This Week’s Top 5 Travel News Highlights

Qantas' fleet of A380s are still grounded for inspections (Photo: Tamsin Slater via Flickr)

There’s a lot of cool stuff going on in the travel news world this week… here are the top 5 stories you might want to know about:

1. Free Wifi This Winter

Google is partnering with three major U.S. airlines to offer free wireless Internet access on domestic flights this holiday season. The free Wi-Fi will be available for travelers on AirTran, Delta and Virgin America from Nov. 20, 2010, to Jan. 2, 2011, according to a blog post by Sundar Pichai, vice president of product management at Google. This is awesome news for anyone flying home this holiday season!

2. Hotels Are Ditching The Front Desk

You read right – some hotels are cutting costs by removing the front desk. Andaz, a boutique brand owned by Hyatt, now has kiosks to check-into your room. MSNBC reports “Traditional front desks, however, may be destined for a scrap heap teeming with bygone lobby fixtures like key boxes, desk bells and hat racks. Some mid-market chains already are dumping imposing check-in counters for cozy, one-on-one welcomes or for virtual check-ins through kiosks or mobile devices.”

Hotels are saying they want to lure in a “younger, more tech savvy consumer”, like the wonderful readers of ChronicWanderlust. So what do you think about this automation in hotels?

3. National Parks are FREE This Thursday (Nov. 11th)

In honor of Veterans Day, national parks will not be charging any entrance fees on Nov. 11. It’s one of several fee-free days the park system has offered this year. Some outfitters, shops and lodges based in the national parks offer two-for-one deals and other discounts in conjunction with the fee-free program; details at http://www.parkpartners.org/Special-Offers-for-2010.html.

4.  JetBlue Comes to D.C.

Traveling to Washington D.C. just got much easier… JetBlue Airways launched service Monday at Washington’s Reagan National Airport with daily flights to Boston and Florida. Great news for snowbirds, lobbyists and school groups.

5. Qantas A380’s Still Grounded

Qantas has grounded its six Airbus A380s for at least 72 more hours, following a discovery of oil leaks in three engines, says a report by the Associated Press Monday.

Engineers from the Australian carrier conducted tests on the double-decker jets after an engine burst on a flight last week over Indonesia’s Batam island. The Sydney-bound flight returned and made an emergency landing in Singapore. No one was hurt.

How To Get Arrested On An Airplane

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Have people gone mad? It seems like every week the media is blasting out a story about an unruly passenger doing something on an airplane, forcing it to make an unscheduled landing and then landing him on the 5 o’clock news with a mug shot resembling a face not too different from those of fellow passengers after a long flight. But what exactly is it that gets these folks to join this version of the less-than-sexy mile high club?

(U.S. Army photo by SSG Jim Greenhill via Flickr)

On August 13th, a JetBlue Airways flight from Boston to the Dominican Republic was diverted to DC because of an “unruly passenger,” the airline said. A TSA agent annonymously reported that the passenger may have suffered an anxiety attack during the flight. According to various sources, the female passenger started yelling that somebody stole her money and then allegedly punched a flight attendant.

On August 20th, “Jet Airways flight 9W 571 from Kuwait to Mumbai today made an unscheduled landing at Muscat following a security incident on board. As a precautionary measure, the Boeing 737 landed in Muscat and a thorough check of baggage and cargo was carried out,” a spokesperson of the airline said. The airline was alerted by Omani authorities that they had a tip about a bomb.

Also on August 20th, a hijacking threat against an American Airlines flight from San Francisco to New York which forced it to be isolated for three hours turned out to be a hoax, authorities say. The 163 passengers onboard the Boeing 767 were questionned, re-screened for security and two passengers were led away in handcuffs, but they were quickly freed, and no one was arrested. This entire series of unfortunate events spawned from what turned out to be a “non-credible” phone threat to a hotel clerk at a Hampton Inn in suburban San Francisco, police said.

On August 27th, a flight attendant “overheard a passenger on an aircraft that was going from Toronto to Chicago talking about a possible pipe bomb at Bishop airport,” said Const. Isabelle Cotton. Canadian officials searched the plane and, thankfully, didn’t find anything of worry.

On August 28th, this is easily my favorite story of the month, a woman was arrested after allegedly trying to smuggle a live tiger cub on to a plane inside a bag of stuffed animals in Bangkok. The woman, not surprisingly, denied the bag was hers and claimed another passenger had asked her to carry it into the plane. She’s in jail.

On August 30th, nine passengers aboard a United Airlines flight from DC to Tampa were removed before takeoff due to a comment made to a crew member. After the group was kicked off the plane, they “spoke with airline officials who rebooked them on another flight”. We still don’t know what they said.

George Rizer/The Boston Globe

On August 31st, two men were arrested in Amsterdam while on a flight from Chicago to Yemen. Police discovered “suspicious items” in their checked baggage and contacted the Dutch to stop them. Both men, Americans of Yemeni descent, had some weird items in their bags; box cutters, watches strapped to bottle and multiple cell phones. In addition, police discoverd $7,000 in cash hidden on one of the man’s bodies. A US law-enforcement official said the men did not have banned items in their carry-on luggage and that federal air marshals were on the flight. It turns out that this was just one gigantic misunderstanding. According to reports, the men were bringing items from America home to their families and just happened to pack them in an extremely poor way.

On September 3rd, Miami International Airport was shut down after screeners found a bottle of chemicals in a passenger’s checked bags. Police checked the passenger’s identity and found that the 70-year-old scientist once spent time in prison nearly a decade ago for illegally shipping vials of bubonic plague bacteria. The busy airport was closed for 7 hours because the item “greatly resembled a pipe bomb,” a U.S. government official said. The FBI interviewed the passenger and checked the bottle… turns out it was being used for legitimate scientific medical research.

On September 8th, a Thai Airlines flight from Bangkok to LA was held in isolation by authorities after a threatening message was found written on the mirror in the lavatory. Police still haven’t said what exactly was written on Flight 794’s mirror, but it must have been serious because the plane was turned inside out by police and bomb squads.

As promised in the title of this post, a list of ways to get arrested on an airplane, as proved by crazy people in the past month:

  1. Punch a flight attendant
  2. Threaten a Hampton Inn employee
  3. Smuggle live tigers
  4. Say “bomb”
  5. Travel in a group
  6. Be Yemeni
  7. Tape a watch to a bottle of Pepto
  8. Write things on the bathroom mirror
  9. Put chemicals in your checked baggage

Seeing all of these incidents poses a question; is there an actual increase in ‘dangerous’ passengers, or are we simply being more proactive than we used to? This jump in airline arrests has both positive and negative effects on the industry. On the good side, flying is safe. On the downside, people who are undecided on a mode of transportation for their next vacation are going to be more hesitant to fly than they used to.

In the wise words of Robert DeNiro from the hilarious film Meet The Parents, “You can’t say bomb on an airplane”.

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