How to Avoid Being Stranded at the Airport

July 17, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

If you’re a frequent traveler, you know that feeling in the pit of your stomach when you get the notification: Flight canceled. There are few worse feelings when you’re headed to an important meeting, on a long-awaited vacation or — worst yet — home after a busy time away.

There’s a silver lining: Conde Nast Traveler’s The Daily Traveler blog published a post with some great tips for making your way home if your flight’s been canceled and you’re stuck at an airport.

A busy airport

(Photo credit: eGuide Travel)

The steps CN outlines are ones I haven’t given a lot of thought to honestly. I’ve had a few major cancellations happen to me in my travels — and while I don’t recommend it, I pretty much rely on my past experiences of “playing the game.” The key to winning said game? Make sure you have a lot of alternatives.

The first step for me has always been to approach the airline directly to find out your options. But from there, what you do depends on how badly you want to get home.

Having a sort of slush fund for a recovery budget is one thing CN’s article recommends. Recovery budgets and security measures like travel insurance can alleviate the financial burden of a canceled flight or long delay, but it doesn’t necessarily make getting home any easier.

When I lived in Michigan, I had a flight canceled during a snowstorm — there were no flights coming or going out of the Detroit airport. But we were headed to Grand Rapids, which was only a few hours’ drive — so my coworkers and I rented a car and drove through the snow to reach our final destination. (Renting a car is often cheaper than getting a hotel room.)

I encountered a similar situation in a past life, when I was working on the East Coast. I had a presentation to give in Hyde Park, N.Y., and our flight out of Philadelphia got canceled. We didn’t have the option to spend the night — we had a presentation to give and had to be there — so we drove six hours to our destination and made the presentation as planned.

However, the airline refused to surrender our luggage to us before we left, so we met our bags at the Hyde Park airport when the canceled flight eventually arrived. In that case, we just had to punt, wear the same clothes from the day before, and give the presentation. There are times the show must go on, regardless of what you’re wearing. (It was also a valuable lesson in why it’s better to travel with carry-on bags than checking them on short trips.)

If driving isn’t an option for you, my two favorite tips from CN’s article are to find an airport with a lot of flights and be open to alternate airports. If you’re reasonably flexible with your travel plans, you can often find another way home or to your destination with minimal pain.

What’s your biggest cancellation nightmare? Commiserate in the comments section and give us some ideas.

How To Improve And Differentiate The Passenger Experience

July 15, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Go through enough harrowing travel experiences, and you might start to wonder whether airports, airlines and security personnel are conspiring to conduct a cruel, long-term experiment on just how much stress and misery travelers can take.

Contrary to popular belief, many officials are working to make the experience better for travelers. An encouraging blog post on FutureTravelExperience.com features some technologies and ideas that airports are trying out to make travel more pleasurable.

Music

English: Scandinavian Airlines Airport Lounge ...

Scandinavian Airlines Airport Lounge at Helsinki-Vantaa Airport (HEL). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many airports have started introducing music — both recorded and performed live — as a way to enhance the passenger experience. And this choice wasn’t made on a whim! Results of a study by researchers at Montreal’s McGill University released in March 2013 say that listening to music helps with four major health-related factors: “management of mood, stress, immunity and as an aid to social bonding.”

FTE’s article mentions regular musical performers at the Seattle-Tacoma airport, and that introducing music for its travelers’ enjoyment has increased the airport’s Airport Service Quality (ASQ) score to 4.14 out of 5.

I have even enjoyed an authentic Chicago blues band while waiting for my luggage at Chicago Midway’s baggage carousels. This is one way to reduce the stress, while waiting for your bag to arrive at the carousel.

Places To Rest

It’s safe to say that much of the stress and unhappiness around air travel happens because of a lack of rest. From waking up early to wait in long security lines and gate seating areas, everything’s a little worse when you don’t have the rest you need.

Helsinki Airport has created some potential solutions to the stress and exhaustion of travel: relaxation areas with sleeping tubes, rocking chairs and even a book swap.

Traveling to Abu Dhabi? The Guide To Sleeping In Airports, a blog dedicated to exactly what the name says, mentions sleep pods right out in the middle of the terminal with roll-up shades that completely enclose travelers trying to get a bit of shut-eye.

In the United States, Minute Suites at airports in Atlanta, Dallas-Fort Worth and Philadelphia offer a private place to catch a quick nap or enjoy some peace and quiet to get a bit of work done at the airport. The price is $34 an hour.

Or if you’ve got the time, you can purchase a day pass at an airline’s travel lounge and spend a few hours there between your flights. For example, a day pass at Delta’s Sky Club is $50 for a single day. The chairs are comfortable, there’s snack food available, and even easy access to electrical outlets and wifi.

What’s Your Experience?

Have you experienced any of these new travel amenities? Seen something we didn’t mention! Comment here with your thoughts.

Airliners, Travelers Need Luggage Etiquette

July 8, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

As airlines keep raising and creating fees, people are always going to look for ways to avoid paying them. Luggage fees are no different. No one wants to spend an extra $50 just to to check one suitcase, so everyone is bringing on carry-on’s, which are creating further problems and serious breaches in good manners.

As passengers, we need to have some etiquette about our luggage, like not whacking people in the noggin with it, or not cramming both your bags in the overhead bin. This prevents other people from getting their bag into the bin, which means they’ll have to gate check them, which means they’ll have to get them at baggage claim. It also means the boarding process is slowed down, which means we all reach our destination much more slowly.

English: Luggage compartments of an Airbus 340...

English: Luggage compartments of an Airbus 340-600 aircraft (economy class). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pack lightly. If your rollaboard is completely full for a 4 day trip, you may have too much stuff. Imagine having to pay for your luggage by the pound. Now what could you get rid of? What is it you don’t actually need? Once you figure that out, you may be down to a reasonable amount.

Of course, you could always ship your belongings, possibly for much less than you’re going to pay in baggage fees. You can even ship your suitcase itself in a box. Ask your local Fedex or UPS store for help.

Finally, arrive early, and maybe consider buying a seat upgrade. For the cost of a checked bag, you may be able to upgrade for the same amount, and ride in much more comfort than your original seat. Not only that, you can get on board early and find a place for your luggage. So weigh your options: fly for less — in less comfort — and check/gate check your bag, or fly in more comfort and have your bag on board with you.

Passengers aren’t the only ones who should have to display some patience and manners. We hope the airlines can encourage this etiquette as well. Make sure people are only putting one bag in the overhead bin. Adopt a seating system where the people who sit near the back can get on first (and then make sure they’re not putting their bag up front). And would it be too much to ask that the overhead bins actually be large enough to hold everyone’s bags?

Here’s Why Plane Ticket Prices Change Every Day

July 3, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

These days, air travel seems pricier than ever (and that the amenities less amenable than ever). Would you believe, though, that when you adjust for inflation, airfares have actually fallen by about 50 percent in the past 30 years? It’s true, according to a chart-filled article in The Atlantic.

English: Airline Ticket Receipt of Southwest A...

English: Airline Ticket Receipt of Southwest Airlines (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That’s no consolation to the average passenger, though. Paying hundreds of dollars just to get from Point A to Point B — often with nary a free bag of peanuts to soothe them — leaves many travelers with a bad taste in their mouths.

But perhaps even more frustrating than the high price of air travel is the constant change in exactly how high they’ll be. That’s because there are many factors, some not even remotely related to the airlines themselves, that determine what your airfare will be. And some of those factors change by the day.

Here’s a look at three of those factors, drawn from a Fox News article on the “9 Surprising Factors That Influence The Price Of Your Airline Ticket.”

  • The Price Of Oil: Gas prices ruin everything, from the cost of your daily trip to the office to the price tag on your plane ticket. Fuel has been airlines’ No. 1 operating expense since 2011, and so airlines keep adding fuel surcharges to the price.
  • The Timing Of Your Flight: Convenience is costly. So is flying when everyone else wants to fly. That’s why it can be extra pricey to fly on major holidays, spring break and even dates like the Super Bowl. The least-expensive days to fly: Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and sometimes Saturdays.
  • The Government: Yes, there really is a Sept. 11 Security Fee. It’s rising to $11.20 per round-trip flight later this year, and that’s on top of the taxes and other fees airlines tack on to the price of your ticket to pay the government.
  • Strike A Bargain: Looking for your best bet on ticket prices? Several websites, including Fare Detective, Kayak and even the search engine Bing now offer historical fare comparisons that will let you know when it’s “safe” to buy.

What’s the best deal you’ve ever gotten on a plane ticket? What’s the most you’ve ever paid? Share your booking tales with us in the comments section.

Avoid These Common Travel Scams

June 26, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Benjamin Corey is an author, speaker, and blogger who frequently travels internationally, so he knows part of the travel game is for some locals to try to rip off unsuspecting tourists. He’s always on his guard and knows most travel scams. But after his flight to the Democratic Republic of Congo was delayed by a few hours, he found himself stranded outside the airport without his designated ride.

In a very dangerous area, he was very relieved when a taxi driver called his name and announced himself as the new ride. Turns out, this taxi driver was not his new designated ride at all, and Corey found himself in a life-or-death situation. Corey was able to draw on his years of experience and knowledge to escape the situation unharmed, frightened and embarrassed, but able to see where he went wrong. (It’s an interesting read.)

We were reminded of Benjamin’s story after seeing a Mental Floss article about several different travel scams flogged on unsuspecting tourists. Here are a few of our “favorites,” and how you can avoid them.

    Attention aux PickPockets (dans La Tour Eiffel...

    Attention aux PickPockets (dans La Tour Eiffel) @EiffelTower (Photo credit: dullhunk)

  • The Store Scam: A local starts up a conversation and mentions that his family owns a local store where you can get great deals on local goods. Deals that sound too good to be true (which should be your first clue). When you go to the store, you will be extorted and badgered for everything you have, and the deals aren’t that good to begin with.
  • The Change Scam: Merchants will often try to not give you exact change back, or give you change with incorrect exchange rates. To prevent this, carry small bills/coins or pay with your credit card. This helps you avoid getting shortchanged on the exchange rate as well.
  • The Taxi Scam: The very same scam that Benjamin Corey knew to avoid but still fell victim to. Before getting into cabs, ask if the driver knows the directions and for the ride fee. If he or she cannot answer, the ride is likely not legitimate. Try to only catch cabs in front of an airport or hotel, rather than just flagging one down that “looks like” a cab. If at all possible, arrange for a private driver to pick you up beforehand. Try to get a photo of your driver emailed to you, and ask him or her to confirm with you, even with a simple passphrase, like “John sent me.”
  • The Distraction Scam: You’re walking down the street. Someone bumps into you, spilling their drink or food on you in the process. They apologize and try to help clean you up, or so you think. You were actually just pickpocketed. Keep your money secured on your person, and don’t carry everything with you.
  • The Fake Cop scam: If a cop asks for you to pay a fine on the spot, he’s most likely looking for a bribe. Respond by politely saying you will only pay at a police station. Stick to this answer even if the cop becomes loud and aggressive.
  • The Dropped Ring Scam: A local will say he found a dropped gold ring, which likely isn’t even gold. He will give it to you, then demand a finder’s fee. He may even begin shouting to attract attention in the hopes of embarrassing you into paying. Don’t accept the ring in the first place, and just walk away. Drop it again, if necessary.

In all cases, it’s best to walk away from the situation as soon as you realize what’s going on. Never hand anyone your money, your camera, or any of your belongings. Keep your wallet and money in a secure place. And always take an official taxi; never accept a ride from a local.

How To Protect Your Money When Traveling

June 24, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

For some, international travel can be that once-in-a-lifetime adventure they’ve planned for years. For others, it’s just another day at the office. But whether you’re setting foot on new shores for the first time, or everyone shouts your name when you walk into the airport, your trip can turn sour if you don’t know how to protect yourself and your money.

Here are a few tips to keep worry-free about your money during your overseas travel.

    Money

    Do not carry this much money, or carry it like this, when traveling. (Photo credit: AMagill)

  • Make several copies of your identification. Carry your driver’s license with you, but have a backup copy with a friend or spouse. Do the same with your passports.
  • Alert your bank that you will be traveling, especially if you’re traveling internationally. Because while you know you’re in Istanbul, and your family knows you’re in Istanbul, all your bank sees is a sudden flurry of activity in Turkey. They may freeze your account to protect you against fraudulent purchases. Let them know beforehand to ensure your money is available when you need it.
  • Slim down your wallet. Bring identification, debit/credit cards and insurance cards, but leave the extras at home. If you lose your wallet, it will save you time from having to replace every card you’ve ever accumulated. Finally, carry little cash, as it bulks up your wallet and makes you an easy target for pickpockets. Carry your cash in a front pocket.
  • Do not use a money belt. A money belt, just like a fat wallet, will make you an easy target for thieves.
  • Finally, we are releasing a business case line with RFID (radio frequency identification) protection. Since many credit cards, and even the U.S. passport, use RFID, it’s easy for an identify thief to just stand nearby and capture all your electronic information. Our RFID protective cases block these individuals from gathering your information, leaving your finances, and your trip, intact.

What are some other money-protecting traveling tips you have? What strategies do you use? Or what are some lessons you learned the hard way? Leave a comment here or on our Facebook page.

London Stansted Airport Begins Using Smart Access Security Gates

June 19, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

London Stansted Airport is pioneering new technology to the airline industry by introducing smart access security gates in its terminals. At London’s third busiest airport just 30 miles northeast of the city center, the new smart access security gates will be able to scan boarding cards, passports and identification cards.

The gates will serve as an extra level of security, by correctly identifying flight passengers and also assist the boarding process by removing the hassles commonly involved with current boarding systems. Less hassle means less time and greater efficiency for the passenger, the airline, security personnel and the airport.

ePassport GatesIf the tests are successful, there is a good chance the new technology will be adopted by other airports around the globe. At the current rate of technological evolution, the creators believe it will be more affordable within the coming years. And with London Stansted creating the blueprint, other airports will be able to more easily adopt it just by following Stansted’s lead.

The goal of introducing smart access security gates is to improve the passenger experience by automating as much of the boarding process as possible. Customer service agents will still be available to assist customers, but they won’t be tied down with the mundane chores that can be done more efficiently through technology. They will be available to solve real customer problems, instead of printing and collecting boarding passes and checking the customer’s ID multiple times.

While some people may have security concerns about the automated system, we know from our work in the industry that airport officials wouldn’t just adopt new technology if they weren’t convinced of its effectiveness and safety. The fact that they’re considering it at all makes us believe they have a lot of the bugs worked out. If they weren’t convinced, they wouldn’t even try it out on a small scale because the risk is too high.

As a result, we believe this is going to be part of the coming wave of gate and ticketing automation that will result in faster and more pleasant flying experiences for airline customers’ everywhere.

Bring This, Not That: DVD Player Vs. Tablet

June 12, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Ask any parent, and they’ll tell you the biggest problem when planning a long road trip isn’t figuring out the driving directions. It’s how to keep the kids entertained. The younger the kids, the more difficult the task.

Teenagers can keep themselves entertained as long as they can text and listen to music. But how do you keep a trio of 8-year-olds entertained?

Portable DVD players have been the go-to solution for years. All you needed was either a DVD player hardwired into your car. Or you had to bring batteries, headphones, and DVDs, and your kids were entertained for hours. They became so popular as an after market product that many vehicle manufacturers included them as upgrades to their cars. That definitely eliminated the battery problem.

However, as technology has advanced, the portable DVD player has become less and less useful.

student_ipad_school - 234

student_ipad_school – 234 (Photo credit: flickingerbrad)

Tablet computers have become the new default entertainment system, although they don’t have DVD slots.

Whereas portable DVD players are not as portable as you might like, tablets can often weigh as little as a pound. They also have easily rechargeable batteries. Instead of grabbing your giant bag o’ batteries every three hours, you just plug in your tablet to a regular electrical outlet or car charger when it needs a boost.

You can also legally download movies or “rip” DVDs to save to your tablet, which means you won’t forget to pack your kids’ favorite movies.

All tablets can connect to wifi, which means they work at hotels, restaurants, and with a personal wifi hotspot. And many have their own data connection, which is great when you’re on the highway. Add a streaming video service like Netflix and Hulu+, and hundreds of movies are available at the touch of a finger.

Bottom Line: Tablet

If you already own a portable DVD player, by all means, keep using it. But if you’re trying to decide which child-entertaining portable device you need for your next car trip, we definitely recommend the tablet. Whether it’s an iPad, Galaxy Tab, or even the Kindle Fire, you can do so much more with it than just watch DVDs.

Our advice? Buy yourself the tablet and let your kids use it only when they need to be entertained. Otherwise, make it your own personal viewing device for when you get bored.

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Super Savvy Summer Travel Tips

June 5, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Warmer weather and longer days can only mean one thing: summertime is finally here!

While every family spends their summer days differently, one common thread is travel. Because the kids are out of school, the months of June and July are ripe for family vacations.

English: family vacation summer 2007

English: family vacation summer 2007 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In order to get the most out of your next summer vacation, you need to thoroughly prepare beforehand so you know how to react no matter what life throws your way. To help you plan, here’s a short list of things to consider to make your next vacation go smoothly.

  • Scan and move any important travel documents to the cloud, including passports, travel insurance, medical records and anything else that can be needed in emergency situations. Storing these documents in a Google Drive, for example, will provide safekeeping and easy access. You can also use Dropbox or Evernote. You can also share these documents with family members and friends.
  • Pack a first aid kit. You never know when an injury may occur, so keep pain relievers, bandages, sunscreen, and any medications (inhalers, etc) in a water-resistant, cool environment. If traveling by car, keep a kit in the vehicle. If you’re hiking or enjoying the beach, keep the kit in a backpack or in another convenient place.
  • Plan for the worst-case scenario. Make sure everyone knows what to do in case someone in your family is separated from the group. For young children, it is generally advised that they stay in the same place and wait for a parent to come back and find them. For older children and teens, choose a location to meet in case of any separation or threat.
  • If traveling by car, be prepared for any mechanical failures. Bring jumper cables, a spare tire, tire iron, flashlight and safety flares in case your vehicle breaks down. It’s also a good idea to keep a bottle of water and a blanket in your vehicle in case you are stuck for long periods of time without help.
  • For small children, bring snacks, toys or books to keep them entertained on long drives or flights.

We could go on and on and on with all the different tips and ideas for family summer travel, but experience is the best teacher. Enjoy your summer and travel safe!

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Bring This, Not That: Boots versus Shoes versus Sandals

June 3, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

We’re always big fans of “pack light, wear heavy” when you’re working with limited space. For example, don’t pack your big boots into your Rollaboard when space is limited. Which gives rise to the question of whether you should take boots, shoes, or sandals with you for most of your walking.

One of the most important things to consider will be how active you plan to be, and where you will be. It may seem like a no-brainer, but an active vacation requires completely different clothing and apparel than a more passive, relaxing vacation.

An example of walking in sandals.

An example of walking in sandals. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You can leave the button down shirt and slacks at home if your next trip involves scaling up a mountain. Conversely, if you’ll be dining in five star restaurants, there’s no need to waste valuable packing space with tank tops, Bermuda shorts, and flip-flops.

But what about your footwear? There are several different schools of thought for what you need on your feet when you’re going to do a lot of walking.

Again, match your footwear to your predicted level of activity. If your plans include museum visits, city tours, theme parks, or other activities that involve a lot of walking, make room in your suitcase for your favorite pair of running or walking shoes, so that you can move through the day in comfort. If hiking is on your schedule, get the lightweight boots that will provide comfort and support. And if you’re just lounging on the beach, grab your sandals.

It’s important to pack for function, but versatility is just as important. You should pack no more than two, and wear the third pair. The last thing you’ll need is to take up space by packing every pair of shoes you own, “just in case.”

For instance, if you plan on traveling throughout the city on foot, and will want to dine at nice restaurants, bring a pair of casual shoes, like loafers, that allow you to look presentable in public while also providing moderate comfort. While your hiking boots may be more comfortable, the maitre’d may decide he doesn’t have any tables that night.

Finally, don’t forget to wear your heaviest or biggest shoes on the plane. That will save you packing space and baggage weight. If you think your shoes may be too heavy on the plane, then you may also want to think twice about whether you needed them at all.

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