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Department of Justice Fights to Block American-US Airways Merger

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The Department of Justice, joined by six states and Washington, D.C., filed an antitrust suit this morning in efforts to halt the proposed merger between American Airlines and US Airways.

The lawsuit comes as a shock to many in the industry, given that airline analysts had not foreseen major complications to the merger when it was announced in February. The T+L Trip Doctor team reported then that the formation of the world’s largest airline would inherently decrease competition and increase ticket prices, specifically to destinations such as Dallas, Miami and Philadelphia. Experts also predicted possible cuts in service to Phoenix, although aviation analysts did not foresee any major objections. This belief was cemented when the merger gained approval from European regulators just last week.

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Gasp! Airline Scams Passengers at 37,000 Feet

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Ryanair called one of their sales tactics "Keep the Change!" but a better name might be the Schweppes Shakedown ... or Just Take Their Money Then Avoid Eye Contact Until Dublin.

Ireland's Ryanair recently got outed in the Daily Mail for a training manual that gives cabin crew advice on how to "keep the change," and boost the airline's profits, when selling passengers drinks or snacks. “If you owe someone €2.00 advise that you are short of change right now, and can return the change at the end of the service,” reportedly read the Ryanair Sales Tips manual, published by company Retail InMotion. “Or ask them if you would like to purchase a scratchcard, or something to the value of €2.00. If it doesn't work then don't worry, at least you tried.”

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Gripe Much? New Website Reveals Just How Much People Hate U.S. Customs

You know you have a broken entry process when there’s an entire website devoted to complaining about the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) system—and that’s exactly what the U.S. Travel Association launched this month in an effort to voice the concerns of our unhappy visitors.

Included on the travelersvoice.org are spotlights from dozens of travelers—foreign and domestic—whose concerns range from long lines to missed connections. The most common gripes? Customs queues are understaffed, with too many checkout lanes closed during peak periods, and with no automated technology to ease the process, our methods appear utterly outdated.

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Huge Fire Shuts Down Kenya’s Main Airport

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Travel to East Africa came to a halt this morning as fire raged for several hours at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, suspending international arrivals traffic on Wednesday. Most international flights were diverted to the coastal city of Mombasa.

Flames and a massive cloud of dark smoke could be seen from the center of Kenya’s capital city, as part of the airport—the region’s largest—became a blackened shell. Emergency vehicles were immediately dispatched only to be caught in rush hour traffic on the main road to the airport. Fire trucks were faced with low water supplies at the site of the blaze.

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Trip Doctor: Norovirus on a Plane—What You Need to Know

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This morning’s news of a possible norovirus outbreak on a Qantas flight from Santiago, Chile to Sydney, Australia, has us all on edge. Known for wreaking havoc on cruise ships, the norovirus is not a typical worry for fliers. Should it be?

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Trip Doctor: TSA’s Not-So-Great Report Card

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Here’s some news that will make you squirm in your airplane seat: complaints filed against airport security workers have increased by 26 percent over the last three years, according to a new study the Transportation Security Agency released yesterday by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

About half the cases—9,622 in all since 2010—had to do with attendance and leave (32 percent) and screening and security (20 percent). Shockingly, those screening and security offenses included allowing travelers or baggage to bypass screening, sleeping on the job, drug and alcohol use while on duty, mishandling of classified information, and inappropriate or sexual misconduct. The report also cited a case in 2011 where a transportation security officer at Orlando International Airport pled guilty of embezzlement and theft charges for stealing more than $80,000 worth of laptops and other electronics.

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Trip Doctor: Do Airfare Prices Increase the More You Search?

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Q: Why does it seem that the more I search for an airfare online, the more the price increases?

A: Pure coincidence, say the online travel agencies that we put this question to. These sites simply do not have the ability to adjust airfares according to your searches. It’s likely that you are finding a fare with only limited seats available at that price. and, as the adage goes, you snooze, you lose.

21: The average number of days before departure that Kayak found domestic airfares at their lowest.

Tweet for More: Tweet the hashtag #AmexpubTLAirfare to get the Trip Doctor’s most valuable tip for saving money on international airfares.

Amy FarleyHave a travel dilemma? Need some tips and remedies? Send your questions to news editor Amy Farley at tripdoctor@aexp.com. Follow @tltripdoctor on Twitter.

Photo credit: iStockphoto

TSA Opens PreCheck to the General Public

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It’s official: the days of long airport security lines are over—if you want them to be. At least that’s what TSA Administrator John Pistole promised on Friday, when he announced that the PreCheck program will be opening to the general public before the end of the year. To sign up, travelers will have to pay an $85 fee, provide identification and fingerprints, and undergo a background check at an established PreCheck enrollment center—all for the luxury of walking through the x-ray machine with your shoes on.

Almost one year after the service’s launch, 12 million travelers have signed up—all frequent fliers—and complaints of longer lines in these expedited service lanes have already started to bubble up. Another 3 million will join by the year’s end if the TSA’s predictions ring true—so will PreCheck lose its advantage? This much remains to be seen, though we’re encouraged by the volume of airports that are angling to meet the program’s growing demand.

Nikki Ekstein is an Editorial Assistant at Travel + Leisure and part of the Trip Doctor news team. Find her at on Twitter at @nikkiekstein.

Photo Credit: © dbimages / Alamy

Trip Doctor: Will Heathrow Airport Close?

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Could Heathrow close?

Heathrow airport, Great Britain’s major international hub, handled a whopping 70 million passengers last year. Its two runways, however, cannot allow for much more than that. Enter the Davies Airports Commission—so-called after its chairman, Sir Howard Davies—which is aiming to fix the UK’s at-capacity airports.

One option? London mayor Boris Johnson wants to buy the airport, shut it down, and replace it with a mega-airport on an island in the Thames River’s estuary to the East.

Mayor Johnson outlined his plans a few days ago to the commission, and hopes to transform Heathrow’s land into a neighborhood for up 250,000, as the Guardian’s Gwyn Topham reports. The new airport could have four runways operating by 2029, all for a price tag of over $75 billion. And on Friday, renowned design firm Foster + Partners formally submitted its architectural plans for the island-hub.

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Trip Doctor: Airport Security Tips—How to Get Through TSA Faster

Airport Security Tips

Q: How can I get through the airport faster?Kathleen Francis, Oakland, Calif.

A: Over the past decade, between tightened security and the increased attention airlines are paying to premium fliers, airports have become as hierarchical and labyrinthine as the Sun King’s court. Lanes and lines have become defining features, and status has become essential for getting around.

So rule number one for a better airport experience: become an elite member of a frequent-flier program. If you travel often, stay loyal to a carrier, and follow the advice of loyalty-program experts such as the terrific Brian Kelly, founder of thepointsguy.com, you may be able to break into the upper tiers, gaining expedited check-in, private security lines, and priority boarding.

But good news for everyone else: status is no longer exclusively available to high-ranking frequent fliers. You just have to be willing to do a little extra legwork—and pay. Privilege, after all, has its price.

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