Jim’s Notebook – May 15, 2013

Jim Ferri - 06-30-12@72French TGV Rail Discounted … A New Cruise Line … Lower Fares JFK-LAX In The Future? … FCC Pushing For Improved In-Flight Wi-Fi … A First-Class Dining Experience Is Back … Sleeping In A Pod At The Airport … Most Crowded Airports … The Gamble With Frequent-Flier Miles … Hiring A Photographer To Travel With You … African American Heritage Trips In Our National Parks … Does Your Husband Need A Mustache?

It seems that every week I start this column off with talking about the airline industry. That’s because it’s our main transportation industry and thus has the most news to talk about. But I decided that this week I’d talk about some other things first to give everyone a breather.

First off, if you enjoy rail travel (as many of us do) and enjoy France (as many of us do) it may interest you to know that Rail Europe is offering travelers a fast 30% off TGV premier tickets now through June 10th. That gives you only a couple of weeks to lock in a good rate for top-notch travel throughout all of France.

Another bit of interesting news is that a new cruise line is being launched, something that’s quite a rarity these days. The line is Pearl Sea Cruises and although its name makes it sound like it will be sailing on the Yangtze River, it will cruise the Canadian Maritimes, New England and the Caribbean in just one new ship, the 210-passenger Pearl Mist. It will operate various seven-, 10- and 11-night Great Lakes, St. Lawrence Seaway, Canadian Maritimes and New England cruises during its 2014 inaugural season.

Here’s what’s happening in the airline industry and there’s good news in the air this week.

First off, the transcontinental route competition is heating up. American recently announced that it would begin offering hourly transcontinental flights between New York JFK and Los Angeles LAX as it takes on both United and Delta on the most trafficked domestic route. All that potentially means more choices and lower fares for consumers.

Second, the FCC is hoping to improve in-flight Wi-Fi experience by approving new rules that would increase the available spectrum for air-to-ground broadband service. Commissioners expect passage of the rules would drive competition, improve Wi-Fi quality, while also leading to lower prices.

And third, one company seems to be trying to bring us back to the time when things were civilized at 30,000 feet. Lufthansa has announced that it is boosting its business- and first-class dining experience by adding a new lineup of meals, cloth napkins and china for premium class fliers on short- and long-haul trips. Flights leaving Germany will be serving up “Culinary Delights,” a line of meals prepared by chefs with at least two Michelin stars or a comparable status.

And there’s also news of something innovative at Abu Dhabi airport: it’s installing ‘sleeping pods’ for weary fliers – chairs that convert into flat beds, complete with sliding shades that can fully enclose the slumbering travelers inside and isolate them from noise, light and curious fellow passengers for at $12 an hour. I don’t know about you but a pod seems a bit too coffin-like for me to fully relax in. Time will tell if it catches on.

One place I might consider renting a pod, just to get away from the crowds, is at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, which has been ranked as the most crowded airport in America. In second place is Charlotte Douglas International Airport, followed by Los Angeles International Airport at third. It’s an ingenious ranking by Forbes since it’s not based solely on the number of passengers but also on the number of flights in and out and the square footage of the terminals.

Most, if not all, of us who use our frequent-flier miles to book a free ticket know that at times it can seem like casino gambling: getting what you want is like hitting a jackpot, but more often than not, the house wins. And not all airlines offer the same odds. For example, availability of award tickets at the basic mileage level on United Airlines is twice as good as on Delta Air Lines or US Airways. This article in The Wall Street Journal tells you which are the best airlines fir cashing in those miles.

And here’s an interesting update on something that I read about a few years ago: leaving the camera at home when you go on vacation and hiring a photographer to travel with you instead. If you think professional photographers only tail the glitterati these days, think again. A luxury that wouldn’t have occurred to most travelers a few years ago, vacation photography is growing in popularity to capture the trip of a lifetime. Still, though, I’d rather take my own photos since it enhances my travel experience although, unfortunately, it drives my wife crazy. She still complains that I only give her 15 minutes to see a museum because I want to move on elsewhere to take some pictures. It’s really a gross exaggeration on her part, since I think it’s more like 20 minutes.

And quickly, two other things. The National Park Service’s African American Experience Fund (the only nonprofit partner of the National Park Service) offers a number of heritage trip tour itineraries that combine some of the country’s best attractions with a vibrant trip through history. The nearly 50 sites are spread throughout the country, and many are clustered around a single state or region, making it simple to take a single or multi-day driving trip.

Finally, with Mother’s Day behind us and Father’s Day right around the corner, if you looking for a gift for the father who has everything, but doesn’t have anything on his upper lip, you should know that some companies in Turkey, where cosmetic surgeons have been performing hair transplants on balding men for years, are now offering mustache transplant surgery vacation packages.

Reportedly, men from Asia, Europe and the Middle East have been flocking to the country in order to give their mediocre mustaches a helping hand.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Donna Manz May 15, 2013 at 1:59 pm

Your “Notebook” is always chocked-full of usable news!

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Jim Ferri May 15, 2013 at 2:00 pm

Thank you Donna!

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