Before we jump head first into 2014, we’re taking one last look back at the year that was. Of all the travel tips and trends we covered in 2013, there were a few that got our readers ranting, raving or simply laughing. Read on as we count down our 10 most popular blog posts of the past year.
10. Air New Zealand did it again. The airline known for its creative and hilarious in-flight safety videos came out with another winner in November, this time featuring the inimitable Betty White.
9. We reviewed and gave away dozens of travel products in 2013, but the biggest hit was the ultra-innovative Suitcase That Beats Bed Bugs.
8. When an Asiana Airlines plane crashed at San Francisco Airport in July, it spurred us to wonder: Where Are the Safest Seats on a Plane?
7. It isn’t often that we can bring readers good news from the travel industry, so when T-Mobile Eliminated Roaming Fees for Cell Phone Users Abroad, we and our fellow travelers rejoiced.
6. Few things get travelers more riled up than the topic of kids on planes. This year saw several Asian airlines introduce child-free zones on some of their flights — and while many of our readers were supportive of keeping kids as far away as possible, one parent took a different tack in her controversial Open Letter to People Who Hate Flying with Kids.
5. Turns out that even a so-called “travel expert” makes the occasional packing blunder. See what happens When a Travel Writer Ignores Her Own Advice.
4. A guest contributor from a currency exchange service shared his best practical tips in Buying Foreign Currency: Get More Bang for Your Buck.
3. Our post on 5 Signs You’re Not a True Traveler stirred up some strong emotions in the comments section. Reader Christy said our list was “spot on,” while Clare accused us of “imposing [a] very restrictive idea of what an experience must be.” What’s your take?
2. On a long, boring flight, leafing through the SkyMall catalog is always entertaining. Readers got a good laugh from our list of 9 Useless Items You Can Buy at 35,000 Feet, ranging from a mounted squirrel head to a porch potty for dogs.
1. Catching Zs while crammed into a tiny airplane seat is always a struggle. Could the perfect travel pillow help the cause? We reviewed four of them in Travel Pillow Challenge: The Quest for Good Airplane Sleep.
The Weirdest Travel News of 2013
– written by Sarah Schlichter
“Lord of the Rings” director Peter Jackson, exercise guru Richard Simmons and Bear Grylls of “Man vs. Wild” are just a few of the celebs who’ve made appearances in Air New Zealand’s always entertaining in-flight safety videos — and now it’s Betty White’s turn. Along with Gavin MacLeod of “Love Boat” fame, the nonagenarian actress has taken to the seatback screen with a humorous take on “Safety Old School Style.”
Set in a retirement community, the video plays up the senior citizen jokes — so if you’re sensitive to cracks about hearing aids and oxygen tanks, you might want to give it a miss. But the mostly elderly cast is clearly having such fun that it’s hard to take offense. Give it a watch:
Note: The part about turning off electronic devices for take-off and landing may soon be outdated, following the Federal Aviation Administration’s recent announcement permitting the use of such devices at altitudes under 10,000 feet for all approved aircraft.
For more laughs, check out Air New Zealand’s past safety videos below.
- Bear “Man vs. Wild” Grylls Takes On In-Flight Safety
- Airline Safety Briefing: Middle Earth-Style
- President Obama Makes Cameo in Air New Zealand Safety Video
- Richard Simmons Sweats to a New Flight Safety Video
– written by Sarah Schlichter
The days of having to stow your Kindle, cell phone or iPod at the very beginning and end of a flight will soon be coming to an end. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced today that “airlines can safely expand passenger use of Portable Electronic Devices (PEDs) during all phases of flight.”
The decision comes after the FAA consulted with a panel of pilots, aviation manufacturers, airline representatives and other experts, who determined that devices being used in airplane mode should not interfere with the safe operation of most commercial aircraft.
This doesn’t mean you can whip out your laptop during takeoff on a flight this weekend. The new policy will be implemented on an airline-by-airline basis, with each carrier having to assess its own fleet and present evidence to the FAA that its planes won’t be affected by radio interference from PEDs. The FAA expects that many airlines will be approved for PED use by the end of the year.
Taking Photos on Planes: On the No-Fly List?
A few things to note:
- You still won’t be able to use your cell phone for voice calls, and other devices must be kept in airplane mode.
- You may only use Wi-Fi on your device if the plane has installed a Wi-Fi system and the airline allows it to be used.
- Heavier devices should still be stowed during takeoff and landing.
- Finally, says the FAA, “In some instances of low visibility — about one percent of flights — some landing systems may not be proved PED tolerant, so you may be asked to turn off your device.”
How to Fix the TSA
Personally, we think it’s about time — what’s your take?
– written by Sarah Schlichter
If price is no longer the differentiator between legacy airlines like Delta, United and American Airlines and so-called discount carriers like JetBlue and Southwest, what is?
I say it’s the way they treat their customers.
The legacy carriers, who used to be all about providing the best customer experience, now seem to look at their passengers simply as cash cows. On the other hand, the “discount” lines, excepting small carriers like Spirit and Allegiant, are dedicated to the idea that a good customer experience with amenities included in the airfare is the path to success.
Case in point: a recent Forbes article argues that overhead bin space will be the next formerly-included amenity to be unbundled from the airfare.
Already the most deeply discounted carriers, Spirit and Allegiant, have gone that route charging for carry-on bags.
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And while it seems inconceivable that the major carriers would follow suit, some experts argue overhead been space has already being monetized via the sale of priority boarding passes, which passengers on legacy airlines buy almost exclusively in order to gain access to overhead bins first.
A New York Times article, cited by Forbes, quotes Jay Sorenson, president of airline consulting firm IdeaWorksCompany, who said revenue for early boarding is increasing; he predicts airlines will implement more such fees.
On the other end of the spectrum, JetBlue is making flying easier — and possibly less expensive — for its customers with a new frequent flier program called Family Pooling.
The program enables families of up to two adults and five children to combine their TrueBlue frequent flier points together to make it easier to earn enough points for a free flight. Even better, the two adults don’t actually need to be related; two friends can pool their miles, then split the cost of a second ticket. And the airline is doing this without having to charge extra for bags, either checked (first checked only) or carry-on!
How ironic that the airlines that used to have to separate themselves from the pack through low fares now only have to go back to the good old days of treating passengers like valued customers rather than piggy banks on two feet.
Seven Smart Ways to Bypass Baggage Fees
– written by Dori Saltzman
Over the years, we’ve catalogued an array of creative ways to remember a trip — like collecting magnets, using old passports as Christmas tree ornaments and recreating foreign cuisine at home. But now comes one we’d never heard of, via Skift.com: one man’s collection of silverware stolen from the airlines.
Traveler Frank Schaal gathered more than 80 spoons and forks from in-flight meals, starting in 1965. As his son Dennis Schaal writes for Skift.com, “My Dad asked a steward whether he could buy one of the spoons brought out for an onboard meal, and the steward said he would look away so my father could take one.
“My father never asked again — and the rest is history.”
What’s cool about this collection is that it would be very difficult to recreate nowadays — when’s the last time you used anything but plastic utensils in economy class? And many of the airlines from which Schaal “borrowed” silverware are now out of business, such as TWA, British Overseas Airways Corp. (BOAC) and Northwest.
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It makes me wonder what an equivalent collection might look like if you started it today. There’s not much left to steal from the airlines these days — the occasional pillow or blanket on an international flight, perhaps? — but you could make a similar collection of hotel items: pens, notepads, soaps, maybe even bathrobes.
What do you collect when you travel?
– written by Sarah Schlichter
For 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
When 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
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
As 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
Are 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.
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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