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crying child Imagine you’re 6’1″ (like me), a tad claustrophobic (like me) and no fan of air travel (I think you know where I’m going with this). Now throw in a packed flight from Philadelphia to Miami, and a young couple and their boisterous 18-month-old (“Sadie just loves to chat!”). Top it off with three hours of jostling, screaming and general unease — and those were her parents.

It could have been worse. At least the kid settled down for half an hour to ogle a “Yo Gabba Gabba” DVD, which I also found relentlessly fascinating.

I love kids. I do, really. But I’ve never been cornered in an airline seat for so long with a raucous child, who was so adorable it was almost easy to brush off her antics. And her parents were (somewhat) sympathetic to my plight, going as far as to offer me a napkin when an exploding juice box ended up splashing my face.

As luck would have it, a colleague headed in the same direction on another flight had a child seated near him, though with far less intrusion. (Ok, he was asked to switch from one aisle seat to another to accommodate the family, and was rewarded with a snack and a free cocktail for his effort. Envious? Me? A little.)

The New York Times recently addressed this very issue, reporting that some people are pushing for separate sections for families onboard planes, and others are pushing for kid-free flights. Let’s face it: This has been an issue forever, and the article’s 350-plus reader comments attest to that fact. The Times went to Air Transport Association spokesman David Castelveter for his take on the childless flights, and he wasn’t too encouraging: “This is an industry that’s working very hard to return to profitability. No way is any airline going to discourage someone from taking one flight over another. I just can’t see that happening.”

I can’t see it either, and I don’t really want to resort to that anyway. Kids are kids, and I probably squirm more during a flight than anyone. Over the long term, it’s the adults (drunk, loud, obnoxious, obese, etc.) who cause more vexation on a flight than anyone.

As for kids, I have a few tricks to ease the pain when I’m seating near some rowdy young’uns:

Keep your cool. Don’t scowl, mutter, grumble, etc. The kids aren’t going anywhere, and being angry for hours on end during a long flight is a waste of energy.

Engage with the parents. They’re going to be your true allies, and they feel your pain more than you realize, so offer an encouraging word or hold baby’s binky while mom and dad wrestle him into his seat.

Say something. Sometimes parents don’t realize that junior is kicking the back of your seat, so let them know. Nicely. (If they knew it all along and brushed it off, shame on them.)

Bring earplugs or an iPod. When the going gets rough, try to tune it out.

How do you cope when trapped at 32,000 feet next to a crying child?

Read More: Avoiding Children While Traveling

— written by John Deiner

holiday trafficOver the river and through the woods and . . . into a horrific travel nightmare?

Maybe. According to AAA, the number of Americans traveling over the upcoming Thanksgiving weekend (Nov. 24-28) is expected to increase more than 11 percent over last year. That translates into 42.2 million travelers driving at least 50 miles from home. Last year, 37.9 million Americans made the jaunt.

Tellingly, that’s significantly lower than the 2005 peak of 58.6 million travelers.

AAA says it all goes to show that distant family and friends still matter (that’s no surprise, is it?) and, more importantly, that wallets have a bit more cash in them this November. According to AAA President Robert L. Darbelnet, “While Americans remain cautious with household budgets and discretionary spending amidst high levels of unemployment, many are in a better financial position this Thanksgiving than a year ago.”

The automotive club explains that the increase “appears to be the result of modestly improved economic conditions since last year, including an increase in gross domestic product, real disposable personal income and household net worth combined with a decrease in consumer debt.”

Bottom line: When all is said and done, a little more traffic on the roads will be a good thing. Unless, that is, you’re stuck in traffic, in which case you’ll rue the day you decided to pack up the green-bean casserole and hit the road. I’ve been traveling up and down the Northeast Corridor between Washington, D.C. and New York City for years, often on busy holiday and summer weekends. Here are some things I always try to do to avoid the rush — or what I have on hand when I can’t.

Avoid peak times. Easier said than done, I know, but I hate traffic so much I’ll wake up at dawn or take a nap in the evening and head out at 5 a.m. or 10 p.m. if I have to. I’d rather move at my own pace than sit behind an oil tanker for 13 miles. Conversely, if you can’t change the time of travel, consider changing the day — returning home on Monday or leaving Tuesday night could make a big difference.

Pack a GPS, a smartphone or a good atlas. Seems obvious, but I’m always surprised when I’m in a car that has none of them. My wife and I have gone to the atlas countless times and plotted workarounds when traffic reports paint a dire picture. (Better yet, pore over the map beforehand so you have a Plan B or C before you walk out the door.) There are also numerous smartphone apps (e.g. Google Maps Navigation) that track traffic flow, and don’t forget about dialing 511 when you’re stuck in a jam for the latest info about what lies ahead.

Fill up and stock up. Sure, highway rest areas are convenient spots to fuel up, but the lines can be a real drag if you hit them at the wrong time. I always hop off the highway (even toll roads) and get gas that way. And be sure there are snacks, bottled water, car games, DVD’s, etc., in the vehicle — you never know when nuisance congestion will become an epic wait.

Pay tolls electronically. Many regions have programs that allow you to affix a device to your car and whiz through toll plazas. How come more people don’t use these? In my experience, the E-ZPass lanes in Delaware, New Jersey and New York are frequently car-free; even better, some toll areas establish E-ZPass-only lanes well in advance of the plaza itself, while others have overhead transponders allowing cars to drive through at full speed.

What are your tips for hassle-free holiday driving? (“Stay home” doesn’t count.)

Read More: Holiday Travel 2010: What You Need to Know

— written by John Deiner

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

bose headphones Who doesn’t love a list?

Time magazine has unleashed a doozy. Earlier this week, Time named the top 100 most influential gadgets produced since 1923 (the year the mag began publication), noting that many items “get the nod simply because they were the first of their kind. First may not always be best, but it’s surely a sign of smart innovation.”

I was intrigued, and not only because I’ve always gotten a kick out of the Clapper and the Roomba (no, I don’t own them, and, yes, they’re on the list). What piqued my interest was the fact that so many of Time‘s gadget greats turned out to be invaluable travel aids. For every Taser and Cordless Electric Drill included, there’s an equally useful tool for road warriors.

Here are five of Time‘s picks that travelers can particularly relate to:

Apple iPod
I used to think the Sony Walkman (also on the list) was indispensable, then I got my hands — and ears — on the iPod. Now, the moment the flight attendants give me the all clear to use small electronics, I can’t turn that thing on fast enough and start zoning out. Bonus: It’s ridiculously easy to pack.

Bose Noise-Canceling Headphones
Ok, I never sprang for the $350 version, opting instead for (much) cheaper Bose wannabes. Still, credit goes to the company for coming up with the technology, and I’ll take the soft hum of nothingness over the drone of airline engines any day of the week.

Mattel Electronic Football
I’m a bit ashamed that I’m old enough to remember this gem (it came out in 1977). This portable electronic football game kept me occupied for hours in Dad’s station wagon on road trips — until the batteries died, that is, and the back-seat battles with my sibs would begin.

Credit Card
Ah, yes — every traveler’s little helper. Without it, how would we book online, eat in restaurants we can’t afford and make impromptu decisions to buy overpriced knickknacks when we don’t have enough foreign currency on hand?

From my wallet to the pockets in my travel pants to the handle on my duffel bag, it’s literally the one thing that keeps my vacations from going to pieces.

What do you say? What gadgets do you swear by when you’re on a trip?

— written by John Deiner

Having recently returned from a late-summer soujourn to Nevada, I can report why August is not a good time to visit Las Vegas in one sentence:

It was 104 degrees.

las vegas signBesides the heat (forget all that “it’s a dry heat” nonsense — hot is hot), the crowds also made it a tad unpleasant. Not that crowds are a bad thing — the economic tumult we’ve all been experiencing the past few years has taken a particularly hard toll on Sin City. Happily, there appears to a reversal of fortune underway. According to a recent report in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, in August the city experienced its 12th consecutive monthly increase in visitors. Hotel occupancy is up, as is the number of conventions. Las Vegas tourism still has a way to go before it reaches pre-recession levels, but the signs are there.

That said, now’s a great time to visit Vegas. Here’s why.

1. It’s nicer. The pools are closed or closing (most are seasonal), but there’s still plenty of sunshine and cooler temps to boot. In July, the average high temperature is 106 degrees, falling to 74 at night. Now? Expect highs in the 80’s and lows in the chilly-but-bearable mid-50’s. In addition, weather is fairly calm coast to coast before the winter snows crank up, so air transport is more dependable.

2. It’s cheaper. Well, it can be cheaper. Good deals, particularly midweek, abound at resorts across the city. In particular, Vegas is a ghost town between Thanksgiving and Christmas, so if you don’t mind flashing neon clashing with tinsel on trees, you can have your pick of lodging. Check out a rate calendar at a hotel Web site (I use Mandalay Bay’s, but most sites give an overview of tariffs for the coming months) to get an idea when the lowest priced rooms are available, and go from there. Also, check out the hotel sites for late-breaking deals; for example, Mandalay Bay recently spotlighted a 72-hour sale that offered 20 percent room discounts and a $25 resort credit. And keep checking right until you depart for the desert — rates fluctuate wildly and can go down. If they do, cancel and rebook.

3. It’s more interesting. Okay, Vegas is always interesting, but the recent opening of CityCenter — a massive hotel, retail and entertainment complex — has added a whole new dimension to the place. The construction eyesore has been replaced with a sleek, sophisticated and somewhat incongruous collection of buildings that won’t be ignored. Crystals, a gorgeous if ridiculously luxe mall, sports stores that I’ll never buy anything in, but it’s fun to explore nonetheless. And “Viva Elvis,” the new Cirque du Soleil show at the Aria Resort & Casino (one of several hotels in the complex), is a hoot. If you don’t go expecting the typical Cirque acrobatics, you’ll have a good time — and if you click the “summer promotion tickets” button on the show’s home page, you’ll get a huge discount.

4. It’s relatively kid-free. If you like gamblin’ and carousin’ without little ones underfoot, now’s the time to go. They’re in school — and you’ll have the Roller Coaster at New York-New York to yourself.

For more information on the city, see Las Vegas Essentials.

— written by John Deiner

Just dance, indeed.

Unless you missed it (and with more than seven million hits on YouTube and a flood of Internet chitchat, that’s increasingly unlikely), you probably have an opinion one way or the other about the dancing flight attendants of Cebu Pacific, the Philippines’ biggest airline. Take a look:

Since it was unleashed upon an unsuspecting public a few days ago, the video has torn the flying populace. Critics say it makes light of an important safety procedure, while the Flight Attendants’ and Stewards’ Association of the Philippines calls it “demeaning” and notes, “while it may look like a harmless publicity stunt to attract passengers at first glance, in the long run the stereotyping of flight attendants as entertainers will surely have a negative and sexist impact in the minds of the public.”

According to a New York Times blog, the airline contends that the safety song and dance was a supplementary demonstration that took place after the regular drill was conducted. Plans call for the routine to be performed on flights lasting an hour or longer.

Some travelers … well, some just dig it. And I’m among them. Maybe it’s because I like Lady Gaga (yeah, I admit it), or because I’ve been the aisle-seat pin cushion for one cranky flight attendant too many. Attendants have it tough trolling the oft-unfriendly skies, and I can understand the angst some are feeling about their choreographed cohorts.

While I’m not sure I’d glean the all important info I’m supposed to be gleaning from this safety schtick, I’d definitely look up from my in-flight magazine to watch the show (besides, how many of us actually give undivided attention to the unadorned drill?). It’s the same reason I pay heed to Southwest flight attendants, who invariably add a little swagger to just about everything they do.

–written by John Deiner