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.

The change was a result of increased security concerns: July 2017 saw a failed terrorist attack in Australia when someone tried to blow up an Etihad Airways flight with a powder explosive. This has put everyone on alert, and now we have to be concerned about how much powder we travel with in our luggage. However, the TSA has said this was not the only reason for the policy change.

Most international airlines have voluntarily implemented screening for powder according to the TSA. Canada, for example, has added powder and granular material to its list of items prohibited on flights, although baby formula, protein powder, coffee, and tea in any quantity are still allowed.

The TSA will also ask foreign airports with flights into the U.S. to adopt the same policy.

How will you be affected by this policy? Do you travel with larger amounts of powder in your luggage? (Be sure to pack it in a resealable bag, in case something goes wrong.) Tell us how you travel with powder in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or on our Twitter page.

Photo credit: Transportation Safety Administration, (Wikimedia, Public Domain)

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.

Unfortunately, things headed the other way in May. There were fewer complaints in May — 1,102 complaints compared to April’s 1,169 and 1,784 in May 2017 — but there was a slight bump in canceled flights and mishandled bags. The BTS reported 2.59 cases of mishandled bags in May 2018, and the number of canceled flights rose to 1.2 percent, compared to 1 percent in April and 0.8 percent in May 2017.

According to the Bureau’s monthly Air Travel Consumer report, 1,169 airline service complaints were filed in April 2018 as compared to the 1908 filed in April 2017, indicating a drop of nearly 39 percent.

Only 17 airlines report flight operations to the DOT. These 17 airlines had flights arriving within 15 minutes of their ETA an average of 81.3 percent of the time in April, 79.4 percent in May. Of course, this is a moving target with too many variables to keep it consistent: In March, it was 80.9 percent.

Significantly late flights incur penalties, as fines are possible for tarmac delays longer than three hours for domestic flights or four for international flights, and anything over that will often result in an investigation before the fines are assessed.

If you’d like, you can base your travel plans on an airline’s performance. If you want something more likely to be punctual, fly Delta Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, Endeavor Airlines, and Mesa Airlines — four airlines with high on-time ratings (Mesa and Endeavor swapped places between April and May). Their on-time arrival ratings varied from 83.2 percent (Endeavor in May) to 90.8 percent (Hawaiian in May)

Not so concerned about on-time arrivals, but you want something inexpensive? Southwest Airlines, PSA Airlines, JetBlue Airlines and Frontier Airlines may become your preferred choice. They were the four with the lower on-time arrivals, with Southwest and PSA swapping places between April and May, with on-time arrival rates between 67.6 – 75 percent for the two months.

When it comes to cancellations, April saw Hawaiian, United, and Delta with 0.1 percent, 0.2 percent, and 0.3 percent. In May, the numbers were about the same with Delta achieving a 0.0 percent (only 23 canceled flights), and Hawaiian and Allegiant Air following with 0.1 percent and 0.3 percent.

Conversely, the highest rate of canceled flights is shared by Envoy Air, Republic Airlines, and Endeavor Air in April (3.7, 2.6, and 2.3 percent), and Endeavor, Republic, and Envoy in May (2.6, 2.5, and 2.4 percent, respectively). Overall, airlines canceled a mere 1 percent in April, and 1.2 percent in May.

What do you think of the airline complaints numbers? Is performance and lost baggage a big issue for you? Share your thoughts in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or on our Twitter page.

Photo credit: Joe Mabel (Wikimedia Commons, GNU Free Documentation License)

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.

  1. JetBlue (32″ – 33″): Their Airbus A321 planes have 33 inches of pitch in economy, so those are used primarily for transcontinental flights. Their Airbus A320s have 32 inches in economy class, thanks to a recent retrofit of their entire fleet.
  2. Alaska Airlines (31″ – 32″): Alaska has a fleet of Airbuses with 32 inches of legroom and a fleet of pre-Virgin America merger Boeing 737s with 31 to 32 inches.
  3. Southwest Airlines (31″ – 32″): Most Southwest planes are Boeing 737-700s with 31 inches of pitch; some of their 737-MAXs and 737-800s have 32 inches.
  4. United Airlines (31″ – 32″): Only their Boeing 787-8 Dreamliners offer up to 32 inches. The rest of their fleet clocks in around 31 inches.
  5. Hawaiian Airlines (30″ – 32″): Hawaiian’s Boeing 717s, which they fly between islands, have 30″ of legroom, but the rest of their fleet — Airbus A330s, A321s, and Boeing 767s — have 31 – 32″.
  6. American Airlines (30″ – 32″): American’s Boeing 757s (for international travel) offer 31 to 32 inches of seat pitch while their Airbus A319s and Boeing 737 MAXs (domestic travel) have 30 inches.
  7. Delta (30″ – 32″): Expect anywhere from 30 to 32 inches of seat pitch, although most have 31 inches available. The least amount of space is found on the Airbus A319s, A320s, A321s, and the Boeing 757s with only 30 inches of legroom.

While this may feel small, all is not lost. You can upgrade to the airline’s Economy Plus/Premium Economy (or whatever your favorite airline calls it) and get up to 40 inches of legroom. If you’re a taller traveler, this can be totally worth it. If you’re shorter, you probably won’t notice the difference.

Of course, you’re looking at a cost between $20 – $200, depending on the airline and the destination. Just remember, wherever you’re headed, seat pitch is important and needs to be a consideration in your flight plans. Don’t just get the cheapest ticket you can find, because it will very likely be one of the most uncomfortable. Spend a few extra dollars so you can at least tolerate the ride without hurting yourself or putting yourself through four hours of torture.

What do you look for in seat pitch and legroom? Do you base your travel choices based on legroom? Tell us about it in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or on our Twitter page.

Photo credit: Matthew Hurst (Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0)

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

Air Travel That’s Easier on Your Brain and Body

May 8, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

We all know the basics for staying at our best during air travel: get plenty of rest, eat right, stay hydrated, exercise, and avoid caffeine. But here are a few tips to enhance your experience as you prepare for your next time to fly.

Knowledge is power, so instead of allowing your brain to be preoccupied the night before you take off with details about how you might make that 40-minute layover window, go online and determine the best way to navigate the distance between gates or terminals. You’ll go in with a plan and your brain will then be able to relax and solve other less troublesome problems while you sleep.

There are a few things you can do to make your air travel easier on your brain and your body.Instead of relying on airline food or airport food to nourish you, pack your own snacks, such as trail mix, jerky, or dried fruit. Sticking to your diet or eating regimen will allow your body to weather the rigors of travel without diverting energy and effort to digestion. If you need some sort of energy boost, pack a high-fiber snack such as an apple, a pear, or some raspberries. Even choosing to pack a simple baggie of bran flakes can, with the purchase of a carton of milk at a terminal restaurant or store, become a healthy alternative to a donut with coffee.

Speaking of caffeine, avoid it in order to remain hydrated during air travel. Notorious for their dry environments, the recycled air in planes doesn’t help your system function at its best, and caffeine is also known to increase dehydration. Drinking extra water the day before will help ward off the sluggishness associated with dehydration. Pack a reusable water bottle — make sure it’s empty when you go through security — to help you have access to water without paying through the nose for a plastic bottle.

Substituting green tea for coffee will give you some caffeine with extra benefits. Green tea also contains EGCG, an immune-boosting antioxidant, and L-theanine, a naturally occurring amino acid known to help you be calm and relaxed in flight.

Exercise while traveling doesn’t have to entail packing special shoes or clothing. Simply choosing to walk up the escalator or between terminals instead of taking the airport’s shuttle system will kickstart your body’s metabolism and increase your mental sharpness.

Traveling by plane can be physically, mentally, and emotionally taxing. How do you cope with flying, especially if you’re a regular flyer? Share your tips in the comments below, on our Facebook page, orin our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Adrian Pingstone (Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

Five Tips for Getting Your Passport and Avoiding Headaches

May 3, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

Passport applications and renewals are surging at an all-time high, so if you’ve been meaning to renew your old passport or need to apply for a new one, we’d like to give you some tips to make the process as painless as possible.

The reason for the surge dates back to 2007, when the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative of 2007 required all those traveling to the United States from other countries to show a valid passport or approved documentation. This changed from the days when US citizens could travel between Canada and Mexico with just their driver’s licenses. In 2007, 18 million passports were issued, and now all those are approaching or have exceeded their 10-year issuance limit.

Another reason for the record number of applications and renewals is the Department of Homeland Security’s implementation of phase four of the REAL ID Act. Beginning January 18, 2018, a driver’s license was no longer sufficient identification for boarding an airplane if the state didn’t comply with the mandated standards set by the DHS.

So, how can you get that little blue book in the shortest time possible so you don’t encounter any travel headaches? Here are our five tips.

Photo of a U.S. passport1. What should be obvious by now is this: don’t wait until the last minute to start. If you have a few months before your trip, that may not be enough time. Expediting is possible, but due to the glut of applications and renewal requests, don’t push your luck.

2. For you procrastinators, there is a service you can pay to handle the process for you. Called govWorks, it exists to change the way people interface with federal and foreign governments. The company can accelerate processing for travel visas, passports, and other travel documents by facilitating access to a customer’s information from a secure platform.

govWorks CEO Adam Boalt said, “Many countries will not accept a passport with less than six months of remaining validity. If possible, you should get a passport renewal at least nine months before it expires.”

3. If you travel internationally frequently, consider applying for a 52-page passport. Many people aren’t even aware this is an option, but that almost doubling in capacity can really come in handy when each country requires two stamps for entry and exit from its state. When a page can only accommodate four stamps, the standard 28-page booklet can fill quickly.

4. If you plan to travel with your children and live in a state that is currently out of compliance with the REAL ID Act, get passports for yourself and your children. Keep in mind that children’s passports aren’t issued for the same length of time as adult passports. They are only good for five years and will be required for children who travel with their parents in the continental US if their parents don’t have REAL ID-compliant documentation from their state.

5. Consider having two passports. Boalt confirmed it is possible, and sometimes necessary, to simultaneously hold two valid passports. “Some countries reject passports that contain visa stamps from certain other countries, such as traveling into Israel if you have a stamp from Saudi Arabia. Second passports are also helpful for frequent travelers who might need to apply for multiple visa applications on an ongoing basis,” Boalt said.

Bonus: Finally, don’t assume a passport is all you need to travel to certain destinations. Thoroughly investigate all necessary documentation before planning an itinerary. If you don’t, your biggest travel headache could occur at the airport gate when you are turned away because you lack the appropriate travel visa. To help travelers avoid this frustration, Boalt created Travel Visa, a division of govWorks. Do some investigating and make sure you have what you need before you ever leave the house,

Are you an international traveler? Do you have any passport success stories or horror stories? What have you done to get your passport renewed? Share your tales with us in the comments below, on our Facebook page, orin our Twitter stream.

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