Beach: Purple Sunset (Photo: Thinkstock/Stockbyte)

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On our quest to predict volatile fare trends, we're tracking domestic summer routes the same way we do for Caribbean and Europe travel. The good news is that, this week, nearly three quarters of the fares are as affordable as or actually less expensive than last week. Month-over-month, however, fares are creeping upward.

Breakdown

The good news: This week, 71 percent of the tracked fares are either equal to or lower than last week. Some highlights include Honolulu flights from San Francisco, which dipped by as much as 17 percent since a week ago and 20 percent since last month. Other cheaper fares can be found on Las Vegas and Miami routes. As temperatures rise and travelers begin to lose interest in warm-weather destinations, prices to hotter cities are stabilizing.

The bad news: More than half the fares (58 percent) we're tracking have increased since last month, and it's likely that they will continue to rise as more vacationers book summer travel....read more»

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

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Southwest's acquisition of AirTran is one big step closer to completion with today's news that AirTran stockholders have approved the deal. In a statement, AirTran said its stockholders displayed "overwhelming" support for the deal, with more than 98 percent of votes cast in favor.

The vote keeps Southwest's acquisition on schedule to close sometime in the second quarter, or as soon as next month (though likely later)....read more»

London Telephone Booth in front of Big Ben (Photo: iStockPhoto/Jeremy Edwards)

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JetBlue has added another airline to its list of international partners: Richard Branson's Virgin Atlantic. In a release, JetBlue said the agreement, which is effective immediately, will link "two of aviation's most iconic brands."

The airlines will connect on the following routes:...read more»

Photo: United Airlines

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United allowed a plane to fly despite known safety issues stemming from a malfunctioning windshield heater. According to the Associated Press (AP), "A United Airlines plane with 112 people aboard was allowed to take off last May without repairs despite indications during two previous flights that the cockpit window was overheating, a condition long known to cause fires."

"The Boeing 757 was about 30 minutes into a flight from New York to San Francisco, and had just leveled off at 36,000 feet, when pilots said they heard a hissing noise followed seconds later by 14- to 16-inch flames shooting from the cockpit window near the captain." The windshield shattered shortly before the plane made an emergency landing in Washington, D.C.

The pilot who flew the plane earlier that day reported smelling fumes in the cockpit, and showed United mechanics that an electrical connection in the windshield was charred and hot. The plane actually made an emergency landing the previous day due to smoke and fumes in the cockpit....read more»

Delta aircraft tail (Photo: Delta)

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Delta is now allowing customers to check in for flights via Facebook, thanks its Ticket Counter app. Ticket Counter debuted last summer primarily as a vessel for booking flights, but now users can check in, check their flight status, view in-flight amenities, and see their SkyMiles information.

Delta says this is the first time travelers will be able to check in via Facebook....read more»

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

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The U.S. Travel Association (USTA), a travel business trade group, issued the latest in a growing chorus of calls for a trusted traveler program. The proposal is part of a larger set of recommendations, chaired by what the USTA calls a "blue ribbon panel," consisting of former Secretary of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge; former Congressman Jim Turner; and Sam Gilliland, president and chief executive officer of Sabre Holdings.

Similar to the International Air Transport Association's proposal from last year, the USTA's plan advocates a risk-based approach that allows passengers to opt into a trusted traveler program. But whereas the IATA addressed security checkpoints only, the USTA goes a step further, offering suggestions for streamlining most aspects of the TSA's operations. Here are some highlights:...read more»

Air: Security - Hand Putting Keys in Bin (Photo: Thinkstock/© Getty Images)

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USA Today reports that the TSA will begin testing all 247 of its currently deployed full-body scanners after maintenance reports revealed radiation levels were 10 times higher than previously thought.

The TSA attributed the discrepancies to "math mistakes" and said the machines are all perfectly safe. USA Today adds, "even the highest readings listed on some of the records—the numbers that the TSA says were mistakes—appear to be many times less than what the agency says a person absorbs through one day of natural background radiation."

A TSA spokesperson said the retesting is being done out of an "abundance of caution to reassure the public." The results will be released as they are finished....read more»

Tokyo at night (Photo: Jeremy Hoare/Life File)

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The tragedy playing out in Japan is lost on no one, and it's clear, from the extent of the damage, that the country will be reeling from the earthquake, tsunami, and the ongoing nuclear crisis for some time. As such, travelers with plans to visit the country in the near term may want to consider rescheduling, and people mulling over a trip later this year have a lot to, well, mull over.

Many airlines waived their change fee policies for travel over the next few weeks, and some are offering rebooking well into May and June. Many airlines are also offering change fee waivers for travel through Japan, so check with your airline if you have a connection in Tokyo, for example, and would like to put off your trip. Also keep in mind that you will probably have to pay any difference in fare.

I've listed policies from most major carriers serving the U.S.-Japan market, but other airlines likely have similar policies:...read more»

Snorkel Cove, Bermuda (Photo: Bermuda Department of Tourism)

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Heading into summer without a tan is a no-no, so skip the tanning salon and head to the Caribbean for the golden sheen. Though fares are higher than they were last month, we've got good news for procrastinators: They’re more affordable than they were last week.

Breakdown

Many popular Caribbean routes have shot up 19 percent in price since last month. The good news, however, is that there has been a 25 percent collective drop since last week's benchmark. Some of the more significant savings come on the Detroit/San Juan, Washington, D.C./Nassau, and Los Angeles/Cancun routes; the latter two settling down after last week's fare spike.

Here's a snapshot of the many Caribbean routes we've been tracking this spring...read more»

Airport baggage handler (Photo: Index Open)

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How much does it cost to not check a bag? If you remember back to earlier this month, the figure was $260 million. That was according to the TSA estimate of how much more the agency has had to spend in screening carry-ons since airlines started charging passengers for their first checked bags. The proposed fix to the budget shortfall was an increase in passenger facility charges, which would make passengers responsible for a situation the airlines had basically created.

Now, the U.S. Travel Association has released a report that recommends allowing travelers to check at least one free bag to address the issue of overburdened security checkpoints....read more»

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