<h2>You Have Arrived: First Class</h2> 

If you have the cash, Virgin's first-class service might be worth spending a little extra. The seats are as comfortable as they look, with a nearly horizontal recline and ample leg support.  And with only eight seats in the forward cabin, first class has a cozy, exclusive feeling to it. My question is: How long can those white seats possibly stay so ... white?

First class on Virgin America isn't exorbitantly expensive, but it will cost you several hundred dollars more than a seat in coach. Food, beverages, and movies are free, but  Wi-Fi is not.

(Photo: SeatGuru/Erin Liszewski)

Apparently timed to coincide with the Global Business Travel Association's (GBTA) Business Travel Convention at the Boston Convention Center this week, both JetBlue and Virgin America have announced the addition of elite tiers and perks to their loyalty programs.

For now, here's a review of Virgin America's entry....read more»

Security: TSA Screening Area (Photo: Shutterstock/oleandra)

Waiting in those long airport security lines gives you plenty of time to think—and worry about turning your valuable electronics over to the TSA. Could you lose all of your vacation photos? Will your working vacation be foiled by a smashed laptop? Read on for our top five tips on how to keep electronics safe while traveling ... plus one piece of advice in case it all goes wrong.

Request a Hand Inspection

John Christopher, Senior Data Recovery Engineer with DriveSavers, tells us, "According to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA)'s website, neither airport X-ray machines nor other screening equipment create a magnetic pulse that could harm digital equipment. However, the TSA does state that the X-ray screening equipment may damage film with an ASA/ISO of 800 or higher. So in order to keep your film safe, remember to never place undeveloped film in your checked baggage. Be sure to secure your film in your carry-on bag and request a hand inspection prior to the screening." Christopher also points out that smaller airports may use older scanners (or international airports may have different equipment). If you're unsure that you can safely send electronics through an X-ray, be sure to ask airport security for a hand search. The TSA also recommends that you put your film in clear canisters or clear plastic bags in order for easier inspection.

Choose the Right Case (and Know the Unknown Rules)

Don't risk dropping your laptop as you struggle to take it out of the case for inspection. Invest in a checkpoint-friendly laptop bag (click here for TSA-approved styles), and your laptop should sail through security smoothly. Also be aware that you do not have to take certain electronics out to be screened separately; you can leave your iPad, MP3 player, cell phone, and Kindle in your carry-on, keeping them hidden from thieving eyes. And never remove any electronics from your carry-on (except for laptops in nonapproved cases) without being asked by security. Every item you take out is one that you'll have to remember to retrieve as you're rushing to put your shoes, belts, and jewelry back on.

Carry-On Only

...read more»

Despite pressure from US Airways, American gained some maneuvering room when a judge extended the “hands-off” period—the period it has to develop its own bankruptcy exit plan without outside interference—until December 28.

Although this decision doesn’t prevent a subsequent hostile takeover, it does improve American’s bargaining position....read more»

Air: Boarding Pass (Photo: iStockphoto/Richard Cano)

This year's Skytrax Top Airline award list is a mixture of the "usual suspects" and the inexplicable. Of all the airline surveys published around the world, Skytrax can lay claim to the largest database and a reasonably rigorous methodology, so its results command a lot of worldwide attention. This year, many of the results announced at the Farnborough International Air Show conform to previous patterns, as expected, but a few are truly perplexing.

The most predictable results are for the world's top 10 lines, and all are based in Asia or the Middle East. From the top down, they're Qatar, Asiana, Singapore, Cathay Pacific, ANA, Etihad, Turkish, Emirates, Thai, and Malaysia. And even the next 10 are mostly Eastern Hemisphere (Garuda, Virgin Australia, EVA, Qantas, Korean, Hainan and Air New Zealand) with just two European lines, Lufthansa and its subsidiary Swiss. Air Canada, at number 19, is the lone North American representative. The only U.S. line to make even the third 10 is Virgin America, at 26; Alaska is the top U.S. network airline at 49, and the top giant line is Delta, 57.

Skytrax undoubtedly uses the largest sample of any airline survey. According to the site, the survey included "more than 18 million airline customers from over 100 different nationalities" and it "covered over 200 airlines," measuring "38 key performance indicators" from check-in to boarding, onboard seat comfort, cabin cleanliness, food, beverages, in-flight entertainment, and staff service." Clearly, Skytrax is nothing if not thorough.

And those Skytrax top-10 lists generally agree with other big surveys. Although all the big airlines fly mainly the same kinds of planes, survey respondents everywhere seem to like the way the Asian, Middle Eastern and Pacific lines do it.

My take on this survey, however, is that the Skytrax sample vastly oversamples business-class travelers, for whom those Eastern and Pacific lines really pour on the service and the extras. I flew Asiana and Turkish on my recent round-the-world frequent flyer, business-class blowout, and they certainly did an excellent job. On the other hand, I wouldn't rank them substantially above United (number 64) or Air China....read more»

Globe Passport Plane Ticket (Photo: Thinkstock/iStockphoto)

If it's a good deal (or a notably bad one) from an airline, hotel, or car-rental loyalty program, you can read all about it here, and plan your travel accordingly....read more»

Photo: IndexOpen

Extending his full-court press to convince all and sundry that a US Airways-American merger is the best-case outcome for bankrupt American, US Airways CEO Doug Parker used his time at Wednesday's National Press Club meeting in Washington to further reassure the converted and convert the naysayers. (The full text of his speech is here.)

Predictably, Parker would have us believe that the merger would be best for all concerned and that all stakeholder groups are in the same boat, paddling in the same direction:...read more»

US Airways aircraft close up (Photo: US Airways)

US Airways' CEO announced this week that his company might just lose interest in its pursuit of American if it has to wait until American comes out of bankruptcy on its own.

This statement just piles a little more pressure on American's creditors to force the airline into accepting the US Airways merger bid now, not later. US Airways has played this game skillfully, lining up the support of most of American's unionized labor force and many key creditors....read more»

Animal: Baby Lamb (Photo: Shutterstock/Patryk Kosmider)

Several stories had us shaking our heads disapprovingly at our computers this week, including a report on a billionare who is rebuilding the Titanic, and a story about Madonna's museum controversy. Plus, discover some almost too-good-to-be-true tips on getting a free vacation this summer.

A Titanic Fail

According to a report on our sister site Cruise Critic, Australian billionaire Clive Palmer is rebuilding the Titanic. Plans have been made for a working copy of the ship—complete with first, second, and third classes—that will offer leisure cruises starting in 2016.

But wait. It gets more ridiculous. In a recent press conference, Palmer stirred the pot by revealing that he might ban pensioners and third-class passengers from using the onboard casino. Said Palmer, "I was just trying to say that we need to protect and respect people who have given a lot service to this country and make sure that we don't act positively to impoverish them later—that's all it boils down to. We have to have some social responsibility too."...read more»

Tech Gadget: Laser Pointer (Photo: Shutterstock/Robin Lund)

This week in travel started with needles in airline meals and didn't get better from there. Read on for this week's weird travel stories.

What's the longest you've ever been delayed for a flight? We bet these passengers have you beat: ABC News reports that a flight from Shanghai to New Jersey was delayed for three days. The flight was canceled twice due to maintenance issues, and then, after passengers had already begun boarding the plane, was delayed again due to the flight crew being over time limits. United is reportedly offering to give passengers a refund, cover their expenses from the delay, and give them $1,000 towards future flights. ...read more»

United: Docked Planes (Photo: Shutterstock/Songquan Deng)

United's pilots voted to authorize a strike, if necessary. But this week's strike vote by United's pilots is more a negotiating ploy than an actual strike threat—for now.

Such strike votes are a common means of putting additional pressure on an ongoing bargaining process, and just about everyone in the industry thinks that's what's happening here. Pilots would have to overcome three barriers before they could actually shut down the airline:

  • A declaration by the National Mediation Board that the ongoing negotiations have become deadlocked.
  • A mandatory 30-day cooling-off period.
  • Likely action by the president or congress to halt any strike under the provisions of the Railway Labor Act, which requires mediation and even arbitration in the event of an airline or railway labor dispute that threatens the national security or economy....read more»
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