This Week in Travel News

US has fourth most-mighty passport in one ranking

The ranking by Henley & Partners, a citizenship and planning firm, takes into account how many countries can be visited without applying for a visa. German passport holders can travel to 177, out of a possible 218, while Britons can visit 175 and US citizens 174. The UK topped last year’s rankings, alongside Germany, but ceded the top spot after several countries relaxed visa restrictions to the latter during 2015. It was also leapfrogged by Sweden and now shares third place with France, Italy, Spain and Finland. Belgium, Denmark and the Netherlands share fourth spot with the US.

For those who love grand old hotels…

Many grand hotels of yesteryear were built by the railroads. CNN has an interesting article about some of those.  See Hotels built by the railroads

Virgin American #1, Jet Blue #2 in Airline Quality Rating

Virgin maintained the top spot in overall quality. Spirit was included for the first time, and ranked last. JetBlue Airways ranks second in the 26th annual national Airline Quality Rating report. Six airlines performed better in 2015 than the year before, being Jet Blue, United, Southwest, Delta, ExpressJet and SkyWest. Scores declined for Alaska, American, Envoy, Frontier, Hawaiian and Virgin America – although Virgin maintained the top spot in overall quality. 

Another Trump Hotel Collection credit card breach

The Trump Hotel Collection said it is working with the Secret Service and FBI to investigate a possible payment card breach, its second one in less than a year. News of the breach was first reported by computer security writer Brian Krebs, citing three unnamed sources in the financial sector. Krebs reported that the cards were used at several Trump Hotel properties over the last two or three months, including Trump International Hotel New York, Trump Hotel Waikiki in Honolulu and the Trump International Hotel and Tower in Toronto. Last October, the Trump Hotel Collection said malware infected payment card terminals and front desk terminals for about two weeks starting in May 2015.

Lindblad adding expedition vessels

Celebrating its 50th anniversary last night at the Explorers’ Club in New York, Sven-Olof Lindblad, president and CEO of Lindblad Expedition Holdings, said that that the company will build a new blue-water expedition vessel for delivery in 2019. He did not share any further details. The new expedition vessel will follow two 100-passenger American-flagged coastal vessels being built for introductions in 2017 and 2018. Meanwhile, the company has also bought the Via Australis, which will be refurbished, before replacing the National Geographic Endeavour in the Galapagos. Lindblad is able to distinguish itself with its unique association with National Geographic and 50 years of service.

The Park, the newest Vegas addition (and it’s not a hotel)

MGM Resorts International unveiled The Park, an outdoor dining and entertainment district on the Las Vegas Strip. Located between New York-New York and Monte Carlo resorts, The Park is designed to become a social gathering space where guests can experience stunning design elements, a fun culinary lineup boasting great indoor/outdoor environments, iconic art and playful entertainment. By day, visitors can bask in pockets of sun or enjoy shade beneath mature trees with wide-reaching branches and spectacular, towering shade structures that rise 50 feet from the ground. Unique water features, including water walls stretching more than 100 feet in length along the entrance, add unexpected visuals as do dramatic plantings incorporating a variety of beautiful desert blooms. In the evening, illuminated elements of The Park’s landscaping create a dramatic setting. The shade structures emit LED sequences from high above. Bliss Dance, the breathtaking 40-foot-tall sculpture of a dancing woman created by artist Marco Cochrane is illuminated by nearly 3,000 colored LED lights at night. 

Atlanta again world’s busiest airport, Beijing second

Atlanta Hartsfield Jackson International has defended its long-standing title as the world’s busiest airport according to preliminary traffic data released by Airports Council International (ACI). The Delta hub saw more than 100 million passengers pass through its terminals last year, an increase of 5.5 percent from 2014 figures. Beijing Capital International Airport which nabbed the second spot saw 89 million passengers last year. The report notes that the Chinese airport was poised to unseat the reigning 18-year champion but fell short in 2015. Internationally, Dubai saw the biggest growth- jumping from the sixth busiest airport in 2014 to taking the third spot last year. Dubai International Airport is now the world’s busiest in terms of international passengers, ahead of London Heathrow. The second busiest U.S. airport on the list is Chicago O’Hare, which moved from the seventh to the fourth spot with 9.8 percent growth.

Air France relents and gives crew option to avoid mandatory head scarves

Female flight attendants working for Air France who objected to a new rule that would require them to wear headscarves during trips between Paris to Tehran, Iran, will now be permitted to opt out of flying the route. “We’re going to present them with an opt-out clause for any female employee affected on the Paris-Tehran route. If, for personal reasons, they don’t want to wear the headscarf when they leave the plane, they would be reassigned to another destination.” Air France officials also pointed out that the uniform rules have also applied to the airline’s routes to Saudi Arabia and Iran, before the flights to Tehran were suspended in 2008. Both Saudi Arabia and Iran expect women to wear headscarves in public.

Riu Plaza New York Times Square opens

In the heart of Manhattan, steps from Times Square and Restaurant Row, the all-new Riu Plaza New York Times Square opened last week. The hotel covers 29 floors and contains 647 rooms. With the opening of the RIU Plaza New York Times Square, RIU, the international chain still owned by the Riu family’s third generation, now has five hotels in its urban line: the Riu Plaza Berlin in Germany, the Riu Plaza Panama in Panama City, the Riu Plaza Guadalajara in Mexico, and the Riu Plaza Miami Beach in Florida (USA).

Many national parks overcrowded in this 100th Year

The success of campaigns like the National Park Service’s ‘Find Your Park’ and others from state tourism offices has created a huge demand at national parks. Last year, a record 305 million people visited national parks. As the Park Service likes to point out, that’s more people than went to every single Disney park, NFL, NBA and MLB game and NASCAR race combined. Zion National Park – famous for its jaw-dropping, red sandstone cliffs and colorful panoramic views – recently had lines 300 deep just to get on a shuttle bus that goes from the park to the visitors center. Pretty much every idea is on the table right now for some of the country’s oldest and most popular parks like Zion: reservations, phased entries for cars, daily caps on visitors. About 15 years ago, traffic and air pollution got so bad here that the park banned cars at certain times. Now Zion’s mandatory shuttle system is held up as an example of how parks can better manage crowds. But it is getting stretched to its limit.

Don’t dare scream on this UK rollercoaster!

Riders on a new rollercoaster have been warned not to scream for fear they will disturb people living nearby. A sign asking customers not to shout or scream has gone up at the Big One 400m-long ride, which opened at Big Sheep in North Devon this Easter.The owner Rick Turner told the BBC that there was also a £200,000 noise reduction bank in the middle of the ride to try to prevent neighbors being disturbed. Some complaints were also made when the park has held sheep racing contests with ongoing commentary which can be heard “when the wind is in the right direction”. 

New cruise line and boat on American rivers

The New Orleans-based Great Northern & Southern Navigation Company LLC, or French America Line as it will be called, will introduce the new 150-berth river cruiser Louisiane. The new vessel has been designed to supply “a level of service not seen before on American rivers.” The Mississippi River System debut will be in August with 24 departures between August and December 2016, offering 15 itineraries on the Mississippi, Ohio, Tennessee, Cumberland and Red Rivers. To read about the amenities, see New American River Cruise Line

BA introduces multiple boarding pass option

British Airways has introduced multiple mobile boarding passes on its mobile app for families and groups. Previously, each person had to each carry their own smartphone to show their mobile boarding pass to go through security or board a flight. Now, up to eight individual mobile boarding passes can be viewed on one phone, providing everyone travelling together is on the same booking reference number.

Alaska Air buys Virgin America, becomes nation’s fifth-largest airline

Alaska Air Group said Monday it will buy discount carrier Virgin America in a $4 billion deal that would further consolidate the U.S. airline industry and raise the prospect of higher fares for customers. The merger, which would make Alaska Air the country’s fifth largest airline, is likely to attract the scrutiny of Justice Department officials already pursuing allegations that America’s biggest airlines have colluded to keep airfares high.Airlines for America, an industry group, did not comment directly on the merger, but in a statement noted that the Justice Department had approved the last four airline mergers. Together the combined carriers will have 1,200 daily flights and a route network that extends from New York to Hawaii, and from Mexico to the continental U.S. Though the official purchase price is $2.6 billion, industry insiders place the actual total closer to $4 billion, including the cost of plane leases and debts.

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