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Monday, December 09, 2019

11½ Ways To Be A More Congenial Air Traveler

By George Hobica, (TNS)

Yes, that’s me on a United Airlines flight. As is often the case, my seatmate didn’t acknowledge my existence with so much as a nod or a wan smile, but he did manage to nod off on my shoulder for 30 or so minutes before he woke up. I didn’t have the heart to shake him awake. It was kind of funny. Ironically, he didn’t bother to apologize for invading my personal space or thank me for letting him get some shut eye.

But many of the things we do in airports and on planes are not so amusing.

1. You may find small inconsistencies here and there, but security regulations are pretty much standard across the board. Is it really a surprise that your cellphone will set off the metal detector? Help speed things up by placing all your metal and electronic doodads in a coat pocket or carry-on pouch, remove your laptop from its case, have liquids/gels/toiletries in the TSA-approved quart-sized bag, and have those shoes ready to toss in the tray (unless, of course, you’re enrolled in TSA PreCheck). And yes, that nonfat macchiato you just bought does in fact count as a liquid. As does that 6 gallon vat of Gold Bond Medicated Cream you forgot to put in your checked baggage. Don’t argue with the nice agent. Keep it moving.

2. Standing still on the people mover. Exhilarating, isn’t it? Enjoy the ride! But at least move to the right so others can get around. And move those bags out of the way too. Thanks!

3. Carry-ons and overheads, bad news first: You may have to store your carry-on in an overhead bin other than the one directly above your seat. The good news? Every overhead bin on the plane is going to the same place you’re going! Quelle coinkidink! Heck, even if you’re asked to check your carry-on, you’ll still see it again upon arrival, and it’ll be free. A slight inconvenience, yes, but no need for a meltdown. Just take whatever items you may need during the flight and keep them under the seat in front of you. No biggie.

3a. What is so hard about putting your rolling suitcase in the bins wheels first? That makes room for more bags, as the cabin crew constantly remind us. And how about stepping out of the aisle if there’s room to do so, so others can pass by you?

4. Be accommodating to your seatmates and fellow passengers, without being creepy. Are they avoiding eye contact when taking their seat? If so, they probably aren’t up for a get-to-know-you chitchat. Taking the red eye and notice everyone in your row sleeping? Then keep your shade down and turn the reading light off a little sooner. And would it kill you to swap seats so that family can sit together? Probably not.

5. Whoa there, Burger King, go easy on the smells. You wouldn’t want your seatmate blowing stogie smoke in your face, and that steaming Whopper with onion isn’t any better. If you’re starving, forgo that grease-blotted bag of fast food for something a little more discrete. Have you ever in your life caught a whiff of M&Ms, or a ham and cheese, or a bag of trail mix? No? Well, there you go. Buy those instead.

And this isn’t solely a food offense. Remember, you’re in a plane, not the hair & makeup trailer. While your attempts at getting beautiful are sure to be a hit on the ground, the nail polish and the Axe body spray aren’t gonna make you any friends up in the air. At the very least, do your spritzing and fixing in the lavatory. Related: Armpits and feet … hellooo? Are you smuggling Doritos in those socks? Keep it clean, people.

6. Surely, you’ve heard. All mobile phones must be switched off or put into airplane mode once the doors are closed. Think this rule is just a bunch of hooey? Whatever effect your last minute call to the office might have on the delicate instruments of the aircraft is not up for debate. It’s a risk your fellow passengers and their families probably don’t care to take. So, whatever it is, it can wait. And please don’t give the crew any lip if they ask you again to turn it off, mmkay?

7. Kicking and screaming. This is a delicate one, but not necessarily all that complicated. Parents traveling with children, please keep your child from kicking the back of the seat, slipping arms between seats, yelling and being a nuisance to fellow passengers. You may be desensitized to this sort of thing, but the guy in front of you is not. Annoyed passenger, should the trouble persist and you have to ask the parent to intervene, do so in a polite and pleasant tone. Making someone feel like an inadequate parent will only make things worse.

As for crying infants … well, sorry, it happens. And there’s not much to be done about it. One thing’s for sure. Those pricey noise-canceling headphones you passed up on the ground are looking puh-retty worth it about now, aren’t they? Maybe buy them next time. You’ll be so glad you did. (As you can see in the pic, I’m wearing my Bose NC’s. Never leave home without them!).

8. Clapping upon landing? Really? This one isn’t so much annoying as it is baffling. How exactly did you imagine this flight would end?

9. Stay seated until the aircraft has reached the gate. Yes, the siren song of 200-something seat belts unfastening in unison is very exciting. You’ve landed, you want to stand up, and you want your stuff! But hang cool, teddy bear. Even if by some chance you’ve collected your things from the overhead the moment the wheels touch the ground … uh, where exactly do you plan on going? The door is still closed and there are about 60 people seated in the rows before you, all of whom are just as eager to deplane.

10. Once at baggage claim, all sense of personal space seems to go out the window. And it’s no wonder, after having spent all those hours confined to such a tiny seat. But don’t wriggle your way through a cluster of waiting people only to block their access to the belt. That’s annoying. Those people are waiting on their bag too. The conveyor belt is long and winding, with plenty of room for everyone. And your bag is still on the luggage cart.

11. And finally, even if you think you’ve memorized the safety demo (which, of course, you haven’t, because the last time you actually listened to it was 20 years ago), don’t yak loudly to your colleague across the aisle while others are trying to pay attention. At least pretend to pay attention.

(George Hobica is founder of the low-airfare listing website
(c)2015 Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: George Hobica, founder of the low-airfare listing website, deals with an invasion of airline seat space. (George Hobica/TNS)

How To Use Airbnb Safely

By George Hobica, (TNS)

The well-publicized Airbnb horror story of a young man who says he was held captive and sexually molested by his host in Spain this past July raises the question of how to use the popular site safely.

As was widely reported by The New York Times, on NBC’s Today show, and elsewhere, Jacob Lopez, 19, from Massachusetts, was staying with his host in Madrid when he was locked in his room from the outside. The host then “pressed him into a sexual act,” according to the Times, although the host denies this.

But the worst part was Airbnb’s response. The company refused to give Lopez’s mother the host’s address or to call police (the host had shut off his Internet access, so he was unable to contact her).

Things happen in hotels, too, but Airbnb guests need to realize that they will never have the same safety net that hotel guests have. It’s a chance they take in exchange for saving money. The same applies to home rentals and exchanges.

And although the thousands of guests who use the popular website each day enjoy their experience, this has hardly been the first sensational report of Airbnb stays gone horribly wrong — everything from guests claiming they were drugged by hosts to guests being attacked by a host’s dog. There have been instances of fraud (hosts listing apartments without the right to do so).

Airbnb does not do background checks on hosts (or on their pets for that matter). It does not require even rudimentary safety devices, such as smoke detectors and fire alarms (much less the automatic sprinkler systems found in many modern hotels), or bedroom doors that lock from the inside, in the accommodations it lists. There is no front desk to call if there’s an emergency, nor are there safe deposit boxes or room safes for guests to store valuables. In short, most of the regulations and safety norms that guests have become accustomed to, even in the most rudimentary hotels, are lacking.

What Airbnb Should Be Doing

The company is making enormous profits and is valued at $25 billion. They can well afford to begin doing thorough background checks on hosts. Perhaps hosts who have gone through such checks could be listed as such.

Airbnb suggests that hosts have working smoke and carbon dioxide detectors, but doesn’t require them or check to see if they are in place and functioning. Again, the company should at least do spot checks. Same thing for “clearly marked fire escape routes,” which the company suggests that hosts provide, but doesn’t require.

If something goes wrong with your stay _ malfunctioning air conditioning or heat, for example – it’s difficult to get compensation or switch to another accommodation. In a hotel, it’s fairly easy to march down to the front desk and insist that something get fixed, and if it isn’t fixed most hotels will at least adjust your bill or refund that night’s stay.

Steps You Should Take To Protect Yourself

  • Talk to your host extensively before you arrive. It’s just like online dating: if you get a queasy feeling, back out. Ask questions. This isn’t foolproof but it is essential.
  • Do due diligence. Is this rental legal? You don’t want to get a knock on the door from the building’s management saying you have to leave or learn that the person you gave your money to had no right to rent the unit.
  • Stay with hosts that your friends or acquaintances have stayed with previously. Don’t rent “blind.”
  • If possible, choose to rent accommodations where the host will not be sharing with you (Airbnb rents both types _ sharing with the host and staying on your own).
  • Before you arrive, get the local emergency numbers for police, fire and ambulance services and know how to use your mobile phone to reach them. Make sure your mobile phone works where you’re staying.
  • Tell friends, family or another responsible party where you’ll be staying. Ask them to check in with you by text or phone.
  • Ask if the room you’ll be occupying can lock from the inside, and check to see that it cannot be locked from the outside.
  • Ask if your host has working smoke detectors. Don’t be afraid to test them.
  • I think Airbnb is still learning, after all these years, what it takes to keep guests safe but the company needs to put safety over profits and their stock price. 
  • (George Hobica is founder of the low-airfare listing website

(c)2015 Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

How To Make Your Flight Attendant Like You

By George Hobica, (TNS)

Maybe you don’t want to please your cabin crew next time you fly. I know, I know, it’s their job to be nice; you’re the customer, they’re the employee. But if you’re good to them, they’ll be extra nice to you. So here’s how to charm them:

1. Say hello! If a flight attendant greets you upon boarding at the door, say hi back. Don’t just ignore them. A simple “good morning” or “good evening” does it. How would you like to greet 20 people in a row and be greeted by silence? Well, that’s what usually happens.

2. Listen to the safety demo. It’s just polite. Put down your iPad and Kindle. When was the last time you really listened? If it was more than a few years ago, it’s time for a refresher. At the very least don’t talk loudly to your neighbor when a flight attendant is standing in front of you trying to keep you safe.

3. Headphones off! Take your headphones off when they ask you what you’d like to drink so they don’t have to repeat it three times. How would you like it if they were wearing headphones when talking to you?

4. Be specific when ordering. When you ask for coffee or tea, specify milk or no milk, sweetener or not, ice or no ice, without being asked as in “I’d like coffee with milk please” or “I’d like coffee, black.” Not only does it make their job easier, but everyone on the plane will get served more quickly.

5. Say please and thank you. As in the examples above, say please and thank you when asking for and receiving something. Again, common courtesy that will get you treated extra well. A flight attendant once told me, “We thought you were company,” (meaning that I worked for the airline) because I was so polite.

6. Magazines. Donate copies of your current magazines to the crew. After you finish reading this week’s US Weekly or GQ, give it to your flight attendant. Flight attendants love to read magazines when they’re off duty or on break.

7. Treats. It’s perfectly permissible to bring a tasty treat for your crew. Just make sure it’s safety-sealed _ not your homemade muffins, which might be considered a safety hazard. I bring boxes of Walker’s Scottish shortbread or chocolates. Or maybe a movie pass? They’re always a big hit and you may be rewarded with a free cocktail or maybe even get reseated in the exit row. It happens!

8. Pens. People are always asking flight attendants for pens, whether to complete immigration and customs forms or to simply do the crossword puzzle. Bring a few extra cheap pens, bundle them up and give them to your crewmember. It may not be as enjoyable as a box of chocolates, but they will surely put them to good use.

9. Wheels in! Try to put your carry-on bag with wheels or handles facing in before commandeering twice as much space putting it horizontally. And, for heaven’s sake, don’t put your jackets or tiny bags in the bin. That takes up space for larger items that have to go there, and these smaller items easily can fit atop existing bags once everyone has boarded or underneath the seat. Flight attendants will tell you that boarding is the most stressful part of their job, and by exhibiting an ounce of courtesy and common sense, it helps the entire plane get on the way more quickly.

10. Stay out of the aisles. Make your best effort to stay out of the aisles when the carts are brought out or when the plane is boarding. Try to use the bathroom before boarding or after takeoff, but if the crew begins their service, it is best to stay seated. The carts are heavy and awkward to maneuver, and there’s no reason to become an obstacle to them unless absolutely necessary. And if a crewmember reminds you that the seatbelt sign is still illuminated, remember that they are just doing their job.

11. Tell the airline. If a flight attendant offers exceptionally nice service, most airlines have a mechanism for recognizing them. Ask for their employee number and note the flight number.

Where will all this kindness get you? No, you probably won’t get an inflight upgrade (although flight attendants do have the ability to offer them if there’s room). Maybe the crew will forget to charge you for your cocktail. Maybe they’ll reseat you if the child behind you is wailing like a banshee. I’ve been offered a bottle of wine at the end of the flight on more than one occasion. But sometimes being nice is its own reward.

(George Hobica is founder of the low-airfare listing website

(c)2015, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

Photo: Douglas P. Perkins via Wikimedia Commons