How to Avoid Getting Sick While Traveling

October 16, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

Several weeks ago, we wrote about how one of the dirtiest places in the airport is the check-in kiosk at the front of the airport. Thousands of fingers poke at the screen every day, and no one cleans it off. Compare that to the airport bathrooms, which are cleaned hourly. In other words, the airport bathroom is much more sanitary than a computer kiosk.

Other germ-laden places you face during air travel? Armrests on the seats at the gates, armrests on the plane, and the tray tables.

And let’s not forget the security checkpoints. It turns out that the containers you send through the x-ray machine are also some of the nastiest places in the airport. Everyone touches the containers, but not everyone has clean hands.

The 2017-2018 flu season was one of the worst in history, and we’re not sure what 2018-2019 is going to bring. And since it’s right around the corner, you’re at greater odds of getting sick when you travel this winter, so preventative measures are key to staying healthy.

One way to prevent the flu is getting a flu vaccination. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), now is the time to get one, and you should get it sooner rather than later, as it takes two weeks for the vaccine to provide the highly-desired protection. Even if the vaccine is not 100% effective, or you get infected with another strain of the flu virus, the vaccination reduces transmission in the population in general, as well as lessens your own symptoms.

Self-check-in kiosks is often the dirtiest place in the airport.If you want to avoid getting sick when you travel, there are a few precautions you should take. First, the CDC suggests carrying a travel health kit, consisting of tissues, soap, alcohol-based sanitizer, and pain/fever medicine. We’ll also recommend adding some sanitizing wipes as well. Having these items handy may reduce your risk of infection and keep you well.

Use the hand sanitizer whenever you touch a dirty surface, or use the sanitizing wipes to wipe down those surfaces before you ever touch them. Wipe down the the armrests at the gate and your armrests and tray table on the plane. Use the hand sanitizer once you board and again after you use the bathroom on the plane.

Avoid traveling when you feel ill. Should you become ill, your physician can prescribe drugs to treat the flu infection, making the illness shorter and milder. The same is true for a cold — it may not be as severe as the flu, but it can still put a damper on your trip.

And when you do travel, follow a few simple rules:

  • Avoid close contact with people who appear sick.
  • Cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough by doing it in your sleeve.
  • Wash your hands frequently, especially after you blow your nose or use the bathroom.
  • Avoid touching your face if you’re in public because that’s often how the flu gets into your system — through touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with dirty hands.
  • Finally, hygiene, sleep, drinking plenty of water, and eating right will greatly help reduce your risk of contracting most illnesses.

How do you stay healthy when you travel? Do you have any “I got sick on a business trip” horror stories? Share them with us on our Facebook page, or on our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Marek Ślusarczyk (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 2.5)

Air Travel Secrets from a Professional Airline Critic

October 9, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

When it comes to finding the hidden secrets about air travel, there’s no one better to turn to than a tried-and-true expert. And not just an expert, but someone who’s paid to find problem areas in the airlines’ performance.

Brent Bowen is America’s leading airline critic — and frequent air traveler — who has uncovered a few secrets on how to find the right carrier for you, how to avoid pain on your flight, and how to understand those obscure rules of air travel.

Bowen is an Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University professor, and he publishes the Airline Quality Rating, a report we’ve sometimes written about on this blog. And the fact that he still flies shows that he’s figured out several secrets, which means he has less-eventful flights and is able to relax more while he’s on the plane.

The bottom line is simple: if you don’t make an informed decision about your travel plans, someone else will, and chances are that “someone” will be the airline. Their main concern is getting you from point A to point B safely; it’s up to you to do it in comfort and style. So here are some of Bowen’s secrets for having a more comfortable flight.

Knowing the right air travel secrets can help you have a more comfortable flight.Finding the right airline for you is key. You need one that fits your needs and budget. Do you need early seating? Do you want to avoid extra fees? Or is seat room a big concern? Dealing with an airline directly may give you more control over seating preferences, so research tickets and loyalty perks before you settle on one for the foreseeable future.

Next, know the rules. Air travel has become complex and most folks are unaware of the recent surge of fees and restrictions currently held by airlines. Be aware of the rules, especially with “low cost” carriers, who will often make up the lost ticket costs with additional fees. Look for deals and chances to avoid fees, such as joining an airline’s loyalty program or buying your ticket with one of their points-earning credit cards.

Whenever possible, Bowen says, fly nonstop as stopovers increase chances of lost luggage, delays, or other misfortunes. You only have one flight to contend with, so if there are any delays, you’re still going to get to your destination. But if you have a multi-leg flight, one late flight can throw off the entire trip.

If nonstop is not an option, then avoid checking a bag. Try to purchase a better seat to avoid the middle seat/back of plane (choose the upgrade to Economy Plus). And check the airline’s website and see if you can choose your seat in advance.

If you’re traveling for business and these options fall outside your corporate travel policy, see if you can make your own arrangements, and request reimbursement later. Alternatively, it might be better to take a longer trip than one with additional stops.

What are some of your air travel secrets to make sure you arrive in comfort? Road warriors, what tips have you learned that we could all benefit from? Share them on our Facebook page, or on our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Vincent Desjardins (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 2.0)

No Powders Will be Allowed onto Planes, says TSA

August 28, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

Starting June 30 it will be more difficult for international travelers to bring powders on their trips, at least in large quantities. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has adopted a stricter policy on baby powder, protein powder, dry spices, coffee, tea, and more through airport security.

Basically, the new regulation states that any passenger on an inbound international flight with 12 ounces or more of powder might be subject to additional screening at security checkpoints. What’s more, if TSA agents can’t identify the powder, then it may be confiscated and thrown away. So while it may not be a problem for coffee and tea drinkers, since that’s easily identifiable, certain spices may pose a potential problem.

The TSA is no longer allowing powders on inbound flights from foreign points of origin.This means even dry baby formula could be subject to a search or even confiscation. Of course, this only affects international flights coming into the US. Flying from North Carolina to visit your sister in Portland, Oregon is still okay.

Still, if you’re trying to bring large amounts of powder through security, you may want to consider shipping it to your final destination anyway. This policy might not be limited only to inbound international flights for very long; it’s possible it could expand to domestic flights in the future.
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Airline Complaints Drop in April 2018, Rise in May

August 23, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

Just like airplanes, airline complaints are going up and down. For the most part, airlines are continuing to improve their baggage handling rates and reducing the number of canceled flights, which is leading to fewer complaints from passengers.

Thanks to new baggage handling technology and better planning and scheduling, we’re seeing fewer issues for passengers, which is putting travelers in a better mood, at least for the month of April.

One of the common airline complaints is about arrival and departure times.According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, the dozen airlines that report baggage handling issues had 2.39 cases of mishandled bags for every 1,000 passengers, as reported in April 2018.

That’s a drop from March which had 2.59. What’s more, April 2017 saw a rate of 2.5, so there was an improvement from month to month, as well as year-over-year.
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Which U.S. Airlines Have the Most Economy Class Legroom?

August 21, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

Have you noticed your personal space is shrinking on flights? You’re not imagining things. The space between your seat and the seat in front of you is getting smaller (or maybe a little bigger), depending on your airline. Over time the average seat pitch — the distance between the back of the seat in front of you and the front of your seat back (i.e. your personal space) — has shortened. Only two decades ago the pitch could be anywhere from 34 to 35 inches. Today the legroom is closer to 30 or 31 inches, depending on the airline.

Do you know how much legroom is available in your airplane?There are, however some airlines that may “fit” your need better than others. If you want to stretch your legs and not your budget, here are several airlines and planes worth checking out.

If you don’t want to pay extra for “economy plus” or “premium economy” upgrades in the major airlines, here are the carriers’ current pitch sizes.
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The Dirtiest Place in the Airport is Not What You Think

August 14, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

Often thought of as the filthiest of places, an airport public restroom may not necessarily be the dirtiest place in the airport. What could be worse? Security bins? Ticket counters? The place where you and thousands of other travelers have to take your shoes off?

Curious as to what spot actually is the dirtiest, InsuranceQuotes, a Texas-based insurance company, went to three major U.S. airports and airline flights and performed 18 tests across six different surfaces. Samples were sent off to a laboratory to find the average number of colony forming units (CFU) or bacterial or fungal cells per square inch.

Basically, the more CFUs there are, the more contaminated a surface is.

Self-check-in kiosks is often the dirtiest place in the airport.The results were surprising: self-check kiosks contained the highest level of CFUs with 253,857. Armrests at the gate were second with 21,630 followed by water fountain buttons with 19,181.

It makes sense: all day, countless people tap the same screen to get their tickets, unaware the dirtiest place in the airport is right at their fingertips. The self-check-in kiosk is the one place nearly everyone is forced to touch. Not surprising then is that the world’s business airport, Hartsfield-Jackson, was the germiest of all three subject airports. Just one kiosk alone came back with 1 million CFU.

Remember that “filthy” restroom? An airport toilet contains 172 CFU on average.

The close proximity of other passengers and stale air in the airplane is blamed for illnesses, but maybe it’s the pre-flight contact instead. We may never know.

So what can you do to protect yourself?

The best way is, of course, complete avoidance whenever possible. Check into your flight from your smartphone or at home on your computer (just your germs there).

That being said, if you do find yourself at the airport, here are a few tips for cleaner traveling:

  1. Barefoot is bad! Walking barefoot through security makes you more susceptible to germs and infections like athlete’s foot, so always wear socks through the airport security line.
  2. Hand sanitizer. Carry TSA-approved size mini bottles of hand sanitizer for quick clean ups after touching dirty screens.
  3. Resting your elbows on armrests at your gate is comfortable, but if you wipe them down with disinfectant wipes first, they’ll be comfortable and clean.
  4. No brainer: always, always, always wash your hands after using the restroom. Public or private. Airports and everywhere. Always. Use soap and warm water for seconds; that’s “Happy Birthday” twice or the Alphabet song once.

“Safe travels” has a whole new meaning when you say ‘bon voyage’ to germs.

How do you avoid germs on your trips? What did you think the dirtiest place in the airport was? Tell us about it in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or on our Twitter page.

Photo credit: Marek Ślusarczyk (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 2.5)

Airlines Predict Fare Increases Due to Fuel Costs

July 10, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

While this summer is already trending to be the largest travel season ever — up 100,000 fliers per day over last year — travelers may find airline ticket prices going up due to a spike in fuel costs, even while seat availability decreases.

According to the International Air Transportation Association, the cost of gassing up is up 50 percent, with oil selling at $65 a barrel this summer compared to $45 for the same quantity in 2017.

Airline executives told attendees at IATA’s annual meeting they were still optimistic about their carriers’ profitability, since they’ve worked to restructure their businesses so they can absorb the increased cost that always seems to come around this time of year.

Delta Airline A330 airplaneWhile you might think a fuel surcharge may be tacked onto your ticket, there’s good news: the Department of Transportation has made such fees illegal on domestic flights five years ago because the DOT determined they were really just a hidden price increase. These surcharges are permitted on international flights, however, and flights to Asia have seen figures between $50 and $200 — almost 15 percent of the ticket price — tacked on.

Ticket prices to popular summer destinations, such as Europe, haven’t been severely impacted due to competition from the low-cost carriers, but flexible business class seats and fares to parts of the country where there’s less competition have begun to see hikes.

While this recent spike may seem large, airlines learned from the disastrous $140 per barrel season a decade ago. To avoid seeing profits plummet, they’ve implemented price hedging policies to protect their margins.

Bottom line, depending on where you’re heading, those fuel costs surcharges may be unavoidable. Just do your best to find the lowest-priced tickets you can and hope for the best. Also, buy your tickets earlier rather than later when surcharges could get bigger.

Do fuel surcharges affect your business travel plans? How do you deal with surprise fees? Tell us about it on our Facebook page, or on our Twitter page.

Photo credit: Gietje (Wikimedia Commons, public domain)

What to Do if you Lose your ID Before a Flight

June 12, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

You’ve checked every pocket, looked in every drawer, retraced your steps over the last seven days, and the worst has happened: you lost your ID, and you’re flying back home in a few hours.

Before you have a meltdown in your hotel room or Uber and wail like Dorothy, “There’s no place like home!” there’s good news: You can still fly home, even if you’ve lost your identification. It won’t be as easy as clicking your heels together, but it can be done.

Check-in desk at Athens International Airport. Start here if you ever lose your ID.Let’s start with the basics. Get to the airport as early as possible, because this is going to take some time. Your first stop should be at your airline’s check-in counter to report the situation to a representative.

They have the power to grant you permission to proceed to your next step — security — provided you have other forms of identification — a credit card in your name, or even a digital copy of your birth certificate, driver’s license, or passport. This is why you should take photos of those documents and keep them in a secure place, like Evernote or Google Drive.

Even some other document that states your name and address, such as an electric bill or official correspondence, will work. Keep in mind that the airlines will not issue you a refund if you miss your flight because you have this problem, so you have to get there early.

Once the airline representative is satisfied you are who you say you are, you may think you’re over the rainbow. Sadly, you’re not. You still have to pass through security. Many people come and go so quickly here, but that will not be your experience. TSA will ask you the same questions again, so don’t treat them poorly — your clearance depends on their goodwill, so if you create a scene, you might not be getting on that plane. Go willingly with them to the separate room they’ll likely take you to, and be as polite and patient as possible.

After their additional screening is complete, you’ll be free to head to your gate and board your flight. If, however, this happens while you’re traveling abroad, your best first course of action is to contact the nearest U.S. Embassy to get the process underway to get replacement passports.

But if you want to expedite the process and save yourself some headaches later, here are two suggestions: 1) Have scans of your birth certificate, driver’s license, and passport stored in the cloud so you can access them with your phone in case this ever happens. 2) Storing hard copies of those documents in a secret spot in your suitcase is best if you’re traveling abroad.

With some luck, plenty of patience, not to mention politeness, you’ll be at your final destination in no time, with a great story to tell, and hopefully a short delay on getting a replacement ID.

Have you ever lost your ID before a flight? How did you manage? Any suggestions on how to navigate the process? Tell us about it on our Facebook page, or on our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Leonid Mamchenkov (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 2.0)

Things to Do When Your Flight Gets Canceled

June 5, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

Weather these days is getting more and more unpredictable. Winter brings heavy blizzards and ice in the Midwest and Northeast, spring brings thunderstorms and tornadoes, and it’s hurricane season in the Southeast from June through November. So chances are, you’re going to see flights get canceled or postponed because of the weather.

If that happens, there are several ways to make the most of the situation. If your rescheduled flight is for later in the day, you can stay in the terminal and tackle your inbox or other necessary reading. You could purchase a day pass to an airport lounge and have a quiet environment complete with food and drinks in which to wait it out.

Check the departure board when your flight gets canceledBut if you’re looking at an 10 – 12 hour wait, or even an overnight delay, you can go home or to your hotel and try again the next day. This too allows you to get some rest, investigate other options, or do what work you can while in the “holding pattern.”

If you’re stranded away from home and you’ve already checked out of your hotel, be sure to use your rewards app for your favorite hotel chain to check availability. Your status may help you beat out others trying to secure a reservation for the night. (Another option: search Google Maps for a nearby hotel and call them directly. Avoid calling the hotel’s 800 number; they’re not as plugged into the individual hotel’s reservations as the local people.)

Work with a travel agent. A recent Nor’easter almost wrecked one family’s Disney vacation, but having booked their travel with an experienced agent, having followed her tiny piece of advice — purchasing seats instead of relying on the airline to assign them — assured them seats on an oversold flight many were unwilling to risk rescheduling due to the impending snowstorm. Because of their agent’s knowledge of the system and counsel, they made one of the last flights out and were able to maintain their desired itinerary.

The family’s story shows a good reason for buying travel insurance. Sometimes you can’t settle for being rescheduled by the airline because other portions of your itinerary hinge on your making a flight. If you have travel insurance and your flight is canceled or your destination is closed for weather, you won’t be out that money — it will be repaid through your insurance, and you can reschedule at a later time for another flight or trip.

Finally, investigate alternate transportation. If you absolutely must get somewhere and the airport is shut down, consider renting a car (if roads are passable) or taking a bus to your destination. Again, using a car rental app when searching for a rental car may get you keys when others waiting at the counter may be out of luck.

What do you do when your flight is canceled? Have you ever had to face that? How did you manage? Tell us about it on our Facebook page, or on our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Bryan Alexander (Flickr, Creative Commons)

Bots Poised to Take Over Travel Industry

May 15, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

It’s not just other people who know you these days. Thanks to machine learning, artificial intelligence has evolved to the point that your personal preferences for nearly everything are not only being cataloged, they can assist an AI system in helping you complete everything from a hotel booking to a dinner reservation.

The process is so seamless that sometimes you may not even be aware you’re being helped by a computer instead of a real person. Chatbots are ubiquitous on online travel sites and airline reservation systems, as well as some financial institutions, software help centers, and ecommerce websites. They allow human agents to work on more complex issues, and they facilitate faster processing and confirmation of orders and reservations.

Delta Airlines' machine for biometric boarding passes. The travel industry is moving more toward this kind of technology.

Delta Airlines’ machine for biometric boarding passes

AI’s use in the travel industry is the result of traveler feedback about desired efficiency and convenience. For example, if you don’t want to make any decisions, Google Trips can plan a complete itinerary based on what it has learned from your past travel experiences. Just tell the app where you want to go, and everything is kept in one location and can be adapted if your plans change en route.

The hotel industry is also partnering with technology innovators, like IBM, to provide their guests with “personalized” attention from a robotic concierge, 24/7. Connie, the result of a partnership between Hilton and IBM, provides details about the hotel, its amenities, and local attractions. Its software allows it to continually enhance users’ experiences because it is able to learn from interactions and apply that knowledge in future conversations.

AI is also being used to enhance security at airports. While all of us are aware of the body scanners used in the security screening process, one airport is testing the use of hidden facial recognition cameras to identify who is moving through security areas. Dubai International Airport is testing its facial recognition in real time through the implementation of a virtual aquarium, where cameras track and catalog who moves through the tunnel.

With all this data collection, the next concern for this technology is the potential that exists for breaches of privacy and security, as well as misuse by the organizations storing our data. Do travelers have the right to know if they’re being scanned, photographed, and their data stored somewhere? As we continue to crave efficiency and convenience, this issue will have to be addressed.

What are your thoughts? Are you ready to welcome our robot overlords, or are you a little hesitant to turn your information over to a machine? Tell us about it in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Delta Airlines

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