that has now expanded to 16 cities. Founded in Turkey, the company originated as Istanbul Eats, a food guide that first came out in book form, Benoit told us. The authors received so many requests from tourists to help them find the small mom-and-pop stalls and stands in the book that they decided to start offering tours.

doner kebab istanbul food

In Istanbul alone, Culinary Backstreets runs six tours a day. Topics range from a cooking class held in Kurtulus, a neighborhood well off the beaten path, to an authentic meyhane, or night out on the town, complete with raki (Turkish liquor) and live music. While the company keeps the skeleton of the tours the same, the guides do some of their own improvising; Benoit tells us that our picturesque ledge is one that only he visits.

Taking a food tour can require some fortitude, both on your feet and in your stomach. Both my tours in Dubai and Istanbul stretched out over six hours; in Istanbul, we left Benoit after being together 7.5 hours (the Belgian expat was still going strong; he informed us that our “early” departure would keep us from coffee at a restaurant with another great view). Come hungry and pace yourself!

Food tours are not for the squeamish. Although Benoit told us that customers with food allergies or preferences are given options, many of the world’s cities aren’t well suited to picky eaters, particularly when you’re visiting places that specialize in just one thing. In Istanbul, we were coaxed into having kokoretsi, lamb sweetbreads that have been roasted for hours. Served on a toasted piece of French bread, the pieces of offal were melt-in-your-mouth delicious — and even those people on our tour who questioned the stop ended up liking them.

istanbul breakfast

Culinary tours also tend to be bonding experiences. Our Istanbul tour included three lively Australians, three Americans (my husband and I included) and a couple from Pakistan. We listened, enthralled over our bulgur and lentil soup, as Shireen from Islamabad shared the hardships of being an art critic in Islamabad. I still follow the Frying Pan Instagram feed, posted by Farida, a University of Pennsylvania grad who returned to the U.A.E. to start her business. Turns out breaking bread together is an intimate act around the world.

Learn More About Food and Travel

At the end of our Istanbul tour, we exchanged email addresses with our new friends and headed back to our hotel. We were tired and full, but also upbeat; suddenly the streets seemed friendlier and more familiar, now that we had drunk the same sweet tea as the Turks. At the hotel I called up the website for Culinary Backstreets and immediately booked another food tour for next week, when I’m in Athens. I’ve visited there before, but I know that by exploring the city through its bakeries and markets, I’ll come away satiated.

— written by Chris Gray Faust