Travel

Get your own back on the baggage handlers

Anyone who has waited ages for cases at an airport will get perverse extra pleasure from a new game launched by Intercontinental Hotels Group.

The game allows you to vent your frustraton by firing suitcases at handlers and trying to  knock them down like skittles and allows IHG to get people to sign up for its rewards programme. Free flights are on offer for the best scores.

Click here to play Suitcase Skittles

Obama lifts HIV travel ban

ObamaWell done Barack Obama for taking a step another step that once again softens the image of the USA: the lifting of entry restrictions to people who are HIV positive.

The The Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Extension Act was signed last week to end the 22 year ban with Obama saying the old legislation was ‘rooted in fear, not facts’.

In an era where medical advances mean HIV sufferers live full and normal lives, it was the only sensible solution. Around a dozen countries have similar stupid HIV travel regulations, let’s hope they also follow suit.

Guest blog: Crap things seen while travelling no.6 Babies on planes

While most of us audibly groan when we realise we’re sitting near a baby on a plane, this week’s Crap Things guest blog comes from Michael Green who runs football blog clarkeonenil.co.uk who may have a reason for some of the little darlings making so much noise.

No matter how much love you surround yourself with after a birth of a child nothing quite busts your bubble like someone being over-officious when it comes to your baby.

Some years ago, in October 2003, I was travelling to Cephalpnia to see my then 12-week-old’s grandparents with no idea just how unbaby friendly flights really are.

Flights to the island are limited enough (two a week at the time I recall) so we expected some discomfort and asked if we could book a seat for the baby and offered to pay full fare. But no, we were told the baby had to sit in the lap of a parent.

While long haul flights might have some cot provisions between cabin sections, on short haul flights where every bit of space is filled there is no such provision. But why is it that when you have to drive in a car, a baby needs a car seat but when you fly in a plane, a baby can’t have a ‘plane seat’. Surely something could be done to get the seatbelt around it giving the baby and mum and dad some room?

Now I and the child’s mother are no wallflowers so we just about managed to communicate our expectations on the day in terms of making the flights as stress free (and most importantly cry free) as possible. To be fair both flights went well but you can be sure that when we returned to this idyllic island the next year, the child got a seat because we lied about age. Once they are three, they pay full fare.

Hurrah for some hotels that don't charge for wi-fi

Fellow blogger Frank Camel tells me of a ridiculous recent wi-fi experience when staying at the Morgan Hotel in New York, sister to London’s  Sanderson and Miami’s Delano.

He paid $600 for accommodation a night and was then charges $10 per day per connection, so two lap tops cost $20 a day. (see his review here)

The good guys

Nonetheless, I have found some hotel groups that speak my language. Shangri-la has offered free wi-fi in its hotels around the world with their CEO Madhu Rao saying: ‘Getting connected while on the road is the number one priority of our business travellers and many of our valued customers view Internet access as absolutely crucial. Offering free Internet is further evidence of our commitment to Shangri-La’s service to our customers during these uncertain times. No longer considered a luxury, guests are demanding high-speed Internet access as an essential room requirement and as something that should be included as a standard service by an international hotel group.’

Another big bravo goes to Best Western. Their spokesperson says: ‘All Best Western hotels as part of their membership criteria, must offer free high speed internet access, whether it be wifi, or through a broadband connection in all guest rooms and public area. As part of our quality assessment of the hotels we also check the strength and speed of the connection to ensure it is reaching all rooms (which in an 18th Century castle with buttress walls is easier said than done). As all Best Western hotels are fully independent businesses, any hotel that does not offer free high speed internet access will risk being rejected from membership.’

It looks as though we could be getting somewhere on commitments from other companies too. TUI Travel UK have pledged to explore offering free wi-fi at all their exclusive hotels. Their spokesperson says:

Thomson and First Choice (part of TUI Travel UK) work with hoteliers in different ways; some properties, such as our Sensatori properties and Holiday Villages are exclusive to Thomson and First Choice respectively, while others we contract rooms alongside other operators. Your campaign is certainly of interest and we’re pleased to say that this is also something we’re keen to offer our customers in those properties that are exclusive to us. For example our Sensatori Crete and Holiday Village Turkey offer free wi-fi in the lobby areas, with discussions on-going as to how to roll this out wider.  Of course, an ideal solution would be to offer this in every room at every exclusive property and this is something our teams are exploring further. ‘

The not so good guys

I’m a bit disappointed though with both Premier Inn and Travelodge – both of which follow the nickel and dime model of charging.

Premier’s spokesperson says: ‘Premier Inn offers guests great quality, yet low cost accommodation where prices start from as little as £29 per night for a family room. It is our policy to keep prices as low as possible to improve value for the guest. Therefore, rather than increasing the overall room cost to cover WiFi for all; guests only pay for what they use. If a customer requires WIFi they may purchase vouchers from reception costing from £5 per hour.’

While Travelodge, currently offering £10 rooms until January 3 has an incremental charge of £5 for one hour, £10 for 24 hours, £20 for one week and £30 for one month.

I still don’t buy this idea of not offering it free as it increases the cost of the room. Even if wi-fi maintenance costs more than £100 a day – which it clearly doesn’t, in a 100 room hotel that was even half full that would be £2 extra a day.

If anyone knows details of how much setting up a wifi system in a hotel costs and wants to share them anonymously, then please get in touch…

If you support the campaign, leave a comment

The pilot who forgot to land and two cool new online travel tools

flightcasterI’ve heard some daft excuses for delays, but the pilot forgetting to land the plane?

Apparently, it happened last Wednesday when a Northwest flight from San Diego to Minneapolis-St Paul overflew its destination by 150 miles until the pilots either were told by air traffic control or realised their error and turned back. The flight was delayed by an hour and a quarter!

I found out about the unprecedented error from a cool new and relatively new flight delay prediction website, www.flightcaster.com. The site uses algorithms that takes into account past performance, current weather on departure and arrival and what other aircraft are in the sky to predict whether a flight will be delayed and by how long. The claim to be able to predict delays six hours ahead of an airline announcement.

skystatusAnother nice social networking tool I also recently discovered is Lufthansa’s My Sky Status that sends sends altitude, location, departure and arrival updates automatically to your Facebook and Twitter pages. Add the airline, flight number, date and destination and the site links to your chosen social network to provide the updates.

Free wi-fi campaign: the first responses

So I’ve been in touch with some of the major hotel chains in the world this week to find out what their policy is on free-wi-fi and internet access – the resulting answers make interesting reading.

If you don’t know how these hotel groups work, their head offices usually manage hotels on behalf of owners and franchisees – the company doesn’t own the hotels themselves. They do, however, in most cases, have the authority to designate brand standards – if someone high enough up at Hilton or IHG told their owners that a brand had to start providing free internet access, they would.

Here are the responses from IHG, Hilton, Starwood and Marriott, along with my comments. Accor have yet to respond, as have TUI  – who also own a great number of hotels.

Intercontinental Hotels Group

Brands: Intercontinental, Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn, Hotel Indigo, Holiday Inn Express, Staybridge Suites, Candlewood Suites

They say: ‘We don’t have a policy at our hotels, except at Indigo where it is brand standard. It’s up to individual owners to decide on how they price wi-fi in individual hotels [that are part of IHG’s other brands].’

Worldofjames.com says: ‘So if you can impose it as a brand standard on one brand, why can’t you on the others?’

Hilton Hotels Group

Brands:  Waldorf Astoria, Conrad, Hilton, Doubletree, Embassy Suites, Hilton Garden Inn, Hampton, Homewood Suites, Home2, Hilton Grand Vacations

They say: ‘Across our portfolio of brands we offer a variety of internet choices, all with high levels of speed and security. In the majority of our hotels across Europe, access is via service providers such as BT Open Zone and Swiss Com in the public areas, while a high speed broadband connection is available in the bedrooms. The costs for these services are comparable with other major international hotel chains. Some of our brands which are new to Europe, including Hilton Garden Inn and Hampton by Hilton, do offer free wireless access to guests as part of their individual brand promises.’

Worldofjames.com says: ‘So where you charge, you do so because your competition does and you match their price. Why not make them match your price by making access free across all brands.’

Starwood Hotels

Brands: Le Meridien, Four Points By Sheraton, Westin, The Luxury Collection, aloft, Sheraton, element by Westin, St Regis, W Hotels

‘At Starwood, we fully understand that WiFi accessibility is important to our guests and we are committed to continually improve this offering globally.  Today, many of our 1,000 hotels spanning our nine brands do offer free WiFi in rooms and in common spaces. And in the cases where there is a charge, the hotels – which are independently owned and operated – determine the appropriate WiFi rate to remain competitive in the local market, just as they do for room rates and food and beverage offerings.’

Worldofjames.com says: ‘We like to be understood but no one really knows how many of the 1,000 hotels offer free access. Again, where there is a charge, it’s because everyone else does it. Try breaking the mould and see if others follow.’

Marriott:

Brands: Marriott Hotels & Resorts, JW Marriott Hotels & Resorts, Renaissance Hotels & Resorts, EDITION Hotels, Autograph Collection Hotels & Resorts, Courtyard by Marriott, Residence Inn by Marriott, Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott, Marriott Conference Centers, SpringHill Suites by Marriott, Marriott Vacation Club, The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, L.L.C, The Ritz-Carlton Destination Club, Marriott ExecuStay, Marriott Executive Apartments, Grand Residences by Marriott.

They say: All our Courtyard, Residence Inn, Fairfield Inn, TownePlace Suites and SpringHill Suites hotels in the US and Canada offer free high-speed internet access, and, where possible, free Wifi.  Outside these markets phone and data communications infrastructures vary by country which makes it difficult to expand the complimentary service.’

Worldofjames.com says: ‘How unfortunate that Europe and the Far East have such third world communications structures. If only we could match those of the US, we’d be able to have free access. Blame the phone companies.’

Weird things that bring down planes

House_mouse-1Anyone remember the first episode of The West Wing where a cabin crew member tells Toby Ziegler to turn off his mobile phone. The president’s aid says: ‘Are you telling me something I bought for $10 at RadioShack can really bring down a plane?’

Now while I’ve always believed that mobiles affecting a jet’s navigation systems to be a little far fetched, it actually became reality yesterday when a passenger dropped a mobile phone down a vent on a Newcastle bound Jet2 plane. The plane had to be dismantled until the phone was found…. not apparently because it was a phone in a vent, but because the phone was switched on, of course.

Meanwhile a packed jet heading for Heathrow from the US had to be grounded as a mouse was seen on board. The Delta Airways flight from JFK stayed on the ground at the behest of the pilot until the rodent was found on Sunday. No, it didn’t have its mobile phone switched on but there were apparent fears the mouse could chew through vital cables.

Help for heroes cocktails

I’m currently at the Horseguards Hotel in Whitehall London. The hotel is a great supporter of two charities which, thanks to my dad’s stint in the Household Cavalry, are close to my heart : Help for Heroes and the Household Cavalry Charitable fund.

The hotel is part of the Guomen Group which also includes the Cumberland, Charing Cross and Tower Hill hotels and mixologist Andy Pearson of Something For The Weekend has created four signature cocktails -one per hotel- in aid of the charities.

All profits from the cocktails go to the two charities, so I would recommend you go down and taste them if in London. They are ace.

Blocking Twitter spam

About six weeks ago, just after first joining Twitter, I naively clicked on a link sent to me by someone I follow asking me to join their ‘mafia family’.

As I new Tweeter I was keen to impress and join in the game and signed up, only to find the Mafia Family Game began to direct message people I was following inviting them to also join the game on their behalf.

By going to twitter.com/account/connections, I managed to sever the connection to the Mafia Family site and, while most people were very understanding about it, others seemed to think I had burned their first born at the stake.

While it was all mildly annoying and not a little embarrassing, it was probably not the end of the world – but there does seem to have been an increase in Twitter spam over the last few weeks, mainly from people I know offering me untold riches which I know they don’t have, but on the upside at least makes a change from the latest  Nigerian businessman or Cameroonian princes who wants to share their millions with me.

The latest attempt came this morning from the profile @MariCrosbykbr who simply had tweeted my user name alongside a shortened URL. Sure enough it took me to an adult site called Sex In Your City – the last thing I need mrsworldofjames to see in my browsing history with me now working from home and our wedding just six weeks away.

While Twitter’s Spam Watch has long been giving good advice on how to deal with irksome Tweeters (follow @spam for more), the launch of a new ‘report as spam’ feature to Twitter last week is a more than welcome addition to the site.

To use it, when logged into your Twitter account, you can now report a user direct from their profile page. In the actions section on the sidebar there is now a ‘report as spam’ link.

A pop up message will ask for confirmation, just click it and the user will be investigated by Twitter.

For those who use Tweetdeck, spam can be reported by hovering over a user’s profile pic in the bottom right corner and clicking on Other actions/User/Block and report spam.

It’s always useful to refresh your knowledge of Twitter rules too, see here for the list though I wonder where the one on ‘impersonation’ leaves all the fake Richard Bransons on the site!

One thing to remember to NEVER do is RT a spammed message… it could see you inadvertently banned.