This Week in Travel News

London taxi drivers give up fight to outlaw Uber

An alliance of taxi drivers has abandoned a bid to have Uber’s licence in London declared illegal, in a blow for the black cab industry’s attempts to stamp out the app. Action for Cabbies, a crowd-funded drive to launch a judicial review into Transport for London awarding a minicab license to Uber in 2012, has failed to garner the 600,000 GBP needed to start the legal challange. The group is now planning to fight the Transport for London plans to have contact-less credit card readers installed in every taxi; objection is to the credit card company fees. 

New public art work in Rome largest since the Sistine Chapel

Dream of Italy newsletter reports that on Rome’s 2,769th birthday on April 21st, the city’s largest public art work since the Sistine Chapel will be unveiled to the public. Triumphs and Laments is an 1650 foot frieze along the banks of the Tiber on Piazza Tevere, between Ponte Sisto and Ponte Mazzini. South African artist William Kentridge created the silhouette images in the frieze, most of them as many as 30-feet high, to represent figures from Rome’s greatest victories and defeats from mythological time to present. The project is the brainchild of Kristin Jones who Jones founded TEVERETERNO, a non-profit organization to produce cultural events in Rome and encourage artistic expression.

Airports and the drone industry joining to protect planes

More than 50 US airports will test a new system to raise awareness of drones flying near their runways. Executives and the drone industry expect the Digital Notice and Awareness System (D-NAS) to improve safety amid concerns raised by 764 drone sightings near planes in 2015. Drone hobbyists are required to notify airports of their plans when flying within five miles of an airport, but that has been a difficult process, with having to track down appropriate phone numbers; in some cases, there’s no one available to speak to at an airport. D-NAS will simplify the procedures, with drone operators only needing to input the radius of their flight and how long they will be flying into an app from various manufacturers. The data will transmit to operations staff and ATC at participating airports.

Can Air Canada duplicate Icelandair’s stopover program?

In the 1960s, Icelandair launched its stopover program, where people flying from North America to Europe with a layover in Reykjavik could get out and explore the city for a few days for no additional charge. The program, which was designed as a way to attract tourists, remains an Icelandair stalwart. Fifty years later, Iceland has more visitors than it can handle. Air Canada is betting on being able to replicate this for Toronto. Beginning late last year, Air Canada tested a program where travelers who had connecting flights via Toronto could try a stopover of up to seven days in Canada’s biggest city, with no additional airfare charges. Seeing an opportunity, Toronto’s tourism board got involved, guaranteeing funding for the program for all of 2016. The objective is twofold: Get travelers, particularly Americans, to book flights to Asia and Europe via Canada, and grow Toronto itself as a destination.

Washington Monument closed for repairs, after elevator got stuck

Forty visitors and two park rangers were forced to take the stairs down the Washington Monument on Tuesday after an elevator got stuck at the 280-foot level. “All visitors inside the monument at the time … were safely evacuated without incident,” said Mike Litterst, a public affairs officer for the National Park Service. There were 19 people on the elevator and 23 at the observation level. The monument, measuring 555 feet, will remain closed until the elevator has been inspected and repairs are made, Litterst said.

Those Las Vegas Airport slot machines?

At Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport, it’s the rows and rows of slot machines that are among the airport’s most iconic features. Just last week, one of those machines paid out nearly $1 million to a lucky Las Vegas traveler. McCarran revealed the jackpot via Twitter on Friday, saying one “lucky local won $933,080 on Wheel of Fortune slots” while flying out of the airport. The odds of winning a $1 million airport jackpot may be long, but it does happen. Two airport visitors won jackpots of at least $1 million in 2015, when the top slots prize clocked in at nearly $1.7 million.

Great Barrier Reef has drastic coral bleaching

Evidence that Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is experiencing its worst coral bleaching on record has renewed calls for the UN to list it as “in-danger”. The National Coral Bleaching Taskforce says 95% of reefs from Cairns to Papua New Guinea are now severely bleached, and only four reefs out of 520 have no evidence of bleaching. Coral bleaching is caused by rising water temperatures resulting from two natural warm currents. It is exacerbated by man-made climate change, as the oceans are absorbing about 93% of the increase in the Earth’s heat. Bleaching happens when corals under stress drive out the algae known as zooxanthellae that give them color. If normal conditions return, the corals can recover, but it can take decades, and if the stress continues the corals can die. 

Volcano disrupts Alaska travel

The Pavlof Volcano in Alaska began erupting Sunday, and the subsequent ash cloud has caused scores of flight cancellations and delays. The ash cloud from Pavlof Volcano rose as high as 37,000 feet, causing cancellations and delays on Monday and Tuesday at several major airports in the state of Alaska. On Monday, there were more than 100 inbound cancellations at airports in Bethel, Anchorage, Fairbanks and other Alaskan cities. Additionally, there were over 25 flights canceled and almost 30 more delayed by the ash cloud on Tuesday.

More Star Wars for Disney…much more

Disney Cruise Line is ‘tripling the force’ for 2017, increasing the number of Star Wars sailings from 8 to 30 aboard the Disney Fantasy. The There will be 15 Star Wars cruises on eastern and 15 on western Caribbean itineraries, featuring photo ops with characters, movie screenings, lightsaber training for kids, and pool-deck parties with fireworks. The announcement is another step in the Disney takeover of Star Wars. After buying the franchise in 2012, Disney updated Hollywood Studios’ Star Wars attraction, added another film installment, and brought the force to the sea. Disney also announced that it would add a new Star Wars themed fireworks show at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Orlando, which will add projections onto the surrounding buildings.

Argentina suspends reciprocal entry fee for tourists

In order to strengthen the relationship between Argentina and the United States of America, the Argentine Government has resolved to suspend the collection of the reciprocity fee from US passport holders who visit for less than 90 days, for tourist or business purposes. In reality this policy will just be in place for 90 days, or until a further executive order is issued. However, it’s expected to be extended beyond that. This policy change came after President Obama visited Argentina last week, where negotiations took place for Argentina to once again be part of the US Visa Waiver Program, which will likely happen as of early 2017.

Brussels Airport update

Joe Brancatelli reports that “Brussels Zaventem did not open this morning and may not open for days–or even weeks. The building that houses the airport’s sole check-in facility has been deemed sound. However, Belgian authorities have imposed new security regimens and the check-in area itself was heavily damaged. The airport is attempting to literally build a workaround, but that work will apparently take many more days. Even when it opens, it might be best to avoid Brussels Airport even if you need to get to the Belgian capital.

A bit late to change her mind — tried to swim to departing cruise ship

A British holidaymaker has been rescued from the Atlantic after apparently trying to swim to her cruise liner when it left port without her. Susan Brown, 65, was pulled from the ice-cold waters in the early hours of Sunday with severe hypothermia after more than four hours swimming a third of a mile out to sea in the hope of making it to her ship, the Marco Polo. She is thought to have jumped into the water from beside Madeira Airport after believing her husband Michael – with whom she had argued – had goten back on board when she lost sight of him. Gripping her handbag the entire time, Mrs Brown made it more than 1,600ft before struggling. according to local reports. Her life was eventually saved by passing fishermen who heard her panicked screams for help shortly after midnight. The three men said her small handbag probably saved her life as it had filled with air and acted as a buoyancy aid.

Bereavement fare update

American and United killed bereavement fares in 2014, but both airlines promised they’d help people who needed to fly for a funeral and American’s customer service reps still routinely tell people buying full-fare tickets that they’ll get refunds if they produce proof of death. They’re wrong: head office does nothing for those people except dash their hopes. Delta is the only one of the three major US airlines that still offers bereavement fares. American’s position is that, “Given the sometimes burdensome rules and requirements necessary for customers to prove their eligibility for a bereavement fare, we believe it is generally simpler, and often cheaper, for our customers to simply purchase whatever discount fare is available.”

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