New Bill Softens Sequestration’s Blow

lightweight luggageAnyone who has traveled in the past month has felt the effect of sequestration. Longer lines at the airport, canceled and delayed flights and huge waits to simply shuttle on or off the runway. Although the cuts have not been entirely reversed, there is some hope. A new law by Congress repeals some of the furloughs and cuts while giving the FAA and TSA more flexibility in deciding how cuts will be implemented.

Although the bill was bipartisan in nature, the President was unhappy with it. When asked about the bill, Obama’s Press Secretary Jay Carney said, “What I’m saying is that this is not the answer,” a reference to the fact Obama wanted a bigger deal that addressed the sequester as a whole. Although some service will improve, it will not be restored to its pre-sequester level. Unfortunately, it appears a larger bargain is not on the table for the near future.

What can you do as a traveler? Investing in lightweight luggage is a good idea because you may be standing around with your luggage for even longer than expected. If you can fit everything you need in your carry-on, you can save some time waiting at the luggage carousel.

Best Travel Apps, Part 2

smart luggageLast week we discussed some of our favorite travel apps. Let’s pick up where we left off and discover a few more innovative travel apps.

XE Currency: XE Currency is a simple but effective app. It allows you to convert any foreign currency into dollars. All you have to do is select the currency and impute the price. It uses real time exchange rates so you always know exactly how much you are spending.

City Papers: Many people who travel askew the local tourist attractions in favor of going native. It’s a noble pursuit but one that is often hard to do, especially if you don’t speak the language. City Papers links to thousands of local, English-language papers. This allows you to browse local news and listings to find out what’s really going on in a given destination. The app only costs $1. Money well spent!

Wikihood: This is a great app for people who like to wander. Wikihood gives you tons of information about the neighborhood you are in and features some off-the-beaten-path attractions. It serves as a sort of pocket tour guide, giving you tons of information about the sights.

Make smart apps and smart luggage part of your next travel experience; you won’t regret it!

Best Travel Apps, Part 1

smart luggageThere are tons of great travel apps out there. That is why Genius Pack smart luggage has room for our travel battery. You can power your phone or tablet from the road and make sure you never miss out on anything. We want to share some of our favorite, free travel apps with you.

Gate Guru: If you have ever been in a sprawling airport complex and can only seem to find less than ideal food, this app is for you. Gate Guru shows the user the location of every restaurant in a given airport. This makes it easy to know about the great BBQ joint a few gates over. It also contains reviews so you can be confident you are making the right choice. Gate Guru is not just for food, it also has info on stores and airport attractions.

Tripomatic: Tripomatic does what many other travel apps do, but it does it best. Tripomatic pulls up a map of your current location and shows you exactly where you are and what attractions are around you. It is extremely user-friendly and contains lots of pictures and information. You can also share your locale with friends. Tipomatic recently added offline map support and more social features. This is a useful app that is still improving!

Surge in Airline Complaints

smart luggageAirline complaints have skyrocketed in the first portion of 2013. What is to blame for this uptick in passenger unhappiness? A number of factors have been cited, including sequestration, a traveler’s choice of airline, location and destination. Let’s examine these trends to ensure you don’t find yourself lodging a complaint about an avoidable problem.

The biggest complaint seems to be a lack of space. Many planes that were originally outfitted with 130 seats have been redone to fit 150 seats. Many people are having a hard time fitting in their allotted space. Add some carry-on luggage to the equation and you could have a serious problem. Smart luggage that conforms to airline size standards can help, but if you are flying economy class, expect a squeeze. The merger between United and Continental Airlines has caused a higher rate of complaints for both companies. Virgin Airlines, known for offering even economy class fliers perks, is top rated in customer satisfaction. These rankings were based off not only complaints but delays, politeness of staff, food quality and other factors.

Generally, people are unhappy with airlines but they have limited travel options. That means it is up to you, the passenger, to use the means at your disposal to make the most of your flight, using smart luggage, smart packing and keeping calm.

Airplanes and Electronics

Genius PackFrequent air travelers are familiar with the standard messages given to passengers before an airplane takes off. Passengers are reminded to buckle up, stow luggage, close their tables, and turn off their electronics. A puss from passengers, aviation experts, and electronics manufactures, however, is trying to alter the rules and allow for use of electronics, even during takeoff and landing. The FAA is listening and is expected to announce changes soon. Cell phones will probably not be allowed on flights anytime soon, though.

The fact is that Kindles, iPads and computers give off less electric emissions than tape players and other devices which are allowed during takeoff. The FAA, until recently, said the rules were in place so people paid attention to flight crews during takeoff, but there are no rules banning reading or other activities that would stop a passenger from paying attention. With this in mind, the FAA is expected to announce new guidelines in the coming months. Cell phones would be exempt from loosened restrictions not because they pose a threat, but because using one is seen as discourteous to other passengers.

The new rules are scheduled to come out July 31st. Until then you will have to turn off your Kindle and stow it in your smart luggage with the rest of your travel accessories.

Booking Summer Flights

best luggageThe summer travel season will soon arrive. Many people have already begun searching online for money-saving travel deals. Don’t pack your best luggage and favorite travel accessories, however, until you are sure you are getting the best deal on travel. When should you book to guarantee the best price?

Travel experts at sites like Expedia and Travelocity agree that for summer booking you want to buy tickets 21 to 35 days prior to departure. Book earlier and you could be paying more. Book later and you risk not being able to book tickets at all. There are, however, some exceptions to this rule. For summer holidays like Labor Day or the Fourth of July, prices will stay fairly constant. This being the case, as long as you’re not booking weeks before you leave, the prices should not fluctuate much. Looking to save the most on summer vacation travel? Of the three summer holidays (Labor Day, Memorial Day, 4th of July) Labor Day ticket prices are cheapest. This is due to the fact that come Labor Day, many people have already taken their summer trips.

Do some planning now and you could save a bundle on summer travel, which could free up money to travel in the fall too!

Trusted Travel Program Faces Scrutiny

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You may have recently read our post about the TSA Trusted Traveler Program. Although the program is in its infancy, it has already faced criticism at home and abroad. These problems were on full display at the Aviation Security Conference held last week in New York.

At home, the main concern is privacy. Although people are generally supportive of the Trusted Traveler Program, many question how one gains trusted traveler status. What information can the government access about you to determine if you are trusted? Inversely, what can be used against you and have your status denied or revoked? Although travel history and criminal record are part of the equation, other factors remain a mystery. Privacy rights and travelers’  groups remain cautious but are waiting on more guidelines before they take a stand.

Abroad, other nations are a bit peeved with the TSA for constantly changing its screening and carry-on standards. The nations of the world are trying to coalesce around standard screening practices to make international flying easier and faster. This can be hard when nations like China and the US are seeking radically different requirements.

The Trusted Travel Program is off to a rocky start, but that is to be expected with so many interests at play.

Window or Aisle Seat?

Genius PackEveryone has their preference when traveling. The seat you choose says a lot about you as a traveler. Starting soon, it may also dictate how much you pay for your seat. Some airlines have already started charging extra for certain coach seats. How is this age old preference changing the way we travel?

Window seats are slightly more popular than aisles seats. Middle rows are the least popular. Window seats also tend to be filled by people flying for pleasure, while those in the aisles are trying to work. Airlines have begun charging for aisle and window seating to the annoyance of many customers. Many see it as the larger industry move towards a premium coach class between business and conventional coach. Still, the policy does create some problems. Flyers who are on a budget may find themselves split, with kids sitting behind parents. This makes the flying experience worse for all passengers.

The best carry-on bag will allow you to equip for all situations, aisles, windows, business or leisure travel. Have a fear of flying? The silver lining in all this is that middle seats, generally the least desirable, are most desirable to those who get nervous on flights. A small consolation for people who fear air travel!

Government Sequester Will Impact Travelers

smart luggageThe coming sequester will affect all branches of government, including the TSA and FAA. Will these cuts impact travel plans? According to transportation secretary Ray LaHood they will. Travelers can look forward to longer lines and more delays, especially in April when the cuts start to take full effect. LaHood made these announcements as he tried to coax government officials into restoring some TSA and FAA financing.

What does this sequester actually mean for travelers? Less TSA staff means much longer security lines. Limiting shifts for air traffic controllers and closing air towers will make routing and organizing flights harder. Less money going to airports for repairs and modernization may also impact travel times. Unfortunately, there is not much travelers can do to lessen the blow.

Smart luggage and travel accessories can help ensure you don’t spend more time in line than you have to, but an understaffed security line will move slowly no matter how prepared travelers are. There is still the possibility that the cuts can be averted through some kind of compromise. As the deadline approaches however, this scenario appears less likely.

In short, if you travel constantly, you may need to prepare yourself for a wearisome time at the airport.

The Fastest Way To Get Through Security

travel accessoriesAirport security is a constant and recurring nuisance for most travelers. So much so that there is an entire cottage industry of travel accessories to beat the lines, from easy to slip off shoes to containers that hold under three ounces of liquid. You may think investing in such accessories is the best way to beat security lines once and for all, but there is now a way to beat the lines without going on a spending spree.

The Department of Homeland Security recently rolled out a few different trusted traveler programs. These programs are aimed at people who travel frequently, and it allows you to speed through security. You are still subject to some security checks, but you don’t need to remove shoes, unpack liquids, or get an intrusive X-ray. You may still get randomly selected to undergo a more thorough security check, but you get to skip to the front of the line every time.

Although the program is limited to 16 airports and designated airlines, it is growing quickly. Thirty-five airports will be added this year, including most of the biggest in the nation. Costs can vary depending on which of the programs you apply for, but typically becoming a trusted traveler will require $100, some paperwork, and an extensive travel history.