Airport: Security Screening Sign (Photo: iStockphoto/Lya Cattel)

The European Union (E.U.) announced it will begin phasing out its liquid ban as it adds security screening equipment that can detect explosive liquids in passengers' bags. The ban is expected to be fully eliminated by mid-2013, sooner than previous estimates.

The New York Times reports that the first step toward ending the ban will involve duty-free liquids, and is expected to take effect next year. Duty-free liquids "purchased at duty-free shops outside the E.U. or aboard non-E.U. airlines would be allowed in hand luggage beginning next year, provided they are sealed within tamper-proof bags and screened before boarding."

So, if the technology exists, what's the likelihood of the U.S. following the E.U.'s lead and getting rid of the liquid ban? Well, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has floated the idea in the past, but hasn't offered any concrete plans to get rid of it....read more»

Photo: United Airlines

The Chicago Sun-Times is reporting that a merger between United and Continental could be finalized by Sunday. According to the Sun-Times, both airlines have agreed on a deal, and simply need their respective board of directors to approve it. United's board is expected to vote today, with Continental's slated to vote Sunday.

But approval is hardly a sure thing. Continental's board rejected a similar deal with United two years ago, citing concerns about United's financial stability. United is in much better shape now, which seems to make a vote of approval more likely. The Wall Street Journal adds that both carriers appear to be "back on track" after a disagreement over the price of the deal earlier this week....read more»

Travelers packing up convertible

A recent blog about National Passport Day prompted a question from smartwomentrav, who asked about other travel holidays. As the comments moderator, I love to honor reader requests, so I’ve compiled this list of days guaranteed to inspire you to pack your bags and hit the road.

Maybe you’re looking for a reason to visit your favorite destination. These days are all about place, and include plenty of festivities to tempt travelers.

  • Canada Day (July 1): Established in 1879 as Dominion Day, this holiday celebrates all things Canuck. If you’re inspired to head north for maple syrup and French-accented fireworks, this is the best day to go.
  • Alaska Day (October 18): Not to be outdone by its neighbor, Alaska celebrates the purchase of the territory by the United States. Events range from scavenger hunts to fish pie luncheons, making this a perfect time to explore Seward’s Folly.
  • Boston Tea Party (December 16): Be a part of history in Boston during the annual reenactment of the famous act of defiance. After the fun, be sure to explore the city’s Freedom Trail and other attractions.

If you don't have a specific destination in mind, there’s still plenty of inspiration to explore the great outdoors and city sidewalks. ...read more»

Kiss free airplane meals goodbye (Photo: iStockPhoto/Bill Grove)

Passengers around the U.S. have bemoaned the loss of free meals on domestic flights. Continental, the last major carrier to offer food at no charge, will stop serving this fall. But is the food really something you’d want to eat? When asked what their worst airline meal ever had been, followers of SmarterTravel on Twitter responded with some pretty unappetizing dishes that seem to suggest airplane food should be permanently grounded.

France may be home to some of the best cuisine in the world, but their flagship carrier didn’t impress @LandLopers, who said the worst meal he ever had was “an awful scallop creation on Air France. Copious amounts of brandy seemed to rectify the scallop disaster though.” I think it’s safe to say that mollusks don’t belong in the sky. Like Proust and his madeleine, @bigtravellittle must have been transported back to middle school after eating “the mystery meat they call breaded chicken sandwich on Continental.”

Other tweeters reveal that you can’t always trust your eyes, as @mollsiebee found out on a Sri Lankan Airlines flight. Despite a fancy glass and deceivingly appetizing foods, her worst meal consisted of “dried out carrot puree in a brittle tortilla. I think the yellow thing was fruitcake? [It] tasted like hand sanitizer.” ...read more»

Photo: PhotoDisc

The Department of Transportation's (DOT) long-awaited tarmac delay rules take effect today, after months of back-and-forth debate. In fact, so much has been said about the impact of these regulations that it's probably worth reviewing what they actually entail.

Here are the highlights from the DOT's rules:

  • Three-hour limit on domestic tarmac delays: "For domestic flights, the air carrier will not permit an aircraft to remain on the tarmac for more than three hours" unless the pilot-in-command determines there is a safety-related or security-related impediment to deplaning passengers (e.g., weather, air traffic control, a directive from an appropriate government agency, etc.), or Air Traffic Control advises the pilot-in-command that returning to the gate or permitting passengers to disembark elsewhere would significantly disrupt airport operations."
  • Limit (to be determined) on international tarmac delays: "For international flights that depart from or arrive at a U.S. airport, an assurance that the air carrier will not permit an aircraft to remain on the tarmac for more than a set number of hours, as determined by the carrier in its plan, before allowing passengers to deplane, unless the pilot-in-command determines there is a safety-related or security-related reason precluding the aircraft from doing so, or Air Traffic Control advises the pilot-in-command that returning to the gate or permitting passengers to disembark elsewhere would significantly disrupt airport operations."
  • Adequate food, water, and functioning bathrooms: "For all flights, an assurance that the air carrier will provide adequate food and potable water no later than two hours after the aircraft leaves the gate (in the case of a departure) or touches down (in the case of an arrival) if the aircraft remains on the tarmac, unless the pilot-in-command determines that safety or security requirements preclude such service" and "for all flights, an assurance of operable lavatory facilities, as well as adequate medical attention if needed, while the aircraft remains on the tarmac."
  • Actual punishment: "Failure to do any of the above would be considered an unfair and deceptive practice ... and [would be] subject to enforcement action, which could result in an order to cease and desist as well as the imposition of civil penalties." Airlines would be fined $27,500 per passenger for each violation of the three-hour limit.

So, starting today, planes will be forced to return to the gate if a tarmac delay reaches or approaches the three-hour mark, lest the airline pay a severe penalty....read more»

Photo: Southwest Airlines

Southwest and JetBlue announced a slew of new routes coming later this year.

For Southwest, the new service centers on Phoenix. The carrier will add two daily nonstop flights between Sky Harbor Airport and Minneapolis, and one daily nonstop to Boston. Minneapolis service starts at an introductory price of $99 each way, and begins August 15. Southwest hasn't announced fares for the Boston route, which debuts September 7.

Both Boston and Minneapolis joined Southwest's route network in 2009, and the airline has grown service quickly at each. With the addition of Phoenix service in Boston, the airline will have doubled its presence there since launching flights in August.

For its part, JetBlue will begin brand new service at Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C....read more»

Airplane in pink sky (Photo: iStockPhoto/Linda & Colin McKie)

If you're looking to snag a deal on a new car, wait for Presidents’ Day. For a set of golf clubs or a grill, find promotions for your sought-after goodies around Fathers’ Day. And for that mondo-sized plasma, pack yourself a leftover turkey sandwich and prepare to do battle with the camped-out gadget geeks outside the electronics stores the day after Thanksgiving.  But what about airfare? Is there a Black Friday for cheap flights?

There may just be....read more»

(Photo: Southwest)

The Department of Transportation (DOT) hit Southwest with a $200,000 fine for improper procedures related to involuntary bumping.

Here's what happened: Airlines are allowed to overbook because passengers sometimes fail to show up. In the event that everyone shows up, airlines are required to ask for volunteers to give up their seats. If no one volunteers, the airline will involuntarily bump as many passengers as it needs. These passengers are supposed to receive written notification of why they were bumped, and up to $800 in compensation.

It's that last detail that got Southwest into trouble....read more»

Photo: Index Open

Responding to a series of headline-grabbing incidents involving so-called "cockpit distractions," the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has issued a "guidance" memo for cockpit safety. The stated purpose of the memo is to "emphasize to crewmembers and operators that engaging in tasks not directly related to required flight duties, including using personal electronic devices (PED), constitutes a safety risk."

But—is a memo such as this really necessary?

Here are some more points from the memo:

  • Describing the incidents that led to the memo: "In one instance, two pilots were using their laptop computers during cruise and lost situational awareness, leading to a 150 mile fly-by of destination. In another instance, a pilot was texting after the aircraft pushed back from the gate and before the take-off sequence. In still another instance, a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspector in the jump seat overheard a crewmember’s mobile phone ring during the takeoff roll."
  • The FAA's rationale: "While PEDs can be valuable tools in aviation operations, crewmembers cannot permit PEDs to distract them from focusing on duties and responsibilities related to the flight. Regulations regarding sterile flight decks prohibit crewmembers from performing any duties not relating to the safe operation of the aircraft during critical phases of flight. At other phases of flight, crewmembers must avoid becoming distracted by any task not related to the safe operation of the flight, whether it involves use of a PED or not. Maintaining the public trust is both a personal responsibility and professional requirement."
  • The FAA's recommendation: "Operators should create a safety culture that clearly establishes guidance, expectations and requirements to control cockpit distractions, including use of PEDs, during flight operations. Directors of Operations and Directors of Safety should review and reinforce these policies and guidance. Directors of training should review and reinforce crew training on this subject. Crewmembers should evaluate their personal practices, including those regarding the use of PEDs, to ensure they do not distract from or interfere with duties and responsibilities related to the flight."

In his blog, Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Ray LaHood adds, "The flying public can't have it. They expect their pilots to focus on flying safely at all times. And rightly so ... Our aviation system has a terrific safety record, but we can only maintain that record by minimizing risk wherever possible, including in the cockpit."...read more»

Consolidation has lately been the domain of the airline industry, but today's big news comes from the world of car rentals. Hertz has bought the Dollar-Thrifty Automotive Group, which owns and runs Dollar Rent-a-Car and Thrifty Car Rental. The deal expands Hertz' global reach, as the deal will boost its number of worldwide locations to roughly 9,800.

For consumers, there's a lot to ponder here. There are no details yet regarding reward programs for any of the agencies involved, though presumably Hertz will inherit these programs and their members. The Tulsa World reports that Hertz will likely retain the Dollar and Thrifty names in some form. The Dollar-Thrifty Group is based in Tulsa.

More importantly, perhaps, is the matter of car rental rates....read more»

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