Friday, 8 July 2011

Free hotel stay – if your names are Will and Kate

Sadly for the Red Lion Hotel Anaheim, which is a mouse’s whisker away from Disneyland, Prince William and his bride Kate Middleton will not be visiting the Magic Kingdom during their California stopover.

But if you’re married and your names are William and Kate, you’re in luck: you can get a free three-night stay at the hotel during July or August.

There are, of course, some eligibility rules you’ll have to meet. Among them: you’ll need an ID showing that your first names (not middle, second, third or last) are William and Kate or Catherine. (Exact spellings required) and a valid U.S. marriage certificate.

You can see all the rules here.

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Anti-snoring hotel rooms

Do you wish you could sleep like a baby, even though you have a sleeping partner that snores?

Photo courtesy National Media Museum, via Flickr Commons

You could wear earplugs, go sleep in another room or go on vacation and check-in to a “snore absorption” hotel room.

This past week nine Crowne Plaza hotels in Europe and the Middle East, including the properties at Schiphol, Brussels and Madrid airports, were invited to test special anti-snoring rooms featuring sound absorbing headboards and egg-box style foam wall padding designed to reduce and muffle the snoring noise reverberating in the room.

Other anti-snoring amenities include a white noise machine, a bed wedge to encourage snorers to sleep on their sides and an anti-snoring pillow that, according to the hotel chain, “uses magnets to create a natural magnetic field, opening the airways and stiffening the upper palate that vibrates during snoring.”

No word on when – or if – these anti-snoring rooms will become permanent fixtures in all Crowne Plaza hotels around the world, but like the British Travelodge chain which installed sleep wardens at their hotels, it’s a silence-inducing step in the right direction.

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What are your rights regarding the Overhead Bin?

At’s Overhead Bin blog, I’ve been tracking down answers to a big question each week. This week: What to do about Overhead Bin hogs.

We’ve all seen them on airplanes: Fellow passengers who put their stuff in an overhead bin toward the front of the plane before sneaking off to an assigned seat way in the back.

When that happens, some passengers seated up front end up having to store their bags in the rear of the plane.

“Do I have any recourse about what is in the overhead bin over my head?” writes Barbara, a nurse from Elizabeth City, N.C.

“I’ve ended up with my bag being placed all the way in the back and it delays my deplaning ’til the very end. I actually once missed my connection because I had to wait so long to get my carry on.”

“This is a huge flight attendant pet peeve,” said Sara Keagle, a flight attendant who writes the The Flying Pinto blog. “Most flight attendants I know close the first few rows of overhead bins at the start of boarding because of this issue.”

Keagle says that when she and other flight attendants are on duty as the aisle flight attendants, they’ll try to police the situation. But Heather Poole, a flight attendant who writes the Galley Gossip column for, noted that passengers can’t always rely on bin space being saved. “Because we are usually staffed with FAA minimum crew, there aren’t enough of us on board to direct passengers to other bins.”

Bottom line: It can be irritating, but the overhead bins are first come, first serve. “You don’t have any recourse or right to the bin above your seat,” said Poole, who pointed out that one way to get first dibs on the overhead bins is to pay the extra fee most airlines now charge to passengers who wish to board early.

And bin hogs, beware. Overhead Bin has heard from flight attendants who make note of bin abusers - and then quietly gate-check those bags right before departure.

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How to score a bulkhead seat on your next flight

Each week on’s Overhead Bin I get to answer a travel-related question from a reader. This week the topic was: how to score a bulkhead seat on an airplane.

Linda Potter looks forward to her annual trip on Continental (now Continental/United) from Houston, Texas, to Sacramento, Calif., to visit her son, her daughter and her three granddaughters.

But the proud grandma has a gripe about securing the right seat for her flight.

“I have MS and getting the bulkhead seat allows me to stretch my legs out a bit and to exercise them a bit during the flight,” said Potter. “In the past, the airline held these seats for those with a medical condition, only releasing them to the general public in the last 24-48 hours before the flight. Now I’m told these seats are no longer held, but sold to those who want more legroom.”

As she prepares for this year’s trip to California, Potter asks, “Is there anything I can do?”

For advice, Overhead Bin turned to’s Rick Seaney.

“The days of boarding families and infirm first with preferential seating have pretty much come to an end in domestic aviation,” said Seaney. “Airlines now consider the bulkhead and exit rows as premium seating for elite, loyal travelers.”

But not always. “Now airlines are doubling down by offering these prized seats as an up-sell, even before [giving them to] their elite customers,” said Seaney.

With her occasional trips, Potter isn’t likely to achieve elite status, which is the best way to get first crack at better seating. In lieu of that, Seaney offers these tips:

Some airlines make free seat assignments 24 hours before departure. “Go in at 23 hours 59 minutes and 59 seconds to get a shot at those seats.”American, Southwest and many other airlines allow any passenger to cut in line and book premium seats for a fee ($10 to $40).Some airlines offer discount paid seat assignments at the kiosk. “So even if you print your boarding pass at home, check with the kiosk at the airport.”Fly on Tue/Wed/Sat (the lowest volume passenger traffic days), on the first flights out or on flights at lunch or dinner time. “You’re more likely to have some empty seats to provide potential comfort,” said Seaney.

Book early, and don’t give up on the airline. On its website, Continental states that “certain seats are made available free of charge to persons with a disability if the request is made at least 24 hours in advance of the scheduled flight.” Airline spokesperson Mary Clark said some of those seats may be in the bulkhead, but confirms that, “Within 24 hours of flight departure, held seats are made available to other customers.”

Also, don’t assume the only seats with a little extra leg room are bulkhead and exit row seats or those in the premium areas that require an extra fee. Seating maps on websites such as sometimes reveal one or two seats with bonus legroom toward the back of the plane.

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Bee farming at O’Hare Airport

Bee farmers seem to be busy as their bees these days, setting up beehives on hotel rooftops and, now, at some U.S. airports.

A growing number of Fairmont Hotels in North America, including the Fairmont Olympic Hotel in Seattle, the Fairmont Royal York Hotel in Toronto and the Fairmont Vancouver Airport have their own hives and honey-producing bees.

Close to a dozen airports in Germany host bee hives and monitor them for signs of pollution caused by air traffic.

Now comes word that Chicago’s O’Hare Airport is hosting 33 hives belonging to Sweet Beginnings, a non-profit group that helps ex-offenders and others find permanent jobs.

The group hopes to set up hives next at Midway Airport and eventually sell the airport-made honey at shops inside the airport.


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Twilight fans still flock to Forks

Last week I had good weather – and the good fortune – to spend a few days on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. Most of my activities centered in and around Forks – a tiny town with a deep connection to the forest and a fresh new identity as the theoretical setting for the Twilight series of vampire-romance books and films.

I must admit I’m not a big vampire fan. But I am a big fan of the folks in Forks who have embraced the Twilight craze and rolled out a witty welcome mat for fans.

Here’s the piece I wrote about my Twilight visit to Forks for’s Overhead Bin:

With her daughter and two granddaughters in tow, JoAnne Clarke raced inside the visitor center in Forks, Wash., to grab a map for the town’s self-guided “Twilight” tour. Next came pictures taken with the cardboard cutouts of Edward, Bella and Jacob — characters made famous by the vampire-themed romance books written by Stephenie Meyer and the film adaptations.

“Nope, not interested,” said Tom Clarke of Puyallup, Wash., arms crossed, refusing to go inside. “Just came along so I can spend time with my grandchildren.”

“Typical ‘Twilight’ couple,” said Marcia Bingham, director of the Forks Chamber of Commerce, describing the Clarkes.

It’s a scene that has played out countless times in this tiny community in western Washington state — ever since Meyer picked Forks and the rain-drenched forest of Olympic National Park as the setting for her books. Since 2006, Forks officials have counted more than 100,000 signatures in the register at the visitor center. “And that doesn’t count all the fans who come to town but don’t stop here for a map,” said Mike Gurling, manager of the visitor information center.

Visitor statistics for 2011 are running a bit behind 2010, but Gurling said the town expects another “Twilight” uptick when the next movie in the series comes out, sometime in November.

Neither the books nor the films feature actual places or people from the area. However, more than 73,000 fans visited in 2010 to have a look around. The former down-on-its-luck logging town has seen a surge in tourism-related jobs and motel and sales tax income due to the “Twilight” craze, so local residents and shop owners are happy to play along.

For example, a local pizza joint serves up “Bellalasagne,” the pharmacy sells “Fang Floss” and there’s a parking spot at the Forks Community Hospital reserved for the fictional Dr. Cullen.

The “Twilight” tour map, handed out at the visitor center, leads fans to the Swan House, the Cullen House, Forks Outfitters, City Hall and the police station — all stand-ins for locations Meyer mentions or invented for the book.

Unfortunately for fans like Sandra Buff of Cologne, Germany, one popular stop on the tour, Forks High School, no longer exists.

Courtesy Mike Gurling

The 1925 building was knocked down in mid-June to make room for a new, more modern school, and efforts to raise funds to save the facade of the building failed. The school sign is still there, though, just north of the new school construction site.

Forks High School sign, courtesy Mike Gurling

“I wanted to see all the important places: the hospital, the houses and the school. But this won’t ruin my trip,” said Buff, who did get her picture taken with the cardboard Edward outside the visitor center, right next to Bella’s red truck.

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Chillin’ Zone at PHL

Philadelphia International Airport is working hard to entertain travelers this summer with the Just Plane Fun program.

There’s the Chillin’ Zone – a living-room style set-up with cushioned chairs and sofas at the Terminal C intersection.

During this holiday weekend – through July 5th – many shops in the B/C and D/E Connectors will be holding sales.

Participating merchants include: Afaze, Brooks Brothers, PA Market, PGA Tour, Radio Road, XspresSpa, Jack Georges, Bose, Brookstone, Harley Davidson, Borders, The Body Shop, Crocs, Taxco Sterling, Tech Showcase, In Motion, Hallmark and Lids.

And there’s a week’s worth of entertainment planned including music by the Patriotic Players, a “chowder fishing” contest, art projects with the Philadelphia Museum of Art, a golf putting competition, make-overs and product demonstrations.

See the full list at the PHL website.

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Free dance performance at LAX Flyaway bus terminal

This sounds like fun:

On Saturday, July 2, 2011, the Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) will be hosting a free,
site-specific dance titled Flyway Home at the LAX FlyAway bus terminal, 7610 Woodley Avenue in Van Nuys.

The dance is directed and choreographed by Sarah Elgart and will be performed at 8:15 pm and 9:45 pm.

“Dancers will engage in an interactive production incorporating the outdoor space and architecture of the bus terminal, as well as original music by Feltlike and large-scale projections by artist Stephen Glassman. Dancers will move through the bus terminal facilities and open-air areas, while travelers make their way to their destinations over July 4th weekend. A display of light patterns and images projected onto the exterior of the bus terminal’s multi-level parking structure will transform the structure into a large-scale projection screen.”

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Going on the go: bathroom news

Although it may be a year before Lambert-St. Louis International Airport can repair Concourse C, which was heavily damaged in a tornado on April 22, 2011, the airport is moving forward with much-needed, scheduled upgrades in the Airport Experience Program.

And right now, airport officials are flushed with pride over some newly renovated restrooms.

All restrooms in Concourse A, Concourse C and Terminal 1 will eventually get renovated, and let’s hope they all look as lovely as the fresh set bathrooms (Men’s, Women’s and a Family Assist) featuring bright white counters, new terrazzo flooring and colorful walls that just opened on Concourse A (near gate 8).

And while we’re talking bathrooms… take a look at The Bathroom Diaries , Mary Ann Racin’s directory of more than 47,000 public restrooms, with a color-coded key for toilet cleanliness and amenities such as changing tables.

Racin says she’s recently overhauled the site, but is still working on some features and functionality and, of course, an iPhone app.

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Itching to visit Saskatoon Airport

I’ve never been to Canada’s Saskatoon International Airport (YXE), but I hope to visit it someday.

The airport has a display of aviation artifacts inside the terminal and, next to the terminal, the Blairmore Ring, a giant metal ring that was an engineering innovation associated with Saskatchewan’s potash industry.

(Courtesy Creative Fire)

After seeing this exchange on Twitter, though, I’ll  try not to stop by in July.

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