Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Baggage Bedlam at American Airlines

First, the airlines start charging us for headsets, meals, even peanuts. Now, they are charging us to check our suitcases. Then, they simply are unable to get them onto the plane to travel with us.

Aargh! You'd think that if you have to pay $25 extra to get your underwear and jammies onto the plane, they would do what you've paid them to do. Not so.

This was the scene at the American Airlines terminal at New York's JFK today when the baggage handling system melted down. Computer glitch. Nobody's baggage went anywhere. Flights were delayed or cancelled entirely. Passengers who paid $25 extra to check their bags were given the choice to fly without their bags or hang around -- maybe until tomorrow -- when the bags and the passengers could be on the same plane. Maybe.

The picture was taken by Mike Xirinachs, a reporter for WCBS Radio -- where I used to work as a consumer reporter -- who was covering this baggage bedlam. Kinda looks like last year's scene at London's Heathrow Airport, when the baggage piled up because of a meltdown with the passenger and baggage security system.

So here are Consumer Kanter's Words of Warning for airline travel --

Never, ever put into checked luggage anything that you cannot do without, or replace, within 24 hours of your flight. That means your wedding gown or tuxedo, prescription medications, chargers or spare batteries for your digital camera and other electronic gear, the 'hello' toys your grandchildren expect when they meet you at the airport. Carry on with you at least a change of unmentionables for tomorrow, and a sweater or jacket to cover up the sweat marks on the shirt you are forced to wear two days in a row.

Never, ever take the last connection of the day. If something goes wrong, you are stranded halfway to your destination. Sleeping on the floor in some corner of an airport is no fun. Just ask me -- I've done it.

Always, always, put a luggage tag inside your bag, as well as outside, just in case the outside tag gets ripped off in some kind of baggage bedlam or conveyor belt catastrophe. It's tough enough to track down a bag that has a luggage tag on it. Borderline impossible without one.

Happy travels. And aren't we happy about paying out $25 extra green money to check a suitcase. That's for the first bag. Some airlines now are charging $100 or more to check a second or third one. As I said before -- aargh!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Four Ways to Enjoy the Water Around Vancouver

Water is a common theme in Vancouver. It's just about everywhere you look and it's exactly where people want to be in warm weather. Here are four ways to enjoy this wonderful city in British Columbia, home to the 2010 Winter Olympic Games:

Take a guided kayaking trip up Indian Arm: Deep Cove Canoe & Kayak Centre offers a variety of guided canoe and kayaking trips. Try the "Deep Cove Explorer", a three-hour tour that runs every afternoon in the summer and sends you peacefully gliding through the water and exploring marine areas unavailable to motorized boats. Head out along Indian Arm in search of eagles, seals, salmon and other marine life while learning proper water safety and paddling techniques.

Wilderness paddle and beach BBQ: Lotus Land Tours offers an exciting six-hour wilderness paddle including a sumptuous BBQ salmon lunch on a small, uninhabited island.

Experience the First Nations with Takaya Tours: Join guides from the Coast Salish nation on a unique two-hour canoe adventure up Indian Arm. Paddle a 13-metre cedar canoe as First Nations guides sing traditional songs, tell stories and point out ancient village sites.

A trip that's for the birds: Travel along the rugged coastline en route to the George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary via a Steveston Seabreeze Adventures bird-watching tour. You'll paddle through managed wetlands, natural marshes and low dikes in the heart of the Fraser River estuary. The most famous resident is the bald eagle, but keep your eyes peeled for sandpipers, red-tailed hawks, peregrine falcons, cormorants, tufted puffinsCost is $29.95 per adult.

Paddling your own kayak or canoe definitelly classifies as green travels.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Microtel Inn & Suites Offers Many Free Amenities

Sometimes, green travel means saving money along with saving the environment, and you can do both at Microtel Inn & Suites. This budget hotel chain offers an impressive selection of freebies that are helpful to any budget. And I'm not talking about the cheesy microwave-yourself packaged wrap-wich that passes -- or, rather, fails -- for breakfast at other economy chains.

Microtel gives you free internet and free Wi-Fi, something high-priced luxury hotels don't. Why they don't is something I don't understand, but that's another story.

Microtel also gives you free local and free long distance phone calls. Does any other hotel chain -- at any price -- give guests free long distance phone calls? If you know of one, let me know. Sure, sure, most of us have cellphones with L.D. included, but this way, you don't have to use up your minutes. Use theirs.

The chain is also green when it comes to the environment, with high-efficiency windows, upgraded insulation and laundry equipment. And guests are encouraged to recycle paper, glass and plastics. The chain also is a sponsor of The Society for Accessible Travel & Hospitality (SATH) and known as the preferred hotel chain for travelers with disabilities.

No wonder this growing chain ranks at the top of the list for guest satisfaction among hotels in the economy price by J.D. Power and Associates

The newest link in the chain is in Verona, New York, about half-way between Albany and Syracuse. A great location for summer travel to the Catskills, Adirondaks and Finger Lakes.
The location also is adjacent to Turning Stone Resort Casino and the Skana Spa at Turning Point, to several championship golf courses, and both Colgate University and Hamilton College are nearby.

So travel green at Microtel Inn & Suites.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Full Moon Hiking and Star Gazing in August

For a unique, green travel experience, take a hike at sunset or later, by the light of a full moon, when you can also enjoy star-gazing. There are several places in the West that offer guided sunset and full moon events, for the next full moon on August 16. You just missed July's full moon a couple of days ago.

In Denver -- that's the city's skyline pictured -- the full moon party is held at the city's only rooftop hotel pool, at the Warwick Denver Hotel, on the night of the full moon. Since August 16th is a Saturday, it should be quite a party, with live jazz, Perrier Jouet champagne, and passed hors d’oeuvres. You can just go to the rooftop party, or make the party part of a weekend package that includes accommodations.

Squaw Valley, at the north end of Lake Tahoe, offers guided Sunset Hikes on Friday and Saturday evenings all summer, and Full Moon Hikes on the evening before and the evening of the full moon in August. The hikes leave from High Camp, at the top of the Cable Car, at approximately 6 pm. High Camp, at 8,200 feet, is an ideal trailhead for exploring this mountain, with it's beautiful views of year-round snow-capped peaks, and the cobalt blue lake sparkling in the distance below. Guides share their knowledge wealth of information about the geology, flowers, trees and animals native to the region, as well as environmental projects currently underway at the resort.

Monday, July 14, 2008

No Passport? No Problem.

Are you are one of the procrastinators who still hasn't gotten around to getting your passpport? No worries -- if you are a US citizen, you do not need a valid US passport to mancation, girlfriend getaway, babymoon or simply vacation in some of the best destinations in the Caribbean.

Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands are considered -- for passport purposes -- part of the US. So, Just get on the airplane with your sunscreen and your driver's license with its photo ID. Ditto American Samoa, which isn't in the Caribbean. It's in the Pacific.

The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative passed by U.S. Congress requires that travelers, including U.S. citizens who travel via air to and from the Americas, the Caribbean and Bermuda, must travel with a valid passport in order to enter or re-enter the United States. Not so US citizens visiting the three islands of USVI -- St. Croix, St. John and St. Thomas -- Puerto Rico or American Samoa.

So what are you waiting for? Go travel. Go travel to one of these great green islands -- green palm trees, turquoise beaches.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Inventing Words to Sell Travel

Okay, I've had it with the made up words. Travel is travel. A vacation is a vacation, whether you go alone, with friends or with family, whether you travel to an environmentally friendly green destination or not.

Man-cation. What's that? A vacation only for men? Says who? Who invented this meaningless phrase? More importantly -- WHY? And why can't it be spelled the same way twice? Man-cation with a dash or mancation without?

The female version of 'man-cation' is not 'girl-cation'. It's girlfriend's getaway. Yes, I absolutely want my girlfriends to getaway. From what? From me? Or from the people making up silly travel promotions and words.

Stay-cation, or as it is spelled sometimes, staycation without the dash. Please tell me what this means so I can tell poor Noah Webster to stop spinning in his grave. Of course I stay somewhere when I go on vacation. Even if I stay at home to rearrange the furniture on my vacation, I'm staying somewhere. So what does this nonsense phrase mean? And why are there are marketing efforts to boycott the stay-cation? If we don't know what a stay-cation is, how can we boycott it?

Waiter, please bring me a mocktail. That's what the well-regarded Merrion Hotel in Dublin, Ireland, is offering as part of its summer 'family fun' package. Grown-ups get fluffy terry robes, and the kiddies get "mocktails", whatever those are. Fruit juice, you think? Maybe what makes them a 'mocktail' instead of a glass of orange juice is that they decorate the glass with a silly little paper umbrella. Or, since it's Ireland, that should be a miniature Leprechaun.

The last straw? A shape-cation. This is a package from New York City's Carlton Hotel. It's a bridal package -- including room, spa treatments, a gift yoga mat, and a private session with a bridal lingerie consultant. I understand that you need a license before you can get married -- but a 'shape-cation'?

What's next? How about a man-shape-cation? Or a girlfriend getastay-cation? It will take more than one mocktail to get me on one of those.

Omigosh, I'm starting to sound like the late, great and will be much missed George Carlin.