Airport -  Busy check-in area (Photo: San Francisco International Airport)

Airlines for America, a trade group representing U.S. airlines, is forecasting that around 42 million passengers will fly between Monday, December 17, 2012, and Wednesday, January 6, 2013.

That's down about 1 percent from last year. But the airlines have reduced capacity, so planes will be somewhat fuller this year than last.

How full? Projected load factor, the percentage of occupied seats, for the period is 85 percent. That's an average over all flights and routes for the whole holiday period. So more popular flights on specific days will be even more»

<h2>April: Critters and Adventure in the Galapagos </h2>

 Travelers have been intrigued with the Galapagos Islands ever since Darwin reported back on his revolutionary findings. April is an ideal time to visit, as the rainy season tapers to its close, the albatross arrive for their nesting season, and sea lion pups are born. Turtles also are in the throes of their mating season, so you may see a few on the prowl. Additionally, the ocean is a bit steadier than other times of year, so adventurers prone to motion sickness may find this month especially appealing. To plan your Galapagos trip, visit the <a href=""target="_blank">Galapagos tourism website</a>, part of the Ecuador Tourism Board. 

 (Photo: iStockphoto/Morten Elm)

From seeing as many animals and islands as possible to the reasons why a tour operator is a must, guest blogger (and aspiring travel writer) Charlie Bennett advises on how to get the most out of a Galapagos more»

Credit card on keyboard (Photo: Index Open)

American rolled out a significant change to its pricing, and to the way fares are displayed on the website. The promise: "simpler—with options."

First up, the options.

Choice Fares

Domestic coach fares are now grouped into three categories, as follows:

Choice Fares: The basic discounted coach fare.

Choice Essential: Add one free checked bag, group one priority boarding, and no change fees for an additional fee of $68 round-trip.

Choice Plus: Add a 50 percent AAdvantage mileage bonus, free same-day confirmed flight changes, same-day standby, and a premium beverage for $20 above Choice Essential, $88 above Choice, more»

Carcassonne, Languedoc, France (Photo:

Sunny, out-of-the-way Languedoc is an intoxicating part of the world. Stretching from the Mediterranean to the Pyrenees in southwest France, it shares a balmy climate, winter wind, grapevines, and the sea with Provence, its better-known neighbor. But to me, Languedoc somehow feels more real.

I first came here as a teenager, when I visited Languedoc's spectacular fortified town, Carcassonne. Sitting on the ramparts, I wrote in my journal: "Before me lies Carcassonne, the perfect medieval city. Like a fish that everyone thought was extinct, somehow Europe's greatest Romanesque fortress city has survived the centuries. I was supposed to be gone yesterday, but here I sit imprisoned by choice—curled in a cranny on top of the wall." more»

Photo: Virgin Atlantic

In a long-speculated move, Delta bought the 49 percent interest in Virgin Atlantic previously held by Singapore. This move is a win-win for both buyer and seller: Delta will gain a strong degree of control over Virgin's coveted slots at London Heathrow Airport, while Singapore will get rid of an under-performing investment.

The big question for most of us is, of course, how will this impact travelers? more»

Ryanair jets lined up on the runway (Photo: Airbus S.A.S. )

Was the notoriously stingy airline trying to save time at the expense of safety? more»

If Mother Nature permits, skiers can take advantage of uncrowded resorts and discounted lift tickets in November and December (before Christmas). For example, at <a href="" target="_blank">Vail Resorts</a> in Colorado, a three-day lift ticket costs $171 for skiing in mid-November, but the same pass jumps in price by nearly $100 starting December 23. To link to the official websites of U.S. ski resorts, search the directory on <a href="" target="_blank">GoSki</a>. 

(Photo: Chris McLennan, Vail Resorts)

If you're looking at a ski vacation this winter, you're likely to find acceptable snow and facilities in most developed ski centers. So you obviously want to look at the cost and the overall destination experience at options available to you. TripAdvisor, the world's largest travel site and our sister site, recently released its TripIndex Ski: Winter 2012/2013 in which it summarized "trip index" cost data for 20 of the country's most important ski destinations. The index is a composite of the average costs of a hotel night within a five-mile radius of the destination, a daily ski rental, a daily lift ticket, a burger-and-fries meal, and one bottled or draft beer. And the results showed a huge spread in the daily cost, from $802 at Vail, Colorado, to $210 in Durango. more»

Photo: Virgin Atlantic

The long-rumored deal between Delta and Virgin Atlantic is now a done deal, confirmed today in news conferences on both sides of the Atlantic and press releases by both carriers.

The Deal

Delta will purchase for $360 million the 49 percent stake in Virgin Atlantic currently owned by Singapore Airlines. (Singapore invested $966 million in Virgin Atlantic in 2000.)

Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group will retain its 51 percent controlling interest in the company.

This is not a merger—the two airlines will continue to operate separately and more»

Man with Back Pain (Photo:

Regardless of overall health or age, many travelers endure back problems of varying severity. And it doesn't take much of a problem to curtail what you can comfortably do while you're traveling. If you have any degree of difficulty, you need to minimize your exposure to potential barriers.

Stairs are among the most common—and most troublesome—barriers to anyone with a bad back. Staircases are bad enough when you aren't encumbered, and they can be a real problem when you're schlepping baggage. A few weeks ago I wrote about the hassle a traveler with a bad back faced in getting a refund for a nonrefundable room in a multistory hotel that turned out to have no elevator. The lesson there—worth emphasizing—is that you have to read all the fine print before you pay for a nonrefundable room, and whatever is not promised may not be available. You have to be especially careful at a vacation rental, budget hotel, or bed and breakfast: Some of them can be pretty funky. I recently stayed at a budget hotel in Rome that promised an elevator, but the elevator went only as low as the first floor (second floor by U.S. terms), and you had to climb a long staircase to get from the lobby to the first floor. more»

Man with bags walking down empty road (Photo: iStockphoto/Johnny Habell)

For American Airlines and its supporters, it's been a long, strange trip, from the industry's preeminent carrier to a bankrupt also-ran, with unmoored seats and a murky future.

The airline took an important step toward solidifying that future on Friday with the ratification of a new contract by its pilots union. That's the last of its unionized groups to approve employment agreements that will put the cost side of American's operations at parity with the other major airlines.

With the contentious labor negotiations behind them, American's management team can focus on the next step: evaluating the company's post-bankruptcy options and making the case with creditors and the bankruptcy judge for either a merger or a stand-alone more»