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United Airlines Flight 88 is a direct, 12.5 hour Beijing-PEK to Newark-EWR flight flown by a Boeing 777-200. Seatguru says that United's particular 777-200 configuration has 8 First Class Suites, 40 new Business class flatbed seats, and a 3-3-3 configuration in economy. So far it just sounds like your average trans-Pacific flight, right? There's comfy accommodations in first and business class, and an economy cabin where people wake up 8 hours into the trip, realize they've still got 1/3 of the flight to go, and want to kill themselves.
But last Saturday this very route became a focus of international attention. It was boarded just before takeoff by blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng (in a wheelchair), plus his wife and their two children. The family had been driven across the tarmac by Chinese officials and deposited into an elevator, which took them up to the skywalk and onto the plane.
The mini-drama marked the beginning of the end of a standoff between American and Chinese diplomats, stretching back to last month when Chen escaped the Chinese guards who were keeping him under house arrestas China likes to do with "dissidents"and fled to the U.S. embassy.
We have all been there. Traveling on our way to a very important meeting or even a well deserved holiday, and we can't even get off the ground due to a mechanical issue. It is so frustrating, yet just something we have to deal with. And, hey! It even happen to dignitaries! Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard found herself in the very same situation this last weekend.
The PM was planning to leave from Townsville, in the northern part of the continent, on her way to the NATO summit in Chicago, but her plane had engine trouble and their departure time was pushed back as a replacement Boeing 737 business jet was sent from the capital, Canberra. In the end it only delayed her four hours, but made international headlines.
Videos / Passports / Presidential Travel / Barack Obama / Obama-Around-the-World / Political Travel / → All Tags
Wow. One of life's greatest mysteries has been solved via a simple WhiteHouse.gov video. We speak, of course, of the existence of a presidential passport. It does exist!
Although President Obama does not have to endure annoying boarding procedures when he flieswaiting for Group C to be called, worrying about overheard cabin space, hitting up Sbarro's in a fit of hunger desperationit's comforting to know that he must still pass though immigration.
Notice that it is a black passport, the color of Presidential-level passports (versus the red of diplomatic and navy blue of normal citizen level).
Spirit Airlines / Travel Advertising / LCCs / Airline Industry / Travel Ads / Airline News / Airlines / Sex Travel / Political travel / → All Tags
Spirit Airlines has declared itself proud to be the Ryanair of North America, and you have to admit that the airline works hard to protect its title. Airline industry scientists have spent years trying to untangle what it means to follow in the footsteps of the notoriously grating Irish LCC, and they've discovered at least 5 criteria: (1) obnoxious fees (2) pride in those obnoxious fees (3) arm-waving "look at me" advertising (4) a general air of petulance whenever something doesn't go the airline's way, and (5) unblinking, reflexive, utterly unapologetic disrespect for customers.
Spirit recently doubled down on their customer-screwing fees, announcing that they consider it a badge of honor to be the "poster child" for airline fees and adding that their customers like the fees too. That takes care of criteria 1, 2, and 5. The petulance stuff is covered by the temper tantrum they threw about new fee transparency rules they didn't like, which leaves only the advertising thing. All of which brings us to Spirit's most recent travel advertising campaign.
Obama-Around-The-World / Australia Travel / Presidential Travel / Barack Obama / Political Travel / War Travel / → All Tags
After a couple of failed trips, Air Force One finally crossed the international dateline from Hawaii to Australia, touching down in the capital city, Canberra. Barack Obama became only the fourth US President to visit the Land Down Under this week right on the heels of Queen Elizabeth's royal tour.
While this was a much shorter visit than the Monarch, it marked the 60th anniversary of the ANZUS Treaty, a defense treaty between the US, Australia and New Zealand. Obama even got a bonus opportunity to strengthen the friendship between himself and Julia Gillard, the Australian Prime Minister
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Unfortunately the flights aren’t searchable or bookable through your favorite travel site just yet, but there is another new option for those looking to head to Cuba. It sounds like Delta is the latest carrier to get in on the Cuba travel craze, and they’re working with a Miami-based travel agency to help you get there.
The airline is partnering with Marazul—that's the travel agency—to get passengers the necessary paperwork, passports, and other stamps and seals to get to and from Cuba. Some flights had already been available out of Miami last month, but now there’s plans to do a nonstop flight from New York-JFK right into Havana. If all goes well there will also be an Atlanta option—obviously—beginning this December. If you’re interested, the airfare from New York will set you back around $659, and the flights departing from Atlanta start around $599.
"X" marks the spot...for a new gender choice on Australian passport applications. The change was recently made "under new guidelines to remove discrimination against transgender and intersex people," according to MSNBC and the Aussie government.
Think you'll be funny and choose "X" for yourself? Not so fast; this is serious stuff. Intersex peoplethose biologically not completely either sexcan choose the new option. But if you're just transgender, then be prepared to show a doctor's note to back up your identifying as such. And it'd also be wise to prepare yourself to explain the "X" under "gender" on your Aussie passport when you pass through immigration at certain countries.
That said, a move like this just inches the world ever closer to equality, kinda like when the US altered the old "mother" and "father" fields to just "parent 1" and "parent 2."
Airline Industry / Airlines / In-Flight Comfort / Congress / Political Travel / Airline News / Travel Hell / Delays / → All Tags
We've explained at lengthsee here and here, and probably here, and definitely this onehow the Department of Transportation's tarmac regulations are a recipe for travel hell. The assumption behind imposing huge fines for delays is that the airline industry simply wasn't trying hard enough to get its planes off the ground, and that market-based incentives like money and public relations disasters weren't enough to make them want to fly people around.
Put that wayand at the risk of belaboring the obviousthat's a pretty stupid assumption.
But regulations were imposed anyway and, as was easily and explicitly predictable, we ended up with more delays and more flight cancellations. So naturally the government has now expanded tarmac delay laws to include international airlines.
We've been covering the loosening of Cuba travel restrictions for years now. There was a Congressional bill floating around in late 2009 but, as we explained at the time, it had zero chance of passing. So then President Obama tried to take things into his own hands, promising to open up travel channels. It took several more months before anything happened, but in 2011 the administration announced that "purposeful travel" would be allowed for Americans who could get visas to the island nation.
All of which brings us to this week's news, which is that People-To-People trips are again departing from Florida to Cuba. Booked through Insight Cuba, the cultural exchange program is one of several on the horizon.
There are no less than 35 organizations angling for the US Treasury Department to approve their purposeful travel trips, which have to involve "meaningful interaction between travelers and individuals." Hipster travel snobs will be especially pleased to know that Treasury distinguishes between being a Cuba "traveler," which is allowed, and being a Cuba "tourist," which is not.
The space race is way over, and sadly so is the entire NASA Space Shuttle program as well. But just because we aren't shipping astronauts up into orbit anymore doesn't mean the US isn't playing around still in outer space. Today actually marks the second test launch of a strange form of airplane-slash-rocket: the Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2 (FTVH2). Capable of cruising at over 13,000mph (that's Mach 20 or 20x the speed of sound), the unmanned FTVH2 isn't a new travel or research toy, but a military one.
Around 7am PDT, an 8-story Minotaur IV rocket will shoot into the skies from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Inside of it waits the Falcon, until, as International Business Times reports:
The rocket will puncture the atmosphere and releases FTVH2. Then the super-fast weapon will glide over the Pacific Ocean at nearly 20 times the speed of sound. The test flight will last 30 minutes before the FHTV2 hit the water and sink near the Kwajalein Atoll, about 4,100 miles from the Vandenberg Air Force Base. If the aircraft can complete its 30 minute flight, the project will continue otherwise the project will be shelved indefinitely.
Want to travel to Cuba? Join the club. Despite Obama's January lessening of restrictions for trips to Cuba, a hop down to Havana for mojitos and salsa still isn't an easy feat for Americans. The biggest name in luxury package vacationsAbercrombie & Kenthas just pulled out of their sold-out Cuba trips owing to technical issues, and you may just have to hope for another emergency landing in Havana (thought really, don't).
Of course there's always another option, but it's not for weak of heart or muscle. 61-year-old long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad is breaststroking her way the entire 100 miles that separates Cuba from the Florida Keys, risking sharks and bad weather.
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On Monday we flagged for you the unofficial airfare tax holiday that the United States is currently "enjoying," courtesy of Washington DC being the most insanely dysfunctional place on the planet.
Without getting into too many details: House Republicans told Senate Democrats that they would only fund the FAA if three powerful Senate Democrats gave up on something called the Essential Air Service, which is a program that sends a bunch of money to (ironically) totally inessential rural airports in those Senators' states. Everyone from liberal journalists to travel bloggers agree that the subsidies are totally unjustifiable, so this was partly an attempt to embarrass the Democrats. The Republicans basically said "there's no way you guys are shameless enough to hold up FAA funding just to keep sending obviously wasteful pork to tiny airports in your states," to which the Democrats responded "actually, we're exactly that shameless." And that's why there are no airfare taxes right now, because FAA doesn't have enough money to collect money.
The sad thing is that we don't have the space to dwell on that insanity, because of course Spirit Airlines looked at both sides of the political aisle and said "you want to see shameless... we'll show you shameless."