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ACLU Sues Feds To Stop Border Searches of Non-Suspicious Laptops

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The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit challenging the federal government's right to search the contents of laptop computers at border crossings when the owner is not suspected of criminal activity. According to the ACLU, more than 6,500 electronic devices were seized and their contents examined at U.S. border crossings between October 8, 2008, and June 2, 2010. Nearly half of those seizures were made against American citizens.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Pascal Abidor, a 26-year-old graduate student who holds dual U.S. and French citizenship. Returning to his New York home by train from Montreal, Abidor was interrogated and detained by U.S. border guards. His laptop computer was taken from him; when it was finally returned 11 days later, according to the lawsuit, there was evidence that authorities had searched his personal files, including online chats with his girlfriend. No charges were ever leveled.

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Big Industry Players Push Back Against Hidden Airfare Fees

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You may have seen some of my rants here or in the print edition of T+L about the outrageous fees and surcharges the airlines tack onto their base airfares. The airline industry says the surcharges allow consumers to pick and choose the additional services they want rather than forcing them to pay for perks they don't need. I say baloney. They're doing it out of greed. The base airfares they advertise are deceptively low, and can increase by 30 percent or more when you tack on all the extras, like fees for carry-on baggage, checked baggage, telephone reservations, select seat assignments, meals, et al ad nauseam. What's worse, it's often difficult to find out about these charges until a consumer pays for the tickets or, in some cases, until he arrives at the airport.

Now some big guns are marshaling their cumulative power to challenge the airlines on these hidden fees by creating a new website called madashellabouthiddenfees.com.

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Air France-KLM Considers Launching Low-Cost Carrier

Travel PulseAir France-KLM is considering starting a low-cost domestic carrier in order to compete with low-cost rivals, according to press reports. The company would not comment, but the French news agency AF reported that the airline is considering setting up a new entity within the airline that could compete with low-cost carriers that are eating into the airline’s market share.

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Wisconsin Bans Smoking in All Hotel Guestrooms

USA TODAY | Unlike most other non-smoking states, Wisconsin in July passed a statewide smoking ban that bans smoking in every hotel guestroom.

In most states that have banned smoking in public places, such as Kansas, the legislation allows hoteliers to exempt a certain percentage of guestrooms.

But in Wisconsin, "there can be zero rooms" that allow smoking in sleeping rooms, Trisha Pugal, CEO of Wisconsin Hotel and Lodging Association told me in an interview.

And the new law is causing "a major culture change" for hoteliers and guests alike.

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Worse than Sand in the Labor Day Potato Salad? Hurricane Earl

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As of 2pm, the National Weather Service had issued a hurricane watch for the North Carolina coast. The state is currently evacuating visitors from Hatteras Island and the rest of the Outer Banks.

Virginia and the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Delaware, and the Jersey Shore (batten down the Situation!) are all under hurricane warnings, and small craft advisories extend into New England, and all the way south to the Florida Keys.

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Grupo Mexicana Suspends Airline Operations

CNN | Grupo Mexicana suspended operations at its three airlines Saturday "until further notice," citing the financial problems inherited when the group changed owners a week ago.

The company's three airlines—Mexicana Airlines, MexicanaClick and MexicanaLink—stopped all flights at midday Saturday, according to a statement from the group.

"Today's decision is a painful one for the 8,000-strong Grupo Mexicana family, but we will continue seeking out ways of securing the company's long-term financial viability, so our passengers can once again enjoy the quality services they are accustomed to," the statement said. "We hope to be back in the air soon and would like to thank everyone involved in this process for their support and understanding."

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VisitOrlando.com to Add Travel-booking Engine

Orlando Sentinel |  The Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau has cut a deal with Travelocity.com L.P. that allows visitors researching an Orlando vacation to book their stay right on the agency's website.

201009-w-afc-orlandojpgThe area's tourism promoters say they wanted to offer one-stop shopping on the site, VisitOrlando.com, which draws millions of potential visitors a year. The agency said that, after it talked with various online travel operators and other companies, Travelocity brought the "best total package" to the table.

The bureau site currently provides information about local attractions and hotels, but online visitors have to switch to other websites to act on their plans. (...) When the newly redesigned website launches early next year, the booking engine for flights, hotels, car rentals and vacation packages will not only make it easier for guests but will generate added revenue for the CVB through advertising and a share of any sales.

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New Orleans Attracts More Visitors

201008-w-cafe-du-mondejpgWall Street Journal |  On the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, tourism in New Orleans is growing at one of the fastest paces in the U.S., but it remains a fraction of its pre-hurricane levels.

In 2004, New Orleans saw a record 10.1 million visitors; in 2006, post-Katrina, the number had dropped to 3.7 million. But 7.9 million tourists visited New Orleans in 2009, and of the 25 top U.S. destinations, New Orleans had the second-highest growth of revenue per available room in the first half of 2010, according to a report from hotel-industry research and consulting firm Smith Travel Research Inc. (...)

Kelly Schulz, a spokeswoman for the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, a nonprofit that promotes tourism in the region, says next to rebuilding infrastructure, the biggest challenge the tourism industry faced post-Katrina was "convincing people that it was safe to come back." Photo credit: Philip Scalia / Alamy.

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Shop (and Travel) with Tibi

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This past week Tibi, an upscale boutique clothing line, joined thousands of e-retailers by re-launching its website to include an online shop.

Amy Smilovic is the mastermind behind Tibi’s polished Manhattan brand, her main source of inspiration? Travel. In 1997 Amy moved to Hong Kong with her husband upon his relocation and there is where it all began.

After teaming with Octavia Hyland, she traveled frequently to the island of Java, working with small textile printers to create unique patterns (think batiks and ikats) in vibrant colors. These travels resulted in unusually perfect pieces that still define the collection today.

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The Great Chinese Traffic Jam of 2010 Is Over

Apparently China's 10-day, 62-mile-long traffic jam between Beijing and Inner Mongolia is over. The heavily trafficked highway grew even more crowded than normal starting on August 14 because of several major road construction projects. Then, at a certain point, everything came to a complete halt. Drivers?including hundreds of coal-carrying commercial truckers—lounged around the side of the road, killing time and looking for bathrooms. Locals seized upon the opportunity to sell food and water to the stranded travelers at 10 times the normal price. (Who says capitalism can't succeed in China!) Raw video from the Associated Press (above) shows the scene just before the jam freed up today.

Take note, travelers: Sometimes it just doesn't pay to cheap out and take the free road. By all accounts the toll road that parallels the stalled highway was moving along rather nicely all week. This can be helpful advice to remember whether you're driving near Beijing during the Mongolian coal harvest or tooling through France at the end of August when everyone returns to work from vacation.

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