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Health & Wellness Passenger Rights Security

How to Find Out if U.S. Emergency Grounding of Boeing 737 MAX 8 Planes Will Affect You

On Wednesday, the United States and Canada joined almost every other country and dozens of airlines in grounding Boeing’s 737 MAX 8 planes closely following the second deadly crash of the brand-new aircraft model in recent months. A tragic Ethiopian Airlines crash that killed everyone onboard Sunday followed the deadly October Lion Air crash the went down near Jakarta. Both planes went down without warning, just after takeoff, and in both crashes, all passengers and crew were killed.

President Trump issued an emergency order Wednesday afternoon grounding all Boeing 737 MAX 8 and 9s, according to the Associated Press. The MAX 9 is a more recent version of the plane that will likely be affected by any safety findings regarding the MAX 8. The immediate response to the move could be some last-minute delayed flights, as the U.S. operates a total of 72 Boeing 737 MAX 8 and 9 planes.

The U.S.-based airlines operating Boeing 737 MAX 8s are American Airlines, which has 24, and Southwest, which operates 34. United operates 14 of the MAX 9. Canadian airlines operating the model are Air Canada (41), Sunwing (four), and WestJet (13). European airlines that fly the 737 MAX models are Icelandair (three) and Norwegian (18).

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Here’s how to check flight delays nationwide to see if your airport could be affected:

On delay-tracking website FlightAware, “travelers can browse live flight delay statistics, showing how many flights are delayed or canceled for the current day,” SmarterTravel’s own Carl Unger has written. “You can click one specific airline to see how it’s doing—here’s Southwest, for example—but the broader view provides some helpful context.”

“For map-appreciating people like myself, the site’s aptly-named Misery Map displays the data by destination and overlays a current radar image to show where weather may impact arrivals and departures. Hovering over a destination displays routes that are experiencing delays and highlights routes that are on time.”

As for finding out if your plane for an upcoming flight was set to be on a Boeing 737 MAX 8, a simple search on your airline and flight number on SeatGuru or FlightAware can typically tell you. It also helps to have the SmarterTravel Air Passenger Rights Guide handy any time you’re delayed, so you know what you have the right to be compensated for.

For more on this developing story, see Will the 737 MAX Fly Again? Where Trust in Boeing Goes Now.

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SmarterTravel’s Shannon McMahon is a former news reporter who writes about all things travel. Follow her on Instagram @shanmcmahon.

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Booking Strategy Cities Travel Trends Weekend Getaways

Everything You Need to Know About Brexit as a Traveler

Looking for a reliable source of Brexit travel information? You’re not alone—the U.K.’s own lawmakers are still asking questions about the issue of borders and free travel after Brexit. As of January 31, 2020, the United Kingdom officially has left the European Union. But what’s to come still remains unclear: For the rest of the year, the U.K. will remain in a “transition” period, meaning nothing will change between now and 2021 in regards to borders and other travel-related items. Meaning, if you have a summer vacation planned to the U.K. or Europe, you shouldn’t worry about anything changing.

With those details in mind, here’s a handy guide to what travelers should know, and anticipate, about traveling to and through the United Kingdom post-Brexit.

U.S. Travel to the U.K.

The main thing for Americans to remember is that, whether or not border changes are made, things will remain largely unchanged for U.S.-based travel to the United Kingdom—which includes England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Americans already have to go through screening at U.K. border crossings, and that won’t change with Brexit. The main difference at U.K. borders might be that E.U. citizens are required to go through screenings, which they didn’t need to before. But longer delays at major border crossings into the U.K., like London’s airports, are unlikely to see such delays for other travelers: Amid Brexit, the air hubs updated their airport customs e-gates to expedite travelers who are citizens of the following countries (including the U.S):

  • Australia
  • Canada
  • Japan
  • New Zealand
  • Singapore
  • South Korea
  • United States

It’s worth noting that border crossing deals for train and boat travel, however, remain up in the air.

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U.S. Travel to Europe Through the U.K.

Europe travel from the U.S. through British hubs like London could be affected by any such border delays (again, if there even are any) but direct U.S.-to-Europe travel will not be affected by Brexit.

Travel to Europe will change for Americans in the coming years, however, when a wholly unrelated move by the European Union takes effect in 2021 requiring Americans to apply for a travel authorization (not a visa) to enter and move around the region. The new red tape is similar to the travel authorization the U.S. currently requires of E.U. citizens visiting the United States, dubbed ESTA. You can read more about the new E.U. travel authorization (called ETIAS) here.

Europe/U.K. Travel

If you have a European or U.K passport, things could change significantly. U.K. officials are advising its citizens to ensure they have six months’ passport validity—as opposed to the current 90-day validity requirement—if they’re traveling to the E.U., and recently launched a new service to help Britons check passport validity requirements.

As long as Brexit border operations remain elusive, however, your guess is as good as anyone’s in terms of whether a travel authorization, visa, or neither could be required on top of, or in lieu of, a border screening.

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Disruptions and Price Increases?

With all of this in mind, travel disruptions like unexpected cross-border train delays might seem like the biggest threat. But the U.K.’s government has addressed those concerns by generally assuring travelers that both flights and trains between Europe and the U.K. (like Eurostar) will continue to operate as usual. Whether or not that works out after the transition period, of course, remains to be confirmed.

According to a some experts, there’s also a potential for prices on flights and hotels to increase, as open sky agreements may change some routes and the hotel industry is expected to experience issues with immigration and their labor force. That and other broader economic predictions will only reveal themselves with time.

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SmarterTravel’s Shannon McMahon is a former news reporter who writes about all things travel. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2019. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

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Airport Money Packing Passenger Rights

What to Do When Your Checked Bag Is Lost

You’ve probably been there: waiting at the baggage claim carousel, while other folks from your flight grab their bags, the claim area empties, the conveyor stops, and still no bag.

The Airline Lost Your Checked Bag, Now What?

[st_content_ad]As long as airlines have been checking baggage, they’ve been sending a few somewhere other than where they were supposed to go. Airlines are doing better recently than they did 20 years ago, however, so your chances for a happy, or at least satisfactory, ending have improved:

  • They’re losing fewer bags, or in airline-ese, “mishandled” bags. The government has been collecting statistics on mishandled bag reports for decades, and the number of mishandled bag reports per 100,000 passengers has dropped, somewhat unevenly, from 5 to 7 in the early 1990s to 3 to 4 since 2009.
  • They’re getting better at tracking the bags they do lose. With barcoded tags and now, a few RFID-enabled tags, their systems keep excellent track of bags. The last two times I’ve had a bag problem, an agent at the lost-baggage desk was able to tell me, immediately, where my bag was and the flight on which it would arrive.

Although airline performance has improved, what you do when an airline loses a bag remains about as it was in the 1990s.

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Delayed Bags

Most so-called “lost” baggage really isn’t lost, rather, it’s delayed. And in most cases an airline can reunite you with your baggage within 24 hours or less.

When you realize that your bag isn’t going to show up on the carousel, go immediately to your airline’s lost-baggage counter or equivalent that you find in most big-airport baggage areas. In smaller airports, ask any airline employee where to go. Even if you have someplace you need to be, report missing baggage before you leave the airport. Some airline contracts specify that you must file no later than four hours after arrival; others say 24 hours. If your baggage is delayed on a connecting itinerary involving more than one airline, you deal with the airline that flew you to your destination, even if you think the first airline was responsible.

Hand over your baggage check (but write down the numbers) and fill out the form, making sure to get a copy, with the relevant tracking numbers, airline phone number or baggage-tracking website, and such. Note the name of the agent that handles your claim, and note the estimated time your bag will arrive.

Negotiate

Ask exactly how, when, and where the airline plans to deliver your bag. Normally, an airline delivers your bag to a local hotel or residence address the same day the bag arrives at your airport. If you need a different delivery location, ask for it. Airlines usually deliver delayed bags at no cost to you, but some may ask you to pay. And if you’re staying at a hotel or resort, alert the front desk about an incoming bag.

Ask what the airline provides in the way of assistance. No law requires any specific assistance; only that airlines must have a policy and make it available to you. At a minimum, airlines typically cover overnight needs such as toothpaste and such; some lines stock and hand out regular overnight kits at the lost-baggage desk. If your bag is lost on a flight arriving at an airport other than your home, many airlines offer to cover all or part of the cost of items you may need to continue your vacation or business trip. Some airlines offer a set daily allowance; others offer to reimburse you for items you buy on the basis of receipts. And some airlines say almost nothing beyond “We’ll get you bag back.” Very little is set; instead, you’re likely involved in a negotiation.

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Lost Checked Bag

If most lines don’t get your bag back to you within five days, the bag falls into a category of “maybe really lost.” You have to submit more information, but you can also enter more claims. An airline defines “really lost” at anywhere from five to 30 days, at which point both you and the airline proceed on the assumption that you’ll never see your bag again.

Damaged Bags

Generally, airlines will not take responsibility for minor damage to your luggage, such as bumps, scratches, dents, and scuffs, nor will they cover damage to straps, pulls, locks, or wheels that are the result of normal wear and tear. Airlines will generally cover broken fragile items packed in your luggage only if they are packed in a container designed for shipping. And they exclude damage or loss claims for a long list of extra-fragile items or high-value items such as jewelry, computers, and cameras that are both fragile and tempting targets for theft.

Airlines won’t take responsibility for damage that occurred during a TSA inspection. In the event that you think your baggage was damaged during a TSA inspection (All inspected bags will have a written notification inside.), call 866-289-9673. And when that happens, expect a protracted “he said, she said” tussle between the TSA and the airline.

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Compensation

Only one big airline, Alaska, provides any monetary compensation for delayed baggage: If the line doesn’t deliver your checked baggage within 20 minutes of arrival at the gate, it issues a voucher for $25 toward a future flight or 2,500 frequent-flyer miles. But this rule applies to all baggage, not just delayed baggage.

Other airlines do not issue any compensation for delayed baggage, even when you pay a checked-bag fee. Congress recently urged the DOT to rule that airlines must refund baggage fees if baggage isn’t delivered within 24 hours. In my view, that’s inadequate. The “hassle factor” begins as soon as your flight arrives without your baggage, and the refund should apply immediately. But even the weak proposal is iffy.

Whether delayed or really lost, baggage has a current maximum loss/damage claim of $3,500 on a completely domestic flight. The cap on international flights, including domestic segments, is set at 1,131 Special Drawing Rights, currently worth about $1,600.

Any claim process is obviously a negotiation. Airlines say they cover only depreciated value of whatever you say you lost. They ask for receipts, even for a suit you bought 10 years ago. You may go back and forth several times before reaching a deal. The airline may also offer you a voucher for future travel in lieu of cash, which is generally a good deal only if the voucher value is double to triple a satisfactory cash value and even then only if the voucher conditions actually allow you to travel.

[st_related]Lost Luggage? Here’s What to Do[/st_related]

Prevention

Don’t put the obvious valuable stuff or “can’t be without it” items in your checked baggage (medicine, important papers, jewelry, laptops). Carry it with you. Make a list of packed items and their estimated value before you leave. Keep receipts for expensive items you pack, as you may be required to send copies of them to the airline in the case of a lost bag. If you absolutely have to check some of those items, insure them separately: An airline won’t cover them even if you buy excess-value coverage. And remove old claim tags to prevent confusion about your destination.

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Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuses every day at SmarterTravel.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2016. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

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Booking Strategy In-Flight Experience Passenger Rights Security

Allegiant Air Safety Issues Have Persisted for Years, Investigation Finds

Have you questioned flying Southwest since its deadly engine failure made headlines this spring? The incident might have overshadowed a watershed safety moment for another low-cost airline—one that’s long faced questions about its safety: Allegiant Air.

A recent 60 Minutes special rekindled questions around Allegiant’s incident record, following a 2016 report that found Allegiant’s aircraft were four times as likely to fail during flight as those operated by other major U.S. airlines. 60 Minutes did a deep dive on the airline’s safety record since then, and found little has changed.

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Is Allegiant Air Safe?

The crux of 60 Minutes’ findings is this:

For the past seven months, we have been scrutinizing ‘service difficulty reports’ filed by Allegiant with the FAA. They are official, self-reported records of problems experienced by their aircraft. What we found raised some disturbing questions about the performance of their fleet. Between January 1st, 2016 and the end of last October, we found more than 100 serious mechanical incidents, including mid-air engine failures, smoke and fumes in the cabin, rapid descents, flight control malfunctions, hydraulic leaks and aborted takeoffs.

The airline has had “persistent problems since at least the summer of 2015,” the report adds, “when it experienced a rash of mid-air breakdowns, including five on a single day.”

A Pattern of Problems

What makes the Allegiant situation more notable, however, is that we aren’t talking about a short period of time. As 60 Minutes notes, the carrier has had persistent, consistent safety and maintenance difficulties for years.

All airlines experience occasional, isolated mechanical issues.  Sometimes even a spate of problems in a row—Southwest, for example, had a rough stretch this spring with multiple, newsworthy incidents over a short period of time. The Tampa Bay Times’ bombshell reporting on Allegiant’s maintenance record, though, came out in November 2016, and we’re still talking about what appear to be systemic problems.

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Just this week, an Allegiant Air flight made an emergency landing due to smoke in the cabin. This followed another emergency landing in May due to an “electrical smell.” And that followed another in April due to a faulty sensor. And there was yet another in April.

In a statement to 60 Minutes, Allegiant’s Vice President of Operations, Captain Eric Gust, said: “All of us at Allegiant are proud of our strong safety record, as noted in the most current, comprehensive FAA audit. We not only comply with all mandatory safety regulations and guidelines, but also participate in numerous voluntary safety programs. Simply stated, safety is at the forefront of our minds and the core of our operations.”

It’s worth noting that this response differs from Allegiant’s in 2016, when Allegiant CEO Maurice Gallagher Jr. said the company would be “focused on running a better operation.”

Out with the Old

60 Minutes suggests these problems are the result of the way Allegiant runs its business: “The business strategy which has produced 60 straight quarters of profits, occasionally with margins approaching 30 percent, requires the airline to keep costs down and ‘push the metal’—keep the planes flying as often as possible,” the report says. “But Allegiant’s aged fleet of MD-80s, which it is phasing out and is responsible for most of its problems, require a lot of maintenance and reliable parts are hard to come by.”

How old can an airline fleet be, really? MD-80s are rarely flown in the U.S. these days, and most airlines have retired them in favor of newer, modern aircraft. Allegiant is finally doing the same. The airline is transitioning to an all-Airbus fleet, and is steadily introducing those aircraft to its active roster. Its MD-80s should be fully retired by year’s end. That said, the most recent emergency landing, due to smoke in the cabin, involved … one of its new Airbus planes.

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Where’s the Oversight?

60 Minutes also points fingers at the FAA. “Over the last three years, the FAA has switched its priorities from actively enforcing safety rules with fines, warning letters and sanctions—which become part of the public record—to working quietly with the airlines behind the scenes to fix the problems,” the report says.

However, in a letter to CBS shared with Skift.com, the FAA pushed back on suggestions of lax oversight, saying Allegiant received more attention than other carriers, and that the FAA accelerated a review of the airline’s procedures.

“This review did not find any systematic safety or regulatory problems, but did identify a number of less serious issues, which Allegiant addressed,” according to the letter. The agency says it has found no “significant or systematic problem” in evaluations following that review.

Unsafe, or Just Unreliable?

Amidst all this back and forth, one simple, common truth emerges: At best, Allegiant is simply far less reliable than other airlines. “Perhaps the piece was sensational,” Brian Sumers wrote for Skift, “but it did tell the public what insiders have long known—Allegiant is less reliable than U.S. major carriers.”

There’s a subtle but crucial distinction to be made here between “unreliable” and “unsafe.” For all the incidents Allegiant has encountered, it seems to take the issue seriously and is moving to modernize its fleet with more reliable aircraft. And so far, thankfully, those incidents have been relatively minor—at least in outcome, if not experience for the passengers onboard.

But a new aircraft fleet and all those statements of good intent won’t matter at all if these issues continue, or get worse.

Readers, do you fly Allegiant? Have you ever encountered a problem onboard? Comment below.

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Airport Booking Strategy Holiday Travel Security

TSA Prepares for Busiest Screening Day Ever, Record Summer Travel

Flying somewhere this summer? You won’t be alone. Airlines for America (A4A), the trade group representing the biggest U.S. airlines, predicts some 246 million travelers will take to the skies this summer, which would be a record and represent an increase of 3.7 percent over last year. A4A says airlines added roughly 116,000 seats per day to accommodate the surge in travelers.

Those numbers mean that, on average, some 2.7 million travelers will pass through our nation’s airports daily. And each and every one of them needs to go through security.

That deluge could come to a head as soon as this Friday, as travelers depart for their Independence Day vacations.

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“We expect that this coming Friday will potentially be one of busiest days ever in TSA history, in terms of passenger throughput busiest ever,” TSA Administrator David Pekoske said this week. The agency is preparing for around 2.6 million people Friday, well above the 2.2 million passengers it typically screens on a given day. AAA is also predicting record-breaking travel numbers this Independence Day.

Pack Your TSA Patience

Bottom line: It’s going to be a busy, crowded summer at our nation’s airports. This increase in travelers comes as TSA has tightened procedures at security checkpoints, including greater scrutiny of powders (think: spices, baby powder, makeup) and the well-publicized restrictions on laptops.

That said, screenings have gone smoothly since Memorial Day, according to USA Today, which reports that 96 percent of travelers in standard checkpoint lanes are waiting less than 20 minutes. Wait times can spike to much longer durations, of course, but that’s a reasonable average for a busy travel period.

Still, travelers would do well to arrive at the airport a little early and pay extra attention to the TSA’s new requirements for carry-on luggage, for powders in particular. “TSA recommends packing containers [of powder] larger than 350 milliliters, or about the size of a can of soda, in checked bags,” writes USA Today. “Baby formula, for example, is allowed in carry-on bags. But if a checkpoint officer can’t resolve what the powder in a carry-on bag is, the passenger might be forced to discard it at the checkpoint in order to board a flight.”

And don’t forget about your liquids, either.

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Island

Popular ‘Cesspool’ Tourist Island Closing for 6 Months

One of the most popular vacation spots in the Philippines, the island of Boracay, is undergoing a “total closure” to tourists beginning April 26 and lasting for six months, according to Philippines Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque. The idyllic island regularly appears on round-ups of the world’s best beaches, which likely contributed to the massive numbers of visitors.

Boracay Closure

[st_content_ad]The beautiful white sands of Boracay drew nearly 1.7 million tourists (including many arriving via cruise ship) last year, but Boracay did not have the proper infrastructure to handle that many people. The main issue causing the shutdown is improper waste management, after a study found that the majority of hotels, restaurants, and houses were draining sewage directly into the sea rather than treating it or disposing of it in an environmentally responsible manner. Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte was quoted earlier this year as saying, “As long as there is shit coming out of those pipes draining to the sea, I will never give you the time of the day (to return)” to the island.

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Most of Boracay’s 17,000 residents are employed in the tourism industry, and emergency funds have been allocated to help the island’s economy during the shutdown. During the island’s forced closure, the government will work to clean up the island and the water, with business owners likely responsible for remedying their improper sewage systems.

Cebu Pacific, one of the main airlines flying to Boracay, has announced the cancellation of many flights to and from Boracay’s main airports (Caticlan and Kalibo), but will continue to operate some routes in order to serve the island’s residents.

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Active Travel Adventure Travel Budget Travel Experiential Travel Family Travel Money Outdoors

National Parks Pricing Going up for Summer 2018

When the U.S. National Park Service (NPS) proposed drastic hikes to admission fees last fall, the reaction was swift and negative. It seems the NPS heard what people will saying.

National Parks Prices Rising in 2018

The Interior Department announced yesterday that it will back off a plan to more than double admission fees at some of the most popular parks. Instead, visitors to the 117 parks in the National Parks system will see a “modest” increase, usually in the range of $5.

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In a statement, the NPS said the revised fee hike “comes in response to public comments on a fee proposal released in October 2017” and will “raise additional revenue to address the $11.6 billion in deferred maintenance across the system of 417 parks, historic and cultural sites, and monuments.” The proposal last fall drew over 100,000 comments from the public.

According to the NPS’ statement, “most seven-day vehicle passes to enter national parks will be increased by $5 and will be implemented in many parks beginning June 1, 2018. Yosemite National Park for example will increase the price of a seven-day vehicle pass to the park from $30 to $35. More than two-thirds of national parks will remain free to enter.” The NPS maintains a list of entrance fees on its website.

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Critics of the original proposal cited concerns that ordinary Americans would be priced out of visiting the parks. At the same time, National Parks are more popular than ever, with record visitation in 2017. Most of that traffic occurs at a handful of the system’s parks, which puts a strain on operations and infrastructure. Raising entrance fees was therefore necessary, but doubling them was clearly a bridge too far.

Readers, would you have continued to visit our national parks if fees were doubled?

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Booking Strategy Cities Entertainment Money Travel Trends

Wallet Watch: Daily Resort Fees Reach $45 in Las Vegas

With the widespread imposition and quick escalation of parking fees, Las Vegas hotels seem to have little interest in preserving the city’s reputation as a budget-friendly destination. And it’s not just the parking fees.

Last week, two popular hotels, the Venetian and the Palazzo, raised their so-called resort fees to $45 a night. That’s up from $39 a night previously, and now the highest such fees in Las Vegas.

Today, resort fees remain at $39 per night at many of the pricier hotels, including the Aria, Bellagio, Caesars Palace, Mandarin Oriental, and Wynn.

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Resort fees are the mandatory surcharges hotels impose for a slew of services that travelers may or may not need or use. Here’s how they’re described by the FTC in a report overtly critical of the practice:

Resort fees are per-room, per-night, mandatory fees charged by some hotels. According to the hotel industry, the purpose of the fees is to provide hotel customers with certain hotel services, such as Internet access, parking, and use of the hotel’s health club. However, these services could be provided without charging separately-disclosed resort fees by making them optional to customers for additional fees or, alternatively, bundling them with the room and including the cost of the services in the room rate. By charging a mandatory resort fee, a hotel is bundling the services with the room, but is disclosing the fee for the services separately from the room rate.

The overwhelming consensus among both travelers and the media is that resort fees amount to legal extortion. They should be banned.

For now, Las Vegas hotels will keep squeezing travelers ever-harder, until occupancy rates fall off or the government restricts their use.

Reader Reality Check

Have you ever been blindsided by a hotel’s resort fee?

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After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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Security

State Department Warns Against Mexico Travel, But Is It Unsafe?

Last week the State Department released a vague warning about Mexico travel to Playa Del Carmen, saying it had “received information about a security threat,” and prohibited government employees from traveling there for several days.

According to CNN, the Mexico travel warning came one week after a crude explosive device was found on a tourist ferry in the area. In its travel advisory, the State Department specifically noted that U.S. government personnel were “prohibited from using ferry services between Playa del Carmen and Cozumel” and that “U.S. citizens should not use ferry services operating between Playa del Carmen and Cozumel.”

Authorities reportedly ruled out terrorism and organized crime in the attempted bombing.

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“US citizens must have as much information as possible to make informed travel decisions,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement to CNN Thursday. “We take our obligation to provide information to US citizens seriously as evidenced by the clear, timely, and reliable safety and security information we release worldwide.”

The Mexico Tourism Board pushed back on the warning, which coincided with high-season spring break travel to the region, saying “messages like this, which imply safety issues without any basis in fact, are counterproductive to the goal of informing and educating travelers to Mexico and we strongly disagree with both this approach and the contents of this security message.”

So, how should travelers respond to this kind of warning? Ultimately, it’s a matter of your personal risk tolerance.

It’s worth remembering that Mexico overall is Level 2 country on the State Department’s new Travel Advisory system, which means travelers should “exercise increased caution” due to crime. There are several areas the State Department says travelers should not consider visiting; Quintana Roo, however (where Playa del Carmen, Cancun, Tulum, Cozumel, and the Riviera Maya are located) is listed as a Level 2, meaning travelers should exercise increased caution.

Mexico’s crime issues are well known: The worst of it tends not to affect or involve tourists, which makes this warning a bit unusual as the bomb was placed on a tourist ferry. But visitors to Mexico have been long encouraged to use extra caution and common sense, and to stick to tourist areas.

“Specifically related to Playa del Carmen, I would probably follow the State Department’s alert and suggestion, and stay away for a while,” Eric Olson, senior advisor to the Mexico Institute at the Wilson Center and deputy director of the Latin American Program, told USA Today. “But there are tons of other places, wonderful places, to vacation in Mexico.”

Readers, what’s your take on visiting Mexico?

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Airbnb’s 10-Year Plan to Rock the Travel World

Airbnb recently revealed a road map designed to jump-start the company’s annual guest count to more than 1 billion by 2028.

The 10-year plan includes multiple elements, including more rental types and a consumer loyalty program.

First, the low-hanging fruit: Airbnb is adding filters to allow customers to search for new categories of lodging, including vacation homes, unique accommodations, bed & breakfasts, and boutique hotels.

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Next, Airbnb is adding new tiers to its product lineup, Airbnb Plus and Beyond by Airbnb. The former is a collection of more upscale homes, for those with Champagne tastes and the budgets to back them up. The latter “will offer custom designed trips of a lifetime, including the world’s finest homes, custom experiences and world-class hospitality.”

Another addition: Airbnb Collections, “perfect homes for every occasion.” Launching immediately are Airbnb for Family and Airbnb for Work. Later this year will be added collections for social stays, weddings, honeymoons, group getaways and dinner parties.

Airbnb already has a Superhost loyalty program for its hosts. This summer the company will test-launch the Superguest program for guests. Details weren’t disclosed, but perks might be expected to include lower prices and access to fitness centers for heavy Airbnb users.

If Airbnb is to meet its lofty 10-year goal, it will be in large part at the expense of the traditional hotel industry, which isn’t likely to take losing market share lightly. Sparks will fly, and travelers will (should) be the beneficiaries.

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After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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Airport Booking Strategy Security

TSA PreCheck Now Available at 5 More Airlines

The Transportation Security Administration today announced the addition of five new airlines to its TSA PreCheck trusted-traveler program. They are Air France, Brussels Airlines, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Philippine Airlines, and World Atlantic.

The additions bring to 47 the number of airlines participating in the program, including all major U.S. carriers. (There’s a full list here.)

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PreCheck travelers may leave on their shoes, light outerwear and belts, and keep laptops in their cases and 3-1-1 compliant liquids in carry-ons when clearing security in designated screening lanes.

To enroll in PreCheck, travelers pay an $85 application fee and must undergo an in-person interview at one of TSA’s 380 application centers, or at one of 1,400 IdentoGO mobile processing centers.

Once approved as a low-risk traveler, flyers are entitled to use TSA PreCheck lanes for five years at 200 U.S. airports when flying on participating carriers.

With full flights and travel’s generally high hassle factor, anything travelers can do to make flying less stressful is worth a look. And PreCheck delivers. For example, in November 2017, including part of the congested Thanksgiving travel period, the TSA claims that PreCheck flyers cleared security checkpoints in less than five minutes 93 percent of the time.

While PreCheck can be a time- and aggravation-saver, as intended, the service is not without its critics, who cite the cost and two-step application process as deterrents to many would-be participants. Notwithstanding such quibbles, more than 4 million flyers now participate in PreCheck.

More from SmarterTravel:

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

[st_newsletter]

Categories
Airport Booking Strategy Health & Wellness Security Travel Trends

Here’s How a Government Shutdown Affects Your Travel

When the federal government shuts down, as it did over the weekend, the resulting uncertainty and confusion impinge on many areas of life, including travel. With hundreds of thousands of government workers thrown out of work, how will essential services be affected?

As we go to press on Monday morning, a Senate vote is imminent on a short-term spending package that would keep government services funded through February 8. If passed by the Senate, the House would also have to approve the measure before the government can resume operating normally. But that’s just a temporary fix, that may or may not be extended, leaving open the possibility of yet another shutdown.

On a positive note, workers whose jobs are considered “essential” will not be furloughed, although they won’t receive paychecks until the government is back in operation.

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In the travel sphere, essential workers include air traffic controllers, Customs and Border Protection agents, and Transportation Security Administration personnel. That means that commercial air travel should remain mostly unaffected.

On the other hand, such non-essential services as passport and visa processing will only continue until the money runs out, according to the State Department.

National parks and historic monuments are a mixed bag. While most parks remain open, rangers and other federal employees won’t be working, and visitor centers and full-service restrooms will be closed.

Many landmarks, like Philadelphia’s Independence Hall, are closed, but New York has committed to underwriting the costs to keep the Statue of Liberty open to the public, and the state of Arizona is doing the same for the Grand Canyon.

Amtrak, the government-subsidized train service, will operate normally.

The last government shutdown, in 2013, lasted more than two weeks, during which more than 800,000 federal workers were furloughed. The economic impact of that event has been estimated at a $24 billion loss to the economy. That’s a big number, but in the context of a $20 trillion national economy, it’s not much more than a rounding error.

Reader Reality Check

Has the government shutdown affected you?

More from SmarterTravel:

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

[st_newsletter]

Categories
Booking Strategy Health & Wellness In-Flight Experience Travel Etiquette Travel Trends

Delta Warns: No More Comfort Hedgehogs on Flights

Comfort animals onboard commercial airline flights have become something of a joke in recent years, as flyers have taken advantage of notoriously loose restrictions to bring all manner of pets with them in the passenger cabin.

The idea of comfort animals seems to have gained currency among military veterans returning home from war zones with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). An emotional support animal was often prescribed to help ameliorate the symptoms. As PTSD became recognized as an increasingly more common condition, affecting people in many walks of life, comfort animals too proliferated. And not just dogs and cats.

Today there are websites like US Support Animals that advertise “Fly with your animal in the cabin of an airplane at no cost” and provide an easy roadmap for certifying virtually any creature as an emotional support animal. Prices range from $99 to $299 for the service.

It was only a matter of time before some airline or regulatory body stepped up and imposed some order on the system. That time has come, and the airline is Delta.

Beginning on March 1, according to today’s announcement, Delta will impose new requirements on passengers wishing to have their support animals accompany them onboard Delta flights.

Delta Air Lines is taking steps to further protect its customers, employees and service and support animals by implementing advance documentation requirements for those animals. This comes as a result of a lack of regulation that has led to serious safety risks involving untrained animals in flight.

According to Delta, the airline currently carries around 700 support animals every day, and has experienced an 84 percent increase in reported animal incidents in just the past two years. “The rise in serious incidents involving animals in flight leads us to believe that the lack of regulation in both health and training screening for these animals is creating unsafe conditions across U.S. air travel.”

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So, when the new rules take effect, Delta flyers will have to comply with the following in order to take their emotional-support animals with them in the passenger cabin:

  • Show proof 48 hours in advance of the animal’s health or vaccinations
  • Provide a doctor or mental health professional’s letter
  • Provide a signed document confirming the animal “can behave”

Delta also states that it will not accept “exotic or unusual” support animals, including hedgehogs, ferrets, insects, rodents, snakes, reptiles, amphibians, goats, chickens, and any animals with tusks, horns, or hooves.

So even if all the proper documents can be obtained, Delta passengers can rest assured that they won’t find themselves flying cheek-by-jowl with Esther the Wonder Pig.

Reader Reality Check

Is this a sensible step on Delta’s part, or is it overreach?

More from SmarterTravel:

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

[st_newsletter]

Categories
Airport Booking Strategy

Alaska Air, United Will Launch Flights from 2nd Seattle Airport

Paine Field, 30 miles north of downtown Seattle, is known by aviation enthusiasts as the site of Boeing’s B747 assembly plant, where for decades the iconic jumbo jets rumbled down the tarmac on their delivery flights to airlines representing every corner of the world. Otherwise, Paine Field was just another sleepy little civilian airport, known to few and relevant to fewer.

The airport has three runways, two of which are suitable for commercial jet flights. But several neighboring cities and at least one citizens group have until recently blocked efforts to open up the facility to commercial service. That resistance began crumbling in 2012, however, following an FAA study that found that commercial flights would not significantly impact local traffic and noise.

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Ground was broken in June 2017 for a new passenger terminal featuring two gates and capable of handling around 16 flights per day.

When the airport begins commercial service in September 2018, it will immediately be at full capacity, with Alaska Airlines operating 13 flights a day to mostly west coast destinations (Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Orange County, Phoenix, Portland, San Diego, San Francisco, and San Jose) and United flying six times a day to its Denver and San Francisco hubs.

Fans of smaller airports (I’m one!) can now begin seriously considering flying into Paine Field on future trips to Seattle.

More from SmarterTravel:

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

[st_newsletter]

Categories
Booking Strategy Budget Travel Frequent Flyer Health & Wellness

Recap: The Week’s Biggest Travel Stories and Best Deals

Following is our regular summary of the latest travel news and best frequent traveler promotions reviewed during the past week.

If it was a good deal—or a notably bad deal—from an airline, hotel, or car rental loyalty program, you can read all about it here, and plan your travel accordingly.

The 10 Most Dangerous Cities for Pedestrians

Walking is part of traveling, but some cities are more dangerous than others for pedestrians.

It’s Not Just You – Air Travel Really Has Gotten Worse

A new report confirms what we all suspected: Air travel is getting worse rather than better.

Marriott’s New MegaBonus Offer: Up to 3,000 Points Per Stay

Marriott Rewards members can earn 2,000 bonus points for the second and subsequent stays, plus an extra 1,000 points on weekends.

New Disney Policy Puts Security Over Privacy

Daily room checks at Disney hotels: Should security trump privacy?

Which Airlines Serve the Healthiest (and Unhealthiest) Meals

Wondering which airlines serve the healthiest inflight food? We have answers.

Wallet Watch: Airport Parking Costs How Much?

Airport parking fees can be a budget-buster. Here are the most and least expensive airports.

EU Court Calls Uber a Taxi Company. Will Rates Rise?

Cabbies, who have less business, would be delighted. Uber customers, not so much.

How to Minimize the Stress of Holiday Travel

Stressed out at the prospect of traveling over the holidays? Here are some tips to keep your spirits elevated.

Here’s How to Win a Trip for 2 to Fiji

Prize includes $1,000 toward airfare and accommodations at a beach resort.

Somebody has to win this trip, right? Might as well be you.

More from SmarterTravel:

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

[st_newsletter]