The U.S. State Department has just issued a worldwide travel alert based on the planned burning of Qurans by a Florida-based fringe religious group on Saturday, September 11, the ninth anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks. The Qu'ran is the holy book of Islam. The planned anti-Islam event by Terry Jones, pastor of the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, has already resulted in violent demonstrations in Afghanistan and Indonesia. "We urge you to pay attention to local reaction to the situation, and to avoid areas where demonstrations may take place," said the State Department.
Smart Traveler Mark Orwoll is also the international editor of Travel + Leisure.
The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit challenging the federal government's right to search the contents of laptop computers at border crossings when the owner is not suspected of criminal activity. According to the ACLU, more than 6,500 electronic devices were seized and their contents examined at U.S. border crossings between October 8, 2008, and June 2, 2010. Nearly half of those seizures were made against American citizens.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Pascal Abidor, a 26-year-old graduate student who holds dual U.S. and French citizenship. Returning to his New York home by train from Montreal, Abidor was interrogated and detained by U.S. border guards. His laptop computer was taken from him; when it was finally returned 11 days later, according to the lawsuit, there was evidence that authorities had searched his personal files, including online chats with his girlfriend. No charges were ever leveled.
You may have seen some of my rants here or in the print edition of T+L about the outrageous fees and surcharges the airlines tack onto their base airfares. The airline industry says the surcharges allow consumers to pick and choose the additional services they want rather than forcing them to pay for perks they don't need. I say baloney. They're doing it out of greed. The base airfares they advertise are deceptively low, and can increase by 30 percent or more when you tack on all the extras, like fees for carry-on baggage, checked baggage, telephone reservations, select seat assignments, meals, et al ad nauseam. What's worse, it's often difficult to find out about these charges until a consumer pays for the tickets or, in some cases, until he arrives at the airport.
Now some big guns are marshaling their cumulative power to challenge the airlines on these hidden fees by creating a new website called madashellabouthiddenfees.com.
Honestly, when you check out this video you will think it is a fake commercial from Saturday Night Live circa 1983. But no, the Snazzy Napper is a real product, an odd cross between a Snuggie and a burkha—and the video is so hilariously bad that it is going viral.
Apparently China's 10-day, 62-mile-long traffic jam between Beijing and Inner Mongolia is over. The heavily trafficked highway grew even more crowded than normal starting on August 14 because of several major road construction projects. Then, at a certain point, everything came to a complete halt. Drivers?including hundreds of coal-carrying commercial truckers—lounged around the side of the road, killing time and looking for bathrooms. Locals seized upon the opportunity to sell food and water to the stranded travelers at 10 times the normal price. (Who says capitalism can't succeed in China!) Raw video from the Associated Press (above) shows the scene just before the jam freed up today.
Take note, travelers: Sometimes it just doesn't pay to cheap out and take the free road. By all accounts the toll road that parallels the stalled highway was moving along rather nicely all week. This can be helpful advice to remember whether you're driving near Beijing during the Mongolian coal harvest or tooling through France at the end of August when everyone returns to work from vacation.
Sounds like the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has taken a big step to keep us safer from terrorists in the sky. DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano announced today that 100 percent of passengers on domestic and international flights by U.S. airlines are now being matched against government watchlists through the Secure Flight program run by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Previously, individual airlines were responsible for matching passenger names against terrorist watchlists.
That’s all well and good. But here’s a remaining security gap:
How did three children manage to buy tickets and board a Southwest airliner from Jacksonville to Nashville last Tuesday without identification or parental permission? That’s the question on many parents’ minds as the incident begins to get the sort of publicity you might expect.
The three—ages 15, 13, and 11—apparently had $700 in babysitting earnings, took a taxi to the airport, and managed to buy the tickets and get through security without showing I.D. Their goal was to visit Dollywood, but when they arrived in Nashville and discovered that the amusement park was several hundred miles further away, they became disenchanted by their escapade and phoned a relative, who paid for their return airfare.
Continuing the precedent set by the new Eventi of building hotels in unexpected Manhattan neighborhoods, the new Gansevoort Park Avenue will open on August 16 at the interesting but decidedly unhip corner of Park Avenue South at East 29th Street. In a sort of no-mans-land between Gramercy Park, Murray Hill, and Kips Bay (call it Grammurray Bay? Kipsmercy Hill?), the swanky new hotel may do for its neighborhood what its sister hotel, the Gansevoort, did for the now-ubertrendy Meatpacking District.
The British media are all atwitter about the supposed plans by Ryanair to install vertical seats—that is, standing-room-only seats—in the last 10 rows of its Boeing 737-800s. Price of airfare in one of those seats? Just 4 pounds sterling (about U.S.$6). And how, you ask, can they afford to do this? Why, by charging you to use the toilet.
Wait a minute… Didn’t they already float (and later flush) the idea of a loo fee only to be publicly remonstrated, humiliated, and pilloried? Yeah, kinda—except that Ryanair doesn’t know the meaning of the word humiliation. On the other hand, it seems not to know the meaning of a lot of words, like “safety,” “concern for our passengers,” and “common sense.”