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Fare of the Day: New York to Nassau, Bahamas $164 RT, nonstop, incl. all taxes

Posted by Tracy Stewart on Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Fly from New York to Nassau, Bahamas for $164 round-trip, nonstop, including all taxes, as part of today's previously mentioned sale from JetBlue. Yeah, yeah, we mentioned this sale already, but thought we'd include a screen shot for a couple of folks on Twitter who were having trouble booking this particular fare. The trick is you have to remember to enter that little promo code included in the Fare Details, which happens to be JFKNAS80. We easily spotted seats departing February 2-4, returning February 6-9. Not a huge window of travel time, true, but bookable all the same.

To learn more, visit Tracy Stewart's profile on Google+

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10 terrible airline pilots we hope we never fly with

Posted by George Hobica on Wednesday, January 30, 2013

With all the job pressures and uncertainty in the airline industry, it’s a wonder more pilots don’t run afoul of the law the way Klobjorn Jarle Kristiansen did last week. The 48-year-old American Eagle pilot showed up to work drunk, was suspended and faces both prosecution and the loss of his job. While a commercial plane has never crashed due to drunk flying, there are plenty of instances where pilots have misbehaved throughout history – some of them almost hilariously. Here, a look back at some very memorable misfeasance.

1. The JetBlue pilot who went nutter butters mid-flight

“We’re not going to Vegas,” announced Clayton Osbon, before launching into a rambling sermon, telling his co-pilot that “things don’t matter,” and that “we need to take a leap of faith.” Problem: JetBlue Flight 191 was in fact headed for Vegas – with Osborn as the captain. The worried co-pilot called out into the cabin for help; passengers eventually were able to restrain the increasingly out-of-control pilot and the plane made a safe, emergency landing in Amarillo, Texas. Turns out, the pilot --  later found not guilty by reason of insanity – was right after all.

2. The IndiGo Airlines pilot who wasn’t really a pilot

Just because they’re wearing the uniform, doesn’t mean they can fly the plane. Crew members on a Goa-Delhi flight might have been tipped off to Captain Parminder Kaur Gulati’s lack of credentials after a hugely bumpy landing at Goa Airport back in 2011. Turns out, that was just beginners luck. On the return, Gulati’s dangerous dearth of know-how was outed rather spectacularly when the fraudulent flyer touched down at Delhi, nose first – a major, Landing Of Planes 101-type error that could have gotten everyone killed. It was later discovered that Gulati had forged the necessary documents to receive her pilot’s license.

3. The Southwest pilot who clogged up air traffic control airwaves talking about his bad sex life

First rule of business? If you’re going to trash your co-workers, make sure they can’t hear you. James Fritzen Taylor learned this the hard way back in 2011 after he was suspended without pay for a hate-filled rant over the airwaves about his general lack of satisfaction with the physical appearance of the flight crews he’d been working with the past few weeks. Unfortunately, the audio went out over the air traffic control frequency – and to every other plane in the Houston area, which is particularly unfortunate, considering a) that air traffic control needs the airwaves to give out potentially lifesaving instruction to pilots, including Taylor and b) that Taylor had just called Houston flight crews the “ugliest.” He later issued a canned apology to his poor colleagues, who wasted no time leaking the document – and Taylor’s name and personal information – to the media.

4. The Lion Air pilots with a meth problem

Indonesia’s largest domestic airline has issues. Over the past year, a handful of crew members, including 44-year-old captain Syaiful Salam, have been arrested after random employee drug tests came back positive for methamphetamines – in Salam’s instance, just hours before he was scheduled to fly. Known as “shabu,” crystal meth has become increasingly popular in Indonesia; the airline was sanctioned by the country’s Transportation Ministry after the embarrassing episode.

5. The America West pilots who showed up for work drunk

Back in 2002, Thomas Cloyd and Christopher Hughes narrowly avoided becoming even more infamous after being ordered by authorities to turn the plane around and come back to the terminal at Miami International Airport. Turns out, the terrible twosome had spent the entire night drinking at a Coconut Grove bar, showing up late to their flight; their irregular behavior tipped off staff, who summoned the police. They were later tried and sent to prison. 

6. The Northwest pilots who overshot Minneapolis by 150 miles

Missing your turn isn’t a huge deal when you’re driving, but when you’re driving a plane full of people, Timothy Cheney and Richard Cole found out the hard way that the consequences can be rather harsh. En-route from San Diego to the Twin Cities, the veteran pilot and co-pilot at one point got so engrossed with what they were doing in the cockpit – messing around on their laptops, it turns out – that they not only overshot their destination by 150 miles, they forgot to stay in touch with air traffic control. Predictably, panic ensued.
 
7. The cargo pilot who got drunk and crashed a plane in Alaska

So far – fingers crossed – pilot drunkenness has never resulted in the crashing of a commercial airliner, but that’s cold comfort to the dozens of cattle and four crew members who died at the hands of an intoxicated Japan Air cargo pilot back in 1977, shortly after takeoff from Anchorage, Alaska. It was a quick flight – after getting up to just 160 feet above the ground, the DC-8 stalled and sank to the ground.

 8. The Jetstar pilot who was too busy texting to lower the landing gear

You know how you forget to turn your phone off when the plane lands, and as you head toward the ground, your service comes back and your phone starts blowing up with texts from all your pals? It happens to pilots, too – right when they’re supposed to be landing the plane. The co-pilot of this Australian budget flyer watched in disbelief as his colleague chose one of the most dangerous times in flight to start playing with his phone. A near-miss with the ground – sans landing gear – jolted the pilot back to reality; the plane eventually touched down safely.

 9. The Air Canada pilot who cracked up

Of all the times…the co-pilot of a London-bound Boeing 767 had to be restrained and removed from the cockpit after suffering a mental breakdown midflight back in 2008. “His voice was clear, he didn’t sound like he was drunk or anything, but he was swearing and asking for God. He specifically said he wants to talk to God.” After moving him away from the controls, the pilot was able to make a speedy and safe emergency landing in Ireland.

 10. The Air India pilots who started a brawl
    
Passengers on a Delhi-bound flight from the United Arab Emirates back in 2009 were treated to a spectacular bit of inflight entertainment when the two pilots began fighting with two crew members over an allegation of sexual harassment from a female flight attendant. The confrontation escalated considerably, moving out of the cockpit and into the cabin for an all-out melee, during which time the controls were decidedly unmanned. Oops.

To learn more, visit George Hobica's profile on Google+

Introducing Our Brand New Airline Fees Guide

In the first three quarters of last year, U.S. airlines made almost five billion dollars in baggage and change fees alone. It seems like there's a fee for everything these days. (Actually, there sort of is.) Figuring out which airline to book with and what the true cost of your travel will be is sort of like playing Guess Who? (but not nearly as fun). Need help? Let us introduce you to our brand new Comprehensive Airline Fees Guide, which comes in an easy-to-read PDF format. Here you'll find every major fee charged by every major domestic carrier. The best part? It won't cost you a dime.

 

Free Download: Comprehensive Airline Fees Guide

Note: This guide was updated on April 18, 2013.

The things they don't tell you in the safety demo

Posted by George Hobica on Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Have you ever wondered exactly why airlines dim the lights upon landing, making you grope to find the overhead light just as you were about to finish your Sudoku? (Hint: It's not to save electricity.) Or why it's so important to put your own oxygen mask on before helping others? Or what's it like jumping onto a 737's inflatable emergency slide? And just how heavy are those over-wing exit doors?

If you're a bit of an airline nerd like me (I said a bit, by the way, I'm not one of those planespotter types), then you might have been curious. Or maybe you're the cautious kind, the kind who wants to have every possible advantage the next time there's a "Miracle on the Hudson" or, a less felicitous water landing, or if a lithium ion battery catches fire and you have to deplane in a hurry.

Well, British Airways has just the thing: the BA Flight Safety Awareness Course, a modified version of the same training that flight crews go through after they're hired and then once a year thereafter. Even if you're not the pessimistic or overly cautious type, it's a fascinating way to spend a day in London.

 You get to jump down an emergency slide! And if you’ve ever wanted to pull the inflation cord on one of those airplane life vests, well this is your chance. You also get to evacuate a cabin filled with “smoke” (it's the kind used in a theater or rock concert, but does the trick). You'll practice the fine points of the "brace position." And best of all, you understand why some of those more obscure procedures and safety warnings are part of the flight experience.

Check those life vests

One thing they don't tell you in the typical safety demo: people take those life jackets, located under or between your seat, as souvenirs. It’s a vile and punishable offense, and while airlines do check each seat at the start of every day, a plane could make several trips in a day, during any one of which a passenger could steal a life vest. So, I learned, it’s a good idea to check if the life jacket is indeed there. Not that it may much matter anyway. Only a small fraction of the passengers on US Airways Flight 1549 bothered to grab their life vests when Captain Sullenberger ditched his Airbus A320 into the Hudson River.

Put yours on first

You’ve heard it over and over: put on your own oxygen mask before helping those around you. But the safety demos never tell you why that’s so important. The reason? You might only have 15 or 20 seconds in the event of a cabin decompression, during which all oxygen would be sucked out of the plane (and your lungs), before you’d experience confusion and a euphoric “stoned” state, at which point you might forget everything you heard during the safety demo (if in fact you even listened, which you probably didn't). In 30 to 45 seconds you'd probably pass out. So it’s important to act quickly. (I think that if the standard safety announcement explained some of these fine points then people might put down their newspapers.) Andy and Diane, our instructors, also explained what else to expect during a sudden decompression: a burning smell from the oxygen canisters, severe vibration, a rapid descent (typically a drop of 20,000 feet in just 3 or 4 minutes), and an automated announcement telling you what to expect (because, obviously, the crew would have their own masks on and wouldn’t be able to communicate with passengers).

The proper brace position

Some of the finer points of flight safety may seem particularly arcane and even anal, but there's a reason for every detail. If you’ve ever bothered, for example, to look at the safety card in the seat back pocket, you may have noticed that the correct brace position is to put your hands on your head, but not in just any slipshod fashion (and definitely not with the fingers locked together). See how the illustration shows one hand over the other? Is that just arbitrary? No as it turns out. Should something fall on you during a crash landing, you want to protect at least one hand (preferably the one you write with) because you’ll need it to unbuckle your seat belt when it’s safe to do so. Your other hand is in that position to provide some protection to your "strong" hand, which will be doing the unbuckling.

Why not fly backward?

And speaking of the brace position, wouldn't it be entirely unnecessary, I asked Andy and Diane, if airlines oriented their seats so that everyone was flying backwards? After all, in the event of a crash landing or controlled emergency landing, there’d be no need to assume the brace position if the seats didn't face forward. Isn’t that why flight attendants face backward in their jump seats? “People equate rear-facing seats with trains,” Andy answered. "We'd be out of business in a week," said Diane. And why not have three- or four-point harnesses rather than seatbelts, such as those worn by flight attendants, one of my classmates asked? Aren't they safer? You've probably guessed the answer: airlines recommend keeping your seatbelt fastened whenever seated, and no one would want to wear such an uncomfortable contraption during the flight.

"Touch drills" and "muscle memory"

While your pilots are waiting for take off, it may surprise you that they're probably doing a safety drill. What if this or that should go wrong on take off, which buttons would we push or steps would we take? So they actually go through the motions of various procedures, touching and even moving the actual controls. They call these touch drills, and Andy and Diane suggest that passengers do the same thing just before take off, perhaps buckling and unbuckling their seat belts three times. Sounds daft? "It's muscle memory," said Diane. "In an emergency, people panic. They think they're in their cars, and try to release the seatbelt by pushing a button rather than lifting a flap." Indeed, as the final report of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board noted following the crash of US Airways flight 405, which landed in the water after take off from New York's LaGuardia Airport, "Some passengers tried to move from their seats while their seatbelts were still buckled, and other passengers had difficulty locating and releasing their seatbelt buckles because of disorientation."

Why does "red" mean "go"?

And what’s with that escape path lighting along the floor? Why would red lights indicate an exit? Shouldn’t they be green (as in “go”) instead? Ever see taillights along the motorway in a fog, Andy explained? They’re red because they show up better in a smoke filled cabin. And indeed, it's true, as we learned when our "cabin" became a soupy fog.

Those doors are heavy

And what about those emergency over-wing exit doors? How heavy are they exactly, and how easy are they to open and toss? Well, we practiced on a Boeing 737. The answer? Even for me, a fairly strapping six-footer who goes to the gym regularly, they’re pretty heavy (40 lbs. to be exact). It’s not just the weight, but maneuvering them while sitting down that's an awkward challenge. Tip: sit way back in your seat or you’ll konk yourself on the head when the door swings down. Another tip: use your knee to rest the door and then swing it out and throw it on the wing (don’t worry, you won’t be sued for damages). I was surprised that the actual latch mechanism is so easy to engage you can do it with one finger. Even though, according to our instructors, it’s been 27 years since an over-wing exit door has had to be opened on a British Airways plane (other than in this cavernous training hangar, that is), I still feel safer now that I've done it. The bad news is that half the people (probably more) who I see sitting in those exit rows wouldn’t have the strength to manage the door. Airlines should not sell these seats to anyone merely because they can pay the fee for the extra legroom. But don’t worry if some nut tries to open the doors in flight. They’re impossible to open owing to air pressure being much higher inside the plane than outside.

Perhaps the most macabre little tidbit

Next time you get on a plane, take note of the handles by the door, just inside the plane. What on earth are those for? Correct, they're grab handles, but why? Well, in a panicked emergency evacuation, when the flight attendants are manning the exit door, passengers, in their mad rush to get off, have a tendency to push them out of the way, sometimes all the way down the slide. The handles are there to make sure that the flight attendants stay on the plane if that's what they need to do.

Why don't airlines tell us all this?

I left the course thinking that more passengers would listen to the pre-flight safety demo if airlines shared some of this insider information before each flight, maybe mixing it up from time to time so that the demo doesn't get overly long and cause more people to tune out. On one flight, the demo might include the finer points of opening the over-wing exits. On another flight, more information about why it’s so important to put your oxygen mask on first (and quickly) before helping others. More passengers would probably do what they're told in an emergency if they knew the reasons behind these rules (and time and time again, in emergencies, passengers do not listen, do the wrong thing, and become victims). 

Speaking of the whys, just why do airlines dim the cabin lights during nighttime take offs and landings? You guessed it: to help adjust your eyes to the dark (either inside a smoke filled cabin or on a darkened runway). And why do some airlines ask that you keep your shoes on (except high heels, which can tear the slide) when taking off and landing? Because the runway might be burning hot after you jump down the slide.

And while it's doubtful that airlines will ever add these extra details to their pre-flight safety drills, the main thing I left the course with was a better respect for the thought that has gone into airline safety over the years, as each crash and emergency landing contributes to collective knowledge. And I have even more respect for flight attendants who, as we all know, are primarily there for no other reason than our safety.

Seat belt image via Shutterstock

To learn more, visit George Hobica's profile on Google+

Fare of the Day: New York to Los Angeles $200 RT incl. all taxes, this weekend

Posted by Tracy Stewart on Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Escape miserable cold New York this weekend and fly to Los Angeles for $200 round-trip, nonstop, including all taxes on American.

This fare is valid for departures on Friday, returning Monday or Tuesday.

See our Fare Details for booking info.

To learn more, visit Tracy Stewart's profile on Google+

Fare of the Day: Los Angeles to Rome $767 RT including all taxes

Posted by Tracy Stewart on Monday, January 28, 2013

Here's a great little hidden fare from Los Angeles to Rome for $767 round-trip, including all taxes, on Aeroflot. And yes, that does connect in Moscow. We were able to find seats departing October 5, returning October 12, as seen by the screen shot below. As we said, this is a hidden fare, so a little clicking around Hotwire's flexible search calendar will reveal the lower fare.

For booking info, see our Fare Details.

To learn more, visit Tracy Stewart's profile on Google+

It's summer in Buenos Aires! Why go now (and what to do there)

Posted by George Hobica on Monday, January 28, 2013

As we here in the United States do our best to power through winter, Buenos Aires is shedding those extra layers and enjoying a long, blissfully hot summer. This year, why not put the Caribbean on ice and really head south, all the way to fun-loving Argentina? Here are a few essential must-dos for when you get off the plane.

A night at the museum

It's no secret that things get started late around here, evening-wise; it's fairly common to eat dinner after 10 p.m. You'll get used to it though; there's plenty to do in the early evenings – on Wednesdays, for instance, you can pay a late visit to the city's jewel-box Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires , also known simply as MALBA. Admission is just 8 pesos – that's barely $3 – and they're open until 9pm. Before or after you tour the petite but satisfying collection, which showcases Argentinian modern masters such as Antonio Berni and Guillermo Kuitca, make sure to stop at the in-house Café des Arts, which has a beautiful patio and a full menu.

Into the wild Everyone likes to bang on about how European Buenos Aires is, and at times that can be true; then there are places like Puerto Madero, the city's redeveloped old port, which are indisputably American -- New York's South Street Seaport and Battery Park City, all rolled into one, a mix of shopping, tourist-friendly restaurants and flashy apartment buildings and office towers, incongruently located directly adjacent to the city center, with its crowded, narrow streets clinging to a tight and unexciting grid. Portside or city center-side, it can all get a little stifling, particularly in the summer time; good thing then that there's so much open space so close by. The Reserva Ecologica is nearly 1,000 acres of rather wild territory atop a major dumping ground; today, it buffers the port from the vast Rio de la Plata. Part forest, part wetlands, you can really get lost out here, which, on a sweaty summer day, might be just the thing. Rent a bike near the entrance for a few pesos an hour, or take a half-day to explore it on foot. Either way, take a camera; there are some pretty cool skyline views.

Hit the Sunday fair in San Telmo

At times it feels like a kitschy tourist trap and at other times it's a serious art and antiquities fair; either way, in high season, this weekly event that crawls all the way up Calle Defensa from this historic, city center-adjacent neighborhood's colorful Plaza Dorrego counts for some of the best people watching in town. An international crowd mixes with scores of locals, bargaining over Evita memorabilia, tango CD's and mate gourds; come early, come late – the action goes all the way into the evening. The neighborhood restaurants and bars make a killing; if you're looking for a good, unhurried, meal, best to get a little bit off the beaten path to a place like local favorite Café San Juan (Av. San Juan 450) or health-conscious and friendly Origen (Peru 1092).

Hanging by the pool at the Four Seasons. You never know who you're going to bump into at the city's premier address for international celebs. (Is that Paul McCartney, over there? Probably.) Located in an out-of-the-way spot that's still a short walk from the center of town and the attractions of the exclusive Recoleta area, this is one of the sexiest pools in town, set in a garden next to the hotel's iconic Belle Epoque mansion. As summer heats up, this is the spot to retreat to. Not staying over? Gain access simply by booking a treatment in the adjacent spa; by local standards the prices are astronomical – for many Americans, they'll seem quite reasonable.

Try the ice cream

There is no such thing as good or bad ice cream in Buenos Aires – only excellent and more excellent. Seriously, there are few countries with as firm a handle on the craft as Argentina; even the mass-produced stuff from chains like Freddo that many an Argentinian will warn against is going to be miles better than the last scoop you had back home; of course, there's no better place to start than a scoop of the dulce de leche, that iconic, creamy burnt caramel / condensed milk flavor you find everywhere here. Everyone has their favorites; if we have to choose, we'll go ahead and recommend Volta, a mini-chain that – like any ice-cream joint worth its stuff around here – will deliver to your apartment or hotel. (We could get used to that.)

Eat seasonal

The concept of seasonal cuisine has yet to cross the minds of many an Argentinian diner, but pardon us if the idea of sizzling rump steaks and big plates of gluey pasta (Italian cooking is omnipresent here and generally to middling standards) don't really seem exciting on a steamy summer evening. The way people eat here, you'd think Argentina didn't boast hundreds of miles of pristine Atlantic coastline, coastline that yields some incredible seafood, such as flaky pink salmon from Patagonia, or sweet, delicate shrimp plucked from the waters of Puerto Madryn. Pining for pesce? You're best off cooking yourself – those staying in apartments can hit up the popular El Delfin fish market and see what's good; lazy types can resort to sushi, delivered all over town by a host of places that range from okay to downright awful. We're more comfortable at the likes of Puerto Cristal, a snazzy but fairly affordable Puerto Madero joint where you can order from a long list of fresh seafood, simply prepared the way you like it, with a nice salad to start. We can't promise nobody will look at you like you're crazy, but this is Buenos Aires, where there's no wrong way to do anything -- it's all about the level of confidence with which you do it (Alicia Moreau de Justo 1082).

Sit and do nothing


First impressions of Buenos Aires may lead you to the false conclusion that this is a fast-paced city on the move. This town does put on a great show of going about its business, but all that charging down sidewalks and speeding down the avenidas is more reflex than necessity. At heart, this is a city that likes to kick back and have a good time; if you're here on vacation, don't get sucked into the drama – just stake out a ringside seat and watch it all go down. Start your day in the happening Palermo Hollywood neighborhood, with breakfast at the cuter-than-a-button Oui Oui, a French-ish bakery/café located in a quiet mid-block location and filled with good-looking young patrons (Nicaragua 6068). Once you can't take another croissant or latte, pick up and move along to the northern end of the Palermo area and grab a spot at the local branch of the nifty Tea Connection mini-chain, a zen oasis of world-class teas and speedy free wireless internet (Cervino 3550). Later, stroll through the green parks in the popular Palermo park system, past the beautiful Bellas Artes and Decorative Arts museums – the latter has a great café, Croque Madame, good for – you guessed it – killing another hour or two, or maybe having a bit of lunch (Libertador 1902). Later, head on into Recoleta; if it's happy hour, claim a chair in the sexy second-floor bar at Milion, a restaurant and nightspot carved out of one of the neighborhood's lavish former private homes. Order up a proper aperitif – a negroni, for instance. Drink, repeat (Parana 1048).  

Get out on the water

You've probably heard that saying, "it's not the heat, it's the humidity." That pretty much sums up any day in Buenos Aires – even in the dead of winter, we've stood in poorly ventilated subway cars sweating buckets; the air is often like a heavy, wet blanket. (It's not pretty.) While there are some blissfully beautiful summer days where the humidity burns off and it almost feels like you're in the desert, things get so dry, this isn't the norm; not by a long shot. For those unbearable summer days, there's Buquebus; this popular ferry service connects the city's waterfront with Uruguay, out across the Rio de la Plata, which is either the widest river in the world or a gulf of the Atlantic Ocean, depending on whom you ask. Either way, you're out there and you're gulping down huge helpings of fresh air, either on the 1 hour ride to the colonial city of Colonia del Sacramento – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – or the 3 hour journey to the Uruguayan capital of Montevideo, a pleasant, low-key town that's easily explored on your own. If you've got the time, ask about connections to Punta del Este (4-5 hours including a bus ride), the famous beach resort that draws well-heeled South Americans each summer that's a lot like Miami's southern cousin, but with even more Spanish spoken.

For the lowest available fares, visit our Buenos Aires page.

To learn more, visit George Hobica's profile on Google+

Fare of the Day: Los Angeles to Tokyo $774 RT, nonstop, including all taxes

Posted by Tracy Stewart on Thursday, January 24, 2013

Fly from Los Angeles to Tokyo for $774 round-trip, nonstop, including all taxes, on Malaysia Airlines.

Travel is valid on select dates from February through May. As seen by the image below, we found seats via Hotwire leaving May 10, returning May 19.

For booking info, see our Fare Details.

To learn more, visit Tracy Stewart's profile on Google+

Fare of the Day: New York to Honolulu $422 RT nonstop this weekend

Posted by Tracy Stewart on Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Can't take another day of below freezing New York weather? Ditch the thermals and fly nonstop to Honolulu this Friday for $422 round-trip, including all taxes, on Hawaiian Airlines.

If you can't get away this weekend, there are other similar fares available for other dates in winter. For a look at current deals to Oahu, visit our Honolulu fare page.

To learn more, visit Tracy Stewart's profile on Google+

Fare of the Day: New York to San Jose $233 RT including all taxes

Posted by Tracy Stewart on Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Fly from New York to San Jose for $233 round-trip, including all taxes, on United.

We found this fare for travel on a handful of dates through March. Screenshot below is for travel February 20 through Wednesday February 27, found via Hotwire. Other dates may vary by a few dollars.

For a complete listing of fares to San Jose click here.

To learn more, visit Tracy Stewart's profile on Google+

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