Here at IndependentTraveler.com, we got through yesterday without slipping on any well-placed banana peels. (Whew.) But we did get a chuckle at some of the April Fool’s Day gags offered up by the airline industry this year.
Ultra-discounter Spirit Airlines extended its famous $9 fares to space travel with Spirit Galactic. Members of the carrier’s $9 Fare Club can enjoy ultra-cheap prices to the moon, but as always with Spirit, the devil’s in the details; additional “optional” fees include a million-dollar space suit and $1,200,000,000.99 for rocket fuel (“Hey, this stuff ain’t cheap”).
Skyscanner.net, an airfare search site, announced the launch of AirFair, a fare-free, “pay what you wish” airline that would allow passengers to give a donation based on what they think their flight was worth. “In order to ensure donations are sufficient to keep the airline profitable, AirFair has carried out extensive studies and plan[s] to offer flights only on routes most likely to generate high revenues,” reads the press release. “London City to St. Tropez, Monaco and Zurich are the first to be launched, whereas no flights to or from Scotland have been announced.” Zing!
Air New Zealand’s grabaseat.co.nz also trumpeted a splashy new product: Straight Up Fares, or standing-room-only tickets for full flights. Standing passengers, who can cling to hand straps dangling from the ceiling, will enjoy deep discounts “as consideration for the reduced inflight comfort, and the involuntary stranger-touching during turbulence,” according to the press release. For seniors who can’t easily reach the hand straps, says grabaseat manager Duane Perott, “We’ve modified a couple of Jolly Jumpers and hung them in the gap between the aft toilets. … We wanted to offer our elderly customers a solution with dignity, and I’m proud to say we’ve achieved that.”
We take a break from our regularly scheduled grumbling about the airlines to bring you this toe-tapping video of a Delta Air Lines flash mob, featuring employees shaking their groove things at airports in Atlanta, New York and Detroit. (TOC, the fourth location mentioned in the video, is Delta’s Technical Ops Center in Atlanta.)
Be warned that the first minute is a bit of a snooze — but we promise you’ll be smiling by the end. Take a look:
The job of a flight attendant can be monotonous. Rote tasks include spouting lobotomizing FAA-approved safety briefings, maneuvering a heavy wheeled cart down a too-narrow passageway and repeatedly telling passengers to turn off their surreptitiously running electronic devices.
But there are those who’ve managed to elevate the craft.
In that rarified air, flight attendants rap, sing and execute pre-flight safety talks rife with wry quips about seatbelts fitting “low and tight like tailored pants.” The checked bags might be extra, but the instantaneous mood enhancement is included in the fare.
Here are three of our favorite flight attendants. We’d thank them personally if we could.
1. Many travelers argue that Southwest Airlines flight attendants are given the most comedic leeway — so long as they touch on the federally required safety points. Case in rap: Behold the rhyming flight attendant, MC David Holmes, who transforms a banal briefing into something a bit more bumpin’.
2. This sartorially inclined Southwest flight attendant believes that life vests, seat belts and “buttercup yellow” oxygen masks are the epitome of high fashion — more so if worn snugly to accentuate your waist or face. He even dispatches his coworkers down the aisles to see that passengers’ seat belts are fastened and that their shoes match their outfits.
3. Fly enough and you may witness a flight attendant leading the cabin in song (again Southwest seems to pop up most). But no stewardess has ever entertained like Trans American Airlines’ Randy, who belts out an ovation-worthy rendition of Peter, Paul and Mary’s “River of Jordan.”
(Look familiar? The above clip is from the satirical film “Airplane!”)
See the world through the eyes of a suitcase. The “eyes,” in this instance, are six cameras that Delta Airlines attached to a piece of checked luggage. Delta recorded the bag’s journey from check-in counter to baggage claim area and posted the footage on YouTube. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll sway to a spacey New Age soundtrack as you watch the bag hitch a ride on a flight from Atlanta to New York. (I predict a big-budget Hollywood remake to follow.)
Note the teaser at the end: “Now you can track your bag’s journey.” Passengers aren’t permitted to attach spy cams onto their own Samsonites — at least not yet. But Delta’s making it easier to keep tabs on luggage with another kind of gadget. The airline has created a new app that allows travelers to follow the whereabouts of their checked bags on their smartphones. (Be sure that you don’t try tracking your bag during take-off or landing, lest you end up like Alec Baldwin.)
The app follows checked bags much the way postal services track packages, by providing a tracking code along with periodic status updates. In addition, fliers can use the app to get flight alerts, check in, make seat changes, rebook flights and more. Delta’s app is free, and it’s available for iPhone, Android, BlackBerry and Windows Phone. Download it here.
Would rainbow lights, disco dancing and short shorts get you to pay attention to a pre-flight safety demonstration?
Air New Zealand hopes so. Yesterday, the airline rolled out a new safety video called “Fit to Fly with Richard Simmons,” featuring the famed fitness guru as well as a handful of local Kiwi celebs. Backed by dancers in sweatbands and wearing his signature itty-bitty shorts, Simmons is in full “Sweatin’ to the Oldies” form as he exhorts fliers to lose their baggage, buckle their seatbelts and follow crew instructions at all times. “FANTASTIC!”
You can check out the video below. (“Amazing Race” fans, keep your eye out for host and New Zealand native Phil Keoghan, who demonstrates the brace position in his seat — and even has a brief dance solo.)
Air New Zealand isn’t the only airline to get creative in an attempt to make jaded fliers pay attention to a safety demonstration; see our recent post about the dancing flight attendants on the Philippines’ Cebu Pacific airline.
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.
On Friday, passengers waiting for a delayed flight in Buenos Aires’ Jorge Newbery Airport were treated to a surprise song by none other than ’80’s pop icon Cyndi Lauper. The songstress belted out “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” on an airport terminal public address system, soothing waiting travelers with her melodic voice. A passenger captured the moment on camera, and the video’s been sweeping the Internet:
This reminds me of the time a group of stranded travelers joined together in a Beatles sing-along with a guitar-strummin’ fellow passenger at Newark International Airport. (Check out the video below.) This also reminds me to keep my flip video camera close at hand when killing time in the terminal. Who will be the next talented hero to entertain bored fliers? Justin Bieber? Celine Dion? Busta Rhymes? Share your thoughts!
Every year, nearly two million wildebeest, zebras and other mammals migrate across the Serengeti plains in Tanzania, drawing thousands of visitors to watch one of the world’s most unique and impressive wildlife displays. But next year, construction is set to begin on a road that will cut through the park — and could irrevocably disrupt the famous Great Migration.
The Tanzanian government is seeking to build the road for economic reasons, NBC’s “Today Show” reports (see below to watch the full video). The proposed 33-mile gravel road would grant easier access to the Lake Victoria region, which is a key source of high-demand earth metals used to make cell phones and hybrid car batteries.
But environmentalists warn that the effects on the park’s wildlife could be disastrous. An increased volume of trucks driving through the park could make poaching easier, cause a spike in animal collisions and introduce invasive substances, such as seeds, that would disturb the existing ecosystem. In addition to ecological concerns, the disruption of the Great Migration could affect tourism — not only in Tanzania but also in neighboring Kenya (the animals migrate to the edge of that country’s Masai Mara reserve).
Opponents have proposed a longer alternate route for the road that would run south of the Serengeti.
Visit Lake Atitlan in Guatemala (and you should, come to think of it), and you may find yourself in the tiny village of San Marcos. With only a few hundred residents, cheap food and labyrinthine pathways contoured by stone walls, fences and trees, it’s one of the more unexpected New Age communities you’re likely to encounter — and with an international population at that.
It’s here I realized a few years ago that one of the best ways to get the rub on a place is to, well, get a rubdown in the place. You can choose from any number of massage therapists, but I picked one on the outskirts, where the heavily traveled path wasn’t so well worn. I wrote my name next to a time on a piece of paper tacked to a post, then showed up at my self-determined appointment, wondering what I’d gotten myself into. Not to worry: With thunder rumbling in the distance, the masseuse showed up precisely on time at the front door, led me to a lovely little room overlooking a garden and chatted about life in Guatemala in broken English as she provided the best $20 massage money can buy.
I’d go back in a heartbeat, if I could find the place again.
Since then, I’ve eagerly jumped at any chance to spa out, though nothing has topped my Atitlan experience. There’ve been massages at Utah’s Sundance resort, as well as in Vegas, London and North Carolina’s Outer Banks. I had a claustrophobic aromatherapy session in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia (think fragrant steam pumped into a phonebooth). I took the waters on a soaking tour of Saratoga Springs’ mineral baths in Upstate New York.
And now, a pedicure — in the middle of the ocean. During a recent spin on Royal Caribbean’s new Allure of the Seas, a loquacious charmer named Kim gave my weary toes some much-needed attention while she shared stories about her family back in Jamaica and recounted tales of working on a cruise ship. Bottom line: She misses her homeland, loves her floating workplace. While my toenails are still shiny from Kim’s efforts, the effects of the hot-rock leg massage and the cooling gels that followed it have, sadly, long disappeared.
(In case you’re wondering — and you are — I am not the only man to ever receive a pedicure at sea. Kim told me that about 20 percent of her clients are men. And when I asked her what sorts of pedial horrors she sees on a typical day, she just sort of shuddered and said, “I don’t want to think about it.”)
What’s next on my spa bucket list? I don’t know. I do know that you live and learn when you sit and soak, so I’m up for anything. Well, except for this: