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airplane frustrated womanThere’s one on every plane: a person who kicks the back of your seat, puts stinky feet in your general vicinity, gives the flight attendant a hard time or just plain forgets to shower before a long-haul flight. With the dawn of social media accounts like Passenger Shaming, it’s becoming easier to publicly call out the cretins who can’t seem to mind their in-flight manners. But one fed-up flier, Mun Yee, crafted an eloquent letter to chastise a particularly awful flightmate on a recent trip from Singapore to Sydney.

“Despite my common economy seat, you offered me a full back massage by repeatedly kicking the back of [my] chair,” Yee writes. “To date, I have yet to regain full mobility of the lower half of my body.

“Also, could you tell me where you bought those obnoxious snacks? I assume that they must have been delicious ’cause you rip[ped] one open every 30 minutes.”

Reports of excessively loud talking also appear in the letter, as does this:

“… my nose was assaulted by a putrid smell of death and decay. It was so nice of you to take off your shoes and put your feet between my seat and the plane window.”

Patrick Stewart Hilariously Acts Out 5 Most Annoying Fliers

We want to give a shout-out to you, Mun Yee. We congratulate you, sympathize with you and hope your letter reaches the eyes of anyone who thinks this conduct is socially acceptable.

What’s the worst behavior you’ve encountered on a flight? Be sure to comment below.

JetBlue Introduces Funny Flight Etiquette Videos

— written by Ashley Kosciolek

daydream of travelUnless your job involves frequent travel, you probably don’t take more than a small handful of trips a year. Those of us blessed (cursed?) with wanderlust all know the inevitable restlessness that sets in when you’ve been in one place for too long — because let’s face it: the afterglow doesn’t last too long post-trip. Depending on the severity, here’s what I do when I get the itch.

1. Reminisce
When it’s rainy outside, I’m feeling sluggish or I’m stuck at my desk for hours and wishing I was somewhere else, I sometimes pore through photos from past trips or drool over online pictures of exotic places, wishing I were there. It’s usually a decent quick fix, but it can also leave me wanting to travel even more. If the latter happens, I …

2. Plan a Trip
Like most travelers, I have a mile-long bucket list of places I’m dying to visit. When photos alone won’t do the trick, I sit down and actually plan out what I’d like to do when I finally make my way to one of my dream destinations. It helps me to be realistic about how much it’ll cost, how many days I’ll need to see and do everything, and when I’ll be able to go.

How to Make Your Dream Trip a Reality

3. Book a Trip
In more extreme cases, the only way to allay my withdrawal is to book a trip so I’ve got something to look forward to. Booking is the biggest hurdle to actually traveling, and once I’ve cleared it, it only gets better from there.

4. Pick Up and Go
This tactic is obviously easier to take if it involves a quick weekend trip to the beach or the mountains, but even a short getaway is a great way to reset my travel timer when I’m hit with a particularly strong bout of wanderlust. It’s also a nice excuse to explore new places close to home.

4 Travel Videos That’ll Make You Want to Get Up and Go

What’s your favorite way to cope between trips?

— written by Ashley Kosciolek

rendering of a new kind of airplane seatFrom infants to overweight adults, there are plenty of people who don’t fit in the stereotypical airplane seat mold. That’s why we’re tipping our proverbial hat to the SII Group of Germany, which has developed adjustable plane seats.

Known as the SANTO (Special Accommodation Needs for Toddlers and Overweight Passengers) Seat, the concept involves extra-wide seats, which can be used for larger passengers or divided into an adult/child combo for parents traveling with babies or small children.

The invention makes use of space at the back of the plane, where cabins are generally narrower.

Complete with proper arm rests and seatbelts, which can be easily installed and adjusted by cabin crew, the idea earned SII a recent award in the “Passenger Comfort Hardware” category at the Crystal Cabin Awards.

Get the Best Airplane Seat

The seats haven’t been installed on any planes yet, but we’re waiting to see which airlines will be the first to bite.

What are your thoughts on this idea? Share your comments below.

–By Ashley Kosciolek

tsa airport security lineFlying is a process. Getting to the airport. Checking bags. Removing shoes and laptops and toiletries and shuffling along through security checkpoints. Although I sometimes question whether all this adds up to better security or just security theater, it’s nice to think that the TSA agents are looking out for our safety by screening passengers. But who’s screening the TSA agents?

According to the TSA’s Aviation Security Advisory Committee, it would cost too much and be too logistically difficult to do complete security checks on all of its employees, and full scans wouldn’t help that much anyway since such screenings are “incapable of determining a person’s motivations, attitudes and capabilities to cause harm.”

But wouldn’t that also be true of the system’s effectiveness when scanning passengers — people who don’t have clearances that allow them access to restricted areas?

Apparently the issue of restricted access is being addressed, as well. CNN reports that the number of access points to these areas is being reduced. TSA employees will also have to undergo background checks once every two years and go through the same security screenings as everyone else when traveling as airline passengers themselves. Employees are also subject to random, unannounced screenings, and increased surveillance of baggage handling and cargo areas has been recommended to combat theft of passenger items by employees.

Airport Security Q&A
10 Things Not to Do at Airport Security

What do you think? Is the TSA doing enough to police its own? Leave your comments below.

— written by Ashley Kosciolek

airplane bathroom lavatory signAdmittedly, I’ve never had much of a problem finding a vacant toilet while in the air, and on the rare occasion when I did have to wait, it was never more than a minute or two. But one of our readers recently contacted us to raise a point of concern: Many passengers on long-haul flights use the restrooms for things like changing their clothes or putting on makeup, some of which can easily be done while seated or at the airport when they arrive. So what’s a passenger to do if he or she is unlucky enough to have a long wait for the restroom and a pressing need to go?

“The desperate queuing of the incontinent, or people with holiday ‘trots,’ becomes worse and more dramatic,” laments reader AJ, citing “those hours during turbulence when we are belted up and not permitted to go to the loos, so that when released from seatbelts we are desperate and queues form … especially just prior to landing.”

Why does it seem that there’s always a mad rush to the bathrooms just before a plane touches down? Sometimes it feels like passengers stay wedged in their seats the entire flight, bladders ready to explode, waiting for the captain to tell them the crew is preparing to secure the cabin for the plane’s return to Earth. Then they stampede to the facilities like they’re about to be sealed shut (probably because they are about to be sealed shut).

5 Tips for Bathroom Preparedness

“Couldn’t airlines try to discourage use of toilets for the more frivolous purposes (or designate curtained small places for [them])?” AJ asks. “When impatient queues of people might form, stewardesses could pointedly announce to the passengers about availability of good changing [areas at the airport].”

Does AJ have a valid point? In your opinion, what constitutes a frivolous use of the washrooms? Do you have any onboard lavatory horror stories? Be sure to share in the comments below.

— written by Ashley Kosciolek

days inn dirty hotelAfter a week in Florida for a travel conference, my return flight to the Northeast was pushed back by 24 hours due to a snowstorm. Spending an extra day in the sunny weather certainly wasn’t cause for complaint, so I embraced the delay by visiting family and making my way to Universal Studios. But somewhere in between was the stuff of nightmares.

The logistics of finding a same-day hotel are irritating enough, but trying to do it in a busy resort town like Orlando — during spring break, when everyone else has made arrangements months in advance — is even worse. The result? The top five hotels near Universal were all full when I called. Then I tried the HotelTonight app but was disappointed by what appeared to be unreasonably high prices and limited availability, so I figured I’d try the next town over. Tired, grumpy and hoping to offset the hundreds of dollars I’d spend the following day to drink butterbeer in the presence of other Harry Potter-obsessed Muggles, I Googled “cheap hotels near Altamonte Springs.” Big mistake.

Finding Hotel Rooms: No Vacancy? No Problem

I was surprised to find a line of cars waiting at the front entrance to the Days Inn when I arrived. Confused, I parked and grabbed my suitcase, figuring I’d head to the lobby to check in. What greeted me were two locked doors, a sign that read “Lobby doors locked after 9 p.m. Use intercom” and a line of annoyed people standing in front of what looked like a window from which you’d order ice cream after a round of mini-golf. It took nearly 40 minutes to check in and finally get my key.

Once in the room, my first order of business was to use the facilities. Or at least that was my intention until I turned on the light and sent a couple of roaches frantically scurrying away. I screamed, jumped three feet in the air and then made quick work of them with the sole of my shoe and some tissues. When my pulse returned to normal, I scoured the bathroom for any remaining stragglers and sat down to use the toilet — which I quickly discovered wasn’t attached to the floor. (In all fairness, someone had tried to fix it several times, as was evident from about two inches of caulking surrounding its base.)

The one mercy was that I didn’t spot any bed bugs — but mildew, more roaches, dirty sheets (which were inside-out and adorned with someone else’s hair), a slashed mattress and stained, threadbare towels had me on the phone for an hour, calling nine different area hotels with the hope of getting the heck out of there. No luck. Everything was full, and sweating to death in the car overnight wasn’t an option.

How to Find a Clean Hotel Room

Ultimately, I left every single light on to scare off the roaches and dozed for a few minutes here and there, but it was the single worst night of sleep I’ve had in a long time. Possibly ever. As a frequent traveler, I’ve stayed in many hotels — everything from one-star to five-star — and I’ve never encountered a room so filthy. However, I have nobody to blame but myself … and perhaps the roaches that took up residence in the space I paid for.

At the time, I was proud of scoring a room for $120. Right now, what I’m not so proud of was my failure to consider anything but price. In fact, as someone who’s worked for a TripAdvisor company for quite some time, I’m downright ashamed.

Moral of the story: Always, always, always research. See what others have to say. If the price is abnormally low, there’s probably a reason. If a hotel has availability in a town where accommodations are otherwise booked solid, turn around and sprint in the other direction, no matter how desperate you are. It’s cliche, but you get what you pay for; don’t let an extra hundred dollars make the difference between loving and hating your vacation.

The 10 Worst Hotel Horror Stories

Have you ever found yourself stuck at a nightmare hotel?

— written by Ashley Kosciolek

Editor’s Note: IndependentTraveler.com is published by The Independent Traveler, Inc., a subsidiary of TripAdvisor, Inc.

high speedIf you could travel between New York and Philly in 10 minutes, would you? What about going from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 20? It sounds crazy, but it’s not so far-fetched, according to Forbes.

In 2013, Elon Musk, CEO and CTO of SpaceX and CEO of Tesla Motors, unveiled his idea for the hyperloop — a form of transportation that would move passengers from city to city at roughly the speed of sound via a network of vacuum tubes.

Two years later, three companies, all headed by teams of people close to Musk, are pushing to make the technology come to life. However, even with millions of dollars in funding at the ready, there’s still a long way to go. Safety issues need to be addressed. The logistics of actually constructing the transportation network still need to be hammered out. And what effects, exactly, would moving at such high speeds have on the human body?

Space: Ballooning’s Final Frontier?

Forbes’ report says that, at least initially, the project would focus on moving cargo from one place to another (possibly even through underwater tubes), so perhaps that human body bit wouldn’t come into play right away. But the rush to get the project moving is well under way, given that it would beat the pants off of air travel time and cost less than taking a train. Plus, since no carbon dioxide would be emitted by the capsules, it seems like it would be far more environmentally friendly than any currently existing form of getting around. (Note: The system would still be responsible for some carbon emissions, according to one expert, who believes the solar panels in Musk’s original plan would need to be supplemented with coal power.)

Musk has also said he’ll likely be funding a prototype track in Texas.

What do you think? Would you try this type of travel? Leave your comments below.

— written by Ashley Kosciolek

bigfoot garden yeti statue skymallSkyMall — the catalog of quirky, useless and overpriced items for purchase at 35,000 feet — declared bankruptcy and halted its print publication on January 16. Below, I pay tribute to my favorite source of entertainment in the air.

Our hearts are heavy today as we mourn the loss of an old friend. A stalwart travel companion on many a flight, SkyMall kept us sane when screaming babies and snoring rowmates were just too much to bear. When our hard-earned paychecks were burning holes in our pockets. When the lack of cabin pressure convinced us we absolutely needed a life-size Sasquatch garden statue. (Seriously, if nobody’s ever gotten a good look at Sasquatch, how do they know what size to make the statue, anyway?)

Born to proud parent Robert Worsley (founder and current Arizona state senator) in 1990, SkyMall loved long flights, traveling the world and the feeling of recycled cabin air rustling through its glossy pages — pages offering senseless tchotchkes and gadgets that beckoned to us, begging us to embrace our impulses. Marshmallow shooters. Space helmets that regrow hair. Pajama pants that look like jeans. The options were seemingly endless, blatantly ridiculous and, frankly, downright awesome.

One of my favorite SkyMall memories takes me back to a time when I flew home from Chicago in major turbulence. It wasn’t long before a few strong bumps caused my travel companion to spill a full cup of water all over my tray table and everything on it. Even though I hadn’t paid it much attention on that particular flight, SkyMall was there to help me sop up the mess in all my napkinless glory.

We may have come to terms with the grim reality of SkyMall’s death, but the pain still haunts us. Never again will we feel the magazine’s slender figure, admire its red block logo or accidentally stab ourselves in the thumb with one of its quality staples. For the first time in history, we’ll look at the “Free copy — Take it. We’ll replace it!” line on the front of the few remaining copies so tenderly clutched to our chests and hold back tears as we realize: No, SkyMall. No, you will not replace it. The demise of this novelty reminds us that life is short. Taken from us too soon at the tender age of 25, by the dastardly likes of Candy Crush Saga and in-flight Wi-Fi, the catalog and its marked absence will forever leave a hole in our souls and a void in our seatback pockets.

But just when we thought that void might be filled by fatter wallets and a decline in junky knickknacks, we learned that SkyMall’s website is still alive and kicking. Apparently it listened when we pleaded for it to stay away from the light.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, there’s a pizza-scented T-shirt calling my name.

The Best of SkyMall:
9 Useless Items You Can Buy at 35,000 Feet
7 More Useless Items You Can Buy at 35,000 Feet

— written by Ashley Kosciolek

southwest luv seat duffel bagSouthwest Airlines, long known for its inexpensive fares, unassigned seating, free checked bags and singing flight attendants, is now jumping into the world of fashion. Partnering with an Oregon-based company, the airline has turned scrap leather from its airplane seats into high-end handbags.

According to Forbes, Southwest was left with 43 acres of used leather after replacing seats on some of its aircraft with lighter ones to reduce fuel costs. It took most of the material to Looptworks, a company that uses industrial scraps to create unique pieces that reduce waste and aim to help the environment, where it will be made into vintage-inspired bags. (In another admirable move, Southwest also sent some of the leather abroad to SOS Kenya, which benefits orphaned children, and Massai Treads, which makes shoes for people in need.)

Looptworks is offering three bag designs — backpack, duffel and tote — which can be preordered as part of what has been dubbed “Project LUV Seat.” The company claims that each bag produced saves 4,000 gallons of water and reduces CO2 emissions by 72 percent (when compared with what would be required to use brand-new leather for the same bags).

As if this idea couldn’t get any more awesome, Looptworks employed disabled adults to deconstruct and clean the leather.

Part-Time Voluntourism: How to Give Back During a Trip

The irony, though, is that the bags are retailing for anywhere from $150 to $250 each — more than the cost of some of Southwest’s roundtrip flights.

Would you purchase one of these bags? Leave your comments below.

–written by Ashley Kosciolek

airport happy coupleEvery once in a while, a stellar airfare deal presents itself. Generally, though, the cost of a flight is enough to fund an entire week’s vacation at a place within driving distance, and it makes me sick to have to pay it. What’s a budget-strapped globetrotter to do?

Apparently there’s a little-known loophole in town, and it’s called hidden city ticketing. Say, for example, you want to fly nonstop from Newark to Phoenix, and the cheapest fare you can find is $494. It turns out that the same airline offers a flight from Newark to Los Angeles, by way of a stop in Phoenix, for just $304. All you need to do is book the second flight, take carry-on luggage only and not show up for the second leg of the trip. You’ll get to your destination for almost $200 less.

However, it can be a pain to do the legwork to find such flights; that’s where Skiplagged.com can help. Created by Aktarer Zaman, a 22-year-old techie from Brooklyn, the site is currently rubbing a few airlines the wrong way. According to The Higher Learning, United Airlines and Orbitz are suing Zaman, claiming “unfair competition” and seeking $75,000 in compensation for lost revenue.

Although hidden city ticketing has been around for years, whether it’s actually allowed is questionable. Skiplagged simply allows potential travelers to search for hidden cities more quickly and easily, but many airlines prohibit this type of booking.

Note that it’s not a particularly sound method of finding airfare if you check bags, as they’ll end up at your ticket’s final destination instead of yours. Hidden city tickets also don’t work for roundtrip flights; if you don’t show up for the second leg of your outgoing flight, it’s likely the airline will consider you a no-show and cancel your return ticket altogether.

How to Hack Your Way to a Cheaper Airfare

Have you tried this method of finding less expensive fares? Do you think it’s “unfair competition”? Weigh in with your thoughts in the comments below.

— written by Ashley Kosciolek