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How to Tell if an International Airline Is Safe

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Q: How can I tell if an international carrier is safe? —Sarah Jones, Charlotte, N.C.

A: Even if we don’t like to admit it, the act of getting on a plane involves a great deal of trust: trust in the pilots and the flight crew, in the aircraft makers, in the airline, and—ultimately—in the authorities who approved the plane to fly. Domestically, this last responsibility lies with the Federal Aviation Administration, which is known for its exacting standards. But given that there’s no single organization with the authority to enforce safety around the world, things are more complicated abroad.

The easiest rule of thumb: book on foreign airlines that operate code-share flights with U.S. partners. (Global alliances—Star Alliance, Oneworld, SkyTeam—usually involve some form of code-sharing.) Before a U.S. airline can place its passengers on a foreign carrier, it must conduct a safety review of its partner and submit the results to the FAA for approval. As an added incentive, the U.S. airline may also be liable should anything happen to its passengers on a code-share flight.

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Paris and Versailles from Above: New Zeppelin Takes Off

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You've done Notre Dame. You've walked the Hall of Mirrors. And, if you're like me, you've eaten every croissant in sight—hopefully one of the city's best. But don't check Paris and Versailles off your list quite yet. You haven't seen them by zeppelin...

Airship Paris is hoping to change that. This month, the company launched its inaugural flights around France's Ile-de-France region, and it predicts a bright future for the historic mode of transportation.

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Before De-Planing, Check For Your Phone, Passport and Falcon

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In the rush and jumble of getting off a plane that’s just landed, it’s not surprising if you absentmindedly leave your magazine tucked in the seat pouch, or neglect to notice that your favorite pen has dropped and rolled into another row.

But in a recent survey of 700 international flight crew members, travel search site Skyscanner discovered that travelers regularly leave behind a colorful, if not bizarre, array of items in their pursuit of prompt de-planing.

Some sundry items, one might assume, just fell out of a bag as folks took luggage out of the overhead bins—like an unpartnered shoe, an article of underwear or, well, handcuffs. But how exactly does one forget to grab one’s double bass, wedding gown, bag of diamonds—or a falcon?

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Is My Nonrefundable Ticket Really Nonrefundable?

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A: Unless you get a very sympathetic agent on the line, you’re not likely to get your money back. But if you booked with a domestic carrier you’ll usually be able to cancel and receive a credit with the airline. Of course, you’ll have to pay a change fee—now a whopping $200 for most U.S. flights—and use the credit to travel by a certain deadline, often a year from the date that your original ticket was issued. Beware: some international carriers are not so generous and offer credit only in emergencies. And if you bought your ticket through a third-party website, such as Priceline or Hotwire, it may be subject to further restrictions. So always read the fine print.

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 by iStockphoto

Family Friday: Lufthansa's New Family-Friendly Check-In

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If there’s anything more challenging than a flight with your young kids, it’s trying to keep them entertained at the airport. On my last trip, I spent two hours chasing my twins around New York’s Delta terminal and had to convince a worker at Starbucks that Sebastian hadn’t intentionally stolen a bag of coffee (he knew exactly what he was doing). Enter Lufthansa. The airline recently launched a series of new family offerings at its Munich and Frankfurt airports, which include child-friendly check in areas with stations for kids. When you’re at the counter, your little ones can climb up a step ladder to feel part of the procedure (they’ll even get a “Best Friend Boarding Pass” for their favorite stuffed animal). You’ll also receive a Family Pilot brochure with vouchers and information about airport play areas, pharmacies, observation decks, and the best restaurants for kids. FYI, if you travel Lufthansa frequently, make sure to enroll your child in the Jet Friends frequent flier program—he’ll get instant points and access to a community of like-minded mini-globetrotters. Lufthansa.com/family

Clara Sedlak is a mother of two and Special Projects Editor at Travel + Leisure.

Image Courtesy of Lufthansa

100 Ways to Travel Better: The Trick to a Smoother Flight

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Looking for the best travel tips around? Travel + Leisure has teamed up with CNN to bring you 100 Ways to Travel Better, the definitive resource for top travel advice from experts—and you!

This week, we’re highlighting advice from iReporter Hngry2Travel. While her enthusiastic photo proves she’s no novice to jet-setting, she does admit that flying is not her favorite mode of transportation. Her suggestion for making flights more bearable?

“Sit in the middle of the plane, where there tends to be less turbulence!”

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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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