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plane on tarmacLast weekend, hundreds of passengers were stranded on the tarmac at Hartford’s Bradley International Airport for more than seven hours. The Associated Press reports that three JetBlue planes and one American Airlines plane, which were originally bound for New York, were diverted to Connecticut and then left on the tarmac for the better part of the day on Saturday.

A JetBlue spokesperson told the AP that the planes were kept on the tarmac due to a series of complications, including equipment failure and low visibility in New York. When the passengers eventually deplaned after an interminable wait, they had to look for spur-of-the-moment accommodations in Connecticut. Many fliers spent the night curled up in an airport terminal.

But here’s the scary part: Toilets were jammed and provisions were low onboard the stranded planes. One passenger told the Hartford Courant, “‘We ran out of water. The bathrooms are all clogged up and disgusting. The power would go off every 45 minutes or so for five minutes or so, and that would freak people out. … I’ve heard about these kind of stories.’”

We’ve heard stories like this too. This unfathomable ordeal would make fine fodder for Airplane Horror Stories, our collection of disturbing-but-true tales from the skies. So what’s the worst headache a person can endure when traveling by plane? You decide:

– written by Caroline Costello

airplanes travel planes sad suitcasesFrom the moment you book your plane ticket (want to select your seat in advance? That’ll be $10, please) to the day you roll up to the check-in counter and shell out $50 for your checked bags, the airlines leave no fee unturned. And this past weekend, most major U.S. airlines found yet another way to line their pockets at the expense of the flying public.

On Friday, Congress failed to pass legislation to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration. As of Saturday, FAA-funded construction projects have been put on hold, all non-essential employees have been furloughed and — most importantly for fliers — the agency has lost the ability to collect various taxes that normally go along with the purchase of a plane ticket.

Hurray! Cheaper airfare for everyone, right?

Well, no. Instead of passing the tax savings on to travelers, most major airlines are raising their fares to offset the cost of the taxes — and pocketing the difference. The Associated Press reports that American, United, Continental, Delta, US Airways, Southwest, AirTran and JetBlue have all increased their fares, typically by about 7.5 percent.

According to an earlier AP report, “Passengers who bought tickets before this weekend but travel during the FAA shutdown could be entitled to a refund of the taxes that they paid, said Treasury Department spokeswoman Sandra Salstrom. She said it’s unclear whether the government can keep taxes for travel at a time when it doesn’t have authority to collect the money.”

Editor’s Note: On August 5, the IRS announced that passengers will not be getting refunds for taxes paid during the FAA shutdown after all. You can read the IRS statement here.

There are a few airlines out there that are giving travelers a break, including Virgin America, Frontier, Alaska and Spirit. Yes, that’s the same Spirit we wrote about a couple of weeks ago as one of the ugliest airlines in the industry. But hey, we can give credit where it’s due. It’s nice to see Spirit making the customer-friendly choice for once.

As for the big guys, shame on them. Really, it’s no wonder we hate the airlines.



– written by Sarah Schlichter

airplaneWho’s the ace in the battle of the airlines? Consumer Reports released its U.S. airline rankings yesterday, revealing which golden carrier claimed the coveted number-one spot. The verdict? Southwest snagged the top trophy, with JetBlue a close second, and Alaska, Frontier and AirTran trailing respectively behind.

A poll of nearly 15,000 Consumer Reports readers ranked 10 airlines based on factors including seating comfort, baggage handling, cabin-crew service, ease of check-in, in-flight entertainment and cabin cleanliness. The airlines’ total scores were tallied on a scale of 0 to 100. Southwest secured 87, while JetBlue got a healthy score of 84. The biggest loser, US Airways, came in last with a score of 61.

Four of the survey’s five top scores were achieved by discount airlines — a verdict likely influenced by major carriers’ abundant baggage fees. Southwest and JetBlue permit passengers to check at least one bag for free, whereas major airlines charge for checked baggage on domestic flights. Customer service may also have played a part in pushing the big airlines to the bottom of the rankings. American, Delta, United and US Airways, the carriers with the lowest scores, all registered below average in the check-in ease and cabin-crew service categories.

But really, is anyone surprised? In The Real Reason Fliers Hate the Airlines, Traveler’s Ed compares most airlines to a bad friend: “Missed a connection or late to the flight due to bad weather? Too bad for you! We can’t fly due to bad weather? Too bad for you!”

Here’s another revelation that failed to shock me: In the seating comfort category, basically every airline save JetBlue and Southwest bombed — and even our winning discount duo scored average at best. Southwest offers 32 to 33 inches of legroom in its economy-class seats, which, according to stats on SeatGuru.com, beats economy-class seats on loads of major airline-operated planes by an inch or two (and sometimes even three: American Airlines’ leg-cramping Aerospatiale/Alenia 72 planes offer a paltry 30 inches of pitch).

An inch doesn’t sound like a lot. But when your knees are in your face and you’ve got four hours to go, even meager units of length become vital.

What are your picks for the best and worst airlines?

– written by Caroline Costello

Editor’s Note: IndependentTraveler.com is a member of the TripAdvisor Media Network. The TripAdvisor Media Network also owns SeatGuru.com.

JetBlue AirplaneEditor’s Note: Since we made this post, the deal has sold out on JetBlue’s site.

You can book a flight for only $9 today — and you don’t have to sell your soul to some fare club overloaded with annual fees and red tape. But there is one catch.

These dirt-cheap flights won’t last. JetBlue is offering $9 flights between Boston and Newark in celebration of its new nonstop service connecting the cities, which starts May 4. But travelers have until just 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time today to get their hands on these incredibly cut-rate fares.

There’s some more fine print of which fliers should take note. Travel is only valid on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from May 4 through June 15. These fares are likely to go fast, so book as soon as possible for best availability.

Find more discounted flights in our Airfare Deals.

– written by Caroline Costello

airplane food airline mealEgg nog at a holiday party … Grandmom’s homemade sugar cookies … those can’t-eat-just-one gift chocolates from a client at work … is it any wonder December is the hardest time of year to stick to a diet?

For travelers trying to count calories on the road, it can be even more difficult — especially since most food served on airplanes is salty and fattening (and it often tastes lousy, to boot). However, there are some healthy options out there for air travelers who are watching their waistlines.

DietDetective.com recently released its annual airline food survey to spotlight the most — and least — nutritious menu items on a variety of U.S. carriers. The survey included both small snacks and meals, whether given out free or available for purchase.

According to the survey, United and JetBlue top the list for the healthiest choices. United earns kudos for its Lite snack box; featuring lemon pepper tuna, pita chips, chocolate-covered pretzels and unsweetened apple sauce, it adds up to just 430 calories (the equivalent of 112 minutes of walking). DietDetective.com also likes JetBlue’s 484-calorie Shape Up meal box, with its nutritious combo of hummus, pita chips, almonds and raisins.

Weighing down the bottom end of the scale is US Airways, for its “poor overall choices and not much variety.” If you’re traveling on a morning flight, for example, you’re better off packing your own breakfast than buying the French toast sandwich box (a diet-busting 705 calories).

For more help maintaining a healthy lifestyle on the road, see Eating Well and Staying Active.

–written by Sarah Schlichter

jets fan football It’s enough to turn you into a Jets fan. Or a football fan. Or a sports fan in general.

Or, really, it’s enough to make you grab your credit card and fly JetBlue next month, which is the whole point of this interesting deal we found: If you use your MasterCard by the end of today (November 2) to book a December flight on JetBlue.com out of the NYC area, you’ll get a full refund of the fare after Feb. 6 — but, of course, there’s a catch.

The New York Jets have to win Super Bowl XLV, which takes place that day in Dallas.

Intriguing? Yes. Likely you’ll cash in? Questionable, though the odds are actually with you on this one. According to VegasInsider.com, which keeps tabs on such things, the odds of the Jets winning the whole enchilada are 8 to 1; they trail only the Baltimore Ravens (7/1) and the Pittsburgh Steelers (5/1) at this point in the season.

Recall that back in August, Jets coach Rex Ryan signed a guarantee that his team would win the Super Bowl. Let’s hope for fliers’ sake, his word is good.

For more details on the deal, visit the JetBlue Web site.

– written by John Deiner

steven slater halloween costume I couldn’t count the number of times I ran into Rod Blagojevich last October. And now this year, a thousand Steven Slaters will be walking the streets of America, issuing requests for candy on Halloween night.

Halloween costumes are an annual barometer of the pop-culture ruffians du jour, from famous folk heroes to politicians and nefarious public figures. In 2008, Obama, McCain and Palin costumes filled the shelves of Halloween superstores everywhere. Last year, it was Susan Boyle, Billy Mays and, of course, the floppy-haired Blago.

We’re thrilled that one of 2010′s most popular Halloween costume is — finally — a guise that evokes the horrors of air travel. Ricky’s NYC is currently selling the Angry Steward, a costume inspired by the JetBlue attendant who grabbed two beers and slid down the emergency inflatable slide after an in-flight altercation with a passenger.

The costume includes a navy flight attendant shirt, a tie and a bandage (reportedly, Slater was hit in the head with luggage that a passenger had been attempting to pull from the overhead compartment — hence the bandage). Unfortunately, Ricky’s is no longer taking online orders for Halloween costumes. But a trip to your local Salvation Army store could yield a navy dress shirt with blue tie. Add some bandages and beer, and you’re on your way to anti-establishment infamy.

Rickey’s Angry Steward costume has been selling quite well — which isn’t surprising, as Slater is still firmly planted in the public eye. Yesterday, Slater pleaded guilty to two counts of criminal mischief in a Queens court, and so far this week he’s been on Larry King Live, Good Morning America and NBC’s TODAY, explaining why he did what he did (short answer: he made a mistake and regrets the whole thing).

If you’re into the Steven Slater costume idea, I wouldn’t suggest waiting until next Halloween. By then, Slater’s 15 minutes will be long expired, and you’ll inevitably have to answer to curious onlookers asking, “What are you supposed to be?”

–written by Caroline Costello