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United, Continental Could Announce Merger Monday

USA TodayUnited and Continental airlines have reached the precipice of a merger agreement that their executives hope to announce on Monday, a source involved in the negotiations said Friday.

The announcement hinges on the boards of both airlines approving the deal, said the source, who is not authorized to speak for the airlines and requested anonymity. The board of United's parent, UAL, is to meet today. Continental's board is supposed to meet today and Sunday.

A union between Chicago-based United, the third-largest U.S. carrier, and No. 5 Continental, based in Houston, would create the biggest airline in the world. Based on passenger miles flown in 2009, the combination would be about 10% larger than the current world leader, Delta Air Lines.

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Lessons I Learned at the Boston Marathon

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Call me a 25-year-old crybaby, but I feel the only thing more exhausting than running a marathon is watching one. I just returned from the 114th-annual Boston Marathon, where my best friend in the world zipped along the requisite 26.2 miles (past the Ashland Clock Tower, Lake Cochituate, and Wellesley College girls offering runners smooches) at record speed. (That's three hours, 41 minutes, 13 seconds. Go Rachel Go!) And I got so tired searching for her gorgeous face among all those rolling past me in varying stages of elation and pain that I thought, “Never again! Never again will I sit on these sidelines without a box of Mike’s Pastry napoleons to keep me going!!”

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Is the iPad Fit for Travel?

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As part of an early-adaptor household that snagged an iPad the instant it hit shelves this month, I know it’s one thing to play Scrabble while you’re waiting on line for lattes at Starbucks, to burn through a few chapters of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter before bed, or to ogle and caress its sleek form in the privacy of one’s home, but how does this spring’s hottest must-have gadget fare on the road? For starters, at just 1.5 pounds it weighs far less than the average laptop, and airport security is not forcing owners to pull out their iPads for x-raying like they do computers, but there are some caveats (right now) to be sure.

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Cool Photo Gear: Kata Camera Bags

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I'm loving the photo bags and organizers from Kata lately. The founders of this company, who met while serving in the Israeli army, started making photo bags in 1992. Now they have a full line of photo and video gear that is light and ultra-protective.

My favorite is the Pro-Light FlyBy 74, which is a generous camera bag that doubles as a roll-aboard suitcase.  It has veritcal and horizontal handles, and a tripod holding option on the front. The inside is the best part: super modular, the interior panels are bright yellow, making it much easier to find your photo gear than it would be in a black-lined case.

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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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In-Flight Food Tries to Be Tasty

201004-b-bostonmarket2jpgNew York Times |  Those bland sandwiches sold by airlines to economy-class passengers? They’re on the way out.

Even as the last major airline—Continental Airlines—is ending free economy-class meals on domestic flights this fall, carriers are changing their whole approach to food.

Air Canada
has introduced healthy food options, like vegetarian sandwiches and yogurt parfaits, and Alaska Airlines has a new healthy snack pack. American Airlines is working with Boston Market. JetBlue is about to start selling food on select long-haul flights. Some carriers are expected to offer combination meals and other promotions similar to those available at fast-food restaurants.

And United Airlines is testing the sale of some food items sold on domestic flights, and a variety of sandwiches, in its Red Carpet lounges at Chicago O’Hare International Airport and Los Angeles International Airport. It will also let passengers preorder in-flight food by the end of the year.  Photo Courtesy of American Airlines.

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Bangkok Protests: Notes from the Ground

200904-a-songkranjpgTuesday was the start of Songkran, the Thai new year, usually an occasion for mass water fights throughout Bangkok. This year's celebrations, of course, have been subdued, after violence last weekend left 23 people dead and more than 800 injured. Still, in the Bangkok neighborhood where I live, a handful of children and teens armed with water guns, hoses, and buckets have gathered every day since Tuesday, merrily drenching passers-by and each other. Some Bangkokians, it seems, are trying to find their way back to normalcy.

How long the calm will last, I'm not sure. As an American who's called Bangkok home for nearly eight years, I found the violence shocking but not unexpected. Thailand is stuck in an incredibly complex conflict that resists easy explanation, and there is little political will—or bravery—to find a way out of it peacefully. Thailand has witnessed similar eruptions in the past, during the 1970's and in 1992,when the military killed dozens of pro-democracy protesters. Yes, Thais are generally peaceful, but there are few release valves for settling differences. When conflicts arise, they can escalate quickly. (For an insightful take on the current crisis, read this Wall Street Journal op-ed.) 

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Travel Chaos as Ash Closes Air Space



CNN London |  European countries shut their airspace one after the other Thursday as a cloud of volcanic ash wafted over from Iceland and posed a danger to flights.

Airspace over the United Kingdom was due to be closed for six hours from midday but air authorities later extended the closure until at least 7 a.m. BST (2 a.m. EST) Friday.

Ireland, Sweden, Norway, Belgium, Denmark and the Netherlands also announced the closure of their airspace, authorities in each country said.

Norway also closed its ocean territory and canceled helicopter flights to off-shore oil installations, according to Avinor, the Norwegian agency responsible for the Norwegian airport network.

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Pay Toilet Foes Feel The Flush of Relief

The stupidest idea to come along in ages looks to have gone down the drain, literally. Last week Michael O’Leary, ceo of the Irish budget carrier Ryanair, said he would install pay toilets for use on short-haul European flights, but the cockamamie scheme turned out to have been more than a piddling matter. A stream of invective followed the announcement in the press.

The latest news: Boeing, which built Ryanair’s fleet of 737-800s, has put the kibosh on the plan for safety reasons, leaving O’Leary up a yellow river without a paddle. In addition to charging one euro to use the facilities, O’Leary had planned to remove some of the existing toilets and replace them with additional seats. But the airline’s planes already are configured for 189 passengers, the most that can be carried safely. Because the planes were made in America, any reconfiguration by Boeing to increase the number of passengers would be subject to FAA approval, which would be unlikely.

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