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U.S. Begins Enhanced Airport Screenings for Ebola

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Amid rising fears of more cases of Ebola reaching our shores, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Centers for Disease Control have introduced enhanced passenger-screening procedures at several international airports. Screenings at New York's JFK airport (which receives 43 percent of travelers from Ebola-afflicted nations) began last week; similar protocols are scheduled to start this week at Newark Liberty, Washington-Dulles, Chicago O’Hare, and Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson airport. Minnesota officials are also lobbying for screenings at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Breaking news that a Dallas health care worker took a flight to Cleveland from Dallas the night before she reported symptoms of Ebola (for which she has tested positive), will certainly send another shudder through the aviation industry, as airlines and airport workers evaluate what procedures they have in place to handle infected passengers. As a reminder: Ebola is not transmittable through casual contact. A person must be exhibiting symptoms to spread the virus—putting health-care workers and close family members at greatest risk.

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Should I Be Worried About Cybersecurity While Traveling?

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Smartphone, tablet, laptop. Chances are you carry at least two of these devices on the road. I’ve been known to pack all three, along with a BlackBerry, for good measure. (Yes, I know: overkill.)

In many ways, our gadgets have become invaluable travel companions. But with their proliferation come new opportunities for cybersecurity breaches—whether it’s using an insecure Wi-Fi hot spot to check your e-mail or losing a device as you move from place to place. Unless you are carrying state or trade secrets, you are probably not a target for major espionage. But even the most leisurely of leisure travelers is still vulnerable. The risks run the gamut from having your credit card information stolen to full-on identity theft. Here are the major threats you should be aware of—and how to avoid them.

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What the Ebola Outbreak Means for Travelers—Updated

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As new cases of Ebola continue to be reported in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea—plus two each in Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo (the first outside of West Africa)—travel bans are increasing through the continent, implemented by both international airlines and local African governments. Here is what you need to know now.

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What the Ebola Outbreak Means for Travelers

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The news coming out of West Africa this week as been alarming—to say the least. The latest outbreak of Ebola, which started in Guinea earlier this year, has now spread to Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone. (There’s even been a suspected Ebola death in Saudi Arabia.) To date, nearly 1,000 people have died of Ebola—a number that will surely increase in the coming weeks as public-health officials struggle to contain the virus. The crisis is such that the World Health Organization has now declared the outbreak “a public health emergency of international concern."

So…what does this mean for travelers?  

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FAA and Europe Ease Flight Restrictions to Israel

Sort of good news for Israel: the FAA has lifted its 36-hour ban on flights into Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport and the European Aviation Safety Agency, which had previously issued a recommendation for carriers to avoid the area, is now only cautioning national aviation authorities to “base their decisions [on whether to allow carriers to fly there]…on thorough risk assessments.”

All the major U.S. carriers have cancelled today's scheduled arrivals into Tel Aviv, though their arrivals for tomorrow are still set to depart. Lufthansa, however, is suspending flights through today and tomorrow—a prohibition that applies to Lufthansa, Germanwings, Austrian Airlines, Swiss, and Brussels Airlines. The carrier issued the following statement: “Lufthansa acknowledges the considerable efforts made by Israel to provide the best possible protection for Ben Gurion Airport with the ‘Iron Dome’ shield. As soon as this protection can be verifiably guaranteed, we will resume flight operations.”

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Strongest Sandstorm in Decades Hits Northern China

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Travelers beware! On Wednesday, a massive sandstorm swept through parts of northwest China’s Gansu province, turning the air a yellow-orange hue and reducing visibility to 60 feet in places. Cars, buildings and residents were coated with the gritty dust.

According to the province’s meteorological center, this was the strongest sandstorm since 1996. (The photograph above depicts a heavy sandstorm that swept through China's Tiananmen Square in 2002.)

Watch footage from the massive storm here

Rebecca Hiscott is Travel + Leisure's digital intern. Follow her on Twitter at @rebeccahiscott.

Photo by Alamy

State Department Issues Travel Alert Updates for Thailand and Ukraine

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The State Department has updated its travel alerts for Thailand and Ukraine, responding to an uptick in politically-charged violence affecting both countries.

In Ukraine, demonstrations have flared up after the government opted for closer economic ties with Russia rather than with the EU. Since Thursday, over 100 individuals have died in the Kiev street riots. And anti-government rallies in Bangkok claimed their twelfth casulty—a police officer—on the February 18th.

We've been monitoring the Thai situation for months, and the new travel alert sends the same message: US citizens should avoid protest sites and any large gatherings.

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Cruising During Norovirus Season

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Cruises have been hit hard this season by the notorious norovirus. In January, a Royal Caribbean voyage was cut short when nearly 700 passengers and crew were sickened by norovirus, and a Caribbean Princess ship aborted its itinerary when 189 cases were reported. An unidentified agent also caused a norovirus-like outbreak on the Norwegian Star in early January. 

Because this gastrointestinal virus is so easily transmitted—it spreads from person to person, or via contaminated food and water—cruise ships (with their close living quarters) can act as powerful incubators. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identified the particular strain on the ill-fated Caribbean ships as GHII, a new(ish) Sydney-based norovirus that has been associated with more severe symptoms, and may have a higher rate of infection.

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Tips for Travel During Stormy Weather

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Nearly 6,000 and counting. That’s the number of flights cancelled as of noon today. Already this year, there have been more than 71,000 cancellations—and we're only six weeks in. If you want to get a sense of what this means for travelers across the country, just take a look at FlightAware’s aptly named Misery Map (above), which highlights not only where the bottlenecks are worst, but also how they’re impacting the rest of the aviation system.

If you’ve got an airline ticket for the next few days—or have any important travel scheduled during this wild winter—we’ve got some advice for navigating the storms.

Tips for Travel During Stormy Weather
 
1. Stay informed and be the first to know. Sign up for text and email alerts about flight delays and cancellations from your airline and services such as FlightStats. And be proactive about checking their websites, Facebook pages, and Twitter handles for updates; sometimes it can take a crucial few hours for a text message to arrive. Get a sense of what’s happening with live flight-tracking service FlightAware’s cancellation page.

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LGBT Travel Tips on Where to Go and Why to Travel

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Choosing where to go for your next vacation can be a tricky—though rewarding—process. Beach or mountain? Luxe or affordable? But as last week’s Why We Travel post detailed, a slew of the world’s top destinations outlaw homosexuality, leaving LGBT travelers with a more basic question of where they can (and should) and cannot (and should not) venture.

How to choose? Here are a few pointers:

Safety first: Upwards of 70 countries worldwide criminalize homosexuality. And public perception of gay individuals can be abysmal even in places without draconian sodomy laws on the books. Russia, for example, has seen a spike in hate crimes recently despite its relatively mild anti-gay laws. The takeaway from the first Why We Travel post on Sochi’s Olympics applies anywhere physical violence is a real possibility: LGBT travelers, especially same-sex couples, should exercise discretion.

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