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The BBC reports that roughly 75 percent of regularly scheduled flights in Europe are set to operate today, as plume of ash from a volcano in Iceland finally seems to be subsiding. The U.K. reopened its airspace, finally alleviating the backlog at Heathrow. British Airways said it will operate most long-haul flights today, but warned that short-haul flights may still be cancelled.

Germany also reopened its airspace, and Air France said it will resume all long-haul flights.

But while that's good news, there's a long way to go before travelers and the travel industry are out of the woods....read more»

Southwest 737 jet approaching runway (Photo: iStockPhoto/Lowell Sannes)

Dear Carl,

I just booked a flight on Southwest for the first time. I booked a round-trip itinerary with one-stop flights each way, but when I looked at the itinerary after booking I noticed the two segments were longer than they should have been. Upon further investigation I discovered several stops hidden in the segments, which were listed as direct flights. What gives?

-J.B

Dear J.B.,

Semantics mean a lot in the airline industry, and it's safe to assume that any subtle difference between two similar words is there on purpose. The prime example of this is the "direct flight," a term most commonly used by Southwest, which often strings together multiple short segments into a longer flight. Southwest calls these flights "direct" because passengers don't have to disembark and/or switch planes.

A useful comparison is bus or train travel. A train from New York to Chicago will make numerous stops along its journey, but you only have to get off at your designated stop. Your ticket won't note these stops, only your origin and destination. Southwest works the same way.

But for Southwest rookies, this may come as a surprise. ...read more»

Train station in Wales (Photo: comedy_nose/Pete via Flickr. CC Attribution. http://www.flickr.com/people/comedynose/)

What's in a name? A good laugh, if you were one of the dozens of folks who commented on last week's 10 Funniest Small Town Names in America. I've had so much fun reading your suggestions that I decided to round some of them up and give them the glory they deserve.

In the spirit of Uncertain, Texas, 1traveler suggests No Name, Colorado, and geebee writes in with Why, Arizona. HiltonHead2010 reports: "We have a town nearby Cookeville, TN, called Nameless Community."

Other popular favorites include Tightwad, Missouri; Toad Suck, Arkansas; Cut and Shoot, Texas; Embarrass, Minnesota; Bucksnort, Tennessee; French Lick, Indiana; Peculiar, Missouri; Athol, Massachusetts; and Humptulips, Washington. ...read more»

Virgin America 2 (Photo: Virgin America)

Virgin America announced it will launch service to Toronto on June 23. The low-cost carrier will operate two daily flights each from San Francisco and Los Angeles. Los Angeles fares start at $212 each way, and San Francisco fares can be had for $222.

Toronto is Virgin American's first international destination.

Virgin initially announced its Toronto service a few weeks ago, but needed approval from the Canadian government before it could launch flights. With that approval in hand, the airline is clearly moving quickly to get planes in the air. The airline is also starting new service to Orlando....read more»

Photo: iStockphoto

Some positive news from Europe this morning, as airports began reopening in many areas across the Continent. Here's the latest, according to Reuters:

  • Airports in France, Italy, and Switzerland reopened this morning, though many carriers cancelled their flights. Hungary, Slovenia, and Moldova also opened their airports.
  • However, airports in the U.K., including Heathrow, remain closed. Much of Britain's airspace will remain closed until later today at the earliest.
  • Looking ahead, it's difficult to determine if the situation will continue to improve. The volcano has reportedly burst forth a new plume that could track over parts of Europe and throw air travel into chaos again.

As we reported yesterday, most airlines are offering travel waivers to affected travelers. Contact your airline as soon as possible if you're traveling to Europe within the next few days....read more»

Carrying luggage through terminals (Photo: Index Open)

Spirit's unpopular decision to start charging for most carry-ons in August is having a ripple effect. But unlike when one airline, then many others, started charging fuel surcharges or checked bag fees, the industry response to carry-on fees isn't follow-the-leader.

Reuters reports that Senator Charles Schumer has gathered commitments from five airlines to not charge carry-on baggage fees. In phone calls with top executives at American, Delta, JetBlue, United, and US Airways, Schumer "received promises" that these airlines weren't going to charge fees for carry-ons. ...read more»

Man with PDA (Photo: iStockphoto/Pali Rao)

Stranded in Europe because of the volcanic ash? Lonely Planet is offering 13 of its European city iPhone guides free on iTunes until April 22. In addition to suggestions for activities, the guides include the sort of practical information stranded travelers need to deal with unforeseen delays.

Cities with the free app are Amsterdam, Barcelona, Berlin, Budapest, Copenhagen, Istanbul, London, Moscow, Munich, Paris, Rome, Stockholm, and Vienna.

Always remember to be smart about your phone usage abroad to avoid monster fees. Eurocheapo offers a good overview of budget-savvy usage. ...read more»

Airport departure screen (Photo: Index Open)

The ash cloud from a volcano in Iceland has resulted in travel disruptions around the world. If you have plans to fly to Europe, you may be able to postpone without paying a fee....read more»

Continental aircraft tail close up (Photo: Continental)

United's ploy to make Continental jealous seems to have worked. But can they keep Continental on the hook? And more importantly, what do passengers want?...read more»

While you're unlikely to get an all-expenses-paid trip unless you win a game show, you can still get portions your trip for free if you book certain promotions or take advantage of some alternative modes of travel. Here are my picks for top limited-time and long-term "free" travel deals worth checking out.

<h2>Kids Fly Free to French Polynesia</h2>

Never considered French Polynesia for family vacation? Maybe Air Tahiti Nui's kids-fly-free deal will persuade you. From now through the end of the year, when you book two adult Air Tahiti Nui fares from Los Angeles to French Polynesia, you'll get two free fares for kids ages 11 or younger. The deal is valid for flights to Papeete, Moorea, Huahine, Raiatea, Bora Bora, Rangiroa, Manihi, Tikehau, and Fakarava departing through December 10, 2008, or from January 12 to May 31, 2009. Adult fares start at $1,428, including all taxes. You'll still be responsible for paying taxes on the free children's fares.

 (Photo: iStockPhoto/Christine Balderas)

There's something about April that, at least for me, gets me thinking seriously about taking a trip. Happily, it turns out the spring and early summer travel impulse can be an affordable one, especially if you book now.

Want proof? Here's a roundup of some of the spring and summer deals I've found in the last few weeks.

Airfare

Airfare sales move fast, so the best way to find a good deal is to browse our most current reviews of airline sales. But the good news is that whether you've got a hankering to visit Africa, Asia, Europe, South America, or pretty much anywhere in the U.S., you can find a fare sale for travel in spring or early summer.

Destinations

Orlando: The Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort's Mother's Day Special is good through May 16. Discounted rates start at $159 with rate code MOTHER2.

San Diego: Through June 16, the Porto Vista Hotel in San Diego's Little Italy neighborhood is offering the Easy Breezy package, which includes a $30 food credit, valet parking with unlimited in and out privileges, and accommodations for $109 on weeknights or $119 on weekends. ...read more»

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