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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Turtles shut down runway at JFK

Turtles shut down runway at JFK
By Jordana Ossad

Love is in the air at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. More than 150 turtles crossed over an active runway and disrupted air traffic on Wednesday so that they could continue their mating season.

The diamondback terrapins were trying to get to an ideal location to lay their eggs. That's a sandy area that happens to be across Runway 4, according to Carol Bannerman of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The turtles were primarily female, and the fertilization of their eggs occurs in the water, she said.

JFK is surrounded by a bay and wetland areas.

The first turtle was spotted at 6:45 a.m. and a short time afterward, Port Authority staff was dispatched and the U.S. Department of Agriculture assisted, according to Port Authority spokesman Ron Marsico.

"This happens every year," Marsico said. "I guess some years there is more turtle activity."

After a turtle was spotted, it was picked up and moved to a better destination to continue nesting, Bannerman said.

People began tweeting about the turtles soon after the news broke. Within 8 hours, @JFKTurtles had almost 3,000 followers on Twitter, even from airline accounts like Jet Blue who had this to say:

"Oh @JFKTurtles, we could never stay mad at you ... Glad you made it to your honey moon spot safe."

It is unclear how many flights were delayed by the breeding turtles, but the FAA should know by the end of the day, according to FAA spokeswoman Arlene Salac. This runway is used infrequently during the summer because of weather conditions, Salac said.

This is not the first time turtles have invaded the runways at JFK. Seventy-eight turtles emerged one day in 2009, according to Marsico.

Monday, June 27, 2011

TSA stands by officers after pat-down of elderly woman in Florida

TSA stands by officers after pat-down of elderly woman in Florida
The Transportation Security Administration stood by its security officers Sunday after a Florida woman complained that her cancer-stricken, 95-year-old mother was patted down and forced to remove her adult diaper while going through security.

Reports of the incident took hold in social media, with scores of comments on the topic and reposts appearing hourly on Twitter Sunday afternoon.

The TSA released a statement Sunday defending its agents' actions at the Northwest Florida Regional Airport.
"While every person and item must be screened before entering the secure boarding area, TSA works with passengers to resolve security alarms in a respectful and sensitive manner," the federal agency said. "We have reviewed the circumstances involving this screening and determined that our officers acted professionally and according to proper procedure."

Jean Weber told CNN's Fredricka Whitfield on Sunday that the security officers may have been procedurally correct, but she still does not believe they were justified, especially given her mother's frail condition.

"If this is your procedure -- which I do understand -- I also feel that your procedure needs to be changed," she said.

Weber said the two were traveling June 18 from northwest Florida to Michigan, so her mother could move in with relatives before eventually going to an assisted living facility.

"My mother is very ill, she has a form of leukemia," Weber said. "She had a blood transfusion the week before, just to bolster up her strength for this travel."

While going through security, the 95-year-old was taken by a TSA officer into a glassed-in area, where a pat-down was performed, Weber said. An agent told Weber "they felt something suspicious on (her mother's) leg and they couldn't determine what it was" -- leading them to take her into a private, closed room.

Soon after, Weber said, a TSA agent came out and told her that her mother's Depend undergarment was "wet and it was firm, and they couldn't check it thoroughly." The mother and daughter left to find a bathroom, at the TSA officer's request, to take off the adult diaper.

Weber said she burst into tears during the ordeal, forcing her own pat-down and other measures in accordance with TSA protocol. But she said her mother, a nurse for 65 years, "was very calm" despite being bothered by the fact that she had to go through the airport without underwear.

Eventually, Weber said she asked for her mother to be whisked away to the boarding gate without her, because their plane was scheduled to leave in two minutes and Weber was still going through security.

By this weekend, the 95-year-old woman -- who was not identified by name -- was doing "fine" in Michigan, where her niece and her family "was treating her like royalty because they love her so much."

"My mother is a trouper," Weber said.

This is not the first time that the TSA's pat-downs of passengers have come under fire, nor the first time that the agency has rallied behind its officers and policy.

Last year, the administration announced it was ramping up the use of full-body scanning and pat-downs to stop nonmetallic threats, including explosives, from getting on planes. The goal is to head off attacks such as the one allegedly attempted in Christmas 2009 by Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab, who allegedly had a bomb sewn into his underwear on a flight from the Netherlands to Michigan.

The TSA estimates that only 3% of passengers are subjected to pat-downs -- and then only after they have set off a metal detector or declined to step into a full-body scanner. Yet the new policy has triggered an uproar online and in airports, from a relatively small but vocal number of travelers who feel their rights and privacy were being violated.

But the federal safety agency hasn't backed down, making some adjustments but no major changes to its policy.

"Every traveler is a critical partner in TSA's efforts to keep our skies safe," Administrator John Pistole, who ordered the new approach, said last fall. "And I know and appreciate that the vast majority of Americans recognize and respect the important work we do."

More recently, outrage erupted over a video-recorded pat-down of a 6-year-old passenger last April at New Orleans' airport. The video, which was posted on YouTube, shows the girl protesting the search by a female security officer at first, though she complies quietly while it is underway.

Pistole addressed this controversy at a Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee meeting last week, explaining the pat-down was ordered because the child had moved while passing through a body imaging machine. He told committee members that "we have changed the policy (so) that there'll be repeated efforts made to resolve that without a pat-down."

The next day, TSA spokesman Greg Soule said that the new policy -- which will apply to children age 12 and younger -- is in the process of being rolled out. It will give security officers "more options," but does not eliminate pat-downs as one of them.

"This decision will ultimately reduce -- though not eliminate -- pat-downs," Soule said.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Hotel housekeeping: Do you tip?

Hotel housekeeping: Do you tip?
By Marnie Hunter

Business traveler Bob Logan always tips hotel housekeepers, but he still has questions about the best way to do it.

"Let's say I'm going into a hotel for three nights, do I leave something every night, do I do it only at the end? Does the housekeeper at the end -- is it the same one that did it the other night?" wonders Logan, a New Jersey business development director who spends about 50 nights a year in hotels.

Housekeeping is a realm of hotel tipping that even frequent travelers find confusing. Tipping the bellman is obvious; he's standing right there. But many guests skip tips for the hidden housekeepers or forget gratuities in the scramble to get out of the room.

Survey data shows that about 30% of U.S. hotel guests leave tips for hotel housekeepers, according to Michael Lynn, a professor at the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration.

Since housekeeping positions fall into the out-of-sight ("back of the house") category of hotel work, the jobs aren't considered tips-based positions. Still, that doesn't mean tips aren't warranted, and in terms of tipping etiquette the rule of thumb is, "When in doubt, do," said Lizzie Post, an etiquette expert with the Emily Post Institute.

"This is a person who really does try to make your stay in your room nice every single day, and that is why we tip her," Post said.

So when and how much? Post offered these guidelines:

• Tip every day to ensure your tip gets to the person who actually cleaned your room.
• Leave a note in your room with the money indicating it is for housekeeping.
• Tip $1 or $2 per person, per night in most hotels. In higher end hotels, $3 to $5 per person per night is typical.
• In a motel, tips are generally not necessary for a one-night stay. The $1 or $2 standard is appropriate for multiday stays.

Tipping housekeepers is "a really lovely thing," said Reneta McCarthy, a Cornell lecturer who started out in the industry as a housekeeping manager with Marriott.

"But generally speaking I would say the majority of people don't do it. And when you look at it, you know, I hate to say it, but this is not considered a tips position. The housekeepers, unlike the bellmen, are not filling out tip reporting forms," she said.

The national average hourly wage for bellhops was $11.40 in May 2010, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics wage estimates. The average for housekeepers was $10.17, according to survey data. Survey forms issued by the bureau ask for information on tips, but it's unclear how reporting varies between housekeepers and bellhops.

While those who study the lodging business are on the fence about tipping rules, many who give travel advice are fully in favor of tips for housekeepers.

"You really should, especially if you're a very messy guest and if you use all the towels ... and request extra pillows and blankets," said managing editor Juliana Shallcross.

"Housekeepers have so much more work to do these days as hotels roll out superplush bedding with six pillows at least and heavier sheets and duvets and everything needs to be washed and cleaned."

The most typical tip is $2 a day, according to Bjorn Hanson, a professor at NYU's Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management.

In some hotels, envelopes marked with the housekeeper's name remind guests of the service they're receiving.

Post isn't a big fan of being told she's supposed to tip, but said sometimes it is nice to know the name of the person who is taking care of the room. And she admitted that occasionally she forgets to tip on hectic business trips.

Business traveler Logan said he feels uncertain when he waits until the end of his stay to tip his standard $2 per night, so he's a fan of the envelopes as a reminder to take care of it daily.

"I kind of like that because it just makes me think that it's a little bit fairer."

What do you think? Do you tip? How much and how often? Share your comments below.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Got Fourth of July travel plans? Better book now

Got Fourth of July travel plans? Better book nowBy Jessica Dickler

Planning to get away this Fourth of July? Better book fast.
Although airfares for the holiday weekend have held steady for most of June, they are expected to jump 10% by Thursday, based on Travelocity's historical airfare data.

That gives last-minute vacationers very little time left to book their trips before prices start climbing.
Thanks to rising fuel costs and consumer demand, airfares are already higher than they were last year. The average domestic round-trip airfare is $388, up 7% from 2010's Fourth of July holiday weekend, according to Travelocity.
But many Americans are determined to go on a vacation this summer, even though discretionary spending is tight.
Once travelers arrive at their destinations things should become a little more wallet-friendly.
"Though there's not much wiggle room in airfare pricing over a holiday weekend, there's a lot more opportunity to find hotel deals," said Genevieve Shaw Brown, editorial director at Travelocity.
Although the average daily rate, or ADR, at hotels is $144, up 9% from 2010, Brown said that many hotels are offering special deals and packages that will help cut costs significantly.
To boost value without compromising rates, hotels are increasing the number of promotional offerings available. This summer there are a slew of offers, such as free nights, room upgrades, resort credits, spa treatments, rounds of golf and complimentary breakfasts that travelers can take advantage of.
"That's a great way to save when you're not getting a big discount on the hotel rate," said Orbitz senior editor Jeanenne Tornatore. "You're saving money you would otherwise be spending."
The Venetian Resort in Las Vegas, for example, is offering 20% off breakfast and complimentary line passes and admission to its LAVO Nightclub over the Fourth of July weekend. Vacationers at the Westin Resort & Spa in Cancun, Mexico can choose to stay a fourth night for free or opt for a $200 food and beverage credit and room upgrade (subject to availability).
"These deals are literally everywhere," Brown said.

Mary Song, founder of travel site, advises travelers to look for specific pages on travel web sites dedicated to the Fourth of July or to even conduct a search on Google for "Fourth of July travel deals" to find the best offerings.
Many times, she said, there are specials that are not even listed on a hotel's own site.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

America's dirtiest cities include popular tourist destinations

America's dirtiest cities include popular tourist destinations
How do you define a city's soul? For a lot of travelers, it's in the dirt.

Atlanta ad exec Patrick Scullin, for instance, loves Baltimore—but not because it's particularly pristine. "Yes, there's litter, smokers, and graffiti," he says, "but that's just life going on. The air sometimes offends, but a cool breeze off the harbor can ease all worries. It's a gem of a city."

While such sentiments don't appear in tourist brochures, that glorious grit has landed Baltimore in the Top 10 dirtiest cities, as chosen by Travel + Leisure readers in the annual America's Favorite Cities survey. Of course, visitors gauge "dirty" in a variety of ways: litter, air pollution, even the taste of local tap water.

This year's American State Litter Scorecard, published by advocacy group the American Society for Public Administration, put both Nevada and Louisiana in the bottom five—echoing the assessment of T+L readers who ranked Las Vegas and New Orleans among America's dirtiest cities.

Likewise, the American Lung Association releases an annual State of the Air report, listing cities with the least (and most) pollution. Not surprisingly, Los Angeles fared poorly again this year—but so did Phoenix, which T+L readers actually ranked among the top 15 "cleanest."

It just goes to show that for casual visitors, passing judgment on a city's dirt factor is pretty subjective—and may even have a lot to do with a general vibe. Many of the cities that ranked poorly in the AFC survey also tanked when it came to environmental awareness, nice public parks, or pedestrian-friendly streets.

On the bright side, those same dirty cities also offer a lot of, well, atmosphere. Memphis, Las Vegas, and Miami ranked highly for having great bar scenes, live music, or quirky people-watching.

So while no one would dissuade a city from doing some renovations or stepping up its recycling, there is something to be said for a little disheveled charm. "I love New York City because it's not pristine," says Kaamna Bhojwani-Dhawan, founder of family travel site MomAboard. "It's a city that has never shunned a chance to fully experience life—and it has the scars to prove it."

No. 1 New Orleans

Can you imagine the cleanup required after Mardi Gras? Both tourists and Mother Nature have sometimes been hard on the Crescent City, which readers voted the dirtiest in America. But that doesn’t stop the good times from rolling on. Voters embraced the city’s fun-loving spirit, ranking New Orleans first for itsnightlife and eclectic people-watching.
New Orleans, Louisiana

No. 2 Philadelphia

The City of Brotherly Love was voted the fourth dirtiest city last year and just narrowly avoided the top slot for sloppy this time around. The locals may not be helping with those first impressions—they ranked near the bottom of the style category, as well as in the bottom five for being environmentally aware.

No. 3 Los Angeles

That infamous rep for smog is tough to shake: the City of Angels, which is No. 3 for the second year in a row, continues to do poorly in national air-quality tests. AFC voters also put traffic-clogged Los Angeles in last place for being pedestrian-friendlyand in the bottom three for overall quality of life.
Los Angeles

No. 4 Memphis

Nothing is tidy about barbecue or the blues, two of Memphis’s biggest tourist draws. This city on the banks of The Big Muddy has more to work on than dirtiness; it came in last place in the AFC for beingenvironmentally friendly, as well as for feeling safe.

No. 5 New York City

Last year’s dirtiest city is looking a little fresher these days. But AFC voters seem to champion New York because of its less-than-sterile vibe, and not in spite of it. There’s world-class culturecool neighborhoods, and diverse locals. Just be prepared to pay for it: NYC ranked as themost expensive city in the nation.
New York City

No. 6 Baltimore

The Inner Harbor is a crowd-pleaser, but AFC voters weren’t impressed by Charm City’s overall cleanliness or its more land-based features. Baltimore came in next-to-last place for its public parkshotels, and even interesting people.

No. 7 Las Vegas

This is the No. 1 town for wild weekends, so it’s no surprise that Vegas makes it into the Top 10 for dirty disarray. Impressively, Sin City has actually improved its standing by two slots since last year. And if you’re willing to splurge, any semblance of grittiness may disappear: Vegas scored No. 1 for luxury hotels and No. 2 for both luxury shoppingand big-name restaurants.
Las Vegas, Nevada

No. 8 Miami

AFC voters loved Miami’s bar scene and its upscale dining, but all that hoopla takes its toll on a person—and on a city. AFC voters ranked the Florida hot spot poorly not only for cleanliness but forsafety.

No. 9 Atlanta

Many cities that made the dirtiest Top 10 scored well for having a vivid nightlifecool neighborhoods, or great live music. Alas, Atlanta couldn’t claim any of those in the survey. At least the city has its quality—and sloppy—barbecue going for it.

No. 10 Houston

This oil town could stand a green makeover, according to AFC voters. Its cleanliness score worsened by four spots since last year. The general vibe left AFC voters wanting, too. They ranked Houston near the bottom for its parks and weather. The city’s collective ego can take great pride in one thing: it topped the AFC charts for its juicy (and no doubt messy)burgers.

No. 11 San Juan, P.R.

Some people find the feral cats roaming the streets of Old San Juan an unsanitary nuisance, but other travelers think it adds to the island city’s charm. Whatever your definition of dirty, if you want a pristine experience, you’ll do fine back in your guest room: San Juan ranks in the top 5 for its all-in-one resorts.
San Juan, P.R.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Pet travel tips for safe summer getaways

Pet travel tips for safe summer getaways
Deidre Wengen

Pets have really become a part of the family in many American households.  And many devoted owners just can't stomach the idea of leaving the dog behind when they go on their summer vacations.
Traveling with pets is increasing in popularity.  And although bringing the dog along might be fun, it also comes with a certain amount of responsiblity, especially during the hot summer months.
Famed veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker shared a few tips to keep your dog safe during summer travel.
In the car
Secure your dog in the seat: Keep your pet safe in a comfortable crate or carrier, or use a canine car harness that attaches to your seatbelt. Barriers are popular, too, but choose carefully: Some are too flimsy to protect dogs and people in case of an accident. Also, keep pets out of the front seat unless they are secured in a booster seat with the air bag off.
Bring toys: Dogs have a tendency to get bored in the car and this can lead to destructive behavior. Bring along pet toys and puzzles to keep them occupied.
Carry an emergency first aid kit: Carry an emergency kit with first aid supplies (talk to your vet about pain-relief and tummy-upset medications), a muzzle (hurt pets can and do bite!) and extra food and water. Your pet should have an ID tag with your cell phone number on it, since a home phone will do no good if you're not there.
On a plane
- Check with your airline well in advance of travel: Not all airlines allow pets, and others limit the number of animals per flight, both in the cabin (for small pets in carriers that fit under the seat) and in cargo. You will also need for your pet to see your veterinarian no more than a few days before flying, to get a health certificate to present at check-in.
Bring a secure carrier or crate: If flying in the cargo area make sure pets are in strong carriers that are well ventilated, and just big enough that a dog can stand up, lie down, and turn around comfortably. Be sure all fasteners are in place and tightly secured to prevent the carriers from snapping open and allowing your pet to escape. Bring zip-ties to the airport to secure the door at check-in. You will not be allowed to have anything in the crate except simple bedding, such as shredded newspaper.
Choose direct flights if possible: If your pet needs to make a connection, call the airline to check that your pet was loaded on the second plane. In warm weather, over-night flights are preferred; in winter, daytime. Try to avoid peak travel periods, such a holidays or Mondays.
Never ship a short-nosed dog or cat: Breeds such as bulldogs or Persians fall into this group. The vast majority of pets who die in transit come from these types of pets, who have difficulty breathing and staying cool.
At the beach
Check for pet-friendly beaches and obey the rules: Some beaches allow pets off-leash always, or at certain times or year or hours. Bring your leash, fresh water, shade and clean-up bags. Toys such as the Cool Kong or other floating toys are great for retrieving, so bring them along. Tennis balls also float, so bring a Chuck-it.
Pay attention to water conditions: For dogs who do like to swim and are good at it (such as retrievers) be aware of tides, current, rough water and high waves. Enforce "time outs" to ensure your dog isn't becoming exhausted: Even good swimmers can drown.
Watch for hot sand: Protect them with booties. A unique new product is the Planet PETCO LuvGear booties with TempAlert technology. These not only prevent the paws from abrasions or serious burns, the TempAlert patch lights up to let pet parents know when the outside temperature becomes too unsafe and the dog is at risk for heat stroke.
Protect pets from the sun: Protect ears and lightly furred patches with waterproof children's sunblock. White dogs may need to be protected over their body by pet clothes, or even a simple T-shirt.
Other tips
- You might be traveling into an area that poses health risks for your pet your pet you don't face in your hometown. For example, you might be traveling into an area that has a lot of external parasites such as fleas and ticks or heartworm disease (carried by mosquitoes) and need to protect your pet. Ask your veterinarian what products you should use before you go and while you're gone.
- Many pets get motion sickness. You can ask your veterinarian about products that act like an invisible cork to prevent car sickness.
- If you're going to be on a boat this summer, don't forget to have a life vest for your furry friend. Most dogs are tempted to jump off into the water for a refreshing dip, but whether they prefer the chilly water or just kicking-back on board, a life preserver should be part of their permanent style. A dog flotation vest would help protect them in or out of the water.
- Don't forget to keep them hydrated with portable bowls throughout the day.