Air Travel

Travel Tidbits from here and there

We’re all for finding the odd in the world. So we’re pleased to see United Airlines adding a new “America, Who Knew?” filter to its Map Search program. Some of the tidbits you can learn from the map:

  • Zzyzx: Pronounced “Zye-Zacks” is a scenic desert oasis in the Mojave National Preserve with self-guided trails
  • Whynot: Situated on Highway 75, or the North Carolina Pottery Highway, this town is world-renowned for its ceramics. The town’s name comes from a debate with settlers where a frustrated farmer said, ‘Why not name it ‘Why Not’ and then we can go home?”
  • Devil’s Kettle: Minnesota’s Devil’s Kettle Falls has one side that tumbles down a two-step stone embankment and continues on like a normal waterfall. The other side vanishes into a deep hole and disappears — apparently forever.
  • Mooselookmeguntic Lake: Tied for being the longest place name in the United States with 17 letters. This Maine lake is framed by mountains and has great deep water trout and salmon fishing.

Save the earth? Alaska Airlines offering water in boxes

To reduce plastic waste on airplanes, Alaska Airlines is replacing e single-use plastic bottles with Boxed Water’s 92% plant-based cartons. This will help remove 7.2 million plastic bottles a year, the equivalent of approximately 98,000 lbs of plastic.

Boxed Water is already served on Alaska’s Horizon Air-operated flights and is expanding to all Alaska flights throughout the summer, beginning this week with First Class.

The airline is also resuming its program of recycling cans, bottles, and water bottles starting May 19. The program has been on hold for more than a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The airline’s employees first started a recycling program more than 15 years ago.

MIA Airport rolls out wheelchair charging stations

Just in time for Mobility Awareness Month, Miami International Airport (MIA) is celebrating the installation of 10 new wheelchair charging stations. If you use a wheelchair or travel with someone who does, you will be pleased to know there are now 10 charging spots at MIA: eight post-security and two pre-security. 

Starting May 10, MIA will also have an on-site COVID-19 vaccination site that will be accessible to travelers who live and work in Florida, as well as to airport employees and family and friends of airport employees.

EU may soon welcome back US Travelers + Smithsonian’s Udvar-Hazy Center to reopen

Sick of being stuck at home? Eyeing Europe for that first post-pandemic trip?

You may be in luck. A New York Times story on Sunday evening offers real hope that you may be able to head that way. Perhaps as early as this summer.

According to the NYT, the EU is Set to Let Vaccinated U.S. Tourists Visit This Summer.

Nonessential travel into EU countries from the US has been shut down for more than a year. But European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tells the New York Times that the union’s 27 members will accept people who are vaccinated with vaccines approved by the European Medicines Agency (E.M.A.). The agency gives the OK to the three vaccines being used in the United States: Moderna, Pfizer/BioNTech, and Johnson & Johnson.

“The Americans, as far as I can see, use European Medicines Agency-approved vaccines,” von der Leyen said. “This will enable free movement and travel to the European Union.”

No exact timeline for easing the travel restrictions is set. And discussions are still underway on how to create a safe and technologically reliable way for travelers to show a vaccine certificate. But on Monday Greece plans to begin opening its borders to travelers who show proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test.

More information will likely come out this week. But, yay!? Are you ready to go?

Until the EU is open, how about a trip to space?

Mercury MR-3, “Freedom 7” and Apollo 11 Command Module, “Columbia. ” Smithsonian Photo by Mark Avino

While the National Air & Space Museum on the National Mall in Washington D.C. remains closed for now, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, near Washington Dulles International Airport, announces it will reopen on Wednesday, May 5.

Free, timed entry passes are available. And masks, of courses, are required of all visitors. But this is good news for avgeeks and space fans alike.

In celebration of the 60th anniversary of Alan Shepard’s historic spaceflight on May 5, 1961, the Mercury capsule Freedom 7 is now on display at the Udvar-Hazy Center. That capsule sits next to command module Columbia, which took the Apollo 11 astronauts to the Moon and back in 1969. (Above)

This Blue Angels F-18 Hornet is new to the collection and is now on display in the Boeing Aviation Hangar.

The Blue Angel McDonnell Douglas F/A-18C Hornet in the Boeing Aviation Hangar. Smithsonian Photo

Can’t get to the museum just yet? Check out the Air & Space Museum’s online artifact database (including some 3D images), the podcast, and other resources.

Ready for a ‘vaxication’?

(This is a story we wrote for NBC News)

Ready to Travel?

A growing wave of relaxed restrictions, along with an increasing number of vaccinated Americans, is leading to a surge in “vaxications” and other trips, after a year of pandemic-induced lockdowns.

Mothballed restaurants, hotels and attractions, canceled cruise seasons, and record low airline passenger traffic are making way for a brisk uptick in travel plans. Around half of Americans set to take a trip in the next three months, according to an analysis from the U.S. Travel Association.

“People have an 18-month supply of events, visits and vacations to catch up on,” said Michael McCall, professor of hospitality business at Michigan State University. “There is a substantial pent-up desire to travel. Families have not hugged or spent time together.”

After more than a year of closure, Disneyland looks set to open in April, along with many other theme parks. Dollywood theme park, for example, in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, opened for the season last weekend, just in time for spring break, as is its tradition.

Live indoor music has already returned to New Orleans, although dancing inside clubs remains prohibited.

Business is brisk right now at Biloxi Shrimping Trip in Biloxi, Mississippi, which got hit hard during the pandemic. In March 2020, “we lost all our group travel clients and walk-up business for the year in just a few days,” said owner and operator Mike Moore, “But the start of 2021 has been surprisingly busy, even compared to last year. Our vessel has been operating steadily with walk-ups and the phone is starting to ring for groups visiting in the fall and also for spring of 2022.”

Urban areas are seeing visitors return, too.

“Since the beginning of February 2021, we have begun to see more travelers from outside our region,” said Rudd Schupp, chef concierge at tourist information center Visit Seattle.

While great airfare deals have lured some to Seattle from California, Utah, Montana and Texas, many visitors from the neighboring states of Oregon and Idaho “just wanted to get in the car and drive somewhere,” Rudd said.

Road trips were popular last summer, but even more people could be hitting the road this summer. Travelers in a recent TripIt survey said they will be ready to head out on a road trip as early as June in a personal car (83 percent) or in a rented car or RV (60 percent), with more than 60 percent planning to drive for Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day trips.

Many of those trips will include hotels stays, but many road trippers will stay in their RVs and in campgrounds.

Jon Gray, CEO of RVShare, a peer-to-peer RV rental marketplace, said bookings for spring break are already up by 114 percent compared to last year.

Private and public campgrounds are also seeing an uptick in reservations, with some opening earlier than usual this year. Advance reservations were already up by 150 percent as early as January at many campsites affiliated with the Jellystone Park franchise network, which has nearly 80 family campgrounds across the U.S. and Canada. Campspot, a campground reservation software system, said guests are booking longer and more frequent trips, with a nearly 300 percent increase in guests booking multiple trips.

Even the hard-hit cruise industry is hoping to salvage some of its 2021 season. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lifted its no-sail order in October, the restrictions in the Framework for Conditional Sailing Order that replaced it have led most major cruise lines to voluntarily extend their sailing suspensions.

Some cruise lines have announced that when cruises return, all crew and passengers will be required to have proof of negative Covid-19 tests and vaccinations. In the meantime, “we continue to see significant interest among cruisers in returning to sea,” said Colleen McDaniel, editor-in-chief of Cruise Critic.

Based on a recent survey of our readers, 42 percent shared that they are currently looking to book a future cruise — and a majority of those are looking to sail within the next 12 months. So, though they are not yet able to sail, they’re eager to do so when the time is right,” McDaniel said.

LAX Flight Path Museum airplane models

Air travel has already picked up significantly, with the Transportation Security Administration screening the largest number of passengers last week since the pandemic hit. While the numbers are still way down compared to pre-pandemic times, traffic is rising enough to give airlines confidence to bring back many paused routes and introduce new services: Hawaiian Airlines just launched a new nonstop service from Orlando, Florida, to Honolulu; JetBlue Airways will soon begin flying between Hartford, Connecticut, and Miami; and American Airlines announced 10 new, returning and seasonal routes out of Austin, Texas.

“Airlines are seeing more people shopping for flights on their websites and they are getting more queries through travel agencies. They are seeing booking volumes build,” said Henry Harteveldt, president of Atmosphere Research Group. “Because international travel restrictions still exist between the U.S. and many countries, most of the demand is domestic or to the few countries where Americans are allowed to visit, such as Mexico and Costa Rica. But there is hope on the horizon.”

Passengers whose flights or travel plans were canceled during the pandemic are also sitting on billions of dollars of travel vouchers, many of which expire soon. “Airlines want you to use that credit, so this may be a great summer for people to get out on the road and into the skies,” Harteveldt said.

Travel experts say anyone wishing to take a trip should be exercising caution, especially in light of the CDC’s recommendation that travel be avoided where possible, even for passengers who are vaccinated.

“If you’re considering travel sometime this year, it’s more important than ever to do your due diligence ahead of any trip to ensure it is safe and enjoyable,” said Paula Twidale, senior vice president for AAA Travel.

Stuck at the Airport: Friday Round-up

Happy Friday. We’re ending the week here at Stuck at The Airport with some tidbits that caught our attention, like this #TBT – “Throwback Thursday” – tweet from O’Hare International Airport

And this #TBT tweet from Houston’s Hobby Airport (HOU)

All month long, we’re been paying attention to – and learning from – the tweets from St. Louis Lambert International Airport (STL) highlighting the people featured on the airport’s Black Americans in Flight mural.

We’re sad we missed seeing this exhibit at Orlando International Airport (MCO).

And we’re impressed that Delta’s Flight Museum is being used as a mass vaccination site in Georgia.

How sad it is out there in the world of travel?

You know that the current health crisis has caused people to cancel trips and airlines to temporarily slash flight schedules to the bone.

Here are few other measurements that underscore how bad it is right now.

TSA screening numbers hit record low

On Tuesday, April 7, the Transportation Security Administration screened just 97,310 passengers and flight crew members at all airports across the country.

That’s a record low for TSA and down 95% from the 2,091,056 passengers screened at airports a year ago on the same weekday.

TSA screening officers also continue to test positive for COVID-19.

On Wednesday, April 8, TSA reported that in the previous 14 days, 43 screening officers and 7 non-screening officers who’d had limited interaction with travelers tested positive for COVID-19.

TSA is updating that list daily. The agency is also posting the airport, last day worked, checkpoint location and shift times for each TSA officer who tests positive. So you can check to see if you may have been exposed.

Hotel occupancy rates way down

Hotels around the country are experiencing shocking year-over-year declines, according to data from STR.

Comparing the week of March 29 through April 4, 2020 with the same time period last year:

Occupancy across the country is down 68.5%, to 21.6% and average daily rates (ADR) are down 41.5% to $76.51.

When you look at the Top 25, the numbers are worse:

The Top 25 markets were down over 74 %, to 19.4%, with the Oahu, Minneapolis-St. Paul, New York and Seattle markets getting hammered the worst.

In some cities, hotels are renting rooms to local governments to house health care workers, first responders, military personnel, people who have been ordered to quarantine, infected patients and homeless people at risk from the virus.