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Checking for the life raft

(Airlines) Permanent link

On a US Airways flight from Newark to Charlotte, N.C., two days after the carrier's Jan. 15 splashdown in the Hudson River, I immediately noticed that the plane was full, and everyone around me paid really close attention to the pre-takeoff instructions.

When the flight attendant indicated that a life raft was under each seat, lots of people reached down to feel it. When she indicated where the exit rows were, heads swiveled, and when she demonstrated the oxygen mask maneuver, we glanced up at the console above each seat where the masks were stored.

Passengers even pulled the aircraft card from the seat pockets to read it. I looked at the diagram of the inflatable slides, wondering if my boots would poke a hole in the rubber as I slid down.

We visibly relaxed once takeoff was accomplished and we were at a cruising altitude.

The atmosphere changed visibly when the food for purchase ran out midway down the aisle, but that's another story.

-- Gay Nagle Myers

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Air Jamaica’s impossible dream

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The Jamaican government most certainly is not on “Caribbean time” in its desire to drop Air Jamaica like a hot cassava. Prime Minister Bruce Golding’s goal: Unload the loss-making airline on private investors by March.

Air Jamaica jetAir Jamaica is a struggling carrier during a time when travel to the Caribbean is way down. Given that, is a March deadline realistic? If Jamaica somehow meets its self-imposed deadline, I’d love to know what kind of discount the buyer got.

The carrier is implementing a restructuring initiative under new CEO Bruce Nobles, and will cut routes to Miami, L.A. and Atlanta on Feb. 26. Air Jamaica’s divestment committee said a successful execution of its new business plan will “enhance the attractiveness of Air Jamaica to investors and will speed up the privatization process.”

Will a plan that goes into effect in late February make Air Jamaica more attractive in March?

No way, mon!

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Ryanair, the generous airline

(Airlines) Permanent link

A supplier’s news release rarely has an indignant tone (or any tone, for that matter), but when Ryanair announced it was fining passengers who break the airline’s carry-on policy, the airline sounded ticked off and hurt.

One word gives it away: generous.

"Ryanair’s generous cabin baggage allowance permits passengers to carry one piece of cabin baggage of up to 10kg onto our aircraft," said Ryanair spokesman Stephen McNamara. "Due to the large increase in passengers abusing this allowance, Ryanair will now charge passengers for each additional piece of carry on luggage."

In other words: "We are the low-fare kings of European aviation, and we are still nice enough to let you on the plane with one bag for free. How DARE you take advantage of us, customers?!"

"Generous" is a more than a stretch, but it’s kind of charming when Ryanair says it. I wouldn’t recommend U.S. airlines trying to use that word, though. They don’t have the charm to pull it off.

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No room key worries

(Hotels) Permanent link

GreatWolfSlide-biggerKudos to Great Wolf Lodge. It’s nice not having to worry about your room key while you’re on vacation.

For the past couple of years, Great Wolf Lodge (known for its indoor water parks) has been issuing wristbands equipped with an RFID chip to hotel guests. (RFID stands for radio frequency identification.)

My family recently stayed at the Great Wolf Lodge in Pennsylvania’s Poconos. (My son Alex is pictured on the waterslide.)

The wristband is used for keyless entry into your hotel room (as shown in photo at right) as well as for charging food, merchandise and services to your room. great-wolf-room

As someone who has fished around a cruise ship hot tub for a missing room key, I would like to see the cruise lines offer the RFID wristband.

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When your driver's license is in the Hudson River

(Airlines, Auto rentals) Permanent link

Understandably, some travelers rescued from the US Airways plane that crash-landed into the Hudson River didn't want to fly to Charlotte, N.C., after their harrowing ordeal on Thursday.

Unfortunately, driving didn't appear to be an option for people whose driver's licenses went down with the plane.

Not a problem, said Avis Budget's Randy Mohr, the car rental company's director of global travel and partnerships.

Mohr said Avis Budget's longtime relationship with US Airways helped the companies hammer out a process for passengers without IDs to drive to Charlotte or their final destination.

By midnight, Mohr said Avis Budget had cars available.

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Airlines tell passengers how to evade their own baggage fees

(Airlines) Permanent link

Turns out passengers can evade paying for a second checked bag, provided they’re willing to lug it through security and all the way to the gate. I’ve heard gate attendants encourage travelers to check bags at the gate “for free” to prevent overhead bins from filling up.

Transferring baggage handling to gate agents doesn’t seem particularly efficient. But after all, we’re talking about the airlines here.

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Empty middle seats, despite airline capacity cuts

(Airlines) Permanent link

We’ve all got a jonze to travel, or we wouldn’t be in this business. Fortunately, most people who aren’t in the business have a jonze to travel, too – problem is, right now economic fear is waging war with the jonze.

Travel Jonze has done some traveling this week and for the first time in a long while, the flights were not sold out. In any other year, this change could be attributed to a normal post-holiday falloff. But this time, a different question arises: Is demand shrinking even faster than airlines are cutting capacity?

In this case, the decrease in passengers was observed on a couple of heavily traveled routes, whereas many small airports have seen their service shrivel or disappear entirely. Most carriers’ service cuts, as you’ll recall, were prompted by high oil prices last year, rather than the economy. Ironically, some routes likely will be added or get higher frequency this year, even as the recession drags on. How’s that for counter-intuitive?

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