Talk about Travel

The Pitons on the Caribbean Island of St. Lucia (AP/Scott Sady).
Jan 04, 2016

Talk about Travel is here to help at 2 p.m. Mondays.
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Past Talk about Travel chats

Hi all, and welcome to 2016's inaugural Talk About Travel chat. We opened Sunday's section with a tale about scuba diving -- and being unexpectedly pressed into service as a lion fish exterminator -- at an island resort off the coast of Belize. Have you, too, had an aquatic adventure in the course of your travels? Tell us about it here. Most compelling answer wins a handsome Travel-section tote bag. On to your quibbles and questions...

How does travel insurance work if one of your flights is cancelled impacting connecting flights? As an example, I had comprehensive trip insurance and my first flight in in the U.S was cancelled so I could not connect with my Turkish Air flight. I was traveling on miles so United would not move me to another airline. Would insurance cover purchasing a new flight on the spot? I ended up advocating for myself with a United manager and getting onto Lufthansa as it was boarding. I have booked tickets to Vanuatu and will have several internal island flights. Even though I am flying back to the main island the day before my international departure, what if I get stuck on the island and miss the flight home. How would travel insurance handle that? International flights out of Vanuatu are every other day. Also, I will have a separate ticket from LAX to my U.S. city since Fiji Air did not offer a flight.

First of all, way to advocate for yourself! I'm glad you were able to resolve this before you had to file a travel insurance claim. Look at the clauses on trip cancellation and interruption. Most policies will reimburse you for the unused, non-refundable portion of your trip and for the increased transportation costs it takes for you to return home due to a covered reason. On interruption, you're normally covered for additional accommodation and travel expenses and lost prepaid expenses due to a covered departure delay of six or more hours. But policies can vary.

My experience is one-time but changing planes there (en route home to Dulles from Moscow) in July 2009 was a nightmare: the Dutch made us all stand for about 45 minutes and go through security screening again before allowing us to board. Has anything changed since?

I've changed  planes in Amsterdam a couple of times in past few years and had no issues. Chatters? 

What huge outrage am I missing over TSA scanning? Or pat-downs, for that matter? Just seems like part of the drill, not worth making any drama over it.

Many air travelers feel the same way, which is why the TSA can keep scanning, poking and prodding passengers any way it wants. We don't poke back.

I am one of three poor teachers traveling to Iceland over spring break (March 21-26). Our excursion is paid for, now we are waiting to purchase tickets. The price changes every day ($750-$810)...HELP!!!??? Do you think the price will ever go below $700? Is there a best time to purchase?

I would not hold my breath. Everyone wants to travel on spring break. But have you tried WOW out of Baltimore? You'd have to stay another night, as flights don't operate on the 26th, but round-trip fare is $468. 

Once again, passengers on an open-seating flight were held "hostage" by late-arriving parents when there were no longer two seats together. The parent wouldn't accept anything other than two seats together and the pilot refused to take off until two passengers "volunteered" to give up their seats. This is not an uncommon occurrence. I wish the airlines would stop enabling this situation to occur and simply invite the passengers who are unhappy with open seating to leave the plane. In the most recent case the child appeared to be at least 10 or 11--head when standing was above the level of the seat so he was no toddler. In addition passengers who give up their seats so the flight can continue do not appear to be reimbursed in any way by the airline. The airline has an arrangement of early bird where passengers can pay a fee to be in the first group to board if seating arrangements are need. When such situations arise, the passengers arriving late and insisting on sitting together should be required to pay a fee. The flight was delayed leaving because of these passengers.

Sounds as if this happened on a Southwest Airlines flight, which is fairly rare. You hear about this happening more often on legacy airlines and low-cost carriers that try to sell seat assignments (which a lot of families refuse to pay). Still, there's no excuse for holding up an entire flight, and I'm sorry this happened to you. Here are a few executive contacts at Southwest. You might send a brief, polite email to them, explaining what happened.

We are looking for a location for our family reunion, hopefully some place located approximately 2 hours from the Kensington, MD area. We've been going to a place in the Poconos for the past 3 years, but we moved our parents down here this year, so now half of us live in the area, with the other half scattered in New York and out West. We are looking for some place by water, preferably, and with about 10 to 12 bedrooms/sleeping areas. There will be about 20 to 25 of us and we are looking at hopefully getting a place for a week in August of this year.

In order to keep it two hours or closer, your best bet is to choose a place along the Chesapeake Bay.  I'd look at Oxford, St. Michaels, Easton and Cambridge. Or, if you want something closer, Kent Island, which is on the other side of the Bay Bridge, close to Annapolis. Rent-from-owner sites, such as Homeaway, are a good place to start (the usual buyer-beware caveats apply). There are also rental agencies in the various communities, which can be located via Chambers of Commerce or tourism organizations.  

I can barely swim, so of course the person I travel with most often is a scuba diver with over 500 dives. This generally means a lot of hammock/book time for me, but he does take me out to snorkel in shallow waters if I want. My best snorkeling adventure was in the Red Sea (Dahab). He took the afternoon off from the group shore dives and said I had to see this. The water was only waist-high until all of a sudden there was a wall that went down many tens of feet. I was afraid at first but learned to float just over the edge without panicking. The light shining through the water like an illuminated manuscript, the swarms of fish, the coral and plant life on that natural rock wall was one of the most beautiful things I had ever and have ever seen. I did, however, have to swim back to where I could stand up - I discovered that crying in a face mask fogs things up, and sniffling through a snorkel isn't practical.

Love this -- thanks for sharing!

What can I do with miles, other than 1) buy more, 2) get endless emails about buying more, 3) watch them expire via numerous emails exhorting me to buy magazines? If I do not have hundreds of thousands of miles, what can I do? Can I used them to buy seats with more leg room? I am never going to accrue millions of miles, even if I only ever use one airline. I think I know the answer, but can you confirm that I'm basically wasting my theoretical time amassing miles? Thanks.

You're right. I'm about to commit a grievous sin, as far as the Church of Miles is concerned. But your miles are of little or no use. Sure, you could get a magazine subscription or redeem them for flowers. But think about all the things you did to get those miles. Maybe you paid extra for a flight or bought more on your credit card. The airline or credit card company benefitted far more than you did. And in the end, your miles will probably expire anyway. Many of these travel loyalty programs are bad for consumers, habit forming, and leave you with little or nothing in the end. You've answered your own question. Miles are pointless.   

My husband and daughter and I want to go to Texas for Spring Break, flying into Houston on March 26 and flying out of San Antonio or Austin on April 2. I live in Richmond. The airfares for those dates seem prohibitively high - a total of $1500 - $1600. Am I simply a victim of the calendar because of the school holiday? Do you have any suggestions?

Try checking your itinerary on Google Flights. I'm pulling up prices that are a little lower. As always, if you have a little flexibility in your schedule, you can save money.

What is the best time to renew a passport? How long does it take? Mine expires in October. I will probably take a trip in the Spring and again in July.

I would renew after your July trip, but it really depends where you're traveling. Some countries require a longer validity period. For example, Mexico says your passport must be valid six months after your entry date, according to the State Department. So you may need to renew early. If you apply for a renewal in July, you'll have plenty of time before your October trip.

Good afternoon all - Hoping you can help out with a time sensitive inquiry. 88 year old grandfather wants to take a bucket list trip to Alaska this summer. Not interested in cruising; wants to get out to the parks (Denali, etc.) and see nature. Do you or any chatters have recommendations for a good old fashioned group tour (for 5 adults)? He recently took a bus tour through the west that he loved, but the company isn't operating 7 day tours in Alaska. Additionally, the family is interested in breaking up the flight (WAS) in Seattle or Portland. Short of noting the price difference, do the chatters have any advice on which city to stop in for some much needed rest? Thanks in advance!

Road Scholar (part of the Elderhostel world) offers a large selection of Alaskan tours. As for where to connect, both cities have their charms. Chatters? 

How about an investigative report into why Immigration and Customs at Dulles are so understaffed/inefficient? Returned Saturday and it took us 2 hours from landing to clear, collect bags and get into the terminal. We were held on the shuttle bus for a while and then held upstairs because the line for US citizens was outside of the ropes and all the way back to the elevators. They know how many flights are scheduled and how many passengers to expect - why is it so bad here when the UK seems to process us in less than 30 minutes (Manchester)?

Wait times vary. Take a look at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Airport Wait Time reports to get an idea of how this changes from day-to-day. Just a quick glance indicates that holidays and holiday weekends are busier. 

I made a reservation through Expedia for a "One Bedroom Self-Catered Apt" in NYC for the Chinese New Year weekend (Feb. 13-15) for myself, daughter and granddaughter, for a price of $431.58 (room, taxes, extra guest). However, the final itinerary says: "The below fees and deposits only apply if they are not included in your selected room rate. You'll be asked to pay the following charges at the hotel: Deposit: USD 450.00 per stay; Cleaning fee: USD 175.00 per room, per stay; Resort fee: USD 20.00 per room, per night." The "resort fee" aka extra guest was mentioned, but not the rest. Further, cancellation fee of 50% before 1/29 (100% after). I am staggered. Any suggestions?

That doesn't sound like a good deal. Expedia may have disclosed that information when you made the reservation, but if you didn't see it, then it didn't disclose it enough. I would cancel the reservation and book a different room. Mandatory resort fees and cleaning fees are basically a hidden price increase. They don't deserve your business.

After a visit to Miami Beach for a conference one May long ago, we rented a car for a day-trip to Key West. En route back, we stopped at Bahia Honda to take a dip in the ocean. We had the beach to ourselves, as it was a weekday afternoon during the school year. We changed into our swimsuits, paddled around in the warm water -- then after a while noticed a man on the shore waving frantically to us. We swam close enough to him that we could hear what he was saying: between us and the shore was a school of barracuda swimming past! As soon as they'd swum through, we skedaddled onto the beach, and called it a swim.

Yikes, I would make a Heart joke here if this weren't so scary -- thanks for sharing!

Hi, we are a family of 5 traveling to San Diego in late July. When is the best time purchase our airline tickets to get the best price? We are considering flying into San Diego and out of LAX. Might it cost us more to fly out of a different airport? Thank you.

I frequently fly into LAX and out of San Diego, and yes, it's typically more expensive. Not only will the flight likely cost more, but you'll also pay more to drop off a rental car in a different city. But if time is at a premium, may be worth it. As for when to buy tickets, look for a sale on Virgin America. Sometimes other airlines, such as American and United, will match. And read the Post's recent article on the best time to buy air tickets. 

We are dreaming of repeating our ancestors steps crossing Atlantic ocean from Virginia to Hamburg (Germany) round-trip or one-way. We would appreciate very much any advice you can give us on how we can find these ships. We are not quite looking for long cruises, but perhaps within 4-5 days crossing the Atlantic ocean.

There are freighter cruises that operate between the two spots, but they take many more than four or five days to make the journey. I believe Cunard operates between Hamburg and New York, but don't know of any regularly scheduled cruise between Norfolk and Hamburg. Also, expect to spend at least nine days on any transatlantic voyage to Hamburg. 

Plane did not depart until 10 p.m. However, a father and his eight-year-old son were in an exit row. How did this happen? It was a very stressful evening getting out of Dallas. But I have seen people with limited English moved out of the exit rows. How is an eight-year-old going to understand the emergency instructions? By the way there were also two pilots also in the exit rows.

Did you say eight years old? Not legal. The child has to be at least 15.

§ 121.585 Exit seating

...

(2) The person is less than 15 years of age or lacks the capacity to perform one or more of the applicable functions listed in paragraph (d) of this section without the assistance of an adult companion, parent, or other relative;

I rest my case.

Torn between Belize and Maya Riviera for snorkeling and seeing Mayan ruins. Which would you pick?

Edge goes to Belize for snorkeling, unless you will also head to Cozumel. Ruins are more accessible in Mexico from snorkeling spots. Beaches are nicer in Mexico, and it's cheaper to get there. But the islands of Belize offer lots of charm. Chatters? 

Could they be donated to a service member?

Yes. Try Hero Miles.

Well, I just used my "pointless" miles to travel in First and Business class on Cathay Pacific to SE Asia. Speaking of which I had a great time over there despite the hot and tropical weather which was somewhat out of character for this time of year. Except in the mountains of Laos where it was quite cool and downright cold on a couple of nights. Took a very nice 2 night cruise on the Mekong in Laos as well. It's a country I can't recommend highly enough. Not exactly a luxurious destination but so much incredible nature and very nice people. Plus it's very inexpensive once you get there.

I'm really happy for you. And this is mostly a rhetorical question: How much did you have to spend in order to get that "free" trip? How much loyalty did you need to give the airline or credit card? See, that's the problem with mileage programs. People see only the benefits but rarely acknowledge the down-side. And I'm not saying you're doing that. For all I know, you were traveling on business and would have collected the miles, anyway.  But denial runs strong in the Church of Miles. These loyalty programs are not for everyone.

This is not uncommon - I remember reading stories about issues with understaffing at Miami and Boston Logan over the past year. So Dulles is not an anomaly, unfortunately.

Except I went through Customers there a couple months ago at the peak Europe jet arrival time, and had no issues getting through. 

We are booking a flight and Iberia Airlines has the best itinerary; however, the online reviews of the airline are terrible. Any direct experience you can share (good or bad)? Thanks in advance.

It's a middle-of-the-road airline. I haven't flown it, but reviews on airline quality Web sites, such as Skytrax, give it three stars. Chatters?

Spring for Global Entry - $100 for five years and it gets you TSA Pre-Check as well. Has saved me dozens of hours not to mention the stress described by the poster above.

Global Entry is a good idea if you travel internationally more than occasionally. But I have seen it take longer to get through the Global Entry line than the everyone-else line. 

Renew it now. Chris misread your question. If you expire in October and want to keep to the 6 month rule (who knows what will happen in international relations between now and then) You need to renew before your spring trip. Obviously you can't renew in July for a July trip.

Thanks. That wouldn't be the first question I've misread, if indeed I did. I think the question is: Does the country have a passport validity rule. If it does, you need to renew sooner rather than later.

More hair-raising aquatic adventures coming in:

One of my first dives I rented equipment from the dive company in Cozumel. The depth indicator was malfunctioning somewhat, so the dive master told me to stick with him and not go below that depth. It was an amazing dive on a seawall. When I got up from the dive, another dive master that wasn't leading that dive came over and was really stressed. He asked if I knew why, and I had no clue. He said I'd gone about 40 feet below the depth I was certified for. It turns out that the dive master leading us wasn't paying close attention, and everything sort of looked the same. I was happy to know afterwards instead of during, and pay VERY close attention to my depth since that dive (which ended up being one of the best I've had so far).

My best aquatic adventure came 12 years ago as a solo female traveler on a 3 month backpacking trip. I was in New Zealand, hanging out in a natural hot spring and began talking to a skydiving instructor. He said the scariest thing he'd ever done was called river sledging. I was immediately hooked. River sledging is essentially white water rafting on class III and IV rapids on a glorified boogie board (made of hard plastic, and a little beefier). When I arrived to do my excursion, my group was two ripped Kiwi guides, one tiny Scottish dude, and two Navy SEALs. During the briefing, I thought the guides laid it on pretty thick, telling us how there's only a few places in the world where this activity is allowed, and we have to follow their exact directions or we'll get hurt, and they're some of the only guides that will dive into a churning waterfall to try to rescue us, oh, and how we have to wear helmets with face masks now because too many people were getting smacked in the face by the boards and breaking noses etc. etc. I was a national-level swimmer, and very comfortable in water and thought "no big deal, let's do this." So, they finally bring us out onto the river and say something like "arright, when you get in the river stay to the right side, you're going to see two big rocks, stay to the right of the rocks, do not go to the left. But after the rocks, immediately get into the middle of the river. Whatever you do, don't go to the right, or you'll get stuck. Go past the trees, and then get over to the left. Don't be on the right, otherwise, you'll go over a waterfall, and you DON'T want to do that!" We all nodded our heads and jumped in. Immediately, all directions flew out of my head as I realized I'M IN THE MIDDLE OF A RIVER ON A BOOGIE BOARD! We got through the first section of rapids, and the guides pulled us all off the side of the river. They asked how we were doing, said we had just survived our first set of Class I (easiest) rapids. I tried to stand up, and my legs were shaking so badly I couldn't stand! We were offered the chance to quit, as this was the last easy exit from the river, but I looked around at all these tough guys and my pride wouldn't let me quit. We continued on and the guide must have see the look of sheer terror through my face mask, because he grabbed me by the arm and sidecar-ed me through the most significant rapids. We made it through the river, and ended the day with the group at a natural hot spring. Although I was absolutely terrified, it's one of my favorite adventures and I'm so glad I survived to tell the tale (and didn't quit)!

Thanks to some lucky coincidences, I will be spending a week there very soon! Other than diving/snorkelling, watching the planes from the beach, and day trips to neighboring islands, is there anything any of you would recommend to see/do there? We are walkers and diners and drivers, not shoppers or beach-sitters. Thank you!

Check out this feature on St. Martin from Travel's fall Caribbean Issue.

Is there a connection between the two? I thought there was but I'm not seeing many good deals compared to usual. East Coast to Tokyo is higher than usual. ATL-PDX is also very high.

Sometimes. When gas prices are high, airlines raise fares and passengers generally understand that they have to pay more for their tickets. When gas prices are low, airlines also raise their fares and say market forces are keeping their ticket prices high. People are less understanding. 

We're able to take a vacation in February or March, but want to keep it to driving distance to save money. But, we love the water and beach views, even if it's cold! Can you think of any east coast, waterfront destinations that would still be fun in the winter or very early spring? Prefer beach, but lake could be ok, too. Maybe with a cool indoor pool and a few things open (restaurants, etc.) in town. Family of four (kids are 11 and 4).

Depends what you consider driving distance. Myrtle Beach may actually be fairly comfortable in March, but it is a seven-hour drive without traffic. Look at Ocean City, Rehoboth Beach and Deep Creek Lake. 

Wonderful or over-rated, as a weekend getaway for a long-married couple (without the kids in tow)?

Never been -- any chatters care to weigh in on this?

I wouldn't say that miles are pointless for everyone. We've had a U.S. Air credit card (now American) for years, which we use for all significant purchases and pay off at the end of every month. We probably pay for one to two round trip tickets outright every year from those miles, plus we get a $99 companion fare ticket every year as part of the card benefits, which we use for more expensive flights. You can also use smaller amounts of miles to upgrade to first class, which sometimes pays for itself in being able to check all your bags for free.

A select few travelers should participate in a loyalty program. If you're a business traveler or a frequent traveler, and you need to fly anyway -- and this is particularly true if your company has a preferred airline or hotel -- then yes, you should belong to the club. But the rest of us need to carefully think about our loyalties, with these gimmicky credit card offers and two-for-ones. By the way, the bag technically isn't "free." It's a benefit of your loyalty. You definitely paid for it.

Today's code is TT7199. It expires at midnight so be sure to enter it each Monday to get credit for participating. 

 

I've sat behind a family in an emergency row once and overheard the mom tell the kid "Now remember, if they ask you how old you are, you HAVE to tell them you're 15." Being someone tall and irked that I wasn't able to get the emergency row, I pulled an attendant aside and told them about this. And was able to get into a better seat myself! ;-)

Lying for a better airline seat? Hmmm. Sounds like the kid got what he deserved.

My husband and I have returned several times to the Oasis resort (all inclusive) at Sunset Beach in Montego Bay. The hotel has amazing swim out snorkeling and also lots of great fish and coral even along the rocks in shallow water. The hotel has changed ownership but I am hoping the amenities will remain basically unchanged. How can I find a good deal at this new/old hotel with BWI airport and direct flights? Thank you!

Have you tried Apple Vacations or Vacation Express? Both offer packages out of BWI to Jamaica, although I'm not sure they offer that particular hotel and not sure whether nonstop flights are included in the good deals. 

I fly once or twice a year. Sometimes, more than a year passes between flights. I had around 20,000 airline miles that were weeks away from the expiration date and more than a month before my next planned trip. I decided the easiest way to avoid losing the miles without spending any money was to donate a few miles to charity. I donated the minimum amount and that saved the rest of the miles.

Smart move. Thank you for sharing your story.

To the family taking grandpa to Alaska and debating their west cost stopover/trip extension - Tom Sietsema ranked Portland #1 in his Food Cities tour :) Go forth and eat!

Yes, if food is a priority, Portland wins. 

Overrated. Went once for a day from St. Martin. It wasn't worth it.

Oh-oh.

The link isn't working...

Trying St. Martin again.

Is there a website where you can compare travel insurance offers? I am looking to purchase for the first time for medical reasons (want to book a big trip, but have a fall-back in case a medical issue prevents me from traveling) and am overwhelmed by the options and fine print. Alternatively, do you have a few well-known or reputable companies to suggest?

Yes, try a site like TripInsurance.com or Squaremouth.com. I also have an extensive frequently asked questions section on travel insurance that might be helpful. You'll probably want to consider a policy that allows for a pre-existing medical condition or a "cancel-for-any-reason" policy.

Are you sure the child was 8? My daughter always looked young, and was asked more than once if she was old enough to be in the exit row after she was 15 (although she certainly didn't look 8!).

If the original poster on that question is still here -- can you answer? I imagine that unless the child declared his or her age, there would be no way of knowing.

From the NW: Both Seattle and Portland have their distinct charms but I would think there are more options for Alaskan/cross country flights in and out of Seattle and more senior-friendly attractions e.g. Boeing factory tour, Museum of Flight, Flying Heritage Collection, Pike Place Market, Space Needle, Snoqualmie Falls and the like not to mention Mount Rainier or San Juans as a day trip. Many good local wineries in the Woodinville area as well if he prefers that sort of thing.

Wine lovers, Seattle may be the winner! 

Just read the comment about barracuda. I've dived in large schools of them without incident. They are mostly curious, and seem to know that we are bigger than they. My neatest experience was seeing oceanic manta rays - - they are over 20 feet wingtip to wingtip. Magnificent. Nearly as wonderful are whale sharks which can be 35 feet long, and I've seen a southern ray over 10 feet across. And seen nudibranchs just a couple of inches long... Scuba is wonderful

Good to know -- thanks!

Please help! My husband has volunteered our home to host 5 missionaries flying in for one night from a two-week stay in a impoverished country. They will be coming from the hotel in our car, sleeping in all our bedrooms and on our sofas. I'm a nervous wreck about bedbugs coming in - I'd gladly put them up in a hotel, but he refuses to go back on his pledge to offer his home, and he would never ask them to bag their luggage or change clothes before entering out house. Am I being unreasonable to say we should just get them hotel rooms instead?

I think you're going to be fine. The odds of being hit with an infestation is probably about the same if the missionaries were coming from any major American city.

I've noticed that flights to my destination are actually cheaper if I book to another destination with my intended stop as a layover. Can I just get off at my layover and not carry on to the destination (assuming carry on luggage)? ... and apologies if this has been previously addressed ...

Airlines call it "hidden cities ticketing" and most prohibit it in the contract of carriage that each traveler enters into when buying a plane ticket. The airlines don't usually go after individuals who do this, but in 2014, they sued a guy who started a Web site devoted to the practice. And don't try it on the first leg of a round-trip ticket, as the airline may very well cancel the rest of your journey. 

I am looking for an affordable hotel with spa amenities for a girls' weekend getaway in late January. Either hotel, location, or both would have charm and offer fun dining options and hotel would have spa amenities and indoor pool. Yet hoping for prices that don't break the bank (e.g., $300 or less per room per night since we will be sharing, 2 to a room). Thanks for any suggestions!

Try Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in Pennsylvania. It's usually pricey, but I believe it offers some good rates in winter. 

Chris, thanks for making the points about mile-earning credit cards. I have always thought they are not worth it. Most charge an annual fee and have restrictions and other features that make it difficult to schedule trips if you have anything other than unlimited flexibility. I would rather get cash back directly from a card than earn miles.

You're welcome!

In response to the "Frequent Flyer Miles Question(s)" OP: You can donate your miles to charity / military. I used to work in a road warrior job for a glassbowl company that booked me on a different airline every single time I flew, so I had a zillion miles scattered over virtually every airline in existence, but never enough to use for anything I wanted. And after flying for work so much, more flying was the very last thing I wanted. (Just wanted to stay home and do laundry!) Google to find out details about different way to contribute your miles. Donating mine gave me the warm fuzzies. Of course, I have no idea whether my donated miles actually made a difference to anybody or any nonprofit. BTW, same thing with PostPoints --- you can donate those to charity, too.

Thank you.

I changed flights at AMS in May, during construction to (I think) the E terminal there. We had to be bused from our plane (small KLM Cityhopper) to the terminal and then it was kind of a long walk through the terminal (including passport control), but it was manageable and efficient. I'd say as long as you have a decent cushion of time (at least an hour), you should be more than fine. The big bummer was that due to the construction, there was limited duty-free shopping at AMS.

More advice for the Amsterdam plane-changer.

So re: open seating, thought I'd share my story. I had a very awkward experience as a nursing mom of an infant the other week. I was asked not to sit next to someone as she wasn't comfortable with me nursing (btw, the flight attendants were lovely to me after that, they saw the whole thing). I ended up sitting in a row with an ex-schoolteacher and a coach, who were awesome (as was my baby) so we had a great flight but I just want to put out a public "Yuck" to the lady who asked that I not sit next to her if I was going to nurse.

I second your yuck, but it sounds like you traded up in terms of seatmates.

As a single, childless frequent flyer I understand the writer's frustration. But seriously - you would rather sit next to an unaccompanied child behaving badly / scared / sick than give up your seat so they can sit with their parent? It's a bad system, but the problem lies with the airlines and not the family. It's the airlines we should complain to - and I agree they should incentivize or compensate those of us who change carefully reserved seats to accommodate families.

Hear, hear!

Hi Travelers, I just wanted to send an encouraging note to all of those out there without travel companions (for whatever reason.) I am one of you, my friends do not enjoy international travel and I do not currently have a significant other. I just wanted to let you know- you can do it solo! I have traveled twice with gadventures, small group- low impact travel. There are other companies out there as well, (intrepid and dragoman and many others.) We had 7 in one group and 15 in another. I found this to be a nice way to meet other like minded travelers and also to take it a little easier than traveling solo, while actually seeing a lot. (They arrange hotels and transportation (and big landmarks) and help you arrange activities if you like in each stop.) Not a plug for any specific company- just encouragement to all those out there that are letting lack of a travel buddy hold them back- just go! (I wish I knew this in my 20s)

Good stuff - thanks for writing!

We flew United from IAD to SFO for the holidays. A long while back, I think in this chat, someone mentioned that when they flew at the holidays, they gave flight attendants a Starbucks gift card (because there's always a Starbucks at airports). I embraced the idea, but never had a chance to try till now. We flew out the 24th, and I bought two $10 gift cards. But we were served by three people, and frankly, I didn't think any of them provided service worthy of a gift. Coming back on the 30th, we were served by two attentive, friendly women, doing their best to keep us up to date on a two-hour delay. After the meal service, I went to the galley and gave them each a "happy new year" card. One teared up, she was so very appreciative. Made me feel good, and I definitely ended their year on a high note.

Great idea, thanks for sharing!

Try Intercourse, PA/Lancaster area, too.

Thanks for the tip!

During an excursion from a Caribbean cruise, my wife and I went scuba diving. After the dive, there was some optional snorkling off of the beach (St. John). The dive outfit had some cat food that you can use to lure the fish near you. My wife took a handful and swam out, where she inexplicably released the entire fistful of food, causing a massive swarm of fish around her. I was at least 15ft away, and that was the loudest underwater scream I've ever heard.

And a final underwater adventure for good measure -- thanks for sharing!

Maybe that was a pretext for the passenger not wanting to sit next to a baby, who might cry a lot during the trip.

Good point.

Most such children I wind up sitting next to on planes or trains wind up being delightful young people, and a darn sight better travel companions than a good many adults!

So true -- thanks! 

Another reason to do Portland - much better airport experience. PDX tops the rankings, and security wait times aren't bad at all (especially compared to Seattle)

The scale seems to be tipping toward Portland. 

I was on a flight last month that was mostly full -- a few middle seats open, including one in my row. A mom was traveling alone with an infant and was sitting in an aisle seat of a full row. Right before takeoff, I leaned over to the person sitting in the window seat of my row and said "Hey, there's a mom traveling alone with an infant a few rows up in an aisle seat. She could probably use this extra middle seat. I'm going to offer to trade seats with her but thought I'd offer you the choice -- do you want to sit in this row with an infant or up there on the aisle?" They chose up there on the aisle. lol.

That was awfully thoughtful of you (both parts)!

Looks like we're several minutes past out of time -- thanks for chatting everybody! River sledging poster, send your contact info to travel@washpost.com to claim your prize. 

In This Chat
Nicole Arthur
Nicole Arthur is the Travel editor.
Carol Sottili
Carol Sottili is a former Washington Post travel writer, specializing in travel deals.
Andrea Sachs
Andrea Sachs is a staff writer for Travel.
Christopher Elliott
Christopher Elliott writes The Navigator column. He is also National Geographic Traveler magazine's reader advocate.
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