Winter Storm Nemo has yet to hit the East Coast, but its impact is already being felt among travelers. Nearly 3,000 domestic and international flights have been canceled for Friday and almost 1,000 (and counting) for Saturday according to live flight-tracking service FlightAware. The effects of the storm—which may be historic—could snarl air traffic for several days, so travelers scheduled to fly into or out of the Eastern seaboard on Friday and Saturday should rebook in advance, if they haven’t already. Most carriers are waiving change fees to encourage preemptive rebooking.
If you are one of the unlucky, stranded passengers, T+L has a few apps and services to make your delay a little more bearable.
Navigating the airport. Gateguru offers detailed listings (with reviews) for restaurants, stores, and other services at over 120 different airports. It will also give you security wait times and updates on flight delays, and can coordinate with your Kayak and TripIt itinerary planners.
Last-minute hotel rooms. HotelTonight and all of the major online travel agents (Expedia, Orbitz, Travelocity, Kayak, and Priceline) have mobile apps that help you find nearby available hotel rooms at a discount. Their inventories are not the same, so if you strike out with one, try another.
Sea Song: Itineraries from Sea Song, which has custom tours in 17 Turkish destinations, are crafted around themes—food; archaeology; sacred places; artisan traditions—and include unique experiences such as lunch at a historic Ottoman house. From $150.
News broke late last year about Hemingway Hotels & Resorts, a brand inspired by Papa himself, to be set in his favorite haunts (Key West; Venice), with clubby bars and well-stocked libraries. We couldn’t help imagining what the staff-training manual might look like.
Hemingway Hotels & Resorts Employee Handbook
Congratulations. If you are reading this, you have demonstrated preternatural bravery and unapologetic machismo, and are now eligible for employment with Hemingway Hotels & Resorts. Below, a few customer-service notes before we proceed with training.
No. 1: The essential question is not: is the customer always right? Rather, it is: does the customer have what it takes to be right? For that matter: do you?
They account for much of the $36 billion a year in revenue that airlines get from ancillary services—and an untold number of headaches (and heartaches) for passengers. We’re talking, of course, about airline fees, which include everything from advance seat-selection charges to blanket and pillow fees (we’re looking at you, US Airways and JetBlue) to Spirit’s dreaded carry-on bag fees, which now range from $25 to $100. What makes these charges all the more unpalatable is the difficulty of keeping track of them. Enter the good folks of Airfarewatchdog, the terrific fare-alert and travel-advice website. They’ve just updated their Comprehensive Airline Fees Guide and housed it on the site as a handy PDF file. Go ahead, download it. And don’t make us have to say “We warned you” next time you show up at airport.
Fancy a little sunbathing on your next trip through JFK? As part of its $1.2 billion expansion of the airport’s Terminal 4, Delta Air Lines will open an outdoor sun terrace—a bold addition to its already ambitious plans for a 24,000-square-foot Sky Club lounge. The JFK Sky Deck, with runway views and Miami Beach-style seating, is expected to debut in May. A Sky Deck will also open near the Delta Sky Club at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport over the summer.
Hotels have harnessed social media to their advantage in innumerable ways in recent years, usually for marketing and customer service initiatives. But the medium has even more powerful and profound applications, as evidenced by the harrowing recent example of Egypt’s Intercontinental Semiramis, located adjacent to Tahir Square in Cairo.
As demonstrations in the city have escalated in recent days, the hotel has found itself in the hot seat. Two days ago, things took a particularly frightening turn as a group of armed marauders apparently used the demonstrations as an opportunity to break into the hotel and begin looting. After its attempts to reach the police for help yielded nothing, the hotel began sending out SOS messages on Twitter—the medium of choice for Egypt’s protest movement. The hotel’s Twitter feed reflects the staff’s growing desperation; “PLEASE SEND HELP #EMERGENCY! WE ARE UNDER ATTACK!” reads one tweet from the early-morning hours of Monday. A little later: “SOS If anyone knows anyone in #Military #Police #Government, please send help! Thugs in Lobby #Emergency #Tahrir #Jan28 #Egypt”
Everyone’s favorite airline seat-map compendium, Seatguru, has just upped the ante with a newly redesigned site that’s more user-friendly and—drumroll—includes flight search functionality for the first time. Though the service is in beta (it still has some kinks to work out), it’s already proving to be a refreshingly smart addition to the world of airfare search.
How it works: In addition to the usual flight-search filters (price, stops, departure time, duration), Seatguru introduces several new sorting mechanisms for travelers: Best Value (factoring in price, departure time, and duration), Best Times (weeding out early morning and overnight flights), and the site’s signature Guru Factor, which mines the site’s trove of cabin data to look at the “comfort” of flights. Taking account of cabin class, seat pitch, width, and recline, as well as inflight entertainment and amenities, the Guru Factor givers travelers an overall assessment of either “Love it,” “Like it,” or “Live with it” for any given flight. In our tests, it also alerted us when, for example, we could spend an additional $40 to trade up for a plane with an extra four inches of legroom.
Q: I’m renting a car abroad. Should I get collision insurance through the rental agency or my credit card? —Hannah W., Portland, Ore.
A: Domestically, the answer would be simple: go with the insurance offered by your credit card company (after reading the fine print, of course). Once you head overseas, though, it becomes much more complicated. All four major card networks offer qualifying cardholders some form of insurance for international rentals, but you have to check your policy carefully. American Express (Travel + Leisure’s parent company), MasterCard, and Visa do not cover rentals in Ireland, Israel, and Jamaica. American Express also disqualifies cars in Italy, Australia, and New Zealand. There are other exceptions (American Express doesn’t cover certain SUV’s; MasterCard won’t let you drive on unpaved roads; most policies preclude rentals of exotic and expensive vehicles), so do your homework. Cardhub.com provides an excellent annual comparison of all of these policies.
Q: What’s a Chip & PIN card, and do I need one if I’m going to Europe?
A: For the past decade, Europe has been moving away from the swipe-and-sign credit cards that we use domestically and toward those employing a Chip & PIN system (also called EMV). These cards protect users from fraud by asking them, with each purchase, to confirm a numeric code that’s stored in the card’s data chip. But although Chip & PIN is now the primary payment method in much of Europe, you can still get by with your American plastic—just as long as you can find an attendant to process the transaction. Even so, it’s best to prepare for the rare occasion when nobody is available. If you don’t already use one, call your bank to establish a four-digit PIN, which will make any card compatible with EMV machines. And while some travelers may feel it’s more hassle than help, you may buy a Chip & PIN Cash Passport from Travelex which allows you to preload euros or British pounds on to a universally accepted card (leftover cash can be transferred back into your bank account).