Uber, Lyft overtake taxis for business travel expenses

Svetlana Dotsenko has been to 12 countries in the past year promoting her educational technology start-up. Uber is her transportation of choice.

“Using the local taxi companies ranges from inconvenient to simply impossible,” says the Boston-based CEO of Project Lever, which matches students with academic advisers. “I almost never have their local phone numbers, and calling in advance would require having a local sim card in a lot of cases.”

Even when she travels to domestic destinations such as New York City, she opts for a ride-hailing service.

“I found that normal cabs have an awful quality of service,” she says.

More and more business travelers such as Dotsenko are choosing services such as Uber and Lyft over taxis and rental cars, according to a report by Certify, a travel expense management software company. In the third quarter of 2016, for the first time, ride-hailing services made up the majority of receipts in the ground transportation category.

In the three-month period that ended in September, Certify studied more than 10 million ground transportation receipts primarily in North America. Uber and Lyft accounted for 52% of them. Uber was the most popular of the two, with 48% of receipts vs. Lyft’s 4%.

A year ago, in the same quarter, ride-hailing services accounted for 34% of receipts, taxis for 22% and rental cars 44%.

“We continue to see interest in the ride-sharing economy,” says Robert Neveu, CEO of Certify. “Small to medium businesses were the early adopters. Now, more Fortune 500 companies are adding them to approved vendor lists.”

Taxi use is down 63% since the first quarter of 2014, according to Certify’s quarterly SpendSmart report.

Ride-hailing apps have become so popular that even other travel companies are aligning themselves with them. For instance, Starwood Hotels and Resorts, which was recently acquired by Marriott International, lets frequent guests link the Starwood Preferred Guest app with Uber to earn points for every ride.

Hilton Worldwide and InterContinental Hotels Group also have similar partnerships.

Travelers say they also like features of the ride-sharing apps that allow them to track the cars before arrival and during the trip.

“I find that the drivers arrive more quickly and reliably, and the rides are generally less expensive, unless it is a surge pricing time,” says Madeline Enos, a media relations specialist for Softwareadvice.com. “I like being able to see the location of my driver on the app as they get closer to pick-up.”

Debora Mitchell, president of a marketing consultancy in Scottsdale, Ariz., says she prefers Uber or Lyft over taxis because, in her opinion, the cars are newer and cleaner and the drivers are more social and knowledgeable about their cities.

“Unlike many taxi rides in my experience, I never feel as if I’m getting the run-around or getting duped into paying a higher fare,” she says.

She also likes that they can pick up at many airports.

But most of all, she prefers them because she has had exceptional drivers. One time, late at night, she left her purse, with her cellphone, in the back seat of an Uber. She didn’t realize it until an hour later.

“Panic set in. What to do? I got to a computer, logged into my account and contacted the driver,” she says. “It said to expect a response usually within 24 hours. … I received an immediate response, and the driver brought it back to me that night, all my credit cards and cash still in the wallet.”

Jake Steward, an operational director at a college study abroad program in Sarasota, Fla., says using Uber makes completing his monthly expense reports easier.

“The Uber app saves every trip with a map of the route you have taken, the card you used to pay and the date and time when you took the trip,” he says. “No more hanging on to poorly printed taxi receipts.”

He also likes that before you commit to a ride, you can get an estimate to make sure it is truly cost-effective.

Some travelers say it is not always the cheapest option.

Elizabeth Avery, founder of Kalorama Capital, an investment bank, says she does a price comparison before settling on a mode of transportation.

“On one occasion, I had a pricey surge quote from Uber more than a taxi so I opted for the latter,” she says. “It is key as a result to watch out for surges and be sure that you use the most economical version of Lyft or Uber.”

Neveu says companies have to be cautious about their employees’ use of ride-hailing apps.

Unlike taxis, the apps have surge pricing and different prices for different types of vehicles. Uber, for instance, has Uber X, a regular car; Uber XL, a larger car; UberSelect, a luxury sedan; and UberBLACK, executive luxury service.

There are also ride-sharing options that cost less but mean that travelers have to spend more time in the vehicle as drivers pick up others.

“When you take a taxi, it’s a fixed rate for that city,” Neveu says. “When you get ride sharing, there are multiple standards of service. In hotels, you get a standard room or a suite, you fly coach or business class. It’s becoming similar.”

Neveu expects to see companies address that in the future.

“I think there are going to be extended policies around those,” he says.

Advertisements

First Class has come a long way

Image result for first class TWA

 

For most travelers, flying isn’t a pleasant experience – long lines, terminals and concourses well past their prime, and of course, old and dirty planes. As you sit in your cramped seat with limited recline, listening to flight attendants directing you to push your seat back upright, stow your tray table, and turn off your in-flight entertainment, you wish there was a better way to fly. Well there is… except most of the general public can only dream about the unbelievable ways of air travel we’re about to describe.

The Etihad First Apartment

Emirates Airlines, based in Dubai, is regarded by many as the most luxurious carrier in the world. Founded in 1985, it is also one of the largest airlines both by passengers carried and by revenue, as well as the largest operator of the Airbus A380 – the world’s largest passenger airliner. Noticing a trend? Meanwhile, Etihad Airways, based in Abu Dhabi, is one of the newest operators of the Airbus A380, but sent shockwaves through the industry when details of their new premium class designs on the flagship Airbus were released. Their top tier product, The Residence by Etihad, is perhaps the most luxurious and over-the-top product in commercial aviation today.

Despite their airport hubs being only an hour apart from each other and located in the same country, both airlines have created some of the most eye-popping First Class seats in the world. Perhaps there’s a bit of sibling rivalry boiling under the cordial exterior?

Emirates Airbus A380

So now let’s get to the heart of the matter, the crux of the issue, the meat and potatoes… who truly has the best First Class experience – Emirates or Etihad? In order to settle this burning age-old question once and for all, we sent two lucky LoungeBuddies to the Middle East (at their own expense, of course) to uncover the answer.

SEATS

Arguably the most important aspect of international First Class is the seat. Forget the cramped and uncomfortable torture devices found at the back of the bus, since Emirates First Class is configured with only four suites per row. Compare that to the 10-across seating typically found in the Airbus A380 Economy cabin (though in all fairness, if you’re going to fly coach, the A380 has some of the widest Economy seats in the sky).

Emirates First Class Suites

Etihad, having balked at the thought of placing four First Class suites in one row (the horror), instead decided to configure their cabin with only two First Class suites per row. Much better, no?

Etihad First Apartments

Both are equipped with shoulder-height privacy doors that can easily be used to block out other meddlesome First Class passengers, making it feel like you truly have your own private room in the sky. No more having to deal with unnecessary human contact.

Etihad First Apartment Suite

On Emirates, you can even electronically control the privacy doors from a tablet at your seat – because using arm strength to close your suite doors is just so 2008. I mean, who would want to have to put on slippers, get up, and shut the doors manually when you’ve finally gotten comfortable in your First Class bed? Seriously.

Emirates Tablet

The Etihad Suite is equipped with Poltrona Frau leather, the same material found on high-end automobiles such as Ferrari and Alfa Romeo. With both a seat and an ottoman as wide as a park bench, it’s easy to throw a party in your suite with other First Class passengers. In the event of turbulence, there’s no need to stop as both seating surfaces are equipped with seat belts.

Etihad First Apartment

Winner: Etihad

Clearly, two suites per row is much better than four, and most First Class travelers need the extra room to spread out… particularly if you’ve invited a guest (or four) to join you in your suite. Even Emirates’ automated privacy doors can’t challenge that.

BED

On Emirates, the seat turns into a fully flat bed with a 180-degree recline, again, at the touch of a button on your tablet.

Emirates First Class Bed

Etihad takes it to the next level by creating an entirely separate bed using the ottoman in your suite, allowing the bed to be made without having to sacrifice your seat. And if there’s one thing First Class passengers hate, it’s sacrifice. If you have a significant other traveling with you, certain rows of the First Class cabin allow you to lower the divider located between suites. The one thing you can’t do is create a full double bed, as the partition retracts only near the head. If you truly desire a double bed, you’ll need to upgrade to The Residence by Etihad for only an extra $10,000 USD.

Etihad First Apartment Bed

Both First Class seats are impeccably designed, although they differ in significant ways. Imagine rich gold plating, plenty of bling, and heck, even a small table lamp on the console of your suite. That would be what you’d expect and receive on Emirates.

Emirates First Class Suite

Etihad, on the other hand, uses refined Arabic decor to subtly include their heritage, while also incorporating the most modern Western design elements.

Etihad First Apartment Bed

If you want to fly like a wealthy Arab Sheikh, Emirates would probably be your style. Otherwise, you’d be better off sticking with Etihad, which has a more subtle, but sophisticated, suite design.

Winner: Etihad

What kind of First Class passenger wants to get up to wait as their bed is made?

FOOD

When it comes to airline food, few of us would say they enjoy pre-cooked meals served on plastic trays. For those traveling in international First Class, however, it’s a completely different story. Emirates and Etihad offer meals like you would find in a Michelin-starred restaurant. Caviar and Arabic mezze are staples of the Emirates menu, in addition to a list of items stretching as long as the menu at the Cheesecake Factory (but with edible food instead).

Emirates First Class Caviar Course

You won’t find prices or any number signs listed beside the menu descriptions either. Everything is complimentary, as expected in First Class. Etihad takes the concept of airplane food even further by having a dedicated chef on board. Imagine a gourmet meal, customized to your liking, presented on fine bone china, served with premium alcohol, on a plane, in the sky, rocketing at 550 miles per hour. Truly mind-boggling, to say the least.

Emirates First Class Arabic Mezze Course

One of Etihad’s specialities is their “From the Grill” selection. Instead of mystery meat, First Class guests have a choice of five meat options, including lamb shank, rib eye steak, and a seafood option. Want fries on a plane? You can have that too. There are also six side options and four selections of sauces, making it a total of 120 possible combinations in all.

Etihad First Apartment “From The Grill” Selection

Care for something on the sweeter side? Whether it’s ice cream, pudding, or cake, Etihad has you covered – like decadent raspberry sauce.

Etihad Dessert Course

Winner: Etihad

No discerning First Class passenger wants to eat an identical cookie-cutter meal as the rest of the cabin. Etihad’s in-flight chef concept makes it easy for you to customize your meal.

SHOWERS

After collapsing from the weight of your First Class meal and plenty of alcohol too, you wake up covered in First Class grime (yes, it’s a real thing). Think unfinished glass of Dom, crumbs from your creme brûlée, and a few stains from that 40-year aged port you were dying to try. What better way to wash off the mess than with a hot shower? Both Emirates and Etihad have two showers at the front of their cabins. However, in the all-important category of shower-to-passenger ratio, Emirates wins, with one shower for every seven passengers, while Etihad only provides one shower for every nine passengers. It looks like Etihad had to make the difficult decision of having First Class passengers potentially wait for a shower, all because The Residence royalty needed their own private shower.

Etihad Bathroom And Shower

Most travelers who’ve flown in both cabins believe that Emirates’ showers are more pleasant, with adjustable heated floors, and a panoramic wallpaper view of the Dubai skyline. There are few things more novel on a plane than having the ability to dance around in a space big enough to do cartwheels, in front of the Dubai Skyline, in your bathrobe!

Emirates Shower Spa

Both airlines have everything you need for the complete shower experience, including toiletries and a hair dryer. Emirates has two varieties of their Timeless Spa toiletries – relax and revive – depending on the time zone you fall into (which, incidentally, is also a critical factor for deciding on when to start drinking). For those First Class passengers with discriminating taste, Etihad offers New York City-based Le Labo toiletries.

Winner: Emirates First Class passengers obviously need their space while showering. For that, Emirates takes the win.

ONBOARD LOUNGE

Now fresh from your in-flight shower, you suddenly have a desire to socialize (or empathize) with your unfortunate friends who are experiencing the horrors of Business Class. While you can reach them through the in-seat chat, Emirates and Etihad also makes it possible for passengers from Business and First Class to congregate in a social area with no Economy plebeians to contaminate the refined environment. In case your suite wasn’t big enough, the lounge should give you ample room to stretch your legs.

Both Etihad and Emirates situate their lounges on the upper deck. The Etihad Bar takes a page out of luxury hotel lobbies. Hence, its designation as “The Lobby”.

Etihad “The Lobby” Lounge

With ornate seating situated about a round table, you can chat with friends or plug in your headphones and watch in-flight entertainment from your seat. Sadly, even in First Class, you’ll have to have your drinks refilled from the display case, rather than an actual bar area.

Etihad “The Lobby” Lounge

Luckily, if you prefer a more traditional bar experience, you’ll find it on Emirates. The Emirates Bar epitomizes the golden age of travel, when Boeing 747s had onboard lounges (sans piano player and cigarette smoke) with extensive seating, elegant lighting, and a horseshoe shaped bar to allow for passengers to mingle. Worried that the booze selection won’t cut it? Just tell your bartender what you want from the First Class menu and he or she will bring it out to serve you (and perhaps your new BFF from Business Class).

Emirates First And Business Class Bar

Winner: Emirates

First Class passengers who need a place to stretch out want a different environment from their seat. Emirates achieves this atmosphere with their onboard lounge, featuring comfortable seating, cocktails, snacks, and even a flight attendant manning the bar.

ALCOHOL

Although the UAE is a country based on Islamic Law with stricter alcohol regulations than Europe and North America, Emirates and Etihad both have complimentary top-shelf alcohol for those who are above the age of 18. Not a fan of the swill that domestic carriers often serve? Both airlines offer a wide range of New and Old World wines, with options from the United States, France, Australia, and more. Each selection is printed on the wine list handed to you at the beginning of the flight, along with a description longer than anything you’d care to read once you’ve had a few glasses. For those who do enjoy excruciatingly detailed wine descriptions, including grape varieties and their region of origin, feel free to savor every printed word on the elegant menu.

Emirates First Class White Wine List

If other types of alcohol are your fancy, feel free to choose from a vast range of spirits, liquor, and champagne, include Johnnie Walker Blue Label, Dom Perignon, and Bollinger La Grande Année Vintage. Worried about plastic cups diluting the taste? No need to worry, because proper crystal glasses are always served.

Etihad Bollinger La Grande Année Vintage Champagne

Both airlines offer great alcohol, but in terms of brand and cost, Emirates takes the cake, with plenty more drink options breaking the $100 USD per bottle ceiling. They are also the only airline serving Hennessy Paradis Cognac in First Class. With a retail price hovering around $700 per bottle, it is the most expensive liquor available on any carrier – equivalent in price to what most Economy passengers pay for their entire return ticket. I’m sure we all have the same opinion on which option is better.

Don’t want to wait for your drink? First Class passengers on Emirates can help themselves to all the alcohol they can drink from the First Class bar.

Emirates First Class Bar

Winner: Emirates

As a First Class passenger, only the most expensive and premium alcohol will do.

ENTERTAINMENT

On those 13+ hour flights from North America to the Middle East, having to sit in a metal tube gets boring fast. If having a gourmet meal, socializing at the onboard bar, and having a shower isn’t enough, First Class passengers also have fantastic entertainment options to whittle down the hours of their flight.

Both Etihad and Emirates First Class suites on the Airbus A380 have screens at least twice the size of those at the back of the bus, featuring a wide variety of content from around the world. If that isn’t enough, you can surf the web with your smartphone or laptop using their satellite-based WiFi systems. Emirates has gone the route of making WiFi affordable for everyone – free for the first 10 MB and only $1 USD for 500 MB of data. Unfortunately, this also makes the internet connection virtually unusable due to the sheer number of passengers logged on to the network.

Emirates WiFi Connection

If you just want to disconnect from the online world, Etihad has the superior entertainment system. The screen not only pulls back to let you watch TV in bed, but it also has split-screen capabilities if you want to mix both work and pleasure by streaming two kinds of content at once.

Etihad First Apartment Entertainment

On top of that, Etihad has two touchscreen controllers for the in-flight entertainment, allowing you to choose your next selection while still watching your current movie. With the other controller, you can also watch the skies with the tail camera, or track your position with the interactive flight map.

Etihad First Apartment Multiple Screens

Winner: Etihad

Being able to watch content on four different screens while surfing the web will definitely entertain any First Class passenger.

WHO’S THE WINNER?

With the list of First Class components we’ve evaluated, Etihad wins in four of the categories, while Emirates wins in three. Ultimately, it’s a close race. If we examine each specific category, however, the results are more telling. Etihad has the better suite, bed, entertainment, and food – all the essential components of a flight from a typical perspective. However, Emirates has a better shower, onboard lounge, and alcohol – things that display the full extravagance of being in First Class. At the end of the day, both products are luxurious and over-the-top in their own unique way, and are sure to satisfy the sophisticated taste of any First Class traveler.

HOW CAN I TRY EMIRATES AND ETIHAD FIRST CLASS?

Thinking about purchasing a First Class ticket on Emirates or Etihad out-of-pocket? Typical Dubai or Abu Dhabi to London flights will set you back approximately $8,000 – $9,000 USD minimum. Not part of the 1% but still want to experience life at the nose of the plane? A much more cost effective way, of course, would be to use miles and points.

For Emirates, the best way to redeem for First Class flights is through Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan. With no fuel surcharges to pay for and extremely reasonable award charts, it takes some flying on Alaska Airlines or a few approved Alaska Airlines credit card applications to earn enough miles for a shower on Emirates First Class! Another redemption option is to transfer your Starwood Preferred Guest points to Japan Airlines Mileage Bank, and redeem those miles for Emirates First Class. Japan Airlines has a distance-based award chart and no fuel surcharges. However, note that redemptions cannot be made online. Want to learn about more crazy ways to use Starwood Preferred Guest points? Read our blog post 10 Insane Ways To Blow One Million Starwood Points.

Luckily, Etihad is a partner of American Airlines, and AAdvantage miles can be redeemed directly for Etihad First Class flights. With Middle East to Europe awards in First Class starting at just 40,000 AAdvantage miles one-way, it doesn’t get much cheaper to experience your own private suite in the sky. The best ways to obtain AAdvantage miles are by flying AA or a oneworld partner, through signing up for and receiving credit card bonuses, or by transferring them from the Starwood Preferred Guest program.

U.S. passport changes are coming: Here’s what you need to know

Passport changes are coming, and if you plan on traveling in the future — especially if you’re among the 49 million Americans whose passports will expire in the next few years — you need to know what passport changes are in store.

While it may seem easy enough to acquire or renew a passport if and when you plan a trip, the State Department says there’s about to be a massive backlog of passport applications. (More on that in a minute.) Plus, passports themselves are going to change. Here’s what you should know about both the expected passport application delays and the passport changes coming in the years ahead.

You should renew your passport now

A decade ago, an important piece of travel legislation made American passports much more in-demand. The State Department saw an “unprecedented surge” in applications when a 2007 law enacted by the 9/11 Commission established passports as necessary for all travel to and from Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean. Millions of travelers acquired 10-year passports that year as a result, and now they’re all about to expire. It’s safe to assume many of those passport holders will need to renew, which means that passport applications will jump significantly once again.

Concerned about wait times yet? Passport renewal already takes about six weeks, and many destinations require foreign passports to be valid for months after your trip. Factor in unknown delays, and you might have a lot less time to renew than you thought.

REAL ID changes aren’t helping

A newer federal law, the REAL ID Act, will soon enforce updates to all state-level identification in the form of security features like machine-readable data chips. Now people in some states that are lagging behind in the technology are realizing that their licenses might soon be invalid for air travel — even on domestic trips. That could mean a rise in passport applications as well.

Travelers using IDs issued by certain states — for example, Maine and Missouri — could be turned away at the gate starting in January 2018 if their state doesn’t adjust to the new standards in time. Some states are under review and have been given a deadline extension, but all licenses must comply with the standards by 2020. Frequent travelers worried that their state won’t comply in time may go ahead and renew or acquire a passport instead. Find out if your state has complied or been given an extension here.

Expect new security features

Like state IDs, passports will now include added technology to ensure security and decrease fraud. Catching up with many other countries, U.S. passport changes mean that new passports will include a data chip that can provide all your personal info upon scanning it onto a computer. You can also expect your new passport to be lighter — rather than the 52-page passports of the past, only 28 pages will be included unless you opt to get more.

Double-check children’s passports

If you’ve lost track of when your own passport needs renewing and you travel with children, double-check your child’s passport as well. Child passports are only valid for five years, and they’re subject to more paperwork, like parental consent forms and proof of a parent-child relationship.

How to renew your passport

You can apply for or renew a passport online through the State Department, or in person at an eligible local agency like the post office. Make sure you follow instructions carefully and meet all the requirements, like the new rule against wearing glasses in your passport photo. Doing so could further delay the process.

Jet Blue to Europe?

Is JetBlue laying the groundwork to fly to Europe?

The New York-based low-cost carrier hinted at that possibility Tuesday morning, revealing details of an aircraft order that could pave the way for trans-Atlantic service. The details came amid JetBlue’s second-quarter earnings report.

JetBlue said it would amend a purchase agreement with Airbus to bring 30 more A321 aircraft into its fleet over seven years. Of those, 15 A321 aircraft will begin arriving next year. Another 15 A321neo aircraft will start arriving in 2020.

JetBlue said it would use the new A321 aircraft to expand its new Mint lie-flat seats and service that it markets to corporate and high-spending fliers.

But a new long-range variant of the A321 could also allow the carrier to begin flying across the Atlantic for the first time.

Starting in 2019, JetBlue will have the option to convert  A321neo orders into the long-range A321-LR (long range) version of the plane, JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes said during the company’s second quarter earnings call.

“This enhanced airplane type could well be a game-changer for us and provide us the ability for JetBlue flights Europe from other East Coast focused cities, should we choose to do so,” Hayes said.

“As Robin alluded, the 321-LR could be the leap allowing us to leverage our relevance in the East Coast focused cities and accelerate launching service to Europe,” said Marty St. George, executive vice president for commercial and planning, added during the call. “While we are not formally committing to  this fleet type, and we are not ready to announce anything today, we are excited about the optionality and the potential opportunity.”

Even before the call, but JetBlue made an ever-so-subtle suggestion about Europe in a graphic it put out related to its aircraft deal. The image mostly addresses plans for the airline’s domestic transcontinental service. But, at the bottom right of the image, JetBlue shows an arrow appearing to point east toward Europe with the text: “New possibilities with A321LR option.”

JetBlue wouldn’t be the first to do so with narrowbody A321s. Iceland budget carrier WOW, for example, is now flying A321s from some East Coast cities to the short route to Iceland. And Portuguese carrier TAP is considering trans-Atlantic routes from several East Coast cities with the new A321s it’s slated to get later this decade, co-owner David Neeleman told Today in the Sky in June.

JetBlue’s Terminal 5 lobby at JFK Airport gets a high-tech makeover with new kiosks for check in, repacking stations and self-service baggage drop.

JetBlue’s Hayes was asked during the earnings call whether the announcement about potentially flying to Europe was just to gauge reaction from competitors. But Hayes said the announcement wasn’t to be “cute” or “clever,” but for transparency about the change in the aircraft order, which had to be disclosed.

“It does beg the next question: what are you going to do with it?” Hayes said of the possibility of option to take the long-range variant. “We don’t need to make a decision until the end of 2017.”

St. George said the study of potential  European flights is because, despite a number of airlines crossing the Atlantic, 87% of the capacity is under the three big alliances.

“What that has created is a very high-fare environment,” he said of the Boston market in particular. “We think that has great opportunities for us.”

Modobag, ‘World’s First Rideable, Motorized Luggage,’ Is Now Here

 

It’s like Mario Kart on luggage.

Today in how-does-this-thing-exist-and-why-do-we-love-it-so-much: a rideable carry-on called a Modobag that will get you through the airport terminal three times faster than walking. With a top speed of eight mph and a range of about six miles (and, with hoverboards banned from airports and flights), it looks like the Modobag could be the fastest way to make a tight connection or get you back and forth from Hudson News for a snack in no time flat.

According to the funding campaign, launched today on Indiegogo, the idea came to founder Kevin O’Donnell in an airport a few years ago, when his kids started taking turns riding on his suitcase as he dragged it along. His eureka moment: “We’re gonna put motors in these.” Cue bringing a friend of college on board, who happened to be a competitive motorcyclist, and the TSA- and FAA-approved Modobag was born.

In addition to its zoom, the black, boxy luggage also offers two USB charging ports, side pockets for easy access to all of your charging electronics, and a cushioned seat for your six-mile ride. And, at 19 lbs. when empty, you’ll definitely ride this bad boy around rather than carry it. This gif alone has us ready to pay up $995 for a first try at riding this luggage go-cart around the office.

Courtesy Modobag

Added challenge? Ride the Modobag out of a plane while skydiving. You won’t be the first, judging by this video.

What Your Passport Color Really Means

 

Selection of passports

Travelers don’t have a lot of say in how their passports look. It’s hard to take a flattering picture (unless you’re Prince), you can’t choose which inspiration quotes frame your stamped pages, and you can’t choose the color of your passport cover.

To that last point, Business Insider recently explained why passports only come in shades of red, blue, green, and black. Somewhat surprisingly, the color of your passport follows no strict system of country categorization—though that’s not to say the colors are totally random, either.

“Most passports in the world are based on blue and red primary colors,” said Passport Index Vice President of Marketing Hrant Boghossian, though there’s an enormous degree of variation in hues. And while geography, politics, and even religion come into play when a country selects its passport cover, there are no guidelines or regulations dictating the color of these national documents.

“There’s nothing [that] stipulates the cover colour,” confirmed Anthony Philbin of the International Civil Aviation Organization, which issues passport standards on cover size, format, and technology.

So what can we infer about passport color? Boghossian says it’s a matter of national identity.

Red Passports

Burgundy passports are used by members of the European Union (sans Croatia), and countries interested in joining (think: Turkey) have changed their passport colors to match.The Economist called this a “branding exercise.” The Andean Community (also known for past EU-ambitions) of Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru also has burgundy passports. The Swiss passport, in effortless and famously Swiss-fashion, matches their flag,

Blue Passports

Boghossian told Business Insider that Caribbean, or Caricom states, typically use blue, though it’s common in the “New World,” as well. Vox pointed out the customs union of Brazil, Argentina, Paraguya, Uruguay, and Venezuela, known as Mercosur, all boast blue passports (except Venezuela, which still sports a red passport from its time in the Andean Community).

The United States’ passport, however, only became navy blue in 1976—to match the shade found in the American Flag. Before that?

“We believe the first travel documents in the U.S. were red,” Boghossian told Travel + Leisure. Green passports were used in the 1930s, followed by burgundy ones, [and] black passports in the 1970s.”

Green Passports

“Most Islamic states use green passports because of the importance of the colour in their religion,” Boghossian shared with Business Insider. Variations of green are also used by members of ECOWAS—Economic Community of West African States—including Niger and Senegal.

Black Passports

Here’s another, far more practical, interpretation for selecting passport colors. Dark colors (even deep shades of blue and red) show less dirt and tend to look more official. Examples include the Republic of Botswana, Zambia, and New Zealand—though for the latter, black is also considered one of the country’s national colors.

Ultimately, you can infer about color as much as you want, but passports represent something much greater than geo-political and economic ties. “We forget that [passports] belong to people. For some, they are a barrier. To others, a right of passage,” Boghossian said to Travel + Leisure.

After all, both the U.S. and Syria issue blue passports—but Syria has one of the worst-ranking passports in the world. Having a Syrian passport allows you access to only 32 countries without a visa, due to diplomatic relations. Meanwhile, the U.S. has the third-best ranking passport.

“Governments around the world have the freedom to choose the color and design,” reiterated Boghossian. “Unfortunately, only few have understood the importance of this document on their country’s brand identity.”

Boghossian cited Norway, which recently unveiled its winning passport design from a nationwide competition, as an example of a country using its passports to define its distinct personality and characteristics. The colors? Vibrant and hip.

The U.S. passport is about to get a makeover: and while the design has yet to be released, we know for a fact the country has a history of changing its passport cover.

Airline cabins of the future: A new golden age of travel?

Air travel photos from the 1960s show smartly dressed, champagne-sipping passengers in spacious airliner cabins.

Contrast that with today’s cramped seats and overcrowded airports and it looks like our flying experiences are getting steadily worse.
But is this based on reality?
The aviation industry has been investing massively to prove nostalgic travelers wrong.
Yes, aircraft may still look similar to those of the so-called golden years.
But every single aspect of the air travel experience is currently being overhauled — all driven by technology.
Right at the forefront are airplane cabins.
And key to their transformation is wireless connectivity.
With virtually every passenger toting a smartphone, tablet or laptop, inflight Wi-Fi is opening up new ways to engage with air travelers and redefine the flying experience.

Personalized inflight entertainment

Panasonic's Waterfront system  allows passengers to use their mobile devices to control an aircraft's built-in entertainment.

Mobile tech already plays an important role in enhancing travel, from electronic boarding passes to last-minute bids on biz class upgrades.
Some airlines, such as KLM, have even started sending boarding passes and flight alerts through a dedicated airline Facebook Messenger chat bot.
But the one area where mobile can become truly transformative is inflight entertainment, with personal devices becoming gateways to a whole range of up-in-the-air services.
While built-in in-flight entertainment systems are unlikely to vanish, particularly on long-haul flights, they can work in tandem with the passenger’s own devices.
Earlier in 2016, Panasonic unveiled Waterfront, a system that allows the passengers to use their mobile handsets to control an aircraft’s built-in entertainment.
Aerospace companies Thales and B/E are also using mobiles to personalize passenger experiences.
By syncing with handsets, their seats know a passenger’s preferences and can even restart a movie at the exact place where they left it in the previous flight.
Some airlines are doing away with embedded entertainment systems altogether.
They’re opting for passenger’s handsets to deliver inflight entertainment — a move that crucially reduces aircraft weight and frees up cabin space.
No Internet connection is required, passengers just connect their devices to an in-plane network.

Captive audience

Thales and B/E's Digital Sky seats make use of larger, higher-res screens.

Netherlands-based AirFi is primarily equipping low-cost airlines that often fly short-haul single-aisle aircraft and don’t have entertainment systems.
The company’s portable wireless system beams pre-loaded content onto passenger devices.
The AirFi terminal behaves like a normal Internet router. It’s lightweight and can easily be installed in a luggage compartment.
AirFi CEO Job Heimerikx says it’s a cost effective and flexible way to provide quality inflight content to the short haul market.
“There are a customer service and a commercial angle to our system,” he says.
“Passengers can access a broad range of movies and other sort of entertainment, but they can also use it to order food or shop duty free.
“It’s like an evolution of the traditional inflight magazine, but just as it happens at online stores, you can make it really personal.”
This concept thrives on having a captive audience.
But would it still work if users had a full inflight broadband Internet connection?
Passengers might be more interested in binge-watching their favorite TV series instead of booking airport transfers or ordering an extra cup of coffee.

Virtual reality

AirFi offers a cheap alternative to inflight entertainment systems, streaming direct to phones and tablets.

“If airlines can’t stop the passenger from going to Amazon or zoning out on Netflix for three hours… and they can’t offer something at least equally interesting in terms of intuitive retail and custom content, they are missing a number of tricks” says Maryann Simson of Runway Girl Network, a leading aviation news website focusing on passenger experience.
It’s a theory that’ll get put to the test soon.
Aeromexico recently announced it would use Gogo’s 2Ku satellite-based Internet connection to offer Netflix-enabled flights.
“More than 80% of passengers are walking on the plane with their own device,” Gogo exec Ash ElDifrawli points out.
“Airlines can save the weight and maintenance costs of legacy seat-back entertainment systems and still provide differentiated experiences.
“For example, they can now create custom portals that create a unique brand and advertising opportunity for the airlines.”
Internet connections are only the beginning.
Both Transavia, a low cost subsidiary of Air France/KLM, and Australian carrier Qantas have been testing virtual reality technology as an alternative to traditional in flight entertainment.
VR could offer not only entertainment but also help calm those afraid of flying.
Transavia also sees virtual reality sets as a potential source of extra cash, perhaps offered as a premium service.
Daan Noordeloos, VR manager for Transavia, says tests have so far proved positive.
“We are evaluating ways to continue it and make it part of our regular inflight offering,” he adds.

Perfect airline seat

Virtual reality is already a reality after trials by Qantas.

Qantas has already rolled out VR sets for first class passengers on some select flights between Australia and Los Angeles, with encouraging results.
New generation in-flight entertainment isn’t going to be enjoyable without a comfortable environment to experience it in.
Providing a nice, relaxing atmosphere in a cramped metal tube is always going to be a challenge, but moves are afoot to improve that.
LED lighting has already proven effective during night flights, even apparently reducing jet lag.
No wonder both Boeing’s next generation aircraft and the “Airspace by Airbus” cabin, rolled out on Airbus A330neo and A350 aircraft, make extensive use of LEDs.
Extra comfort is also coming from the constant accumulation of incremental ergonomic improvements.
These are the things that passengers barely notice on their own but put together make a difference between a good and a great travel experience.
Such as lavatories with anti-bacterial surfaces, or better designed overhead bins that reduce boarding time by making it easier to store hand luggage.
Many of the industry’s creative energies are being devoted to creating the perfect airline seat.
It may come as a surprise to those stuck at the back of the economy class cabin, but these are exciting times for the aircraft seating industry.
An increasing number of airlines are discontinuing first class, but those that keep it are making it way more opulent, such as Etihad with its Residence.
Discontinuing first has led many airlines to upgrade their business class, opening a gap for the introduction of premium economy services.

Cinema-style seating

Factory Design's twisting seat adapts to the body of its occupant.

Some carriers are pondering a more basic economy class, but does that mean radical proposals for standing-only planes will soon be realized?
Experts at passenger comfort innovators Zodiac Aerospace don’t think so.
They say certification costs and reputation risks may simply not be worth it, particularly when existing seats with pitches of 30 inches or less are already very efficient.
“I really can’t foresee this happening in the near future,” says Victor Carlioz, an advanced concept engineer at Zodiac Aerospace.
“Instead we’ll see a focus toward more innovative features in the economy class seat.
A compromise may be the flex-up seat proposed by Aviointeriors.
The Italian manufacturer is exploring a cinema-style seat for economy class that folds up vertically when unoccupied, allowing easier movement around the plane.
Ingo Wuggetzer, of Airbus, highlights how personalization is also becoming a thing in aircraft interiors.
The industry ideal is to create a seat that adapts perfectly to a passenger’s body.
In 2011 the European manufacturer unveiled its “Future by Airbus” concept that outlined, among other things, the company’s vision of the passenger cabin of 2050.
This included its own interpretation of the “smart seat” — one able to recognize and adapt to its occupant ergonomically and through entertainment preferences.
A first step in that direction may be the “twisting seat” concept proposed by London-basedFactory Design.
Creative director Adam White says the flexible structure is based upon a careful anatomical study of the multiple positions that the back adopts while seated.

Sleeping rooms

Factory Design's Air Lair concept offers passengers their own personalized cocoon.

White is also behind Air Lair, a concept of sleeping pods that immerse premium travelers in a futuristic cocoon with adjustable light, sound and temperature.
Other designs envisage adding sleeping rooms in standard aircraft cabins.
Carlioz and his Zodiac Aerospace team, for example, see potential in using an aircraft’s cargo space and area between the stowage bins and fuselage to accommodate bunks.
“It’s simply a question of who has the ambition and willingness to invest into a project of this scale and truly break the mold,” says the company’s industrial designer, Matthew Cleary.
Sounds radical, but perhaps not so much once the likely evolution of current technologies and concepts are taken into account.
“Design houses really are competing fiercely for airline business and that means they are also pushing the limits of creativity,” says Runway Girl Network’s Simson.
“Designs are becoming more intuitive, fabrics more breathable and inner-foam materials are being developed to stay cooler (which adds to comfort).
“Increasingly, we see seat designers taking cues from the automotive industry too, with auto seat makers such as Recaro and Mirus having started successful aero divisions.”
Airbus’s Wuggetzer says there’s potential to develop powerful strategies to produce standout cabin features, even in economy class.
Transparency is key, he adds.
“The same way that travelers are used to comparing hotels and check reviews on TripAdvisor, innovation in the cabin experience could lead to more differentiation between the experience provided not just on different aircraft types, but on different airlines.”
The golden age of air travel may be just starting, after all…

Where You Can (and Can’t) Drink Tap Water in Europe

Here’s when to buy a bottle—or two.

Sit down at a restaurant in Europe, and you’ll most likely first be asked about water preferences before anything else: Still, sparkling, or tap? And while this may seem a strange question to U.S. travelers used to glasses of ice-cold water filled (and refilled) without question, it’s actually an issue in Europe. Given that one of the most common causes of sickness while traveling is drinking contaminated water, knowing where you can—and and probably shouldn’t—drink water across the continent is important. A new infographic distills (pun intended) the data, and here’s what you need to know.

DRINK UP

Most places in Europe do have potable tap water, which means you’ll save money by bringing a water bottle and filling up before heading out in the morning. (Some countries, like Italy, Germany, and Belgium, have public taps where you can refill for free, though look out for signs that indicate when the water is not safe for drinking, like at decorative fountains.) Countries and states where water is safe to drink? In alphabetical order: Andorra, Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Gibraltar, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lichtenstein, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malta, Monaco, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, San Marino, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, and Vatican City.

BUY A BOTTLE

Some of the most common side effects of drinking unsafe tap water include diarrhea, hepatitis A, typhoid, and even cholera. And though larger cities have higher water quality than elsewhere, places where you should exercise caution and probably buy a bottle (or two) are Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Lithuania, Moldova, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, and the Ukraine.

DON’T FORGET

It’s not just about actively drinking water: Brushing your teeth with water from the faucet, washing fruits and vegetables you may buy, adding ice to your drink, and even opening your mouth and gurgling when showering are other ways to ingest unsafe tap water. The water coming out of most taps on trains and airplanes is also not intended for drinking.

WHEN IN DOUBT…

Buy bottled water, which is readily available almost everywhere in Europe. Bottles with red labels typically represent fizzy—or sparkling—water, while those with blue labels mark “still” water. If necessary, water can be sanitized by boiling it for ten minutes, or even by using a filter or purifying tablets. The good news? Beerand wine are always safe bets.

Five myths about Brexit for U.S. travelers

In the wake of the Brexit vote that paved the way for the exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union on June 23, there’s a lot of confusion about what this means for American heading to Britain this summer and in the future.  Here are five current myths about Brexit and travel to the UK.

1. Brexit is really an issue between Great Britain and the European Union and has nothing to do with Americans.

While it’s true that Brexit is about Britain leaving its 40+-year EU membership in the dust, it’s also about currency, and that’s something that directly impacts U.S. travelers. On the morning of Friday, June 24, when the vote to leave the EU was announced, the pound-to-dollar exchange dropped 7.44% to $1.3766, the lowest level in decades. At one point, the pound sank to $1.32, the lowest exchange rate since 1985. In simple terms this means that for American travelers, Great Britain is on sale.

“The immediate effect, says George Hobica, president of Airfarewatchdog, is that “American visitors will pay less for travel to and within Europe and Britain. If the British pound continues to stay low or fall even more, your trip to England will be cheaper.” That means that hotels, meals, shopping and other purchases will be “at least 10% cheaper than recently.”

With the less-favorable exchange rates, “fewer Europeans and Brits will visit the U.S.,” says Hobica. “So expect airfares from the U.S. to Europe and Britain to go even lower. The day after the Brexit vote, we saw airfares to London on Virgin Atlantic and other airlines for fall travel reduced to $500 round-trip.”

Jason Clampet, co-founder and head of content at Skift, agrees with the notion that “for the short term this is about exchange rates and how they impact travel.” But Clampet also takes a longer view of the issue, noting that it could “affect airline routes, new development of hotel products, the cost of restaurants and transit, the cost of shopping, or even the upkeep and maintenance of tourist attractions.”

2. I’m planning a trip to the UK later this year, and I’ve booked my airfare and hotels, so it won’t affect me.

“That’s true when it comes to the airfare or if you prepaid for your non-refundable hotel room or bought a package,” says Clampet of Skift. “But you can otherwise take advantage of the better exchange rate, and the possibility of UK businesses discounting goods because they are hurting. While that 150 pounds per night rate may stay the same, the Brexit exchange rate swing put $15 in your pocket between last month and today. Expect small savings like that in every transaction you make.”

For anyone who booked a trip before the recent vote, Hobica suggests reaching out to hotels, tours and other agencies to see whether you can re-book at a better price, “now that exchange rates have been hammered.”

3. I guess I can just hope that British pound stays low until I get there.

Or you can be proactive. It’s a great time to take advantage of the exchange rate for as long as it lasts. If you’re heading to the UK even later this year, “it’s a good time to buy pounds for an upcoming trip,” says Hobica, now that they are at dramatically lower levels.

That said, Clampet of Skift urges caution, saying that “Unless you’re George Soros, it’s best not to respond to this by playing currency trader. The pound could continue to drop or it could go up — even the experts don’t know. If you’re worried about wide fluctuations in money and want to have protection, look into a trip insurance product that allows wide latitude for cancellations.”

4. This won’t really affect me when I go to England, it will just be the same passport check that I’ve always had when I fly to London.

“Sure, it won’t affect you — if you’re carrying a British passport,” says Clampet. Yes, there will still be passport control. But in the future, you can expect to wait in much longer lines.

“For travelers arriving in the UK, those passport control lines that once split passengers by passport from the EU and then everyone else will soon be for passengers from the UK and then everyone else, Clampet says. “If nothing else expect to hear Germans, Italians and Spaniards complain about being in line with you unlike the good old days when they had preferred status.”

Then, unfortunately, it’s likely to get even worse for American travelers. Once the UK and EU split is complete, “London’s international airports will need to radically rethink baggage claim and passport control, two of the biggest pain points in travel,” Clampet says “ For passengers transiting to Europe via London or other gateway cities, you’ll need to claim your baggage and take it through customs because, remember, you’re not in Europe anymore.”

5. It’s really just England that’s changing.

Actually, this is much bigger than England. The Brexit vote is for the United Kingdom, which includes Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Therein lie some potential future problems.

“If Scotland, which voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU, becomes a separate country, you’ll need to go through border controls and show a passport between London and Edinburgh,” says Hobica. Because Ireland is part of Europe but Northern Ireland is leaving the EU as a result of Brexit, “travel between, say, Dublin and Belfast (would) also require going through passport control.”

Clampet adds that “we are also seeing talk of nationalist parties in France, theNetherlands and elsewhere pushing their own exit. In five years will we be back to the days of border checks and multiple currencies as you move from country to country? Think of all the math you’ll be doing.”

Which U.S. airports allow Uber, Lyft?

Can I take Uber or Lyft from the (fill-in-the-blank) airport?

It’s a question travelers across the country ask over and over these days as the affordable car services and a handful of competitors gain in popularity and encroach on the airport turf once reserved for taxis, limos and shuttles.

Tech-savvy travelers love the services because they can order a ride from an app on their smartphone or tablet after they land, meet the driver outside and bill the fare to their account. The fares are generally cheaper than taxi or sedan service and drivers usually arrive quickly.

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, the nation’s 10th busiest airport by passenger boardings, on June 18 became the latest major airport to allow the ride-hailing services to pick up passengers. A day earlier, Tucson International Airport introduced Lyft service. (Drop-offs have long been allowed in Phoenix and at many other airports because they aren’t regulated like pick-ups are.)

The ride-hailing roundup 

Here’s a look at the ride-hailing landscape at other top 10 airports and select cities.

HARTSFIELD-JACKSON ATLANTA INTERNATIONAL 

Available: Not yet. Rules were expected to be in place by July 1 but talks have been delayed over discussions on driver background checks.

Details:atlanta-airport.com

LOS ANGELES INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT

Available: Lyft since December 2015. Uber since January.

Airport surcharge: $4 per pick-up and drop-off.

Estimated fare to downtown Los Angeles: $23-$33.

Details: lawa.org

CHICAGO O’HARE INTERNATIONAL/CHICAGO MIDWAY INTERNATIONAL 

Available: Since November 2015.

Airport surcharge: $5.50 per pick-up and drop-off.

Estimated fare to Millennium Park: $28-$35 from O’Hare with Uber, $28 with Lyft. $23-$30 from Midway with Uber, $23 with Lyft.

Details: flychicago.com/ohareflychicago.com/midway

DALLAS/FORT WORTH INTERNATIONAL, DALLAS LOVE FIELD

Available: Since August 2015.

Airport surcharge: $2 per pick-up and drop-off at DFW. $2.50 per pick-up at Love Field.

Estimated fare to downtown Dallas: $25-$32 from DFW with Uber, $16 with Lyft. $11-$14 from Love Field with Uber, $13 with Lyft.

Details: dfw.com/transportdallas-lovefield.com

NEW YORK: LAGUARDIA AND JFK 

Available: Yes.

Fee: None. Unlike at most major airports, New York does not have a separate agreement with the services. They register like cabs and limos.

Estimated fare to midtown Manhattan: $30-$39 from LaGuardia with Uber, $27 with Lyft. $49-$64 from JFK with Uber, $48 with Lyft.

Details: laguardiaairport.companynj.gov/airports/jfk-airport

DENVER INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT

Available: Since late 2014.

Airport surcharge: $2.15 per pick-up and drop-off.

Estimated fare to downtown Denver: $29-$39 with Uber, $33 with Lyft.

Details: flydenver.com

SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT

Available: Since the fall of 2014.

Airport surcharge: $3.85 per pick-up and drop-off.

Estimated fare to Union Square: $29-37 with Uber, $26 with Lyft.

Details:flysfo.com/to-from/ground-transportation

CHARLOTTE-DOUGLAS INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT

Available: Since February.

Airport surcharge: $1 per pick-up and drop-off.

Fare estimate to downtown Charlotte: $10-$14 with Uber, $13 with Lyft.

Details: charmeck.org

MCCARRAN LAS VEGAS INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT

Available: Since late 2015.

Airport surcharge: $2.45 per pick-up and drop-off.

Fare estimate to Caesars Palace in the center of the Strip: $13-17 with Uber, $9 with Lyft.

Details:mccarran.com/Go/RideShare.aspx

SAN DIEGO

Available: Since summer 2015.

Airport surcharge: $2.76 per pick-up.

Fare estimate to downtown San Diego: $8-11 with Uber, $6 with Lyft.

Details: san.org

Note: The debut dates are generally when agreements between the airports and the companies took effect and UberX and Lyft began picking up passengers. In Phoenix and many other cities, pricier Uber rides, including Uber Black, Uber Select and Uber SUV, started earlier because those drivers have commercial permits like traditional ground-transportation providers.

Source: Arizona Republic research.

Tips for potential riders 

• The fare estimates are just that — estimates. They’re from Uber and Lyft websites and are for up to four passengers. Lyft has a tip option on its app, Uber does not. Uber says tipping voluntary but not expected or required. Uber drivers, though, welcome cash tips.

• The surcharges are in addition to the fare. The money goes to the airport.

• Looking for information or fare estimates at other airports? Check out Uber’s airport lineup and Lyft’s airport lineup. Need fare estimates for other routes? Go to uber.com/fare-estimate or lyft.com/cities and scroll down to the fare calculator, or get an estimate from the services’ apps before you reserve a ride.

• Independent sites also offer fare estimates, and some provide real-time information on traffic, surge pricing (heftier fares when demand is high) and recent fares on a variety of routes. Try uberestimate.comlyftcalculator.com or lyftrideestimate.com.

• Don’t forget about public transportation. Details on all your options are on airport websites under Ground Transportation.