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Protests in Ecuador shut down airports: What Friendly Planet Travelers should know

You might have heard about the protests that erupted in Ecuador today. Here’s what’s been reported by The Associated Press. Police officers are protesting a new law that was passed by Congress on Wednesday that cuts their benefits.

These protests quickly grew throughout the country to Quito, Guayaquil, and other cities. Airports are shut down, highways are blocked, and a state of emergency has been declared for the country.

Friendly Planet Travel has travelers in Miami’s airport who were trying to fly to Quito today. We also have travelers in the Guayaquil airport trying to fly back right now.

At this moment Friendly Planet Travel is all hands on deck. We will be working around the clock with the airlines and our representatives on the ground in Ecuador to make sure every one of our passengers is accounted for and is being taken care of.

We’ve been in the travel business for over 30 years and have experience dealing with these types of situations. Recently, you saw how we reported on the political protests in Thailand. And in one of my first posts about the Thailand protests, I explained what measures Friendly Planet Travel takes to ensure the safety of our travelers. I encourage you flip back to the post to see what we do.

Keep your eyes peeled to the blog. I will continue to keep you updated as I get more news on the protests and information from our reps in Ecuador. If you’re really concerned and don’t want to wait until my next blog post, write to me or call 1-800-555-5765.

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.

Travel to Thailand bouncing back

It warms my heart to hear the news that tourism to Thailand is making a strong rebound from the political protests that disrupted this normally peaceful country from March to June. eTurboNews reported that tourism is up by almost 14 percent and Thailand hopes to reach the 14 million visitors goal it set for 2010.

We followed the unfolding situation in Bangkok from day one to give you the most up-to-date information about what was happening on the ground. And as soon as the U.S. Department of State lifted its travel warning to the country we resumed our tours to Thailand to help the country rebuild the tourism infrastructure that it relies so dearly upon.

The country is also a top tourism destination. Travel and Leisure recently gave Bangkok its Top City award in its August issue. And Friendly Planet Travel loves it for its beauty, spirituality, and fascinating sights and sounds. Most of all, its welcoming, warm people make every visitor feel at home.

So that’s why I’m excited to give travelers more chances to experience the islands, cities, ancient ruins, and exotic architecture that make Thailand one of the best places on the planet to visit at an unbelievable price. Friendly Planet Travel’s nine-day Taste of Thailand tour is now just $999 (which is less than a weekend in Las Vegas when you think about it!).

Not a single corner is cut in the price tag. Included is round-trip airfare from Los Angeles via China Airlines, including fuel surcharges; intra-Thailand transportation; accommodations at first-class hotels; full American buffet breakfast daily and one dinner; sightseeing tours as per itinerary and all transfers; professional, English-speaking tour guides; optional extensions to Angkor Wat and Phuket Island; and more.

The Taste of Thailand tour takes travelers to three of Thailand’s most dynamic and awe-inspiring cities: Bangkok, Ayutthaya, and Kanchanaburi. I’ve told you all about these locations before, so flip back to my previous post on Thailand to read all about them, or visit our website for the full tour itinerary.

I expect this tour to be one of our most popular, so don’t wait an extra second to book the nine-day Taste of Thailand tour for $999 price. If you have questions, visit our website for the full tour itinerary, write to me, or call 1-800-555-5765 and speak to our reservations team.

Travel and Leisure readers name Bangkok Top City

Travel and Leisure gave Bangkok its Top City award in its August issue. Some people were surprised to hear this because of the political protests that took place in the city from March to June, but I wasn’t.

Keep in mind that from December to March, 16,000 Travel and Leisure readers voted for their favorite city for this issue. So the protests that disrupted tourism in Bangkok had not yet occurred.

But honestly, even if the survey had been taken in the midst of the demonstrations, I doubt the results would have been different. Bangkok is simply a spectacular city, and this award clearly demonstrates how much it is loved by travelers.

Unfortunately, the protests did put a dark cloud over the city, and even though peace has been restored, tourism to Thailand is still suffering as travelers cautiously reconsider traveling there.

While I’m sure tourism will soon rebound and exceed previous levels, it still saddens me that for now, some people are missing out on opportunities to experience the islands, cities, ancient ruins, and exotic architecture that make Thailand one of the best places on the planet to visit.

I hope this award reminds travelers of what makes Bangkok so alluring. I love that it’s a microcosm, a city with something for everyone. You can tour the city, admiring the modern buildings, malls, and plazas.

Or you can shop and explore the numerous street markets, travel the canals to see traditional Thai homes and people going about their everyday lives, and eat the most amazing food you’ll ever taste. (I’m terribly fussy about what I eat, but I love Thai food.) Just a few hours from Bangkok are gorgeous, and not terribly expensive, beach resorts as well as historical sites, complete with intricately carved temples.

The value for your money in Thailand is incredible. I like to tell a story of when I needed a new suitcase to bring home all the treasures I had bought in Bangkok. I wanted to buy a good-quality suitcase so I could use it for future trips, and I was prepared to spend what I thought would be at least a few hundred dollars.

My guide brought me to a luggage store in a lovely, upscale mall. I looked around, examining all the various options and then proceeded to buy the best (most expensive) suitcase I could find. It had all the bells and whistles on it, including hidden compartments, zippers galore, non-rip material, and locks with keys. It only cost me $29.

I’ve been using it for two years now, and by the way, it has held up better than any other suitcase I own. And the value Thailand offers to travelers goes way beyond goods to all areas of tourism infrastructure, including hotels, meals, entrance fees, and every other cost item associated with a trip to Thailand. The genuine warmth, friendliness, and goodwill of the Thai people toward their visitors is the value added that is absolutely for free.

Friendly Planet Travel has been selling tours to Thailand since 2003 because we believe in it as a destination. This award proves that we’re not the only ones who think so. Shortly after the political protests ended we felt it was safe to re-enter Bangkok. So we reinstated our programs and even launched a new tour, giving us three different tours to Thailand.

My goal is that they will help boost tourism back to its previous levels and hopefully beyond. With all my heart, I hope Travel and Leisure’s award brings to people’s attention that Thailand is ready to welcome tourists back.

And for those travelers ready to go, please check out our three wonderful tours. A Taste of Thailand, Incredible Thailand, and Treasures of Thailand all have available departure dates and will cost you less than a weekend in Las Vegas.

Get exclusive savings on Friendly Planet tours with Hot Deals

SMOKIN HOT: Save on Friendly Planet tours with Hot Deals

The weekly Hot Deals mailer is getting so hot I might need to apply SPF 45 to make sure it doesn’t burn. In addition to giving subscribers announcements on deals and new destinations, Hot Deals is now including exclusive coupon codes on Friendly Planet tours.

Starting this week, when your Hot Deals e-mail lands in your inbox, you’ll see a new section that will list four to six different tours. Each tour has its own coupon code for a discount that’s good for that week.

These savings are only available to Hot Deals subscribers. So if you’re not a subscriber, what are you waiting for? Sign up now and tell your friends and family too!

Passport and visa pages fees to increase: What you should know

The U.S. Department of State is raising passport fees on July 13. Here’s a breakdown of the increases.

  • Adult: $100 to $135
  • Adult renewal: $75 to $110
  • Minor: $85 to $105
  • Additional visa pages: $0 to $82 

We covered how the Department of State was contemplating these increases back in March. The public was given a period of time to submit comments, during which the American Society of Travel Agents and other organizations expressed concerns over the proposed increases.

As you can see above, the biggest jump comes in the additional visa pages category. Visa pages are the pages in your passport that are stamped every time you enter and exit a country.

In some cases, you need to get a visa prior to visiting a country, and this is where it is pasted. Other times, the visa is stamped into your passport upon arrival at your destination. In any case, you need blank visa pages in order to enter another country.

If you don’t travel that often, you’ll probably never have to order more. But if you travel out of the U.S. once a year or more, you might need more blank visa pages before your passport expires.

If you have fewer than four pages left in your passport, make sure you order more before July 13 to avoid having to pay the new fee, otherwise you’ll soon have to pay $82 for the pages that cost nothing today. Until July 13, you’ll only have to pay for shipping, unless you want your visa page additions expedited.

It’s very simple to request extra pages. Just fill out Form DS-4085 and mail your passport along with the form to the address listed on it. When you package your personal documents, use a Tyvek envelope or a plastic bag to make sure they stay dry. You’ll want to use a traceable delivery method such as FedEx. You don’t want to risk losing your passport in the mail!

Once it’s sent, your passport will be returned with more visa pages in four to six weeks. If you don’t have a passport as of yet, flip back to a previous post where I show you how to apply for a U.S. passport. You only have one week left before fees go up, so get moving!

US lifts travel warning on Thailand

There is more good news coming out of Thailand. The U.S. Department of State lifted its travel warning on Thailand, citing that safety has improved. In addition, my representatives on the ground in Bangkok told me that almost all evidence of the violent demonstrations have been cleaned up and repaired.

In fact, the people of Thailand have undertaken a mission to restore the tourism infrastructure that existed before the political demonstrations. They’re eager to welcome back tourists. Its islands, cities, ancient ruins, and exotic architecture make it one of the best places on the planet to visit.

Friendly Planet has a lot of faith in the Thai people to once again make their country as inviting as it was just three short months ago. I can’t make an official announcement today, but I can tell you that we are planning three new tours to Thailand. The moment they become available, I will post the details here and on our Facebook page. Keep your eyes peeled.

Putting violence behind them, Thailand moves forward

Here’s the most recent report from my representatives in Thailand. I was told that the situation in Bangkok has calmed down substantially and life is pretty much back normal. Our Thai representatives have reopened their main office and everyone is back to work as usual.

During the worst of the violence, our office had to close due to its close proximity to the demonstrations and the staff worked out of satellite offices in other locations around the city. Everyone is now back to work and our staff is safe and well.

A few days ago, thousands of volunteers turned up at the demonstration sites around the city and cleaned up the streets to remove all evidence of the protests. My representatives describe an overwhelming sense of relief in that the Thai people appear ready to put these violent demonstrations behind them and move on with their lives.

People from all walks of life participated in the clean up, and judging from the comments of the participants, the people have no intention of allowing a repeat of the past few months. Everyone wants peace.

There are no restrictions or curfews imposed at the airports in Thailand, and all flights are operating. But as usual, all passengers must be in possession of their travel documents to access the airport if curfew hours are put into place by The Centre for the Resolution of Emergency Situation.

We have great faith in Thailand as a destination, and despite the events of the past few months, we are working hard on new programs to Thailand. As soon as these programs are finalized with dates and prices, we will post the new tours and invite our travelers to resume travel to Thailand.

There is hardly a more wonderful destination in the world, and with peace restored, we believe the rush to visit will resume as never before. Stay tuned for details of specials once the new tours are ready. Bookmark the Thailand tag on our blog to stay up to date on the latest information.

Thailand protests turn violent, four Friendly Planet departure dates canceled

This post has been updated here.

Until a few hours ago, I honestly thought the situation in Bangkok would be resolved peacefully, with the calling of a new election. However, I just spoke with our representatives in Thailand and found out the protests have turned violent. As a result, we’ve decided for the safety of our travelers to cancel the following departures to Thailand.

There have been a number of explosions on Silom Road, including inside the Saladaeng Skytrain station, in Bangkok at 20.30 hours Bangkok time this evening. Several people were injured including three foreigners and one Thai person has been reported dead. The situation is now very tense. Hundreds of Bangkok residents confronted the protesters who have occupied Rajadamri Road in central Bangkok for the last two days.

If one of these departure dates is yours, we are contacting you right now to give you all of your options and make sure you understand all the details.

All Friendly Planet passengers in Bangkok are being contacted right now and advised to stay inside their hotels until tomorrow morning. We are strongly advising against any movement in Bangkok and we will not be moving passengers from any hotels this evening.

We are continuing to monitor the situation around the clock and will keep all passengers affected through direct e-mails and phone calls. We’ll also continue to post updates on the blog.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Thailand in this difficult time. I hope this emergency situation will pass quickly, and calmness will be restored to this beautiful country.

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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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