To the moon or to the center of the earth

I’m sure I’ll have to update this come Sunday morning, but long before April 1, 2012 rolled around in my time zone, I made a few April Fools’ Day sightings.

From the Republic of Vanuatu comes word that Richard Branson has launched “Virgin Volacanic” in order to take travelers to the center of the earth

“Using patented carbon-carbon materials pioneered for deep space exploration, Virgin is proud to announce a revolutionary new vehicle, VVS1, which will be capable of plunging three people into the molten lava core of an active volcano.”

First up (or should I say down) is Etna – Sicily, Italy, followed by:
• Stromboli – Aeolian Islands
• Yasur – Republic of Vanuatu
• Ambrym – Republic of Vanuatu
• Tinakula – Solomon Islands

The first trips are scheduled for 2015. More details here.

Also, we have news from WestJet about a kids-free flying experience:

Details of Kargo Kids, including booking information and a simple, easy-to-understand demonstration video, is available on the WestJet website

Air New Zealand announced “STRAIGHTUP Fares” for those willing to fly while standing in the aisle holding onto a hand bar.

And Spirit Airlines, ever the prankster, announced $9 (each way) flights to the moon.

Tidbits for travelers: Volcano underwear at Schiphol

I spent a morning touring Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport in search of new amenities and services to share.

Along the way my tour guide, Marianne de Bie (who reminded me that she’d been my tour guide almost ten years ago!) shared some stories about what the Schiphol staff did to try to make stranded people more comfortable during the “the ash cloud.”

The airport brought in shower trucks (the kind you see at festivals)  and after a few days asked the First and Business class lounges with on-site showers to open them to passengers; which they did.   Stranded passengers were also treated to sandwiches, free Wi-Fi, movies and offered toothpaste, socks, and underwear that the airport had quickly purchased to hand out.

“We have dollar stores like anyplace else,” de Bie told me, “But the underwear supplier made a mistake and included 500 pairs of expensive brand-name boxer shorts for men.  Those turned out to be very popular.”

Ripple effect of the volcano: airport parking bills

Having paid a small fortune recently to park in an airport garage for a few days, I was wondering about the bills some of those volcano-delayed folks would be facing when they finally got home and went to retrieve their cars.

So I was pleased to read Roger Yu’s USATODAY Airport Check-in column last night and learn that some U.S. airports are offering to refund the additional parking charges for passengers whose flights home got waylaid by the volcano.

So far, says Yu, JFK, Newark Liberty, and airports in Las Vegas and Denver have offered to refund the extra parking fees.  I bet other airports will do the same.  Good for those that do.

Let’s hope some British airports offer a parking refund as well. According to an article in The Independent, “[a]s many as 50,000 British travellers remain stranded abroad this weekend because of the volcanic ash crisis, some being told they face delays of up to a month before they can return home.”


Tidbits for travelers: free buffets at JFK; free flights to nowhere

Volcano-delayed flights to and from Europe and beyond are resuming, but airport closures and flight cancellations may continue on-and-off for weeks. So this NYT tracking map may be handy for a while longer.

NYT volcano cancellation map

In the meantime, people have been opening their homes to stranded passengers and theaters, museums and restaurants have been offering discounted and free entertainment and meals to folks who found themselves stuck at the airport.  At JFK, the company that operates all the restaurants and fast-food outlets in Terminal 4 – SSP America – organized a free buffet meal for about 300 on Monday night. Breakfast for 300 was served Tuesday morning as well.

And no doubt because I spent so much time learning about the ins and outs of some very tiny and unusual airports for a Bing story titled: Easy Flier: 10 airports that reduce the hassle, I was extremely interested in this story on CNN, which discusses some other small airports around the country that end up having to offer free flights in order to maintain federal funding.

Stuck at JFK? Free buffet for volcano-delayed passengers

Many travelers stranded New York’s JFK airport due to volcano-canceled flights have been stuck at the airport’s International Terminal: Terminal 4.  Travelers stuck in other terminals have been bused over to Terminal 4 as well, in part because that’s the only terminal with food concessions located pre-security.

According to SSP America spokesperson Darleen Nascimento, “Many of the stranded passengers do not have the means to buy food at the restaurants and quick service outlets.”  (SSP America is the company that operates all the restaurants and fast-food outlets in Terminal 4.)

So today at 6 pm, SSP America will be offering a free buffet for about 300 stranded passengers. The airport chapel has donated its conference room for the meal.

The menu:

Pasta with marinara, perogies, mixed green salad, toasted garlic flat bread, braised beef in brown sauce, baked chicken wings with citrus and herbs.

If the travel restrictions continue, SSP America may also serve breakfast to stranded passengers tomorrow.

Kudos to them for doing this!