Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Buckle That Seat Belt!

Image result for aeroflot planes
Image courtesy of Aeroflot

You just sat down in your seat on the plane. As you get settled, you squirm a bit to get comfy, get out your book, or electronic device and you are good to go. Oh wait, here's the announcement from the deck, "Please fasten your seat belts." The flight attendants come through the cabin and do that little spot check with their eyes and catch a few offenders. Begrudgingly, they buckle up.

Finally the captain turns off the seat belt notice and you feel free, well as free as you can in the plane. You grab your book or device, put headphones on and wonder when your beverage will arrive. Meanwhile, the cabin crew advises you keep your belt fastened while you are sitting in the event of sudden turbulence.  'Forget about it' you think to yourself. 'I don't need no stinkin' seat belt.  What's going to happen?'

This week, passengers on an Aeroflot flight from Moscow bound to Thailand learned the important lesson of sudden turbulence. The flight departed Moscow filled with passengers ready to enjoy some holiday time in Thailand. The flight was smooth and captain made no announcements about turbulent weather ahead. Unfortunately, just as we don't expect to be in a car accident, we don't expect a bumpy ride in the sky. Before you know it, and sometimes before the pilot knows it, the aircraft comes into an air pocket or sudden turbulence. By the time it happens, it's too late to buckle up.

The moment you are jostled out of your seat, you become not only a liability to yourself, but also to others on the flight. As you are thrown around, your body will come into contact with your seatmates around you. Even if they are safely buckled in, you have the propensity to become a fly object. When you land, chances are you will fall on another passenger injuring them as well.

Image courtesy of passenger on Aeroflot/CNN

According to reports the turbulence only lasted about 10 seconds, but was severe enough to eject passengers from their seats. On this particular flight, 27 injuries were reported. They in ranged from bumps and bruises to fractured limbs. One passenger reported 'it was like being in a washing machine.' Another passenger took a photo of blood on the overhead compartment where a passenger's head came into contact. Not a great way to being your vacation.

Perhaps on your next flight if you are not in the habit of securing your seat belt this will change your mind. If you don't think anything can happen to you, please be considerate of your fellow passengers.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

REAL ID and US Domestic Travel

As you may have heard, beginning 2018, the airlines and TSA will enforce the act set forth regarding REAL ID for domestic travel. Until recently, only a few states are compliant with the REAL ID act, but more are joining the crowd.

What is the REAL ID ACT? This act was passed by Congress in 2005 by the recommendation of the 9/11 Commission. The act seeks to streamline the aspects of proper state issued identification such as driver’s licenses and non-driver license Federal ID. Until this time, there hasn't been any uniform template for identification across the US or her territories. Now Federal agencies have at the very least, minimum standards which must appear on a driver's license or other identification. If these minimum requirements are not met, Federal government agencies may not accept personal IDs. 

Though the Federal government has announced this will be firm by January 22, 2018, they realize not all states will be compliant. If your ID is not compliant, your state must be granted a compliance extension by the Federal government. All IDs will need to be compliant by October 2020. 

So, what does this have to do with my travel? Up until now for domestic travel all you needed was a picture ID with your name, birth date, valid expiration date, and gender contained in a tamper resistant frame. Not rocket science. However, the one link all of the IDs must have for REAL ID compliance is proof of US citizenship or residency. Several states are still lacking this requirement for new or renewed ID. Currently the states and US territories which are non-compliant include: 
  • Maine
  • Missouri 
  • Minnesota
  • Montana 

 The following states have limited extended compliance only until June 2017:
  • Alaska 
  • Kentucky 
  • Oklahoma 
  • Oregon
  • S. Carolina 
  • Pennsylvania
  • Virginia 
  • Washington (State)

Other states and territories with extensions through October 2017 include: 
  • American Samoa
  • California
  • Guam
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Louisiana
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • N. Marianas
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • N. Carolina
  • N. Dakota
  • Puerto Rico
  • Rhode Island
  • Texas
  • Virgin Islands

Residents in those states will need to have a more secure identification. These passengers can use a US Passport or NEXUS pass, permanent resident card (formerly known as a green card), military ID or Global Entry pass. If you live in a compliant state, but don't have a driver's license, you may also use one of the mentioned compliant IDs. 

While these issues are being worked out in your state, be prepared for longer lines as security will become slower as travelers are weeded out of line for improper ID. In the long run, it will be up to you to prove your status and have proper ID. If you are one of the many states not in compliance, I highly recommend you register for a passport. It is one of the most perfect forms of ID and lasts 10 years for travelers over 16 years old.

Residents in those states will need to have a more secure identification. These passengers can use a US Passport or NEXUS pass, permanent resident card (formerly known as a green card), military ID or Global Entry pass. If you live in a compliant state, but don't have a driver's license, you may also use one of the mentioned compliant IDs. 

While these issues are being worked out in your state, be prepared for longer lines as security will become slower as travelers are weeded out of line for improper ID. In the long run, it will be up to you to prove your status and have proper ID. If you are one of the many states not in compliance, I highly recommend you register for a passport. It is one of the most perfect forms of ID and lasts 10 years for travelers over 16 years old. 

You can check for your state’s update at: https://www.dhs.gov/current-status-states-territories

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

What Did They Ask Their Travel Consultant?

In my 20 plus years as a travel consultant I've been asked some pretty amazing questions. Most questions are great questions and show real concern by my clients. In the age of technology most of my clients or prospective clients have done some research prior to speaking with me. 

ASTA, American Society of Travel Agents put together a list of some of the craziest questions posed to travel consultants over the years. Will you be insulted when you read this list? I surely hope not! My goal is to give you a bit of a chuckle and glimpse of your fellow travelers. 

Many thanks to ASTA for their support of travel agencies and agents worldwide.

In celebrating National Plan for Vacation Day, the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) is shining a spotlight on the work dedicated professional travel agents do by releasing “22 Bizarre Requests Made to Travel Agents”. These are real requests made by real travelers and sourced by our ASTA agent membership. 

“Consumers have a wealth of information available to them via the Internet. ASTA travel agents help consumers make sense of the innumerable internet 'deals', and know which local suppliers are worthy of trust.” said Zane Kerby, ASTA President & CEO. “This list is proof that some consumers need a little extra help when they plan vacations, and that's where we come in.” he said.

“There are 658 million unused vacation days left on the table every year by American workers. When they finally do take a vacation, most of us don't have time for a do-over. Put that planning in the hands of a professional. You’ll be glad you did,” said Kerby.

The following are 22 Bizarre Requests made of an ASTA professional travel agent, in no particular order:
  1. Can I fish off of the cruise ship?
  2. Do they speak English in Britain?
  3. Can I bring a 12 pack of Tab on the plane? (Agent responds: First of all, where did you find Tab? And no you can’t bring it on the plane).
  4. Are there toll roads on the way to Hawaii?
  5. Can you make sure I don’t get a window seat on the plane because I just had my hair done?
  1. Can you set it up so that the whales jump in the background at the same time I’m proposing to my girlfriend?
  2. I was looking online at the picture of our room. I hate the curtains. I don’t think I’ll be able to sleep in that room with those curtains. Can you cancel the whole trip?
  1. Don’t tell my fiancĂ© this is where I took my first wife for our honeymoon.
  1. I’d love a train trip to Africa…No, I mean I want a train trip from New York to Cape Town.
  2. Guest in the aft of the ship… “Which elevator takes you to the front of the ship?”
  3. I had a grandmother and granddaughter who wanted to visit China. When informed that they needed visas, the grandmother responded, "No we don’t.  I went to China with my church group last year and I was able to use my American Express card all over the country."
  4. Can you please book the honeymoon suite for us and another couple?
  5. I want to take a cruise to Las Vegas.
  6. Does the crew actually sleep onboard the cruise ship?
  7. Can we drive our rental car in Hawaii out of state? We want to go to Alaska. After all, they are the 49th and 50th states on the map… so there must be a bridge, right?
  8. I would like to go somewhere where there are NOT a lot of men.
  9. I’d like to get married in the Caribbean on an island where the marriage is not legal in the U.S.
  10. Will there be shadows on my face at 4 p.m. when the pictures are taken?
  1. Will you watch my pet while I’m away?
  2. How can I get to Europe without going by air or sea?
  3. I’d like to visit Scotland and Denmark on the same trip. (Agent then tells client he does not have time in his schedule to travel the distance). But they’re only an inch apart on the map!
  4. Can you ask the airline to block the seat next to me so I can stretch out?

ASTA (American Society of Travel Agents) members represent 80 percent of all travel sold in the United States through the travel agency distribution channel. Together with hundreds of internationally based members, it is the leading global advocate for travel agents, the travel industry and the traveling public. ASTA’s history of travel industry advocacy traces back to its founding in 1931 when it launched with the mission to facilitate the business of selling travel through effective representation, shared knowledge and the enhancement of professionalism. For more information, visit ASTA.org.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Basic Economy Airfare For 2017 - What You Need To Know Before Booking Your Flight


The major airlines will change their reservation choices with a new option, Basic Economy fare class beginning 2017. American, Delta and United announced their new programs as an effort to be more competitive with low cost airlines such as Spirit, JetBlue and Frontier.

On the outset it looks great, but there will be even more hidden or choice pay-to-fly options associated with these fares. Even now, while reserving flights, I am finding less and less no charge seating options. The free options are showing up in back half of the aircraft with middle row seats. For window and aisle seats, your options are few and toward the last rows of the plane.

Each of the major airlines will have slightly different rules for their new fare class, so you need to be an educated consumer before you are wooed with what appears to be a bargain price flight. Cheap can become very costly.

The three major carriers share some similar rules and restrictions. Most notably, you will not be able to choose your seat prior to your flight. Your seat will be assigned to you at check-in. So, if you are traveling with family or friends, do not count on sitting together. These fares are non-refundable, non-cancelable, non-changeable. This means either use it or lose it. With traditional fares, if you need to cancel your flight, you can use your ticket within a year of purchase if you chose to pay the change fee plus any difference in fare. Also, you cannot make a same day reservation or standby reservation. Also, these fares will be very restricted. There will be a finite number of seats on each flight available.

Rules for United's Basic Economy will restrict passengers from bringing carry on luggage aboard. Anything personal item brought on board must fit under your seat.  Your other luggage must be checked-in with the prevailing fee. If you look to accrue frequent flier mileage to achieve a higher status, your points with this ticket will not help you either.

On Delta, you will be able to use overhead bins for your carry-on luggage. However, since Basic Economy passengers will be boarding last, this may be a difficult task. If there is no room in the bins, you may have to check your carry on at an additional cost.

Suffice to say, take a very close look at the fares you choose for your flights. The difference between the basic economy fare and economy or economy plus fare may be just a few extra dollars and worth the investment for your next flight. Carefully calculate the luggage and personal carry on items you generally take when you travel. Consider the fact you may be in that tight middle seat for your 5 hour flight or in the very last row closest to the lavatory.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Facts About The Zika Virus

Many travelers are concerned about the the Zika or Chikungunya virus which is spread by mosquitos in Latin American counties, Mexico and some Caribbean destinations. At this point, only pregnant women have been advised to take precautions with travel to these countries.

What is important to know is not all Caribbean Islands are included. The CDC has compiled a list of destination where Zika virus is present or may be present.

                                                      Photo: LatinosHealth.com

When traveling to areas with high humidity, mangroves and rainforests it is always prudent to take insect repellent along. One of the most highly regarded is Deet. Even if you don't think you have seen insects, use the repellent before going out and take it with you to reapply as suggested by the manufacturer.

Others who suffer from other maladies such as immune deficiencies may also want to check with their health care professional. The symptoms from the virus are much like any other virus causing fatigue and in some cases joint pain. Bed rest and fluids are recommended if you believe you contracted the virus.

Please review the information from the CDC for more facts: CDC Zika Virus Information

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Airports and Airlines, All Not Created Equally

When traveling from destination to destination, not all airport and airline rules are the same. Do you know the rules when you travel? 

In the US the security at the departure check-in is relatively non-existent, I am sorry to say. Some airports have returned to offering curbside check-in for domestic flights. If you are unable to shlep your luggage inside on your own, it is a great service. However, be prepared to pay yet another fee, $5.00-$10.00 per bag, plus the tip. If you are traveling internationally, this service is usually unavailable.

Outside of the US, many destinations have security as you enter the airport. One of those countries is Israel. As you enter, before getting to the check-in point you are greeted by trained security who will ask you a series of questions. Yes, you are being profiled, but who cares? You and your fellow passengers are traveling safely. Your passport will be given a sticker so agents know you have been interviewed and your luggage will be scanned immediately. Then off to check-in.

Once you get to the security checkpoint, watch for the signs. In the US, if you are TSA cleared, then you don't need to perform a striptease or take your laptop out of the case. However, some airports within the US will differ when it comes to procedures if you are not TSA cleared. Some will require shoes, jackets and other clothing which might interfere with your scan to be removed. Your laptop may need to be removed as well. You might want to be prepared before getting to the security point and not be the person fumbling forever getting their items off and onto the scan belt.

Not sure if you are TSA cleared? Look at your boarding pass. If you see the TSA logo on the top left near your name, you have been TSA Pre-Checked.

 If you need more information about TSA Pre-Check, please visit: TSA PreCheck

After clearing the security hurdles, there is a feeling of victory! Last minute shopping for the gift you forgot can be yours before boarding your flight, finally. Ah, but, don't become jubilant just yet. Depending on the destination there might just be another check point for security prior to boarding. If you have purchased bottled beverages or other items that do not meet the departure rule, they will be confiscated at that time. Check with the departure procedures before you make a purchase. If your new item is confiscated, you will not have time to return it and get your money back.

Upon entry to a foreign destination, please be sure to follow customs rules. Most destinations, including the US strictly forbid the use of cell phones and cameras. In the US and other destinations, if caught using your cell phone or taking photos of a secured area such as customs, your device can be confiscated. You may be asked to step out of line and brought to an interview room. Some countries also have a hefty fine for breaking the security rules. Certainly not worth chatting with a friend on the phone while in line. Wait a few more minutes until you have cleared.    

Global Entry can be useful to clear your return to the US. Many airports which accept international flights have kiosks to circumvent the long custom's lines. If you don't fly internationally often, the application process and $100.00 fee many not be a value. For more information about Global Entry, visit: Global Entry

Policies for both checked baggage and carry-on vary depending upon the airline carrier. At times, the most confusing is the carry-on rule. It's not always size that counts. The diameter or material of the luggage may or may not be acceptable. Some airlines charge extra for carry-on if you don't disclose or pre-pay during your 24 hour pre-check online. Some will discount the carry-on if you pre-pay. Your checked baggage rules also vary from domestic and international destinations. For all baggage policies, check the website for your airline.

Photo: American Airlines
One more decision when performing your online check-in is the boarding group. Should you pay for priority grouping? There are few times I would recommend paying that upcharge. If you are boarding an airline with no seating assignments, then consider the charge to avoid sitting lavatory row. Most airlines call for people needing assistance or traveling with small children to board first, so if you fall into that category you are covered.

Meals onboard for US carriers within the North America are now for purchase only. On a recent flight I missed my bag of pretzels. I mean, really, US carriers, you charged for everything, and not even a tiny bag of pretzels with my beverage? Now you are hungry and want to purchase a boxed meal or snack. Be prepared to pay either cash or credit card. Again, the airlines differ with their collection policy for onboard purchases. Some shorter flights do not offer any meals on board for purchase, so be sure to carry a snack with you if necessary.

Sometimes the worst part of travel is just getting to the destination. If you are prepared properly for your flight the experience can be more enjoyable. Hopefully the tips in this blog edition will make your next travel experience better.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Come Along To Germany With CBS Radio and Me!

I have been chosen once again to join CBS Radio, WPHT 1210 on tour. This time, with host Chris Stigall to for a journey to Germany. Our tour will include some of the most infamous sights of the country. 
We will be visiting romantic castles, tasting wine and beer, and taking a look at some of the most important parts of history from World War II. 
You are invited to join us! Space is limited, so please call soon, 800-501-8519 and ask for me, Adrienne, The Travel Specialist!