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travel planWhen it comes to planning a vacation, there’s one big issue on which my travel partner and I always disagree. No, it’s not the classic traveling couples’ clash over who gets the better plane seat. (I’m shorter, so I take the middle seat every time. And I expect to be canonized after I pass.) We can’t agree on the value of the post-vacation vacation day.

How to Create the Perfect Itinerary

When we sketch out our trip plans, my travel partner, Dan, insists on adding an extra at-home vacation day to the end of our itinerary. So if we fly home on a Monday, he argues that we need to take off the following Tuesday for “recovery.”

In my opinion, this is a waste of a solid day off. Vacation days are for traveling. If I’ve packed, planned and paid hundreds to fly to my destination, I want to spend as much time there as possible. Plus, a day on the road trumps a day at home no matter what. Squandering a good vacation day on the couch at home is like choosing to sit in coach after you’ve been upgraded to first class.

I’ll let Dan explain his side, in his own words: “I need a buffer day to get back into something of a non-vacation routine before I resume real world activity. Otherwise, the transition from vacation to reality is too abrupt, too painful.”

Who wins? Ultimately, we usually end up going with whichever dates allow us to snag the cheapest fares.

Where do you stand? Post your opinion in the comments.

— written by Caroline Costello

 The Great Seatback Debate Last month, we asked our readers a simple question and were hit with a flood of fiery feedback: Is it rude to recline on an airplane? Opinions on this matter are divided, but it seems that every traveler has something to say about seatback etiquette — and a good chunk of them spilled their sentiments on our blog. Here’s a sample of what our opinionated readers shared:

The Recliners

A number of readers claimed that all passengers should be able to recline wherever they want and on whomever they want. Wrote Doug, “Reclining any time is fine, the button is there for a reason. You want more room? Buy a better seat.”

Ava declared, “If you don’t want someone reclining on you, buy first class. If you can’t afford it then we all have to take what we get. They do not go back that much in the first place. Shish!”

And according to Andy Sutton, “If I have paid for a ticket and the seat allows me to recline then frankly I will do it when I want, to the extent I want.”

The Anti-Recliners

“Do unto others” appears to be the creed of the upright fliers’ brigade. Wrote Matt Leonard, “Recline on me and I’ll recline on someone else. Seems like good justification. Otherwise, I’ll stay upright. Oh, left off the fact that whoever reclines in front of me will have zero chance of sleeping as I will knee the seat, or play with the tray should I catch them trying to relax. Stay upright and I’ll let you sleep in front of me.”

Wilson shares Matt’s karmic views: “I hate when people recline on me, so I have NEVER reclined on the person behind me, even if they are 5 feet tall with plenty of space.”

Neutral Territory

Despite the apparent polarizing effect of the Great Seatback Debate, some travelers were willing to compromise. Said Scott – Quirky Travel Guy, “Reclining a few inches is ok. Going all the way back is not. That’s just common sense and common courtesy!”

Soliteyah wrote, “If it’s an overnight flight, the cabin lights are dimmed, no food is being served … then I think it’s totally fine to recline! But during mealtimes, or if I have a very tall person behind me, then I probably wouldn’t do it.”

Susieq made an interesting proposition: “I suggest that passengers divide their time equally on a flight between reclining and staying upright, saving the poor soul behind them from a reclined seat for the duration of a flight.”

Did you join the debate yet? We want to hear from you! Tell us where you stand in the comments.

— written by Caroline Costello

airplane plane seats woman hat passengers air travelDuring a recent United Airlines flight from Washington D.C. to Ghana, one passenger reclined his seat and was introduced to his rear-seat neighbor — with a slap to the head. A fight ensued.

According to The Washington Post, which broke the story, a flight attendant and a fellow passenger stepped in to stop the tussle. Then, upon learning that violence had broken out among his passengers, the pilot turned the plane around and headed back to Dulles International Airport.

Before the plane could land, the pilot had to circle for roughly 25 minutes. The Washington Post reports that while the plane, a Boeing 767, can take off with up to 16,700 gallons of fuel, it can’t land with it — hence the pilot had to lighten his load. As the aircraft flew in loops, two Air Force fighter jets arrived to escort the plane back to Dulles.

Once the plane landed, you’d think the police would have booked the belligerent duo. But get this: No one was charged with a crime. Not even the guy who started the fight (the one who throws the first punch is usually to blame, isn’t he?). Rob Yingling, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, told the Post that officers did not feel the incident warranted an arrest.

Ultimately, jet fuel was wasted, the Air Force was beckoned and people were inconvenienced because a couple of hot heads wanted to go to war over the loss of a few inches of seat space. Now here it comes: the Great Seat Back Debate. Clearly, mid-air violence is unacceptable, but what, exactly, is the appropriate course of action when cruising altitude is reached and the seat back button beckons? Is it rude to recline?

In The Etiquette of Seat Backs and Elbow Room, Ed Hewitt offers a simple compromise: “I believe there is a time for upright seats, and there is a time for reclining fully. Everything in its season, I read somewhere.” Hewitt suggests that travelers glance to the rear before reclining. (Don’t do it if the passenger behind you is eating a meal or is extremely tall.) Furthermore, says Hewitt, “You don’t have to push your seat all the way back to get a snooze; only take what you need.”

John Deiner, Managing Editor of IndependentTraveler.com’s sister site Cruise Critic, argues for a more compassionate approach to seat back reclining: just don’t. Says Deiner, “When people put their seat back it bothers the heck out of me, so I always assume it does the same to the person behind me. I’m 6’1″, so putting the seat back doesn’t really improve my legroom that much at all anyhow. One way my wife and I deal with it: She gets the seat in front of me, and if someone puts the seat back in front of her, it’s not such a big deal because she’s shorter. I’ve tried talking to people who put their seat back expecting me to perform dental work on them, and sometimes we come to an agreement, sometimes they wave me off. When they do that, I aim the cold air from my seat vent at the top of their head.”

Better to aim cold air than a few punches at the guy pushing that seat in your face. My opinion? I recline whenever I feel like it. I paid for the seat. It’s my right to transition from a stiff upright position to a stiff mostly upright position if and when I so choose. It’s not like the seats recline all that much anyway. The difference between a reclined seat and an upright seat on an airplane is the difference between a quiet hum and a whisper. (Okay, I’ll admit it. As a petite person who barely scrapes 5’3″, I’m probably somewhat ignorant to the plight of the statuesque air traveler. Maybe I’ll reconsider my position on this. Maybe.)

Now it’s your turn. Whose side do you take?

— written by Caroline Costello

airplane passengers seatmate annoying chatter headphones cell phone angry cranky annoyedAs Sartre once said, “Hell is other people,” and nowhere is this more true than on a plane. Crammed elbow-to-elbow in a narrow metal tube with nowhere to escape but the lavatory, airline passengers have the power to make each other’s lives either pleasant — or miserable.

We recently polled our readers to find out which onboard behavior causes the most misery: hogging the armrest? Forgetting that all-important deodorant? Chattering so much you can’t enjoy the newest page-turner from Dan Brown?

It turns out that there’s one plane pet peeve that tops them all: seat-kicking, which took home more than 30 percent of the vote. Grouses member Kayling05, “The worst thing I have found is when people (usually kids) kick the back of the seat! On an 11-hour flight to Fiji, these kids woke me up in the middle of the flight (overnight) kicking my seat and I turned around and screeched at them (in a loud whisper), ‘Can you please STOP THAT?!?!’ Well, they did, so that was nice. I am not a morning person even on the ground, so they definitely messed with the wrong person.”

Parents, take note! We don’t care how adorable your little darlings are — they’d better keep their feet to themselves.

While hogging the armrest and wearing too much perfume rounded out the top three annoyances, many readers wrote in with complaints we’d left off the list:

– “[I’m not fond of] people who have to haul themselves up by pulling on the back of my seat, catapulting me into the seat in front of me when they let go.” — sdtexas

– “There is the avid reader [in] the window seat who doesn’t find the reading light above her seat bright enough for her eyes, and keeps the window blind open when the lights are turned off and everyone else is sleeping (or attempting to), letting the sun’s rays bounce on the glossy pages of her magazine and mercilessly [hit] my face, defying even the the thickest sleeping mask.” — Marco Polo

– “There was one flight that my husband and I took from PA to the U.S.V.I. as a package tour. The very wide man who was seated in the row ahead of us decided to chat, and chat, and chat with someone in our row. He stood for a long time with his wide posterior almost touching my face. The flight attendant just giggled when I asked her to make him move. I lowered my seat tray a bit and crossed my legs, bumping his butt, all the while concentrating on my paperback. He moved.” — tripper707

Don’t let yourself be the subject of a fellow passenger’s horror story! Check out our guide to in-flight etiquette.

— written by Sarah Schlichter

dog cat suitcase pet travelThe screaming baby, the armrest hog, the big sweaty guy who forgot to put on deodorant — these top many travelers’ lists of undesired airplane seatmates. But one reader recently wrote in to complain about a fellow passenger of the furry, four-legged variety:

“On an Alaska flight, a cat was placed behind me. I was not asked if it was all right with me. I have medical problems with cats and do not want to travel with cats or dogs. … I should have been told at the time of reservation that animals were going to be onboard, so I could have made a decision not to travel on that flight. … Let animals stay in the cargo area where they belong. They leave behind scents and hair.”

It’s true that the rights of traveling pet owners currently trump the rights of passengers who start sneezing as soon as they even look at a cat or dog. Part of that, of course, has to do with money; airlines rake in anywhere from $75 (Southwest) to $125 (Delta and American Airlines) every time someone brings his or her pet into the cabin. But it can also be a matter of safety. While thousands of people ship their pets in the cargo hold every year, there are plenty of horror stories about animals dying during the process — often due to extreme hot or cold temperatures while the plane is sitting on the ground. (Cargo hold climate controls kick in only when the plane is actually in flight.)

So what’s an allergic traveler to do? First off, when you check in for your flight, ask an airline staffer whether there will be any animals onboard. If so, the agent may be able to help you find an alternate flight. Of course, change fees or other penalties may apply.

If you’re on the plane before you realize you’ve been seated next to someone’s furry friend, speak with the flight attendant — he or she may be able to find someone else willing to switch seats with you, especially if you have a pressing health concern.

Do you think it’s fair for pets to be allowed on planes? Vote in our poll or leave a comment below!

— written by Sarah Schlichter

laptop hotel room bed womanHey, hotels — are you listening?

Earlier this week, we threw out a question to our followers on Twitter and Facebook: What’s one amenity that you wish all hotels would start offering?

While we got several creative responses — @PatWoods1 asked for bidet toilet seats, and a hungry @TwavelTweeter longed to indulge his sweet tooth with “in-room hot and cold running chocolate” — there was one answer that kept coming up over and over again: free Wi-Fi.

“Remember when hair dryers weren’t in all rooms? That changed. [Free] Wi-Fi should be ubiquitous, too,” said @karasw.

“[It] could be as little as 60 minutes per day, or free all day,” said @seaescapetravel. “This is huge. Today is all about connecting.”

“Free Wi-Fi. Seriously,” @thegeekTicket concurred. “Why do expensive hotels charge for it? It’s ridiculous.”

This last response highlights the primary Wi-Fi frustration for many travelers — that all too often, luxury hotels charge guests for Internet access, while budget properties let you connect for free. If you’re paying $400 a night for a hotel room, why should you have to shell out another $19.95 a day just to get online? Is the hotel trying to chase us out to the Starbucks down the street?

I’ve seen properties where the Wi-Fi is complimentary in public areas but not in individual guestrooms, which seems almost more obnoxious. If they can offer free Internet in the lobby, they could clearly offer it everywhere else — but instead they’re making us put on shoes, leave our comfy rooms and crowd into a noisy lobby with all the other Internet addicts. Thanks a lot.

Our readers aren’t the only ones to get hot under the collar about this issue. Gadling.com recently finished a March Madness-style bracket tournament involving the biggest hotel pet peeves. The worst offender: no free Wi-Fi.

Which hotel amenity is most important to you? Leave a comment below or vote in our poll.

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Spirit AirlinesWe thought it couldn’t get any worse. We were wrong.

Spirit Airlines, the only U.S. carrier that charges fees for carry-on luggage, has managed to dump even more baggage fees on fliers. Spirit passengers who pay for their carry-on bags within 24 hours of departure will be charged an additional $5 for doing so online or $10 for doing it by phone. This change is effective for travelers booking on or after March 24.

Spirit’s original carry-on bag fees are now, according to the airline, an “Early Bird Discount.” Spirit customers can catch the disappointing, dried-up worm by paying $30 per carry-on bag ($20 for members of Spirit’s $9 Fare Club) when purchased at least 24 hours in advance of departure. Spirit’s backhanded interpretation of “discount” troubles me. Like a petulant child who “picks up” his clothes by picking them up and then dropping them on the floor again, Spirit is twisting words in the face of its eye-rolling, grudging customers.

And the fees get steeper. The last-minute Larry who shows up at the airport without pre-purchasing a carry-on bag will be charged $45 at the airport gate and $40 at the airport kiosk. (These particular fees aren’t new, but I think they’re noteworthy).

With its newest carry-on baggage charges, Spirit seems to be slapping the concept of customer service square in the face. But the airline’s bread and butter has always been its extremely cheap fares, with flights as low as $9 each way (and sometimes even cheaper) for members of its $9 Fare Club — and Spirit’s never been one to worry about maintaining a squeaky-clean image. We’ve reported on Spirit’s devilish antics in the past, from scuffles with stranded passengers to shocking and offensive ads. Really, nothing Spirit does should surprise us anymore.

In the airline’s defense, its fees are cheaper for checked bags than for carry-ons. (Take a look at the full list of what Spirit charges in Airline Baggage Fees. ) This should, at least, free up some overhead space on the plane.

Will you still fly with Spirit?

— written by Caroline Costello

cell phone airplane plane man businessmanI knew the guy would be trouble the moment I spotted him ambling up to the Miami International Airport gate from which my Continental flight was leaving. I was on my way back to Philadelphia last week from a convention, and I just had a feeling that the unkempt loudmouth yakking on a cell phone and clutching a plastic cup of red wine would be sitting uncomfortably close to me.

I was wrong, of course. He was next to me. The last one on the plane, he stumbled down the aisle, looked at me huddled in the window seat, muttered an obscenity and squeezed himself into the middle. He immediately took out his phone and continued the argument he’d evidently left behind on the concourse.

Truth be told, I’m not a good flier, forever fearing every little bump and groan the aircraft makes. So I tend to take “rules” seriously, never questioning whether to put my seat back in the full and upright position or to turn off small electronics. My seatmate was a different breed — after the flight attendants made the announcement to stow away anything with a battery, he hung up the phone and started to text instead.

This went on for 10 minutes. No flight attendants caught onto the fact that his phone was still on, though I couldn’t get my mind off of it. Uncharacteristically, I nudged him as we began to roar down the runway and said, “Tell me you’re going to turn that thing off before takeoff.”

He muttered another obscenity and turned it off.

So what sort of danger were we in? Very little, most likely. I checked the Web site of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which prohibits the use of cell phones on flights. In 2007, the agency considered lifting the ban, but didn’t. Here’s why: “The FCC determined that the technical information provided by interested parties in response to the proposal was insufficient to determine whether in-flight use of wireless devices on aircraft could cause harmful interference to wireless networks on the ground. … In addition to the FCC’s rules, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) prohibits in-flight use of wireless devices because of potential interference to the aircraft’s navigation and communication systems.”

The Discovery Channel’s “MythBusters” program put the interference theory to the test and came out with a reassuring result: It found there was a “one in a million chance that some new cell phone could interfere with those instruments.” Slim chance perhaps, but still not worth the risk. Check out a two-minute abbreviation of the show here.

So what happened during our landing? Naturally, the guy couldn’t keep his phone off. Minutes into our descent, he pulled out his cell and started texting again. Once again, no flight attendant reprimand came. But this time, I just stared out the window and wondered why so many people think the rules don’t apply to them.

How do you feel about the use of cell phones in flight? Leave a comment or vote in our poll.

— written by John Deiner

The next time you step up to the sink at an airport bathroom, your own face may not be all you see in the mirror. Two companies, Clear Channel Airports and Mirrus, have teamed up to design digital ads that are now being displayed on bathroom mirrors at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.

The high-definition ads look like large posters until you step up to the mirror, at which point they shrink into one corner — allowing you to see both the ad and your own reflection while you wash your hands, adjust your combover or touch up your lip gloss. You can see how the ads work in the following video from Mirrus:

Relentless advertising is nothing new to air travelers, of course. In recent years, several airlines have experimented with putting ads on airplane tray tables, and the TSA has put them in some of its bins at security checkpoints. At least they’re not appearing inside the bathroom stalls — yet.

What do you think of the new ads?

— written by Sarah Schlichter

There’s been a tremendous amount of talk lately among various travel outlets about hotel rooms. Not the rooms themselves, mind you (though that’s always important), but the views out the windows.

Ostensibly, all the chatter is linked to the arrival of Room77.com, a California-based Web site that purports to show you what you’ll be looking at from the window in your accommodations, thus helping you choose a specific floor or even a room when you book. You put in your specs and the site creates a virtual shot of the view. There’s also an iPhone app that lets you know on the spot (read: at check-in) what to expect when you open the door, thus allowing you to request an immediate room change and negating that annoying trip back to the front desk.

It’s all very cool, and very much in the nascent stages. Only three-star hotels and above will be offered, and only 16 cities are represented so far (though that translates to a rather impressive 425,000 rooms). You can’t book directly on the site yet, but that’s reportedly going to change soon. All in all, it has the potential to be a powerful force once it catches on — and it’s great fun playing around on the site to see how it measures up at hotels where you’ve already stayed (I, for one, am mightily impressed by its accuracy).

crowne plaza boston newton massachusetts turnpike hotel room view

For its part, USA Today conducted a recent poll asking readers if they cared to see the view from their hotel room prior to arrival. A whopping 88 percent indicated that they would.

I wonder: What’s up with the 12 percent who don’t?

A huge fan of hotels, I’m always a bit anxious at check-in, as much over the quality of the room as the scene on the other side of the glass. My strategy to avoid disappointment? I always ask for a room on an upper floor. Even if the hotel is three stories, it’ll keep me from being at eye level with the Winnebago in the parking lot or the kids racing around the pool. I also routinely request a “quiet” spot, which means nowhere near the ice machine or elevator bank, and away from the main drag.

How to Get the Best Hotel Room

That backfires on occasion, inasmuch as the dumpster is usually out back, leading to a fair (unfair?) share of garbage-filled vistas. And there’s no accounting for construction eyesores (which even Room 77 may not be able to avert). Once in Las Vegas, I was psyched to get a suite near the peak of the Venetian, a soaring monolith on the Strip. But when I got to the room and opened up the curtains, a giant crane was swinging a girder bound for the Palazzo, the sister resort under construction next door.

dumpster view starlite hotel miami

Room 77 wouldn’t have done much to help ward off the worst view I’ve ever had, at a bed and breakfast in Chincoteague, VA. Promising a “waterfront location,” the inn was actually plunked in the parking lot of a neighboring marina. A huge truck for storing fish — with a bellowing refrigeration unit that ran 24/7 — sat about 10 feet outside my window. When I asked to move, the only other choice was … the other side of the truck. I stayed put and kept the shades drawn.

What’s the worst view you’ve ever had?

— written by John Deiner