Welcome to the January 2009 issue of "Smart Traveler". The newsletter with tips and information to help make your traveling smoother.


Foul Weather Travel

Imagine your bags are packed for the getaway of your dreams. You rearranged your schedule, canceled meetings and lost hours of sleep planning every detail of it. You arrive at the airport two hours early, proceed through security, almost unable to contain your vacation excitement. Then disaster strikes, in flashing letters on the arrival/departure screens: FLIGHT DELAYED. Or, even worse: FLIGHT CANCELED.

Inclement weather can affect air travel in any season, even on the clearest of days. Whether it's high winds, rain, sleet or snow, each year brings a slew of delays that could severely cramp your travel plans. With some simple planning you can alleviate the frustration of last-minute itinerary changes and flight delays or cancellations so that a bad start (and bad weather) doesn't ruin your trip.

Get Forecasts as Soon as Possible
Before you leave for travel of any kind, it's always a good idea to check the forecasts for your departure and destination city. For complete weather information and forecasts for just about any destination on earth, visit the Weather Channel. You can find weather maps, storm watch information and even a complete travel-specific weather section. Seasonal travel information, like foliage and ski reports, can also be found on this site. Enter a zip code, city or region to get the current forecasts, and even get 10-day local forecasts for over 70,000 destinations worldwide.

For climate information on a particular region, a good place to look is WorldClimate.com.

Bad Weather There Affects Flight Status Here
Bad weather almost anywhere can wreak havoc with an airline's route schedule, as crews and planes that are stranded at one airport never arrive at subsequent airports, and a ripple effect occurs. When you learn of weather delays in important hub cities, it's time to call your airline to inquire of potential delays on your flight.

Reroute Your Connections
Sometimes the weather at your departure city and your destination can be fantastic, but your connecting city is a mess. Call ahead to see if you can reroute your connection flight through airports with no delays.

Say you're in California heading to Florida and your itinerary has a connection in Dallas, the site of heavy weather. Call your airline from California and ask to be rerouted through a different part of the country -- Chicago, for instance. Your itinerary might get complicated, but at least you won't be sleeping in an airport!

Book Morning Flights
Morning flights are less likely to be delayed or canceled than evening flights. The logistical effects of heavy weather accumulate as the day goes on and more and more flights are delayed or canceled. Planes are more likely never to arrive, or to be put into the back of long lines for takeoff or landing as the day progresses.

Act Fast on Hotel Reservation Changes
If you anticipate an unplanned layover, get to a telephone as quickly as possible to make hotel reservations. Even better -- if you anticipate a layover in a connecting city further along on your itinerary, make a reservation immediately. If you wait until an entire airport's worth of stranded travelers are also scrambling to make reservations, chances are good that airport hotels will be sold out.

Call Your Airline Early and Often
 Airlines typically update flight status information on a "just in time" basis; that is, they don't change official status until it's absolutely certain that there will be a delay. So just because they told you your plane is on time at 2 p.m. doesn't mean it will be 30 minutes later.

Scan Departure Screens
If you anticipate a delay, check departure screens for your flight. If there is a delay, look for an airline representative and ask for instructions before you head to check in. If there is a delay, it's time to call the airline.

Use Your Airline's 800 Number
It is often much faster, more convenient and more successful to use an airline's 800 number to make alternate arrangements than it is to stand in line. Not so long ago, this almost guaranteed you some satisfaction -- for better or worse, most travelers have figured this one out and the stampede to the phones (or the sound of cell phones being whipped out) often accompanies every flight status announcement.

For those with remote Internet access, check FlightStats.com for up-to-the-minute weather and air delay information at major airports across the U.S. Also, most airlines now do real-time flight status updates on the Web.

Don't Stray too Far from the Gate
If you're already at the airport, gate agents may make important announcements not only concerning flight status, but of alternate flight options, lodging offers and more. Make sure you or someone in your traveling party stays near your gate to hear any important announcements.

Know Your Travel Insurance
If you are considering purchasing travel insurance, understand that many travel insurance policies do not cover acts of God such as weather disasters. Check carefully with your provider before you buy.

        
JetBlue Adding Flights to Los Angeles Int'l

JetBlue Airways Corp. said Thursday it will begin flying to and from Los Angeles International Airport, after putting the plan on hold last summer as fuel prices climbed to record highs.

The Forest Hills, N.Y.-based carrier said it will start daily nonstop service in June from Los Angeles to Boston and JetBlue's home base at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.
Tickets will go on sale Feb. 4.

 JetBlue already serves smaller local airports at Long Beach and Burbank, Calif.

"Here at JetBlue, we've long had our eye on LAX, and this summer we're thrilled to finally be making our debut there," Chief Commercial Officer Robin Hayes said in a statement. "Last year, when we postponed plans to serve LAX, increasing fuel costs made launching a new destination prohibitively expensive. Fuel prices have now reduced and we continue to get overwhelming requests from our customers to serve this market. Clearly, the time is right for JetBlue to enter LAX."

The time also may be ripe for JetBlue to take advantage of capacity pullbacks at major carriers. American Airlines, Delta Air Lines Inc. and United Airlines scaled back at the airport last year as fuel prices forced capacity reductions.

   
International Business Etiquette 101

In Spain, a business dinner will last well into the early morning hours -- many restaurants don't even open until 9 p.m. and don't get busy until 10 or 11 p.m.

Australians aren't impressed by a title or status -- they expect your work to speak for itself.

The Japanese aren't afraid to ask how much money you earn or how large your home is.

These are only three out of thousands of different customs, business protocols and social mores throughout the world. International business can be tricky; if you aren't prepared, your business deal can go down in flames.

 

Before you go
1. Prepare. Do plenty of research on the business and personal etiquette of the particular country you are planning to visit. Purchase a travel book for the country you are going to visit and remember: The Internet is your friend.

2. Learn key phrases. It's always a smart move to learn several key phrases in the language of the country you'll visit. It's a nice way to bridge the gap between cultures -- and natives will appreciate the attempt.

3. Leave the attitude at home. Americans sometimes assume superior attitudes when interacting with foreign cultures -- for them it is "our way is the best way." Ditch this stance quickly -- you could be ignored or met with disapproval.

4. Blend in. In general, Americans dress differently, speak loudly and have distinct accents -- so it's best to try not to stand out more than you already will.
 

Jet lag: Affecting your business?
The last place you want jet lag to take its toll is during an important meeting or business outing. Persia offers these five tricks to deal with jet lag and still do business effectively.

Try to arrive a few days early to give your body a chance to adjust before important meetings or conferences.

Get plenty of rest before your trip. Jet lag is worse if you start out sleep-deprived.

Dehydration doesn't actually cause jet lag, but it does make symptoms worse. Drink plenty of water before, during and after your flight to counteract the dehydrating effects of dry cabin air. Avoid caffeine and alcohol for further dehydration.

Sleep on the plane if it's nighttime at your destination. Resist the urge if it's daytime there.

Set your watch to the new time before you leave. Once you reach your destination, try not to sleep until nighttime, no matter how tired you are. If you must sleep, take a short, one-hour "cat nap."
 

Different countries, different customs
It's common knowledge that etiquettes differ from person to city to country to continent; keeping all the customs straight can be a headache.

Persia offers these tips to deal with various traditions:

Gender roles
Gender etiquette plays a significant role not only in business, but overall in foreign travel. In some countries, where gender is rooted in the tenets of a particular religion, faux pas are often considered unforgivable.

For example, in the Arab world, shaking hands is mandatory in a business setting; but touching women in traditional, western dress is forbidden. In India, men and women shouldn't make physical contact in public other than handshaking. In Japan, older generations may not be comfortable shaking hands with Westerners and it's important that you don't get too close to them. In Argentina, women should initiate handshakes with men.
 

Talking business
If you're on business in Germany, leave the trade talk at the boardroom door. Business matters are usually discussed before or after the meal; never during.

Conversely, in China, it's OK to discuss business as long as it's not the main topic of conversation. Personal exchanges about children, spouses or other personal information are encouraged and welcomed.
 

Business cards
The business card exchange is extremely important in Japan -- almost ceremonial. Always give business cards with two hands and make a point to admire and examine the card. The more time you spend looking at it indicates the more respect you have for the person. In Italy, do not exchange business cards at social occasions; it is the norm at business functions and meetings.
 

Alcohol at meals
In Australia, alcohol is discouraged at business luncheons. Drinking moderately at business meals is acceptable in Germany; in Russia, you are expected to drink to establish closer relationships -- though again, in moderation. In France, avoid drinking hard liquor before meals or smoking cigars between courses -- the French feel it compromises the taste of the meal.
 

Gifts
A standard to keep in mind for any gift you select is quality. If you give gifts with your company logo, it's better if the logo is discreet. Never give company logo gifts in Greece, Spain or Portugal. In general, be safe rather sorry and choose non-logo gifts. In China, it's considered rude to open a gift in front of the person who gave it. In Africa, gifts are opened immediately upon receipt.

   
How to Take On Travel Trouble

LOST LUGGAGE:

You're standing at a baggage carousel for what seems like forever when the steady flow of bags onto the conveyor belt slows to a trickle, then stops. Your bags are nowhere in sight. Or your bags do show up, but look like an angry gorilla has been throwing them around his cage for sport. Who's responsible?

Delays
If your bags are delayed, try not to panic. The airline typically has a way to track them, and about 98 percent of all misplaced luggage is returned eventually. If your bags are on the next flight, you could have them within a few hours. If they've been sent to the wrong airport, it could take a couple of days. Make sure you give the attendant a hotel or home phone number and address.

The airlines will typically bring you your luggage when it is found; you will rarely need to return to the airport to pick it up. Additionally, many airlines will reimburse any unexpected expenses caused by the loss or delay. Be careful here -- the airline sometimes has the option to deduct any reimbursement or stipend from any subsequent awards.

Lost Baggage
If the airline loses your bags, make sure you get a written claim for damages. This may require a different form than the original "missing luggage" form. This can be done at the airport or by mail.

On domestic flights, the airline baggage liability is capped at $3,300 per person. On international trips, the liability limit may vary, as it is governed by various international treaties, including the Montreal and Warsaw Conventions. Check your carrier's Web site for specifics. You may need to produce receipts. If you have them, include copies in any documentation you send to the airline. You can purchase "excess valuation" protection if your checked baggage is worth more than these limits.

Stolen Baggage
Head directly to the baggage carousel when you get off your flight. Many airlines scan bags when they're loaded into the baggage claim area and keep records, especially at larger airports. Once you've left the baggage claim area, your claim is no longer with the airline, but with the police.

Damaged Baggage
Once you've gotten your bags off the carousel, immediately check them for damage or for other signs of tampering or mishandling. In the case of damaged baggage, airline customer service will often want to inspect the bag.

You will most likely need to produce a receipt for any repairs, or be required to use airline-sanctioned luggage repair vendors. Ask the baggage claim attendant for specific information. You don't want to find out that you have paid for a repair that it isn't covered.

Time Restrictions and Deadlines
When you file a report, most airlines will give you a claim number and ask that you call or write the airline within 21 to 45 days.

An Ounce of Prevention

  Put your name on the outside and inside of your bags. Even better, put a copy of your itinerary in each checked bag so the airline can locate you.

  The most common causes of lost and delayed bags are late check-ins and tight connections. Avoid both when you can.

  Pack valuables in your carry-on bags. Cameras, computers, medication, wallets, heirlooms, jewelry, passports, as well as confirmation numbers, itineraries, contact information, and other documents necessary to your travel should not be in your checked baggage.

  Itemize. It sounds tedious, but when an airline asks what was in your bag, you don't want to forget anything of value.

  Make sure the person who checks your baggage attaches the correct destination ticket to every bag, and get a claim ticket for each.

  If you're traveling to a different climate, put appropriate clothes in your carry-on.

  Travel insurance is the best guarantee that you'll recoup any losses.

If All Else Fails
Be sure to file a complain
t immediately. If you still can't get satisfaction, or feel the need to report the airline, write or call:

DOT Aviation Consumer Protection

400 Seventh Street, S.W. #4107
Washington D.C., 20590
(202) 366-4000.


Finally, if you're wondering where lost bags go after they die, here's your answer: UnclaimedBaggage.com!
 


Remember: Without a travel agent you're on your own
 


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