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Tech Thursday: Low Fare Alerts and More from Trip Watcher

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With so many new tools promising to help us find the best (or cheapest) flights, it’s easier than ever to turn flight searching into an all-day obsession. Enter Trip Watcher, a new site by Hotwire.com, which does all the constant searching for you. Enter your desired destinations and dates (or range of dates), and the site will monitor the fares on your behalf, sending you alerts every time it finds a new low price. You choose the preferred method of contact—email, Facebook, or Twitter—so that you can jump on the deal before it disappears.

I’ve been putting Trip Watcher to the test with five sample itineraries—three domestic and two international, some with set dates and others more flexible. In just one day, the engine found lower fares for three of those routes, dropping the price by 20% to Chicago, 15% to Lima, and a whopping 38% to Charleston. The latter—a deeply discounted fare of $102—disappeared quickly, but it was entirely within my reach thanks to the instant update.

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Trip Doctor: Legislators Renew Push for Family Flying Policy Changes

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Back in February we reported that several senators had expressed opposition to recent airline fees that force families to pay extra if they wish to sit together. Now, five lawmakers from New York and California are sponsoring a bill that would require airlines to change their policies.

The legislative push is still in its "early stages," according to the offices of the resolution's main sponsor, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (NY), so no news on when (or even if) to expect a vote. Right now the sponsors are working on outreach both with other members in Congress and their constituents.

Nadler introduced a similar proposal last July with 10 co-sponsers, but the resolution was never enacted.

Have strong feelings about this? Contact your Congress representative and write to them about House Resolution 2191.

Peter Schlesinger is a research assistant at Travel + Leisure.

Photo credit: iStockphoto

Trip Doctor: TSA Caves on Knife Policy

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Cue a collective sigh of relief: after much hoopla several months ago, the TSA has finally retracted their effort to take small knives off their banned items list. Also still prohibited: novelty baseball bats, billiard cues, ski poles, hockey sticks, golf clubs, and lacrosse sticks—all of which fell under the same (now dropped) proposal that would have allowed the potentially dangerous items on planes. We asked a TSA spokesperson what pulled the final straw, and it seems there was plenty of consensus between the Aviation Security Advisory Committee, law enforcement officials, passenger advocates, and "other important stakeholders"—opening this can of worms simply wouldn’t be a good idea (told you so). Instead, the TSA says they’ll continue to focus on Risk-Based Security, which allows them to “keep passengers safe by focusing on those we know less about.”

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: Anthony Dunn / Alamy

Tech Thursday: Two New Tools for Intelligent Flight Searching

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When Hipmunk released its airfare-focused "agony index" a few years back, it was the talk of the town here at T+L—frankly, we’re still pretty obsessed. But these days, a number of services are trying to one-up the flight search pioneer with what’s now being dubbed "intelligent searching," where users can pick and choose itineraries based on far more than just price and schedule.

Rising to the top of the pack is Momondo. The company recently launched a new Flight Insight tool, which makes the search process as transparent as it gets. By aggregating data that the company has collected since its inauguration in 2006, Flight Insight offers a tremendous amount of information on all the factors that can affect the price of your flight, from seasonality to airport combos. Plug in your desired itinerary, and the tool will help you find the best airlines, days of the week, or times of the day to search for if you’re hoping to snag a bargain. Interestingly, Momondo suggests that you’re almost always best off booking a flight 60 days ahead of your departure.

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United Opens First Class Lounge (for Dogs) at O’Hare

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Check in with your dog at the Beverly Hills Hotel, and your pooch will get first-class treatment: a personalized doggie biscuit (name emblazoned in icing), a custom bed and a can of pink hotel-logo tennis balls. But when it comes to flying, "first class" has not really existed for pets.

United is hoping to change that. The airline just announced the opening of a first-class style kennel at O’Hare for pets who are too big to fly in the cabin. Similar to facilities in the airline’s Newark and Houston hubs, O’Hare’s PetSafe kennel promises 28 clean, ventilated and temperature-controlled enclosures, comfy vans that will chauffeur critters to their flights, and staffers who will exercise your pet and, according to the release, “provide grooming and bathing on request” (presumably your request, not Sparky’s).

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Tech Thursday: A Playlist to Cure Your Fear of Flying

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Listen up, airlines—it’s time to start playing Adele’s Someone Like You on the PA as you’re boarding your flights. According to research launched today by music service Spotify, the song is the perfect tune to settle travelers’ jittery nerves, thanks to its ideal tempo (67 bpm) and harmonious tones. About one in four fliers suffer from some sort of travel-related fear, says the study by London-based anxiety psychologist Dr. Becky Spelman, who helped Spotify identify characteristics in songs that are most de-stressing (see the full recommended playlist here). But tuning in is just the first step: breathing in time to the rhythm, listening on headphones, and closing your eyes will all work together to theoretically lower your heart rate and blood pressure, stimulate both sides of your brain, and calm your mind. Fly on, frazzled road warriors, fly on.

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

 


New Grounds for Diverting a Plane: Unsolicited Karaoke

In many instances, airlines seem to assume that passengers have a pretty high threshold for discomfort and inconvenience. Yes, they seem to think, you can handle sitting on a tarmac for a few hours, perhaps with no A/C or working toilets. You’re tough, right?

But according to a recent CNN report, American Airlines has declared a limit to what humans should have to put up with while in transit, and the repeated singing of “I Will Always Love You” is clearly over the line.

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Beauty Bust: Turkish Airlines Lifts Lipstick Ban

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Calling all flight attendants: if you enjoy getting dolled-up for work, you are now allowed to board Turkish Airlines. 

As we mentioned earlier this month, the national carrier had placed a ban on red and dark pink lipstick and nail polish, in fear that it would impair the “visual integrity” of its staff, according to Skift. Chief Executive Temel Kotil claims this was a decision made by junior managers, and that there is in fact no ban on the beauty products—female staff can wear lipstick and nail polish of any color.

My only question—why were the junior managers so concerned with these classic lip colors? Blue lipstick was a huge fad in the 1990’s, and who can forget the coral-colored pouts of the ‘80’s? Let’s just hope the airline was aiming for retro, and hold tight to our shadow and mascara.

Maria Pedone is a digital editorial intern at Travel + Leisure.

Photo credit: iStockPhoto

American Airlines Offers New Ways to Show Off Your Klout

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If you're like me, you've often stood at a crowded airport gate, clutching your plastic container of sad, limp salad-to-go and gazing enviously at the door of the business-class lounge just across the concourse. What wonders might lie beyond that forbidding threshold: Cocktails? Delicious nibbles? Spotless bathrooms??

If you're also like me, you probably dabble a bit in social media, tweeting and Facebooking and checking in on Foursquare. As it turns out, enough dabbling can get you through that door. American Airlines just announced a partnership with Klout, the service that measures influence on social media. Klout scores are determined by a mysterious algorithm based on your activity on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other networks; if it's 55 or higher, you'll earn a free day pass to any of American's Admirals Club lounges around the world. They don't even care if you're flying AA or not: The goal is to attract people who are likely to tweet gratefully about the comfortable seats or Instagram their glass of Champagne—using the lounge's complimentary Wi-Fi, of course. (Those with humbler Klout scores get a chance to win a free year's Admiral's Club membership.)

I don't pay much attention to my Klout score, but after reading about the new initiative on Skift.com, I checked it, and—lo and behold—discovered that it's 59! That pales next to Justin Bieber's 93, but it was enough to gain me entry. I immediately signed up and got an email with my day pass attached. I plan to use it during a four-hour layover in Boston this Sunday (and I'm flying on United). Keep an eye on my Instagram feed for pictures of peanuts!

Peter J. Frank is the director, editorial product development at Travel + Leisure.

Photo courtesy of American Airlines

Nothing Inspires Passenger Confidence Like Silly Costumes

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Spring Airlines, based in China, probably thought they had a fun promotion on their hands: Dress the flight attendants in themed costumes to liven up the flights from Shanghai. Their first idea, posted on the Facebook page? Classic, and maybe short-skirted, maid costumes. Folks like to feel that they're getting good service, right?

Indeed, from various reports published in the past months, it seems that the bad ol’ days of “Coffee Tea or Me” for flight attendants might be making a comeback. Both Ryanair and Thailand-based Nok airlines have been dinged recently for selling calendars featuring flight attendants (or models posing as flight attendants) in skimpy outfits, while Vietnam’s VietJet Air actually staged a beauty contest down the aisle of an aloft flight last year, to celebrate a new route. (In that case, at least the bathing-suit-clad contestants weren’t crew members.)

For Spring Airlines, the frilly-skirted maid joke clearly fell flat. Some bloggers and Twitter usershave taken the airline to task—for objectifying the crew members, certainly, and perhaps even for putting their onboard safety at risk, due to those teeter-y heels. The airline responded by posting on Facebook that “We'll never objectify any of our staff; in fact this idea came from our international crew of qualified Chinese, Japanese and Thailand cabin staff.”

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