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Oil - Oil in the shape of a dollar sign (Photo: iStockPhoto/ Mark Evans)

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Southwest Airlines has hiked base fares by $5 each way, according to the Associated Press (AP). This is the latest hike in what has become a year-long trend toward more expensive travel.

According to the AP, Southwest said the fare hike was meant to combat rising fuel costs, and this has been the common refrain with each new hike. Fuel prices have been trending upward, due largely to rising demand, though unrest in major oil-producing countries hasn't helped....read more»

Hotel Carter sign (Photo: Terraxplorer/iStockphoto)

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Most of us have avoided staying in the sort of truly awful, straight-from-a-nightmare hotels that populate our sister site TripAdvisor's Dirtiest Hotels list. In fact, most hotels on that list are so horrible it's hard to believe they stay in business!

But that doesn't mean every other hotel in the world is the Four Seasons, either.

We've all stayed in places that, for whatever reason, left something to be desired. Whether it was poor service, a general lack of cleanliness, or some unwanted four- or six-legged "roommates," these experiences make an indelible mark on our memories.

So what we want to know is, what's the worst hotel you've ever stayed in? What made it so awful? Did you leave early, then go home and write a scathing TripAdvisor review? Or did you tough it out and make the best of a bad situation?...read more»

United New Plane (Photo: United Airlines)

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United announced today it will retain its Economy Plus seating product, and expand Economy Plus to Continental aircraft beginning in 2012.

In a release, United said, "Today, United offers Economy Plus on all 359 mainline aircraft and more than 150 larger regional jets operated by United Express(R) carriers. When the multi-year conversion process is complete, the company plans to offer Economy Plus on more than 700 mainline aircraft, including all Continental mainline aircraft, as well as larger regional aircraft. When fully deployed, the new United's fleet will include more than 40,000 Economy Plus seats."...read more»

Virgin America tail (Photo: Virgin America)

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Virgin America announced it will launch service to Chicago in May, with two daily nonstops to Los Angeles and three to San Francisco. Service will begin May 25, and connecting flights will be available to Seattle, San Diego, and Las Vegas.

That the airline would someday launch flights from O'Hare was one of the worst kept secrets in the industry. Virgin previously announced its intent to serve O'Hare in 2008, only to pull those plans when it couldn't grab any gates. Then, last year, rumors popped up that a Chicago announcement was forthcoming, although spokespeople would only say Chicago was "definitely still in our sights."...read more»

Beach With Rocks and Waves at Colorful Sunset (Photo: Thinktock/iStockphoto)

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Cure that vitamin D deficiency with a winter trip to the Caribbean. Our data shows that dropping fares make it more affordable for you to dip your toes in warm island waters.

As we've done in the past with summer travel to Europe and holiday flights in the U.S., we've been tracking winter Caribbean routes from several dozen U.S. cities to some popular islands. Here are some of the routes we've been watching...read more»

Air: Security - Man Being Patted Down (Photo: Thinkstock/Hemera)

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Here we go again.

Two TSA screeners at New York's JFK Airport are charged with stealing cash from passengers' bags. According to msnbc, "Comar Persad, 36, and Davon Webb, 30, are expected to each face three felony charges—grand larceny, conspiracy and possession of stolen property—and one misdemeanor charge of official misconduct, authorities said." Police recovered over $36,000 in connection with the bust, and the two men admitted to stealing up to $160,000 in other thefts.

The TSA, predictably, condemned the thievery and pledged to terminate both men and ... oh, let's just go to the TSA statement itself: "The agency is working closely with law enforcement authorities to ensure the individuals responsible are prosecuted and we will move swiftly and decisively to end the federal careers of any employee who engages in illegal activity on the job." Well! Thank goodness the TSA is on top of things, what with its blustery statement promising to cooperate with authorities (as if it had any choice) and then get tough with these two thieves it hired....read more»

United New Plane (Photo: United Airlines)

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USA Today reports that United grounded 96 Boeing 757 aircraft yesterday after realizing critical upgrades to onboard computer systems had not been properly inspected. The grounding affects the airline's entire fleet of 757s.

According to USA Today, "The problem occurred on the 757's air data computer, which measures air pressure and other atmospheric conditions to determine speed and altitude. The Federal Aviation Administration on June 22, 2004, ordered that the computers be replaced and that mechanics perform a check to ensure they were working properly." United hadn't performed this check....read more»

Air: Security - Shoes in Bin (Photo: Thinkstock/Creatas)

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It's been a rough month or so for the TSA at Newark Airport. According to New Jersey's Star-Ledger, there were five security lapses during a 30-day stretch ending earlier this month. Normally, the TSA records around one lapse every few months.

Among the recent incidents: A dead dog was allowed into a plane's cargo hold, a knife made it through security in a carry-on bag, and two passengers passed into a secure area despite a body scanner glitch that disrupted their screening....read more»

Airplane Silhouette Colorful Sky (Photo: iStockphoto/Dan Barnes)

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Get ready to pay a little more when you purchase an airline ticket. The new 2012 budget, unveiled yesterday, calls for an increase in "passenger facility charges" (PFC), from $4.50 per segment to $7. The increase is designed to offset a $1.1 billion reduction in federal grants for airport construction projects. Both the fee increase and grant reduction are targeted at medium and large airports.

The goal of this reduction, which is spelled out in more detail here, is to "[focus] the traditional Federal grants to support smaller commercial and general aviation airports that do not have access to additional revenue or other outside sources of capital. At the same time, the Budget would allow larger airports to increase non-Federal passenger facility charges." Which is to say, large airports with hundreds of thousands or millions of travelers passing through each year can figure things out for themselves....read more»

Airplane Silhouette Blue Sky (Photo: iStockphoto/Dan Barnes)

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We're living in one of the safest periods in aviation history. Accidents and deaths are as rare as ever. But new data showing air traffic control errors have nearly doubled and is cause for concern about our safety in the skies.

According to the Associated Press (AP), the number of air traffic control errors during the 12 months ending September 2010 was 1,889, up from 947 during the same period a year earlier. As for what caused this increase, well, that depends on who you ask....read more»

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