May 2008

The Seven Wonders of Indiana Jones

Posted May 29, 2008 by Nicki Krawczyk

Throughout the 20th century, there was one man who dared traverse the world in search of adventure and glory. One man whose lust for lost antiquities knew no bounds. One man who single-handedly saved the world from Nazi and then Soviet domination. And one man who could switch without a care from brunettes to blondes and then back again.

That man was Dr. Indiana Jones.

In today’s blog entry, the second in our occasional series, we will explore the Seven Wonders of this renowned adventurer, professor of archeology and globe-hopping gadabout. Read on and explore the marvelment.

7. Crystal Skulls

Obviously, it’s no mystery as to why these (completely real) artifacts are hotly pursued and ardently collected. Those with a penchant for potential paranormal powers, not to mention pretty sparkly things, have more or less locked up the market. The mystery, instead, is where and when they came from. Are they from ancient Aztec or Maya civilizations? Did they originate, instead, in19th-century Europe? Or, are they from some strange race of glass-jawed people that managed to avoid head trauma to leave their crystals skulls for us to find? Could it be that we actually all have crystal skulls but science has kept it a secret because they don’t want us cracking people open just to have a look? I have no answers, only more questions.

Crystalskullmuseum_3 

6. Area 51

Located in a remote portion of southwest Nevada, Area 51 (technically: Air Force Flight Test Center (Detachment 3)) is one of the U.S. Air Force’s most-secret sites. Supposedly, this airbase is used to test experimental aircraft and weapons systems. I put this to you then: Why not just let me in to take a look? Though I did once steal bubblegum when I was six, I currently have no domestic or international criminal contacts. If it’s just planes and stuff, why not let me in to verify that it’s just planes and stuff? And yet, all of my letters of request have yielded no response. It should come as no surprise, then, that people all over the world speculate that the government is not actually testing planes, but instead, poking around in UFOs and alien brains. Based on my experience, I am inclined to agree.

Area51

5. Ruins of Petra

In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade Dr. Jones and his dad, Dr. Jones, tracked the Holy Grail to this amazing rock-cut architectural phenomenon in Jordan. Personally, I find this a little obvious. If I were going to hide the Holy Grail, I think I’d bury it in a vat of ice cream with an unpopular flavor, like Pralines and Cream, and stash it in the stock room of a Des Moines Dairy Queen. I’m certain no one would ever find it there. All of which leads me to this Wonder’s big question: How does the current mortgage crisis affect cave-housing? I simply do not know.

Petra

4. Catacombs of Venice

Once again, we return to the Third Installment. In Last Crusade,” Dr. Jones the younger and a foxy-yet-Nazi Dr. Elsa Schneider search the catacombs of Venice where Dr. Jones the elder was last seen. Okay, interesting. Now, here’s where the wonder comes in: According to the “Venetians,” there are no catacombs under Venice. “What?” you cry, “what?” It’s true. Upon reflection, it does kind of make sense that a city built on a seawater lagoon might have trouble keeping underground chambers dry and cozy, but that only presents us with a bigger wonder: Where was Indy and how did he get there? Was he drugged by Nazi thugs, transplanted to real catacombs in Rome, and told he was in Venice? And if so, why? I suspect that all will be revealed in the Fifth Installment, Indiana Jones and the Secret of Why We Said There Were Catacombs in Venice.

Catacombs_2

3. The Rope Bridge Outside Pankot Palace

Perhaps the biggest takeaway we receive from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is that, while India can be lovely, cults are just no fun. The second movie in the series sends Dr. Jones, nightclub singer Willie Scott, and sidekick Short Round (who was short, but not round) from gangster-infested Shanghai to Thuggee-infested India. As you’ll recall, our heroes are tasked with eating monkey brains, defeating a Kali-worshipping cult, keeping their hearts from being ripped out by Mola Ram and his sternum-piercing fingers and, finally, freeing the village children, who had been imprisoned as minor-miners to dig for the last Shankara stone. Phew. Then, as if all that weren’t tough enough, Indy et al are forced to cross a rickety old rope bridge outside the young prince’s Pankot Palace. And that, of course, leads me to my question: What kind of lousy engineer builds a rope bridge outside a child’s house to cross a gorge? In the States, we call that gross negligence. Therefore, if you’re heading to India, I suggest that you not partake of their rope bridges in boycott, and, instead, bounce over to South Africa to ride the world’s longest zip-line. So much safer and more socially responsible.

Ropebridge_2

2. Kate Capshaw

She’s a looker, it’s true. But the question remains: How did Ms. Capshaw beat out 120 other actresses to land the role of Wilhelmina “Willie” Scott, lounge singer and shrieker-extraordinaire, opposite the esteemed Harrison Ford in Temple of Doom? I’m cheating with this one—there’s no wonder here. In 1991, Capshaw wed Indy director Mr. Stephen Spielberg. And, um, there’s no real wonder why she didn’t do much acting after that, either … Ahem, I mean, because there’s no way to top being in an Indiana Jones movie.

Katecapshaw

1. Harrison Ford

Perhaps the Ark of the Covenant conferred immortality. Maybe the blood of Kali Ma functioned as an elixir of eternal youth. There’s a chance that Sean Connery passed on his secrets for Dreaminess in an Advanced State of Gray. Or, it could be that bullwhip-wielding is just an insanely good cardio workout. But the question remains: Just how is it that Harrison Ford is still able to leap and cavort and save the world? Frankly, I don’t know. But we’ve reached the end of our wonders, so I’ll tell you what I do know, namely, that a.) all of these questions should make up for cheating on Wonder #2, and that b.) Dr. Indiana Jones aka Mr. Harrison Ford, 65-year-old World Traveler, Adventurer, and All-Around Debonair Guy, is still millions of otherwise grown-up and responsible peoples’ secret hero. And that in itself, is, you know, kind of wonderful.

Harrisonford

(Photos: crystal skull, British Museum, blogowogo.com; Area 51, lazygranch.com; Petra, carolynbrownphotographer.com; catacombs, updatecenter.britannica.com; rope bridge, www.chez-nousbb.co.uk; Kate Capshaw, movieactors.com; Harrison Ford, blogadeur.com/)

US Airways Trashes Snacks

Posted May 28, 2008 by Zak Patten

Snack_bag_2 My parents always told me not to fill up on junk food or I would ruin my appetite for dinner. That won't be such a problem the next time I fly US Airways, which according to the Philadelphia Business Journal, will be ending its snack service on June 1. We all know about the airlines' checked-bag fees and other cost-cutting measures by now, so it's not much of a shock to learn that the latest victim of high oil prices is a tiny, defenseless bag of pretzels.

Will we rise to the occasion and take on this new travel challenge? I hope so, and to aid in this noble endeavor, I'm proposing a number of solutions. They are as follows:

  • Load up on your pre-flight calories. You won't go hungry if you are so full you have to waddle through the security line. A pint of Ben & Jerry's Chubby Hubby ought to do the trick.
  • Make your trip a spiritual experience by fasting throughout the day. If you don't eat anything at all, you'll purify your body and mind while saving money. By the time you reach your destination, you'll be enlightened. Not to mention very, very hungry.
  • BYOS. Yep, bring your own snacks to the party. I recommend trail mix consisting of one part peanuts, one part raisins, and four parts M&Ms. Hey, it's gonna be a long flight.
  • Mooch. This is in many ways the easiest solution. You don't have to hit the store or some expensive airport eatery beforehand, so you'll save money there. And you won't need to carbo-load prior to takeoff or adopt monk-like discipline. Nope, just strike up a conversation with your neighbor and make a few friendly remarks about how delicious his/her food looks. If your fellow passenger doesn't take the hint, let a few drops of drool hit your armrest. They'll either run away or offer to share their goodies. Either way, you're getting something to eat.

(Photo: eggenet.de)

Top Five Items You Don't Want to See Tumbling Out of a Carry-on

Posted May 27, 2008 by Carl Unger

In honor of Frontier's increased fee for carry-on antlers (yes, of the formerly-attached-to-an-animal variety), I thought it would be fun and productive to think of five items you wouldn't want to see falling out of someone's carry-on:

Scorpions5. Scorpions  Paging Samuel L. Jackson: We have a sequel. Not only are these things creepy, but they're deadly. Trust me, you don't want to be sitting near the guy trying to smuggle these aboard.

4. A dossier with your name on it
  Imagine you're sitting there, snug in your aisle seat, and suddenly a manila folder hits the floor with a slap.  You glance, curious, and notice that your name is on the tab—and your driver's license photo is paper clipped to the folder! A menacing, straight-faced man in sunglasses, someone you've never met, reaches down and picks it up. You wonder: Are your bills paid up? Did that bitter ex-girlfriend finally track you down?  Are you seeing things? Thankfully, you now have the next five hours of your cross-country flight to think about it.

Parachute23. A parachute  What does this passenger know that you don't?  Imagine the conversation that would ensue if a parachute fell out of someone's carry-on during the boarding process:

Parachute owner: "Er, excuse me, could you pick that up for me please?"

You: "Glady, sir.  My, this is colorful fabric.  Some sort of celebratory clothing?"

Parachute owner: "No, it's a parachute, actually."

At this point, all you'd be thinking about is whether or not you could grab your magazine and roll-aboard and sprint off the plane in five seconds or less. If your first impulse is to give the passenger the benefit of the doubt and politely ask what the parachute is for, you're a better person than I am.

2. Raw fish, no ice  If the parachute doesn't get you off the plane quickly, this should.

1. Any part of a dead human being
  Remember a couple of years ago when baggage screeners found a human head in a woman's luggage? And the skull still had teeth and bits of hair and skin on it? I don't think the head was in her carry-on bag, but even so, let's just go ahead and say that no part of a deceased human should ever be introduced to the passenger cabin of an airplane. So there you go. If you happen to see one or more of these items falling, slipping, or otherwise protruding from someone's carry-on, run! If you think there's something scarier than any of these, let me know in the comment section below. And then run again!

(Photos: Animal-World, Y'shua Parachute Rigging)

Avoid Checked-Bag Fees on American Airlines: Just Wear It All

Posted May 22, 2008 by Nicki Krawczyk

Packing Well, with the recent news that American Airlines will now begin charging a $15 fee for all checked luggage as of June 15, those of us who can’t fit two days’ (much less two weeks’) worth of clothing in a backpack have some hard choices to make.

Or do we? To help ease the financial burden in an already tenuous economy, I’ve compiled a list of suggestions (some helpful, some less so) to deal with this new luggage fee.

1.) Wear all of it. That’s right: all four sweaters, three shirts, two pairs of jeans and two pairs of khakis. You’ll be warm and rather bulky, but since other people don’t seem to care about encroaching on your seat space, you can pay that back in full.

2.) Adopt a Zen sensibility. As the “Personal Packing Crisis” was first explored on this very blog, it’s fitting that I will now offer a solution. Align your chi, say a few om's and become very comfortable with the fact that you will not look attractive or even presentable on your stay. Repeat to yourself this mantra: “I’m okay with only one change of clothing and no mousse all week long. I’m professional and put together on the inside.”

3.) Save up. And I’m not talking about giving up your need-it-to-get-through-the-day double lattes, either. I’ve devised a very simple plan to make it easily affordable to check as much luggage as you like. Those pennies you see on the ground and usually pass by? Pick ‘em up. For each item of luggage you’d like to check, picking up just one penny every day will pay off the fee in a mere 4.1 years.

4.) Get serious about good packing. Okay, it’s time to get tough: no more “just in case” outfits or “I might get cold” sweaters. If the answer to the question, “Do I really need this?” is anything less than, “Not having it will severely limit my ability to do absolutely anything,” consider leaving it at home. Strongly consider leaving it at home. $15 fee consider leaving it at home.

5.) Wear none of it. Instead, ship it. Depending on your immediate need for clothing and personal care items, any of your friends at UPS, FedEx, DHL, USPS, or Ed’s House of Shipping could get it to your destination at a comparable rate—and when’s the last time you heard someone say “FedEx lost my luggage”?

Of course, there are bound to be times when none of this information will be of help and you’ll be stuck paying the fee. In that unfortunate case, my best advice is … to get used to it. The way things are going, it seems like it might not be all that long before this kind of fee is standard on airlines and not one of us even bats an eye. After all, remember when airplane food was free?

Photo:  kimisforeign.blogspot.com

Is JetBlue Becoming JetGreen?

Posted May 21, 2008 by Zak Patten

Jettingtogreensm_2 In this era of $130-per-barrel oil and rising awareness of global warming, you wonder why all airlines aren't trying to fly on french-fry grease. Well, JetBlue may never top off its tanks at your local diner, but the environmental initiatives it announced yesterday as a part of its Jetting To Green campaign do have the potential to be transformative.

For starters, JetBlue is teaming up with a few industry heavy hitters (Airbus, Honeywell Aerospace, and International Aero Engines) to try to develop what's known in eco-circles as a "sustainable second-generation biofuel" that can be used in commercial aircraft. This seems like a wise move, since the first generation of biofuels derived from corn seems to be responsible for driving up the cost of food, and not just the Corn Flakes in your cereal bowl, but the chicken (from birds fed with corn) McNuggets you snarfed down last night. (Don't try to deny it—I saw you at the drive-through!)

Oh, and this new eco-friendly trend gets even better, especially if you like prizes. And Priuses. And prizes that are Priuses, or is that Priuses that are prizes? Anyyyyyyyway, as I was saying, just enter the Jetting To Green Sweepstakes for a chance to win a Toyota Prius hybrid car or an Energy Star Sharp Aquos LCD TV with Blue-ray Disc player.

Last but certainly not least, JetBlue has partnered with Carbonfund.org, which allows customers to offset the carbon dioxide emissions they've generated by flying. The five bucks you pay per round-trip flight to offset your emissions goes to a bunch of cool eco-projects like developing wind farms in Texas, capturing methane gas from New York State landfills, and reforestation in Louisiana. All great projects, particularly the methane-capture one—you ever smell a landfill?

So what do you think, is JetBlue now the greenest airline? And are you more likely to fly a green airline than a dirty brown one, or is it all just about ticket price?

(Image: JetBlue)

Shocking: Airline Customer Satisfaction Tanking

Posted May 20, 2008 by Carl Unger

Reportcard News revealed by the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ASCI) shouldn't surprise anyone (unless you're one of the lucky few living under a rock): Airline customer satisfaction is perilously low, nearing 2001-era levels, thanks to poor performance by the nation's legacy carriers.  In fact, the index shows that only Southwest's good performance saved this survey's numbers from being the worst ever.

Breaking it down a little bit, each airline received a score between 0 and 100, and that score reflects customer satisfaction during the last year.  Southwest received a 79, which is pretty good, and marks the carrier's 15th consecutive year of leading the pack.  American and Continental came in second, a whopping 17 points behind Southwest, with a rating of 62. Delta, United, and Northwest followed, with US Airways bringing up the rear with a score of 54.

All these numbers got me to reminiscing about high school, where I seem to recall a 62 was worth an F, or a D-minus if the teacher was generous.  Regardless, by those standards, six of the seven airlines included in this survey have report cards they don't want to show to their parents.  How on earth are they still in business?

Of course, there are other industries with lower standards than high school.  Baseball comes to mind, because even the absolute best hitters in the league still fail more than 60% of the time. In basketball, too, a good game is one in which you make just 50% of your shots.  Heck, even a president can stay in office despite approval ratings in the low 30s. Viewed in the light of professional sports and national politics, the big U.S. carriers actually look pretty good. Grading on a curve always helped me too. Especially in calculus.

So do you think this survey got it about right? What's your favorite U.S. airline? Would any of them get an A?

(Photo: LT Technologies, Inc.)

Southwest Passenger Gets Cell Phone Service, $500 Fine

Posted May 15, 2008 by Heather Gilbert

Cell_phone Usually the person sitting next to you is annoying because they’re grubbing for the armrest the whole time.  What if instead they were on their cell phone for two-thirds of the flight? Annoying?  Unsafe?  Or completely understandable?

On Monday morning a Southwest Airlines passenger was ticketed for using his cell phone during a flight from Austin to Dallas.  According to reports, this passenger had forgotten to turn his phone off, and subsequently received a message that his father was in dire health.  Apparently his father’s heart had stopped, and the cardiac team that left the message asked for an immediate call back.  At this point, during the flight’s descent into Dallas, Joe David Jones, 50, called the team back and refused to end his call when asked to do so by flight attendants.  He was allegedly on the phone for roughly 20 minutes.  The flight was met by police at Love Field and Mr. Jones was fined for disorderly conduct, a class C misdemeanor that carries a fine of up to $500.

Readers of the Austin American-Statesman seem outraged.  The comments ranged from calling Mr. Jones a “sociopath” to suggesting he be “fined to the max” or even kept “in Dallas where he belongs.”  The outrage seems to stem from readers believing that the lives of other passengers were in danger due to interference with the flight's navigation system caused by the cell phone.  Being that the European Union recently decided to permit cell phone usage on planes, I’m not entirely sure that this interference claim is true anymore.  But then again, I don’t work for the FAA.   Or Southwest Airlines. 

Tell us what you think, should cell phone restrictions be lifted for “emergency” situations?

(Photo: dialaphone.co.uk)

Five Men, 10 Years, and $6 Million

Posted May 14, 2008 by Zak Patten

Airfaresafetycheck And one big headache for American Airlines' accountants. To recap, (at least) five Chicago-area men conspired to defraud American out of $5,911,954 by creating phony invoices that billed the carrier for parts and services that were never delivered.

According to CBS News in Chicago, Gary M. Aumann, Donald E. Down, and Thomas Alessi pleaded guilty to "one count of mail fraud" after spending 10 years (1997 to 2007) bilking the airline. Apparently, Aumann's position as Facilities Maintenance Manager of American Airlines at O'Hare International Airport came in handy, because he was in charge of ordering and paying for items from vendors.

I'm no hardcore law-and-order guy, but doesn't one count of mail fraud seem like a lightweight sentence? I mean, these guys spent a decade scheming and stealing. It's not like they sent an email pretending to be a Nigerian prince with some short-term cash-flow problems.

Anyway, those phony invoices? They came from Mr. Down, who operated A & D Supplies and Addison Business Supplies. I wonder if those companies ever actually supplied anything to anyone, though we do know they sent more than $3 million in bills to American. Thomas Alessi, on the other hand, never let it get out of control. He only scammed the airline for a little over a million.

Two other people, one of whom is listed as age 70, were also indicted. They had bank accounts into which American deposited these payments. You have to admire a septuagenarian who still wants to use his skills to make a contribution to society. I guess Social Security just doesn't cut it anymore. Nice going, Grandpa!

Apparently, this little gang spent the stolen money on motor vehicles and boats, as well as property. At least they used it to purchase travel-related items. You'd hate to imagine all those airfares we pay being wasted.

JetBlue Allegedly Forces Man to Sit on Toilet for Three Hours

Posted May 13, 2008 by Carl Unger

Airplanetoilet Some days, this job seems too easy. When I saw the following headline from the AP this morning, a blog entry pretty much wrote itself:

"Man sues JetBlue for making him sit on toilet"

Oh, how the sarcasm did gallop freely through my mind, a veritable parade of cheap jokes and witty one-liners ("JetBlue debuts 'Golden Throne' seating class;" "Man gets best (and worst) seat on JetBlue;" etc.). I figured this would be the easiest entry yet.  And then I read the story, and things got a little wacky.

The man in question, Gokhan Mutlu, of Manhattan, alleges JetBlue forced him to sit in the lavatory after his seat was given to a flight attendant.  Apparently a flight attendant complained that the jump seat was uncomfortable, and the pilot gave the flight attendant Mutlu's seat instead.  Mutlu was then assigned to the bathroom, where he sat for roughly three hours (cue the Gilligan's Island theme song in my head…).

Further complicating this story is that Mutlu was traveling on a "buddy pass," a standby voucher JetBlue employees can give to their friends.  So technically, Mutlu was not a paying customer, which I suppose could, in some twisted way, invalidate his claim to a seat.

In this era of rampant and frivolous lawsuits, it's difficult to separate fact from fiction, so I don't want to come down too hard on either side of the story.  That said, if an airline ever evicts you from your seat, you could do worse than the restroom as a fall-back option.  Sure it's small, unsafe (no seat belts!), and—well, let's just say it's a bathroom. 

But at least you could make a few bucks!

(Photo: gallery.hd.org)

Release the Beast on Southwest

Posted May 8, 2008 by Heather Gilbert

Monster18 Yesterday, Southwest Airlines announced a new addition to its beverage lineup. The low-cost carrier is now offering Monster Lo-Carb energy drink aboard its flights. I salute Southwest for trying to offer passengers more in this era of cutback, and I’m all for more choices when I’m flying, but I’m not sure I want to be strapped into a seat for hours on end with a plane full of people guzzling energy drinks. In my mind, energy drinks are the domain of software developers, extreme athletes, and club kids. At least Southwest had the common sense to charge $3 a pop for this beverage, so as to hopefully diminish the chances of any said flight turning into an after-hours rave and/or long-haul Java programming session. But I’m still concerned.

Let’s consider for a minute Monster’s tagline: “Release the Beast.” Let’s also consider what Monster has to say about this drink on its site: “We went down to the lab and cooked up a double shot of our killer energy brew. We hacked out carbohydrates and calories, transplanted the wicked buzz and dialed in the flavor. Lo-Carb Monster energy still delivers twice the BUZZ of a regular energy drink, but only has a fraction of the calories.” My prediction? Disaster.

I can just see Johnny-guy-next-door buckling in next to me, ordering a Monster Lo-Carb, and proceeding to tell me in great detail all about his wicked killer idea for a movie. Great. Enter Samuel L. Jackson in his new release, “Energy Drinks on a Plane.” Oh Southwest, thanks for trying.


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