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Today in the Sky wins 2009 EPpy award

Today in the Sky has just been given the 2009 EPpy award for “Best Business Blog.” The award, sponsored by Editor & Publisher and Mediaweek magazines, acknowledges the best in online journalism. Here’s the complete list of EPpy winners; Today in the Sky also won the award in 2006. Please join me in congratulating Ben Mutzabaugh, and the hard-working Travel team that supports him.

Ben Abramson

Online Travel Editor, USA TODAY

December 26, 2009From the Today in the Sky Blog

Comments 12 | Recommend 4

12/26/2009 1:59:00 PM from USA


Federal officials have moved to tighten airport security on U.S. and U.S.-bound flights following a failed bomb attempt aboard a Delta flight on Christmas Day that has been alleged to be an attempted terrorist attack.

FROM THE ASSOCIATED PRESS: Airport security tightens after in-flight incident

The New York Times writes “less than 24 hours after the terrorist attempt, travelers at airports around the world, from Frankfurt to Rochester, N.Y., began experiencing heightened screening in security lines. Even as airlines began limiting United States-bound passengers to just one carry-on bag, travelers will feel the most significant changes during the actual flights.”

RELATED STORY: Q&A — How will the changes affect you (The New York Times)

The Times cites a Saturday-morning statement posted on Air Canada’s website in writing that “Transportation Security Administration will severely limit the behavior of both passengers and crew during flights in United States airspace — restricting movement in the final hour of flight. Late Saturday morning, the T.S.A. had not yet included this new information on its own Web site.”

Included in the text of the Air Canada statement is this warning: “Among other things, during the final hour of flight customers must remain seated, will not be allowed to access carry-on baggage, or have personal belongings or other items on their laps.”

Elsewhere, the CBC reports on its website that “Dutch anti-terrorism authorities said the U.S. has asked all airlines to take extra precautions on flights worldwide that are bound for the United States. The Canadian Air Transport Security Authority said all passengers on U.S.-bound flights will require additional security screening in light of the incident. (Canadian low-cost carrier) WestJet said passengers heading to the U.S. will have to submit to a physical pat-down search at the departure gate. Each person will be limited to one piece of carry-on luggage, which will be searched by hand.”

The Wall Street Journal reports on the subject as well, also citing Dutch officials in writing that “the U.S. had asked airlines world-wide to tighten screening in an overnight request that would apply indefinitely to all U.S.-bound flights.” The Journal says that “at London’s Heathrow airport, passengers passed through an extra layer of checks that previously had been carried out randomly. The checks can involve extra questioning and body and bag searches, though BAA, the airport operator, didn’t report any significant delays to U.S.-bound flights. A BAA spokesman said the extra measures are the responsibility of the airlines.”

The Canadian Press writes U.S.-bound fliers from London “said they received text messages informing them that the hand baggage allowance had been reduced to one item. Airport officials also said security had been heightened.” British passenger Karen Ward tells the Canadian Press: “We got a text message this morning at about 11 a.m. to say that new rules meant we could only take one piece of hand luggage. I think they’ve handled it very well.”  BusinessWeek reports similar measures were being taken across the globe, with reports coming in from places such as Australia, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Wishing Sky readers happy holidays and a Merry Christmas

Comments 4 | Recommend 3

12/25/2009 9:30:00 AM from USA TODAY

Today in the Sky is taking the day off to celebrate the Christmas holiday.

With that, I’d like to say “Merry Christmas” to all of our readers and offer my best wishes for the holiday season.

Today in the Sky will return to its regular schedule on Monday, Dec. 28.

Until then, I hope everyone is able to enjoy time with their loved ones.

‘Otter-ly ridiculous’ delay: Escaped critters hold up Continental flight in Texas

Comments 21 | Recommend 8

12/25/2009 9:19:00 AM from USA


In case you missed this story from earlier this week, two escaped sea otters delayed a Continental Airlines flight at Houston Bush Intercontinental by 80 to 90 minutes Tuesday night, The Associated Press reports. Channel 10 TV of Columbus says the otters were in the flight’s cargo of hold when they “escaped their cages and made a break for freedom. The otters were apparently being unloaded from the plane in Houston when they managed to get loose,” the station reports.

The flight – Flight 1492 – was headed from Houston to Columbus. The otters were being transferred to the Columbus flight after arriving on a flight from Tampa.

The Houston Chronicle writes “passengers arriving in Columbus, seemingly patient with the bizarre ordeal, reported their experience to TV news crews.” The Chronicle quotes one passenger as saying: “We watched them take them off the plane in a box, and the next thing we know one of the otters got loose and took off across the tarmac.”

The Chronicle says other passengers on the flight claimed the otters gnawed into suitcases. Channel 10 writes “a man who had coffee in his suitcase found his bag open and covered in what appeared to be hay.” Speaking of his bags, the passenger says: “Some otters got into them. They must have smelled the coffee.”

A CNN report carried by Fox Toledo says “most passengers seemed to be more entertained about the situation than stressed about the late flight.” Many made jokes about the odd situation. “Other than sitting on the tarmac for an hour and a half being OTTERl-y ridiculous, the flight was uneventful,” one passenger joked to CNN. Another passenger asked if he would be getting “an OTTER-matic upgrade to first class.”


It wasn’t all fun and games, though. The Chronicle says a Continental employee was hurt while trying to contain the otters. However, the injuries didn’t appear to be serious since the worker was treated and released from care, according to the paper.

United, Continental, Japan’s ANA seek antitrust immunity on trans-Pacific flights

Comments 6 | Recommend 

12/24/2009 12:37:00 PM from USA


“United Airlines, Continental, and All Nippon Airways applied for antitrust approval on Wednesday so they can work together more closely on flights across the Pacific. The three carriers already sell tickets on each other’s planes as partners in the Star Alliance, which Continental joined in October. But they want to form a joint venture that would strengthen their financial ties.” That’s from The Associated Press, which adds: “Antitrust laws usually keep businesses from coordinating prices and schedules. But the government can grant immunity from those laws in certain cases, if it decides that consumers would benefit more from businesses working together.”

Reuters writes “the filing comes less than two weeks after Japan and the United States reached a so-called ‘open skies’ agreement to further liberalize air service, particularly into and out of Tokyo. Japan has insisted the deal not take effect until the U.S. waives certain antitrust rules and lets U.S. and Japanese carriers deepen their alliances. United and its partners said approval of their application would lead to expanded route choices and a wider range of fares and services.”

Dow Jones Newswires says the “move that could help determine the fate of Japan Airlines. … Members of the two other global alliances are also expected to seek antitrust immunity. Their applications hinge on a final decision by JAL on whether it will stay in the oneworld pact with existing partner American Airlines … or defect to the SkyTeam grouping led by Delta Air Lines. Both U.S. carriers are pledging investment in the struggling Japanese airline, which is seeking government aid as part of a huge restructuring plan. U.S. authorities will likely decide on the application from the Star members first, giving its members a competitive edge if their expanded pact secures approval.”

As for United, Continental and ANA, the airlines say they expect Japan to approve their request in four months, according to a separate Dow Jones article. Noting “the last two immunity requests before the U.S. Department of Transportation over-ran their statutory review period,” Dow Jones says the “time line outlined in (the United/Continental/ANA) regulatory filing could place pressure on U.S. regulators to act quickly at a time of increasing global scrutiny of airline alliances.” Stay tuned …

Midwest flights disrupted; Airlines waive change fees ahead of next major winter storm

Comments 14 | Recommend 7

12/24/2009 11:33:00 AM from USA


Last update: Thursday, Dec. 24, at 11:33 a.m. ET

The second major winter storm to develop the week before Christmas is hammering travelers trying to get home for the holiday.

HELPFUL LINK: What are you options if your flight is affected (The New York Times)

USA TODAY reports that “snow on Wednesday caused 260 flight cancellations in Chicago’s two major airports, the city’s department of aviation said. Dozens of flights in Minneapolis also were canceled, according to Delta Air Lines.”  Delta spokesman Trebor Banstetter Travelers says travelers should “be prepared for delays.”

MORE NEWS:  Been away from the airport? A lot has changed Airlines are again waiving change fees during this latest storm, a snow-rain-ice mix snarling flights across a large part of the Midwest at the height of the pre-Christmas travel period.

WEATHER: White Christmas may be nightmarish in Plains Cities throughout the Midwest will feel the effects today, and problems are likely to cascade to other parts of the country. A flight from Phoenix to San Francisco, for example, could be delayed or canceled if the aircraft scheduled to fly the flight gets stuck in Chicago or elsewhere in the icy Midwest.

Airlines advised passengers to check online for the status of their flights before heading to the airport.

Additionally, nearly every major carrier has waived change fees for fliers who may be affected  by the storm.

Here is a list of winter-waiver rules, by airline (updated as of 6:30 a.m. ET on Dec. 24):

Click on the airline’s name to go the airline’s information page on weather waivers.

Air Canada Customers covered by the winter-weather waiver must meet the following criteria:

Originally scheduled travel dates:

Wednesday, Dec. 23.

To, from or through: Chicago O’Hare.

Policy: Air Canada has revised its ticketing policy for customers booked on affected flights to facilitate changes to bookings. Those customers wishing to make alternate travel arrangements can do so without penalty, space permitting, using our online rebooking tool: check your alternate travel options currently available; re-book yourself and check in before arriving at the airport.

Alternatively, you can contact Air Canada Reservations toll free in Canada and the U.S. at 888-247-2262.

AirTran Customers covered by the winter-weather waiver must meet the following criteria:

Originally scheduled travel dates: Thursday-Friday (Dec. 24-25)

To, from or through: Bloomington/Normal, Ill.; Chicago Midway; Kansas City; Milwaukee; Moline/Quad Cities, Ill.; Wichita.

Policy: Customers may adjust your travel dates up to 5 days following your originally scheduled date of travel based on space availability, without change fee or fare adjustment. Travel may begin as early as Tuesday, December 22.


No specific waiver policy, but the airline has rescheduled some Wednesday flights to Thursday. The flights are between Phoenix/Mesa and the cites of Fargo, N.D., and Sioux Falls, S.D.

The airline says: “We recognize that any flight delay or cancellation is frustrating and causes difficulties for our customers. We will do everything we can to make our customers as comfortable as possible during these delays. Although compensation may be provided because this is caused by a mechanical issue, we will do what we can to assist our customers in locating reasonable accommodations if needed, however, these are the customers’ financial responsibility.”


Customers covered by the winter-weather waiver must meet the following criteria:

Originally scheduled travel dates: Tuesday-Thursday (Dec. 22-24)

To, from or through the following states: Illinois; Indiana; Iowa; Kansas; Michigan; Minnesota; Nebraska; Wisconsin.

Policy: Customers may change their travel to begin as last as Thursday, Dec. 24.


Customers covered by the winter-weather waiver must meet the following criteria:

Originally scheduled travel dates: Wednesday-Friday (Dec. 23-25)

To, from or through: Chicago O’Hare; Detroit; Flint, Mich.; Fort Wayne, Ind.; Grand Rapids, Mich.; Madison, Wis.; Milwaukee; South Bend, Ind.

Policy: Change fees and additional collections will be waived for rescheduled travel booked in the same fare class on or before Jan. 5, 2010. Travel rescheduled after Jan. 5, 2010 will qualify for a change fee waiver only.


Customers covered by the winter-weather waiver must meet the following criteria:

Originally scheduled travel dates: Tuesday-Sunday (Dec. 22-27)

To, from or through the following states: Illinois; Indiana ; Iowa ; Kansas; Michigan; Minnesota; Nebraska; North Dakota; South Dakota; Wisconsin.

Policy: You may make a one-time change to your ticket without fee if you are scheduled to travel to, from, or through the above destinations. New tickets must be issued by Dec. 27, rebooked travel must originate no later than Jan. 5.


Customers covered by the winter-weather waiver must meet the following criteria:

Originally scheduled travel dates: Tuesday-Saturday (Dec. 22-26)

To, from or through: Chicago Midway; Kansas City; Milwaukee; Minneapolis/St. Paul; Omaha.

Policy: Midwest and Frontier will allow a one-time change to your ticket. The administrative change fee and any fare difference will be waived as long as the new travel begins no later than Tuesday, Jan. 5 (or, due to lack of availability, the next available flight). If you choose to rebook your travel at a later date, the change fee will be waived but any difference in fares will apply. All changes are based on availability.


Customers covered by the winter-weather waiver must meet the following criteria:

Originally scheduled travel dates: Wednesday-Thursday (Dec. 23-24).

To, from or through: Chicago O’Hare.

Policy: JetBlue says: “If your travel plans include one of the following airports, and you would like to make a change to a new flight without fee or fare difference, please click the link below. Customers traveling Dec. 23 and 24 may move to a new flight between the same cities, that departs anytime between now and December 25. Changes must be made prior to your originally scheduled departure.”


Customers covered by the winter-weather waiver must meet the following criteria:

Originally scheduled travel dates: Wednesday-Thursday (Dec. 23-24); Different dates apply to each airport.

To, from or through: Chicago Midway; Milwaukee; Minneapolis/St. Paul; Omaha, Tulsa.

Policy: Customers can alter their travel plans may rebook in the original class of service or travel standby (within 14 days of their original date of travel between the original city-pairs and in accordance with our accommodation procedures) without paying any additional charge. Still, Southwest warns: “As many folks are traveling during this time, please know that we may not have seats available on some of our flights.”

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