Talk about Travel

Nov 07, 2011

Have a travel-related question, comment, suspicion, warning, gripe, sad tale or happy ending? The Post Travel section's editors and writers are at your service. This week we go behind the scenes at Virgin Atlantic flight attendant training and travel to Valencia and Buffalo.

Hello chatsters. It's the first Travel chat of November and also the countdown to the busiest travel season of the year.  O joy!

Today's topic touches on our Sunday section's feature, in which I go behind the scenes at Virgin Atlantic. While the hair is gone, the memories are forever hairsprayed in my mind.

Tell us: What is your favorite airline or inflight experience, or describe a situation where the flight crew saved the day. Best tale wins a prize.

Has anyone done anything in India that's not the usual tourist fodder--something more creative, educational, spiritual?

We had this recent article on Indian homestays that might be the kind of thing you're looking for. Getting closer to the people, farther from the tourist track. And definitely far from the five-star circuit! Still sounds like fun, though, and educational.

What's the latest on visiting Cuba from the USA? Mike E Charlottesville,VA.

More and more travel companies are filing for and receiving the reinstated license for people-to-people trips. The trips focus on cultural exchanges and meeting the people; touristy activities like drinking mojitos and lounging on the beach are discouraged.

Insight Cuba has loads of trips, and Friendly Planet is one of the newest operators to hop on the bandwagon. 

Hi Travel Gurus, I read a book recently set in a New Mexico town that was near a river and mountains (i.e., not entirely dry and desert-y). The descriptions were so vivid I wanted to jump on a plane immediately.... but the town was fictional. Any idea what area of NM might be sort of like that description? Any thoughts would be much appreciated, as I have never been in the state and have no idea where to even begin looking. thanks for any help on this possible fool's errand!

What's the name of the book?

A couple of weeks ago, you posted my recommendation of Fontainebleau for a day-trip from Paris. With Veteran's Day coming this week, I wanted to follow up with a brief story about my recent visit to Fontainebleau. After a full day of touring the palace, strolling the grounds, and enjoying a leisurely late lunch/early dinner at an outdoor cafe, my wife and I decided to walk through the town back to the train station rather than take the local bus. As we walked along the main road to the station, we passed a small but well-maintained and prominently- located garden named "Square Patton." Intrigued, I entered the garden to find a large plaque honoring the liberation of Fontainebleau from German occupation in 1944 by the US Army's 5th Infantry Division -- my grandfather's unit. Without having given any thought to it before, I suddenly realized that I had been following part of the route that he had taken over 65 years ago as a young soldier in World War II.

What a fortuitous coincidence! And wonderful story. Thank you!

Not a question, but don't know where to post this. Have been following fares from DC to Rome for May 2012, non-stop has been $1,311 for months and this week dropped to $837 for mid-week flights. Didn't expect to see fare to Europe for 2012 for less than $1000, and was shocked to see (and book) these.

So glad you booked! Too many people see a great fare and don't act quickly. Then they're surprised when it disappears. I think you will see fares of less than $1,000, but those will be sale fares, which will come and go. Watch our twitter page and follow airlines that go to your chosen destination.  

After many years living in DC (and an avid reader of this Q&A!), I made the move down south earlier this year. This weekend I'm coming home to visit friends, and wonder how to best drive back into DC. Is I-95 as bad as everyone complains during an early Friday afternoon (1-2 pm)? Or is the smarter route to drive on more of the beltway on 66 East? Thanks so much for your advice! I'm excited to be heading back to the city!

I'm constantly traveling I-95 between here and Richmond, so I say if you can avoid it, do so! I think your best bet is to take Route 29 north right out of Charlottesville, which is a scenic, less-crowded alternative. Then take I-66 east. You might hit some traffic there, but I'd take that over I-95 in a heartbeat.

Hi Flight Crew, Can you provide some recommendations for an affordable, all inclusive vacation in a warm, easy to fly to destination for Christmas time of next year? There will be 20+ of us in our group and we span 3 generations (7-70), so we would love a resort/location that offers something for everyone. We are thinking about Club Med, but we would love any insight/ideas that you can provide. Thanks so much!

Take a look at this recent travel section article. I've been to all-inclusives in Cancun, Jamaica and DR. Cancun was easiest to get to, and offered most opportunities to get off campus. Jamaica has many, many choices at all price points. DR's beaches were great, but it wasn't that easy to get there. 

Hello - We (me, wife and 22 year old college son) are going to be in San Francisco the week before Christmas and would like to know of any recommended hotels that have a separate section/room for our son, who keeps later hours than we do. So he can watch TV, etc. We'd like it not to cost an arm and a leg (which is relative, I know, in S.F.). We'll be there Christmas day, so if anyone has suggestions of things to do then I'd love to hear them. (We've already decided we'll go to a Chinese restaurant then a la "A Christmas Story") Thanks for suggestions on either topic!

You caught me at a good time for this, because I just finished researching lodging options for a getaway weekend I'm planning to SFO coming up in several days. I was initially looking for hotels that had kitchens in the rooms, because I was fantasizing about doing some cooking from the great market produce while I am there. All those were sold out (or, frankly, didn't look too appealing), but I did end up at a place that I think is going to be great -- and its sister hotel has suites at a (relatively) reasonable price that might suit you well. It's the Orchard Hotel (I'm at the Orchard Garden), and it's very environmentally friendly and seems pretty comfortable and well located (in Union Square hood). Anyway, the  suites include a king bed in one room and a sleeper sofa in the other, so they'd be good for you. I'm seeing a $232 rate if you prepay. Caveat: I haven't stayed there yet, so if you want to wait until I get back and check in next week, I'll let you know what I thought. (And even then, I'll be at the sister hotel, not this one. But still should give you a good idea.)

As for things to do, you might be inspired by the piece I wrote about stairway walking in the city; I found it to be just a delightful way to see things I wouldn't have otherwise seen. I also recommend the walking tours offered by San Francisco City Guides. I loved the Chinatown one.

Great article by Andrea Sachs! But, the caption to the oldest photo is misleading in saying that the stewardess is "wearing" a nurse's uniform. In fact, stewardesses in those days WERE Registered Nurses, which was a marketing device intended to calm anxious passengers in the days when few Americans had ever been airborne.

 Thanks for telling us more about the photo. I feel calmer already.

We have round trip tickets for Thanksgiving, but now my wife will be flying directly from our Thanksgiving destination to a third city for work. Her work ticket is on another airline. Should I notify the original airline that she won't be using her return ticket, and if so should I do so before or after we use the first leg of the tickets? I'm not expecting any refund for the unused leg. I just don't want to be charged a one way fare.

I would just let that go, since it's the second leg of the trip that she won't be taking. Depending on the airline, buying a round-trip ticket and using only the first leg could be considered a breach of the contract of carriage, which is a legal agreement you enter into when buying an airline ticket. And they could, conceivably, charge you the one-way fare, which is often more expensive, especially if they want to re-ticket closer to departure date. Just don't ever try to use just the second leg of a round-trip ticket - your reservations will likely be canceled. 

Great story by Andrea Sachs on the VA flight attendant training. However, two items did not sound right. You emphasized that although the female attendants wear high heels in the airports, they change to sensible black pumps while airborne. Yet, you complained that your feet hurt after 6 hours in the high heels. Why didn't you change to those sensible black pumps for the training? And, you wrote that VA flight attendants are trained to pull, not push, the cart down the aisle, so that passengers see your front side, not your back side. However, the photo shows you pushing the cart. Why did that happen?

So glad you enjoyed the piece. To explain those two points:

1. VA supplied the red pumps, and my only other shoes were beige flats.  However, the trainees also wear the pumps, and I wanted to replicate the experience as closely as possible. The main shoe change occurs during the actual flight.

 

2. The photographer caught me after I had pulled the cart down the aisle and was returning the cart to the galley.

"Death Comes for the Archbishop" by Willa Cather. So evocative! Set in/near Santa Fe.

The (above) has to be Austrian Airlines.. Excellent meals prepared by a guest chef from the A list of Vienna restaurants, an extremely varied wine list, an on-time departure at the height of a severe thunderstorm warning (though I assume the storms had gone elsewhere). One reason may be that Austrian does not have an international first class section, and they do operate only one flight a day out of Dulles, but if you're going to Vienna, this is the way.

Thanks for sharing.  I might have to travel based on the airline.

I didn't have a chance to respond in time to last week's chat. I assume the 35 year old single female was talking about hiking the Inca trail. If not, there are always day trips to Machu Picchu itself. For the hike, I think one Inca Trail company is pretty much the same as another, but I went with Peru Treks in December of last year and I had no complaints. They could definitely accommodate a single traveler; however, you will more than likely be paired up to share a tent with someone. The porters have to carry everything, so they aren't likely to let two people be solo since that would mean another tent. We had two single travelers on our hike, and that is what happened with them. Going in the rainy season has pluses and minuses. As a plus, there are a lot fewer hikers, so the trail and campsites are much less crowded (Although there were still a ton of people, so hard to imagine how bad it is during high season). On the minus side, they aren't kidding when they call it rainy season. It rained every day, for hours at a stretch. Definitely bring water proof gear and a backpack cover. Also, please note that the trail is usually closed in February for maintenance.

Thanks for the expert advice.

We NEED to a vacation, but can't do anything until February 8th. Our thought had been Florence, which has always been on our to do list, but in FEBRUARY? Is Florence, Chianti and Tuscany worth it in FEBRUARY? (are any of the great olld cites good in mid-winter?)

I'd say go for it, if that timing works for you. There won't be any crowds, so you'll have museums/etc. to yourselves, and the weather in Florence is pretty mild. In February, you'll see lows in the upper 30s and highs in the mid-50s, and it's not a particularly rainy month (not like October, November and December).

Is there a travel topic question du jour for chatters to chime in with an anecdote?

It's there now! 

Hello, are you familiar with the London Bed and Breakfast Agency, which places people in private homes? The site looks interesting but I wonder if it is reputable. I am looking for a place to stay that is preferably less than $100/night. Any suggestions?

I have not worked with that agency before;  if you are concerned, contact the British tourism office and check with their agents. You might also check out BedandBreakfast.com

 I recently nabbed a $99 hotel using Hotwire. It was a four-star Novotel in the Docklands.   

We were talking and wondered how to get the best sense of the American deep south. If you had 5-7 days what itinerary would you suggest?

Hmm. This is a great question, and a tough one with many answers depending on your interests and priorities. Are you driving from DC, or can you fly somewhere and do the trip from there, which I think would be more efficient? I think this is really a 10-day venture, but my immediate thought is to fly into somewhere like Charlotte (NC), then drive to Knoxville, Nashville, Memphis, Jackson, New Orleans, Mobile, Montgomery, Macon, Savannah, Charleston and back to Charlotte. That's quite a trip, and you could cut it short by, say, leaving off Savannah and Charleston, but what a shame! Or, by starting in Birmingham or Atlanta and leaving off the northern part of the loop (NC and TN). Choices, choices!

Every flight I have ever taken on Finnair and Lufthansa has been a great experience. Domestically, my best flight experiences were without a doubt on (sadly defunct) Independence Air.

I remember that airline!

This may normally be a Dr. G question, but he doesn't seem to have a chat session today. I am traveling to Richmond for the marathon this weekend. We are leaving Friday morning from Rockville and we want to leave as early as possible after the morning rush hour. Can we leave at 9:30am or should we leave a little later? I'd like to arrive in Richmond by noon if possible.

I find that it's always a gamble when you're driving down 95 to Richmond, and avoiding rush hour doesn't always guarantee that you'll have a smooth run. If I were you, I'd leave earlier rather than later, just to be on the safe side. I'd say leave by 9 or 9:30. Chatters, what's your advice?

this week? Thanks!

We had a bit of a technology burp. But the question is up there now.

Hello. I need to book airfare for April 2012 St. Thomas soon and am seeing fares at around $436. That sounds good to me, but what do I know? Should I jump on it, or wait? Thanks!

I'd buy. After paying more than $900 to get to DR last summer because I thought $500 was too high, and I kept waiting for it to go down, I think $436 to the Caribbean sounds good. You see lower fares only to destinations that have lots of airline competition. 

Are you guys ever going to fix this discussion software?

What issue are you having? The more specific you are, the more our tech team can help. Can you email them at wpni-liveonline@wpost.com and describe what's happening? Thanks!

I enjoy (if that word can be used in describing commercial air travel) Southwest because of the good service both on the ground and in the air, but my favorite SWA memory: While waiting for my flight out of BWI one day, I watched two small kids wave frantically at the captain and first officer of a Southwest 737 as it was being pushed back from the gate. The captain and FO waved back to the kids just as enthusiastically. It was a small thing but in these days when kids can't be allowed in the cockpit, it was a nice gesture.

Such a sweet gesture that the kids will probably always remember.

For the person seeking places in NM near the river and the mountains, you might consdeir the Hyatt Regency Tamaya in the valley of the Rio Grande, between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Really beautiful. Techincally owned by the Tamaya people (it's actually on the Puebloo), the resort is operated by Hyatt.

Thanks for this!

Excellent find on the Orchard Hotel--it's right across the street from Uncle Vito's Pizza, a great place to grab a slice! I checked the map because a lot of hotels advertise being in the Union Square area, but are really Tenderloin fringe.

Thanks!

Well, there was the delayed flight because a passenger was asked to check his bag...and he started yelling that he always brings this on, and that he can't check it, etc etc...then while we were on the flight we asked the flight attendant about the incident. The pilot wouldn't let him on the plane. And he spit in the face of the gate agent. gave us a laugh...

What terrible behavior. That person should  be forced to walk to his/her destination for eternity.

on my first flight with my oldest, I walked on the plane and the flight attendant took him from me (he was maybe 6 wks old? maybe 2 mos?). She said that was her job, to play with the babies. She had him for a bit of the flight (2 hr flight). I was quite shocked, but am not the kind of mom who doesn't like anyone to touch my babies (now, with my kids, now much older, that's a different story...;)...I was very surprised, but well, she really liked him, he was always a good baby, and it gave us a few minutes of 'down' time.

Sounds like you had your own daycare on the plane.

I have a soft spot in my heart for AirTran since one Christmas when I was flying home and the staff were so helpful. I have rheumatoid arthritis (an auto-immune) disease and never know what the day will bring. On my outbound flight day, I had great difficulty walking and my right shoulder and hands were badly inflamed. Even though I was in agony, to the average person, I looked fine. Each Airtran person I encountered went out of their way to help me. The pre-security folks arranged a wheelchair to take me to the gate, the gate personnel changed my seat to the other side of the plane so I could protect my shoulder from jostling, they also helped me board early, the flight attendant helped me with my luggage and latched my seat belt for me. The airline industry (and DOT, I guess) often act like there are two types of people--those wheelchair-bound and those fully able-bodied. I thank Airtran for recognizing there are many versions of disability and these employees for going out of their way to help me. I did write to Airtran to thank these people. Now,, I view Southwest as one of the least accomodating airlines, so it will be interesting where they come out given the merger.

What a heartwarming story.  I hope Southwest continues the legacy.

okay...boyfriend has determined that we're driving to his family in New Jersey on Wednesday (from Virginia Beach)....am I right to think we won't hit a lot of traffic coming north through the Eastern Shore, but it'll be a mess once we get near the Delaware Bridge and into New Jersey? Do you advise 95 or Turnpike? We're heading to Columbus, NJ. Thanks....I haven't traveled on that day in years!

Can you leave either very early in the morning or late at night? Because you're going to hit major traffic  during most of the day. Route 13/1 shouldn't be all that awful, but the Jersey Turnpike will likely be a mess, and fairly certain that I-95 won't be better. I'd download a traffic app.  Another possibility is taking the ferry from Lewes to Cape May and then taking parkway up. 

Chris's piece last week on people being scammed while trying to rent through VRBO made me nervous, since I have two places in Florida rented for the December holidays via VRBO (in both cases I've spoken to the owners--I think, though now I wonder--via phone, so I think I'm OK). Any tips on avoiding VRBO scams in the future? How safe (for the rentee) are payments made through PayPal? I rented in France once using PayPal and it worked out fine...

CHRISTOPHER ELLIOTT: Sure thing. Pay by credit card if possible. PayPal offers some protection, and your France rental will probably be fine. But credit cards will protect you the most. As I said in the story, VRBO also offers a secure payment system that ensures you are dealing with the real owner. Also, beware of too-good-to-be true offers that force you to make an immediate decision, and to pay by wire transfer -- those are often scams.

Its been so long since I've booked a vacation, I'm a little overwhelmed! I am looking to travel to some place warm, all-inclusive beach resort the last week of December. It will be be a few of us active, thirty-somethings from a few different locations (DC, NYC, Chicago). Ideally we'd like to keep budget around a grand a person. Any suggested destinations and resorts?

Lots of questions about all-inclusives today. Unusual considering it's not all that cold - yet. Maybe that early snow got everyone thinking about tropical getaways. Again, read the article recently published in our travel section. I think Cancun is one of the easiest to get to, with a wide range of all-inclusives at all price points. 

Have you been to either of the (expensive) restaurants in the Eiffel Tower? Are they worth it?

I've been to Jules Verne, which Alain Ducasse's team took over a few years back and overhauled. I went at night, and it was really magical to be up there when the tower -- and the rest of Paris -- was twinkling. The food was good, very rich -- not particularly revelatory but luxurious. And, yes, expensive. As for whether it's worth it, well, it depends on what you value. I can't say I need to go back, but I'm glad I went.

is is mid-chat, not at the top

Hit refresh on your browser! We moved it to the top.

Years ago, I read in the Washington Post that during the changeover for DST, the Amtrak overnight eastbound cross-country trains would stop in the desert in the middle of Arizona or New Mexico for 1 hour, so that they would not be "early" when they arrived in Texas or further east. Does that still happen? I know it sounds ludicrous, but it was described in your paper! Thanks.

CHRISTOPHER ELLIOTT: It's still true. I checked with Amtrak, and a spokesman confirmed it: "Yes, we will wait for the clock to catch up with us. Ordinarily, we cannot leave stations early.  We will usually wait for time at a station, if that is possible."

What advice do you have for gauging how safe a place really is to visit? Reading the State Dept. website is useful, but too broad in its description to be helpful. I say this because I live in a U.S. city that routinely makes the "most dangerous" list. A potential visitor reading the list might be put off, but for most residents and visitors our city is a perfectly safe place to enjoy. I'd hate to miss out on a country in say, South America, because of the attention-grabbing crime incidents that most people avoid.

We're going to tackle this very question for you vis-a-vis Mexico in an upcoming issue. So many people mistakenly think that it's dangerous across the board to travel there, but Mexico is a big country, and there are many places where travelers are quite safe. To answer your question, though, I'd read everything I could about the places you're interested in, well beyond the State Dept. site. Check the guidebooks; many if not most offer advice on safety and other issues of concern to travelers. Talk to any people you know who may have traveled to the country in question, then assess the actual risk. Not so long ago, Washington was the murder capital of the country, but that didn't stop tourists from coming here, did it?

When trying to check-in online for United, is it possible to check-in 24 hours in advance of the first leg of a trip, or do I have to wait to check-in until it's 24 hours before the second leg? I'm traveling to Chicago on a 12:00 flight, and then have a flight out of Chicago at 3:30, but United isn't letting me check-in yet, despite it being less than 24 hours before the 12:00 flight. THanks!

You should be able to check in for the first leg. I'd try another browser. 

Any suggestions for a cheap cruise to someplace warm the week of Xmas (preferably out of Baltimore)?

Not many choices out of Baltimore. It's either the Carnival Pride or Royal Caribbean's Enchantment of the Sea. Both go to Bahamas for a week. You'll pay a big premium for the Christmas week. Cruises would be cheaper out of Fort Lauderdale or Miami, but airfare may make that a wash. 

The Secret of Everything by Barbara O'Neal.

Got it. Las Ladronas is the fictional place, described as a small, northern NM town high in the mountains. Sounds to me like a stand-in for something like Chimayo.

I am heading to Spain for 2 weeks vacation in December. Part of me wants to have all of my lodging reserved before I get there and part of me wants to keep my options options. Negatives of waiting are the time devoted while I am there to finding lodging (I wold have to find an internet cafe); problems finding lodging or traipsing around with luggage; traveling alone so want some security of knowing where I will be staying. Positives of waiting: flexibility. Maybe I fall in love with Barcelona and decide to spend the whole two weeks there. What are your preferences in making arrangements ahead of time? What do you view as the positives and negatives?

You've captured the pros/cons pretty perfectly! I've done it both ways, and I have to say that I've had great experiences both ways: I loved a trip to Puerto Vallarta when we didn't make arrangements for lodging on a trip to a small beach town nearby, and after a comical day of being shown things like stables and chicken coops (seriously!), we ran into some people who run a really cool ecolodge on the other side of a marsh. We had to wade across at high tide (with our luggage -- holding it on top of our heads!), and the place was a lot of fun. Never would've found it. On the other hand, I've also had very irritating experiences having to settle for really substandard lodging because all the good stuff was gone. So it sort of depends on what your comfort level with lodging is. If you don't mind leaving it to chance -- and accepting the fact that what you get might not be anything close to what you want -- I'd say leave your options open. If you're the type that wants to stay in places with a lot of unique character, then plan ahead.

Or you can do something in between, of course. You could reserve, say, a week in Barcelona someplace you like, but leave the rest open and see what direction you think you're going in after a few days.

Or, well, I have to say as someone who has fallen in love with Barcelona: Maybe you should just go ahead and plan to stay the whole two weeks there! You won't regret it, I promise.

Some friends will be taking a 2-3 week trip to Asia over the holidays, and I'm pondering meeting them for a shorter portion of the trip. I've never travelled farther than an 8 hour or so plane ride, however I'm generally not too affected by jet lag. Do you think it's reasonable to spend a week (including travel time) in Asia, or is it just not worth it unless you have more time?

You don't say where in Asia you'd be going, but wherever, I'd say go for it! Definitely worth it even for 5 days.

Hello! Do I have a snowball's chance in July of getting tickets for this event now? This is (gulp) only 8 weeks off...

You're kidding, right? You wouldn't have had such chances even if you had tried eight MONTHS before, because the Vienna Philharmonic's New Year's concerts are so popular the tickets go by lottery, and you have to register the previous January to have a shot at tickets. So what you should do is focus on 2012, and get ready to register between Jan. 2 and 23.

I am travelling next week, and called Discover, LLBean VISA and AT&T MasterCard today to put the alert on my cards. Only Discover doesn't have a foreign transaction fee; the others said that VISA and Mastercard require it... They would not waive the fee - do you think this is reasonable in todays world? Or is this just a money making thing for them? Thanks

CHRISTOPHER ELLIOTT: You would think they'd be happy to waive the fee for a good customer, but they won't. I gave it my best shot when I  visited Italy recently with my family, and my bank, Wells Fargo, gave me a polite but firm "no." These fees are big money for the credit cards and banks issuing them; you're better off making your purchases on a card that doesn't have a fee, like Capital One or a card issued by a credit union.

What is the new normal on airfares to California these days? What is a deal? I'm just asking because I can usually buy tickets many months in advance but it seems like the days of the $280 roundtrip are gone with the dodo bird.

Yes, the days of $99 each way plus taxes are gone. I haven't seen that fare, even from Southwest, in a long time. $350 is about as good as it gets. Lower fares, when they occur, are never for nonstops. Keep tabs on Virgin America, as it seems to be driving the sale train to California right now. 

Hi - My family of 4 will be going to Yosemite in July, and have begun pricing flights to LA or SF (either is fine). I've been looking since August, and am consistently seeing flights for $350-400 or so. Looking into your crystal ball, do you see me getting a better fare than that? Are the days of flying to CA in the summer for under $300 over? Do you have any advice? We're very flexible on airports and to some extent dates - we just need to be in Yosemite July 6-8. Thanks!!

Fares rarely go under $350, and those are usually for connecting flights. If you can get convenient nonstop flights at $350, including taxes, I'd go for it, especially around July 4th. 

Hello chatters! Thank you so much for taking my questions. I'm in the VERY beginning stages of planning a trip to Morocco. Fairly adventurous. I'm going to with a friend (2 twenty something females) and we prefer to explore on our own, but would a tour group be better in this situation? Is it easy to find info on lodging that isn't going to break the bank? I noted there was a fairly reasonable train to get between cities. Is it safe? Basically, can you point me towards any great resources for planning this adventure? And if you have any "don't miss" suggestions, I'd love to hear those too. Thank you!

I'm jealous! You should look at this Going Our Way column we did on Morocco; it addresses many of your questions and lays out some of the options. Keep us posted!

But isn't that the real problem, that the carry-on rules are enforced so unevenly. The flight attendants shouldn't look the other way sometimes and then enforce it other times. Tell me the rules, I'll follow them.

I'm with you 100 percent!

Alabama, of course. They didn't get around to repealing the ban on mixed race marriages until 2001. And now they want all Hispanics to leave the state. They haven't made any progress in hundreds of years, so if you're looking for the "Deep South experience," Alabama still has it for you! Enjoy! (Sarcasm intended.)

Yeah. South Carolina wasn't all that much earlier. And in 09, a justice of the peace in Louisiana refused to perform a civil ceremony for a mixed-race couple. He resigned after an outcry, but still.

I don't know if Southwest flight attendants are always funny (I fly SW very rarely), but one on a trip from BWI to Chicago Midway 15 or so years ago had everybody cracking up. Her best line, as we were ready to deplane - "Remember, no one loves your money more than we do!"

Some are funnier than others. I flew Southwest right after that incident with hole in the fuselage that resulted in the depressurization of a plane over Arizona. One of the attendants on my flight alluded to it in a joke about the oxygen masks. Too soon.

One of our Post colleagues had some additional tips for last week's Machu Picchu solo traveler:

I used Intrepid Travel last year for a trip to Boreno and will be using them again in a couple of weeks for a trip to Peru including MP. I was very impressed with the Borneo trip which is why I’m back for more. Planning trips and deciphering maps and finding restaurants in foreign cities and all that – I enjoy it and that’s how I’ve always traveled but I have to say it was a nice change of pace last year to not have to deal with it. Everything was pre-organized and the guide told us where we needed to be and when, where we were eating dinner, took care of tickets to things like animal sanctuaries, etc… and I could just kick back and enjoy my vacation.

should be nice...just dress warm, since you'd be walking around a lot. I was there in November, I believe, and it was nice and sunny, if a little chilly. You should be fine...and they're right...no crowds!

Thanks!

Andrea, I loved your article on Virgin Atlantic! What I remember most was the amenity kit, with everything one would need for an overnight flight to London. That alone made me a fan of the airline. Another airline I love flying is Air France. Their flight attendants were the friendliest (and, yes, they were French) I've ever seen, even better than Virgin Atlantic. And the meals were worthy of being served in first class. Then again, we're talking Air France. Worst airline for overseas travel? United. I felt like I was in steerage, and the woman next to me was spilling her soda, food and everything all over me throughout the return trip from Rome to Dulles.

I am still wearing my VA socks!

Agree on United. For a Beijing flight, I paid extra for Economy Plus, just to preserve my sanity.

Hi I checked online, tickets are 1000 euros each. Oops. That said, I'd still like to consider Vienna for NYE. Just something cheaper. Has anyone visited Vienna over New Years, and do you have any traditions to recommend? I suppose I could look for other concerts to attend. Thanks!

CHRISTOPHER ELLIOTT: The other big event -- other than the many New Years festivities around the city -- is the traditional New Years Day concert by the Vienna Philharmonic. It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I highly recommend visiting Vienna during the holidays, but as someone who grew up there, I have to warn you -- it can be really, really, really cold. 

Does anyone have experience hiring a driver in wine country? We are headed to Sonoma for the weekend and hired a driver for a day. He is scheduled to drive us for 6 hours and his initial itinerary included only 3 wineries. We have been to Napa/Sonoma a number of times in the past (but always used a designated driver rather than hiring a driver), so we are not too interested in doing tours and we are just going to grab sandwiches for lunch, so no long lunch breaks either. We assumed that if we are just tasting, we could get in 5 or 6 wineries in 6 hours. Any idea what's typical? Also, how to you tip? Cash? A nice bottle of wine?

Chatters, we will need your help with this one. I've always driven myself.

I am an anxious flyer in my 30s and spend most flights gripping onto the armrests while trying really hard not to look like a weirdo to other passengers. On a recent flight to San Francisco, a male flight attendant in his 50s looked at me and said, "You're not real good at this are you?" I said "How could you tell?" He said, "You're making this face... " I explained that I knew it was irrational, but that I just had a hard time on flights. He told me to keep my eyes on him and that if HE was making "this face", I could do the same. Every time we hit turbulence, he would look at me and wink. He was just a super nice man and I really appreciated him taking the time to talk me off the ledge.

I so want to see that face! Please tell us the airline, so this crewmember, or at least his employer, gets credit.

I once had a pilot who was deadheading on my flight offer me some cookies that his mom made. I know I shouldn't take baked goods from stangers, but they were pretty delicious.

How sweet  or maybe they were savory?!?

I stayed there about 18 months ago when I was in town for business. It wasnt too bad. My last trip there in September the Orchard Garden was too expensive so I stayed at the Triton (Kimpton Hotel Chain) in the same area.

Thanks -- good to know...

In addition to the suggestion of an all-inclusive for this family, I'd recommend a cruise. The first advantage is that you don't have to fly to a foreign country so your flight to the U.S. port will likely be shorter and cheaper. The cruise ships have LOADS of activities for all ages, probably more than an all-inclusive offers. And the food has got to be better than those repetitive all-inclusive buffets.

Yes, that's another option. And, if you're not drinkers, it's often cheaper. 

Special vacation with just my parents (no sibs)...coming home from Mexico (on Delta)....this is back in the days when smoking was allowed. My mom has asthma and rather than risk being one row back from smokers, I told the airline that my mom has asthma and asked if we could be seated as far from the smokers as possible. They changed us to the first row of first class! The only time any of us have flown that....champagne, tablecloths (real cloth!) and really great food. Mom still talks about it...

Those were the days for better or worse.

If you want to go New Year's day, the lottery is as Joe described. But when I was there they had the very same concert on New Year's Eve and we were able to get tickets, and had a lovely time. Your hotel concierge should be able to help, and can let you know what other options are available on New Year's Day. (We went to the opera.)

Thanks Joe and fellow chatters!! :-) xoxoxo!

You're welcome.

Acouple of years ago my two young kids (2 1/2 and 5) and I flew down to Charlottesville on US Air to attend my husband's graduation from the Army JAG School. I had an umbrella stroller to ferry and contain the younger one, but we did have to change planes in Philly, which required taking buses. I was pleasantly surprised by how helpful the ground crew in Philly was, getting my son in his stroller on and off the buses and around the airport. It might have helped that my daughter keep telling everyone that her daddy was in the army and we hadn't seen him in months (I wanted to explain that he was just in VA not overseas, but it seemed too complicated), but her excitement to see her dad was so infectious I guess that we were surround by friendly and helpful people everywhere we went.

Can I borrow your daughter for my next trip?

Hi - My west coast niece is now in college outside of NYC. She is coming down to DC over thanksgiving - Wednesday to Saturday. We have no idea what to tell her. Is Amtrak her best bet? If so - do you have any advice for her? thanks!

Amtrak may well be packed, and costly. I'd avoid it at the holidays. Can she get on one of the inexpensive buses like BoltBus or Megabus? There are many more of those. Chatters, what's your best advice?

I'm finding cheap faire to Europe for summer 2012 on Air Iceland - any good experieinces on them? Worth while to stop over for a day on the way there or back?

I've not flown Iceland Air, but I think they have a decent rep. They sometimes offer free stopover in Iceland, although you'll have to pay the typically expensive hotel/food prices. I'd do it. 

I also like to read the travel notes from the British and Canadian governments. Adds another perspective. I think I learned that trick from the travel chat years ago!

Old advice that's new again! Thanks!

I'm afraid my best flight crew story is the opposite of saving the day. Coming home from Ireland - Dublin to London to Dulles. Just past Iceland, someone got sick on the plane, and they turned us back to Iceland. But by the time we got there, they decided Iceland didn't have the right facilities. So, on to Shannon! We set down in Shannon, unloaded the ill passenger, and then took back off. (with no more meals, not even any snacks.) I am afraid to fly. I was approaching my limit, and was crying (quietly, I swear) into my husband's shoulder. The flight attendant told me to stop bothering my seatmate. When I said that he was my husband and we were ok, the flight attendant told me to keep a stiff upper lip and stop being upset. I will go to great lengths to avoid British Air.

Yikes, that's an all-around bad experience.

My new favorite airline is Jet Blue. I already liked flying them for their comfy seats and individual TV screens in coach, but a couple of their staff were superb when we encountered a problem this Spring. We were scheduled to fly from Dublin to Boston on Aer Lingus with a connecting flight on Jet Blue to DCA. The Aer Lingus flight was seriously delayed leaving Dublin and we missed our Jet Blue flight. Aer Lingus was offering to fly us out late the next day with a horrible connection through JFK. For various reasons, it was imperative that we get back to DC that night. Aer Lingus swore up and down that there were absolutely no flights leaving that night from Boston to D.C. with available seats. We called Jet Blue directly and they said, "Yes, we've got seats available on a flight to Dulles." We went to the Jet Blue counter and because Aer Lingus had booked us on the horrible BOS-JFK-DCA flight, they said it would take a bit of time to straighten it out. It actually took two employees an hour to re-book us but they were SO re-assuring that would indeed make our flight and we did. I know that one of these employees stayed after her shift was over to help us. I made sure to note their names and wrote Jet Blue to commend their efforts on our behalf. Gotta love Jet Blue.

Yay JetBlue!

In the early 70s, as a trade journalist, I flew first-class on a company junket nonstop from Miami to Rio, on the Brazilian airline Varig. It was amazing: constant pouring of top-brand champagne and wine throughout the flight--from fuil-size bottles, not the little airplane bottles. When dinnertime arrived, the flight attendants wheeled a cart with a silver-domed platter down the aisle. It was a full steamship round of beef, which they proceeded to carve individually for each first-class passengers. And since our group occupied more than half of the first-class cabin, things got very convivial. I had to leave the trip early and flew back from Rio in first class on Delta...absolutely no comparison to Varig's first class!

Looking for a honeymoon destination in mid-January between $1500-$1800--couple are in there mid-20's. Anything reasonable out there? Dulles would be #1 choice to leave from

Maybe Key West? I don't think they'd find a nice place in Caribbean with that budget.  

Not me directly, but my roommate: he was scheduled to fly from DC to the Caribbean, where he would meet his family for a cruise. He realized at the last minute (less than 24 hours beforehand), that he had packed his passport in a box of stuff after his college graduation a few months before, and that said box was in his parent's house in upstate NY. His dad ended up driving to the airport, and finding a pilot flying to DC to hand-carry the passport in his flight bag. Passport arrives, cruise is saved, and all because of a friendly pilot! I just wish I could remember which airline it was...

Air Canada! My husband and I were upgraded from coach to first class on a flight from Montreal to Rome for our honeymoon. We had only even mentioned that it was our honeymoon at the gate because we were trying to get seats together (we had been assigned seats far apart). The agent said he would try, and about 15 minutes later he handed us first class tickets! I've heard of this happening but hadn't even considered the possibility. It was amazing.

Frankly, with that limited timeframe, I'd stick to Charleston and Savannah (and maybe Charlotte if they have to fly back though there on the way out anyway). Really beautiful, charming cities with plenty to fill a few days. New Orleans is great, of course, but while I haven't been to all ot the other suggested cities, I'm not sure they're worth going out of the way for (Jackson? yawn, IMO).

Yes, I agree about Charleston and Savannah -- but my point was to get them to consider a lot more of the South. Jackson is on the route, not necessarily a destination anywhere close to as worthy as those favorites you mentioned. NOLA is  worth a week on its own, no doubt.

Hello, I see you linked to Apple Vacation in your Caribbean story. Am I mssing it, or is the site only for hotel + airfare? I'm looking for just hotel. Thanks!

On the Apple Vacations site, in the Plan Your Vacation box, you'll see a box you can check that says Hotel Only. 

and i guess there was a strike? we were in malaga, and taking a flight to madrid...pretty much the whole plane was going to madrid to a connection to the states...and well, apparently some flights were canceled. they were yelling out names to get on the one flight they had, but well, it was hard to hear...I would try to get to the front, etc... well, this was before 9/11...so we had all our luggage with us, we hadn't checked anything, because, we weren't to that part of the airport yet. So I hear my name and my husband's name...(honeymoon)...and well, we follow the gate agent, and we're basically running to the plane...they 'gate check' sort of our luggage (all the way to our final destination)...I'm not even sure we went thru metal detectors... and we were the last two on the plane. I don't know how the people who were left got on the plane (I think we got on the flight because we were flying first class due to upgrading. people were watching us as we ran with the gate agent, not very happy...)

After my boyfriend and I had spent a week with my family in a VERY small town in Idaho, he was SO ready to get home. There was a blizzard, so Delta put us on a bus (who knows why) to take us to another airport - 1.5 hours away in good weather - that was still open. So, we got to the other airport about 2.5 hours later, and our plane wasn't there yet. At this point, I told him we'd miss our connection home, and we'd be stuck in Salt Lake City. He said something to the affect of "I'm never coming here again," and stormed off (in the 1 gate airport). We eventually made it to SLC, and when I got to the Delta customer service desk, explained our situation and asked for the closest place to get him a drink since he'd been with my family for a week. The agent responded, "oh, honey...let's me get you some meal vouchers. And a hotel too. And this...and this." AND he pointed us toward the only restaurant in the airport that takes meal vouchers for alcohol. :) My boyfriend (now husband) was a happy camper...Thanks to Delta!

There was a wild flight attendant on an American regional flight last summer. His name may have been Steven. His antics included bending over backward - almost to the floor - during the pre-flight demo, having a funny answer to every question, and repeating "trick or treat" over and over as he went down the aisle with his trash bag collecting cups after the beverage service. After we reached our destination, I overheard various passengers talking about him. One said, "He was so nice and funny," and another said to the person meeting her, "Our flight attendant was crazy." Her friend asked, "Crazy funny or crazy insane?" The passenger said, "Crazy lock-up." While this guy obviously wasn't everyone's cup of tea, I was immensely grateful for the witty distraction due to the nature of my trip (parental emergency) and I keep hoping I'll be on another flight of his one day.

Do it. I've flown with them a number of times, and done the Iceland stopover once. I would do it again in a second.

This story is about the crew in the airport, rather than the flight crew, but they made my flight fabulous. I was traveling to Paris with my partner, who was traveling for work. She had a business class ticket, and I was in coach (she was on Continental, and I had an Air France ticket, but it was the same plane). I asked at the gate counter if I could switch to business class (this was in the late '90s, when that sort of thing was more common), and the woman told me that it wasn't possible. I thanked her, and my partner and I went to the first class lounge to wait. While I was in the ladies' room there, I ran into a couple of the women who had been working the gate counter, and we had a brief chitchat about the weather or something. Right before time to board, I got back in line to make sure my frequent flier miles were being credited for the flight, but before I could say anything, the same woman I had seen at the counter and in the restroom told me to give her my ticket and wait to the side. After a few minutes, she came over, said that coach was full, and handed me a business class ticket! She said to keep quiet about it, and I was more than happy to comply. The flight was so comfortable! I was able to sleep almost the entire flight because of the gigantic, cushy seat.

Regarding the best international airline experience, it was on the return flight from Heathrow on British Airways last month. I had a malfunctioning headphone and seatback entertainment system, and the airline attendant suggested that I change my seat from where I was to anther seat that had been vacated by another passenger in the row behind me. With respect to your article on training VA flight attendants, what kind of shoes are male attendants expected to wear? Guys don't wear pumps (unless they're drag queens), but flat-heeled shoes. I'd like to see a follow-up story on men who attend these classes. Incidentally, when you (Andrea Sachs) practiced CPR, did you learn the 5 compressions, 1 breath count method? Did you also practice CPR dusing the Automatic Defillabrator device? Thanks.

You are right, the men wear sensible shoes. Not nearly as fabulous as the red pumps.

 According to the British technique, we did 30 chest pushes to two breathes. I became winded doing it twice.

I'm guessing this was a more generalized ARGH over the WaPo discussion software. It's been how many months, now? and almost every discussion I visit still has bugs from week to week. And not even the same bugs! We know y'all can't necessarily do anything about it --- you have the unfortunate placeholder of a customer service rep here. And I'm sure you all are more than aware of the issues. But it deserves to be noted, at least in my opinion.

Consider it noted!

I was in Jamaica. I was with nuns--in charge of PR. Got to airport for flight home sick as a dog. A kind stewardess upgraded me and one of the nuns to first class. I have no idea how or why. Only that it seemed lifesaving at the time. So--bad as things get, I hold out hope for those little bits of humanity that can and do emerge once in a while.

maybe cheating because I work for an airline, but many years ago, I visited Peru and was on my way back to Lima from Cuzco on Aeroperu. Because flights were permanently full full full, standby was not indicado, so I had bought a (reduced) confirmed ticket...but failed to notice that I needed to re-confirm reservation, so it got cancelled. 5 am at Cuzco airport, scene at counter is like the roof of the Saigon embassy in 1975. I ask counter person if I can talk to captain, maybe there is a chance of jumpseat? She kind of laughs but says sure, you can try...20 minutes later, I'm sitting in cockpit of 727 behind the flight crew, on my way back to Lima, spectacular view of Andes...and I avoided waiting 3 days in Cuzco for the next flight with a seat! Sometimes the travel gods are in a good mood...

I have had that same flight attendant - or several very similar ones. I love it when they are understanding and helpful.

Thanks everyone for joining us on today's chat.

We loved the airline stories. The winner is the passenger who found such kindness with AirTrans. Here's hoping that Southwest will read this and continue the tradition. Please email me your address at sachsa@washpost.com.

See you next Monday.

 

 

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