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Topic: Travel (Read 756 times)
January 09, 2011, 11:17:02 AM »
Navigating the Airfare Maze Online Gets Tougher
By MICHELLE HIGGINS
Published: January 7, 2011
With online travel sites battling with some airlines, where does that leave travelers shopping for flights online? The simple answer is that they’re going to have to do more digging. Airlines are pulling their fares from travel Web sites amid a standoff over the fees that carriers pay to list their flights.
American Airlines removed its flight listings from Orbitz.com last month, when the companies could not agree on a new contract, and Delta withdrew its fares from CheapoAir.com, OneTravel.com and Bookit.com. More recently, Expedia.com dropped American flight listings. Delta has also notified Airfare.com, CheapAir.com, Vegas.com, AirGorilla.com and Globester.com that it will no longer allow its fares to be included on their Web sites in the United States and Canada after Friday.
The moves represent a standoff over the fees that airlines must pay to list their flights with online travel agencies. And at least one major fare distributor, Sabre, which runs a computer system that allows travel agents to see flight and fare information, joined the fray on Wednesday, announcing that it would end its distribution deal with American in August — a month before the end of its contract — and, in the meantime, would make American fares harder to see in its displays.
But American and Delta are not the only airlines becoming more selective about where their fares appear online. JetBlue, Virgin America and Spirit have increasingly been offering special fare sales only through their own Web sites. And some low-cost carriers, including Southwest and Allegiant Air, have long refused to list fares at online agencies or fare aggregators like Kayak.com, requiring travelers to visit the airlines’ own Web sites to see their flights.
So what’s the best way to search for fares now? Currently, there is no one-stop shopping site that includes all fares, but it is possible to cover your bases using only a few sites.
Start with ITA Software, which provides the technological backbone for many air fare shopping sites. It offers an easy way to narrow down the cheapest days to fly by allowing anyone to scan an entire month’s worth of fares for the cheapest rate. Click on “search airfares now” in the middle of the home page, then enter your departure date and destination and select “see calendar of lowest fares” to see which travel days yield the lowest rates. Travelers can also narrow searches by the number of stops and length of trip. But to book the actual ticket, users must go to another site, like the airline’s.
Cover your bases by adding a so-called meta-search site like Kayak.com, Fly.com or Farecompare.com, which don’t sell plane tickets but search hundreds of travel sites at once. Doing this will give you an idea of the best rates available from various sites. Each meta-search site configures its technology and accesses fares slightly differently, which can affect results. The sites also tend to differentiate themselves through special partnerships. Kayak.com, for example, receives fares from ITA Software; Amadeus, a global distribution system; and some airlines directly, including American and Delta. FareCompare licenses air fare data from more than 500 airlines via the Airline Tariff Publishing Company, which consolidates and distributes airline fares worldwide.
Before you hit the buy button, check out Airfarewatchdog.com, a site with actual people who manually search for fares and will sometimes uncover cheaper fares than the other sites. It often captures sales from Allegiant and Southwest, as well as special, last-minute fares that airlines often save for their own Web sites, like “JetBlue Cheeps” which are put on sale on Tuesdays via Twitter and listed only at jetblue.com/cheeps.
For trips to Europe, consider Momondo.com, a Danish travel search site that scours the airlines’ own Web sites as well as online agencies that focus on low-cost carriers, like LyddAir, which operates flights from Lydd Airport in Southeast Kent in Britain to Le Touquet in France. It also compares rates with more than 4,000 high-speed train routes across Europe — a valuable service, as trains are often more convenient in Europe than planes. One caveat: Because of the way Momondo pulls fares, it may show expired fares in its results.
To help evaluate prices, consider Bing.com, which offers a Price Predictor that uses algorithms to determine whether a fare is likely to rise or fall in the next seven days; this can help when trying to decide whether to buy now or wait for a better rate. Students can also consult STATravel.com or StudentUniverse.com, which offer special deals for anyone enrolled in college or graduate school.
And for those who care most about the quality of the flight experience, there are a couple of notable mentions. Rather than a long list of fares, Hipmunk.com sorts fares according to an “agony” index that factors in price, length of flight and number of connections. In a similar vein, InsideTrip.com, evaluates flights by 11 criteria, including legroom, aircraft age and on-time performance.
Cooties on planes and elsewhere
Reply #1 on:
December 20, 2011, 09:05:14 PM »
Airlines are deploying state-of-the-art filtration systems to contain flu and cold viruses from spreading. Scott McCartney joins Lunch Break to discuss how to avoid getting sick while flying. Photo: AP.
Air travelers suffer higher rates of disease infection, research has shown. One study pegged the increased risk for catching a cold as high as 20%. And the holidays are a particularly infectious time of year, with planes packed full of families with all their presents—and all those germs.
Air that is recirculated throughout the cabin is most often blamed. But studies have shown that high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters on most jets today can capture 99.97% of bacterial and virus-carrying particles. That said, when air circulation is shut down, which sometimes happens during long waits on the ground or for short periods when passengers are boarding or exiting, infections can spread like wildfire.
One well-known study in 1979 found that when a plane sat three hours with its engines off and no air circulating, 72% of the 54 people on board got sick within two days. The flu strain they had was traced to one passenger. For that reason, the Federal Aviation Administration issued an advisory in 2003 to airlines saying that passengers should be removed from planes within 30 minutes if there's no air circulation, but compliance isn't mandatory.
Much of the danger comes from the mouths, noses and hands of passengers sitting nearby. The hot zone for exposure is generally two seats beside, in front of and behind you, according to a study in July in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A number of factors increase the odds of bringing home a souvenir cough and runny nose. For one, the environment at 30,000 feet enables easier spread of disease. Air in airplanes is extremely dry, and viruses tend to thrive in low-humidity conditions. When mucous membranes dry out, they are far less effective at blocking infection. High altitudes can tire the body, and fatigue plays a role in making people more susceptible to catching colds, too.
Also, viruses and bacteria can live for hours on some surfaces—some viral particles have been found to be active up to a day in certain places. Tray tables can be contaminated, and seat-back pockets, which get stuffed with used tissues, soiled napkins and trash, can be particularly skuzzy. It's also difficult to know what germs are lurking in an airline's pillows and blankets.
Research has shown how easily disease can spread. Tracing influenza transmission on long-haul flights in 2009 with passengers infected with the H1N1 flu strain, Australian researchers found that 2% passengers had the disease during the flight and 5% came down within a week after landing. Coach-cabin passengers were at a 3.6% increased risk of contracting H1N1 if they sat within two rows of someone who had symptoms in-flight. That increased risk for post-flight disease doubled to 7.7% for passengers seated in a two-seat hot zone.
The epidemic of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2002-03 suggested a wider exposure zone, however. On one flight studied, one passenger spread a particular strain to someone seated seven rows away, while people seated next to the ill passenger didn't contract the disease.
That said, most people sitting near someone who is ill probably won't get sick. "When you get aboard an aircraft, most of us don't have a say on who we sit next to. But that doesn't doom you to catching the flu," said Mark Gendreau of Boston's Lahey Clinic Medical Center.
In 2005, he was part of a team that published a paper in the Lancet that concluded the perceived risk for travelers was higher than the actual risk, and that's still the case today, he said.
Even so, there are some basic precautions passengers can take to keep coughs away.
Hydrate. Drinking water and keeping nasal passages moist with a saline spray can reduce your risk of infection.
Clean your hands frequently with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. We often infect ourselves, touching mouth, nose or eyes with our own hands that have picked up something.
Use a disinfecting wipe to clean off tray tables before using.
Avoid seat-back pockets.
Open your air vent, and aim it so it passes just in front of your face. Filtered airplane air can help direct airborne contagions away from you.
Change seats if you end up near a cougher, sneezer or someone who looks feverish. That may not be possible on very full flights, but worth a try. One sneeze can produce up to 30,000 droplets that can be propelled as far as six feet.
Raise concerns with the crew if air circulation is shut off for an extended period.
Avoid airline pillows and blankets (if you find them).
"If you take the proper precautions, you should do quite well," said Dr. Gendreau. "In most of us, our immune system does what it was designed to do—protect us from infectious insults."
Hidden Dangers in Security
You think the plane is bad? Security checkpoints harbor a host of hazards as well, researchers say.
Airport security areas can make it easy to get sick. People are crowded together, and plastic storage bins that hold personal effects are not cleaned after each screening.
People get bunched up in lines, where there is plenty of coughing and sneezing. Shoes are removed and placed with other belongings into plastic security bins, which typically don't get cleaned after they go through the scanner.
A National Academy of Sciences panel is six months into a two-year study that is taking samples at airport areas to try to pinpoint opportunities for infection.
With limited resources, airports and airlines have asked researchers to help figure out where best to target prevention, said Dr. Mark Gendreau of Boston's Lahey Clinic Medical Center who is on the panel. Check-in kiosks and baggage areas are other prime suspects in addition to security lines, he said.
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