ALL POSTS IN [Airports]

Photo Courtesy of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts

It’s never too early to start saving for next year’s vacation — particularly when you’re planning a $119,000 ultra-luxe splurge on board the brand-spanking-new Four Seasons Jet.

Indeed, the high-end hotel and resort company has decided the sky is quite literally the limit, unveiling the travel industry’s first fully-branded private jet experience on Wednesday.

Debuting in February 2015, the jet — a completely retrofitted Boeing 757 — will be emblazoned with “Four Seasons” on the fuselage, and have the company’s logo displayed on its tail. The redesigned plane will take 52 guests on bespoke tours around the globe and will include an in-flight staff, as well as a dedicated on-board concierge happy to book spa treatments or golf dates at pending destinations.
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Photo Courtesy of Thinkstock

We’ve all done it before… Just moments before the plane takes off, we watch the airline attendants go through their routine of demonstrating the proper procedures in case of an emergency. So, where is your floatation device stored? Should you or your child receive an oxygen mask first? And where are the emergency exits near you?

Well, if you don’t know the answers to those questions, you are probably one of several people who “zone out” by thumbing through the latest SkyMall magazine or you’re one of those passengers who has to focus on wrapping up that last-minute text before the plane takes off.
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In the midst of one of the busiest travel times of the year, fliers want to spend as little time in the airport as possible. And who can blame them? Some long lines and security hassles simply can’t be avoided. However, we can think of worse things than spending an extra hour or two at these architecturally-stunning airports. From glowing skylights to theatrical design, the world’s most beautiful airports might ease the pain of flying during the holidays — or any time of the year for that matter.

Changi, Terminal 3
The “butterfly” roof is just one of many reasons why Terminal 3 in Changi, Singapore, is worth seeing. During the day, 919 skylights adjust to let in just the perfect amount of sunlight, and at night the ceiling glows with lighting carefully concealed below the panels.

Photography by hslo, flickr

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Photo by Getty Images

Anyone who’s flown has been there — that moment when you’re passing through the TSA security checkpoint, and have to take off your shoes, empty your pockets, take off your belt and place your laptop in a bin. And you can double the fun if you have little kids in tow. Now TSA’s PreCheck program aims to make travel easier for those flying the increasingly complicated skies. But just in case you think PreCheck is a one-size-fits-all panacea, not so fast.

You can’t just sign up for PreCheck. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple … yet. TSA plans to — eventually — allow all travelers to apply directly to the PreCheck program, but it’s not clear when they’ll open up the application process. For now, travelers can enroll in the program in one of 2 ways: be selected to apply for the program based on your frequent-flyer status with an airline, or, enroll in one of several US Customs and Border Protection trusted traveler programs.

For Airline Frequent Flyers

Elite members of airlines’ frequent traveler programs — United, American, etc – if selected, can apply for PreCheck. If not selected, frequent flyers can still participate by joining a CBP Trusted Traveler program. Note that you must submit your biometric fingerprint for registration with the FBI, as well as undergo a criminal background check and pay an $85 fee to the TSA for a 5-year PreCheck membership. This program is slated to bring a total of $225 million to the TSA in 2013, and beyond that, over the next year, a reduction in passenger screening – the TSA’s goal is to see 25% of passengers see lighter scrutiny.

This year — for the first time in 95 years — Thanksgiving and Hanukkah will be celebrated on the same day … and it wont happen again until 2070.

As if navigating the airport around Thanksgiving wasn’t enough of a nightmare … this year Hanukkah falls into the mix, adding to the travel headache. But fret not; we’ve got you covered with our best tips to help you fly through the airport this holiday season. And if you’re looking for a way to avoid a Thanksgiving-float-sized meltdown, don’t forget to check out our Top 10 Survival Tips for Holiday Travel.

So whether you’re sitting around the table with your family enjoying turkey and cranberry sauce, or standing around the menorah lighting the Hanukkah candles,  remember that there is plenty to be thankful for this holiday season … and that you’ll have to wait another 57 years until the next Thanksgivukkah!

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Happy Holidays From Our Hosts

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Ready for the busiest travel day of the year?  Ready or not, it’s inevitable that the day before Thanksgiving will include record-long lines at the airport and headache-inducing traffic. We checked in with Foursquare to get their insights on Thanksgiving travel patterns. Looking at more than 4.5 billion check-ins from last year, Foursquare determined the busiest airports, busiest rest stops and even the busiest restaurants (see full list below for busiest hours). Hint: You’ll definitely want to avoid Atlanta’s airport, ATL, at 6pm the day before Thanksgiving!

Bad news? It’s not likely this year will be any less busy for travel. Good news? There are heaping amounts of comfort food waiting for you on the other side.

Some interesting overall Thanksgiving check-in trends to note:

Turkey Pickin’
A 48% increase in farm check-ins suggests people are heading out to pick their own turkey. Get your gobble on at these turkey farms.

Small Town Pride
Travelers returning to small towns are much more likely to check-in and show off their hometown pride than those from the big cities. The most popular hometown destination in the nation for Thanksgiving? Detroit (based on largest percentage increase of check-ins).

Pit Stops
There is a 53% increase in rest stop check-ins during travel season. Nothing like a bit of caffeine and sugar to fuel a long drive.

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Photography by John Moore/Getty Images

Think the only way to avoid an airport meltdown during the holidays is to stay home? Fear not, it is possible to snag a cheap flight during the holidays, breeze through long airport lines, keep the kids happy during the entire flight, and not lose your cool (or dignity) in security.

We asked an air travel expert, Mark Drusch, Chief Supplier Relations Officer for CheapOair.com, to reveal his secrets for flying through the airport during the holidays. With over 20 years of experience in executive airline roles, Drusch shared with us his forecast for the holiday travel season, how to glide through security lines, and what he never gets on a plane without.

So before you take off this holiday season, take in Drusch’s expert travel advice:
Traveling Type: What’s your forecast for this holiday travel season? What trends are you seeing?
Mark Drusch:  Higher traffic than last year, however the peak days (Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and the Sunday and Monday after) may be marginally less full because the other days around the holiday are seeing very strong traffic. But planes will still be very full. We see an increase in customers celebrating their Thanksgiving in vacation spots, particularly the Caribbean, Mexico and Costa Rica.

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Courtesy of Thinkstock

Good luck on trying to find last-minute deals for any holiday travel this year. Pauline Frommer, editorial director of Frommer’s Guidebooks, says, “This is probably going to be the highest-priced holiday fares we’ve seen in the last decade.”

The average ticket cost for the US and Caribbean is already up 9.4% over last Thanksgiving. Prices for Christmas week are up more than 7% to an average of $337.

What’s the reason behind the airfare hike this year? Travel experts blame it on mergers and consolidated airlines over the past couple years, which has forced some carriers to cut back on flights to many cities. This is the first time that planes are flying at 85% load factor — essentially full — since 1945. And today, more people are competing for fewer seats.

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Courtesy of iStock

Travelers flying the friendly skies may be able to use their mobile devices a little longer when taking off and landing. Later this week, the Federal Aviation Administration advisory panel is expected to relax restrictions on in-flight device use as early as next year.

What does this mean for passengers? The new guidelines would ease restrictions on tablets, e-books and previously downloaded podcasts and movies. Phone calls, texts, email and passengers using their own Wi-Fi will still be banned.

Without asking for formal device testing, the FAA will ask airlines to certify their planes can handle any potential interference. The main purpose of the new guidelines will be to create a single policy that covers all airlines. So pretty soon you may not have to be so quick to turn off all your electronic devices come takeoff.

The next time you fly a regional carrier — and chances are good you will given that half of US domestic flights are operated by regionals — chew on this stat: A first-year regional airline pilot makes $18,000 to $20,000 before taxes.

Yes, that’s right: When it comes to regional airlines (these are the connection subcontractors who fly on behalf of the major airline carriers), the pilot manning your flight, as it climbs tens of thousands of feet into the air, earns about as much as someone flipping burgers at McDonald’s.

Ready for more? A fourth and fifth-year regional pilot makes $25,000 to $28,000, also before taxes. Now swallow this: The best of the regional pilots are quickly being snatched up by the major carriers, such as Delta and United, as they begin hiring new pilots for the first time in several years.

That spells one very big issue for travelers: a looming pilot shortage ahead.

Start Road Trippin’?

“The seriousness of the possible pilot shortage cannot be underestimated,” says Henry Harteveldt, a San Francisco-based travel industry analyst. “The pilot shortage won’t happen tomorrow, but it will happen sooner than many realize.”

How soon? Some say it’s already started.

Beyond the major domestic carriers, the competition for pilot talent is coming from abroad, too, as this plush offer from a Shanghai-based carrier shows.

“Foreign carriers are already paying huge premiums to US/FAA-certified pilots, further drying up the domestic pilot pool,” says Bob Mann, an airline industry analyst in Port Washington, NY. “Absent recognition of the problem, the pilot market will only become tighter, and airline service more unreliable,” says Mann.

Others are more optimistic. “One way or another, I figure carriers will figure out a way to find the pilots they need long before there’s a reliability issue,” says Patrick Smith, the airline pilot-turned-blogger of AskThePilot.com and author of the new book, Cockpit Confidential: Everything You Need to Know About Air Travel.

Rising costs, though, may be harder to ignore.

“A lack of pilots means fewer flights — smaller cities will be disproportionately affected,” says industry analyst Harteveldt. “Fewer pilots also means fewer flights, period — flying may become less convenient and more expensive, since the supply of seats may decline.” (And for us at the Travel Channel, that’s about as good a reason as any to start thinking of more Road Trip ideas.)

Cockpit Confidential

How did we get here?

Blame the graying of America (including its pilots), as well as a shortage of younger pilots being recruited from military ranks, which are facing their own dwindling numbers. Then there’s the lousy pay.

“An aspiring aviator has to ask: ‘Is it worth sinking $50,000 or more into one’s primary training?’” says Patrick Smith of AskThePilot.com.

Factor in the FAA’s new requirements, says Smith, which call for new pilots to log a minimum 1,500 flight hours before training with an airline.

“The time it will take to build the requisite number of flight hours to apply for a job, plus, the cost of a college education, only to spend years toiling at poverty-level wages, with at best a marginal shot at moving on to a major [carrier],” says Smith, spell, in his mind, one very big conclusion: This isn’t exactly a safe career path.

Fewer Pilots, Where Now?

No one’s faulting the FAA’s new ruling.

“Airlines can’t compromise on training; it’s essential that we maintain our high standards of safety,” says analyst Harteveldt.

But adjustments on the part of carriers will need to be made, adds Mann. “The new 1,500-hour requirement … will require significant upward adjustments to starting salaries, and generally, to regional pilot compensation.”

More compensation may spell higher ticket prices. But that may be the price consumers pay to ensure greater pilot numbers in the regional ranks.

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