Talk about Travel (March 25)

The Pitons on the Caribbean Island of St. Lucia (AP/Scott Sady).
Mar 25, 2019

Join the Travel team then to discuss your travel-related questions, comments, suspicions, warnings, gripes, sad tales, etc!

Hi all, and welcome to Talk About Travel. This week, we tagged along with Andrea on a feminist tour of Philadelphia. Do you have a favorite destination in the City of Brotherly Love? Tell us what and why below. Most compelling tale gets a copy of "Get Lost: A Travel Guide for Anywhere," by Lee Crutchley. On to your questions!

When did the trend of getting airlines to respond to grievances on Twitter start? Is this really the best way to get a solution to a customer service issue? It seems as if it would take more energy to sift through tweets than it would to just respond to emails/phone calls from customers.

I wrote about leveraging social media for better service back in 2012, but it started much earlier. I agree with you. Always better to go through channels instead of social-media shaming. Chatters, what do you think? Show we Twitter-shame airlines into providing better customer service, or just call them?

What is the best way to go about asking a crew if a child can visit the pilot in the cockpit and are there any airlines you know of that have a particularly fun experience like this for kids? I've heard of some kids getting little souvenirs and it seems like a great way to make a trip really special, but I'm never sure if that's actually bothersome to the crew/pilot.

Ask your flight attendants. They can arrange a visit to the flight deck, but usually before the plane takes off. 

My mother, aunt, cousin, and I are trying to do a long getaway weekend trip for early this summer. I'll be coming from DC while the rest of my family will be coming from the Chicagoland area. We don't want to go to NYC as we already have a trip planned for this year but we looking for recommendations on a location that has great museums and excellent food this side of the Mississippi River. Open to travel outside the US as well!

Lots of choices, including Asheville, N.C.; Charleston (stay on the water to beat the heat); and Montreal or Toronto.

Hi, are you aware that the link to this chat on the homepage is broken?

Yes, thanks, we're working on it. In the meantime, try accessing the chat through the calendar, here.

What's you take on the Viking Cruise gone wrong? Will this result in changes in cruise protocol, etc.?

Truly awful. I don't think anything will change, though.

Do any of the river cruise lines have EMT trained staff and medical supplies in case of illness? We took a Viking cruise last year and one of us got sick and the crew did nothing to assist us even though at the time we were docked in Lyon for two days. We have decided not to do any more river cruises unless there is one with medically trained staff.

I'm surprised that the Viking crew did not help you. Most cruise lines don't have medical staff on board, especially in Western Europe, because there are modern medical facilities along the entire route. Typically the cruise director will take charge if there is a sick passenger and make sure he/she receives adequate care. 

Hello! I am going to spend a few days in Budapest after a work trip in Vienna (yay!). Any recommendations for a reasonably-priced hotel in a safe area? Thank you!

Chatters, any suggestions?

What is the single most irritating thing a fellow passenger has done on a plane you've been on? I was once on a flight to San Francisco where someone completely took off their shoes and tried to clip their toenails! Like, really?!

That's highly annoying. Over to you, chatters. What's the most annoying thing a fellow passenger has done?

Could you recommend a tour, day trip or overnight stay to get away from the Accra chaos?! I only have 1 day free, can leave the night before if it is worth to do an overnight trip. I'm interested in nature although I cant hike much (easy to moderate), love birds, mountains and not too crazy markets. Any suggestions? Also, would you recommend some sites, and restaurants in central Accra that are easy to reach by taxi late in the afternoon (have to work from 7-4pm)? Thanks!

Chatters, any advice?

So instead of a 5 hour layover/connect time this weekend, I now have an 11 hour layover/connect time. Not a route with lots of flights, so I'm stuck. Return in 2 weeks could be interesting also. Beats flying in a crash-prone plane, but I wonder if AA is really trying very hard on the whole 'inconveniencing travelers' thing.

In your case, I think we know the answer! Try reaching out to one of these executive contacts at American Airlines. I think they can do better.

Hi, I am planning on going to Queensland in June, but am slightly dreading the long leg of the flight in coach. I keep seeing Facebook ads for discount business class fares, but am unsure if they are legitimate businesses. I tried one for my trip to Reykjavik for NYE, and the price they came back with was far higher than the direct Saga class flight I could book for myself. The shorter legs of the flight will be no problem. However, I have nerve damage in my leg and foot from an accident a few years ago, so I do have to get up and move around a stretch during longer flights more than the average person does. I always book an aisle seat for this reason so I am not bothering someone else every time I get a cramp and have to get up. The LAX to SYD leg I would love to be able to find a legitimate discounted fare for business or premium economy, but like everyone else do not want to get scammed or end up on a stalker-esque sales list. Thank you for any advice you are able to provide!

You did not mention which airline you are flying, but if the carrier offers a bidding upgrade option, you might try it. Here is my piece on the practice.

I see this might finally be the end for WOW Air. Their latest attempt to find a buyer fell through last week and one of their aircraft was repossessed in Montreal over the weekend. I certainly wouldn't be buying a ticket on them any time soon.

Thanks for sharing this information.

A friend and I are trying to make it to Paris sometime this year (flexible about when we go), but it seems that nearly all flights going out of Boston to Charles de Gaulle cost more than $3,000 except for some very very odd times/days in the middle of the week. Is there any time where this might let up/any suggestions?

I don't know where you're getting the $3,000 fares. I'm seeing $800 or so round trip for nonstop weekend flights on Delta in early September, for example And if you're willing to do a connecting flight, fares are even cheaper on Icelandair and Aer Lingus. 

I am planning a trip to France and thinking about renting a car so I can see some of the smaller towns in Provence and the Riviera. Is this a mistake? I don't speak French and would have to rely on google-maps since I can't read the street signs. Is this OK or is it better to plan a vacation that doesn't require driving.

I don't think you'll have any trouble driving in the smaller towns and rural areas of France. If you're going to spend time in Paris, do that without a car. I typically take a train from the big city to my first smaller destination and then rent a car there. 

I think you are better off trying to resolve the issue with the airline. I would reserve the shaming as a last resort at problem solving. Let's pretend we are reasonably intelligent adults here.


The problem is that it works. It also works with huge telcoms and any other company who employ Byzantine customer service contact methods that seem designed to weed you out.

You make a valid point. The shaming does work.

Will Brexit cause any repercussions with flying British Airways with a layover at Heathrow this summer? Flying out of BWI and into Stockholm in June/July.

Hi Travel Team! My husband and I are attending a wedding in Jamaica in July, and tacked on a few extra days for our own vacation. We’re pretty much set on a resort near the wedding (Runaway Bay) for a few nights but are now stumped on where to stay (and what to do) our last two nights. We fly out of Montego Bay, so my initial thought was to book another resort there, but most are pretty pricey (>$500 all inclusive pn). Maybe this is a sign to think outside the box? Are there interesting areas/activities in the interior of the country, maybe just south of MB? Since the beach is the main draw (for obvious reasons!) I’m not sure of our options should we leave the beach behind, even for a day trip..thanks!

Jamaica specializes in all-inclusive resorts, but it also offers a nice collection of guest houses and family-run hotels.  Unfortunately most of the good ones, such as Mockingbird Hill and Strawberry Hill,  are not located in Montego Bay. But take a look at Polkerris Bed & Breakfast in the Montego Bay area. And you may want to look into Jamaica's Meet the People program. 

My wife and I would like to spend ten or fifteen days next winter someplace temperate but not necessarily beachy. History and culture are bigger draws than nightclubs and partying. We were thinking Bogota or Merida (the language barrier is not a particular concern). Where else should we consider?

I love Cartagena (yes, there is a beach, but so much more). Also consider Buenos Aires or Montevideo. If you prefer Europe, I recommend Malta. For Africa, Morocco.

We visited Budapest four years ago, and certainly would return to the 7 Seasons Apartments. It's part of an apartment building, so you get a small kitchen, full bathroom, and even a washing machine (no dryer, however). We found the rates to be quite reasonable, and it was very centrally located. Staff were consistently friendly. The pre-arranged airport pick-up service worked well.

Sounds like a great option. Thanks!

Why would anyone be taking a cruise off the northern Norwegian coast in March???

For the, um, adventure?

Buffalo, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Columbus?

Sure, we can list every city east of the Mississippi. But maybe they want to get a bit farther away than Ohio.

I've worked in the travel industry for nearly 20 years, including several in front-end customer service. I absolutely think you should give the company a chance to help you directly before you blast them on social media. In most cases, you'll be dealt with faster by reaching out vs. waiting for the social media team to see and deal with your issue.

Nice to hear from an insider. Thanks.

I was traveling home on the final leg of an international trip, and was exhausted and not feeling so well. I was lucky enough to be seated at the window, next to an empty middle seat, and was leaning on the armrest, trying to relax. The woman behind me had clearly had a few drinks before she boarded, and continued to get served onboard. She was loud, but pretty cheerful, and not too obnoxious, until she decided she needed a stretch. She stretched her bare foot between the seats, and right into my armpit, and proceeded to stretch and wiggle her toes, moaning and grunting with pleasure. If this happened to me today, I would put a stop to both the stretching and any more drinks for her, but my younger and meeker self just moved off the armrest and leaned on the window.

Thanks for sharing.

Hi - my global entry expired March 1, and I submitted my renewal in early February. It’s still showing pending. 2 questions: I still qualify as a renewal correct? Also, I’m leaving for France in a couple of weeks, and I’d love to get this renewal completed before then. Any advice you can share? thanks!

GE renewals could still be backed up because of the government shutdown.  You will still qualify, however, because you submitted your documents before the expiration date. The agency gives travelers a six-month grace period, so if I am understanding the policy correctly, your GE should work on your upcoming trip.

One guy, one trip: tossed magazines and papers from the wall holder on to the floor, put his in. Rattled newspapers all night, very LOUD. Used the overhead light all night, plus his own spotlight. Called the flight crew CONSTANTLY to complain about anything and everything. Sighed very loudly all night, moaning really. After refueling, i had managed to move across the aisle and back one row. BUT, he put his carry on things into the bin above me. He then spent the rest of the trip fiddling with things in the overhead, with his crotch in my face. Or would have, had i not spent the whole rest of the trip turned the other way. He also moved himself into premium economy. The flight crew had to practically force him to move to his own seat..

Thanks for sharing your story.

Hello! My little brother is going on a one week school trip to Rome, Florence, and Milan this summer and is very excited. They are doing group tours of the major sites like the Coliseum and the Duomo, but will have some free time for independent exploration/eating. Do you have any suggestions/tips for what would be interesting/not to miss for a young traveler on their first trip to Europe/outside of the country?

When I went to Rome as a child, I absolutely loved the catacombs. Viator and City Wonders offer a good selection of catacomb tours. Il Leoncino for pizza. Any chatters have a good sight/restaurant to recommend? 

This might sound bizarre, but is there any way to find out what movies will be available on a flight before you book or take off? One of the reasons I love flying is the uninterrupted movie watching and I'd love to be able to game out what I'll watch!

Yes, airlines publish that information on their sites. Here are the movies for Delta Air Lines, for example.

The plane was flying through rain, when there was a bright flash all around us. That was all. A flash. No turbulence, no drop, no weird noises, but the woman next to me, who was a ball of nerves, shrieked loudly and tossed her ginger ale into the air. It landed on my book, down my right side, into my briefcase, into my purse, into my seat. Luckily I was going home because I was a wet, sticky mess. On the bright side, I discovered that nothing much occurs when lightning hits a plane. I asked the flight attendant who came to help with cleanup if that's what happened... she said yes, but put a finger to her lips and added "ssssh."

Another reason why they shouldn't serve soda on a plane.

HI Crew, Headed to Amsterdam for first time this Friday for a 3-day weekend. I don't want to spend it all in museums. Any thoughts on good outdoor activities? Should we (middle aged couple -- no kids with us) try to do a day trip from the city? If so, where to? Thanks for your help.

Since you've never been to Amsterdam and you have only three days, I'd stick to the city. Vondelpark is a large park right in city for hiking, strolling, etc. A guided bicycle tour might be fun. 

We are a family of 4 and this is our last summer vacation before my older goes to college. We have 48 hours in Honolulu in August on our way to Maui. What is the best way to see Pearl Harbor and what other things and/restaurants do you recommend. We currently have reservations at Waikiki beach. Thanks!

If you're in town for just 48 hours, I'd just use Uber or Lyft to get to Pearl Harbor. Also worth checking out is the Ala Moana Center, my kids' favorite outdoor mall ever. Don't miss the Japanese food in the basement.

Today's code is TT7681. It expires at midnight, so be sure to enter it on Monday to get credit for participating.

Seat pocket rudeness is the WORST. This is more shocking than annoying but I once saw someone change a baby on a tray table and put the dirty diaper in the seat pockt. Another time I sat next to a guy who was clearly sick, blew his nose every five minutes, and put the used tissues in the seat pocket. The one that pushed me over the edge though was a friend who posted a photo to Facebook of his 10-year-old daughter's bare feet in the seat pocket with a caption something like "can't believe I have to sit next to [kid's] smelly feet all the way to London!" What the heck is wrong with these people???

Ewwww. Thanks for sharing.

I'm hoping to plan a surfing trip with my siblings sometime next year, and we're trying to decide where to go. We're ready to branch out from Southern California and Hawaii, but also worried about going somewhere too far away for fear of our boards getting lost since they'll have to be checked. Any tips for where to go/managing checking multiple bulky boards?

It's not the distance as much as how many connections you need to get there. In other words, if you can find a good surfing destination that offers nonstop flights from Washington, chances of your surfboard getting lost are much less. Jefferys Bay in South Africa comes to mind, but you'd have to connect in Johannesburg for Port Elizabeth. Surfline published a good list of airline policies regarding surfboards, which may be helpful. 

I realize there are general suggestions for when to take a mediterranean cruise if you want smooth sailing. Is there anyone who has taken such a cruise and had rough seas even in the suggested time of May to Sept.?

No cruise line can guarantee smooth seas, especially in this day and age.

Chatters, any rocky experiences you wish to share?

Head over to Cape Coast to see the former slave fort, then go to Kakum National Park for the canopy walk and easy hike through a beautiful forest. You can do both of these in a day trip from Accra.

What lovely day-trip ideas. Thanks!

The annual Naked Bike Ride. Nobody there knows me and quite honestly, it's a bit liberating.

Alas, my suggestion is only good for 10 days a year (and this year's edition ended two weeks ago), but the Philadelphia Flower Show is absolutely worth the trip. It's the biggest indoor flower show in the world, the themes are wonderfully executed, ideas for gardens of all sizes abound, including tiny window boxes, or you can just relax and literally smell the roses. And other flowers. I sat near a display of hyacinths for a while just blissing out. Plus, the marketplace has so many unique vendors so that it is appealing even to persons who, like me, generally do not find great pleasure in shopping.

A friend and I are looking to take a vacation to Greece for about a week in late Sept/early Oct, and trying to sort through all the options is rather intimidating! Any recommendations for travel agencies/websites to look at, sample itineraries, etc.? Does it generally make sense to do an apartment/villa rental vs 2 hotel rooms? We're 2 fairly active women in our early 50s, primarily looking for good sightseeing (walking tours would be great) and great food. Don't want to try to cram too many activities/destinations in and wear ourselves out, but also don't know if we'll ever make it back there so want to get the most out of our time. Thanks for any tips!

You may want to start with the Greek tourism site. And look at itineraries put together by companies that offer independent tours, such as Foreign Independent Tours.

A good friend visiting me the first week of April has severe mobility problems. I'm trying to come up with fun ideas for DC that mostly involved sitting. Concerts, shows and restaurants with a view come to mind. Can you suggest other ideas in DC/NOVA? (We've also got one day near Columbia/Baltimore.) In addition to the sitting, I need to be able to drop her near the activity. It's okay if I have to park and come back, but something like the big open bus tours in DC seem like they'd be a problem to find nearby parking, even with her handicapped placard. Thanks!

Take a look at the District's Web site on accessibility for ideas and parking recommendations. 

Come see us in Pittsburgh! Everything you want is here, especially excellent dining.

Sorry for leaving you out, Pittsburgh!

Any ideas for a not super expensive and not cliche bachelorette trip? Looking at a weekend trip for about 10 people from the Los Angeles area.

Catalina Island, right off the coast of Los Angeles, if you don't like to stay up too late. San Diego is lovely. Santa Barbara has good wineries. 

This one is not annoying, I just thought it was truly weird. Last flight to London, a guy immediately went to the rest room, changed into his pajamas, and stayed that way for most of the flight. About an hour before landing, I saw him pass me in the aisle, heading to the rest room to change back into his street clothes. The thought of changing clothes in an airplane restroom thoroughly grossed me out...there is NO WAY to change in one of those tiny restrooms without dragging your clothes all over the disgusting floor. Ugh!

I've seen that, too. I guess he was just trying to get comfortable.

What options do we have to deal with nightmarish people we're chatting about? Is there a threshold of annoying/disruptive someone has to cross (without crossing into actual criminal behavior or something that could result in being booted off the flight) before you could be moved to another seat?

You can mention the problem to a flight attendant, who will try to find a solution. But you can also politely, but firmly, tell your fellow passenger that their behavior is inappropriate.

My son is due to fly home this evening and has lost his ID. Can he still fly?

If he's flying domestically, yes. If he's under 18, it shouldn't be a problem. Over 18, there are alternatives to an ID.

There are a few considerations to have in mind. The Buda side is definitely fancier and quieter while the Pest side has a more "party" atmosphere in the streets. That being said, the main train station is on the Pest side.

Good info -- thanks!

OMG those poor passengers! Just watching the news videos made me physically ill. I sure hope the cruise line is doing more than "thoughts and prayers" - - major financial compensation!

Knowing how cruise lines work, I imagine they will be receiving the bare minimum. I hope I'm wrong.

This is pretty common! I've done it, and seen people do it. It's also very possible to not drag your clothes on the floor if you try.

Ah, "pajamas on planes." I have the topic for my next Navigator. Thank you!

I am trying to figure out how to book a flight on Southwest to Maui. It looks like they fly there, and I can get routing from the Southwest website, but when I try to book the return there are no flights offered. Is this a glitch in the system because they don't book red-eyes from Hawaii to the West Coast? Will I have to book separate tickets such as BWI to OAK to OGG w/a return only OGG back to OAK, and then book a separate ticket from OAK to BWI? Help! This is very confusing and I am one of the fortunate people with a companion pass this year, so I want to use it for at least one trip to Maui. Any word on when they will have flights between the islands like Maui to Kauai?

The trip home from Maui is not bookable because you'd get to the West Coast too late to catch a flight that day to BWI. You do realize that it'll take 18 hours, with two stops, to fly to Maui on Southwest from BWI, right? Not sure on the airline's plans re: island-to-island flights. 

In general, if you have a US license and hope to rent a car in another country, do you have to pass a test in that country to drive?

No, you don't need to take and pass a driver's test. You might need to show an International Driving Permit, which you can purchase through AAA. (Again, no test required.) Some countries, such as Canada, England and Germany, accept a U.S. driver's license. The rental company in your destination will have that information, or check with the consulate.

I don't surf, but what about Costa Rica? When we flew into Liberia, Costa Rica last month, it looked like half the people on our flight had surfboards. There were several beaches on the Pacific coast that promote surfing.

A possibility!

My second (I think) ever trip to Europe (UK that time) I was sitting next to an older, very posh Indian lady. Her accent was distinctly British. She had been visiting her daughter in NY and had tried to go to the Canadian side of Niagra Falls and was denied entry. She spent hours complaining to me that she had never been so insulted. Did they think she actually WANTED to stay in Canada. Her home in India was palatial. She had servants. How could they possibly think she wanted to do anything other than spend a few hours to see a natural wonder. I got zero sleep on that flight. Pretty sure I dozed off a few times the next day at The Globe theater which is pretty impressive since I was sitting on a bench with no back.

Maybe I need to write a Navigator on annoying seat mates. We're getting so many stories!

Azores? São Miguel and São Jorge islands both have surf camps; São Miguel has competitions held there. North shore of both islands.

Thanks for the ideas!

Isn't it dangerous to drive in another country without actually knowing the laws, especially if there is a language barrier?

Good point, but apparently no one really cares as long as you stay on the proper side of the road. The IDP is often required in non-English-speaking countries.

Even though I mostly go to Philly for the airport, when I go to sight-see, I always stop at Elfreth's Alley. I love walking down that little lane and seeing the history and how it is today. Longer trips include a stop at the Rodin Museum, a beautiful site with a fantastic sculpture garden. And every visit includes a stop at European Republic, for delicious Belgian fries.

And one last Philly recommendation(s)!

No trip to Philly's science museum, the Franklin Institute, is complete without walking through the giant beating heart!

Plus one!

Once again the hour has flown by -- thanks for chatting today, everyone. Naked cyclist, please drop us a line at And join us again next week for more Talk About Travel. 

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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