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DOT: Drop in Flight Delays, Rise in Canceled Flights

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New Jersey Star Ledger |  By all accounts, the Federal Aviation Administration’s "tarmac rule" has dramatically reduced the number of passengers who are stuck inside an aircraft on the ground for three hours or more.

Violations of the rule, which went into effect last April, can cost airlines $27,500 per passenger, or $2.75 million for a planeload of 100 people going nowhere fast. In fact, there were just three cases nationwide of three-hour tarmac delays in December—compared with 34 the previous December, according to the federal Department of Transportation, the FAA’s parent agency.

But critics say an unintended consequence of the rule is becoming apparent and spoiling travel plans for a far greater number of would-be fliers.

A Star-Ledger analysis of federal DOT figures reveals airlines are simply canceling more flights, presumably to avoid idling on the tarmac and exposing themselves to the whopping fines. In fact, the cancellation rate at the nation’s major airports surged 24 percent during the eight months after the rule went into effect.

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7 Great Family Road Trip Tips

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Tips for enjoying the perfect family road trip.

Now that full-body scans and pat-downs are making the skies seem a little too friendly, vacationing by car is more appealing than ever. It also helps that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has pumped nearly $27 billion into the nation’s bridges and highways since 2009. Here, Jamie Jensen, author of the best-selling Road Trip USA series (Avalon Travel)—and father to 12-year-old twins who are his frequent backseat companions—shares a few pointers on making it a fun and squabble-free ride.

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Ken Burns’s Travel Itineraries

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Ken Burns, whose documentaries about our nation have taught us more than any textbook, believes that American history “doesn’t have to be a dose of castor oil.” To prove it, he’s joined forces with 85-year-old tour operator Tauck (tours from $4,390) to create customized U.S. itineraries based on his most beloved sites and subjects. “As a filmmaker, I’ve had access that many people don’t get,” Burns says. “I’m excited to share my experiences.” A 10-day tour of six national parks takes in the Grand Canyon as well as Arches, in Utah, a personal favorite of Burns’s, and includes a private “flight-seeing” adventure over Capitol Reef National Park. Burns is planning Tauck’s five-day jaunt to New Orleans in October. His favorite spots in the Big Easy: “Arnaud’s for Creole food and Preservation Hall for music are classics.”

David A. Keeps is a contributor to Travel + Leisure

Photo by George Long

Exploring Los Angeles's Little Tokyo

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If that trip to Tokyo to slurp noodles and buy sneakers isn’t in the cards, go for Plan B: a day in and around Los Angeles’s Little Tokyo. The downtown neighborhood is filled with sushi joints, Buddhist temples, and opportunities to try mochi ice cream (reportedly invented here at pastry shop Mikawaya). Check in to the Kyoto Grand Hotel & Gardens and follow the walking tour mapped out at visitlittletokyo.com.

Margot Guralnick is a contributor to Travel + Leisure.

Image courtesy of Kyoto Grand Hotel

Let the Good Times Roll: Best New Travel Bags

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Invest in a good roll-aboard—it makes life so much better on the road. Clockwise from top: Tumi Alpha Bravo Bremerton in ballistic nylon, $495; Britto Collection by Heys Landscape Flowers 22-inch hard-side Spinner, $250; Timbuk2 Checkpoint in ballistic fabric, $250; Longchamp Darshan Luggage, $475; the North Face Rolling Thunder in durable nylon, $229; Halsea Roller Suitcase in laminated canvas, $335; Trunki by Melissa & Doug child-size Trunki Ruby, $40.

Dorkys Ramos is a contributor to Travel + Leisure

Photo by Levi Brown

Delta to Add "Economy Comfort" Seats

USA TodayDelta Air Lines will add a premium economy section to its international flights, charging non-elite fliers between $80 to $160 each way for "Economy Comfort" seats that come with extra legroom and more recline.

Delta and SkyTeam frequent-fliers at the Platinum and Diamond level can book the seats at no extra charge, while Gold-level frequent-fliers will have access to the seats at a 50% discount. Silver members can purchase the seats for a 25% discount.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution says "passengers will get seats with up to four inches of extra legroom, beyond the roughly 31 inches of pitch in international economy. They also will get 50% more recline than regular international economy seats. Passengers in the new section … also will be able to board early and get free alcoholic beverages during the flight."

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Airlines and Travel Sites Tussle Over Booking Flights

2010-b-american-airlinesjpgUSA Today |  A fight between a major U.S. airline and some Web-based travel companies is having a ripple effect in the travel industry, as players take sides in a battle that could ultimately affect how fliers shop for tickets and find the best fares.

More than 125 of the nation's biggest travel organizations and agencies, including online travel giant Expedia, have formed a coalition that is taking aim at a new booking system, preferred by American Airlines, that challenges the way most major airlines make their fares available to the public.

American says that its new, direct link will better inform travelers of services it offers for a fee, such as priority boarding, and also pare the airline's costs. But the newly formed Open Allies for Airfare Transparency and other critics argue that bypassing the systems that pool fare information from multiple airlines will make it harder for the public to find the best deals, or even the best routes, to their destinations. (Photo courtesy of American Airlines)

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TSA Shuts Door on Private Airport Screening

Washington (CNN) | A program that allows airports to replace government screeners with private screeners is being brought to a standstill, just a month after the Transportation Security Administration said it was "neutral" on the program.

TSA chief John Pistole said Friday he has decided not to expand the program beyond the current 16 airports, saying he does not see any advantage to it.

Though little known, the Screening Partnership Program allowed airports to replace government screeners with private contractors who wear TSA-like uniforms, meet TSA standards and work under TSA oversight. Among the airports that have "opted out" of government screening are San Francisco and Kansas City.

The push to "opt out" gained attention in December amid the fury over the TSA's enhanced pat downs, which some travelers called intrusive.

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Trend Alert: Hotels Implementing the Latest Tech Devices

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I was discussing with my colleagues earlier today my relative inability to unplug myself from the world, no matter where I am. So it’s fitting that, shortly after this discussion, I received an e-mail from the Lanesborough in London, telling me about their newest guest service: the installation of Mac minis in each of the hotel’s 95 guestrooms. (Which, when you think about it, is an interesting contrast: the sleek, stylish white devices surrounded by the Georgian-style décor of the hotel.)

This additional resource lets guests access more/better TV and movie choices, as well as a place to plug in their own personal iPods, iPhones, and iPads—even personal digital cameras and jump drives, if need be. (Not to mention, access to the Internet and programs standard on any new Mac, like iLife.)

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InterContinental Covers Guests' Airline Baggage Fees

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Nobody likes checked luggage fees, but let’s face it: they’re a part of air travel now. So if you’re one of those people who, like myself, find it difficult to restrict your vacation packing to the size of a carry-on, you just have to accept the fees as part of the price to pay for getting away. (And yes, I know what you're thinking. I work in travel. I should be able to rock the carry-on. In theory, I do know how. In practice, well...that's another story.)

However, if you book with any of the 4,500 InterContinental Hotel Group’s properties scattered across the world any time from now through April 30, 2011, the company will reimburse guests up to $100 per stay for their roundtrip baggage fees. For rebate details, take a look at the official IHG page.

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Joshua Pramis is an online associate editor and resident tech guru at Travel + Leisure. Follow him on Twitter: @joshuapramis.

Photo © iStock.

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