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First-class travelers watching videos (Photo: Stewart Cohen/Index Open)

USA Today reports that airlines are slowly but surely reducing the number of first class seats available, in response to consumer demand for cheaper coach seats. "The global slowdown has put a damper on first-class flying as fewer corporate travelers can afford $15,000 seats," USA Today's Roger Yu writes.

"Premium traffic on international flights—which includes business and first class—fell 16% in 2009, the International Air Transport Association says. While demand has improved this year, premium traffic in August was still 11% down from the pre-downturn size in early 2008."

Yu mentions several airlines in particular, including AirTran, which will see its first-class product disappear when the airline is absorbed by Southwest, and United, which Yu says has been reducing first class since 2007....read more»

Spring is the ideal time to visit Europe: The weather is pleasant, the summer crowds haven't yet arrived, and best of all, everything's affordable. I've compiled 10 of the best Europe vacation deals for travel in the upcoming months, with accompanying photos that will leave you daydreaming about your spring vacation.

<h2>Paris in the Springtime (and Fall)</h2>

Air France Holidays' <a href="http://www.airfrance-holidays.com/site_afh/pub_detail.asp?id=12996&iType=0" target="_blank">Presenting Paris</a> vacation package is an affordable option for exploring the City of Lights. Round-trip airfare on <a href="http://www.airfrance.us" target="_blank">Air France</a> and six nights' accommodations at the <a href="http://www.choicehotels.fr/hotels/hotel?hotel=FR295" target="_blank">Comfort Gare de L'Est Hotel</a> are included, with extras such as a <a href="http://www.airfrance-holidays.com/site_afh/sightseeing-tours/paris-1057.asp" target="_blank">Bateaux Mouches river cruise</a>, a city map of Paris, continental breakfast, and hotel taxes and service charges. 

The base price of $799 is based on spring departures from New York City between April 1 and May 15, and again from September 8 through October 25. You can customize this package based on your departure city. For example, Philadelphia departures are an extra $30, and Washington, D.C., departures are an extra $70. 

(Photo: iStockPhoto/urbandevill)

Ongoing strikes in France are impacting travel, and figure to get worse as the week progresses. The New York Times reports "the French civil aviation authority said on Monday it was asking airlines to cut flights into French airports by up to 50 percent on Tuesday because of possible strikes by airport personnel."

The biggest cuts, around 50 percent, would come at Paris' Orly International, with other airports cutting service by 30 percent....read more»

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

The traveling world is abuzz: A new machine, developed at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, could finally, mercifully put an end to the 3-1-1 rule that limits carry-on liquids to 3.4-ounce containers. The device can differentiate between all sorts of liquids—it can tell the difference between red and white wine, for example—and would identify liquids that contain explosive materials.

According to msnbc, "The device, about the size of a small refrigerator, uses magnetic resonance to read the liquids' molecular makeup, even when the substances are in metal containers. Within 15 seconds, a light on top of the simple-looking metal box flashes red or green, depending on whether there's danger." The machine was tested at Albuquerque's international airport on Wednesday.

The government has spent $14 million on the project so far....read more»

Air: Reading a Book on a Plane (Photo: Thinkstock/Hemera)

Choosing a book to take on the plane is one of my favorite parts of packing a carry-on. The story has to be fast-paced enough to distract from the discomfort of airline seats, the loud seatmates, and the turbulence. I also prefer my in-flight read to have something to do with far-off destinations or exotic travel, to set the mood for adventure.

With so many great options to choose from, whittling down a list is hard. But here are five books I'd take along on a flight any day:...read more»

Man with PDA (Photo: iStockphoto/Pali Rao)

For some people, technology isn't a tool, it's a way of life. But for others, it's not a question of, "Which smartphone should I buy," but, "Why should I buy one at all?"

If you fall into the latter group, this article is for you. Because from a traveler's perspective, there are lots of user-friendly technologies that can make traveling simpler and easier, and maybe even save a few bucks....read more»

Pilot doing pre-flight inspection (Photo: iStockPhoto.com/Ian Hamilton)

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has proposed raising the minimum number of flight hours needed to be hired as a first officer from 250 to 1,500. This would equal the experience requirements for captains. First officers and captains are more or less interchangeable in terms of ability. The main difference between the two is seniority at their airline.

But the Associated Press (AP) reports, "A Federal Aviation Administration advisory panel dominated by airlines, companies that employ pilots to fly corporate planes, and university flight schools wants to reduce [the minimum] by two-thirds."...read more»

Air: Baggage: Waiting at Airport with Bags (Photo: iStockphoto/Wolfgang Amri)

Keith King, who, along with his wife, was arrested for stealing some 1,000 pieces of luggage from Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, was sentenced to 10-and-a-half years in prison today. King's wife was sentenced to three-and-a-half years a few weeks ago.

According to msnbc, "Keith King pleaded guilty in September to two counts of burglary and one count each of theft, drug possession and trafficking stolen property. He was also ordered on Tuesday to pay nearly $84,000 in restitution."...read more»

DOT Secretary Ray Lahood (Photo: Department of Transportation)

You have to give credit where it's due, or at least that's what Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Ray LaHood thinks. LaHood penned a short note today thanking the airlines for their part in reducing tarmac delays. Since the DOT's rule banning tarmac delays longer than three hours took hold in April, the number of those delays has dropped more than 98 percent. Here's what LaHood had to say:

These numbers show that our recent tarmac delay rule is working—and passengers are being given options in the event of unanticipated delays. With the busy summer travel season behind us, it seems the rule is working as planned.

But these numbers demonstrate something else worth highlighting: our nation's airlines are doing their part....read more»

Air: jet airplane landing in motion blur sky (Photo: iStokcphoto/Stephen Strathdee)

The Department of Transportation's (DOT) tarmac delays rule, which prohibits airlines from keeping passengers on the runway for more than three hours, has done a great job of reducing those delays. There have been eight tarmac delays longer than three hours since late April, when the rule took effect. There were over 500 during the same period last year. That's clearly good.

Less clear, however, is the regulation's effect on cancellations. If you've followed the tarmac delay drama at all, you know airlines and other opponents of the rule warned of massive cancellations as a result of the restriction. And even as the DOT issued report after report highlighting the rule's success at reducing delays, those same reports did little to prove those warnings wrong.

Now the DOT finally has something on which it can hang its hat. In August, tarmac delays were virtually non-existent (there was one) while cancellations held steady year-over-year and dropped considerably from July....read more»

Woman Frustrated at Laptop (Photo: iStockphoto/Brent Holland)

Travelers are gravitating toward self-service options available online and at the airport and away from traditional face-to-face or phone customer service, a new survey says.

SITA, an air transport technology company, found that while self-serve options such as online booking and check-in are widely used, "popular demand is now reaching out into non-traditional areas of self-service as airline passengers demonstrate their increasing ease with online, kiosk and mobile phone channels.

"Two-thirds of survey respondents would use kiosks for other purposes including booking/changing a flight; purchasing additional services (e.g. baggage fees, meals), printing bag tags; self-transfer; claiming delayed baggage."

Travelers also revealed an openness to automated security and boarding. 70 percent of respondents said both were "acceptable," up from around 57 percent for each in last year's survey....read more»

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