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Now Boarding: Robot Bartenders Take Flight

While this robot is no Rosie, airlines are taking tips from the Jetsons with the SkyMax Skytender, an on-board robot bartender.

The Skytender trolley is similar to current airplane trolleys, but works as a mobile drink dispenser. The innovation can prepare up to 15 different drinks, from steaming mugs of coffee to iced tea, and even cocktails. Airlines can choose from over 100 different beverages and flavors, so plan to be surprised.

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Trip Doctor: American Airlines’ New Bundled Fares

American Airlines

Tacking on individual fees to your airline ticket is so 2012. The next big thing is bundling your airfare. American Airlines just introduced a new tiered fare structure that allows fliers to chose between a basic ticket (called “Choice”) and packaged fares (“Choice Essential” for an additional $68 or “Choice Plus” for an extra $88) that include everything from free checked bags to premium drinks onboard. As with most package deals, this one offers savings.

Take a look at the roundtrip fares we found from New York’s JFK into Los Angeles’s LAX in early March:

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Trip Doctor: Air Canada Introduces Spinoff Budget Brand, Rouge

Air Canada

Fans of EasyJet, rejoice: there’s a new affordable airline coming to this side of the Atlantic. Rouge, a spinoff of Air Canada aimed at the budget market, will begin flying on July 1, 2013, with Toronto as its hub. The carrier will take off with a handful of routes, primarily connecting the Canadian hub with destinations in Europe and the Caribbean, and gradually expand its gateways—possibly as far as Asia. Book by December 25 and you’ll snag an introductory price—flights to Venice, Edinburgh, Athens, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Costa Rica will all be discounted, with the average fare to the Caribbean hovering around $300, all taxes, fees, and surcharges included.

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 by TRISTAR PHOTOS / Alamy

Trip Doctor: TSA’s Wrapped Gift Policy

wrapped holiday gifts

Q: I’m traveling for the holidays. What is the current airline policy on wrapped gifts? —Molly Richins, Astoria, N.Y.

A: The TSA doesn’t prohibit them, but if an agent asks to see what’s inside, you have to comply. Because they’re legally allowed to open the gifts in your checked baggage as well as those in your carry-on, it’s best to wrap when you arrive (or send them ahead).

Packing is rarely easy—we’re here to help. Send your question to tripdoctor@aexp.com.

Photo by Frances Roberts / Alamy

Trip Doctor: Delta + Virgin—What It Means for You

Virgin Atlantic

Delta made a power move to increase its transatlantic presence earlier this week, announcing that it will acquire an equity stake in Virgin Atlantic. Though Virgin Atlantic president Richard Branson made it abundantly clear that his airline's brand and all of its hip trappings are not going anywhere (he even bet British Airways head Willie Walsh £1 million to that effect), the partnership does signal a significant shift in transatlantic alliances—one that has implications for Delta fliers.

More options into Europe. By gaining a strong foothold in London's notoriously tough-to-get-into Heathrow, Delta can now offer customers nine daily round-trip flights from the New York area to Heathrow, and 31 flights a day between North America and the United Kingdom. For the first time, Delta fliers can look to London (rather than, say, Amsterdam or Paris) as a viable European gateway. And they can get there in style via Virgin Atlantic's much-vaunted new Upper Class cabin.

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Jackson Hole Gets Big Snow (and Direct Flights)

Jackson Hole

The mountain is open at Jackson Hole and eager skiers who’ve been watching the Wyoming weather (to summarize: snow and snow and more powdery snow) will be happy to hear that getting to the Tetons is easier this winter. United is flying directly from Newark and San Francisco and Delta has added direct flights from Minneapolis, bringing the number of cities with direct service to the valley up to nine.

Intermediate skiers (me!) get a little love from the notoriously Black Diamond-heavy resort, too. A recently completed detachable quad lift opened last week to sweep Blue Trail skiers (me!) up to mid-mountain in just three and a half minutes. The Casper trail network has been expanded and buffed and more than half the blue trails are open, even this early in the season, because of the benevolent snow gods have dumped over 130” so far—more than at any other Rockies resort.

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Trip Doctor: New Data Shows Some—Not All—Holiday Fares Rising

Holiday Travel: Hong Kong airport

If you felt that booking holiday airfare was especially taxing to your wallet this year, it’s possible you weren’t imagining it. According to new data by Travelocity, fares were indeed higher this year than last—by a full 9% for domestic flights and 6% for international tickets on average. But there’s a silver lining: the most popular routes are becoming more affordable, as flights connecting major airports—like New York’s JFK and Chicago’s O’Hare—are proving to be cheaper than last year’s average, even during the holiday rush.

And if you’re still undecided about where to spend Christmas, consider this: the greatest savings come by booking a flight that leaves on the 23rd or 24th and returns later in the same week.

Nikki Ekstein is an Editorial Assistant at Travel + Leisure and a member of the Trip Doctor News Team.

Photo by istockphoto

Good News! UFOs (Probably) Won't Doom Your Flight

UFO

If you're a nervous flier, you already have plenty to worry about: turbulence, the seemingly "fuzzy math" of aerodynamics, and flight attendants who may, at any moment, go rogue. But here's a new issue to obsess over: UFOs.

A recent US News and World Report story explored the unnerving possibility that UFOs are zipping around the skies and distracting your airline pilot when he or she should be totally focused on A) flying safely to your destination and B) turning on the intercom to point out the Hoover Dam or Dollywood outside your window.

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How Much Will You Pay for a Good Nap?

airport nap

No more fighting over that coveted stretch of chairs at the airline gate—you know, the ones without the spine-bisecting armrests.

Two major U.S airports are making the tacit admission that there's a good chance that you'll get delayed while under their roofs, but they are at least offering you a spot to stretch out in peace. "Minute Suites" are now available in Concourse B at Atlanta-Hartsfield International Airport, as well as at the Terminal A-B Link at Philadelphia International Airport.

The suites are outfitted with a day bed, pillows and blankets, a TV and the all-important Internet access. SFO plans to introduce its own version of the napping suites next year, upping the ante with groovy curved walls to make you feel like you have more space (or, to give you the surreal jet-lag-exacerbated sensation of sleeping inside an egg).

"Minute" may be a misnomer with the Minute Suites: they start at $30 an hour—but that still beats sleeping face-down in the airport CinnaBon.

Photo by iStockphoto

Donate Your Points and Miles for Hurricane Sandy Relief

201211-b-red-cross-first-aidjpg

Few would've imagined that this week’s storm with the friendly-sounding name could wreak such havoc and devastation along the East Coast. In the wake of 20,055 flights cancellations due to Hurricane Sandy and with infrastructure is slowly coming back online, there are still an estimated 7.8 million people without power, billions of dollars in damage, and many whose lives will never be the same. They need help. Here are some easy ways for you to help out:

Based on contributions to the Red Cross Disaster Relief, American Airlines is giving AAdvantage members one-time bonus reward miles, starting with 250 miles for a minimum donation of $50. Go here for donation details.
 
Other airlines with charitable initiatives:
Continental Airlines
Delta Air Lines
United Airlines
US Airways

And hotels:
Choice Hotels International, Inc.
Drury Hotels
Hilton Worldwide
Marriott International
Starwood Hotels & Resorts

Please consider making a difference to those who desperately need it and give today.

Photo credit: iStock

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