swine flu

Airport bathrooms: sanitary and entertaining?

With all the swine flu news lately, a lot more travelers are a lot more germ conscious.

So it’s good to know that more airports around the country are equipping their restrooms with toilet seats that have plastic-seat covers that change automatically.

In an article I wrote for MSNBC.com in October, 2008 (Fresh amenities for pooped out travelers ), I mentioned the self-changing seat covers in the restrooms at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport and a company that had installed this amenity at Iowa’s Des Moines International Airport and a few others.


Last week the folks who make Brill seats got in touch to remind me that germ-phobic travelers will also find toilets with self-changing toilet seat covers at:

Will Rogers Airport in Oklahoma City

New Orleans Louis Armstrong International Airport

Bluegrass Airport ( Lexington, Kentucky)

Burlington International Airport (Vermont)

North West Arkansas Regional Airport

Portland International Jet Port (Maine)

Gulf Port Biloxi Regional Airport (Mississippi)

Quad City Airport in Moline, Illinois

Stuart Jet Center in Stuart, Florida

And, coming this summer,  at Newport News National Airport in Virginia.


Of course, airports aren’t the only place where travelers will need to seek out clean restrooms, so be sure to visit WorldToilet.info, one of the Web sites featured this quarter at the Museum of  Online Museums.

WorldToilet.info includes photos, descriptions, and instructions for how to ask for and use restrooms in airports, restaurants, and tourist attractions around the world.

The loo-reviews also include comments. For example, under the photo and description of the restrooms at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, it says: “It is what is known as an automatic toilet seat cover! What an extreme cleanliness taste! That is going too far.”

Speaking of going too far – be sure to check out the restroom at the Mumin Papa Café in Japan:  it’s built into an aquarium.


There are other scenic lavs in this article featuring some of the restrooms from Luke Barclay’s book Loo with a View.

Guide to airline ‘swine flu’ refunds

question-markIf you’re still trying to figure out whether or not you’re going to take that scheduled trip to Mexico, one of the variables is certainly the policy set forth by your airline.  Will they refund your ticket price? Waive the change fee? Allow you to go Montreal instead of Mexico City?question-markDuring the initial flu-frenzy, many airlines set and then revised their policies, in most cases extending the dates during which they’d waive change fees.

For a round-up of the airline swine flu change policies as of Friday, May 1st, 2009, see this handy chart put together by the folks at Airfarewatchdog.com.

Keep in mind, though, that policies might be in flux and that many airlines have announced significant cuts in their scheduled flights to and from Mexico even since this list was put together.

So, as always, the advice is – check your airline’s Web site and/or call to get the latest information.  Then – check again.

Source: Airfarewatchdog.com May 1, 2009


Original Travel Dates

Changes allowed during these dates

Voucher valid for alternate destination?


Aeromexico 4/24 – 12/10/09 4/24 – 5/15/09 Not Specified A US$150 fee for No Shows may apply for some Intl cities.
Air Canada 4/28 – 5/31/09 Up to 5/31/09 Not Specified Suspending all operations to Cancun, Cozumel, and Puerto Vallarta until June 1st.
Air Tran 4/29 – 5/15/09 4/29 – 5/15/09 Not Specified Call AirTran directly to change travel to/from Cancun.
Alaska 4/27 – 5/20/09 4/27 – 5/20/09 Yes Possible credit if new destination fare is lower than original ticket.
American 4/25 – 5/31/09 Not Specified Yes Non-refundable fares will be refunded via a travel voucher.
Continental 4/24 – 5/31/09 Not Specified Yes If traveling on a OnePass Reward, call Continental to rebook.
Copa 4/24 – 5/15/09 Not Specified Yes Add’l fees may apply for revised itineraries starting May 30th and beyond.
Delta 4/26 – 5/16/09 Not Specified Call Delta Canceled ticket may be used to purchase a new ticket good for travel one year from original travel date.
Frontier 4/27 – 5/16/09 4/27 – 5/16/09 Not specified Those already enroute to Mexico, your adjusted return date must occur by May 20th. Otherwise, revised travel must be completed within 30 days of original travel date.
JetBlue 4/25 – 5/15/09 5/01 – 5/15/09 Yes Revised travel dates must occur no later than May 20th.
Mexicana 4/24 – 5/06/09 Not Specified Not Specified Refund by travel voucher valid for one year from date of issue.
Northwest 4/26 – 5/16/09 Not Specified Not Specified Use NWA.com “Mange My Reservations” to change your flight.
Spirit 4/24 – 5/15/09 Not Specified Yes Non-refundable fares will be refunded via travel voucher, good for one year from original ticket’s date of issue.
Sun Country 4/27 – 5/16/09 Not Specified No Starting 4/29/09, those passengers departing Cancun will undergo a breif temperature and flu symptom check.
Taca 4/24 – 5/06/09 Not Specified Yes New travel dates must occur within one year excluding Dec. 10-24, 2009 and Jan. 2-10, 2010.
United 4/26 – 5/31/09 Not Specified Not Specified Call United to make any changes to your purchased ticket.
US Airways 4/24 – 5/31/09 Not Specified Yes If changing destination, travel must originate within 14 days of original departure date. US Airways has revised its policy and now allows departure after 14 days from original departure date but does not specify when alternate travel must be completed by (most likely within one year of original departure).
USA3000 4/25 – 5/13/09 Not Specified Yes Revised travel must end by Dec. 15, 2009.
WestJet 4/28 – 6/20/09 Not Specified Will provide full refund Service to Mexico ends 5/4/09. Flights resume 6/20/09.

Tidbits for travelers: Swine flu, busted baggage handlers, & fresh art

So many people are canceling trips to Mexico because of worries over swine flu that United Airlines and Continental Airlines are significantly cutting out flights to that country. No doubt other airlines will also cut flights, so if you’ve postponed your Mexico trip, check back with the airline to see if you need to change plans again.

For more details about the cuts, see this article in the Chicago Tribune and this article in the Wall St. Journal.

aiga_baggage_check_in1And after you read some of the details about a Northwest Airlines luggage theft ring busted at Oregon’s Portland International Airport, you’ll probably want to figure out how take that next trip with just a carry-on bag.

And – just so this isn’t a post full of bad news – the Miami International Airport officially opened the new South Terminal Art Gallery with a new program called Hand Made, which will feature handcrafts from around the world.


The first exhibition is Siesta, a collection of hand-woven products featuring ceremonial hammocks and bags by the Wayuu people from the region of La Guajira in northern Colombia.


Swine flu messing with your travel plans?

With the swine flu alert level at level five, the anxiety level for many travelers has been  cranked up to 11.

And while the World Health Organization hasn’t officially called for a restriction on regular travel – just yet – worry about exposure to the deadly influenza bug is spurring many people to cancel or postpone their scheduled trips to Mexico.


If you have travel insurance you may be wondering:

Will my policy cover the costs associated with making those changes?

Briefly, it seems that the answer is: if you’ve got swine flu, yes; if you’re just worried about getting the bug, then maybe not.

Unless, that is, you’ve purchased an upgrade commonly known as “cancel for any reason” insurance. But even those policies come with restrictions: Usually a trip must be canceled 48 hours before departure and the policy must be purchased 14 days from the date of an initial trip deposit. And even then, there can be exclusions.

That’s why the U.S. Travel Insurance Association is urging everyone to “check with their individual travel insurance company and carefully review their policy to see what is covered.”

No insurance? You still have options

Most airlines, hotels and travel agencies are being flexible in relaxing reservation policies and waiving fees for cancellations and refunds – but each has set it’s own deadline for that. Right now the range is from May 6 through  the end of May.

If you’ve got a trip planned and are considering making changes, sit down and start charting your options, deadlines and alternatives.  Many airlines, resorts and hotels will let you make changes online, but if you need to call a supplier, set aside some time and patience: there are plenty of people in your situation, so you may be on hold for a long time.

phone5For more on this, see my complete MSNBC.com column – Insurance may not cover your canceled trip – and the related articles on that site.

Airports and airlines scramble over swine flu

As I reported today on MSNBC.com, airports and airlines are scrambling to respond to the government-issued alerts about travel to and from Mexico in the wake of the swine-flu outbreak there.


It’s hard to know what will happen next, but most airlines with flights to Mexico have posted policies offering to waive the change fee for travelers who want to adjust their itineraries or exchange their ticket for a different destination.  While Alaska Airlines is allowing travelers to make changes to an itinerary through May 20th, most other airlines are asking travelers to make new plans by next Wednesday, May 6th.

Stay tuned though: as the story unfolds and if, for example, the U.S. government places formal restrictions on travel to and from Mexico, the airlines may have to extend those offers.