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Florida Keys Tar Balls NOT from BP Oil Spill

CNN News |  Tar balls found on Florida Keys beaches Monday and Tuesday are not from a massive oil spill off the coast of Louisiana, the Coast Guard said Wednesday.

"A sampling of tar balls discovered on beaches at Fort Zachary State Park, Fla., Smathers Beach in Key West, Big Pine Key, Fla., and Loggerhead Key in the Dry Tortugas National Park, Fla., were flown by a Coast Guard HU-25 Falcon jet based in Miami, Fla., to New London, Conn., Tuesday for testing and analysis," a Coast Guard statement said.

"The results of those tests conclusively show that the tar balls collected from Florida Keys beaches do not match the type of oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico," the statement said. "The source of the tar balls remains unknown at this time."

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UPDATE: Thai Government Declares Curfew in Bangkok

The situation in Bangkok appears to be changing by the minute. T+L's Asia correspondent, Jenn Chen, suggested just yesterday in her post that the reality on the ground in the Thai capital had taken a turn for the worst, but today's news brings the official surrender of anti-government protesters—as well as fires and a city-wide curfew. Not surprisingly, a travel warning for the region remains in effect.

Voice of America | The Thai government has declared an overnight curfew for the capital, Bangkok, as violence swept across the capital after military operations brought an end to a two-month long, anti-government protest in in the central part of the city. At least 6 people were reported dead in the latest violence, including an Italian photojournalist, the second foreign reporter to die since the protests began in mid-March.

Leaders of the anti-government protesters, known as the Red Shirts, surrendered to police and told demonstrators they were ending the extended rally in order to avoid further bloodshed. Some of the anti-government leaders fled the area as the military moved in. Amid the chaos, arson attacks broke out across Bangkok at power stations, malls, media outlets and other buildings. Rioters also commandeered public buses.

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Airlines, Travelers Gird for Summer Delays as Volcano Plume Persists

Associated Press |  It’s been a month now, and Iceland’s volcano shows no sign it will stop belching ash across Europe anytime soon. The rolling eruptions threaten more havoc for summer vacation plans and higher costs for struggling airlines.

Although the global disruption of last month’s massive eruption has faded, smaller ash plumes snarled air services intermittently over the last week all the way to Turkey—more than 2,500 miles from the Eyjafjallajokul volcano.

Air-control authorities and geologists agree that the continent must brace indefinitely for rapid shutdowns of air services as computerized projections try to pinpoint where the ash clouds will float next at the whim of shifting winds.

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FAA Opening Commercial Spaceflight Center

Network World |  The Federal Aviation Administration this week took a step closer to setting up a central hub for the development of key commercial space transportation technologies such as space launch and traffic management applications and setting orbital safety standards.

The hub, known as the Center of Excellence for Commercial Space Transportation would have a $1 million yearly budget and tie together universities, industry players and the government for cost-sharing research and development. The FAA expects the center to be up and running this year.

The new center would be an offshoot of other FAA Centers for Excellence that through myriad partnerships develop and set all manner of aviation standards from aircraft noise and emissions to airport systems. According to the FAA the center's purpose is to create a world-class consortium that will identify solutions for existing and anticipated commercial space transportation problems.

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Europe Flights Take Off, But What About the Backlog?

The first flights to take off in a week may have left London's Heathrow Airport yesterday and many of Europe's airports may once again be open, but there are still thousands of people stranded around the world, unable to fly due to ash from Iceland's recent volcanic explosion.

If you're not one of the lucky fliers who happened to be flying Emirates Air (the airline went above and beyond and is paying for hotel stays and three meals a day for some 6,000 passengers stuck in Dubai!), chances are you're ready for this ordeal to be O-V-E-R. Now, the question us who gets dibs on some of the first flights out?  For details on who goes to the front of the check-in line, check out CNN's excellent Q&A today:


How are airlines prioritizing ticket allocation?
Other than a few special cases, most airlines are prioritizing those with pre-existing tickets for scheduled flights. In some cases, empty seats on these are being filled by customers with urgent travel needs. Hong Kong carrier Cathay Pacific says it is giving priority to unaccompanied minors and students heading back to the UK to sit exams. Singapore Airlines is fast tracking those with "special needs," the elderly and those with infants or young children. Rochelle Turner, head of vacation research for consumer watchdog Which?, says any prioritizing is at the discretion of individual flight operators. "The elderly, the sick, frequent flyers—it's entirely up to the airline who goes first."

Do I need to do anything if I have a ticket on a scheduled flight?
All airlines are advising customers to double check whether flights are going ahead before heading to airports. British Airways is even urging customers with tickets on scheduled departures to consider delaying their travel plans to free up space on planes to allow delayed passengers to travel. In most cases, passengers who hold tickets for a flight due to take off as scheduled should be fine. Says Turner, it is still advisable to call the airline to confirm or check-in online.

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Adrien Glover is the online deputy editor at Travel + Leisure.

Clear Skies Over Europe? Not Yet

It’s no secret ash from Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano (say that 10 times fast) has choked the skies over Europe since erputing on Apr. 14, grounding hundreds of thousands of flights; stranding passengers on both sides of the Atlantic; ruining (and extending) vacations; and serving as a healthy reminder of the indomitable power of Mother Nature. Here’s where things stand today:

- Iceland’s volcano spewed more ash into the sky Tuesday, continuing restrictions over UK air space and concerns that the cloud could choke jet engines.

- There is still no confirmed safe limit of ash through which an airplane can fly.

- Flights are restricted to those flying above 20,000 feet—above the ash belt.

- Half of the scheduled air traffic in Europe, or 14,000 flights, are said to be operational today.

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Invisibility Cloak for Your Camera

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While traveling, I'm either too slow to take my camera out of my bag to capture that perfect moment, or too nervous to flash such a pricey piece of equipment in public.

Enter the Cloak Bag, the world's first shoot-through camera bag. The bag's unique bottom zipper design allows photographers to snap away without removing their SLR cameras from the bag, which saves time and also affords photographers a bit more discretion when taking photos in unfamiliar locals where thieves may target tourists. For $49, it's a steal to have that peace of mind.

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Flight Attendants Union Wants Combat Training

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USA Today | Flight attendants press for hand-to-hand combat training as anti-terror measure The Association of Flight Attendants is pushing Congress to fund combat training as part of a four-point plan that the union says would improve security inside aircraft cabins. The Los Angeles Times reports the union "hopes that lawmakers will include money to put some of their ideas into action under an upcoming funding bill for the Federal Aviation Administration."

According to the Times, the attendants' four-point plan includes: "Mandatory hand-to-hand combat training for all crew members"; portable communication devices that would allow attendants to speak with pilots during emergencies; a standard maximum size for carry-on luggage "so that flight attendants can look for suspicious passengers instead of struggling with oversized bags"; and the ability to shut down in-flight Wi-Fi "during high-threat periods to prevent terrorists from communicating with collaborators on the ground."

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Photo courtesy of iStock

Airport Body Scanners Raise Radiation Exposure, Committee Says

Bloomberg News |   Air passengers should be made aware of the health risks of airport body screenings and governments must explain any decision to expose the public to higher levels of cancer-causing radiation, an inter-agency report said.

Pregnant women and children should not be subject to scanning, even though the radiation dose from body scanners is “extremely small,” said the Inter-Agency Committee on Radiation Safety report, which is restricted to the agencies concerned and not meant for public circulation. The group includes the European Commission, International Atomic Energy Agency, Nuclear Energy Agency and the World Health Organization.



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Bird-Plane Collisions May Pass 10,000

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This month marks the one-year anniversary of the US Airways’ miracle landing in New York on the Hudson River. Veteran pilot Captain Sully is a full-fledged national hero, and the incident in which all 155 passengers survived is a now fuzzy memory. But, the cause of the crash—Canada geese in the plane’s engine—has not gone away.

A new government report claims that the tally of bird-plane collisions (or "bird strikes") could reach as high as 10,000 for the first time ever. Some incidents caused serious damage, even death. And annual damages in the U.S. alone have been estimated at over $400 million.

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