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Hurricane Irene: Grading the Airlines

Delta airlines

When Mother Nature unleashes her wrath, there’s not much air travelers can do except wait it out. And, of course, reschedule their flights. But as we know, getting through to a customer service rep is half the battle. And we’re not just talking about reaching them by phone; when customers tweet, they expect a response. Pronto.

So with Hurricane Irene storming her way up the East Coast last week, what airlines were most easily reachable? STELLAService—an independent company that rates customer service quality—wanted to find out. So on Friday, August 26, they called each of the 10 largest U.S. airlines an average of eight times between 9am and 6:30 pm ET. They also directed 12 tweets to each airline between 12am ET and 12pm ET that day.

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Smile! The TSA is Studying Your Facial Tics

terminal a at logan airport

Miffed that airport security full-body scans can feel so cold and impersonal? Don’t worry—your TSA officer may soon want to chat you up before they pat you down.

For the next 60 days or so, select TSA agents at Boston’s Logan Airport, trained to detect behavior that may indicate that a passenger is nervous about more than turbulence, are using their powers of observation to change the screening process.

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CBS Early Show: New Federal Rules to Protect Airline Passengers

Starting this week air passengers will be well compensated for a flight delay. Want to know more? Travel + Leisure's international editor, Mark Orwoll, spells out the new airline passenger rules.

 

TODAY Show: Flight Attendants Train for Cabin Pressures

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Travel + Leisure Features Director Nilou Motamed takes to the skies to find out what—exactly—it's like to be a flight attendant.

Watch Out for Dropping Airfares

Smaller carriers have upped competition with major airlines this summer, introducing new routes into large hubs. Virgin America is starting flights into Chicago O’Hare (a hub for both United and American), Frontier is adding service out of Denver, and JetBlue is now flying into Anchorage. Generally, when smaller carriers introduce discount flights, major airlines slash their prices on that route out of competition, to make it as painful as possible for the other airline. (When JetBlue started service in May between Newark and Boston, Continental dropped its fares to as low as $49 one-way.) For the average flier, this can also mean mileage bonuses and more options and capacity, as well as lower-priced tickets.

Alexander Basek is a regular contributor to Travel + Leisure.

Gift for Traveling Wine Lovers

inflatable wine carrier

Waiting for a flight home for Christmas once, I ran into a blowhard I knew from college who announced that the only present he was bringing his parents was a bottle of extraordinarily good wine.  He dropped and broke the bottle of red on the linoleum at LaGuardia before we’d boarded the plane.  Blowhard frat boy or not, I felt bad for the guy.

I was reminded of this tragic holiday vignette when I heard about VinniBag, an inflatable bag that cushions your wine bottle (or bottle of olive oil or Vermont maple syrup or vintage McCoy vase) from the sharp, hard, pointy things of the world.   The smart bags are reusable, deflate easily to slip in your luggage, and make an unbreakable and practical gift for Mummy and Pater.

Vinnibag is available for $28 from local retailers, Vinnibag.com, or on Amazon.

Photo courtesy of Ellessco.

Ann Shields is an online senior editor at Travel + Leisure.

Radiation-Free Full-Body Scanners

BBC Travel's Passport Blog |  As controversy simmers surrounding the levels of radiation used in full body scanners, a small company based in the United Kingdom has developed a machine that emits no radiation at all.

Last year, the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) began installing two types of full body scanners at airport security checkpoints across the country. L3’s Provision millimetre wave scanners beam radio waves through clothing to detect potentially dangerous objects hidden by terrorists. Rapiscan backscatter scanners use low-dose x-rays to do the same.

While both companies and the TSA say the radiation emitted by these machines is at safe levels, the scientific community has not reached a strong consensus either way....

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Airlines Roll Back Fare Hike as FAA Taxes are Reinstated

USA Today |  Airlines are rolling back the fare hikes they added following the partial shutdown of the Federal Administration on July 22. The move comes as previously suspended federal taxes are again being applied to airline tickets.

Since July 22, the FAA shutdown prompted some federal taxes to be removed from the cost of airline tickets. However, most major U.S. airlines opted to raise fares instead of passing that "tax holiday" on to consumers.

But, with the FAA impasses resolved—at least for now—the taxes are again being applied to tickets.

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Air Travel Tax Refund Procedure Still Fuzzy

CNN |  If you're traveling by air this month, there's a good chance the government owes you money.

Don't believe me? You can thank Congress and its inability to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration. Here's how you can get your money back, though be prepared to wait a little while for things to settle.

Congress periodically has to renew the authorization of the FAA to do a variety of things, and one of those things is collecting taxes on air travel. As with everything in Washington, the left and the right all try to sneak in politically charged riders that prevent the FAA reauthorization from moving forward to fund important projects such as the NextGen air traffic control overhaul.

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In-flight Wi-fi Slow to Expand Outside the US

BBC Travel's Passport Blog |  While in-flight wi-fi is fairly common on domestic US carriers, its availability on flights elsewhere in the world has been growing at a much slower rate, a frustrating issue for frequent travellers who have become reliant on staying connected at all times.

"In-flight internet makes my time in the air equivalent to time in the office,” said North Carolina-based Ramsey Qubein, who flies more than 300,000 miles per year on writing assignments. “When I’m flying overseas, it's frustrating that I cannot access my email. While I relish the time away from the office, it leads to a bit of mayhem upon landing when I am in no mood to handle multiple emails."

Gogo, the leading provider of in-flight internet in the US, began installing a network of ground-based wi-fi antennae throughout the continental US and southern Alaska in 2006, which has been key to its fast growth since the service debuted in 2008. …

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