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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

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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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Hella Jongerius’s KLM Redesign

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Less plastic, more natural materials—is this the look of the future of air travel? Dutch furniture designer Hella Jongerius on her new designs for KLM, debuting this month.

Q: How do you reinvent a plane’s interior?
A: I started by asking how to create a feeling of privacy. We know a jet has a lot of plastic, and that’s not something we have at home. To reduce the synthetic feeling, we relied on high-quality wool, which has a lovely tactility, for the seats, curtains, and blankets. Even if you don’t realize it, there’s a human touch in the details that says, “you’re not just a number”—that someone is taking care of you.

Q: I heard you recycled old uniforms…
A: KLM had mountains of used flight attendant uniforms that had been cycled out because of fashion updates. We re-spun their yarns into the wool to make the bright blue stars in the carpet, which was designed to look like the Milky Way.

Q:Your designs are for businessclass. Will you be working on the economy cabin?
A: That’s my next challenge! It’s much harder because there just aren’t a lot of inches. But I’m looking forward to bringing some luxury to economy, too.

Photo courtesy of Jongeriuslab

Pet Travel Wednesdays: 4 Tips from The Points Guy, Brian Kelly

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While you may be a seasoned solo-traveler, jet setting with your pet can be a bit harrier. So we turned to Brian Kelly, travel expert and founder of The Points Guy, to ask for his personal tips on flying with Miles (pictured), his adorable French bulldog. You need only to scroll through their Instagram feeds (Brian and Miles each have their own) to be impressed by this dynamic duo.

Here are Brian’s top four tips for flawless pet travel:

It’s not as stressful for you OR your pet as you think: I think my major concern before traveling with my puppy was that it would be too grueling and tiring for him, but he seemed to handle everything in stride. During our time at the airport and on the plane, I'm within his sight at all times, and as long as he can see me or feel my hand on his travel carrier, he's absolutely fine. The same is true in hotel rooms – Miles is just happy to be wherever I am and it didn’t matter that it wasn’t at home. 

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Trip Doctor: New Airline Survey from Skytrax Picks Global Favorites

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The plane surveys keep on coming. Just a few weeks ago, Trip Doctor reported on a slew of recent polls that give insight into what Americans think about flying nowadays. And at the recent Paris Air Show, Skytrax announced its winners for the 2013 World Airline Awards.  While the surveys we wrote about earlier show what American flyers are thinking, the Skytrax awards offer a more global scope, with respondents from over 160 countries taking part in the poll.

Some of the takeaways?

  • Emirates earns the coveted “Airline of the Year,” and wins for best Inflight Entertainment

  • Garuda Indonesia wins best Economy Class Seats and best Economy Class overall, making it a Top 10 scorer for the first time

  • All Nipon Airways claims the best Aircraft Cabin Cleanliness award

  • Cathay Pacific Airways is awarded best Cabin Staff

  • Etihad Airways nabs best First Class Seats and best First Class overall

  • AirAsia is the best Low-Cost Airline

If you’re thinking that the list seems dominated by Asian and Middle Eastern airlines, you’re correct. Of the Top 10 airlines, only 10th ranked Qantas hails from outside Asia and the Middle East.

See the full results here

Peter Schlesinger is a research assistant at Travel + Leisure and a member of the Trip Doctor News Team.

Photo courtesy of Emirates

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