<strong>Money</strong>

Imagine you innocently go to reach for the <em>Sky Mall Magazine</em>, but instead are rewarded with a wad of cash or a $500 check, as one reader discovered. Finding money can be about as exciting as hitting the jackpot in Vegas, especially when it's in an unexpected place like an airplane, and many of our readers are big winners. Not to mention, you can now afford to buy something from the in-flight magazine, like that <a href="http://www.skymall.com/shopping/detail.htm?pid=102517807" target="_blank">Big Foot Garden Yeti Sculpture</a> you've been eyeing.

<strong>What about you?</strong>

What other weird, gross, or just plain crazy items have you found in a seatback pocket while flying? Leave a comment below, or to submit your photos, <a href="mailto:kate.hamman@smartertravelmedia.com?subject=Photo submission for SmarterTravel">send us an email</a> with no more than three images attached. 
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<li> No larger than 2MB</li>
<li> Family friendly</li>
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The Department of Transportation's (DOT) Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) just released airfare information for the first quarter of 2010 (January through March), which confirms what most of us already noticed or suspected: Fares are going up.

"Average domestic air fares in the first quarter of 2010 increased to the second highest January-to-March level since 2001," the agency said in its statement, "rising 4.7 percent from the first quarter of 2009."

The average domestic fare in the first quarter of this year was $328, compared to $313 last year. That includes a 2.3 percent rise in inflation. Still, airfare today is relatively cheap. Adjusted for inflation, today's average fare is 25 percent lower than fares in 1999, when fares hit their inflation-adjusted high point (for all fares since 1995)....read more»

The Capitol Dome, Washington, D.C.

**Editor's note: The House and Senate have passed the safety rules, which should be signed into law soon.**

The Associated Press (AP) reports that Congress appears ready to pass a set of safety reforms, though in true congressional fashion, the vote is happening at last minute because agreement could not be reached on a larger bill.

Some background: Congress has been trying for years to pass a broad bill, known as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act, the centerpiece of which is the FAA's $40 billion upgrade to our nation's air traffic control system. That bill, however, is being held up over a provision that would open Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C., to flights to and from destinations greater than 1,250 miles from Reagan. The current 1,250-mile perimeter is a noise-reducing measure designed to keep large aircraft out of Reagan.

However, the FAA's authority apparently expires Sunday, so Congress is scrambling to pass an extension. In the process, it decided to add safety measures included in the Reauthorization Act and pass those too.

Now that we're caught up, how about the security measures themselves?...read more»

(Photo: Southwest)

Kudos to Southwest.

Just a week ago, this blog and other news outlets reported on a change to Southwest's contract of carriage, in which the airline defined force majeure events as including "mechanical difficulties." Airlines are not typically liable for cancellations relating to force majeure circumstances, and therefore it seemed the airline was absolving itself of responsibility for problems with its planes.

Now the airline has removed the offending text and replaced it with clearer language: Gone is "mechanical difficulties," and in its place is a much more reasonable phrasing, "mechanical difficulties by entities other than Carrier." The new wording is similar to what you'll find in some other airlines' contracts, including JetBlue and Continental, and is perfectly fair, in my opinion. After all, if an airport employee accidentally drives a vehicle into the plane, well, that's not really Southwest's fault, is it?

So, let me just say thanks to Southwest for clarifying its unnecessarily vague language....read more»

Photo: iStockphoto

Delta subsidiary Comair has been fined $275,000 for violations of the Department of Transportation's (DOT) involuntary bumping policy. In a statement, the DOT said it began looking into Comair after numerous complaints came into the agency's Aviation Enforcement Office. According to the statement, "The investigation involved a review of bumping complaints sent to Comair by consumers, as well as an inspection at the carrier’s headquarters of its consumer complaint records and its policies and practices for oversold flights."

In explaining its conclusion and fine, the DOT said, "The investigation revealed numerous cases in which Comair failed to solicit volunteers to leave overbooked flights and provide passengers with the appropriate denied boarding compensation.  The Aviation Enforcement Office also found that Comair had filed inaccurate reports with DOT on the number of passengers involuntarily denied boarding."...read more»

Icelandair aircraft tail close up (Photo: Icelandair)

Folks in Anchorage now have new way to get to Europe. Icelandair and Alaska Airlines have signed a codeshare agreement, effective today, that will provide seamless interline booking from select cities served by Alaska. This allows customers to fly to any of Icelandair's numerous destinations in Europe.

The deal comes roughly a year after Icelandair launched its Seattle-Reykjavik service. From Reykjavik, Icelandair flies to 20 cities in Europe, including Stockholm, Paris, Barcelona, and Milan. Alaska passengers can connect in Seattle from Anchorage, San Diego, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas. It does not appear that other Alaska destinations are included, as Icelandair only lets you book to those five. At press time, the new destinations had not been loaded into Alaska's reservation system....read more»

Airport Gate (Photo: Index Open)

USA Today's Roger Yu reports that Continental has begun testing a self-boarding procedure in Houston's Intercontinental Airport. The process is similar to boarding a subway, as passengers simply swipe their boarding passes at the gate, pass through a turnstile kiosk, and proceed onto the jetway.

Continental isn't commenting on the experiment, but the TSA told USA Today "[self-boarding] does not impact the security of the traveling public." Passengers are screened well in advance of the gate, and, of course, must possess a boarding pass to enter the terminal at all. There would likely be one airline agent supervising the kiosks to assist with any questions or problems....read more»

Money: Fingers with dollar caught in Mousetrap (Photo: iStockphoto/SpotX)

The Associated Press (AP) has a new story that looks ahead at what travelers can expect from the airline industry in what's left of 2010. I'm going to spoil it for you: From a consumer perspective, it ain't good.

"Good times are finally back for the nation's airlines" write David Koenig and Joshua Freed. "For travelers, that means it's getting harder to find bargains."

It seems that not too long ago we were looking at a perfect storm of negative factors for the airlines, not the least of which was a massive recession, along with high fuel prices and too much capacity. Fees erupted and spread through the industry, and several airlines inched perilously close to bankruptcy. Some even went over the cliff.

Now we're witnessing the opposite, a confluence of trends propelling the industry to profit and stability. Travelers are returning to the skies, only to find abundant fees, fewer seats, and steadily increasing fares....read more»

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

Southwest is in hot water again over a decision regarding a passenger of size. Last week, the airline gave the boot to a standby customer in order to accommodate a late-arriving passenger who required two seats due to her size. The latter passenger was a young girl, only 14, and Southwest apparently gave her precedence because she was a minor traveling alone and to avoid embarrassing her further.

If you ask me, this was a no-win situation for the Southwest crew working the flight. Either they remove and embarrass a minor—who was flying on a reservation, not standby, mind you—or kick off a standby flyer in order to free up a second seat for the larger passenger. So the airline chose the latter option, and instead of discussing a video of a tearful, traumatized teenager, we're hearing an aggrieved standby traveler's tale of frustration....read more»

Man with PDA (Photo: iStockphoto/Pali Rao)

Airline mobile apps don't necessarily inspire peals of enthusiasm, and rightly so. They typically consist of basic functions, such as remote check-in, flight status notification, and travel booking. So American should forgive me when I say news of its new app didn't cause me to fall out of my chair. But upon further investigation, there's actually a lot to like about the airline's new toy.

One of the main features touted in American's statement about the app is its single login function. The app keeps you logged in, meaning updates are pushed to your home screen. No re-logging-in to see if your flight status has changed.

The app also lets you monitor your standby status in real time, meaning you can put in for that earlier flight and then head to the bar or souvenir shop to wait it out....read more»

Photo: Northwest Airlines

Northwest Airlines doesn't exist anymore, but that doesn't mean the airline's past transgressions just evaporate into thin air. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) just revealed what it says is "systemic non-compliance with FAA Airworthiness Directives," which, according to CNN, refers to "government rules designed to remedy an unsafe or potentially unsafe condition."

The FAA said it has proposed disciplinary action against two Northwest managers and will continue to "monitor compliance."

Northwest's issues came to light when a whistleblower, who worked in the FAA's former Northwest inspection office in Bloomington, Minnesota, "alleged that the carrier did not have adequate policies and procedures in place in 2008 to ensure compliance with safety regulations."...read more»

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