Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

TSA Finds 20 Percent More Guns In Carry-On Bags In 2015, And Most Are Loaded

By Hugo Martin, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

Airport security screeners in the U.S. found a record high number of firearms in carry-on bags last year, and most of them were loaded, officials said.

The Transportation Security Administration said it found 2,653 firearms, 20 percent more than in 2014, and that 83 percent of them contained ammunition.

The agency suggested that the increase may be the result of better search techniques by airport screeners, although a moderate uptick in the number of travelers also may have contributed.

“The transport of firearms by commercial air in carry-on bags represents a threat to the safety and security of air travelers,” TSA Administrator Peter V. Neffenger said. “Through increased training in detection methods, our officers are becoming more adept at intercepting these prohibited items.”

Firearms were discovered in carry-ons at 236 airports last year, the TSA said. Those with the most were:

—Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, with 153 firearms found

—Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, with 144

—Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport, with 100

—Denver International Airport, with 90

—Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, with 73

All weapons, including guns, knives and ammunition, as well as inert bombs and realistic props made to look like firearms, are prohibited in carry-on bags on commercial planes.

Travelers who bring firearms to an airport checkpoint can face criminal charges and fines.

The TSA said it screened 708 million passengers in 2015, up about 6 percent from the previous year.

©2016 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: A man walks past an exhibit booth for firearms manufacturer Sig Sauer at the International Association of Chiefs of Police conference in Chicago, Illinois, October 26, 2015.     REUTERS/Jim Young 

Disneyland To Close Some Attractions To Build ‘Star Wars’ Land

By Hugo Martin, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

LOS ANGELES — To make way for Star Wars, Disneyland is about to launch its largest expansion ever, which means shutting down a significant chunk of the Anaheim theme park.

In January, 10 attractions and eateries will close — some temporarily, some permanently — only a few months after the resort hiked the price of annual passes as much as 31 percent. This spring, Disneyland’s biggest rival, Universal Studios Hollywood, plans to unveil a widely anticipated Harry Potter attraction.

For any other operation, charging customers more and giving them less would be a perilous business strategy, especially if the competition is upping its game. Not so at Disneyland.

“At the end of the day, you won’t see any attendance drop,” said Dennis Speigel, a theme park consultant and president of International Theme Park Services in Cincinnati. “The tourists will come, hell or high water.”

Instead, the construction project to build a new Star Wars area is likely to demonstrate the devotion of hard-core Disney fans.

Daniel Bowmen of Los Angeles’ Sylmar section, who has owned a Disneyland premium pass for 24 years and visits at least twice a week, said he is disappointed that the park is closing so many attractions during construction. But that won’t keep him away.

“I just renewed my annual pass, so I’ll be going to Disneyland,” he said.

Disney officials won’t say whether the announced closures and the annual pass price hike have affected pass sales so far. During the quarter that ended Oct. 3 — before the closures and the price hikes were announced — Walt Disney Co. reported a 15 percent jump in attendance at all domestic parks.

Orange County, home of the Disneyland and Disney California Adventure theme parks, is expected to be the country’s fourth-most-popular destination for Christmas travel, according to a study of hotel reservations by the travel website Priceline.com.

Park executives don’t seem worried, noting that Disneyland has added several new features in recent months to appeal to devoted Star Wars fans. Disney acquired Lucasfilm, along with the Star Wars franchise, in 2012 for $4 billion.

In Tomorrowland, the Space Mountain and Star Tours rides have been overhauled to include special effects borrowed from the recently released movie Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

An underused area in the Innovations building of Tomorrowland has been converted into Star Wars Launch Bay, a hall where parkgoers can play Star Wars video games, buy merchandise and meet costumed characters from the movie franchise.

The Galactic Grill eatery now sells treats inspired by Star Wars characters, such as a dessert dubbed Darth by Chocolate and the Cheese 3PO Burger.

The additional Star Wars features, part of an overall celebration called Season of the Force, launched Nov. 15. No closing date has been announced.

Perhaps the only crowding problem facing Disneyland over the next few months, say theme park experts, is that park visitors will be swarming around Tomorrowland.

“It’s going to be crowded and they are all going to be in one corner of Tomorrowland,” said David Koenig, an author of several books about Disney. “The question is, how many bodies are you going to get in there?”

To build the new 14-acre Star Wars area, the park will permanently close Big Thunder Ranch in Frontierland, Big Thunder Ranch Barbecue, Big Thunder Ranch petting zoo and Big Thunder Ranch Jamboree, starting Jan. 10.

(Disneyland officials say the animals in the petting zoo have been adopted by a Southern California family that has worked with Disney animals in the past.)

Nearby attractions on the Rivers of America — mainly Fantasmic, the Mark Twain Riverboat, the Sailing Ship Columbia, the Pirates Lair on Tom Sawyer Island, the Disneyland Railroad and the Davy Crockett Explorer Canoes — will close temporarily.

In total, 14 percent of the park’s attractions will be closed either permanently or temporarily in an area that represents nearly a quarter of Disneyland’s 85 acres.

Also, Autopia, the mini car attraction that opened in 1955, is set to close for routine maintenance in January. According to Koenig, the car ride will reopen with a new sponsor, Honda. Disney officials declined to comment.

To clear more space for the new Star Wars land, Disney employees who work in offices outside the park, just north of Big Thunder Ranch, have begun to move into two office buildings that Disney purchased last year a few blocks away on South Manchester Avenue.

A completion date has yet to be announced for the Star Wars land, but industry experts predict that an opening date could be at least a year away.

The last time that Disneyland closed several attractions for a major construction project was between 1995 and 1998, when the park overhauled Tomorrowland with several new attractions and a gold-and-brown paint scheme replacing the previous blue-and-white colors.

Disney has yet to reveal what will be included in the new Star Wars land. In announcing the park expansion in August, Disney Chief Executive Robert Iger said it would include a re-creation of the Millennium Falcon, in which guests can take the controls for a “customized secret mission,” along with an immersive attraction that will put visitors into “a climactic battle between the First Order and the Resistance.”

Instead of discouraging visitors, Speigel said the construction for the Star Wars land could even pique interest among fans who hope to get a glimpse of the new attractions behind the construction walls.

He noted that attendance increased during an expansion of Fantasyland at the Magic Kingdom in Florida from 2011 to 2014.

“It became a great marketing tool,” Speigel said. “They capitalized on it.”

Meanwhile, Disney officials say they have plenty to offer visitors. The park’s 60th anniversary celebration — including a revamped fireworks show, a nightly parade and a water-and-fire extravaganza at Disney California Adventure — will continue until Sept. 5.

“We are excited to begin the work that will lay the foundation for the future Star Wars-themed land at Disneyland,” Disney spokeswoman Suzi Brown said. “With our continuing Diamond Celebration entertainment and the new Season of the Force offerings, there is so much for guests to do during this time.”

©2015 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Riders cheer after riding the updated Hyperspace Mountain at Disneyland during the media preview of Star Wars Season of The Force on Nov. 12, 2015 in Anaheim, Calif. (Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

 

Airline Tarmac Rule Leads To More Delays, Study Says

By Hugo Martin, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

One of the nation’s toughest passenger rights laws — a rule that fines airlines for stranding fliers on an airport tarmac — may actually increase passenger delays instead of reducing them.

That is the conclusion of a new study by professors from Dartmouth College and MIT. The good news, according to the study, is that the 2010 law can be modified to reduce passenger delays.

The focus of the study is the so-called tarmac delay rule, which gives the U.S. Department of Transportation the authority to fine airlines up to $27,500 for each passenger on a domestic flight who is stranded on an airport tarmac for more than three hours. The time limit is increased to four hours for international flights.

The rule was adopted after blizzards on the East Coast in 2006 and 2007 left passengers stranded on planes for up to 11 hours.

But the new peer-reviewed study, which used algorithms to analyze airline flight data, concludes that airlines are now more likely to cancel flights that are delayed to avoid being fined by the Department of Transportation, thus creating more passenger delays.

For every minute the rule saves passengers from being stuck on a tarmac, passengers are delayed three minutes on average because they have to book new flights to get to their final destinations after their original flights are canceled, according to the study.

“There is no surprise that sometimes when you try to do something good you have these negative effects,” said Vikrant Vaze, a co-author of the study and an assistant professor at Dartmouth’s Thayer School of Engineering.

Previous studies have concluded that flight cancellations are more likely because of the tarmac rule, but the Dartmouth-MIT study says it is the first study to analyze the actual effect on passengers.

The study concluded that passenger delays can be reduced if the tarmac rule is modified to increase the tarmac time limit to 3½ hours and if the law applies only to flights scheduled to depart before 5 p.m., when passengers have more options to rebook.

Kate Hanni, a passenger-rights advocate who helped push for adoption of the tarmac rule, rejects the findings of the Dartmouth-MIT study, saying she believes that the universities are biased and accept funding from airlines.

She blames the passenger delays on airlines that schedule more flights per day than can be accommodated by the airports.

Vaze said the study was funded by a research branch of the Federal Aviation Administration and “was not funded in any part by any airline, major or otherwise.”

TRAVEL SITE ARRANGES HOTEL ROOM-SHARING

Short-term rental sites such as Airbnb can save you a few bucks on your lodging costs, but now a Seattle marketing producer has created an online company that may cut your hotel bills in half.

The catch? You have to share your hotel room with a stranger.

Bryon Shannon, who founded the Winston Club in November, said he created the website so that travelers who are visiting the same town can split the cost of a hotel room. Joining the club is free, and you get to accept or reject the roommate that the club chooses for you, based on biographical information provided by club members.

Winston Club makes its money by collecting a share of the room charge just as other hotel booking sites do. So far, the club has agreements to operate in hotels in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Seattle and Portland, Ore. Shannon declined to say how many travelers have used the Winston Club so far.

Although saving money is the primary goal of club members, Shannon said many members join to make friends or meet new travel companions. The service is popular, he said, with business travelers, especially self-employed workers or owners of start-up companies who are on a tight budget.

“We’ve noticed that business travel is one of the loneliest things,” Shannon said. “It’s a great option for people who are frustrated by that.”

©2016 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Simon_sees via Flickr

 

Airline Fares Fall, Complaints Rise

By Hugo Martin, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

Consumer surveys have shown that the most important factor in buying an airline ticket is price.

So a 5 percent drop in domestic airfares during the first 10 months of 2015 compared with the same period last year should result in lots of happy fliers, right?

Not so. Instead, complaints against airlines are on the rise.

The drop in domestic airfares was reported last week by travel giant Expedia with help from Airlines Reporting Corp., an Arlington, Va., company that handles ticketing transactions between the nation’s airlines and travel agents.

The study of more than 10 billion ticket transactions recorded an 8 percent drop in airfares worldwide. (The Expedia study did not list the dollar price for the average domestic airfare.)

A number of factors have contributed to the average 5 percent drop in fares in North America, including a steep decline in fuel prices.

But rather than singing the praises of airlines over lower fares, passengers are complaining at a 36 percent rate higher than last year, according to consumer data from the federal Aviation Consumer Protection Division.

In raw numbers, the U.S. Department of Transportation received 10,444 complaints against U.S.-based airlines in the first 10 months of 2015, compared with 7,467 in the same period last year. When calculated against the total number of air travelers, the rate was 1.97 complaints for every 100,000 fliers in the first 10 months of 2015 compared with 1.44 in the same period last year.

Paul Hudson, president of flyersrights.org, a nonprofit passenger rights group, said he isn’t surprised at the rise in complaints because airlines continue to charge high fees to check bags and change reservations while packing more passengers into smaller seats.

“The service level has dropped,” he said.

Airline industry representatives played down the complaint rate and instead focused on the decline in airfares.

“The customer complaint rate remains remarkably low,” said Vaughn Jennings, a spokesman for Airlines for America, a trade group for the nation’s biggest airlines. “Air travel remains one of the best consumer bargains out there.”

UNITED AIRLINES GOING TO THE DOGS

For those airline fliers who get so frazzled by holiday travel that they start to bark at seatmates, United Airlines is offering an all-natural way to relieve stress: dogs.

Through a program called United Paws, the Chicago-based carrier is deploying more than 200 dogs to the airline’s seven airport hubs Monday through Wednesday. The specially trained “comfort dogs” will be led around the terminals by handlers so that stressed fliers can pet, scratch and nuzzle the pooches.

In past years, the program has operated at only one or two airports during the holidays. But United plans to expand the effort this year to Los Angeles, Cleveland, Denver, Washington, Houston, Chicago and Newark, N.J.

The 13 dogs assigned to Los Angeles International Airport are coming from the nonprofit group Actors & Others for Animals.

Representatives of United Paws say research shows that five minutes spent with a dog can decrease stress hormones and lower blood pressure.
Throughout the rest of the year, LAX funds a similar program dubbed Pets Unstressing Passengers. Under the PUP program, dogs and their handlers roam the airport every day to spread the dogs’ healing powers.

DELTA BUSINESS-CLASS FLIERS TO GET PJS

How can you tell who the business-class travelers are on Delta’s long-haul flights?

They’re the ones wearing pajamas.

Delta Air Lines has announced that starting in March it will give passengers on its elite business-class section gray cotton sleepwear on flights from Los Angeles to Sydney, Australia, and from L.A. to Shanghai.

The PJs make sense because nonstop flights from Los Angeles to Sydney or L.A. to Shanghai can last up to 15 hours. In the business-class section, known as Delta One, passengers can sleep in lie-flat seats with a white comforter and hypoallergenic, down-alternative pillow.

Changing into the pajamas is not a problem because Delta One passengers get access to extra large onboard bathrooms. The price for such comfort: about $11,000 to $17,000 each way to either Sydney or Shanghai.

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

Photo Via Travis Wise at Flickr

Are Airlines Padding Flight Times?

By Hugo Martin, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

About a decade ago, Joe Nolan, a semi-retired electrical engineer from Palm Desert, Calif., could expect to hop on a flight at Palm Springs International Airport and arrive in San Francisco 55 minutes later.

Now the flight is usually scheduled for about 90 minutes. Nolan suspects that airlines are allotting more time for each flight to make it easier to meet their arrival schedule.

“It tells me that the on-time statistics are worthless,” he said.

Nolan might have a point. A study by a British company that collects and analyzes travel data concluded that airlines around the globe have been padding their flight schedules for nearly 20 years.

In the U.S., on-time performance rates for commercial airlines have been on the rise and airline executives have boasted about the percentage of flights that arrive within 15 minutes of their scheduled time.

The study by OAG Aviation Worldwide looked at several routes around the world to conclude that the “block” times set aside for many flights have been growing since 1996.

For example, OAG looked at more than 1,400 flights scheduled between Los Angeles International Airport and San Francisco International Airport in 1996 and found that no flights took longer than 90 minutes, according to the study. By 2015, nearly half of the flights scheduled between the two airports allotted between 91 minutes and 110 minutes, the study said.

On average, the allotted time for flights between Los Angeles and San Francisco increased 8 percent from 1996 to 2015, the study found.

The OAG study suggested that airlines have added the extra travel time so they can post better on-time rates but also to help carriers deal with growing congestion on the airport tarmac.

“At airports which are congested, airlines need to keep schedules realistic so their timetables are reliable,” the study said.

A spokesman for an airline trade group rejected the idea that commercial carriers are increasing the time allotment for flights just to improve on-time performance.

“We have the same goals as our customers, which is to get them, their luggage and packages to their destination safely and on time,” said Vaughn Jennings, a spokesman for Airlines for America, the trade group for the country’s airlines.

MOST TRAVEL PLANS TO EUROPE UNCHANGED

Despite the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris, nearly three-quarters of travel managers for major U.S. corporations say their travel plans to Europe remain largely unchanged.

That is the finding of a survey of nearly 170 U.S.-based travel managers who were questioned by the Global Business Travel Association, a trade group for the business travel industry.

In fact, only 10 percent of the travel managers said they have temporarily suspended travel to Paris in the wake of the attacks that killed 130 people and wounded hundreds more. An additional 16 percent said they made only “slight reductions” in their travel plans to Europe, according to the survey.

The U.S. State Department issued a worldwide travel warning last week, urging U.S. citizens to be extra vigilant when traveling abroad, especially in public places, in large crowds and while using transportation. It was the third such “worldwide” warning in as many years.

“Extremists have targeted large sporting events, theatres, open markets and aviation services,” the warning says.

AMERICAN AIRLINES WORST FOR LOST BAGS

Among the nation’s biggest carriers, American Airlines has the worst record for losing and mishandling luggage.

In the first nine months of 2015, the Forth Worth-based carrier lost or mishandled 4.04 bags for every 1,000 passengers, compared with an average rate of 3.31 lost or mishandled bags for the country’s top 13 biggest airlines, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

But when American Airlines lost the luggage of Adrianne Haslet-Davis, it became big news. Haslet-Davis is a dancer who lost a leg during the Boston Marathon bombing. The misplaced luggage contained a prosthetic leg and other parts she uses to dance, valued at $250,000.

Haslet-Davis reported details of the mishap on Twitter. She didn’t give her travel itinerary but said the leg wouldn’t fit in her carry-on luggage.

When the bag was found last week, Haslet-Davis tweeted that her leg had taken an unexpected side trip:

“My leg really (loves) to travel! Just found out she took detour to Puerto Rico.”

©2015 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo:  REUTERS/Carlos Barria 

 

Carnival Plans Cruises To Cuba — But Hold The Cigars

By Hugo Martin Los Angeles Times, (TNS)

Getting a foothold in a potentially lucrative new market, Carnival Corp. announced Tuesday that it has approval from U.S. officials to begin travel to Cuba next year.

However, the world’s largest cruise ship company won’t be deploying one of its massive vessels carrying more than 3,000 tourists looking to party, drink rum and smoke Cuban cigars.

Initial trips to Cuba will be on a small cruise ship brand, carrying travelers who plan to volunteer or be involved in cultural exchange efforts in the communist country, the company said. Carnival received approval for the trips from the U.S. Treasury and Commerce departments but still awaits approval from Cuba.

Still, cruise line experts say Carnival is laying the groundwork to eventually establish regular tourist trips to Cuba, a destination that is likely to be popular with cruise ship travelers who have already visited most of the ports in the Caribbean.

“All of the cruise lines have been anxiously awaiting the day when Cuba opens up,” said Erik Hvide, managing partner for HMS Consulting, a consulting firm to the cruise industry. “Right now there is just that little crack for cultural, religious and welfare types of trips.”

Although Cuba and the U.S. government have recently been in talks to establish full relations for the first time in more than half a century, travel by U.S. citizens to Cuba is still limited to visits for specific purposes, such as cultural exchange.

But under new rules announced by the Obama administration this year, Americans have fewer hurdles to jump before getting clearance to visit Cuba.

Carnival plans to travel to Cuba with a new brand, dubbed fathom, which is already planning to start sailing a 710-passenger ship to the Dominican Republic in April. Trips to Cuba would originate in Miami and begin in May.

“We know there is strong demand from travelers who want to immerse themselves in Cuban culture, so this is a historic opportunity for us to enable more people to experience Cuban society,” said Arnold Donald, president and chief executive of Carnival Corp.

Carnival is already accepting reservations for future seven-day trips to Cuba, starting at $2,990 per person.

Photo: Now that Cuba is opening up to tourists, a whole new cruise awaits. Raging Wire via Flickr

Gambling Is Losing Its Appeal In Las Vegas

By Hugo Martin, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

Gambling, once the mainstay of Las Vegas, is slowly taking a back seat to other entertainment in Sin City.

The latest survey of Las Vegas visitors found that fewer people go to the city to gamble and that first-time visitors are more likely to travel there for a wedding or a convention or to visit friends and family.

The number of visitors increased to 41 million in 2014, up from 39.7 million in 2013, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Bureau. But as hotel occupancy rates and hotel tax revenue rose, gaming revenue for Clark County fell from $9.7 billion in 2013 to $9.5 billion in 2014, according to the agency.

Gaming experts have long noted a trend of Las Vegas visitors cutting back on gambling to spend more time and money attending comedy performances, magic shows, and musical acts.

The latest survey of 300 visitors conducted for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Bureau shows that the percentage of visitors who said gambling was the primary purpose for their trip to Las Vegas dropped from 15 percent in 2013 to 12 percent last year.

The percentage of first-time visitors to Las Vegas has increased from 15 percent in 2013 to 19 percent in 2014, according to the survey. Only four percent of first-time visitors said their primary reason for visiting Las Vegas was to gamble, compared with 14 percent for repeat visitors.

Instead, a higher percentage of first-time visitors said they took a trip to Las Vegas last year to vacation, attend a convention or a wedding, or to visit friends and relatives, according to the survey.

Las Vegas tourism officials say the trend reflects an evolution for the gambling hot spot.

“Las Vegas has long been known to evolve to make sure that we have something for everyone, and we will continue to evolve to make sure we are delivering on the brand promise and providing a great experience for everyone,” Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Bureau spokeswoman Heidi Hayes said.

Photo: David Herholz via Flickr

Hotel Giants Are Targeting Tech-Savvy Millennial Travelers

By Hugo Martin, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

At the latest breed of hotel, rooms are up to one-third smaller than traditional quarters, with furniture that looks fresh from an Ikea showroom.

The work desk is downsized and might double as a nightstand. The Internet speed is super fast. The Wi-Fi is free. Power outlets and USB ports dot the walls, especially near the bed to accommodate binge watching.

The target is the millennial traveler, ages 18 to 34, who likes to stay connected online, eat on the run, and commune with other millennials.

Hotel giants, including Marriott International and Hilton Worldwide, are launching brands with names such as Moxy, AC, Edition, CitizenM, and Canopy. Even billionaire Sir Richard Branson has a new millennial-oriented chain, dubbed Virgin Hotels.

For good reason: Millennials number more than 75 million in the U.S., and this year the Census Bureau projects they will surpass baby boomers as the nation’s largest generation.

Plus, they have money to blow. U.S. millennials plan to spend about $226 billion this year on travel, according to a Harris Poll survey.

“I think it’s definitely a smart move,” said hotel consultant Alan Reay of Atlas Hospitality Group in Costa Mesa, California “It’s a huge market.”

Creating a millennial hotel means tossing out some traditional features, such as the talkative concierge or soothing fountain.

Full-service restaurants are usually nixed in favor of healthy food-to-go choices in the lobby.

Business centers are swapped out for spacious gathering areas with communal tables, couches, and comfy chairs — sort of a hipper version of the parental home that millennials might still be inhabiting.

The front desk check-in might be replaced by a kiosk transaction, as at the podlike Yotel inn near New York’s Times Square or Starwood Hotels’ Aloft chain, which is slated to open a location in August near Los Angeles International Airport.

“I don’t spend lots of time in my room,” said Erin Schrode, 23, co-founder of a nonprofit environmental education program in Sausalito, California “If the room is small and the lobby is comfortable and there are niches and corners to work in, I’m great. We are a communal people.”

What the hotels lose in luxury they make up for with technology, including keyless room entry for some hotels and smartphone apps that let guests adjust the room temperature or make restaurant reservations without talking to a human.

At the Aloft hotel in Cupertino, California, not far from Apple’s headquarters, a three-foot-tall robot delivers snacks or other small items to guest rooms. The Apple Watch will be able to handle check-in at certain Aloft hotels.

The Yotel New York employs a one-armed robot to ferry luggage into storage lockers, all behind glass. At the nearby CitizenM hotel, each room comes equipped with a Samsung tablet to control lighting, curtains, and other features.

“The new traveling generation has a different DNA than their parents and grandparents,” said Harry Wheeler, a principal at hotel design firm Group One Partners.

Daria Taylor, 26, welcomes the new hotel style. Taylor said she travels regularly for her job as co-founder of a London-based digital entertainment and youth insights agency.

“I think hotels are very slow at adapting to change,” she said. “Many have outdated designs, stuffy communal areas and don’t have basic things like Wi-Fi or automated check-in systems.”

For Katelyn O’Shaughnessy, 28, convenience is a top priority.

“I don’t want to stand in line to check in,” said the founder of a Los Angeles travel start-up who is on the road at least twice a month. “I would rather have mobile check-in so I can get right to my room.”

As for room size, she quipped: “You can put me in a closet; as long as there is Wi-Fi, I’ll be happy.”

Millennials say they don’t want to spend on frills but insist on modern amenities and a location within walking distance of bars, restaurants, and other nightlife.

The rates for millennial-oriented hotels typically range from $150 to $200 a night, less than full-service hotels but not as cheap as economy hotels, consultant Reay said.

The minimalist CitizenM boasts on its website that “we sold the hotel cliches and used the money to make your stay cheaper,” with rooms starting at $199 a night.

The 230-room hotel, which opened last year, also houses a 24-hour cafeteria, as well as a full-service coffee and cocktail bar.

Marriott International is launching three hotel brands for millennials in the U.S.

Moxy is Marriott’s mid-price boutique hotel that is set to open in eight locations in the U.S., including New York, San Francisco, Seattle, and New Orleans, starting as early as next year.

AC is Marriott’s European-style brand that has opened U.S. hotels in New Orleans and Kansas City, Mo., with a third slated to open in Washington, D.C., next month.

Edition is Marriott’s high-end brand that opened its first U.S. hotel in Miami Beach last year, with another scheduled to open in New York this year.

“They center around social media and technology with an emphasis on style and design,” said Tina Edmundson, Marriott’s global officer for luxury and lifestyle brands.

Montage Hotels & Resorts, based in Laguna Beach, California, plans to open its own millennial hotel, called Pendry, in San Diego next year. The company describes the new brand as “London hip, New York paced, and California healthy.”

Billionaire entrepreneur Branson launched Virgin Hotels last year in Chicago. He has announced plans to open a Virgin Hotel in New York next year, with others under consideration in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and several other cities.

The Virgin Hotel in Chicago features rooms with sliding doors that separate the bedroom from the bathroom, hallway, and closet. The rooms have mini fridges stocked with snacks at street prices, free high-speed Wi-Fi, and a Bluetooth sound system.

Even budget hotel chains are targeting millennials.

Red Roof Inn estimates that about 12 percent of its guests are millennials, up from 9.5 percent in 2010.

To draw more young travelers, Red Roof President Andrew Alexander said, his company is testing outdoor gathering spots with fire pits and picnic areas at hotels in Ohio, Michigan, and Florida.

“We want our overall occupancy to outpace our competitors,” he said, “and the millennials will be a big part of that.”

Photo: Frank Tasche via Flickr

Many Club Members Clueless About Delta, United Frequent-Flier Changes

By Hugo Martin, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

Two of the nation’s largest airlines, United and Delta, have adopted major changes to their loyalty reward programs that experts say will benefit the airlines at the expense of passengers. But most reward program members are unaware of the changes, a survey found.

Of the reward club members who are aware of the changes, the new rules may be chasing off more travelers than it attracts, according to an online survey of more than 1,000 reward club members who have flown in the last year.

“They have upset more people than they have pleased with these changes,” said Brian Karimzad, director of the website that sponsored the survey, MileCards.com, which monitors and rates reward programs.

Starting Jan. 1, Delta’s SkyMiles program was overhauled to offer members reward miles based on how much money they spend instead of the number of miles flown. United’s MileagePlus program switched to a similar system March 1.

The changes mean that high-paying fliers in the front of the plane earn more points than passengers in the economy section of the same flight.

But Karimzad’s survey found that 67 percent of United fliers and 69 percent of Delta fliers were unaware of the changes.

“People have some real choices here,” he said. “If people sit down and look at what they earn, they might twice think about booking United or Delta on their next flight.”

According to the survey, 26 percent of United fliers who knew about the changes said they were less likely to book with the carrier, 11 percent said they were more likely, and 63 percent said the changes to the program made no difference.

For Delta fliers, 23 percent said they were less likely to book on the carrier because of the changes, and 16 percent said they were more likely to book, with the balance saying it made no difference, according to the survey.

In response to the survey, Delta said the airline had increased award seat availability and improved the online shopping experience. United said the carrier made a serious effort to notify MileagePlus members about the changes, adding that “these changes provide additional value to our most loyal members.”

Faster, Satellite-Based Internet

Starting next year, passengers on Delta Air Lines’ long-haul domestic flights and routes to Latin America and the Caribbean will get to log on to a faster satellite-based wireless Internet.

The new system replaces an older air-to-ground system, giving passengers 20 times the bandwidth to stream movies, music and other entertainment.

The new system, built by GoGo Inc., of Itasca, Ill., is expected to deliver peak speeds of 70 megabits per second, faster than some home cable Internet connections, according to GoGo.

Delta said some of the funding for the Wi-Fi upgrade comes from the record profits the airline has reported over the last several months, thanks to lower fuel prices.

Boosting Wi-Fi speeds makes good business sense. About 66 percent of travelers say the availability of Wi-Fi on a plane influences their choice of airline, according to a 2014 survey of more than 1,000 adults by Honeywell Aerospace.

No U.S. Help Over Cheap-Fare Mistake

Bad news for travelers who booked ridiculously cheap flights with United Airlines: The federal government won’t force United to honor the fares.

The problem started when United’s website for Denmark travelers offered first-class trans-Atlantic tickets, from England, for as little as $51, among other super-cheap fares. United said the mistake was due to a miscalculation in the conversion of the Danish krone. The airline said it would not honor those tickets.

Thousands of travelers who booked the cheap tickets contacted the U.S. Department of Transportation, pointing out that federal rules forbid airlines to raise fares after they have been booked.

In a memo issued last week, the department’s enforcement office said the erroneous fares appeared on the United website for travelers from Denmark. The agency said it enforces only rules regarding fares that are marketed to U.S. consumers.

As for those U.S. travelers who booked the super-low fares by logging onto the website and identifying themselves as from Denmark, the federal agency said it wouldn’t get involved because such manipulation and misrepresentation demonstrated bad faith.

© 2015 Los Angeles Times, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

Image:Travis Wise, Flickr

Passenger Rights Group Calls For A Cap On Airline Change Fees

By Hugo Martin, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

If unforeseen circumstances force you to re-book an international flight from the U.S., you may face a hefty change fee — as much as $500 per ticket.

But a passenger rights group has asked the U.S. Department of Transportation to adopt a $100 cap for such a fee, arguing that the charges are exorbitant for an airline industry that is now collecting record profits because of slumping fuel costs.

Change fees for international flights were as low as $50 to $100 for a nonrefundable ticket only a few years ago, said Paul Hudson, president of FlyersRights.org, a 50,000-member group that filed a petition with the federal agency this month to adopt the cap.

Instead of dropping or holding steady as airlines have reported higher profits, Hudson said, the fees have increased as demand for air travel has continued to grow.
“They are enormously profitable now, and it appears they are engaging in rampant cartel-like behavior,” he said.

The U.S. airline industry collected $2.8 billion in change fees in 2013 and is expected to report even more revenue from change fees in 2014 when the latest report from the Department of Transportation is released in May.

But airlines say the fees are not excessive and are clearly described to travelers before they book flights, according to Airlines for America, the trade group for the nation’s airlines.

“FlyersRights’ petition fails to demonstrate that there has been a market failure when it comes to what airlines charge for changed reservations,” said Victoria Day, a spokeswoman for the trade group. “Airline pricing is extremely transparent, and customers are aware of what they are purchasing and at what price before they buy their air transportation.”

Hudson said the Department of Transportation lost the right to regulate fees on domestic flights when it deregulated the airline industry in 1978 but still has the authority to impose restrictions on international flights.

Airline CEOs In War of Words

A war of words has broken out between the chief executives of Delta Air Lines and Emirates over government subsidies and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Here’s how it all went down:

Delta chief Richard Anderson and other U.S. airline executives have been saying that they can’t compete with Persian Gulf carriers on international flights because the state-owned airlines receive billions of dollars in subsidies from their governments.

The U.S. airline executives have asked federal officials to renegotiate the treaties that allow such carriers to increase flights to the U.S.

The gulf-based airlines shot back, saying U.S. carriers have received government subsidies of their own in the form of government loan guarantees after the Sept. 11 terror attacks and benefits from bankruptcy protections over the last few years.

Anderson got into hot water when he launched a salvo in a televised interview with CNN: “It’s a great irony to have the UAE from the Arabian Peninsula talk about that, given the fact that our industry was really shocked by the terrorism of 9/11, which came from terrorists from the Arabian Peninsula,” he said.

Of the 19 terrorists involved in hijacking the commercial planes on 9/11, 15 were from Saudi Arabia and two were from the United Arab Emirates. The remaining two hijackers were from Egypt and Lebanon.

Emirates CEO Tim Clark said Anderson “crossed the line” when he seemed to link the terrorist attacks to the governments of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and the state-owned airlines.

Anderson apologized but Emirates officials are still miffed.

“We believe that the statements made this week by Mr. Anderson were deliberately crafted and delivered for specific effect,” the airline said in a statement.

© 2015 Los Angeles Times, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

Image: Luke Lai, Flickr

Napa Valley, Shaking Off Earthquake, Says It’s Open For Business

By Hugo Martin, Los Angeles Times

Only hours after the shaking stopped from the biggest quake to hit Napa Valley in 25 years, the phones at Mike Noel’s Napa, Calif., travel agency began to ring. Anxious clients wondered whether the magnitude 6.0 shaker would derail their visit.

“I’ve been telling them that it’s business as usual,” said Noel, who specializes in arranging high-end wine country tours.

Across the valley north of San Francisco, other travel agents, hotel managers, and winemakers are declaring Napa Valley open for business in hopes the quake doesn’t frighten off the 3 million annual visitors who spend $1.4 billion in the region.

With the peak summer season winding down, Napa Valley tourism officials say the effect of the quake should be minimal. Some experts said television footage of broken wine bottles and damaged hotels might even pique long-term interest in the region.

“I wouldn’t underestimate the impact of giving tons of mentions in the news about the area,” said Carl Winston, program director for San Diego State University’s school of hospitality and tourism management.

When Mammoth Mountain was struck by volcanic tremors in 1998, it did little to scare off skiers and snowboarders, Winston said. “In the short term, it is inconvenient but it is far from catastrophic,” he said.

Napa Valley hotel managers say many rooms are booked for the harvest season already and the grape crush in October.

“The crush is about to happen and people are going to come,” said Jeff Perry, general manager of the 59-room Napa Winery Inn, which sustained only cosmetic damage and remains open.

The quake, which struck at 3:20 a.m. Sunday, closed only two of nearly 150 hotels in the valley and damaged about a dozen of the valley’s 500 or so wineries, according to Napa Valley tourism officials. About 90 to 100 homes were labeled unfit to enter, and half a dozen people suffered serious injuries.

Many travelers with upcoming trips to Napa Valley have been calling hotels and wineries to check on the extent of the damage, but few if any have canceled plans, according to hotel managers and local tourism officials.

Ashley Cote, a food and travel blogger from Florida, said she will go ahead with her vacation next week after confirming that her hotel was open and that the quake damage around the valley was minimal.

“The only way we would cancel is if it was unsafe for us to travel,” Cote said. “I have been looking forward to this trip for months and would hate to pass up the opportunity to visit Napa Valley.”

The effect on tourism may be muted because most people visit Napa Valley for only a few hours.

Of Napa Valley’s 3 million annual visitors, about two-thirds drive in for the day from other parts of California, such as San Francisco, according to a 2012 economic impact study by Destination Analysts Inc. The rest of the visitors stay in local hotels and inns.

Visitors spend an average of $459 a day, with overnight guests spending an average of $708 a day, according to the study. Visitors staying with friends or relatives spend an average of $447 a day, while day visitors spend $350.

Tourists spend the biggest share of their money, 35 percent, on shopping, followed by lodging (24 percent), and restaurants (22 percent), the study found. Wine tasting rooms and dining are the most popular activities.

Those worried about quake damage centered around downtown Napa can go to hotels, wineries, and restaurants in towns such as Yountville, St. Helena, and Calistoga, said Clay Gregory, president and chief executive of Visit Napa Valley.

“There are plenty of things to do in the towns up and down the valley,” he said.

Napa Valley Vintners, a nonprofit trade association, said this year’s weather has been ideal for grapes, marking the third straight year of supreme growing conditions.

The quake did not harm the vineyards or the grapes on the vine, the association said.

“While some individual wineries may experience inventory shortages as a result of the earthquake, it is not expected to have a significant impact on Napa Valley wine inventory in general,” the group said.

Photo via WikiCommons

Interested in national news? Sign up for our daily email newsletter!

Air Travel This Spring Will Take Off, Airline Industry Predicts

By Hugo Martin, Los Angeles Times

Thanks to declining fuel prices, the nation’s airlines reported healthy profits in 2013 and can expect a record number of passengers on international flights this spring.

That was the message Wednesday from Airlines for America, the trade group for the nation’s air carriers, which has become accustomed to reporting razor-thin profits in the past few years.

Based on the financial reports of nine U.S. airlines, Airlines for America estimated that the industry enjoyed a net profit of $11.6 billion, or 7.8 percent of revenue, the trade group said. In contrast, the industry reported a 3.3 percent profit margin in 2010.

The key to the improved financial picture was a 3.6 percent drop in the cost of fuel, which remains the largest and most volatile expense for airlines, according to the trade group.

The number of passengers on U.S. carriers is expected to rise to the highest level in six years, with a record number flying internationally. About 128.2 million passengers are expected to fly on U.S. carriers during March and April, with 17.1 million travelers on international flights, the group said.

“We attribute the increase in spring air travel to rising U.S. household net worth, an improving economy and the affordability of air travel, which remains one of the best bargains for consumers,” said John Heimlich, vice president and chief economist for the trade group.

The impact of a series of severe storms this winter has been diminished by the efforts of airlines to proactively cancel flights and rebook reservations automatically, the trade group said.

Photo: Shyb via Flickr