Tag: travel

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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



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


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


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


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


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


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.



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


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.



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.

The airlines making stopovers sweeter

As an experienced pilot who flies Boeing 757s for Icelandair, Commander Sigrun Bjorg Ingvadottir might seem overqualified as a cycling guide.

But these days she’s just as likely to be leading visitors across the wild, windswept ridges of Iceland as she is flying them across the North Atlantic.
Ingvadottir is one Icelandair’s 12 “stopover buddies” — staff volunteers who give their free time to offer passengers a glimpse of Icelandic lifestyle as they pass through the island.

A remote air hub

It’s a cool idea — and one that’s been adapted elsewhere.
But beyond the gimmick is a serious drive to bolster Iceland’s status as a stopover destination in the fiercely competitive transatlantic aviation market.
In the early days of commercial aviation, shorter flying ranges meant Iceland, halfway between Europe and North America, became an unlikely aviation hub.
Aircraft advances have diminished this role, but Icelandair has continued pushing its routes as affordable alternatives to flying directly across the Atlantic.
It’s also been looking for new ways of using Iceland’s stunning natural settings to persuade passengers traveling through Keflavik International Airport to lengthen their stopover.
And so Stopover Buddy was born.

Outdoor pursuits

Anyone flying from Europe to North America with Icelandair who decides to spend some time in Iceland on their way can sign up to the Buddy program on the airline’s website.
Passengers choose from a range of activities — mostly free apart from equipment rental charges — and are then matched to an Icelandair volunteer host.
Outdoor activities and sports feature prominently on the menu.
There’s hiking, horseback riding and fishing in the cold North Atlantic waters, but also cultural and food-related outings.
So far it’s been a hit.
Nearly 700 Stopover Buddy requests were received during the program’s debut February to April 2016 run (it’s returning in the fall), with outdoor sports being the most popular activities.

Enthusiastic response

Air crews and other Icelandair staff have responded enthusiastically, with even the airline’s CEO, Birkir Holm Gudnason, signing up.
Ingvadottir, the mountain biking pilot, says she’ll be volunteering again when the program restarts after several successful buddy excursions.
“As an airline pilot I do my fair share of traveling, and wherever I go, even if it is only for a few hours, I don’t like to do the standard tourist things.
“I would rather experience local lifestyle as closely as possible. So, when I heard about the Stopover Buddy program, I did not need to think about it for long!
“It has been very gratifying so far. We, in Iceland, are very proud of the beauty of our country, so it has been a nice experience to share a bit of it with our guests.”

Layover with a Local

Icelandair isn’t the only airline experimenting with peer-to-peer schemes.
Dutch flag-carrier KLM might not have Iceland’s volcanoes and majestic national parks to capitalize on, but its main hub at Schiphol international airport is barely half an hour away from the center of the buzzing city of Amsterdam.
The airline’s Layover with a Local app aims to offer transit visitors the chance to briefly escape the airport to perhaps join a local for a drink at one of the Dutch capital’s picturesque cafes.
As with Icelandair, transit passengers make up a very significant chunk of KLM’s traffic.
While Schiphol airport has plenty of amenities, the airline’s marketing team was looking for a way to help anyone with a long enough stopover to experience the true Amsterdam.
Layover with a Local allows passengers to connect with local Amsterdam residents who’ve registered with the app and are available when the traveler is in town.

Free drinks

In order to use the app, travelers enter their name and booking code.
KLM then checks if there’s enough time for the layover experience.
If the answer’s yes, and a match for languages and interests can be found, the passenger gets a notification on their phone.
Once they land at Schiphol, the app guides them toward the airport’s train station — the train ticket is included for free, as is the first round of drinks.
From there it’s just a short hop to Amsterdam’s Central Station, where they should encounter “their local,” holding up a phone with the traveler’s name displayed on it.
The free app ensures they make it back in time for their flight by sending an alert.
It’s still in pilot phase until the end of June, being made available for iTunes download in the U.S., Canada and Italy, but has attracted interest from more than 3,000 people.

London for $639? Yes, British Airways is having a ‘Brexit’ fare sale

Is British Airways having a “Brexit” fare sale?

That’s the vibe from the carrier’s in-progress three-day fare sale to London. British Airways is courting American customers by saying: “Your dollar has never gone further, and with our amazing 3 day sale you can see even more of London! “

As for the details, economy fares are available for as little as $639 round-trip from New York. Fares are slightly higher from “select” other BA gateways in the USA, including Baltimore, Chicago O’Hare, Dallas/Fort Worth, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington Dulles, among others.

Your dollar has never gone further, and with our amazing 3 day sale you can see even more of London! https://cards.twitter.com/cards/awx7i/1wb21 

The sale ends Wednesday (June 29) and covers travel for “midweek” flights from Aug. 23 through Dec. 14 and from Jan. 9 through May 31. BA says “a weekend surcharge of up to $50 in each direction applies” for itineraries involving weekend flights.

A minimum stay of 7 days is required to get the lowest fares. And BA notes sale fares are “open to U.S. residents paying in dollars only, with travel originating in the U.S.” The full fine print for the sale is available on BA’s website.

Regardless of the details, commenters weighed in on BA’s apparent Brexit sale via social media.

Some reacted enthusiastically to the sale. But, underscoring the rancor that developed in the debate over whether to leave the EU, others said the sale was “in poor taste.”

“Too soon,” said one Twitter user.

“how greedy of you to quickly use your countries economic troubles for your own gain,”wrote another.

Best Wi-Fi options for travelers

How to always have a Wi-Fi signal when you travel

Name three things you can’t travel without. We bet Wi-Fi made the cut. This summer, businesses (and cities) are making it even easier for you to plug in and stream.

Whether he’s exploring the Ecuador’s Amazon Basin or sightseeing in Madagascar, Ron Force starts every trip the same way: by finding a wireless hotspot.

You, too? It sounds a little extreme, but in an always-on world, we can’t live without our connections. This summer, our appetite for bandwidth seems to know no limits.

Force, a retired librarian from Moscow, Idaho, says he looks for the nearestStarbucks or McDonald’s, and if that fails, he pulls out his Google Fi phone, for a quick wireless fix.

“The only place I can’t connect is one of those expensive hotels in the U.S. which have outrageous access fees,” he jokes. (Well, technically you can get hooked up, but it’ll cost you.)

Americans are voracious bandwidth consumers, and they’re getting hungrier by the minute. Mobile data traffic is expected to more than double in the next three years, surging from 1,329 petabytes a month this year to 2,515 petabytes a month in 2018, according to the Cellular Telephone Industries Association (CTIA), an industry trade group for wireless companies. (A petabyte is a million gigabytes, or roughly 500 billion pages of standard printed text.)

Almost nine of 10 U.S. households have a smartphone, and more than one-third use Wi-Fi calling to stay in touch, according to research by Parks Associates. “To many travelers, including my teenage daughter, the three life essentials are food, water and Wi-Fi,” says Harry Wang, a senior research director at Parks Associates.

Fortunately, there are new strategies and new ways of connecting that can save you time and money and help you get on with your trip. They range from better ways of deploying a mobile hot spot, to connecting to a conventional wireless access point, to rigging something up that works almost anywhere.

Maybe the most convenient way to get connected is to carry your own hot spot. Like Force, I’m a Google Fi (fi.google.com) subscriber, and it’s a lifesaver when you’re traveling internationally and need to stay connected. But there are significant limitations. You can use it only with a Nexus 6P, Nexus 5X or Nexus 6, and at $10 per GB, it’s not the best option for bandwidth hogs such as me.

T-Mobile (t-mobile.com) offers attractive plans that let you connect overseas. For example, its Simple Choice Plan offers unlimited data and texting at no extra cost to your plan in more than 140 countries worldwide. Plus, flat-rate calls are just 20 cents a minute. I took my Samsung Galaxy S7 to Canada a few weeks ago and used the phone to stay connected. Cool feature: You can text in-flight on planes that use GoGo Inflight Internet. Texting is included in your plan.

Chris Pontine, an Internet marketer from Port Huron, Mich., who is always looking for a fast connection, says thinking differently about Wi-Fi is a key to success this summer. He recommends a good wireless finder app — a program such as Avast (avast.com) uses crowdsourcing to find the clearest connections — and to look where others don’t.

“Comcast allows you to connect to many hot spots as long as you have a Comcast account,” he says.

That’s true. Sometimes, you already have the ability to connect, whether it’s an AT&T account, a subscription TV account or a service such as Boingo (boingo.com). Actually, Boingo is a particularly appealing option at airports, where it provides no-cost wireless service, and recently launched a faster network for subscribers, featuring speeds up to 50 Mbps. You may qualify for the higher-speed access without knowing it; select American Express cardholders and Starwood Preferred guests can log in without paying extra.

If you’re a grizzled road warrior who gulps down data by the gigabyte, then you’re probably shaking your head right about now. I get it. You need more for less, but you are not alone.

Consider Mel Candea, who has been driving through Europe with her husband for the past four years. She’s a freelance writer, and he’s a filmmaker, so they have to stay connected no matter where they are. They have a total pro rig: a Huawei E5770s-320 mobile hot spot ($179) that allows them to swap out data cards, depending on which country they’re visiting. Every time they cross a border, they buy a new SIM card. They use Wi-Fi maps to find cafes for larger uploads and downloads. “We have a Wi-Fi booster for more remote areas,” she says.

If you need more power — and who doesn’t? — you could try the Worldsim Tri-Fi (worldsim.com), a pocket-sized combination of hot spot and powerbank ($164). The Worldsim comes with a data roaming SIM card that can be used to get low-cost data in 188 countries, and it’s unlocked, so you can easily swap out your cards like Candea.

Overkill? You tell me. You’re probably reading this online. How would you feel if the connection were lost?

Three convenient Wi-Fi alternatives

• The phone booth. Cities are busy networking their cities for wireless access. For example, if you’re headed to New York, you’ll be able to access Wi-Fi hot spots across the five boroughs at no charge with the new LinkNYC kiosks being installed. By July, 500 of them will offer not only high-speed internet but also phone calls and device charging ports. By 2024, New York expects to have as many as 7,500 of these kiosks.

• The car. Don’t look now, but several car manufacturers, including Audi and GM, have begun equipping their cars with Wi-Fi. Or you could bring your own a wireless device such as the AT&T Unite Explore mobile Wi-Fi hot spot by Netgear(att.com/uniteexplore, $50), a mobile access point that offers up to 22 hours of continuous use on a single charge. If you’re a power user, your plan will run out before the hot spot stops working.

• The service station. Many forward-looking gas stations offer Wi-Fi to customers. For instance, Pilot Flying J, a chain of truck stops in the USA and Canada, just put the finishing touches on an overhaul of its Wi-Fi networks. Flying J doesn’t charge guests to use Wi-Fi inside its travel centers.

The World’s Most Powerful Passport Is…



New rankings by a London-based firm reveal a European country has the best global access.

Despite recent tensions over waves of refugees crossing its border, Germany, in recent months, has banked some good press as well: It led U.S. News & World Report‘s “Best Countries” index, had not one—but three—cities appear on the “10 Best Cities for Expats” list, and even had Chancellor Angela Merkel, its indomitable leader, named Time magazine’s Person of the Year. New results from Henley & Partners, a London-based consulting firm specializing in citizenship services, continue to enforce the European nation’s status on the world stage by deeming a German passport the most powerful in the world.

The annual study, produced in collaboration with the International Air Transport Association (which has the world’s largest database of travel information), judged the top passports in the world by how much visa-free travel they allow. Germany, which has held the top spot for three years in a row, has visa-free access to 177 countries out of a total of 218. Sweden, in second, has a ranking of 176, and a larger group of countries sitting in third place (Finland, France, Italy, Spain, and the U.K.) allow visa-free access to 175 countries. The U.S. passport, along with ones from Denmark, Belgium, and the Netherlands, comes in fourth place, with entry to 174 countries.

The least useful passport of the 199 evaluated? Afghanistan, which allows visa-free access to just 25 countries—fewer than North Korea (42), Syria (32), and Iraq (30).


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Traveling With Pets: Why Your Pet Needs a Passport


What, you thought those blue booklets were just for humans?

For travelers, few things are as valuable as a passport: they can get you across borders and onto ships, planes, and trains, and also serve as a tangible record of the places you’ve been. It makes sense, then, that there are similar documents for animals. Taking your cat, dog, pig, or turkey abroad sometime soon? Here’s what you need to know.


Be aware that each country has its own set of rules and regulations, and that what works for Djibouti may not work for Greece. Well in advance of your trip, contact the local embassy or consulate of the country you (and Fido) are traveling to, and start by asking about three things: what documentation and forms you’ll need to enter the country; what vaccinations your pet must have; and if there are any other restrictions. After determining how your pet will fly, contact the airline for their specific regulations, too, as there may be cases where a country does not require particular certification, but an airline does. For example of fine print, most airlines require pet health certificates that are no more than 10 days old—but more on that later.


Much like you might go to the doctor’s office to get the MMR or yellow fever vaccine before overseas travel, your animal companion needs to do the same. Look at the required vaccination list, note certain stipulations—say, if a pet has to have had the shot one week prior to travel—and take the list to your veterinarian, who will be able to help walk you through the process. Once the vet has given your pet the required vaccinations and filled out the paperwork, prepare to have the forms endorsed by your local Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) office, if (most likely) required. Make a copy of any relevant lab work results, as the documentation will only help your case move forward smoothly.


If certification is required, you’ll need to send the paperwork by mail or courier to your state’s USDA-APHIS office. Include a self-addressed, stamped envelope or a pre-paid Federal Express envelope, along with the inspecting veterinarian’s name and daytime contact information. Should you wish to deliver the paperwork in person, call 24 to 48 hours in advance for an appointment. Note: There is a USDA endorsement fee for cats and dogs, so call the office to determine the fee, and include it with your paperwork.


Ok, ok. So maybe those blue booklets for pets in the U.S. aren’t exactly blue booklets—they’re more like neatly filed forms. Still, actual pet passports are part of the Pet Travel Scheme (PETS) program in the United Kingdom, which allows registered pets to skip quarantine before getting on the plane for the U.K. For starters, animals must have one of two things: an identity microchip implanted under the skin, or a tattooed serial number. Their microchip or tattoo number will be noted anywhere from a pink A4 paper form to a small book, and will also include the pet’s vaccination certificate, and other veterinarian notes. Under the PETS program, pets from most Western European countries, the United States, Canada, Australia, Japan, Taiwan and several Caribbean island countries can travel to the U.K. If you’re moving your dog, cat, or ferretbetween European Union countries, you can simply present a certified rabies vaccination in a pet passport or another health certificate, though requirements vary slightly by member state.


Bringing a pet back into the U.S. is a whole other ballgame. Prior to your travel date, check with your state of destination and with the airline to learn about requisite paperwork and policies.

The Cheapest (and Most Expensive) Flights in the World

June 11, 2016

Any guesses as to how much the cheapest flight in the world costs?

Ladies and gentlemen, fasten your seatbelts.

Search online for “Why is airfare so expensive?” and you’ll find no shortage of theories. But try to find information on what air travel actually does cost by factors including miles, fuel, and amenities—kind of essential for determining if it’s expensive in the first place—and you’ll find a lot fewer resources.

Thankfully, someone crunched the numbers: for a recent infographic, Seats and Stools, a residential and commercial seating manufacturer, looked at another type of seat—ones aboard airlines. Findings, based on searches conducted in early May for flights the last week of June via Google Flights, as well as historical research for bespoke forms of air travel, run the gamut.


Unsurprisingly, space travel is the most expensive option for air travel. A 12-day ride on the International Space Station—with round-trip transportation—cost Cirque du Soleil co-founder Guy Laliberté a reported $35 million in 2009, the last time a civilian boarded the ISS. (In case you’re wondering, Laliberté totally thought it was worth it.) Though it’s still theoretical at this point, a suborbital flight on Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity, designed to take a crew of two pilots and up to six passengers to space, is $250,000—approximately $83,000 per minute of weightlessness.

For a terrestrial aviation, the most expensive commercially available option is a $64,000 round-trip ride inEtihad Airways’ penthouse cabin, “The Residence,” between New York City to Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Featuring a three-room suite with a butler, this option should probably be categorized as a short-term luxury apartment rental rather than an airplane ride. Do the math, after all, and this seat price equates to about $4,752 per hour.

Other expensive seats of note? A seat on a flight from Portland, Maine to Billings, Montana on United Airlines is the most expensive economy class ticket in the U.S. ($1,585); and the average cost of a seat on an eight-person private plane from New York City to Los Angeles is $33,900—per person. Time to start saving…


On the other end of the price spectrum, there are flight deals to be had: According to Seats and Stools data, the cheapest flight in the world is $11 for a one-way trip from Warsaw to Brussels on Ryanair. Sure, the low-cost carrier is notorious for its no-frills fares (at one point, its CEO was considering charging people to use the lavatory mid-flight), but regardless of which way you slice it, $11 for a ticket is a steal.

In terms of value, which the study calculated as cost per mile, an American Airlines flight from New York City to Miami took top domestic honors at $0.60 a mile. And at $3.70 a mile, the worst value unearthed was a United flight from Newark to Washington, D.C. So much for the destination driving the price.

Yan Baczkowski