For the AJC
To celebrate its expansion to its seventh hub in Atlanta, Megabus.com is offering 10,000 free seats for travel between Nov. 16 and Dec. 16. The free seats will be available on departures to and from Atlanta and the 11 expansion cities. Use the promo code ATL10K when booking (subject to availability on select dates, routes).
Service to and from Atlanta on this city-to-city, express bus company will begin Nov. 16.
If you’re not lucky enough to land a free seat on Megabus.com, one-way fares start from $1 to 11 destinations:
- Birmingham, Mobile and Montgomery, Ala.
- Charlotte, N.C.
- Chattanooga, Knoxville, Memphis and Nashville, Tenn.
- Gainesville, Jacksonville and Orlando, Fla.
Service to and from Atlanta on this popular city-to-city, express bus company will begin Nov. 16.
Customers can begin booking travel at www.Megabus.com.
One-way fares on Megabus.com always start as low as $1 and get higher as the traveling date gets closer.
Megabus.com will offer daily departures from its stop location on the street level at MARTA’s Civic Center station in downtown Atlanta. The curbside bus stop is just south of the intersection of West Peachtree Street NW and Pine Street NE., on the northbound side of West Peachtree St NW.
The Civic Center station is on MARTA’s Gold and Red lines, offering fast connections via rail throughout the Atlanta metro and to Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
Megabus.com, launched in April 2006, is one of the largest intercity express bus service providers in North America, transporting more than 13 million travelers. In addition to affordable fares, Megabus.com offers customers state-of-the-art environmentally-friendly buses with free WiFi, power outlets, panoramic windows and restrooms.
Visit www.Megabus.com for additional information about the service, schedules, arrival and departure times and fares.
Clara Bosonetto is a retired travel consultant.
“Get your freak on girl.” That phrase written by a Transportation Security Administration baggage screener got the worker fired.
It all started last week when Jill Filipovic, lawyer and Feministe blogger, tweeted a picture of the TSA note she found in her luggage after the officer saw a vibrator among the contents in her checked bag. The TSA deemed the note “highly inappropriate and unprofessional” and, after an investigation, fired the employee.
The event comes after a loaded .38-caliber handgun fell out of a checked bag at LAX on Oct. 23. (Gun owners are supposed to declare their firearms in checked luggage and never leave them loaded.) Why didn’t TSA workers find it?
They weren’t looking for it. The TSA says its job is to detect explosives in checked bags, not loaded guns. It does, however, pounce on any gun, knife, nail clipper, etc., in carry-on luggage and likes to run a list of all the confiscated items found each week on its blog.
These events might make for a good bloopers video to be shown at the annual TSA holiday party if it weren’t for one salient point: The fallout from securing a nation from terrorism while respecting individual privacy rights isn’t funny.
Nor was the story of two TSA workers at LAX arrested on suspicion of stealing from passenger luggage in June. Nor was the story of the 28 TSA workers in Hawaii who were cited for improperly screening bags for explosives, also in June.
Now it’s time to say the obvious: These actions represent a small minority of TSA officers, the majority of whom dutifully and professionally perform their jobs at airports around the nation.
Which brings me back to Filipovic. She says in a blog post last Wednesday that she’s appalled by the media circus over this event and didn’t want the TSA worker fired.
“It’s easy to scapegoat one individual here but the problem with the note is that it’s representative of the bigger privacy intrusions that the U.S. government, through the TSA and other sources, levels every day. The invasion is inherent to the TSA’s mission, regardless of whether a funny note is left behind — the note only serves to highlight the absurdity of all this security theater.”
Mission impossible for the TSA? Whatever, but the hundreds of thousands of us who travel each day have to face these issues head on — funny or not.
BOSTON – Amtrak service in New England remains disrupted after the weekend snowstorm that downed trees and power lines across the Northeast.
The federal rail passenger agency said Monday morning that the line between Springfield, Mass., and New Haven, Conn., remains suspended.
The Vermonter Trains 55 and 56 between New Haven and St. Albans, Vt., are cancelled.
The Lake Shore Limited Train 448 between Albany, N.Y,. and Boston is cancelled, and Train 449 is cancelled, but with alternate bus transportation available.
Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor service between Boston and Washington is operating normally.
Amtrak said passengers on cancelled trains can get refunds or rebook without penalty.
SNOWSHOE, W.Va. – Snowshoe Mountain Resort has seen more than 20 inches of natural snow fall in October.
Officials at the Pocahontas County resort say a foot of snow fell there this weekend, and the snow machines working Saturday during the sustained cold weather also added to the early-season base.
West Virginia Ski Areas Association says Snowshoe’s opening day is scheduled for Nov. 23. Timberline Resort is expected to open on Dec. 8, Winterplace is set to open Dec.9, Canaan Valley opens on Dec. 10 and Oglebay Resort it set to open in mid-December.
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – Heads up, space fans.
Visitors to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center now have the opportunity to see inside the colossal Vehicle Assembly Building, off-limits throughout the 30-year shuttle program.
Public bus tours last stopped at the VAB in 1978. They’re resuming Nov. 1. The cost is an extra $25 per adult and $19 per child — on top of the usual admission charge.
The 525-foot-tall VAB was built to hold the Saturn V rocket that sent men to the moon in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It’s where every space shuttle was attached to its external fuel tank and booster rockets, before flight.
Atlantis closed out the shuttle program in July, with the 135th mission.
NASA officials stress that the VAB tour stop is temporary — it will cease when the VAB is used once again to stack rockets for launch. The space agency is aiming to send astronauts to an asteroid and Mars in the decades ahead.
The Peninsula Valdes nature reserve is a remote mix of mud flats, cliffs and stony beaches so rich in wildlife that UNESCO named it a World Heritage Site in 1999. In these waters off the east coast of Argentina, southern right whales thrive and orcas snack on sea lions and baby elephant seals.
Travel outfitter Adventure Life organizes five-day sea kayaking and camping trips that take travelers to see penguins, sea lions, elephant seals and, of course, whales — up close. The trip starts and ends in Trelew, Argentina, and spends two nights camping at El 39, a beach where southern right whales are studied. A day of whale-watching at Puerto Piramides is included.
When: The tour is offered year-round. The best time to see wildlife is September through January when it’s summertime in the Southern Hemisphere.
Price: $1,305 a person, based on double occupancy; single supplement varies by season. (Add an estimated $690 a person for round-trip flights between Buenos Aires and Trelew.) The trip price includes two nights at a hotel, two nights camping, 10 meals, private guide for four days, gear rental and camping gear. The trip is customized and can accommodate beginning to experienced kayakers. International airfare is not included.
Info: Adventure Life, (800) 344-6118
Destination Hotels Resorts operates resorts from Hawaii to Washington, D.C., and many in Southern California. The company has launched a sale that takes a third or more off room rates for those who join its loyalty program. That means decent savings at places such as Terranea in Rancho Palos Verdes, Estancia La Jolla and Paradise Point in San Diego.
The deal: Here’s how it works: Start by signing up for free at Destination Delivers or sign in if you’re already a member. Then click on “Specials,” and discounts and rate rules will be displayed by property. For example, Estancia La Jolla Hotel Spa discounts rooms 40% on a two-night stay in November and December and 30% on other dates through May.
When: The offer ends Thursday, but hotel stays can be booked into 2012. Look online for dates when the sale rates apply to each property. Also, some blackout dates apply.
Tested: I checked Dec. 9-11 and found availability for the deal at Estancia starting at $120 a night compared with the best available rate of $199 a night (prices exclude tax). The total for a weekend getaway: $270, plus parking ($25 a night for valet, $20 for self-park). The sale also applies to other resorts in California and beyond, so shop around if you’re already planning next year’s getaways.
Contact: Destination Delivers
Just before Christmas 2008, the lowest tax-included round-trip airfare between New York and LA leaving just before the holiday and returning the Sunday after was about $900 round-trip. But as this Dec. 11, 2008, NPR radio interview (http://www.thetakeaway.org/2008/dec/11/tips-surviving-holiday-travel-pack-your-bagsthen-post-them/) revealed, had you waited and shopped around, a couple of weeks before the holiday the same route would have cost just $391 round-trip, on nonstop flights no less.
Will the same thing happen this year? Will the sky-high peak holiday airfares that the airlines are hoping you’ll cave in to suddenly go begging? It’s impossible — and too early — to tell. But if past years are any indications, it’s certainly a possibility.
One thing’s for certain: Thanks to airline consolidation and the elimination of thousands of seats, current airfares this year on average are higher than they were last year. But the keyword is “current.”
How bad are peak holiday airfares as I write?
Some flights are just through the roof right now, and I cannot imagine anyone paying them.
Here are some tax-included round-trip examples leaving Nov. 24 returning Nov. 27 (in other words, peak Thanksgiving travel), researched on Oct. 25, 2011:
New York to Charlestown, S.C.: $960.
Chicago-Los Angeles is much more reasonable: $363
Miami-Philadelphia: $363 on American but $473 on US Air, which shows that all airlines are NOT selling at the same price — which is why your best bet is to use online travel agencies such as Expedia and Orbitz, which compare multiple airlines at a glance. (OTAs will tell you if it’s cheaper to fly out on one airline and back on another. Southwest.com, Delta.com and AA.com will not).
L.A. to Vegas however is relatively cheap at $182 on Spirit Airlines. And not so cheap at $772 on United!
Boston-Dallas is almost $700, even on connecting flights!
So what to do? Here are some tips to navigate exorbitant holiday fares.
One bit of advice is to fly on Thanksgiving Day and return the Friday or Saturday after the holiday.
That outrageous $960 New York-Charleston fare leaving the day before Thanksgiving and returning the Sunday after suddenly becomes $482 if you depart on Thanksgiving Day at 6.30 a.m. (arriving in plenty of time for turkey) and returning the Saturday after the holiday. That’s a 50 percent savings.
So by not returning on the Sunday after the holiday you can save money.
Another tip is to shop alternate airports.
Although the peak Thanksgiving (Nov. 24-27) airfare currently from Nashville to New York isn’t a screaming bargain at $403 round-trip, it’s a lot better than the fare from Chattanooga ($549), and just a two-hour drive separates the two airports. If there are four of you flying, that’s almost $600 in savings.
And it’s still possible that these Thanksgiving fares, and peak Christmas fares, will go down.
A lot of airfare pundits are warning you to “buy now or cry later.” I’m not so sure. True, if you’re flying no matter what the cost, you don’t want to wait if you’re hoping to book your ideal flight times, leave you’re your preferred departure airport, and get your favorite (i.e., no middle) seats. However, perhaps a better piece of advice, especially if you’re not going fly if the fare is too high, is to shop, shop, shop. Maybe 2011 will be a replay of 2008. If the airlines have priced too high, many people will not travel. And thus the airlines might blink. So consumers should not just search once, get discouraged, and fail to recheck closer to the holiday.
Sign up for airfare alerts (http://www.airfarewatchdog.com/fare-alerts/), do your homework, keep looking, and you might be pleasantly surprised.
George Hobica is founder of the low-airfare listing site Airfarewatchdog.com.
Have a question about air travel? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Questions can only be answered in this column and not individually.
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ASPEN, Colo. – Want first crack at the runs in Aspen? The Aspen Skiing Co. is offering an “Ultimate Ski Pass” that will let you have unlimited first tracks before chairlifts open to the public — for $25,000.
The exclusive passes also allow holders to meet members of the U.S. Women’s Ski Team when they race in Aspen on Thanksgiving weekend. And they include breakfast with Aspen native Bill Marolt, president of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association.
The Ultimate Ski Passes have perks for more than just the few who can afford them. Proceeds from the pricey passes will be split between supporting public schools in the Roaring Fork Valley and helping present events tied to World Cup ski racing in Aspen.
“Philanthropy with rewards is the idea behind the Ultimate Ski Pass, which strengthens Aspen’s unique community” while offering holders some VIP privileges, Skico said in a promotional piece for the passes.
It’s the third year the ski resort has sold the high-cost ski passes. Aspen Skiing Co. says it is offering 18 of the passes this season and has sold one, The Aspen Times reported ( http://goo.gl/VOLhK).
“We’ve typically sold two or three (of the passes per season) so we don’t have an expectation that we will sell them all,” said Matt Hamilton, Skico director of sustainability.
The passes are transferable and valid at Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Snowmass and Buttermilk.
The Ultimate Pass morphed out of the Foundation Mountain Pass, which raised funds for the Aspen Community Fund and a foundation connected to the owners. In that program, a pass good for four seasons was sold for $135,000.
NEW YORK – It was a passengers’ nightmare at Bradley International Airport near Hartford, Conn., this weekend.
Passengers on at least three JetBlue planes and one American Airline plane say they were stranded on the tarmac for seven hours or more after being diverted from New York-area airports on Saturday.
The ordeal continued after they were let off and had to spend the night on cots and chairs in terminals.
A passenger on one of the diverted JetBlue planes says the crew ran out of snacks and bottled water for the last few hours of the delay.
“The toilets were backed up. When you flushed, nothing would happen,” said Andrew Carter, a reporter for the Sun Sentinel of Florida, who was traveling to cover the Miami Dolphins game against the New York Giants. His plane took off from Fort Lauderdale for Newark Liberty International Airport at around 9 a.m. After being diverted to Hartford, the plane sat on the tarmac between around 1:30 p.m. and 9 p.m., he said.
A representative for Bradley International wasn’t available to comment on the scope of the tarmac delays at the airport.
A JetBlue spokeswoman, Victoria Lucia, confirmed in an emailed statement that six of its planes, carrying a total of about 700 passengers, were diverted to Hartford as a result of a “confluence of events” including equipment failures at Newark and New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport that prevented planes from landing in low visibility.
She declined to specify how long the planes sat on the tarmac at Bradley, but noted that 17 other flights with different carriers were also diverted to airport.
Once the planes landed at Bradley, Lucia said that intermittent power outages at the airport made refueling and deplaning difficult.
Kate Hanni, executive editor for FlyersRights.org, said she got calls and emails from passengers and worried family members regarding at least four flights that were stranded on the tarmac for up to 10 hours.
Brent Stanley and his wife were on one of those planes, an American Airlines flight that had originally been headed to JFK after taking off from Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris.
After being diverted and landing in Hartford at 2:30 p.m., Stanley said passengers were given various reasons for being held on the tarmac, including the need to refuel and de-ice and the airport’s limited capacity for handling international flights. He and his wife were eager to get back home to their two young sons in Lake Zurich, Ill. But they realized they didn’t have it as bad as the parents who had infants on the plane.
“There was a lady in front of us with an 18-month-old daughter,” Stanley said. “Another woman came by to borrow diapers because we couldn’t get to our luggage.”
After spending the night at the airport, Stanley was lucky to find two seats Sunday on an afternoon flight home to Chicago. But the headache isn’t over yet; his luggage was headed to JFK because the Hartford airport crew wasn’t able to handle international luggage, he said.
An American Airlines spokesman, Ed Martelle, said the passengers weren’t allowed off the plane by customs at the airport. Martelle did not know the exact number of American planes that were diverted to Bradley or how long they sat on the tarmac.
Matt Shellenberger, who was on a JetBlue flight from Boston to JFK, said his plane was diverted to Bradley International and sat on the tarmac for seven hours.
The crew picked up trash regularly and handed out water and snacks and “everyone held their cool,” he said. But his frustrations grew with each status update; the reasons for the delay kept changing as the hours passed.
Early on, passengers were told that the plane was just being refueled and would fly out soon, Shellenberger said. Then they were told it was being de-iced. Then there was an emergency on another plane.
“We were told we were the third plane in line to get to the gate when we landed,” he said. “Then we stayed on the plane for seven hours.”
Carter of the Sun Sentinel, who was on another JetBlue flight, reported a similar sequence of updates.
The saga continued long after passengers were let off the plane.
The power outages from storms throughout Connecticut made booking hotel rooms difficult. As a result, many passengers just slept at the airport, Carter and Shellenberger said in separate interviews.
When they awoke, hundreds of passengers had to wait in line for hours just to figure out which flight they’d be on.
“That was most disappointing part,” Carter said. “It seemed like there was no plan when we got off the plane.”
In the morning, Carter said he and several other passengers rented a van to drive to New Jersey rather than wait for the afternoon flight JetBlue had scheduled to Newark.
It’s not the first time JetBlue has had problems with tarmac delays. The New York-based airline also made headlines in 2007 when snow and ice storms stranded its planes for nearly 11 hours at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.
Such high-profile delays helped prompt a regulation last year that fines airlines for holding domestic flights on the tarmac for more than three hours. This year, the rule was extended to apply to international flights that are held on the tarmac for more than four hours.
The Department of Transportation often doesn’t enforce the fines to their full extent unless delays are extreme, however. Passengers also do not get a cut of the fines.
Low-cost carriers are more prone to tarmac delays because letting passengers off planes can cost an airline a lot of money, said Hanni of FlyersRights.org.
If a plane is diverted because of a reason within the airline’s control, such as a mechanical failure, ticket contracts usually state that passengers will be reimbursed for hotels, food and transportation. That means airlines do everything in their power to keep passengers on board in hope that the plane will be able to take off again.
JetBlue said that passengers who were diverted to Bradley International would be reimbursed for their fares and hotel expenses.
A representative for the Port Authority of New York New Jersey, which oversees Newark and JFK airports, could not immediately say how many total flights were diverted to other airports because of equipment failures.