At Peninsula Hotels, sharks stay free. In an effort to protect the species, the company recently announced that it would stop serving shark-fin soup at its hotels in Beijing and Shanghai and at its flagship Hong Kong property as well as its hotels in Beverly Hills, New York and other cities.
The parent company of Peninsula, Hong Kong and Shanghai Hotels Ltd., made the announcement Nov. 21 and encouraged other hotels and restaurants to do likewise and “play a role in helping preserve the biodiversity of our oceans.”
The ban goes into effect Jan. 1, though the company says it will serve the soup into the new year for banquet reservations made before the announcement.
California and Toronto recently enacted laws banning the sale and serving of shark fins, and the European Union‘s executive board proposed a similar ban on Nov. 21. Rosanna Xia writes in this L.A. Times article about the high cost of the cultural significance of the dish:
“Dried shark fin, the soup’s main ingredient, can sell for more than $2,000 a pound in California. Originally served only to emperors, the expensive soup has become a symbol of status and wealth and a gesture of honor to respected guests.”
The hotel group’s action was praised by WildAid, an organization that has been touting shark protection for more than a decade. WildAid offiicials said the ban should serve as an example of the way businesses can become players in the conservation movement.
WildAid estimates that 73 million sharks a year are killed to make shark-fin soup, a practice it calls cruel and wasteful. High-profile supporters of WildAid’s campaign against shark-finning include Richard Branson, basketball player Yao Ming, film director Ang Lee and chefs Wolfgang Puck, Gordon Ramsay and Mario Batali.
Take a trip to the East Coast that combines landmarks big and small — for a small price. Tours4Fun offers a six-day tour that starts and ends in Philadelphia and visits Washington, Niagara Falls, Boston and New York City.
Other sightseeing stops along the way include Hershey’s Chocolate World in Hershey, Pa.; the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, N.Y.; and the campuses of MIT and Harvard. The trip prices out to $240 per person for a nice first-timer overview or vacation for a family of four.
Date: Tours depart year-round on Mondays and Fridays through Dec. 31, 2012.
Price: $480 for two (double occupancy) or $940 for four (four in one room), excluding tax. It includes five nights in hotels, round-trip transportation to and from Philadelphia by tour coach, and a tour guide. Airfare and admission to add-on tours are extra.
Tested: I went online and found availability for a range of departure dates, including the one I checked: March 12. The tour provides two pickup starting points in Philadelphia before hitting the road.
Contact: Tours4fun, (866) 933-7368
Members of the U.S. military flying on official orders while in uniform may soon see faster security screening while traveling through the nation’s airports.
The U.S. House of Representatives today voted 404 to 0 to approve H.R. 1801, also known as the ‘‘Risk-Based Security Screening for Members of The Armed Forces Act,” which will now be sent to the Senate. If passed by the Senate and signed into law by President Barack Obama, the Transportation Security Administration within six months will be required to implement expedited security screening for members of the U.S. military and any family members traveling with them.
“With all the contention and political gridlock we’ve witnessed over the past several months, what’s most important is that we come together to agree where we can,” said Rep. Chip Cravaack, R-Minn., in a statement. “In respect to our men and women in uniform and in the best interest of our national security, this bipartisan initiative is the least we could do for our military personnel and their families traveling our nation’s airports while serving our country.”
Rep. Laura Richardson, D-Calif., a member of the Committee on Homeland Security on which Cravaack also serves, urged support of the bill from the House floor. ”It’s needed, it’s common sense and it’s legislation with bipartisan support,” she said.
The legislation is a step toward a more risk-based, intelligence-driven security screening system, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach. The TSA is currently testing a “PreCheck” program for travelers who provide personal information in exchange for the possibility of faster screening at airports in Atlanta, Dallas, Detroit and Miami, with plans to expand to airports in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Minneapolis-St. Paul.
TSA spokesman Greg Soule told msnbc.com that the agency already expedites screening for wounded veterans and allows service members in uniform with proper ID to keep their shoes or boots on while passing through security checkpoints.
The TSA also is testing a military ID card-reading program at Monterey Peninsula Airport, Soule said. The pilot program is designed to test the technology necessary to verify the status of U.S. service members and could pave the way for troops to be included in TSA’s PreCheck expedited screening program.
“While this program would not guarantee expedited screening — we must retain a certain element of randomness to prevent terrorists from gaming the system — the testing of this concept holds the potential to significantly change the travel experience for members of the U.S. Armed Forces in the future,” Soule said.
Brandon Macsata, executive director for the Association for Airline Passenger Rights, said he supports the legislation.
“We contend that like pilots who have already undergone extensive security screenings and [are] put in charge of the aircraft’s overall safety and security, men and women serving in our armed services should be afford the same expedited screening,” Macsata told msnbc.com. “U.S. military traveling on official orders are executing their sworn duty to defend the country, and as such they should not be delayed with long airport security screenings.”
However, Erica Pena-Vest, founder and travel editor for GuidetoMilitaryTravel.com, told msnbc.com that while she thinks members of Congress have their heart in the right place, she’s never heard any active-duty member of the military complain about having to go through airport security, just like any other American. “Most military people don’t like to be singled out,” she said, adding that only the U.S. Army travels in uniform.
“I think as a society we can think of other ways to honor our military,” said Pena-Vest, who is married to an aviator in the U.S. Navy. “I don’t necessarily think that helping them expedite the security screening process is necessarily the answer.”
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Joy Jernigan is a senior travel editor for msnbc.com. Follow her on Twitter.
Alaska Airlines was one of several U.S. carriers to offer discounted fares on Cyber Monday
According to research firm, comScore Inc, it was the biggest day of online retailing in U.S. history, with web sales rising to US$1.25 billion. And on Cyber Monday, airlines, hotels, cruise liners, agencies and even luggage apparel got in on the act, as the travel trade looked to take advantage of the ever-growing presence of web-based holiday shopping.
Leading the charge for the industry were major passenger carriers, who used Cyber Monday as a springboard for a variety of online sales.
Delta Air Lines, US Airways, American Airlines and Air Tran were amongst those who launched sales on Monday ranging from one day to one week in duration.
Sample markdowns include(d) Los Angeles to Seattle for $39 (United Airlines), Palm Springs to Dallas for $60 (Alaska Airlines) and New York to Fort Lauderdale for $69 (JetBlue).
Not looking to be outdone was Virgin America, whose Cyber Monday sale offered a charter of one of its planes for $60,000 – included in the ‘discount’ was the naming rights to one of Virgin America’s Airbus A320s.
Among the hospitality groups looking to cash-in on Cyber Monday were Best Western, Affinia Hotels, Starwood Hotels and Resorts and Kimpton Hotels Restaurants.
The Trump Hotel Collection announced a 30 per cent discount on all suite accommodations booked on Monday, while Loews Hotels offered 20 per cent off Loews Best Rate at 15 Loews properties throughout the States.
Jetsetter.com, Travelocity and Abercrombie Kent were amongst the travel agents to offer discounts on Cyber Monday.
NEW YORK – For most of the 240,000 passengers who fly American Airlines each day, the airline’s bankruptcy filing should have little noticeable impact.
American continues to operate flights, honor tickets and take reservations. It says its frequent-flier program will be unaffected.
Some travelers may eventually see fewer American flights at their airport. The incoming CEO said American would probably reduce its flight schedule “modestly” while restructuring in bankruptcy court. But that would continue a strategy in place at American and other airlines in response to high jet fuel prices.
The real risk to American’s passengers is if the restructuring fails, the airline ultimately liquidates and ceases to fly. Even then, many travelers are protected if they bought tickets with a credit card.
Delta, United, Continental and US Airways have all gone through Chapter 11. Travelers continued to book tickets. Planes still took off and landed and frequent flier miles were still earned and redeemed. In fact, the bankruptcy process is usually more taxing on the airline’s shareholders, who tend to get wiped out. Or on workers, who can lose pay and benefits, and even their job.
Still, some American travelers were nervous on Tuesday.
“I would definitely be less likely to book with them. I would be afraid they’d be less likely to keep their flights,” Corina Fallbacher said after landing home in Chicago on an American flight from Orlando.
American is the nation’s third-largest airline behind United Continental Holdings Inc. and Delta Air Lines Inc. It operates out of five major hubs in New York, Los Angeles, Dallas/Fort Worth, Chicago, and Miami. It has major international partnerships with British Airways and Japan Airlines.
Steve Varraso, 39, an event planner who had flown from Boston to Chicago’s O’Hare, said he was slightly concerned about his frequent-flier miles on American. But Varraso and other frequent fliers shouldn’t worry. Eastern Airlines, Pan Am and Trans World Airlines all ceased flying but miles in their programs were transferred over to other airlines that bought some of their assets. TWA miles actually went into American Airlines’ frequent flier program, AAdvantage.
“Miles are safe,” said Gary Leff, co-founder of frequent flier site MilePoint. He said the bankruptcies of past airlines “are instructive.” He even suggested there might be some promotions to keep loyal travelers.
American has prided itself on having avoided the bankruptcy process. But that left American with higher labor costs than its rivals, a major reason it continues to lose money while they are again earning profits. American spends $3,008 on salary and benefits for every hour each of its 600 planes is in the air, according to Vaughn Cordle, chief analyst with AirlineForecasts. United spends $2,801, Delta $2,587 and US Airways $1,991.
Those labor costs, along with a 40 percent jump in fuel expense, contributed to AMR’s $162 million loss in the third quarter despite higher airfares. Delta and United, meanwhile, had a combined profit of $1.2 billion.
Bob Boyd was briefly a pilot for American after getting out of the military. At Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport on Tuesday morning, Boyd was surprised to hear that American hadn’t already solved its financial problems.
“I thought the union issues were behind the company. I had heard fares would go up to compensate for lost revenue, so this is extremely surprising,” he said.
One way that American and other airlines have controlled costs is by reducing passenger-carrying capacity. That’s done by cutting flights or using smaller planes on some routers. Thomas W. Horton, who was named the new CEO of American’s parent company, AMR Corp., said fliers can expect some modest capacity cuts in the future. Passengers whose flight is canceled or moved because of a schedule change will be rebooked.
Many travelers are aware that American was in financial difficulty and that bankruptcy court provides a way to for it to get back on its feet.
Bob Rowberry, 59, of Salt Lake City, flew American to Chicago for business Tuesday morning. Waiting for his luggage, he said the bankruptcy filing will help American keep from going under.
“Until they do (go out of business) I’ll continue to fly with them.”
Carla K. Johnson in Chicago and Danny Robbins in Dallas contributed to this report.
Scott Mayerowitz can be reached at http://twitter.com/GlobeTrotScott
ANCHORAGE, Alaska – Denali National Park officials say reservations for shuttle buses and campgrounds for the 2012 visitor season will be taken beginning Thursday.
Reservations can be made online or by telephone, fax or mail for the buses and the park’s four largest campgrounds.
Park officials say about 65 percent of the shuttle bus seats are available for advance reservations and so are 100 percent of campsites at Riley Creek, Teklanika River, Wonder Lake and Savage River campgrounds.
Whether you donate time, blood or money, volunteering feels good (after the “ouch” for blood donors). Now helping others can help you snag some travel deals and discounts too.
VolunteerIDcard was launched in 2009 to reward card-carrying volunteers with travel and shopping discounts, including:
— Special humanitarian and volunteer airfares that help volunteers reach areas where natural disasters have struck, such as Haiti. Additional proof of volunteer status is often requested (480-361-1551, tinyurl.com/22pg6cy.
— 10 percent discount on Greyhound bus tickets in the U.S. and Australia
— 10 percent discount on Amtrak tickets
— $20 discount on Eurail Backpacker rates for Red Service on the Great Southern Railway for train travel throughout Australia (gsr.com.au). The rate saves travelers 50 percent off the regular adult Red Service fare.
— Accommodation discounts ranging from 10 to 50 percent at Super 8, Days Inn, Wyndham Hotels (20 percent off the best available rate) and thousands of hostels worldwide.
Founder Lisa Vigorito said almost 90 percent of members receive their cards directly from their volunteer organizations. Those who don’t can apply for one, though VolunteerIDcard checks for validity of the volunteer organization.
Vigorito said the company continually seeks additional travel and shopping benefits, emphasizing fair trade and eco-friendly retailers.
The VolunteerIDcard costs $25 for an individual card without photo or $29.99 with a photo, and it’s good for one year. Renewal of the photo VolunteerIDcard using the same photo costs $25. 800-255-7000, volunteeridcard.com.
Then there’s the ultimate: For volunteers who can donate up to 27 months, the Peace Corps is one of the best volunteer travel options.
FORT WORTH, Texas – American Airlines and its parent company are filing for bankruptcy protection as they try to cut costs and unload massive debt built up by years of high fuel prices and labor struggles. There will no impact on travelers for now.
The nation’s third-largest airline also said Tuesday that CEO Gerard Arpey had stepped down and was replaced by company president Thomas W. Horton.
AMR Corp. has continued to lose money while other U.S. airlines returned to profitability in the last two years.
Horton said the board of directors unanimously decided to file for bankruptcy after meeting Monday in New York and again by conference call on Monday night.
American said it would operate normally while it reorganizes in bankruptcy. The airline said it would continue to operate flights, honor tickets and take reservations. It said the AAdvantage frequent-flier program would not be affected.
Horton said, however, that as the company goes through a restructuring it will probably reduce the flight schedule “modestly,” with corresponding cuts in jobs.
The company will delay the spin-off of its regional airline operation, American Eagle, which was expected in early 2012. AMR Eagle Holding Corp. also filed for bankruptcy.
American was the only major U.S. airline that didn’t file for bankruptcy protection in the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks that triggered a deep slump in the airline industry. The last major airline to file for bankruptcy protection was Delta in 2005.
Speculation about an AMR bankruptcy grew in recent weeks, however, as negotiations with pilots and other workers over cost-saving labor contracts seemed to stall. The company said that labor-contract rules forced it to spend at least $600 million more per year than other airlines.
Horton said, however, that there was no single factor that led to the bankruptcy filing. He said the company needed to cut costs in view of the weak global economy and high, volatile fuel prices. The average price of jet fuel has risen more than 50 percent in the past five years.
American was the world’s biggest airline as recently as 2008, but has fallen behind United and Delta after those two companies bought other airlines.
Fort Worth-based AMR lost $162 million in the third quarter and has posted losses in 14 of the last 16 quarters.
AMR has about $4 billion in cash and has announced plans to order 460 new narrow-body planes used primarily in the U.S., plus other jets for longer flights.
American was founded in 1930 from the combination of more than 80 smaller carriers. It now flies about 240,000 passengers per day and has about 78,000 employees.
The airline operates out of five major hubs in New York, Los Angeles, Dallas/Fort Worth, Chicago, and Miami. It has major international partnerships with British Airways and Japan Airlines.
Bomkamp reported from New York.
CHICAGO – Chicago’s Greektown will soon be getting a major addition.
The National Hellenic Museum will open to the public Dec. 10. The four-story, 40,000-square foot museum includes exhibits on ancient Greece, displays on the city’s Greek community and a library and resource center.
One exhibit is interactive and is called “Gods, Myths Mortals: Discovering Ancient Greece.” And there’s a 13-foot tall Trojan Horse for children to climb.
The museum’s mission is to chronicle the Greek American journey through exhibitions, oral histories and education programs, among other things. The facility is located in the city’s Greek enclave, just west of downtown.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The recession-dented RV industry pointed Tuesday to modest gains atop last year’s turnaround performance as another sign that the sector is on a slow road to recovery.
RV makers, dealers and suppliers attending an annual industry trade show were told that 2011 shipments from manufacturers to dealers are expected to be up 2 percent from last year’s 242,300 shipped units. The 2010 total amounted to a 46 percent gain from 2009 as the economy improved.
“You guys sitting in this room today are all survivors in this industry, and I think that bodes very well,” said Richard A. Coon, president of the Virginia-based Recreation Vehicle Industry Association.
In 2007, shipments of RV units totaled 353,400 — the fourth-highest figure in a quarter century. By 2009, shipments slumped to 165,700 units as older RVs parked on dealers’ lots drew scant interest from cash-conscious consumers.
Consumers remain jittery by stubbornly high unemployment, sagging home values and a volatile stock market. As a result, the industry is bracing for a projected 2.6 percent decline in RV shipments in 2012 to 240,600 units, based on a forecast by University of Michigan economist Richard Curtin.
“It plays with the psyche of those people that are in our target market,” said Bob Olson, chairman of RV maker Winnebago Industries Inc.
Lackluster consumer confidence aside, he noted some favorable trends: dealer inventories have improved and consumer credit has become more available, especially for less-expensive towable RVs attached to pickups or hitched to the back of another vehicle.
“A lot of tough decisions were made by everybody in that room in order to be here today,” Olson said following the trade show’s opening session. “You didn’t find anybody in the RV industry getting a bailout. We did it the old-fashioned way, with some pretty tough decisions.”
Since 2008, the number of RV manufacturers has dropped by 35 percent, Coon said. The ranks of suppliers fell by almost the same amount.
Everyone had to make adjustments to survive.
Tom Stinnett, an RV dealer in southern Indiana, said he reshuffled his inventory to focus mostly on towable units. Before the recession, his lot was divided between towables and more costly stand-alone motor homes.
Towables cost between $6,000 and $100,000, according to RVIA. Stand-alone motor homes range from $50,000 to as much as $400,000 for top-of-the-line, bus-like vehicles.
Stinnett said his business is profitable again after several tough years, adding “We have nowhere to go but up.”
U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar also gave a pep talk to the industry.
“Your best days are still ahead,” he said before touring a convention hall filled with the newest models.
Salazar said investments in conservation and outdoor recreation would help fuel job growth. He cited a study showing more than 8.4 million U.S. jobs are created every year thanks to outdoor recreation.
In 2010, RV travelers spent nearly 2.3 million nights at national parks, up 10 percent from 2008, Salazar said.
Employment is also on the rebound in the industry. RV manufacturers and suppliers now employ about 375,000 people, up about 50 percent since November 2008, according to RVIA. But the overall work force is still down from the more than 500,000 workers before the recession.
Among the RV makers showing off their latest models was California-based manufacturer MVP RV Inc., which debuted an all-electric motor home powered by batteries attached to the chaise.
”It’s a bold step for us, but we believe that these are the kind of actions that are necessary to help change the perception of not only the industry but the economic climate overall,” said MVP CEO and President Brad Williams