What’s Cool at CES for Travelers

CES/The Consumer Electronics Show was this week in Las Vegas and it spotlighted some new technology innovations that might appeal to frequent travelers.

Try the Re-Timer on for size.  Literally.  It’s a portable light device that mimics the benefits of sunlight – so you can re-time your body to new time zones.  Unlike the sun, however, the Retimer is 100% UV-free and able to be used on an overcast day or during long winters when the sun is not visible. Seattle-folk, you listening?

Or perhaps you’ll like the ChargeCard. You know how you never have a sync cable when you need one? The ChargeCard solves that problem: just stick it in your wallet. Made mostly of rubber and almost exactly the size of a credit card, the ChargeCard sports either a Micro-USB connector or a 30-pin iDevice connector and a USB plug on a bendable rubber arm. You can use it to charge or sync your device or both.

Lastly, check out the ChargeDr.  It’s a dongle that plugs into a laptop USB port and somehow boosts the amperage so you can charge your iPad (or other tablet). It will also speed up tablet charging when used with a wall or car charger. Works with phones, too.

Here’s some more travel news you can use:

  • Also at this year’s CES, The Federal Communications Commission announced that it plans on freeing up a large portion of the airwaves to bolster WiFi across the country, especially in airports and convention centers. Business travelers, can I get an Amen?
  • If you suffer from jetlag, but can’t afford the Re-Timer, take a look a free online tool called Jet Lag Rooster.  You to plug in your trip itinerary, the times you usually go to sleep and awaken, and whether you’d like to start shifting your slumber schedule before you leave or when you arrive, and the free service calculates the optimal times – down to the hour – when you should seek light, and when you should avoid it.
  • Just when you couldn’t get enough news about guns, the TSA reported today that it seized a record number of guns in 2012.  U.S. travelers attempted to bring more than 1,500 guns on board planes in 2012 – of which 85% were loaded.  Stunning.

Southwest Airlines Succumbs to Fees

SWA turkeySouthwest Airlines, which has long bragged about having simple fare structures that don’t include fees for things like changing tickets or checking bags, recently announced plans to increase its dependence on fees.  The airline said it plans to increase annual revenues by $100 million by charging fees for early boarding positions, over-sized bags and penalties for no-shows on flights.

The airline said that the no-show fee will be levied on passengers who don’t cancel tickets before a flight. (Essentially, they want the opportunity to re-sell that empty seat.)  Meanwhile, the fee for overweight bags will rise to $100 from $50, and early check-in, which helps move passengers toward the front of the boarding line and assure space for their bag in the overhead bins, will go to $12.50 from $10.

You are now free fee to roam about the country.

American’s new fare strategy encompasses two basic changes, both of which include some fees in coach fares. One is Choice Essential, which costs $68 extra for a round-trip domestic fare but eliminates the $150 penalty fee for ticket changes after purchase. It also drops the $25 fee for the first checked bag and gives the buyer “priority boarding.”
Another option, Choice Plus, costs $88 extra and adds penalty-free same-day standby change options, while also eliminating the change penalty. And it includes what American calls a free “premium beverage” (beer, wine, cocktail), and a 50 percent bonus on frequent-flier mileage awards, as well as priority boarding.American’s new fare strategy encompasses two basic changes, both of which include some fees in coach fares. One is Choice Essential, which costs $68 extra for a round-trip domestic fare but eliminates the $150 penalty fee for ticket changes after purchase. It also drops the $25 fee for the first checked bag and gives the buyer “priority boarding.”Another option, Choice Plus, costs $88 extra and adds penalty-free same-day standby change options, while also eliminating the change penalty. And it includes what American calls a free “premium beverage” (beer, wine, cocktail), and a 50 percent bonus on frequent-flier mileage awards, as well as priority boarding.

Here’s some more news you can use:

  • 2013 has ushered in a shake-up in the rankings of the world’s largest airlines.   United (thanks to its merger with Continental) officially takes over the top spot from Delta – which maintains only a narrow lead on the rapidly growing Emirates.
  • JetBlue Airways is testing a new ancillary service called Even More Speed that will enable passengers to pay $10 for the privilege of using expedited security lanes at about 40 airports.

Cheap International Flights Coming to Canada

Rouge Airline

Good news for those seeking a cheap flight abroad.  Air Canada is entering the low-cost leisure travel market with the launch of its new Rouge airline.  The new airline will begin flying on July 1 from Toronto to Venice, Italy, and Edinburgh, Scotland, two destinations that currently aren’t served by Air Canada.  It will also serve Athens from Toronto and Montreal.  Air Canada’s existing flights to Cuba, the Dominican Republican, Jamaica and Costa Rica will be flown by the discount carrier from Toronto.
The airline said flights to Venice, Edinburgh and Athens will start at special introductory fares of $963 round-trip, including all taxes, fees, charges and surcharges.  Flights to the Dominican Republic and Jamaica will start at $272, one-way, while Cuba is offered starting at $545 round-trip.  All the introductory fares, which are available until Dec. 25, are based on Toronto departures.
If you live near either Toronto or Montreal, perhaps Rouge airlines can help you save some serious de l’argent.  (My high school French is suddenly paying huge dividends.)

Good news for those seeking a cheap flight abroad.  Air Canada is entering the low-cost leisure travel market with the launch of its new Rouge airline.  The new airline will begin flying on July 1 from Toronto to Venice, Italy, and Edinburgh, Scotland, two destinations that currently aren’t served by Air Canada.  It will also serve Athens from Toronto and Montreal.  Air Canada’s existing flights to Cuba, the Dominican Republican, Jamaica and Costa Rica will be flown by the discount carrier from Toronto.

The airline said flights to Venice, Edinburgh and Athens will start at special introductory fares of $963 round-trip, including all taxes, fees, charges and surcharges.  Flights to the Dominican Republic and Jamaica will start at $272, one-way, while Cuba is offered starting at $545 round-trip.  All the introductory fares, which are available until Dec. 25, are based on Toronto departures.

If you live near either Toronto or Montreal, perhaps Rouge airlines can help you save some serious de l’argent.  (My high school French is suddenly paying huge dividends.)

Here’s some more travel news you can use:

  • In an effort to attract price-conscious booze-cruisers, Royal Caribbean announced that it will begin selling all-you-can-drink beverage packages on its 22 ships early in 2013.  Packages are priced between $42 and $55 per guest, per day (depending on the cruise line).  Stay thirsty my friends.
  • Following months of congressional pressure, the TSA has agreed to contract with the National Academy of Sciences to study the health effects of the agency’s X-ray body scanners.  The TSA maintains that the scanners are safe and that they emit only a low dose of X-rays equivalent to the radiation a passenger would receive in two minutes of flying at typical cruising altitude.  Regardless, don’t you typically seek a second opinion on the safety of these machines before you radiate hundreds of thousands of people with them?  This has class action lawsuit written all over it.
  • In the period between New Year’s Day and Martin Luther King Jr. Day, travel drops off sharply, and cruise lines, airlines, hotels, and rental car agencies offer discounts that can make even the most jaded traveler giggle with glee.  Be on the lookout for these post-holiday deals – particularly on Twitter and Facebook.

Calling All Travel Nerds

GE wants the public to help solve the mathematical processes applied to flight scheduling. Offering $500,000 in total prize money — $100,000 for the winner — the firm have launched a competition for you to develop a “usable and scalable algorithm that delivers a real-time flight profile to the pilot, helping them make flights more efficient and reliably on time.”
Contest submissions will be judged based on algorithm predictions for plane arrivals at the runway and the gate. Using practice data sets, entrants have to submit a final model in February next year.
The winner’s model will be released as a test-bed on airline systems in March 2013.

flightquestIf you’re a frequent traveler, you’ve probably experienced your fair share of frustrating flight delays and cancellations.  And you’ve probably had fleeting moments when you’ve wondered if the airline was run by a bunch of monkeys.  But did you ever think you could do a better job?  Well, if you’re nerdy enough mathematically inclined, here’s your chance.

General Electric wants the public to help solve the mathematical processes applied to flight scheduling. Offering $500,000 in total prize money — $100,000 for the winner — the company has launched a competition called the “GE Flight Quest Challenge” for you to develop a usable and scalable algorithm that delivers a real-time flight profile to the pilot, helping them make flights more efficient and reliably on time.

Contest submissions will be judged based on algorithm predictions for plane arrivals at the runway and the gate. Using practice data sets, entrants have to submit a final model in February next year. The winner’s model will be released as a test-bed on airline systems in March 2013.

Here’s some more travel news you can use:

  • American Airlines rolled out new airfare “upgrade” packages this week available on all round-trip flights.  For an extra $68, you can now get a checked bag, priority boarding and no fee if you need to change your flight reservation.
  • Hotels chains are upgrading their toiletry lines, believing that a shampoo brand can make a difference to travelers who already stock their homes with high-end products.  Apparently, by upgrading to a fancier toiletry line, a hotel can boost its appeal to travelers – and, in turn, justify higher rates from those who truly appreciate the products.
  • Have you ever wondered what happens to your scissors, knives, snowglobes, or your kid’s Play-Doh after they are confiscated at airport security checkpoints?  It ends up in state-run auctions or stores, where thrifty customers can rummage through bins of objects from the TSA’s no-fly list. Yuuuuuup! Some states are making hundreds of thousands of dollars by selling your stuff.

You’re Surfing Gravity Waves, Dude

gravity waveAccording to a new study, gravity waves, mysterious waves that ripple unseen throughout the atmosphere, may be a major source of airplane turbulence.  Yep, gravity, the source of all my weight and aging problems, is now found to be hitting airplanes in waves (like water).  Gravity waves in the atmosphere can amplify and break , and it’s been determined that’s it’s a major contributor to turbulence in the atmosphere that affects aircraft.

Gravity waves form when air traveling up and down in the atmosphere meets resistance.  For instance, clouds rising in the troposphere, the lower level of the atmosphere where air mixes freely, will bump up against the boundary of the much more stable stratosphere, forming ripples in the process.  Big mountains like the Colorado Rockies often form gravity waves as air flows over the mountains and then overshoots as it reaches the other side.

Gravity waves in the atmosphere can amplify and break, and we’re finding now that’s a major contributor to turbulence in the atmosphere that affects aircGravity waves in the atmosphere can amplify and break, and we’re finding now that’s a major contributor to turbulence in the atmosphere that affects aircraft.

If you think about it, the theory behind gravity waves make a lot of sense.  For example, have you every asked yourself why it’s harder to get out of bed in the morning on some days than others.  Or why your weight fluctuates 5-10 pounds?  It’s not the extra piece of holiday cake.  It’s because you’re being hit with a gravity wave.

Here’s some more travel news you can use:

  • US Airways has become one of the world’s first airlines to accept MasterCard PayPass-enabled cards and devices to make contactless payments for in-flight purchases. Passengers can tap their PayPass-enabled MasterCard or device on a US Airways’ PayPass-accepting reader to complete a transaction without use of a PIN or signature because of the low-value transactions.
  • Those who want to see the TSA go away may have their day.  The agency has been so widely criticized for its procedures that it didn’t even bother to show up for a House aviation subcommittee hearing last week, as officials seemed fearful of having to answer hard questions and wanted to avoid getting publicly lambasted (again).  But the TSA’s absence may have spoke louder than words.
  • YouTube has reached a new agreement with commercial airline Virgin America that brings web video content to passengers during flights. Beginning Dec. 15, passengers can watch videos from five YouTube channel partners on the small screen that’s in the back of each seat’s head rest. The content includes Warner Brothers’ H+ The Digital Series, WIGS’ Blue, Geek & Sundry’s Written By a Kid, Crash Course, and Barely Political’s The Key of Awesome.

Okay to Fly with Medical Marijuana?

flyingwithweedIn the past, the TSA has said that if medical marijuana patients’ paperwork checks out, they can board a flight with meds in tow as long as they are headed to a medical marijuana state that honors such laws.  With the recent vote legalizing medical marijuana in both Washington and Colorado, people are now beginning to question the TSA about the rule.  Does that mean you can now fly between those states with your stash?

TSA spokesperson David Castelveter gave some vague answers this question – but ultimately made it clear that the TSA is a federal agency and therefore doesn’t consider marijuana legal under any circumstances.  That said, the TSA still has the power to ruin your day, regardless of what state laws may say.

So…now that voters in Washington and Colorado have legalized small amounts of marijuana for adults over 21, does that mean you’ll be able to fly between those states with your stash? Yes and no.So…now that voters in Washington and Colorado have legalized small amounts of marijuana for adults over 21, does that mean you’ll be able to fly between those states with your stash? Yes and no.

Here’s some more travel news you can use:

  • JetBlue is offering a 50% airfare savings with the purchase of a vacation package using this offer.  Book by December 9th and travel through December 19th.
  • Emirates, which flies nonstop from L.A. and San Francisco to Dubai, is offering a discount on travel this winter and spring on long-haul routes to the Middle East and beyond.
  • For those of you looking to “dry out” a little this winter, there’s some hotel bargains in Arizona that you can warm up to.  The W Scottsdale is offering fourth nights free, while at the Hyatt Regency, you’ll get either your third or fourth night free plus a $100 (all prices U.S.) dining credit.  The Royal Palms has third nights free and at the Montelucia, it’s fourth nights free plus $50 for the spa, and $50 for dining.  Deals expire Jan. 12, 2013.  For a list of participating resorts see scottsdaleholidayexperience.com.

A New Option for Buying Airline Tickets

a number of companies are starting to sell (or are planning to sell) “options” on airline tickets.
An airfare option works similarly to a stock option. The seller of the option charges a fee to hold your flight reservation at a certain fare, but you’re not obligated to buy a ticket. If your travel plans change, you let the option expire, and you’ve lost only the fee, not the full cost of the plane ticket.
A fare option might work like this: You pay $9 to lock in a ticket at a set fare for three days while you get your spouse or friends to commit to a getaway — or wait for your boss to approve vacation time.
Typically, the longer you hold the fare, the more the option costs. You don’t get your fee back, regardless of whether you make the purchase or let the option expire.

option traderWant to take that trip, but don’t want to fully commit?  Well, a number of companies are starting to sell (or are planning to sell) options on airline tickets.

An airfare option works similarly to a stock option.  The seller of the option charges a fee to hold your flight reservation at a certain fare, but you’re not obligated to buy a ticket.  If your travel plans change, you let the option expire, and you’ve lost only the fee, not the full cost of the plane ticket.

Here’s an example:  You pay $9 to lock in a ticket at a set fare for three days while you get your spouse or friends to commit to a getaway — or wait for your boss to approve vacation time.

Typically, the longer you hold the fare, the more the option costs. You don’t get your fee back, regardless of whether you make the purchase or let the option expire.

Here’s some more travel news you can use:

  • Monday is Veterans Day, and Red Roof Inn is offering veterans and active duty military a 15 percent discount at select properties in November.  Proof of military service is required.  Blackout dates may apply. Visit RedRoof.com or call 1-800-Red-Roof.  Use promotional  code 608455 for the discount.
  • A United Airlines flight from Denver landed safely in Washington DC after its crew reported an emergency because a passenger began praying in an aisle shortly before landing.  (Been there.)  According to United, the male passenger wasn’t following flight attendant instructions for landing – so they alerted authorities.  The plane was then escorted to Dulles airport by military jets.  (I can see the new PSAs now:  ”Hi, this is Tim Tebow of the Jets, reminding you to Tebow responsibly by keeping it out of the aisle.”)
  • I just lost all faith and trust in any poll conducted by Harris Interactive.  I find it extremely hard to believe that nearly a third of Americans with comply with a body cavity search by the TSA.

Scared of Flying? Avoid the film “Flight”

flight-poster-USIf the film “Jaws” made you fearful about swimming – and you currently have your hesitations about flying – then you may want to do yourself a favor and avoid seeing the new feature film “Flight” – which opens this weekend.   The film’s opening scene depicts a catastrophic aircraft malfunction, forcing seasoned pilot Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) to make a crash landing.  (Check out the movie trailer here if you’re interested in getting a preview.)  The Huffington Post reports: “The plane crash sequence is suitably intense and realistic, and its almost low-key presentation makes it all the scarier.”

The executives behind the film can pretty much write-off any potential revenue to be had from in-flight movie sales.  It’s a foregone conclusion that it will never be shown on an airplane.  The release of the film has even spurred CNN to spotlight 11 movies you don’t want to watch on a plane.

Here’s some more travel news you can use:

  • JetBlue announced that it will match up to $50,000 in customer donations to the Red Cross in order to assist Hurricane Sandy relief efforts.  The airline is also awarding its members with 6 TrueBlue points for every $1 members donate, now through November 30th.
  • If you need to make a rental car reservation within the next 10 days, definitely consider Hertz.  The rental car company is pledging $1-per-rental-car reservation on November 11 and November 12 (up to $50,000) to support the Disabled American Veterans group.
  • Effective for travel on or after January 15, 2013, Delta Air Lines will no longer check bags to a final destination when multiple tickets are presented at check in.  According to Delta, “if a second ticket is presented for travel on another airline beyond the destination of the first ticket, the passenger will be advised that Delta will only check the bag to the destination on the first ticket(s).  The passenger must collect the baggage at baggage claim for their first ticketed destination, and then re-check their baggage with the down-line carrier for the next flight.” Earlier this year Hawaiian Airlines and US Airways adopted similar policies.

Sandy

If there’s a silver lining for the occurrence of a natural disaster, it’s that they often serve as a reminder that airlines are run by people, not computers.  In response to the fallout of hurricane Sandy, most airlines are allowing affected customers to make one ticket change without the usual change fees.  And for those who had their flight cancelled as a result of the storm – which is reported to be approximately 14,000 – the airlines are refunding them in full.

As a reference for all stranded travelers, here’s an airline-by-airline list of weather waivers.

Here’s some more travel news you can use:

  • Hotels ranging from elite luxury accommodations to budget-priced properties have prepared ahead by stocking light sticks — and in some cases flashlights — specially for the storm.  Even though most hotels have a generator for at least limited lighting, they’re meant to give guests an extra layer of security.  Oh, and they’ll work great on Halloween.
  • The TSA plans to test using a private vendor next year to expand its expedited-security program at airports.  Travelers who aren’t part of an airline frequent-flier program would be able to pay a vendor a fee to undergo a security check based on criteria set by the agency.  The company would notify TSA who gets approved, and applicants who pass a second review by the agency would be admitted to the PreCheck program.
  • Airlines are tapping celebrity chefs such as Suzanne Goin (Singapore Airlines), Michelle Bernstein (Delta Airlines), and Sam Choy (American Airlines) to cook up the kind of meals you don’t expect at 30,000 feet.  American Airlines is going a step further by letting first- and business-class passengers review and reserve their in-flight meal via the airline’s website. You get to choose from among two or three entrees — the same choices you get when you board the plane.
airlines are tapping celebrity chefs such as Suzanne Goin by Singapore Airlines, Michelle Bernstein by Delta Airlines and Sam Choy by American Airlines to cook up the kind of meals you don’t expect at 30,000 feet.
American Airlines is going a step further by letting first- and business-class passengers review and reserve their in-flight meal via the airline’s website. You get to choose from among two or three entrees — the same choices you get when you board t

Flying Coach Is About To Get a Little More Cramped

small airplane seats

If you think flying coach sucks is a cramped and claustrophobic experience, then you’re going to hate what’s coming in the months ahead.  An increasing number of airlines are starting to install more paid-legroom seats on their planes (because people buy them), eating into the legroom of the standard coach seat – which we all know is already limited.

Airlines such as JetBlue, American, United, Frontier, and Spirit are introducing a new class of roomier seats with names such as Economy Plus (United) and Classic Plus (Frontier) that offer passengers more space to spread out but at a higher price tag.  To make room on the plane for these pricier seats, the standard coach experience gets a little more cramped.

In the past, the economy section on an average long-haul plane represented about 90% of the seats, with first-class seats making up the balance.  Today, 10% to 30% of the spots on a major airline are extra-roomy economy seats. To make room for the new seats, airlines have eliminated 10 to 40 standard economy seats per plane.  On some airlines, many of the remaining economy seats got pushed closer together.

Get ready to love thy neighbor.

Here’s some more travel news you can use:

  • There could be changes on the horizon for how you buy an airplane ticket online. Starting next year, a group of airline carriers agreed to start using a new system that could lead to personalized pricing for flyers.  Airlines will begin asking customers for more personal information, travel history, frequent flyer membership and credit card use.  Using this detailed information, they will then produce a customized ticket price.
  • The Chicago Tribune warns, “Procrastinators beware: Don’t put off booking holiday airline travel this year, unless you want to pay more and get stuck in a middle seat in coach.  Holiday ticket prices will generally rise from here. Count on paying $3 more per seat for every day you put off booking.”
  • ABC News revealed that many of the country’s busiest airports also rank at the top for TSA employees fired for theft.  Sixteen of the top 20 airports for theft firings are also in the top 20 airports in terms of passengers passing through.