Michael Strickland's blog on all things travel: news, deals, destinations, dreams and more.

Friday, April 24, 2009

US Airways dipping into your wallet again

Since I'm flying on US Airways tomorrow and have to check a bag, I looked up their latest charges for checked baggage (which they conveniently list on a page titled "Baggage Policies" instead of "Baggage Fees"). Starting on July 9, they'll dip their hands into your wallet yet again.

After that date, if you check in and pay your baggage fees at the airport, they're going to charge you an extra $5 per bag (making it $20 for the first bag and $30 for the second bag). Sure, you can avoid this charge by checking in online and paying your baggage fees over the internet. And we're all already used to the idea of avoiding extra charges by doing things online (such as purchasing our tickets).

But what about those of us who don't have access to a computer while we're traveling? Many of us don't have or choose not to bring a laptop, and many hotels don't offer public computers. So this extra $5 fee per bag will be mandatory for many of us much of the time. How fair is that? And if you have more than two bags to check, their policies force you to check in at the airport; so they'll not only gouge you for the extra fees for multiple bags, they'll also ding you the extra $5 for each of those bags.

US Airways has led the way in the new era of airline fees. They were the first to charge for the first checked bag, and the first to be bold enough to try to charge $2 for a bottle of water. What new and creative fee will they dream up next?

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Fat tax, seat infringement, and other flyer equality issues

Political correctness is finally succumbing to financial pressure, at least as far as airlines are concerned. More airlines—United the most recent—are now requiring overweight people who can't fit into one airplane seat to purchase a second seat. Those of us who have had the misfortune of involuntarily sacrificing part of our own small real estate to a large fellow traveler are secretly celebrating.

No, I have nothing against fat people, overweight people, "weight challenged" people, or whatever term is politically correct. No more than I have against tall people or short people, black people or brown people, old people or young people, or any other people. All I ask from my fellow man and woman is to treat me as they'd like me to treat them, and vice versa.

I am relatively tall, so when I fly coach, I don't have a lot of room to get comfortable. Do I ignore the people sitting next to me, and just stretch my legs as wide as I can? Do I lean over into the seat next to mine to take a nap? No. I respect my neighbors' space, as I would like them to respect mine.

So if I were overweight enough that I could not fly without encroaching on the seat next to mine, I would not feel right about forcing that person to give up some of his or her space. They ostensibly paid the same price as me for their ticket, so they should be entitled to the same amount of space.

And if the airlines are charging extra fees for checked baggage for weight or fuel cost reasons, then the only fair way to charge everyone equally is to weigh each passenger with his or her bags, and then assess fees based on the passenger's total weight, including bags (an idea I proposed last year). RyanAir may soon consider such a "fat tax."

It's easy to be politically correct in the abstract, but where the rubber meets the road—where political correctness has a dollar amount attached to it—common sense will tend to win out. So this is one rare example where I'm in agreement with new airline fees. What's your opinion?


Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter

Happy Easter to all of you who celebrate the holiday, whether by attending a church service, taking part in an Easter Egg hunt, or simply enjoying a delicious brunch!

Below, I wanted to share a pair of beautiful photos taken by my friend Dawn Risk, with whom I spent a year in Honduras as a foreign student during high school. She is currently in Tegucigalpa, the capital city of Honduras. For Semana Santa (Holy Week), they decorated the downtown streets with colored sawdust. Fantastic!

Tegucigalpa Honduras colored sawdust in the streets for Holy Week

Tegucigalpa streets during Semana Santa


Saturday, April 11, 2009

Where I'd rather be: San Diego, "America's Finest City"

This is becoming a disturbing pattern. For the past several weekends, I've awoken to a wet and gloomy day. That provides plenty of inspiration to write about "Where I'd rather be," but I'd much prefer to be here on a warm and sunny day, than be somewhere else in my mind.

Nevertheless, I have to play the cards I was dealt, so once again we get to travel virtually together to some far-off spot. Actually, for some of you, this may be a virtual trip no further than your own backyard; because today, I'm going back to my hometown of San Diego, known as "America's Finest City."

I browsed the web for photos to post here, and came across the following aerial shot. It'll serve as an orientation shot for our travels, so take a look:

This shot effectively captures the heart of what I love most about San Diego: the beaches and water, and the countless hours of fun that they both offer. In this photo, you can see the long Mission and Pacific Beaches on the ocean side, the many little bays that make up Mission Bay Park just to the east (right), and the sloping hill of La Jolla toward the north (top of the photo).

On the beach side, a concrete "boardwalk" parallels the beach for about four miles. This path provides endless recreation for bicyclists, joggers, skaters and pedestrians. The personality of the boardwalk changes as you follow its entire stretch, so it's easy to find a part of the beach that suits what you're looking for: rowdiness, peace & quiet, athletics, and so on. And at regular intervals, you'll find restaurants, bars, taco shops, stores and more. At the far southern end of the strip (where the beach widens at the bottom of the aerial photo), an array of public beach volleyball courts planted in the sand offers a fun way to spend an afternoon.

On the other side of the narrow strip of beach cottages, you'll find Mission Bay Park. To me, this is the crown jewel of San Diego (not La Jolla, whose name literally means "the jewel"). This man-made aquatic park, covering more than 4,000 acres, contains many little hidden bays, each with its own personality and use. There's Sail Bay (pictured below), for use by sailboats; Ski Beach, where motorized watercraft can play (and where they hold the annual Thunderboat Regatta); Fiesta Island, an undeveloped area where the Over-the-Line Tournament is held; Tecolote Shores, a family-friendly area with picnic tables and grass lawns; and much, much more. One of my favorite activities is to spend the day riding the approximately 20-mile perimeter of Mission Bay, nearly all of which is bounded by a bike path (also visible in the picture below).

Just to the north of Pacific Beach and Mission Bay, the coastline changes from sandy beaches to rocky cliffs. While the topography is less appealing to sunbathers, it's perfect for scuba diving (since the same rocky shore continues below the surface, creating an excellent reef structure). The bluffs also offer picturesque scenery, which is probably why many of San Diego's millionaires live in expensive estates overlooking the ocean. La Jolla Cove (pictured below) is the most well-known spot, as it offers a small beach and easy, sheltered access to the ocean.

I may yet return to my beautiful hometown, but for now, writing about it made for a fun virtual escape back to a playground of sand and sun.


Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Southwest Airlines to service LGA

Exciting news today for New York City-based budget travelers like me: Southwest Airlines—the original budget airline—will begin offering flights from New York's LaGuardia Airport (LGA) beginning June 28. Until now, New Yorkers wanting to fly out of NYC on one of Southwest's cheap flights would have to get out to Long Island's Islip Airport (an inconvenient drive or ride on the Long Island Railroad).

It's too soon to tell if Southwest will offer the cheapest flights out of LGA. A sample roundtrip flight between LGA and San Diego in July came to $456 on Southwest, but $313 on American; a nonstop between LGA and Chicago Midway, however, was less expensive on Southwest ($301) than on Delta ($307), the next cheapest fare. In any case, this is surely good news for Southwest fans and frequent flyers (such as my brother, who now has one less excuse for not visiting).

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Sunday, April 5, 2009

Why we travel

The New York Times Travel section features a photo essay called "Why We Travel." The piece profiles 13 travelers who answer the question in their own words, and the 13 answers are as diverse as the people offering them.

While I enjoyed the words and pictures, the photo essay made me ask myself the same question. Why do I travel? I had to think about it for a little while, because my enjoyment of traveling is such a subconscious, intuitive thing. But pressed for an answer, I'd have to say it's the moments. Those special moments when you find something unexpected, experience something unplanned, do something spontaneous. You may spend a fantastic week someplace faraway, but chances are you'll return home with one magical moment (or maybe several) emblazoned on your memory for the rest of your life.

I love the adventure that comes with traveling to new places, but it's really those moments that I'll remember and relive for the rest of my life that keep me traveling.

Why do you travel?

This looks like a run-of-the-mill snack bar in Curacao, but it represents the successful culmination of an epic search, guided only by the vaguest of directions from a local who recommended the place. The delicious lumpia that rewarded our perseverance made this one of those "moments" from that trip.

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Friday, April 3, 2009

Portland: My favorite U.S. city I've never been to

If you asked me what my favorite U.S. city was, I'd probably say San Diego or Chicago. But there are many cities I've never visited, and of all those, Portland is hands-down my favorite.

Yes, I know this makes no sense: how can I judge a city I've never been to? Well, every time I hear something about Portland, it sounds like the perfect place for me. Mountains, forests and scenic beauty all around. Eclectic, down-to-earth populace. Progressive culture, a great music scene, bike-friendly... the list goes on. If only I didn't have a Wicked Witch of the West-like aversion to rain, I'd probably be living there now.

I hope to someday soon move Portland off the "never been to" list. When that happens, I have a feeling it'll still remain one of my favorite U.S. cities. In the meantime, here are a few links to help you explore Portland:

Touring by bicycle. Fun travelogue from the New York Times Travel section. Note the recommendation to bring a rain jacket, waterproof map and ability to quickly jump off your bike and duck into a cafe when the clouds open up.

Scotland Barr and the Slow Drags. My friend Scot's Portland-based "alt country" band, described by one critic as "what The Wallflowers would sound like if they chewed tobacco instead of bubble gum." Listen to some tunes on their website.

Beer Nutz: Portland. The wacky guys from Beer Nutz go on a beer tour of Portland. "A beautiful, rainy day in Portland," they say in the intro. Isn't that redundant?


Thursday, April 2, 2009

ACT NOW! $14 fares between NYC, SFO and LGB

Here's a fantastic (real) deal for TODAY ONLY that might sell out before you even read this. That's right, $14 air fares between NYC, San Francisco and Long Beach on JetBlue. Really! A round-trip fare between NYC and SFO for $49 TOTAL, after taxes.

The catch: you have to purchase your tickets TODAY, before 11:59 p.m. MT, and travel must take place between April 2 and April 8, 2009.

Here's the link. Sorry, no time for commentary; I want to publish this before it sells out!

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