EU flag and currency (Photo: Index Open)

Phase two of the Open Skies agreement signed in 2007 has just been announced, and the changes, while largely behind the scenes, could mean big changes for the transatlantic air travel market.

The main element is a proposed change to U.S. business laws that would allow foreign entities to gain majority ownership of U.S. airlines. Currently, foreign ownership of U.S. carriers is limited to 25 percent; the proposed changes would allow ownership greater than 49.9 percent.

Congress would have to approve such a change. Presently, the likelihood of that happening is slim, but you never know....read more»

<p>For Ren&eacute;e S. Gordon, <em>Smooth Traveler</em> columnist for <a href=" http://www.philasun.com/travel.html"target="_blank">The Philadelphia Sunday SUN</a>, there's no better place than Manhattan, both for world-famous attractions and little-known delights.</p>

<p>"Historic structures stand pressed between high rises and in gentrified neighborhoods," says Gordon. "These surprises, lagniappes, are sprinkled around the city. My favorite is the 1780s <a href=" http://www.dyckmanfarmhouse.org/ "target="_blank">Dyckman Farmhouse Museum</a>, across from a row of retail establishments on Broadway at 204th Street.</p>

<p>"I love everything about the city ... No matter what time of day or night there is something that will extend the limits of your personal universe in an unexpected way. New Yorkers are a special breed. Contrary to popular belief they are quick to assist you, they are tolerant, flexible, witty and gritty and wonderful. You can find yourself walking beside a street person or a star and both will treat you the same way."</p>

<p>To start your New York City trip planning, visit <a href=" http://www.nycvisit.com/"target="_blank">NYC &amp; Company</a>.</p>(Photo: NYC &amp; Company)

Welcome to the first installment in our series highlighting useful destination-specific apps for travelers. I'll list apps that will help you get around, find things to do, and maybe save a few bucks.

Today's destination is New York City!

  • Exit Strategy NYC Subway Map: One of the most daunting tasks for out-of-towners is navigating New York's massive transit system. Exit Strategy is a comprehensive app that includes full subway and bus maps for all five boroughs, a full map of Manhattan that works offline, suggests the best place to stand on a train for efficient exiting, and even shows you exactly where station entrances are located. For travelers eager to explore all corners of the Big Apple, this is the app you need. ($4.99)
  • KickMap: OK, another subway map—I did say navigating New York can be daunting, didn't I? KickMap is much more basic than Exit Strategy but still solid. KickMap's main feature is its daytime and evening maps, meaning you'll know how to get where you're going whether it's 3 p.m. or 3 a.m. KickMap also improves on the MTA's own maps by distinguishing individual subway lines and clearly identifying neighborhoods, which the MTA's map only labels here and there. You can also use your iPhone's built-in GPS to find the nearest station. ($1.99)
  • NYC Way: NYC Way is a free app that pretty much tells you everything you could want or need to know about New York City. Need to find an ice skating rink, coffee shop, or bowling alley? Done. Want to know if the restaurant you're considering has any health violations? Not a problem. Need a 24-hour pharmacy? Easy. Did I mention it's free?...read more»
Photo: Northwest Airlines

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has proposed a $1.45 million fine against Northwest airlines for failing to inspect cockpit wiring for 17 years. According to the Associated Press, "The proposed civil penalty has its roots in a 1990 Federal Aviation Administration order to inspect wires in the cockpit window heating system on Boeing 757s. The FAA said wires that are too small could overheat and even cause a fire.

"The order said the planes should be inspected within 90 days. Planes with the wrong wires were supposed to be grounded until they were fixed.

"However, Northwest's 757 maintenance manual written earlier in 1990 left out the inspections. The planes flew until May 27, 2008 before the airline realized its error, the FAA said. The planes flew more than 90,000 flights from late 2005 until the problem was discovered, according to the FAA."

At this point in my not-terribly-illustrious career writing about the airline industry, it takes a lot to surprise me. But there are a few aspects of this that really surprise me. First: 17 years? ...read more»

Airport security (Photo: P. Wei, iStockphoto.com)

File this under: Not surprising in the least.

A security officer received a police warning after making inappropriate comments to a colleague who accidentally walked through a body scanner at Heathrow Airport in London. According to Reuters, "The 25-year-old worker made lewd comments after his colleague Jo Margetson, 29, mistakenly strayed into the scanner, which can see through clothes to produce an image of the body.

The case is believed to be the first of its kind since the full-body scanners were rushed into service at a number of British airports in the wake of an attempt by a suspected Muslim extremist to blow up a plane bound for Detroit on December 25."

The Guardian reports that the employee in question took a photo of Margetson's image. Margetson, for her part, says she is traumatized by the incident....read more»

View of Rothenburg, Germany (Photo: John Wang)

Paris will sweep you off your feet, London will be a jolly good time, and Rome is worth every bit more than the day it took to complete, but there's something to be said about looking beyond the major tourist destinations and exploring the lesser-known spots, too.

Venturing off the well-worn path can provide insight into a culture that's hard to attain surrounded by postcard stands and camera-snappy tourists. And Europe is overflowing with exactly these types of places. We just need you to tell us where to find them!...read more»

British Airways levied a harsh penalty against employees who participated in last weekend's three-day strike—and sent a warning to those planning on striking this weekend as well—by permanently revoking their travel privileges. The U.K.'s Daily Mail reports that, "At present a 90 per cent discount on flight tickets is given to all BA staff and a selected group of family and friends whenever free seats are available. Staff who have worked at BA for more than five years also get free tickets to destinations covered by the airline's fleet."

British Airways had warned union members that these perks could be revoked. A British Airways spokesperson said, "'Our cabin crew knew that if they took part in the strike they would lose their staff travel permanently," and called staff travel "a non-contractual perk that the company can withdraw at its discretion."

Unsurprisingly, Unite, the union behind the strike, had a different outlook, promising to "challenge this vindictive move in whatever way seems appropriate," while Unite president Tony Woodley claimed staff travel is "custom and practice," not a perk.

Well, this should make negotiations easier, huh?...read more»

US Airways aircraft close up (Photo: US Airways)

US Airways has asked that its operations at Philadelphia be exempt from the Department of Transportation's (DOT) tarmac delay rules while runway construction is underway at New York's JFK Airport. The Associated Press' (AP) Joshua Freed writes that in a filing with the DOT, US Airways argues that Philadephia is "only about 100 miles by air from the New York airports and shares their air traffic control jurisdiction. It may share their delay problems, too." US Airways also points out that "on March 13, 11 flights headed for New York-area airports diverted to Philadelphia because of bad weather. The extra demand caused a delay for departures from Philadelphia."

This makes five airlines trying to use the JFK situation as a temporary escape from the DOT's rules, and two airlines that are seeking exemptions at airports other than JFK: JetBlue, Delta, and American have all requested relief at JFK, while Continental has asked for an exemption at Newark, and now US Airways at Philadelphia.

Ben Mutzabaugh at Today in the Sky rightly wonders whether or not the tarmac delay rule is starting to unravel, and the airlines are clearly hoping the answer is yes. They have formed a unified bloc in opposition to the bill, promising passengers waves of cancelled flights and long waits to rebook and finally travel—basically a disaster of apocalyptic proportions. All of this is the government's fault, they say, the result of what Continental CEO Jeff Smisek called a "very stupid rule."

The flip side, of course, is that the airlines have done little to improve upon the DOT's rules, and decided to simply cancel flights and point fingers, claiming utter helplessness against the great beastly agency....read more»

Photo: iStockphoto

Air France has averted its cabin crew's so-called solidarity strike, which was to coincide with the second of two British Airways cabin crew strikes. Air France's crew is similarly unhappy about its own working conditions.

Details aren't nearly as abundant as in British Airways' case, but the New York Times reports that "unions representing Air France cabin crews called off a strike planned to begin [March 28] and will return to negotiations," and Connexion, an English-language paper in France, says "Air France wanted to remove one member of cabin crew from each of its Airbus A319 models. Management have now agreed to postpone this until at least next year—and the unions have dropped their strike threat."...read more»

American plane taxiing down the runway (Photo:  Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport)

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has proposed a $300,000 fine against American Airlines for flying an airplane with broken pitot probe heaters on four occasions. According to CNN, "Pitot probes are tubes mounted on the exteriors of aircraft to measure aircraft speeds, and the heaters prevent them from icing in certain conditions."

Mechanics initially thought the cockpit indicator light for the heaters was broken, but later learned the heaters themselves had malfunctioned. But because the problem was initially logged as a broken indicator light, the plane was flown several times with broken heaters before the actual issue was discovered.

American has racked up a long list of safety violations and fines lately, so many that even I'm having a hard time keeping up. Let's recap the various penalties and investigations from the past few months:

  • March 15: $787,500 for several maintenance problems, including failed inspections and malfunctioning air data computers
  • February 10: Estimated $10 million for improperly secured wiring that presented a fire hazard
  • January 5: Investigation into three separate rough landings

Counting this most recent fine, that's upwards of $11 million in penalties in just a few months....read more»

Air: Baggage: Carousel (Photo: iStockphoto/Gary Martin)

There's a really interesting bit of news floating around about the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA's (AFA-CWA) push for Congress to regulate carry-on size. As Ben Mutzabaugh at Today in the Sky puts it, "Fed up with airline fees for checked bags? You're not alone. Many of the nation's flight attendants say they feel your pain—literally. More than 80 percent of attendants claim that they've sustained injuries from helping to handle passengers' carry-ons."

According to the AFA-CWA, the bill before Congress would "create a concise, uniform and enforceable standard to limit the size and number of bags being brought into the aircraft cabin. The bill would civilize the aircraft cabin experience for all passengers and crew while reducing flight delays and missed flight connections, and most importantly, ensure the security and safety of the aircraft cabin."

However, there are several problems with the proposed legislation. As it stands, most airlines use linear inches (the combined length, width, and height of a bag) to set their restrictions (see our guide for all the details), but the government has instead proposed a standard size (22 x 18 x 10 inches). This means lots of travelers could find themselves with bags that would meet the linear measurement but don't meet the actual size restriction.

For me, the important word in all this is "enforceable." Is it really practical to measure bags at check-in or prior to boarding, where lines are often long and sluggish enough as it is? What is the best way to measure bags? Have passengers drop them into a box and see if they fit? What if the bag doesn't really fit, but the passenger can kind-of-sort-of wedge it in there? How should airlines deal with travelers who thought their bag would work as a carry-on but suddenly have to pay a fee?

Here's an idea: Instead of regulating carry-ons, let's try banning them altogether....read more»

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