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Air travel expected to be up 3 percent this winter holiday

Yesterday the Air Transport Association of America (ATA) announced that it expects to see a 3 percent increase over 2009 in air travel this winter holiday period, which spans from Dec. 16, 2010 through Jan. 5, 2011.

Just like we saw over the Thanksgiving holiday, more travelers are using air travel this year as it continues to be the safest form of transportation.

Despite reports of backlash against the TSA’s new airport security measures, this uptick in air travel shows that travelers are willing to endure some inconvenience to ensure a safe flight.

Daily passenger volumes are expected to range from 1.7 million to 2.3 million during the holiday. The busiest days are expected to be Dec. 21 to 23, Dec. 26 to 30, and Jan. 2 and 3, according to the ATA.

If you’re one of the expected 43.6 million passengers to head to the airport this holiday, just remember one thing: keep your cool. I’ve said this before, but I think it’s important to reiterate during the holidays. A friendly smile and a polite request will not only make someone else feel good, but will produce the best results for you.

If you want some more statistics on air travel, the new TSA security measures, and how to avoid some common travel fees, here a few posts you can thumb through.

Holiday travel: Is it safe to fly? November wasn’t a good month for the air travel industry. Every few days brought with it reports of air cargo bombs, fuselages ripping apart, and engine failures. But despite the reports, the latest statistics along with an infographic demonstrate how safe air travel really is.

Navigating the TSA’s new airport security measures this Thanksgiving. In light of the TSA’s new airport security measures, here’s a detailed list on what you should expect at the airport this holiday. With this knowledge, you’ll find it easier to get through the check-in process while doing your part to ensure safety as you travel.

10 travel gotchas to watch out for. No one likes to get hit with unexpected fees when traveling. Even I, an experienced traveler, sometimes get tripped up by extra airline and hotel costs. To help you avoid getting snagged too, I’ve listed my top ten fees to watch out for. Some of these you might not even know exist.

10 travel gotchas to watch out for

No one likes to get hit with unexpected fees when traveling. Even I, an experienced traveler, sometimes get tripped up by extra airline and hotel costs. To help you avoid getting snagged too, I’ve listed my top ten fees to watch out for. Some of these you might not even know exist. At the end of my post, I bullet them in a short list that you can print and keep with you.

Baggage size and weight limitation fees. Airlines make carry-on and checked baggage fees obvious, but what about the fees a associated with exceeding weight or size limitations? Bags over 50 pounds and/or 62 inches long will cost you extra, which will vary by carrier.

However, these fees can be easily avoided. Check the website of the carrier you’re flying for its specific baggage weight and size limitations. Then weigh and measure your baggage before you head to the airport.

Standby fees. Years ago you never had to pay an additional charge to standby for a flight if you missed the one you were originally scheduled to take. Today the airlines are finding another rich source of revenue by charging you up to $75 — in advance — to have the right to switch your flight or standby for a seat to open up the day you’re scheduled to depart.

It’s kind of like insurance, in case you need to switch to another flight. If you haven’t paid for this in advance, though, you might find the fees to change even higher. Unfortunately you can’t avoid these fees if you need to switch your flight or need to standby, but you can check airlines’ websites before booking to see which one has the lowest standby fee to keep your costs down.

Frequent flyer fees. These fees vary depending on your frequent flyer membership level. Most travelers who want to make a reservation using miles within 14 days of travel can expect an expedite fee. I find this fee really interesting, because the processing of the reservation and issuing of your ticket is essentially instantaneous. So, the expediting part of your transaction is purely rhetorical. Try to book your frequent flyer trips as far in advance as you can to avoid these fees.

There are also surcharges to use miles to most international destinations, although you generally pay these fees in more miles, unless you are booking too close to departure when the expedite fee kicks in. Lastly, if you cancel a frequent flyer ticket, it will cost you to have the airline redeposit the miles. I’ve paid as much as $150 to redeposit miles, and as far as I know travel insurance won’t cover this cost. Make sure you read the fine print in your membership or ask your booking agent about these fees before you use your frequent flyer miles.

International transaction fees. If you plan to spend a significant time abroad and use your credit card for purchases, it’s worth it to get a Capital One credit card. It’s the only credit card company that doesn’t charge fees for international transactions. Or you can use cash. ATM machines will give you cash in local currency using your own debit or credit card, and the exchange rates charged by your bank will be better than those charged by local banks to exchange your dollars to local currency.

Plus, ATM machines are in many destinations, even those considered off the beaten path. The convenience factor is worthy of consideration. With ATM machines ubiquitous, you don’t have to carry large amounts of cash while you’re on the move, which is great for avoiding petty theft or fear of petty theft.

Value added tax (VAT). Similar to a sales tax, a VAT is added on to your purchase in most foreign countries. For example, you decide to purchase a carpet in India. But the price you’re quoted will not include the 18 percent VAT tax, which will make the actual price you pay much higher. Many countries, such as India, reimburse travelers the VAT they have paid on purchases. All you have to do is ask the merchant to give you the right documentation to be able to collect the VAT back when you leave the country.

This documentation has to be prepared at the time of purchase, so be sure to ask for it and make sure it’s on an official receipt. Then, when you check in for your departure flight, find the VAT refund station in the airport, present your receipts, and you’ll get your refund in cash. Be sure to check the VAT rules for each country you visit. In some countries, you’ll need to actually show the merchandise, in addition to the receipt, in order to collect your refund. If your merchandise is already packed in your luggage, you can ask for a mail-in form that will be processed later, with the refund generally done via your credit card.

International car rental fees. All of the same fees and taxes that you’re used to paying to rent a car in the U.S. apply when renting a car internationally. The rates will differ by city, but be prepared to pay for insurance. In the U.S. all you need is a credit card to get insurance on a rental car. This doesn’t apply internationally. Insurance can add anywhere from $20 to $50 a day to your bill. Talk to your car insurance company before reserving a car internationally to see what they can do to help you find a low insurance rate.

Some of the coverage might already be included in your own car insurance. But don’t be surprised that CDW (collision damage waiver) insurance is obligatory in some destinations. Pay for it without feeling bad about the cost. If you damage a car abroad, you might be horrified to find out that the cost of repairs can be two or three times more than you might expect to pay here. And even if the local cost of the repair isn’t really higher, the car rental company will charge the much higher fees anyway.

Hotel parking fees. Parking fees are an additional business for many hotels. Before you use the hotel’s lot or garage, ask what the daily rate is so you know what to expect when you get your bill at the end of your stay. At smaller hotels in smaller cities, you can sometimes negotiate the parking fee in your room rate if you stay at the hotel regularly, for being a loyal customer. In some cases, the hotel will provide parking as part of the rate you pay, but this is the exception and not the rule.

Hotel telephone fees. Most people have a cell phone, but not all of those cell phones work internationally. If you’re out of the country and you need to make a call, you might have to use the phone in your hotel room. However, if you plan on using a calling card, the hotel won’t let you use it with the dial-out code. If you’re using a calling card, use it from a pay phone. If you absolutely have no choice but to use the hotel phone, make the call very short. The fees for international calls from your room can be astronomical.

Hotel mini bar fees. Some hotels now have an electronic monitor in the mini bar. If you move something, or take it out and then try to put it back, you are automatically charged — whether or not you opened the item. Hotels might also leave bottled water out for you in your room. Look for a note on the label that says whether the water is complimentary or will be billed to your room. If you’re not sure, ask the front desk before opening anything.

Hotel Internet fees. It’s not always clear if there is a charge for this service. Unlike U.S. hotels, most hotels abroad charge for Internet use, whether you use it in your room or at the hotel’s business center. If you need Internet access when traveling abroad, you can purchase your own data plan from a mobile provider and bring a global mobile broadband card to get access anywhere.

In some hotels, you might find free broadband in the lobby area, but even there, you should expect to pay for a plan that is charged by the half hour, the hour, or 24 hours. If you are staying in a hotel for an extended period (more than two nights), ask the front desk if there’s a special plan for the duration of your stay. Sometimes you’ll get a special rate for a three-day stay that turns out to be less than the best 24-hour rate times three.

As you’re packing bags for your getaway, I hope you find this list to be helpful. And remember to print out our shortened version of the list for you to take with you, and share with your friends and family. If there are any fees you think I should include in this list, leave them in a comment on this post.

(click to enlarge and print)

Holiday travel: Is it safe to fly?

It hasn’t been a good month for the air travel industry. Every few days brought with it bad news that should make even the most seasoned traveler think twice before boarding a plane. Reports of air cargo bombs, fuselages ripping apart, and engine failures should make Amtrak and the family van much more appealing.

You would think. But the data shows that air travelers are a surprisingly resilient bunch. In fact, the Air Transport Association reports that bookings around the Thanksgiving holiday are expected to be up 3.5 percent over 2009. Do air travelers have their heads in the clouds or are they seeing clear skies? Consider these statistics:

Despite the headlines, the data shows that air travel is still the safest way to get from point A to point B. Sure, the airline industry does has its problems. It’s a little ridiculous when a senior citizen with a walker has to stop and take their shoes off to be inspected. We need to deal with these issues.

But on the principle issue of airline safety, traveling by air has never been safer despite the determined efforts of terrorists and the inevitability of Murphy’s Law.

(click to enlarge)

What do you think? Do you feel safe traveling the skies? Tell me about it in a comment on this post.

The incredible shrinking airline seat

In the 30 plus years I’ve been traveling, I’ve seen many changes in air travel, including the incredible shrinking personal space on flights. Anyone who’s recently traveled in economy class can attest that seats and leg room couldn’t possibly get any smaller or tighter.

That’s why a recent article in USA Today caught my eye. Evidently, some unrealistic designers of airline seats are proposing an even smaller seat for planes that would cost passengers less. I have to ask the question. How much space are you willing to sacrifice to fly for less money?

Personally, I think coach class is cramped enough. I’m not willing to lose another inch of leg room. But the new SkyRider airline seat from Aviointeriors is proposing that 23 inches is all you need.

USA Today reported that passengers would sit on an angle in these seats. And they’re described as feeling as though you’re riding horseback. That doesn’t sound comfortable to me. But after all, who needs comfort? Since, as the thinking goes, when in pursuit of a cheap ticket, we travelers will bind ourselves in rubber bands and stow ourselves into the overhead compartments, right?

The idea behind this devilish concept of smaller seats is that they would cost less. Also, as a bonus (not for the traveler, but for the airlines), they accommodate more passengers on a plane, yielding increasing revenue for you know who.

Thankfully, these seats won’t be showing up in any airplanes soon. The idea is only percolating. But low-cost and domestic airlines that are looking for ways to make more money will no doubt find these attractive. After all, it’s not much of a leap between charging for your checked bag, an aisle seat, a bottle of water, and saddle seating all the way to your next destination.

Flip over to the USA Today article to get all the details about these seats. Then come back to the blog and tell me what you think about them. Would you ever consider buying a seat as small as the SkyRider, even for a discounted ticket price? And while you’re at it. Tell me what experiences you’ve had recently when you’ve had to fly the “friendly” skies.

Drunk Delta pilot: What this teaches the public about flying

By now you’ve probably heard about the Delta pilot who was arrested for allegedly being drunk before takeoff. The 52-year-old pilot from Woodbury, N.J. was about to fly a plane from Amsterdam to New Jersey. But fortunately his condition was discovered thanks to an anonymous tip, and he never flew the plane.

The poor judgment of the pilot, whose name has not been released, has garnered a lot of media attention. It’s also brought up many airline safety questions. And in this case, I think that Delta’s airline safety system worked.

Let me explain. I’m not making excuses for this pilot or condoning his behavior. Had he flown that plane, the consequences obviously could have been catastrophic. But in the end, the anonymous tip saved the day avoiding any potential disaster.

We don’t know who reported him, and any guess as to the identity of the tipster is speculation, but I will say this. In general, there’s something wonderful about flight crews on international flights, which is what this Delta pilot was flying.

It’s evident from every aspect of the in-flight experience that these flight crews do their jobs and do them well. I travel a lot and can attest to this personally. That’s not to say that the ticket agent who checks you in is going to smile and treat you warmly, or that every flight attendant is going to go above and beyond. But mostly, I’ve encountered a consistently high standard of performance in the air.

The fact that someone noticed this Delta pilot wasn’t in flying condition reinforces my belief about international flight crews. Someone was looking out for the safety of others and took the right actions to have the pilot removed from the flight.

While I’m sure the media will ultimately identify both the pilot and the tipster, I would risk venturing a bet that the anonymous tipster was a member of that Delta flight crew. He or she looked beyond camaraderie and personal factors to protect the passengers and the plane.

The flying public shouldn’t go into a frenzy or fear flying because of this incident. Rather, travelers can feel very confident that there are professional people who are watching to make sure air travel remains as safe as possible. And this incident exemplifies the point quite poignantly.

What do you think about the allegedly drunk pilot being arrested? Despite having been anonymously outed, do you still worry about safety and pilot competency while traveling on international flights? Leave your thoughts in a comment on this post.

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About Peggy

Peggy Goldman is a specialty tour operator and travel expert, who owns and operates Friendly Planet Travel, a full-service company that specializes in tour packages to exotic worldwide destinations at affordable prices.   More about Peggy

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