business travel

Tips on dealing with the electronics ban on planes

 

 

Travelers are trying to figure out how to deal with new government rules placing an indefinite ban on electronic devices larger than smartphones from the cabins of commercial aircraft flying to both the United States and the United Kingdom from certain countries.

Canada is also considering joining the electronics ban for flights.

Here are some tips and things to consider if you’re booked on one of these flights, taken from my story on this topic for NBC News Travel.

 

In the United States, the ban covers nine airlines (Royal Jordanian, EgyptAir, Turkish Airlines, Saudi Arabia Airlines, Kuwait Airways, Royal Air Maroc, Qatar Airways, Emirates Air and Etihad Airways) and direct flights to the U.S. from 10 specific airports listed here.

In the United Kingdom, the ban covers inbound flights from six countries: Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia.

“The ban means there is probably intelligence indicating a terrorist group or individual has been planning to detonate a device on board a commercial airplane, using an electronic to either hide an explosive, or as a triggering device for an explosive,” said aviation safety and security expert Jeff Price.

The ban also means that, for the foreseeable future, travelers booked on more than 125 affected flights a day to the US and UK will have to put devices such as tablets, e-readers, cameras, laptops, portable DVD players, portable printers and scanners and video games in checked baggage.

Travelers are concerned not only about how they will spend their time during flights, but the fate of the devices checked in airplane holds.

“Am I seriously going to check a $3-5K dollar camera? Not a chance,” said Washington, D.C. –based writer and photographer Emily Troutman, via Twitter.

As the bans begin to go into effect, experts are sharing advice and tips for those currently booked – or about to be booked – on the affected flights.

“Back up all your data and save it to the cloud, arrive at the airport early, bring your phone charger or buy one at the airport, and bring some good material,” suggests travel pro Johnny Jet in a web post and try switching to connecting instead of a direct flight from one of the affected airports. “If you’re booked on the Emirate non-stop from Dubai to the U.S., you can also see if they’ll move you to one of their one-stops through Milan or Athens,” he said.

Other travel experts suggest loading work files, books, games and other entertainment onto phones and purchasing or bringing along an external keyboard to make typing and accessing the information easier.

“Upgrading to a larger memory phone might be in order,” said Farecompare CEO Rick Seaney, whose research shows the ban will initially affect approximately 126 flights a day to the US and UK, with over 40,000 potentially inconvenienced fliers.

Families traveling with children, who have come to rely on movie and game-filled tablets for entertainment, should make sure to pack “some good old-fashioned unplugged entertainment, such as books, puzzle books, and coloring pads,” said Suzanne Rowan Kelleher, family travel expert at About.com.

And this may be a good time to explore the offerings on the affected airlines’ in-flight entertainment, some of which is quite extensive.

Not long after the ban was announced, Middle East carrier Emirates posted a “Who Needs Tablet and Laptops Anyway?” Tweet with a reminder that the airline offers “Over 2500 channels of the latest, movies, box sets, live sport and kids TV.”

While in-flight entertainment on a long flight is helpful, it won’t replace laptops for many travelers.

The ban “is simply unworkable for most business travelers. They need to be productive during their trips,” said the Business Travel Coalition in a statement, “Many business travelers do not check luggage, even on long flights as it slows them down upon arrival at baggage claim. Now they will have to check their electronics with many paying for the privilege.”

For those concerned about gear getting lost or stolen, insurance coverage from the airlines, travel insurance providers and certain credit cards may be helpful, “But the primary concern for most business travelers regarding the theft of electronic devices isn’t the value of the device itself, it’s the value/sensitivity of the data stored on the device,” said Max Leitschuh, iJET International Airline Safety Analyst.

Another option? Not checking electronic devices at all. “My recommendation is to ship your electronics to your destination,” said aviation security and safety expert Jeff Price, “There’s no way I’d put my laptop in checked baggage. And those little locks they sell can be defeated in about 15 seconds with a good paperclip.”

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Travel Tidbits: burros & bitcoins

I’ve had the honor of filling in for the vacationing Ben Mutzabaugh at USA TODAY’s Today in the Sky section the past few days.

Here are just two of the 18 stories I posted in his space over five days.

Animals on Duty at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport

OHARE -baby burro

This baby burro – named “Butch” in honor of O’Hare Airport’s namesake, U.S. Navy Medal of Honor recipient Edward “Butch” O’Hare – is part of a herd of rescued animals that include sheep, goats, more burros, llama and alpacas eating their way through hard-to-access, unwanted vegetation on airport land this summer. The crew got a visit from the new airport commissioner.

LOT Polish Airlines_ Image_ akopec_b787

LOT Polish Airlines has joined the small but growing list of airlines and travel companies that allow customers to pay for their tickets with bitcoins. Soon this won’t even be news.

How to save time, money & sanity at the airport

Rocking chairs at Houston Hobby Airport

To make the most of airport dwell time during the busy holiday travel season, be sure to take advantage of some of these time and money-saving services and amenities.  The list is from a round-up I put together for CNBC Road Warrior.

Free shoe shines

It seems like an old-fashioned service, but many airports still have shoe shine stands staffed by friendly men and women who, for very reasonable fees, can transform scuffed travel shoes or boots into impressive footwear while you relax, read the paper, return a phone call or chat.

At Los Angeles International Airport shoe shines are free (so tip generously) in most every terminal. The Shoe Hospital at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport not only shines shoes, but fixes broken heels, sells shoelaces, fixes zippers, repairs bags, purses and suitcases and, for those who indulge a bit too much while traveling, punches extra holes in belts that they will also shine.

Layover spa days

A little pampering goes a long way when it comes to improving your travel outlook and appearance. Barbershops, spas and salons at an ever-increasing number of airports offer services that range from haircuts, shampoos and shaves to facials, pedicures, manicures and massages at prices generally on par with what you pay for these services in town.

Some services are discounted during a happy hour offering during the first hour of business (usually between 6 and 7 a.m.) at the Massage Bar, which has branches at seven airports. “Upwards of 65 percent of our clients are business people who are always traveling,” said Massage Bar CEO Chris Woods, “and the clientele make-up is almost 50/50 men and women.”

XpresSpa, with branches in about 50 airports worldwide, has a free membership program that gives discounts and special offers and $5 in rewards points for each $100 you spend. And between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Terminal Getaway Spa, with branches at Chicago O’Hare, Charlotte Douglas and Orlando International Airport, will be giving away treatments via Twitter.

Leverage the lounges

An uptick in business travel means airlines and independent operators are adding lounge locations and upgrading décor and amenities at existing lounges in many cities. If you don’t already get access with your frequent flier status, business class ticket, credit card or travel buddy, consider the $50 one-time entry fee a sanity-saving investment if only for the drinks, snacks, comfortable seating and workspace it can get you.

“But beware,” says TravelSkills founder Chris McGinnis. “Many lounges won’t allow walk-ins when they are overcrowded, so you can’t always count on getting in to the one you want to.” The solution? “You can often walk across the hall or to another concourse and try buying entry into another one,” he said.

Doggin’ it

Teams of trained therapy dogs regularly visit many airports and there’s no cost to spend a few stress-reducing minutes lapping up some love from these pups when you see them.

Passengers who need to board their own pets while traveling can save time by using pet hotels located on or near airport properties. Now Boarding at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, for example, boards cats, dogs and a variety of “little critters” and offers parking, airport shuttle rides, multi-pet discounts and frequent visitor benefits. The 24-hour service makes early morning drop-offs and late night pick-ups possible, which can reduce the number of boarding nights you’ll need to pay for.

Stop and smell the roses

Instead of parking yourself at a gate, head to a free airport observation deck to chill out and take a look around. The BWI Observation Gallery in Baltimore is located pre-security and, in addition to great airfield views, has aviation exhibits, children’s play equipment, charging stations and a cocktail lounge. At LAX, the Observation Deck on top of the Theme Building in the middle of the Central Area is open each Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., offering airport and Los Angeles views for free.

There’s an indoor, aeroponic garden at Chicago O’Hare Airport where herbs and vegetables used in many airport restaurant dishes are grown and, the recently renovated Dallas Love Field airport, the pre-security outdoor Moss Lee Love Garden is home to live plants and grasses and artwork that includes 12-foot-tall cast-bronze trees.

Shopping for deals

Shopping can be great therapy and shopping for gifts during a layover can save time and money.

Many airports have a “street pricing” policy that prohibits shops (and restaurants) in the terminals from adding surcharges to the prices. You can avoid sales tax on all purchases when shopping at Oregon’s Portland International Airport and avoid sales on clothing (and shoes) when shopping at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP) and Pittsburgh International Airport’s AirMall.

And don’t be shy about using coupons. MSP airport regularly updates a long list of downloadable discount coupons good at airport shops and restaurants, and while no expiration dates are listed on the coupons available from San Antonio International Airport, airport spokeswoman Nora Castro says they are updated quarterly to reflect the latest vendor deals.

During the holidays, many airport shops provide free gift wrapping and shipping and gift-with-purchase offers as well.

Tune-up tips for travelers

TRAVEL SUITCASES

Even the savviest traveler can use a few new tricks each year, whether on the road for business or leisure.

So here are some of the expert tips I gathered for a recent CNBC Road Warrior piece.

Fly Frugally

Before the end of the year, take inventory of your frequent flier miles. Claim credit for any missing miles and decide if you can top off—with an extra flight, hotel stay or mile-generating purchase—accounts where you are close to getting elite status perks for the following year.

When shopping for new flight reservations, sign up for fare alerts, enlist helpers such as Kayak’s price forecasting tool and remember the “24-hour reservation requirement” put into effect in January 2012 by the U.S. Department of Transportation. The rule requires carriers to hold a flight reservation for 24 hours without payment, or allow a reservation to be canceled within 24 hours without penalty if the reservation is made one week or more ahead of the flight’s departure date.

“If you see an airfare you’re comfortable with, book it,” said Kayak spokeswoman Maria Katime. You can continue your research and, if you find something better, go back and cancel.

Reasonable rental cars

When it comes to cars, reserve once you know your dates and have done some shopping, but recheck prices closer to the time of travel. “Prices can drop last-minute, depending on the actual availability of cars versus what the companies anticipate,” said travel expert Carol Pucci, who saved more than $100 with this method on the Big Island of Hawaii. “It was easy to do because I hadn’t prepaid, which is hardly ever a good idea given the chances of prices falling,” said Pucci.

To make sure a rental car company doesn’t charge you for scrapes, scratches or dings already on the car you’re issued, “take pictures of the car before you drive it away and when you return it,” said Joe Brancatelli, publisher of the business travel website Joe Sent Me.

“Rental firms are getting extremely aggressive about these charges and since the cars in the fleet are older these days than they used to be, there’s more of a chance you’ll be given a car with a ding and/or scratches,” he said.

Honing in on hotel deals

Sign up for the frequent stay program of any hotel you visit to take advantage of free perks that can include complimentary breakfast, free Wi-Fi and welcome amenities such as cheese plates and bottles of wine for even the first-time guest.

Research room rates and hotel property reviews online, but as a final step, call the hotel you’ve chosen. “Once I narrow down my hotel choice, I call the hotel to see if they have any better offers then what I see online,” said Rob Connors, assistant vice-president of marketing for National Car Rental. “Your membership in a club or association might get you an added discount, and many times hotels offer special rates for suppliers calling on nearby companies.”

It’s also a good idea to check city tourism sites for short-run, special promotions.

Some cities have destination marketing funds and packages designed to generate room sales during off-seasons. The inaugural Hotel Week LA runs from Nov. 29 to Dec. 14, and in 2015, more than 30 Manhattan properties are participating in the fourth New York Hotel Week from Jan. 3 to 18. The programs offer significant discounts rate for some of each city’s top, usually very pricey, properties.

Vancouver’s “Be Vancouver” promotion gives guests $125 American Express prepaid gift cards for bookings made by Nov. 16 for stays through Feb. 28, bringing rates in some upscale hotels down to less than $60.

“The offers coming from that program are the best we have on offer,” said Jim Mockford, general manager of the Listel Hotel. “They’re highly targeted in regards to time frame, so you have to be quick and flexible. So it’s always a good idea to put your name on the mailing list of your favorite hotels. You’ll hear about some great deals that you’ll never see anywhere else.”

Choosing travel gear

To get the best bang for your buck when shopping for travel gear “make a list of three to five ‘musts’ for your new bag and prioritize these as you do research,” said Michele Marini Pittenger, president of the Travel Goods Association.

“The manufacturer’s warranty policy can be an indicator of durability, but be sure to check the dimensions of new carry-on bags to avoid getting dinged by extra charges when flying,” she said.

When to use a travel agent

Modern online booking tools and mobile apps make it easy to research and reserve much of your own travel. But the customer services of a travel advisor who can quickly reroute and rebook you when there’s a travel snafu can come in handy.

“When it’s a trip that matters—family vacations, celebration travel, a destination you want to experience rather than ‘see’—that’s when you most need a travel advisor,” said Matthew Upchurch, chairman and CEO of Virtuoso, a network of luxury travel agencies. “Not only will they save you precious time, they can save you money with negotiated hotel benefits and extensive firsthand knowledge to ensure that you get exactly what you expect from the trip.”

Boarding the bus

“Bus travelers typically save 50 to 55 percent versus the train and 55 to 73 percent versus flying,” said Joe Schwieterman, a professor at DePaul University in Chicago and author of the Traveler’s Tradeoff study comparing intercity bus, plane and train fares across the United States.

“The ‘sweet spot’ for bus travel involves trips between 125 and 300 miles. Driving can be tedious, but air travel is often not cost effective,” he said.

When to book the bus?

“As early as possible,” said Megabus spokesman Mike Alvich. “Generally customers booking 30 to 45 days in advance will see the greatest savings, but even last-minute trip tickets are still very affordable in comparison to last-minute airline travel or even the cost of filling the gas tank of your personal vehicle.”

Smarter destination choices

You may not have much choice where business trips take you, but you can save money on leisure trips and avoid crowds by heading for South Africa, Shanghai, Uruguay, Portugal or some of the other “best-value” destinations on Lonely Planet’s Best Travel 2015 list.

Choosing “almost-as-good” alternatives to classic experiences in more expensive cities can also save cash.

“European cities are stuffed full of amazing historic buildings and churches that can be seen and explored for free without the crowds of big-name things,” said Lonely Planet’s editorial director, Tom Hall. “Gorilla trekking might be an unforgettable experience in East Africa, but looking out for chimpanzees and smaller primates can be much more fun and is certainly easier on the wallet.”

On the road: RV sales picking up

Heading out on a road trip this summer?

You might stay entertained on the highway playing Punch Buggy, a game in which passengers slug each other in the shoulder whenever a Volkswagen Beetle goes by.

But to learn something about trends in the economy while out on the highway, watch for a different type of vehicle.

“I’m starting to see a lot more RV products on the road. And it’s not just because it’s summer,” said Kathryn Thompson, CEO of Nashville, Tennessee-based Thompson Research Group.

“An RV is as discretionary a purchase as you can think of,” she said. “So if someone is buying an RV, something must be working.”

Eiswerth_trailer

Photo courtesy Rich Eiswerth

According to Thompson, sales of recreational vehicles in the United States hit a low point during the recession, bottoming out in the spring of 2009 with the bankruptcy of two large motor home manufacturers—Fleetwood Enterprises and Monaco Coach.

Yet these days, RV sales have improved along with the economy. Lower priced towables and trailers, with price tags that can start at around $10,000, led the recovery. Sales of the more expensive motorized RVs, including motor homes that can have price tags well over $500,000, caught up later.

“In North America sales were was running over 300,000 units a year until 2008,” said Tom Walworth, president of Statistical Surveys in Grand Rapids, Michigan. “In 2009, sales dropped to 206,000 units. By 2013, they went back to 303,000 units. So in four years it came back 47 percent from the bottom, which is very impressive as an economic indicator,” Walworth said.

During that time, sales of towable RVs (including folding trailers, truck campers and travel trailers) rose 46.4 percent, while sales of the more expensive motorized motorhomes (categorized as Class A, B or C) gained 51 percent from the 2009 low.

This year, shipments of new RVs to dealers will total 349,400 units, an 8.8 percent over 2013, said RV analyst Richard Curtin, director of the Consumer Research Center at the University of Michigan. In 2015, he expects shipments to rise another 3.1 percent.

Who’s buying all these RVs?

“Boomers are the largest demographic of RV owners,” said Mac Bryan, vice president of administration at the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association. “But those age 35-54, the younger consumers who want to be active and outdoors, are the fastest-growing demographic.”

And when friends and family members go along on RV trips, or just hear about them, “that introduces even more people to the RV lifestyle,” Bryan said.

“We have an increasing number of friends and acquaintances ‘of a certain age’ who have chosen the RV lifestyle full or part-time,” said Richard Eiswerth, president and general manager of a Cincinnati public radio station who is in his early 60s. “If and when I retire, who knows?”

Longtime tent campers, Eiswerth and his wife, Susan, last May dipped their toes in the RV ownership market with a small, retro-style, teardrop trailer they bought in Wisconsin before heading west for a trip to Devil’s Tower, Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons.

The couple has large dogs, so they also bought an attachable add-on tent to cover the crates the dogs sleep in at night.

“We didn’t want to simply have another, more expensive, version of home on wheels with all the frills and luxuries of our actual home. We wanted to be able to travel to and camp in a variety of locales, not just asphalt RV compounds,” Eiswerth said.

He lists the advantages of the small camper as better gas mileage than a larger RV, ease of maneuverability, speed and convenience of set-up and tear-down and heat and air conditioning, when necessary.

And best of all, he said, “Much like a tent, this has a connection to the outdoors.”

(My story on recreational vehicles sales increasing first appeared on CNBC Road Warrior).