Technology - General
Strange things are afoot in the travel world today. It seems like our inboxes have been flooded by announcements of weird and wonderful innovations. Here's a selection of the most interesting news of the day (that would be April 1, by the way).
Ever the publicity hound, Richard Branson announced that his engineering team has secretly developed the world's first glass-bottom airplane. (Picture above) The plane's underbelly will be completely see-through, allowing travelers the "opportunity to look down on the beautiful scenery of Great Britain as they fly." But rest assured: Cabin crew will be trained to calm the nerves of vertigo-prone fliers. (Amy Farley)
The winds of change are upon us. IHG, the company behind InterContinental, Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn, and Hotel Indigo, announced that it will offer free internet access to all 71 million members of its loyalty program beginning in 2014. With this decision, it joins Fairmont, Kimpton, and Omni Hotels, all of which offer free Wi-Fi access to members of their (also free) loyalty programs.
By covering more than 4,600 hotels, IHG is certainly the largest company to make such a commitment to its loyalists of all ranks. And the IHG twist: you won’t need to be a guest of the hotel to access the internet. The service will be available free of charge even to loyalty-program members who just pop into the lobby.
If you're prone to downloading the entire seasons of Breaking Bad onto your iPad before a trip, this will be welcome news: Aloft, Starwood's intrepidly tech-savvy brand, is testing the in-room entertainment system of tomorrow, with Apple TV as its anchor.
In every Aloft room, you'll find a Jack Pack, which plugs into your laptop or mobile devices and projects the content onto your in-room HDTV. Now with AppleTV, guests can use their TV in a huge variety of ways: As a stereo system for music, a medium for editing photos, or perhaps most useful, a big screen for streaming Netflix or iTunes movies.
Certain things can only work on the West Coast—take, for instance, FlightCar, a new San Francisco-based startup that lets you loan out your car while it's parked at the airport. The concept is a win-win in theory: travelers get their expensive parking tab subsidized by approved renters, who get a better deal (and maybe even a nicer car) in return.
The program has recently piloted at SFO, with expansion plans in the works. And so far, the selection of cars is promising, ranging from a 2005 BMW 3 Series to a 2008 Honda Accord on a trial search (both would cost $46 a day to rent—compared to $150 for similar models at Hertz or Enterprise).
Here are a few recent travel stories that piqued the interest of T+L's news team.
Clearly, we're not alone in our obsession with Hotel Tonight. Here, the folks at Hotel Chatter put together a few nifty tips for maximizing your deal on the last-minute booking app. (Nikki Ekstein)
What happens when American Airlines opens up its software to a SXSW-hosted hackathon? Hopefully, something cool, according to Skift. (N.E.)
Is free wifi the key to turning hotels into social hubs? Maybe, says Barbara De Lollis in USA Today, but we're still pining for free wifi in our rooms, thank-you-very-much. (N.E.)
Need another reason to heed the TSA's warnings against checking luggage you didn't pack yourself? You might wind up in an Argentine prison like Paul Frampton, a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill physics professor who was just trying to help a friendly Czech bikini model he thought he'd met on the internet retrieve a bag with "sentimental value" in Bolivia. Maxine Swann's New York Times Magazine story must be read to be believed. (Matt Haber)
Also, check out this map of United States Passport Ownership that comes via one of the internet's best curators, Maria Popova. Now, go make sure your passport is up to date. (M.H.)
See a story you'd recommend to us? Send it via Facebook or Twitter.
Are you traversing the planet in high style? #Goodforyou, but T+L doesn’t want to hear it.
Anthony has checked in to the Armani Hotel Milano. The yacht that Jeremy is on has an awesome diving board, and he posted a photo to prove it. Laura and Jonathan are enjoying a romantic weekend at GoldenEye, Ian Fleming’s Jamaican villa. When one’s own passport has seen less action than a nun, catching up with friends on Facebook can lead to unkind thoughts.
This morning on Lat/Long, the Google Maps blog, a proud product manager unveiled new eye-popping, wig-launching Grand Canyon imagery that will be added to the region in Google Maps. (The shots, taken by hikers wearing 40-lb. packs mounted with Google 360-degree cameras, cover 75 miles of trails.)
Take a stroll through some of these spectacular panoramas while solemnly humming This Land Is Your Land. Kind of beats the pants off finding your childhood home on Google Streetview, eh?
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Ann Shields is a senior digital editor at Travel + Leisure.
Hotels have harnessed social media to their advantage in innumerable ways in recent years, usually for marketing and customer service initiatives. But the medium has even more powerful and profound applications, as evidenced by the harrowing recent example of Egypt’s Intercontinental Semiramis, located adjacent to Tahir Square in Cairo.
As demonstrations in the city have escalated in recent days, the hotel has found itself in the hot seat. Two days ago, things took a particularly frightening turn as a group of armed marauders apparently used the demonstrations as an opportunity to break into the hotel and begin looting. After its attempts to reach the police for help yielded nothing, the hotel began sending out SOS messages on Twitter—the medium of choice for Egypt’s protest movement. The hotel’s Twitter feed reflects the staff’s growing desperation; “PLEASE SEND HELP #EMERGENCY! WE ARE UNDER ATTACK!” reads one tweet from the early-morning hours of Monday. A little later: “SOS If anyone knows anyone in #Military #Police #Government, please send help! Thugs in Lobby #Emergency #Tahrir #Jan28 #Egypt”
Recently we hosted a food-centric tweet-up, inviting some of the biggest names in the culinary industry to share their expertise, answering questions about food and, of course, travel. On our panel?
Host: Adam Sachs (@AdamSachs):
Mario Batali (@MarioBatali):
Andrew Carmellini (@AndreCarmellini):
Gabriele Corcos (@TheTuscanGun):
Mitchel Davis (@KitchenSense):
Kat Kinsman (@KittenWithAWhip):
Debi Mazar (@DebiMazar):
Nilou Motamed (@NilouMotamed):
Daniel Patterson (@DCPatterson):
Marcus Samuellson (@MarcusCooks):
Throughout the hour-long conversation, the panel shared a lot of great information. Here are some highlights:
Talk about a food experience you had while traveling that really inspired you.
Adam Sachs: Foraging for wild wasabi in Japan was up there with top food nerd fantasies.
Mario Batali: I’m a huge fan of the Borough Market in London. It’s like a movie set from the Dickens era, with spectacular food.
Mitchell Davis: I recently made my way to Willows Inn for a dinner of fresh, foraged, and local food in a gorgeous setting.
Marcus Samuellson: Tasting fugu (pufferfish) for the first time in Tokyo. Blew my mind.
If you’re an Android user and staying in the U.S., you’re in luck: free apps such as FoxFi let you share a mobile data connection with your laptop at no extra cost. For everyone else, Tether’s service ($29.95 per year) will connect your laptop to your mobile devices via Bluetooth or USB. If you’re traveling internationally, XCom Global rents foreign-based hot spots with unlimited usage for $14.95 a day. Not-so-frequent travelers should try Boingo Wireless, which lets you access hot spots around the world. Subscriptions start at $7.95 a month and can be activated as needed. Bonus: many of its hot spots are in hotels.
Nikki Ekstein is an Editorial Assistant at Travel + Leisure and part of the Trip Doctor news team. Find her at on Twitter at @nikkiekstein.
Photo courtesy of Tether