Catch up on our favorite travel articles and videos of the week.
How GPS Is Messing with Our Minds
It’s hard to imagine navigating the world without a GPS these days, but this article from Time notes that relying so heavily on such devices harms our ability to make our own “cognitive map” — i.e., to get a clear sense of where we are in the context of our surroundings. This sometimes has tragic results (such as people following their GPS unit’s instructions into dangerous mountain terrain). Is it time for good old-fashioned maps to make a comeback?
Forget Your Passport; You’ll Need a DNA Sample to Enter Kuwait
Well, here’s an alarming idea. The New York Daily News reports that anyone who wants to travel to Kuwait will soon have to provide either “a swab of saliva or a few drops of blood” as a DNA sample. Though the Kuwaiti government promises that the samples won’t be tested for disease or otherwise infringe on property, it’s easy to see how this could go wrong (and make passport control lines even longer…).
Tipping Is Really Out of Control Now
Christopher Elliott of Elliott.org reports that more and more employees are asking for gratuities these days, including people we wouldn’t normally think to tip (such as tow truck drivers, airline ticket agents and even opticians). In a poll at the end of the article, about 70 percent of respondents say they’d like to have tipping restricted or banned by law. Do you agree?
Cruising Through the End of the World
Pacific Standard offers a fascinating look at the Northwest Passage, the famed pathway through the Canadian Arctic that intrepid explorers once suffered and died trying to find. These days you can explore it yourself aboard a cruise ship, seeing remote villages and looking out for polar bears.
‘Eat, Pray, Love’ and Travel
The New York Times interviews Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the bestseller “Eat, Pray, Love” — inspiration for a collection of essays called “Eat, Pray, Love Made Me Do It.” Gilbert reveals her favorite moment in the new book, shares her future travel plans and explains why her mother started traveling late in life.
Delta Is First Airline to Use New Baggage Tracking Technology
Could this be the beginning of the end of lost luggage? Conde Nast Traveler reports that Delta will start using radio frequency identification (RFID) technology to track checked bags by the end of this year. Delta claims that this system is 99.9 percent effective, more so than the current system of barcoded tags and scanners. We’re crossing our fingers.
Why I Travel the World Alone
Travel + Leisure features an essay by a hardcore adventure traveler (“During a recent trip to Chad … I spent 19 days sleeping in the great outdoors — and going to the loo there, too — while crossing the Sahara Desert. I showered twice in 21 days”) who finds incredible rewards in the challenges and freedoms of traveling alone. We bet you’ll be inspired by her story too.
This week’s featured video comes from JetBlue, which turned frowns upside down on a recent flight by giving away discounts off a future trip every time a baby cried on the plane. Happy Mother’s Day!
As part of the eternal struggle to speed up the process of getting fliers onto planes, Delta Air Lines is trying a new strategy: preloading carry-on bags for its passengers. According to USA Today, the carrier will be offering a complimentary Early Valet service on select flights this summer, which will involve having airline employees take passengers’ carry-ons at the gate and put them into the overhead bins nearest their assigned seats.
The airline’s hope is that its employees will be more efficient in loading the plane than passengers would, helping ensure a timelier departure. USA Today reports that the airline has previously tested this strategy and found “some reduction in boarding time.”
The theory makes sense. After all, how often have you seen fellow passengers holding up the line while they heave and ho to get weighty bags into the bin? And then there are the fliers who force others to find other spots for their bags because they put their rolling suitcases in sideways instead of wheels first, taking up twice as much space. Let’s face it: Airline employees are almost guaranteed to be better at loading a plane than we passengers are.
The question, though, is whether the process of taking people’s bags at the gate will cancel out most of the time saved during the actual boarding procedure. Frequent flier expert Gary Leff, quoted in the USA Today article, also raises a good point: “‘This has the potential to come across as a nice, high-end service,’ Leff said, ‘but I’m skeptical that it will go mainstream’ because of labor costs.”
How do you think airlines could optimize the boarding process?
Picture Will Smith driving around an abandoned Times Square in the post-apocalyptic movie “I Am Legend.” Now picture yourself on a commercial airplane about to take off with only you and the crew aboard. Maybe not as dramatic as driving a sports car through Manhattan at the end of the world, but for one Brooklyn native, this travel dream became a near-reality on his Delta flight Monday. According to ABC News, Chris O’Leary boarded his delayed flight to New York to find that the rest of the passengers had been rebooked. He documented his experience on social media with updates like, “I just got a personal safety briefing from my two flight attendants.”
Alas, just before take-off another passenger boarded, and “the thrill” had passed for what might have been O’Leary’s only shot at a private plane. Still, we imagine they each had plenty of space to recline and enjoy the peace.
This freak flight occurrence had us thinking: What other travel experiences would you enjoy more if you had them completely and totally to yourself? Would you take a cruise as the only passenger? A train ride as the only occupant? How about having the Pyramids of Giza to yourself? Would having the time and space to wander around major landmarks utterly on your own be more fulfilling, or would it feel strange and deserted without a bit of a crowd?
I would love to have the Louvre, or another cavernous museum, to myself for a day. To me, art is very subjective, and I would prefer to have my own experience interpreting the pieces without anyone else pausing in front to ponder.
Tell us: What travel experiences could you get used to solo?
Details of Delta Airlines’ newest seat classes — Comfort+ and Delta One — were released on Monday. Comfort+ will replace Economy Comfort, the airline’s extra legroom seats, while Delta One is its new Business Elite cabin.
We caught wind of the changes from the blog View from the Wing, which questioned whether the upgrades were noteworthy.
Highlights of the rebranded classes came via a video on Delta’s YouTube channel. While the free drink vouchers known as Have One On Us have been eliminated, Comfort+ will include complimentary beer, wine and spirits. These vouchers were previously available to elites in economy class who weren’t upgraded. Premium snacks will be available to passengers of this class on domestic flights of 900 miles or more. Dedicated overhead bin space has also been added to this cabin. Priority boarding remains a perk.
The main perk in the Delta One class is the flatbed seats on select flights, along with Tumi amenity kits and regional dining selections.
Both cabins, as well as First Class, will feature new quilted seat covers.
If you’re a Gold Medallion member, the bad news is you’ll no longer be able to choose Comfort+ at booking for free. Access to these seats will be released 72 hours before check-in for Gold Medallion and 24 hours before for Silver Medallion.
The new cabin classes take effect March 1, 2015. I guess the question is whether these upgrades come at a cost, or if airlines are making a genuine effort to improve the in-flight experience. If that’s the case, when can we expect to see improvement to coach? What do you think? What upgrade is the most important to you?
Things in the United States are generally bigger than in the rest of the world. Cars are bigger, meal portions larger; in general, everything is supersized. Except when it comes to airplane legroom.
Anyone who has recently flown in economy on a U.S.-based airline is painfully aware of the lack of space between one seat and the next — both next to you as well as in front of you. At just 5′ 2″ I often feel cramped and squished into my seat. Putting my bag underneath the seat in front of me makes it even worse, robbing me of what little room I have to stretch my legs.
This lack of space is pervasive on U.S.-based airlines. So when CN Traveler published an article called “Which Airline Has the Most Legroom? A Complete Guide” my attention was piqued. Could I discover which of the major airlines I use have the most legroom? Even if it meant driving the extra hour to JFK airport rather than Newark, I’d do it for an extra inch of space!
The bad news: Unless I’m prepared to move to Canada, I’m just going to have to get used to less legroom. Air Canada offers the largest pitch (the distance from the headrest of one seat to the headrest behind it) range of all the airlines, coming in at 29 to35 inches. JetBlue is actually better; even though the maximum amount of legroom you’ll find on a JetBlue plane is slightly smaller (34 inches), the minimum amount of legroom is 32 inches. Unfortunately, JetBlue only flies to a small percentage of the destinations I typically fly to.
The good news is that United (my Newark-based airline) and Delta rank third in terms of seat pitch. Both provide anywhere from 31 to 33 inches of legroom. American and US Airways planes provide slightly less at 31 to 32 inches of legroom.
The disparity was apparent to me even in “upgraded” seats on two recent flights: one a transpacific flight to Tokyo in a United Economy Plus seat and the second a transatlantic flight to the U.K. in an American Airlines Cabin Extra seat. I don’t have the actual measurements, but I can assure you the difference was clearly felt.
Air Canada and JetBlue also can provide the most seat width, though some Air Canada planes actually offer the narrowest seats, as well. Seats on United, Delta, American and US Airways are all the same width, but are also beat out by AirTran, Hawaiian and Allegiant.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, predictably, Spirit Airlines is the stingiest when it comes to legroom. But more surprising, Southwest planes are narrowest.
For now, I can only hope United keeps its seats the way they are. That way, I know I’m close to getting the most legroom available in the U.S. (with Delta), even if it’s only an extra inch. And when the opportunity arises, JetBlue here I come.
How important is legroom to you? Would you drive to an airport further away if it meant getting a bigger seat?
I’m leaving on a trip this Sunday and for the first time in my life I packed early and I packed light. Save the toothbrush, I crossed the toiletry Ts and dotted all the iPad Is into my carry-on suitcase so I could spend the rest of the week anticipating my travels and not dreading packing. But wouldn’t you know it, three major airlines — American, Delta and United — have reduced the size of an acceptable carry-on yet again (it flew under the radar until recently). I am flying one of these lines, and of course when I measured my bag, roughly 24 X 15 X 9, it was too large. The new size regulation — apparently enacted by United in March but effective immediately — is 22 inches long by 14 inches wide and 9 inches high, skimming a collective 5 inches off of what was a perfectly fine carry-on bag just weeks ago, and rendering my treasured, nearly new (expensive) indigo suitcase totally useless against checked-bag fees.
Pinned to a new FAA regulation (according to this article on Airfarewatchdog.com), it’s curious that fellow airlines JetBlue, Southwest, Virgin America and Frontier have maintained their 24 X 16 X 10-inch carry-on allocations.
Upon further review, George Hobica, founder of Airfarewatchdog.com, reflects that although the changes are subtle, they are being strictly enforced by the TSA and not as clearly explained by the airlines. The standard of a 45-inch maximum outside linear dimension is made null if the dimensions exceed any of the newly specified maximums. So in other words, 21 X 14 X 10 may meet the 45-inches-total guideline, but not the new 9-inches-high guideline. Therefore, the risk of having to re-pack, being sent to the back of the check-in line and potentially missing your flight is a real one — all traced back to a difference of one inch.
Whether it’s a regulation based in research, a ploy to cash in on more checked bags or simply a way to keep travelers on their toes, it’s exhausting keeping up with all the policy updates. I was finally ahead in the travel race, only to be handed a penalty card.
Have you encountered any trouble at the check-in counter lately? Vent about misguided measurements in the comments below.
The customer is always right, right? Wrong. Last week the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of Northwest Airlines’ right to revoke loyalty program privileges to a passenger who complained too often, according to ABC News.
The passenger, Rabbi S. Binyomin Ginsberg, filed a class action suit in 2009 after he was removed from WorldPerks, the airline’s frequent flier program. He claimed the measure was to remove high-mileage passengers in the face of a pending merger with Delta Air Lines, and sought $5 million plus a restored WorldPerks status and prohibition of any future revocations of his status, according to Consumerist.
Northwest refuted the claim, pointing to a provision of the mileage program’s terms that gives the airline the right to cancel members’ accounts for abuse. The airline reported that Ginsberg complained 24 times in a seven-month period, including nine instances of delayed luggage arrival. All told, Northwest paid Ginsberg $1,925 in travel credit vouchers, 78,500 bonus miles, a voucher for his son and $491 in cash reimbursements, before pulling the plug on his account.
Justice Samuel Alito ruled based upon the Airline Deregulation Act, which prohibits parties from bringing forward state-level claims dealing with the price, route or service of an air carrier. Justice Alito noted that travelers can still take their complaints to the U.S. Department of Transportation or choose a different frequent flier program if they’re unhappy with an airline’s treatment.
“We think [the ruling] harms consumers by giving airlines greater freedom to act in bad faith in performing their contracts with consumers,” said Ginsberg’s attorney Adina Rosenbaum of the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen.
We don’t often side with the airlines here at IndependentTraveler.com, but in this case I think the ruling is fair. A line needs to be drawn for any rewards program because there are always going to be people who take advantage of a generous offer. Holding an airline accountable to high standards is one thing, but ultimately it’s a business that needs to act in its own best interests.
We’ve seen some fun in-flight safety videos in our day, guest starring such notables as Betty White, Richard Simmons, a bunch of hobbits and even a dancing nun. But for this Gen X’er, Delta’s newest air safety video, like, totally takes the cake.
It’s got women in side ponytails with neon nail polish and lace gloves, and men with mullets or more hair than Crystal Gayle. There’s even an Atari game console, a Teddy Ruxpin doll and a man inchworminghis way down the aisle. All of it, plus way more(!), had this 80s gal laughing and, more importantly, paying attention.
My favorite moment? The guy trying to fix his cassette tape with his pinky.
So grab the keys to your time traveling DeLorean and take a peek below as heavy metal rockers, Valley girls, Alf and a special guest pilot take you through the ABCs of airline safety.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.