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Preview: Anders Meanders

Anders Meanders

Tips, touts and tidbits from the road.

Published: 2013-07-16T10:26:01-06:00


Allegiant can save you cash, but....


….man, is that an aggravating booking site, and the fees are amazing. Yes, you can indeed get the intro booking flight cost of $59.99 each way on certain days, but you will pay: $9.99 each way if you want an assigned seat in advance, even if you choose a middle seat. $10 if you want to pay with a credit rather than a debit card. Probably $30 each way for a carry-on bag (even though the chart says carry-ons start at $10, I could not get the carry-on option to register less than $30). You can carry on something small that fits in the seat in front of you, but most of us need clothes. It’s OK to come home from Vegas with no clothes, but it’s good to arrive with some. That, and you must scroll down and opt out of multple pages of hotels, cab fares, rent cars, gambling chips and shows. All that said, this trip will cost you less than Southwest’s (the other nonstop option) by a long shot UNLESS you wait for Southwest to enact a fare sale. Then the fares might (might, because you can’t count on sale fares) be similar, assuming your’e one of those picky people who likes clothes and assigned seats. Do go online and play with the web site. This might be just the flight to Vegas you’re looking for. Or not.

Ruminations on takeoffs and landings


Yes, yes, San Francisco International said yesterday its operations were “nearly normal,” but at the moment that was tweeted, its boards were covered in cancellations and delays of two to three hours — sometimes more. Some delays happen every day at SFO, but right now, the airport is still experiencing fallout from the the Asiana crash, which is expected to keep one of its runways closed for about another week.

So, as I await my mid-afternoon (as scheduled, anyway; this flight has been delayed from three to five hours in the past few days) flight through SFO to Seattle and turns the SFO icon from half green to yellow, let’s talk about airplane takeoffs and landings.

We’ve all heard that takeoffs are hardest on the plane and landings are hardest for the pilot. But, the fact is, they’re both difficult for the pilot. That’s why pilots are highly trained. There are very, very few crashes of commercial aircraft, and that tells us these guys know what they’re doing.

True, some pilots have said that SFO approach air-traffic control often orders “slam-dunk” descents (keeping aircraft high until the last minute, then ordering a rapid descent to the runway), and they’re not easy. But if you look at NASA’s Airline Safety Reporting System Database — a voluntary reporting system, by the way, so far from everything gets reported — you’ll also see complaints about Austin-Bergstrom’s takeoff and approach patterns and air-traffic control handoffs sometimes counting on pilots to see — and dodge — other aircraft. Bottom line: A very fine stew of expertise and mechanical wonders keeps us in the air. All must be in working order at all times. Pilots, feel free to jump in here.

SFO wreaking havoc on nation's air schedule


Update 5:09 p.m. The flight took off and is once again being listed as just 105 minutes late.

Update at 4:45 p.m. Curiouser and curiouser. Flight 271 has left the gate less than two hours late. However, flightstats lists it as 208 minutes late, which is about three and a half hours. Flightstats estimates it will actually leave the runway at 5:22 … about half an hour from now.

Update: Flight 6476 is off and flying and Flight 271 is boarding as we speak, BUT…this is fishy. On flightstats, the airline lists the estimated gate departure at 4:40 p.m. and the arrival at 8:07 p.m. Weird. Because there’s no way that flight could last five and a half hours (2 hours time zone) differential), I’m thinking these folks might sit on the plane a while before departing. Will advise.

Earlier: You know this if you’ve traveling today: Dallas-Fort Worth International and other airports throughout the nation are suffering because San Francisco is using only three runways in the aftermath of the deadly crash. There is no word on when the fourth runway will be back in operation, but it is likely to be quite a while, since the wreckage can’t be moved until NTSB is done.

Also, flightstats is not able to keep up with all the changes, sometimes listing flights as on time when their departure has already been delayed. If you’re at Austin-Bergstrom awaiting those United departures, the extended details at flightstats indicate that Flight 6476 is now scheduled to depart at 3:46 and Flight 271 is scheduled to depart at 5:22. That’s about three hours late, and the arrivals will be about that late. Those times might change again, so check the “extended details” on The Austin Airport website simply lists them as “delayed.”

Headed West this week? Check your flight


The third of four runways at San Francisco International is open, but the fourth is still shut down “for the immediate future,” according to SFO (whatever that means), and I have heard not a thing about when it will reopen. Chances are the NTSB is still looking at wreckage and potential clues on the runway. So, for the next few days at least, any flights to or through San Francisco could be late or canceled. Check your flight information often. United is a prime carrier into SFO, so if you’re going anywhere on United — not just SFO — check your flight.

Meanwhile, those of you trying to keep up with the crash investigation: Follow @ntsb on Twitter. It’s been releasing details as they emerge. Among them: Seconds before impact, the plane’s speed obviously slowed because NTSB said the stick shaker deployed (a clue for the pilot to up the airspeed). Plane was landing at 137 knots. Flaps were 30 for those of you who know about flaps (I don’t.) There was a last-second (literally) call to go around, which means the plane would abort the landing and climb again, going around the airport for another try. By then, of course, it was much too late. Anyway: Do follow NTSB on Twitter. They’re the authorities, and they’re releasing information. No conclusions have been reached or will be reached soon. Investigations often take many months.

Let's talk about electronic devices on planes


I’ve heard and read so many conflicting reports about what the FAA is discussing in terms of letting us use electronic devices on planes that I finally dug up the most recent paper about it on the FAA website to get the facts. These are them:

A committee studying whether the FAA should allow some portable electronic devices to be used during taxiing and takeoff as well as in-flight will report back in September. What’s up for discussion here is NOT talking on cell phones. That’s banned by the FCC and, so, will stay banned. Seriously, do any of us want a bunch of people gabbing away loudly at people on the ground while we’re in a plane? That might be the final straw in confining me to ground travel. Won’t happen. The FCC doesn’t like it, the FAA doesn’t like it, and flight attendants most certainly don’t want it.

What’s under consideration is letting us read on our e-readers and play games on our tablets while we’re taxiing and taking off, in addition to in the air. We can already use these devices in flight. Phones must be in airplane mode, so they basically turn into game-playing alarm clocks, but they can be used for that function. On-board WiFi lets you use your laptop in flight (although I’m hearing now that there are a lot of concerns about the security of these in-flight WiFi servers; I’d not to my banking at 30,000 feet). But my Kindle, for example, doesn’t communicate with a darn thing when the WiFi is turned off. All it does is display already-downloaded words. So, I’ve always wondered why I couldn’t use it while the plane’s taking off and landing (a process that can last a whale of a long time). The FAA is wondering the same thing. We’ll see what happens.

Feel free to weigh in.

Vegas and travel news in a nutshell


So, I said I’d be blogging a lot from Vegas, but that was before I found out how much it costs to use hotel Internet. Let me catch you up. (I’ve been tweeting a lot of tidbits; follow me at @helenhandbasket to catch those.) I’m here primarily for the U.S. Travel annual conference, called IPW (which stands for International Pow Wow, although now it’s been rebranded and stands for nothing), but I came in few days early to work on stories about how to do Vegas like a local and the Neon Boneyard, the city’s hottest new museum in every sense of hot. You’ll see those stories in the Statesman and on in late July along with a huge bunch of Travel Matters items on other stuff I found here. But here’s what I’ve learned in the two days I’ve been at Ithe travel conference: The latest of Vegas’ eight Cirque du Soleil shows is about Michael Jackson. Michael Jackson and acrobats. Pretty wild. I haven’t seen that show (called ONE), but I did see Cirque’s Zarkana and can highly recommend that one. It’s at the Mandalay Bay. In addition to all kinds of wacky acrobatics against surreal digitally imaged backdrops (slithering snakes, for example) and top-notch singing, there’s a masterful juggler and a sand painter who’ll blow you away. How does sand painting fit in with juggling? Go see. Sea World’s parks, including the one in San Antonio, will go nuts next year with new interactive exhibits and various creatures wandering around the park in celebration of a 50th anniversary. And the San Antonio Sea World will get a new entryway that will have you walking along a beach and under a sand feature. Sea World brought an otter, an ibis and two penguins to the press conference. LA brought Transformers (human-sized walking ones) to its press conference, at which I learned that a new art museum of Eli Broad’s collection is on the way next to the Disney performance hall. (Universal Studios remains the No. 1 atraction. Hence, the Transformers.) Today’s U.S. Travel briefing brought news that Chile has been recommended for the visa waiver program, and here’s why you care: If you travel to Chile, you have to pay $160 the minute you get off the plane in Santiago. It’s called a reciprocity fee, and that’s the cost of a U.S. visa for Chileans. No visas for Chileans, no reciprocity fees for us. Various legislation in Congress, including the immigration bill, includes funding for more customs agents. That made the foreign press at this event very happy. Lines are really long right now. Customs lines (or queues to the cranky Brits) were the No. 1 complaint from the foreign reporters. An Australian reporter also complained about hotel resort fees. I don’t see them going away. Here in Vegas, huge pilons are going up behind the Flamingo, where I am currently embedded, and everybody wonders what they are. They’re the base for a gigantic roulette wheel-style Ferris wheel that’s a big part of the new Linq project Caesars is doing. More on that in Travel Matters. I’ve also been having one-on-one meetings with various destinations and attractions throughout the U.S. and finding cool things I want to go do future stories about. Example: Albuquerque has a “Breaking Bad” tour. I will flat do that. There are 6,400 of us here, including thousands of foreign travel writers and broacasters, and I simply can’t close this without letting you know that I keep getting asked what’s up with the U.S. Congress. I’m not allowed to talk politics, so I can’t tell you my answer when they ask about things like machine guns and immigration, but you need to know if you’re traveling abroad this summer that you’re likely to be grilled by the locals. Have answers handy, in whatever political flavor you choose. [...]

Vegas, baby: Out of the frying pan, into the fire


My travels take me to Las Vegas starting this weekend through most of next week, and I’ll blog my way through it as I explore what’s new in the city and attend the U.S. Travel Association’s annual tourism confab known as IPW. Until this year, it was called International Pow Wow, but this year, it’s rebranded as simply IPW, with nary a Pow or Wow to be seen in its promotional material. Guess it was time for that, though I’m not sure that native Americans ever complained.

Anyway, here’s the Vegas scoop as I start packing:

First, the weather. It’s going to be hot. This isn’t news, really. It’s summer in the desert. It’s supposed to get up to 110 this weekend. But, hey, it’s a dry heat, so I will probably survive my trip to the outdoor Neon Museum boneyard that I’m eager to see and tell you about, as well as my treks around both the downtown area and the strip. Sunscreen packed.

Second: Pia Zadora. Remember Pia? To be honest, I’d forgotten her, but apparently she’s had a show in Vegas for years and lives out there. She was arrested a few days ago, accused of spraying her 16-year-old son with a garden hose and choking and clawing him when he wouldn’t go to bed.

Third: The culinary union. Contracts for Local 226, which represents 55,000 culinary (and valet and other) workers in the city and strip, expired Sunday, and they’re sabre-rattling in a big way. They’ve set up a website,, for travlers to Vegas to check to see if they’ve gone out on strike. So far, no actions. The timing is interesting, though, with 5,500 tour operators and international media in town for Pow … sorry, IPW.

Anyway, I’ll be talking to everyone from state tourism folks to the State Department and will let you know what I find out, both in this blog (whenever I have time to sit down at the laptop; it’s a busy schedule) — which WILL REMAIN FREE, as will all Statesm and Austin360 blogs — and from my phone, moment to moment on twitter. Follow me, @helenhandbasket.

Deliver me from Staycations


This, folks, is a word I absolutely hate. You’re either traveling or you’re not. If you’re staying home, well, you can definitely have a great time doing that, but it’s not travel. Hence, you’ll never see me write the word “Staycation” — or “Playcation” or “Mancation” or any of the other “cations” I get emails about all the time.

If it’s a trip, it’s a trip, and let’s talk about what makes it great. It’s been my experience that the word Staycation makes people surly because they really want to go on a vacation, but they’re stuck staying.

So, what do I call really great places for a weekend getaway that are located in or around Austin? I call them really great places for a weekend getaway that are located in or around Austin. These include the Four Seasons, the W, Lake Austin Spa, Hyatt Regency Lost Pines, Travaasa, Horseshoe Bay Resort, Lakeway Resort and more. For that matter, nearby San Antonio is filled with resorts and hotels worthy of a two- or three-night trip that will make you feel like you’re away from home without making you go far. These places have fairly high room rates, but if you don’t have to buy airfare or a whole lot of gas, you might be able to swing it.

Just don’t call it a Staycation.

Belt or no belt? Security inconsistencies persist


My husband and I were boarding a plane in Denver a week ago when we noticed that a lot of guys were going through the full-body scanner without taking their belts off. (This wasn’t the Pre-check line, either; it was just us regular proles.) I took mine off anyway, but husband John kept his on. He asked the TSA guy who check our boarding passes if he needed to take it off.

“We recommend it,” the officer said, “but you don’t necessarily have to.”

No alarm sounded, and my husband was able to proceed through with his pants thoroughly secured.

I don’t think that would’ve happened in Austin, where you’re constantly reminded to take ALL belts off. Conditions continue to vary a bit from place to place.

One thing I’ve noticed in Austin, though, is that TSA no longer gets irked if you put your shoes in a bin.

Another security note: I went through a checkpoint earlier this year in a sweater that contained metallic threads. The TSA woman who patted me down afterward said the sweater lit up the screen like a Christmas tree. So, pack those, don’t wear them, unless you really like being patted down.

Folks, I’m going to continue this blog, at least for now, and try to make more frequent entries. Good to know some of you out there are finding it. And: I’m told that blogs will remain free to read.

Sorry some of you have had problems posting comments. Apparently after a certain amount of time, comments are turned off on a post.

New Southwest nonstop means I don't drive to New Orleans


Yes, as of Nov. 3, Southwest Airlines will fly nonstop between Austin and New Orleans. Starting price is $177.80 for midweek tickets, and that’s enough to make me stop driving to New Orleans. You will arrive in mid-afternoon and fly home mid-afternoon. More at

Also: JetBlue just launched a 48-hour sale for travel May 21 through June 19, 2013. Blackout Dates: May 23 - 27. Find that at

It begins: Frontier to charge some fliers for carry-ons


Let’s start by saying that Frontier Airlines has only one nonstop flight from Austin, and that’s to Denver, where there are two other choices (United and Southwest) for almost always the exact same fare. So, you can avoid all this if you’re in Austin.

But starting this summer, Frontier plans to charge a fee for carry-on bags that don’t fit under the seat for those customers who buy their cheapest tickets somewhere other than Let me note here that airlines’ own websites almost always have the cheapest flights, so you should be buying there anyway. But if you buy your ticket on, for example, Travelocity, you’ll have to pay between $25 and $100 for your carry-on bag, depending on whether you check-in at and depending on destinations and a few other things. Frontier is not making this simple. The bag fees are keyed to the airline’s “basic,” or cheapest, fare.

Also, the airline is going to start charging for soft drinks unless you buy its highest-price fares — and why should you do that just for a Coke?

The best option on that Denver flight remains Southwest, which gives you not only free carry-on bags but also free checked bags. United charges for checked bags. The fares on all three are typically $220 round trip or less if you wait for sales.

The reason the airlines are starting to find more fees is, of course, that they simply haven’t been able to get away with raising fares by much. They keep trying, of course, and they keep trying to pass off $400 round trip domestic fares (you, too, Southwest) as sale fares. But we all know better. Wait for a real sale, and you’ll usually get a decent fare. The inability of air fares to keep pace with inflation is why we’re seeing more and more fees. Airlines can do this unilaterally, focusing fees on leisure travelers who typically choose the cheapest tickets, and the only way to combat it is to fly the airlines with the fewest fees — or drive.

Frontier is changing its frequent flier program, too, and that’s too complicated for me to try to interpret, so click here for the details. When Frontier first launched, I was a hug fan. I liked the seatback TV and friendly service. But it quickly became more expensive to fly than Southwest because of its fees, and the costs just keep adding up.

Oh, one other thing. The title of the press release about all this is “Frontier Enhances Services for Customers Using” The fact is that nothing additional is being provided to customers using Fees are simply being added for those who don’t. And why airlines don’t understand that we fliers aren’t idiots is something I’ll never understand.

Will furloughs be a tipping point for nation's busiest airports?


And I mean tipping as in tipping over.

Here’s the thing: New York LaGuardia and Los Angeles International airports, as well as, to a somewhat lesser degree, airports in Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas and Charlotte, are already working at — some would say beyond — airport operations capacity at peak hours. It takes very little to make mincemeat of schedules: snow, a rainstorm … or furloughs of air traffic controllers.

It’s hard to say how many of yesterday’s systemwide delays would have happened in the regular course of a day, which always sees some delays at these airports. But the stackup of planes I witnessed at LaGuardia is not at all normal for a sunny, breezy (15 mph winds) day. When I emailed at 9 last night with air traffic control union spokesman Doug Church, he said LAX was running 111-minute delays and Charlotte was becoming a problem.

At LaGuardia yesterday, I looked at the boards and saw about a third of the flights in and out of my terminal delayed between 30 and 50 minutes at noon — noon being usually a rather relaxed time in the schedule. The craziness is typically early in the day and around 5 p.m. As I said, my 12:10 departure left the gate at 12:10 but wasn’t airborne until 1:15 because of the stackup. I am not whining here. I actually got home on time because I was still able to make my connection to Austin at DFW. But the smallest delays can have a domino effect throughout the country. Sure, Austin-Bergstrom isn’t big enough to have controller problems on its own, but its departures for the Northeast and West are likely to be held because of stackups on the other end. Hence, Austin does, indeed, have delays. And because Austinites often have to connect rather than fly nonstop, the systemwide delays are especially an issue for us.

Let’s note here that none of this is the fault of the airlines, which are trying to get Congress moving on a solution. And let’s also put this in perspective: Delays aren’t deadly. Still, a completely unpredictable air travel system throughout the U.S. mucks with our lives, both business and leisure.

Yesterday was a fair-weather day for most of the nation. Let’s see what today brings and hope for a solution.

My adventure -- and others -- with today's flight delays


First, take a look at this. Clearly, the people at Philly’s airport were so distressed with the sequester, they couldn’t even write (and I’m so tired from flying I couldn’t tell which end was up — please stand on your head to read this, because I’m not sure why it posted upside down and don’t know how to fix it):


Doug Church with the air traffic controllers union said this flight still hasn’t left. It’s currently scheduled to go off at 10:51 p.m., a 3 hour, 20-minute delay.

I, on the other hand, departed from New York LaGuardia this morning. Our flight to DFW was scheduled to leave at 12:10 p.m. And it did. Leave the gate. That means it was listed in the logs as departing on time. However, we then taxiied all around the airport for an hour and 15 minutes, along with about three dozen other airplanes in a pattern so convoluted that it reminded me of those zig-zag lines at Disney World. We all wound up funneled to the departure runway and were sequenced at that point. Somehow, I made my connection back home to Austin. And my bag made it, too. (Thank you, American Airlines, for the baggage hustle.) But it was weird.

My hope at this point is that every member of Congress has to fly a lot of places in the next few weeks — places each person really needs to be by a certain time. In fact, I’d like them all to have to go to LaGuardia and LAX.

American Airlines reservation glitch grounds flights


Instant update: Now about half those flights or more show CANCELED, not SCHEDULED. Hope you weren’t trying to fly anywhere this afternoon.

On and @americanair, American Airlines’ twitter feed, the airline is acknowledging that its reservations system isn’t working. It says it has imposed a “systemwide ground delay” until 4 p.m. CST. What this apparently means is that all flights are grounded. Whether they’ll take off at some point isn’t clear. They’re all listed as “scheduled.”

I’ll update if I find out more, but American has never been good at looping its passengers about the extent of problems. Remember five or so years ago when all the MD-80s were grounded for inspection and AA wouldn’t acknowledge that they were all grounded, instead canceling flights plane by plane by plane all day long? This time, at least, we know nothing’s probably going to move until 4 p.m. We’ll see what happens then.

I’d think this had something to do with incorporating USAir into its sytem, but it’s a bit too early for that to be happening. It does, however, have nothing to do with the Boston bombings, the airline assures.

4:45 p.m. American says its systems are back up, but delays and cancellations will persist through the rest of the day. Cancellations include 9 arrivals and four departures at Austin-Bergstom, according to Jason Zielinski out at the airport.

Because planes are out of positions, tomorrow could get off to a rocky start. Check your flight and connections at

Please, fling me into HuffPo's briar patch


So, I looked over Huffington Posts list of 10 overrated destinations, which my colleague Dave Doolittle posted yesterday on the All About Austin blog, and I can only say this: I would love to spend the rest of my life in only those overrated destinations.

Yes, this guy’s alternatives are also excellent places to visit. But if he doesn’t like San Francisco’s attitude, he needs to stop eating where all the other tourists eat and check out the neighborhoods. (I challenge him to find attitude at Osteria del Forno in North Beach.) His disdain for Colorado is clearly caused by focusing on Denver (yes, you do need to get outside Denver after you’ve done the museums) and typical tourist destinations such as Vail (great summer festivals, though) and delve into Grand Lake and Durango. And Vancouver? The man finds fault with the destination that has it all? I don’t know where to start.

As for his perspective on Austin, well, let’s start with the fact that this guy lives in LA, so he’s in dire need of a fix of decent Mexican food. Maybe that would refire his cerebral synapses. And I say that as a huge fan of Airfarewatchdog, David.

Good many air fare sales right now


…through Thursday, IF you can travel in April. Check your favorite airline.

A pricey summer ahead: Fly or drive?


With the exception of competitive routes such as Denver and Fort Lauderdale, air ticket prices are up this summer, as is lodging in most cities. How is that affecting your plans for summer travel? I’d love to have some comments. I truly would.

Take a look at Galveston's new commercial


Galveston bought rights to the Glen Campbell hit song, and its new commercial uses it really nicely. And, yes, they left in the part about cleaning his gun. It’s Texas, after all. Take a look here.

Take a look at Southwest Airlines' new marketing campaign


Here it is. Southwest Airlines’ lovely new spots are, unlike past spots, concept pieces. They talk about mavericks, pioneers, and about charting one’s own course — which, of course, Southwest has done, very successfully — to the point where the end of the voiceover declares Southwest to be “America’s largest domestic airline.” To which I just want to add: Please don’t act like it.

There have been rumors out there that Southwest, which already has the highest fares to many of the cities it serves and typically undercuts competitive routes (Denver, for example) only by by virtue of its bags-fly-free policy, is about to start charging some fees to those of us who buy only their Wanna Get Away fares. I spoke by e-mail with a PR person for the airline recently, and she vowed Southwest won’t start charging for bags anytime soon. Good.

Few of us still maintain loyalty to one airline. We go with whoever’s cheaper and faster to our destination. I’m about to fly American to New York, and, later this year, to Chile on frequent flier miles (which are still easy to use on AA if you book nearly a year in advance). JetBlue takes me on a quick, cheap ($240 on sale, typically) trip to San Francisco, and I’m flying it from DFW to Boston this fall because it costs too much to add the leg to Austin.

But I’ve flown Southwest half a dozen times in the past year — more than any other airline — because it has nonstops the others don’t have, and it lets me take bags free. (JetBlue still allows a free bag, too). So, here’s hoping that free bag policy stays in place. Oh, and one other thing, Southwest: Please bring back the nonstop from Austin to Albuquerque.

TravelClick: SXSW filling fewer rooms, but at higher rates


IMMEDIATE UPDATE: When I contacted TravelClick to say I was posting its numbers, it immediately gave me updated figures: Actually, SXSW rooms are down only 1.2 percent, and the rates are up 7.6 percent. Considering so many people are now renting people’s houses, I’m thinking this translates into a bigger SXSW crowd than ever.

Three minutes earlier:

Just got an e-mail from TravelClick saying that its data show that Austin filled 3.4 percent fewer rooms during South by Southwest this year than last, BUT…the average daily rate for SXSW is up 9.1 percent. TravelClick says its information is for actual bookings, not a forecast.

OK, this part’s still true:

Meanwhile, this might be a good time to flee to Europe. The dollar’s holding up well against the Euro ($1.30 as I write this), and the pound ($1.48) is the lowest for Americans that it’s been in 2.5 years. Of course, we need to root for European financial markets, but we may as well take advantage of less-than-atrocious exchange rates, eh?

On PT Cruisers and other weird rent cars


A friend’s tweet called my attention to this Boomberg BusinessWeek story about how most rent car companies are no longer using PT Cruisers. This is pleasing. Those things never had much power, and I wound up in a few of them.

But they weren’t the rent cars that embarrassed me the most. I remember two from this past year, in particular. During a quick weekend trip to Miami with my daughter, we wound up in a little square car — I don’t remember what it was; I think it’s something only rent car companies use — in a color I can only characterize as dark chartreuse. We called it Green Mini-fridge. At least we had no trouble locating it in parking lots.

Then, last August, I wound up driving a turquoise Crown Victoria through most of northern New Mexico and southwestern Colorado. It had Texas plates, but that did not make me love it. I can only imagine that we got stuck with it because of a late-afternoon arrival, because I had reserved an economy car, not a boat. I could barely reach the gas pedals on that thing, and I felt like an undercover cop the whole time. On our last day in Durango, we were loading up in the parking lot when a passerby noticed the Texas plates.

“Headed back to Texas?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said, “but THIS IS NOT MY CAR.”

Just in time for SXSW, Airbnb launches guide to the hoods


Airbnb just launched a neighborhood guide to Austin right here. Want to see how it characterizes your neighborhood? Want to see which ones of your neighbors are renting their space. Take a look.

Still a few canceled flights today, but the wind's gone


This morning’s cancellations at Austin-Bergstrom aren’t about local wind. It’s died down. The canceled flights are to Lubbock, which is still snowed in (although the airport was supposed to re-open later today) and Chicago, which is facing an icy, blustery day. Stay tuned. If things aren’t dire enough to put out a news alert, I’ll be keeping up back here in the blog basement.

Another spending cliff: What it could mean to travelers


I refuse to call it “sequester” because I hate all these jargon-ish, meaningless names, but by now you surely know that the president and Congress are at a standoff over the latest spending-cut deadline, March 1, and that if they don’t make a deal, some pretty draconian budget cuts are going to be enacted. There would be a lot of fallout, but this is a travel blog, so let’s concentrate on that:

The cuts would hit the Defense Department hard, requiring furloughs of its workers, which include customs and TSA personnel. These are the people who check our documents, screen us and send us on our merry way. Right now, the longest lines at Austin-Bergstrom tend to be in the early morning hours, with wait of 45 minutes to an hour at times. We’re being told that those waits could extend by an hour or so.

It’s unlikely the furloughs would happen in time for South by Southwest, but they might in time for MotoGP, and, frankly, there’s no good time to make people stand in long lines. Whenever this type of personnel cut might happen, the result would be gridlock at airports, both for those of us traveling state to state and foreign visitors entering (as well as U.S. tourists re-entering) the U.S. Think about the fun you’d have, at the end of a trip to Spain, standing in line for hours because there were only a few people to check your passport.

Roger Dow, president of the U.S. Travel Association, is pretty riled, saying in a statement: “Travel has the very real potential of becoming the face of the March 1 sequester cuts. These across-the-board cuts may punish travelers with flight delays, long security lines at Transportation Security Agency checkpoints and multi-hour waits to clear Customs and Border Protection. Travel has led the nation’s economic recovery - generating more than 50 percent of all jobs created since the beginning of the recession. The indiscriminate sequester cuts threaten to derail the travel-led recovery.”

He’s right about the recovery, which I’ve seen first-hand as I’ve traveled during the past year. Vegas is booming, San Francisco’s so packed its hotel rates have doubled, and southern Texas is cram-packed with winter visitors from the Midwest. Restaurateurs and merchants are over the moon. Make travel hard, and everybody stays home.

We’re all weary of this endless series of budget deadlines, aren’t we?

UPDATE: AP is reporting that many small airports in Texas would shut down because of a lack of air traffic controllers. Austin’s airport, the FAA told AP, would have its overnight controller shifts eliminated. I’m not sure what qualifies as the overnight shift, but if this happens, for example, that new JetBlue redeye from SFO would be toast.

Cancun for spring break? Why not?


Based on my e-mails from tourist entities on the Yucatan peninsula, Cancun is already getting nervous that Texas is about to issue another one of its avoid-Mexico-entirely missives as spring break approaches.

So, let’s talk about that. I just look at the State Department’s website, and although there are dire warnings about much of Mexico — you definitely don’t want to go to violence-wracked Acapulco or border towns such as Juarez or Matamoros (the latter of which used to be popular for South Padre Island visitors but now is avoided even by many who have family there) — there isn’t so much as an advisory up about Quintana Roo, the region that includes the Yucatan’s destinations of Cancun as Playa del Carmen, as well as the island of Cozumel, which I recently visited and will be writing about soon.

The State Department thinks it’s OK to go to Quintana Roo. That’s the bottom line. That does not mean the place is entirely crime-free. My neighborhood here in Austin isn’t crime-free. Wherever you go on spring break, keep your wits about you. But personally, I’d not fear Cancun. It’s considered the safest place in Mexico. For that matter, even Texas hasn’t said to avoid Cancun — at least not so far. If anything happens or any warnings are issued that changes that read, I’ll update this post.