Richard Turen
Richard Turen

I wish, with all of our foibles and failures, that at the very least we were chic and cool. But, for the most part, that requires a passport. Only a passport enables us to grow out of our Reagan-era assurance that we are No. 1, the best country on the planet. I might start to believe that if only we could have free fountains in our major cities that offered high-quality, sparkling drinking water. You see, they now have that in Paris.

The municipal water department in Paris, in concert with the mayor, has embarked on a new project called Fontaine Petillante, the aim of which is to encourage Parisians to drink more healthful water and to reduce the number of plastic water bottles in the city's landfills.

The result of this initiative is that every single neighborhood in Paris will have at least one, free for all, sparkling-water fountain. The water has been tested, and it is of Perrier taste and quality. Parisians, and those fortunate enough to spend time in their city, will now have large supplies of sparkling water available in public fountains.

It will be available everywhere, and one need only hold a container beneath the tap to enjoy what one critic described as "cool, but not icy, extremely fizzy with a really fine prickle of bubble mousse."

How does an innovation like this occur in a large urban environment? The answer is simply stated by Anne le Strat, the head of the Paris water board, in an interview with France's 20 Minutes magazine: "People often told me they were ready to drink tap water if it was carbonated. Now they've got no excuse not to."

Purists will point out that the French, with their uncanny ability to comprehend what is truly important in life and what is not, have been experimenting with sparking-water fountains on a limited basis since 2010. But now, the technology has improved, and all city dwellers, in every one of the city's 20 arrondissements will have a constant supply of sparkling water to quench their thirst en route to their favorite boulangerie.

It helps that Paris' tap water standards are so high. It helps that there are those in local government who are aware that their citizens will closely judge each and every gulp of this free-flowing beverage. Noses will wrinkle, eyebrows will be raised.

And so, we are left with still another reason to absolutely love Paris. There is, may I suggest, a reason or two why France is the most visited country on Earth.

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In 2012, I wrote a column that many of you thought was a satire. I pointed out that our government, or at least a branch of the DOT, had decided that the term Seeing Eye dog was prejudicial. I pointed out that many people with different kinds of emotional needs depend on other kinds of animals to help assuage their fears.

You might remember that the government directive changed the wording so that potbellied pigs, small horses and monkeys are now allowed to accompany passengers in need of a support animal. I even included the wording Delta Airlines used in instructing flight attendants on just how to handle the seating of a guest with a small horse next to you on a flight.

But many of you did not believe it. I remember getting a few emails saying that, "I knew it was a fake article when you said that monkeys would be allowed onboard."

Well, it turned out that everything in that column has come to pass. In 2017, Delta flew 250,000 "service and emotional support" animals, including untrained dogs, pigs, monkeys, turkeys and snakes. Delta reports that a significant percentage occupied passenger seats.

New York Times columnist David Leonhardt wrote, "One day we may all owe a debt of gratitude to Dexter."

Dexter is an emotional-support Peacock, a huge blue-and-green plumaged bird who was being checked in at the United counter at Newark Airport for a flight to L.A. in January. (Of course! Where else would a peacock be flying?)

Someone at United had the good sense to say enough is enough, and she denied Dexter boarding. What no one knew, of course, was that Dexter had his own Instagram account. And you know the rest of the story.

But the good news is that United announced that effective March 1, emotional-support animals must be shown to be "in good health and properly trained for public settings." (Unfortunately, the general perception of United's animal friendliness took a hit last week when a flight attendant forced a passenger to place her daughter's puppy in an overhead compartment, killing the pet.)

Delta, of course, decided to do United one better. It will now require veterinary health records for trained service animals.

This was immediately hailed by the largest union for flight attendants, who are tired of watching ducks in diapers roam aisles or being asked to administer oxygen to dogs that are traumatized by a bit of turbulence.

American Airlines, for its part, noted a sharp increase in the number of service animals aboard its planes and said it is studying revisions to its policies.

I have not heard back from some of the budget carriers, but that might be because small dogs, snakes and monkeys may be among the only species to actually fit in their current seat configurations.

• • •

There is a new study of millennial travel behavior, so let's look at it because, as you know, nothing on Earth is as important to me as knowing what our millennials think about travel. We can never spend too much time on this subject.

The report "How Millennials Travel" noted that the travel seller needs to understand that this portion of our society is better educated, less conservative, more tech savvy and, especially, more reliant on mobile phones than any other generation. It would help, the report said, if travel sellers would refer to millennials as "netizens," given their trust of and dependence on technology for travel planning.

Travel is not a luxury to the millennial, "it is a necessity to them." By 2025, it is expected that they will make up 60% of the global workforce.

The report points out that millennials travel more often than members of other age groups, but they spend less. This is closely related to their spontaneous nature. Travel sellers must meet them at their point of need. And millennials are increasingly taking advantage of promotional offers from sites linked to their social media presence.

I found it really interesting that more than half of millennials say they would prefer traveling in groups (51.6%) rather than going off alone or with a single partner. The ideal group size comes in at four to 10 people. This seems to indicate that the majority prefer vacation group activities to a relaxed hotel stay.

It is interesting that 48.8% of millennials prefer mobile payment. They feel that being asked for a credit card by a travel agent is really old school.

But despite all this, and despite a heavy and growing reliance on on-site reviews, only a third of millennials book their travel online. They will read the reviews and the comments from travelers online, but the majority still prefer to actually book offline.

I hope you found that interesting. There is one small fact that I should probably add. Everything referenced above is from a report published in Kenya by the destination marketer Saffir Africa, and it applies specifically to the millennial population in that country.

It is, I think, illustrative of the fact that the changes we are seeing in travel commerce are universal and cut across many lines. It turns out we have so much more in common than some of our leaders would have us believe.

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