Bad Flight Saved By Airline Crew, New Laws, Amiable Travelers

flight 108

Last weekend, United Airlines Flight 108 from Newark, New Jersey, to Edinburgh, Scotland, put 2011’s Airline Passenger Bill of Rights to the test. It was not planned that way; we did not set out to see if the new regulations would kick in to help in a bad situation. But when things went wrong, rules established by the bill kept a bad scene from becoming a total disaster. I was on board and lived to tell about it.

The first leg of our travel plan on United Airlines took us through bad weather from Orlando (MCO) to Newark (EWR) rather smoothly, arriving a few minutes late at 8:15 p.m. On landing, a text from my FlightTrack Pro iPhone app informed me that our next flight, from EWR to Edinburgh, Scotland (EDI), scheduled to leave at 9:55 p.m., would be delayed until 12 p.m.

“Surely they mean 12 a.m., just a little late, not 12 p.m.,” I said out loud with the comment echoed by other passengers, also checking their phones after landing. But p.m. it was, so put up in a hotel we were – the cheesy Ramada Inn Airport hotel – along with carry-on luggage and food vouchers for dinner and breakfast.

Going back to the Newark airport the next day – a few hours early as good airline passengers on international flights do – we found a further delay for more maintenance, pushing departure to 1 p.m. Soon though, the situation improved. The flight was moved back to 12 p.m. and boarding the international flight, a process that can take some time, finally began.flightWith boarding completed, the flight crew, who had also been ready to go since the night before, prepared the cabin and off we went – all of about two football fields in distance.

Newark airport normally has two operating runways. Today that was one working runway as the other was undergoing maintenance, placing us last in a line behind 15 planes.

A timely announcement produced some unanimous moans and groans from passengers. “Oh well, what can we do but sit here and wait.”

By the time we made it to number seven, almost an hour later, we had burned about 10,000 pounds of fuel, according to the flight crew. That’s so much fuel that we had to leave the takeoff queue, return to what the crew onboard called “the ballpark” and refuel.

“Not a big problem, we sure did not want to run out of gas crossing the Atlantic,” I thought, echoing the mood of the other passengers on board. To expedite the process, we stayed on the aircraft, avoiding a repeat of the time-consuming international flight boarding process.

But by the time fueling was complete, we were on the verge of violating part of that new passenger rights bill, which established a three-hour cumulative time limit for such delays. This is a big deal to the airlines, if for no other reason than the fact that they can be fined $17,000 per passenger if they don’t comply.

By law, at that three-hour mark, airlines are required to provide passengers on a delayed, grounded aircraft like ours with food, water, restrooms, ventilation and medical services, among other provisions.

Over the aircraft loudspeaker, the call was made by Rick Chase, International Service Manager, that if anyone wanted off the aircraft, to let the crew know and they would make it happen. Two passengers wanted off so we pulled out of the takeoff queue and waited for ground crew to come fetch them.

Back in the queue for take off after 4 p.m., it was looking like we were going to make it off the ground after all. Then a weather concern stopped the countdown.

Thunderstorms directly in our planned flight path were going to be a problem. United Airlines operations people, we were told, scrambled to file a new flight plan.

Again came the grumbles of passengers but no one wanted to be hit by lightning then plunge into the Atlantic. At about that same time, someone at United Airlines operations remembered that this particular aircraft had never flown this international route before.

Apparently, by law, custom or just an abundance of caution, a qualified mechanic must be on board when that happens, we were told. Rumor had it that due to cutbacks caused by the Continental and United Airlines merger, there were none available.

This time we did not go back to the ballpark but rather just stopped where we were and waited for the revised flight plan and a mechanic. At a little after 5 p.m., United Airlines Flight 108 finally took off, racking up a total of over 17 hours delay.

The whole situation was just bad news all around. A big part of the enduring memory though will be how very well the onboard flight crew handled the situation. Keeping us informed every step of the way, caring for our individual concerns and making the most out of a bad situation far exceeded the requirements of the Airline Passenger Bill of Rights.

They took what could have turned into a very nasty situation and transformed it into a “let’s all get together for a reunion” sort of thing. To the credit of United Airlines, before we got off the aircraft we were asked to visit UnitedAirlines.com/appreciation where the airline put their money where their mouth is, offering all passengers on the flight compensation for their time and inconvenience. While the package was customized for each passenger, some included a voucher for domestic travel within a year ranging from $400 to $2000, a 20 to 50 percent discount for a future international flight, or between 15,000 and 50,000 additional frequent flier miles.

It was more of a “it’s the thought that counts” sort of offer at the time, but I bet that after thinking about the situation for a while and how very well the flight crew handled it, that most passengers will indeed give United Airlines another try.

United Airlines 'Computer Glitch' Disrupts Travel


[Photo- Chris Owen]

The World’s 10 Scariest Haunted Castles

haunted castles

From a Czech forest castle reported to house the gates of hell to a gargantuan castle right here in the United States, the world’s most haunted castles boast histories rich with frightening details. Specters haunt the halls of these old castles and travelers visit to experience brushes with the paranormal. Some of these castles possess secrets darker than a moonless night, and when darkness comes, the spirits stir.

These are the ten places to go and meet ghosts. Covering nine countries, each of these castles has a past that may just try and make a ghostly impression on your present.


%Gallery-155791%

haunted castles

Edinburgh Castle
Country: Scotland
Built: 12th century
Haunting: Do you believe in ghosts? Edinburgh is one of those places where skeptics cross the threshold and start saying yes. A few years ago, Time Magazine set out to name the ten most haunted places in the world and included Edinburgh Castle on that list. For starters, a headless drummer has been seen and heard in the castle halls beginning around 1650. Lady Glamis, accused of witchcraft in 1537 and burned at the stake while her young son watched, is also known to prowl the dark halls. A ghost dog has even been seen delicately prancing through the misty graveyard.

There have been so many hauntings for so long that Edinburgh Castle attracted one of the most thorough paranormal investigations ever. In 2001, an English doctor enlisted roughly 240 volunteers to spend 10 days in and around the castle. The volunteers were all screened to insure that none of them knew anything about the castle. The findings? The place is a paranormal hot spot. Many of the volunteer experiences were consistent with past sightings at the castle. There were burning sensations, phantom gropes, shadowy figures and a specter in a leather apron seen in the same spot he was seen by unrelated individuals before the study. Its ancient dungeons and cobbled corridors are home to some serious creepiness.

Visiting: Fly to Edinburgh from London for under $100 round trip. Buy tickets to visit the castle here.

haunted castles

Chillingham Castle
Country: England
Built: 12th century
Haunting: The appropriately named Chillingham Castle is located in the northern corner of England and has been haunting guests for a very long time. The castle served as a fortress to repel attacks from the Scots in the north and has thus seen a great deal of bloodshed. Chillingham has been featured on at least six ghost-related shows, and the webs are rife with strange pictures of its ghosts and orby videos.

So what haunts this medieval castle that appears to be plucked from Westeros? Most notably a childlike ghost, called the blue boy. The blue boy is seen regularly in the pink room as a flash of blue light and also above guests’ beds as a blue halo following a loud cry. Perhaps most creepy is one of the castle’s ghostly apparitions who wanders the dank halls late at night – John Sage. John Sage has a terrifyingly ridiculous backstory and was hung by Longshanks during the war with the Scots. He can be heard dragging bodies here and there.

Visiting: The Chillingham homepage states, “Tours last about 2 hours, depending on psychic activity.” The castle also accepts brave overnight guests. To get there, fly into Newcastle or Edinburgh and travel 70 miles to reach the castle.

haunted castles

Houska Castle
Country: Czech Republic
Built: 13th century
Haunting: Located in the forests north of Prague, Houska castle was never a strategic battle location. It also appears to have no function of outside fortification. It was not built to repel attacks or to keep things out. It was built to hold something in. It was built to close the gateway to hell.

The castle is built upon a fabled bottomless pit from which winged creatures and half-man-half-beasts allegedly exited. Demonic activity persisted at this site and eventually, Bohemian rulers decided to seal up the gateway with a castle. Before sealing off Hell’s realm, it is said that nearby prisoners were granted pardons if they would agree to be lowered by a rope into the hole. The story goes that the first lowered prisoner let out a yell after entering the hole. When he was raised up, he appeared to have aged over 30 years. He died of unknown causes just days later.

Wait, it gets stranger. During the 1930s, the Nazis took over the castle to conduct occult experiments with dimensional portals. Hitler, a paranormal enthusiast, was known to dabble in the occult, and it is uncertain what the scientists learned from Housksa Castle. Years later, during renovations, several Nazi officer skeletons were found, and it appeared they were killed execution style.

The recurring ghosts at Houska are plentiful, and include a giant bulldog/frog/human, a headless black horse and a woman in an old dress who is frequently seen peaking out of the top floor windows. Beneath the cellar there is said to be some nonhuman remains of the beasts that emerged from the hole.

Visiting: Houska Castle is just north of Prague and day trips to this spot are easy.

haunted castles

Belcourt Castle
Country: United States
Built: 1894
Haunting: In adjusted today dollars, Belcourt Castle cost its owner over $100 million back in the 19th century. Oliver Belmont, namesake of the Belmont stakes, heir to the Belmont family empire and poster child for turn of the century trustfund champions, built this behemoth. On its completion, Oliver chose to instead travel the world, collecting artifacts for the castle, which sounds like a pretty cool thing to do after building a gigantic home. The years were not kind to the castle and disrepair plagued it for much of the 20th century. In 1956, the mansion was sold to the Tinney family for $25,000 ($200,000 in today dollars), or about a fifth of a penny on the dollar (adjusted for inflation).

The Tinneys got a beat-up fading mansion with massive infrastructural needs – and a few ghosts. The strangest thing about Belcourt is that the hauntings allegedly come from the vast assortment of artifacts rather than the actual house. There is a haunted 15th century set of armor that lets out a blood-curdling scream every March, said to be the time that its medieval owner took a spear through the eye. In the Gothic ballroom there are haunted chairs that many claim to have been pushed out of while sitting by unknown forces.

Visiting: The owner of Belcourt Castle gives ghost tours and this May, he will be giving them on Friday and Saturday evenings. It is also open for weddings and other events. Belcourt Mansion is roughly an hour-and-a-half drive from Boston down 95 South.

haunted castles

Brissac Castle
Country: France
Built: 11th century
Haunting: The stylish French château is over seven-stories tall with around 200 rooms and is considered the tallest château in all of the Loire Valley. After a rich history, beginning with the Counts of Anjou in the 11th century, the domain was purchased by a noble husband and wife named Jacques and Charlotte. Charlotte enjoyed tormenting her husband by having noisy sex with randoms. She would keep her husband up all night with her lovers and eventually her husband snapped.

The affair ended when both the lover and Charlotte the wife disappeared. Jacques was likely behind it, but after their death, the lovers’ moans did not stop – they grew louder. The moans persisted and Jacques was forced to sell the castle, tormented by the ghosts of his past. Today, it is said that in the early morning the lovers’ moans persist.

Visiting: Château de Brissac is open to tours and even has two suites and two rooms to stay in overnight. The price for the overnight stay is not cheap, starting at 390 Euros with availability from May through September. Reach Brissac from Paris by high-speed train, taking just an hour and a half to reach nearby Angers.

haunted castles

Eltz Castle
Country: Germany
Built: 1157
Haunting: A picturesque castle with one of the richest interiors in all of Deutschland, Eltz rises up out of the surrounding Mosel forest as if boasting its longevity to the surrounding environs. A testament to its strength as a stronghold, Eltz Castle is one of few castles in the region that has never been destroyed. It is also one of just a few German castles that is said to be haunted. Allegedly, the ghosts of medieval knights still patrol the castle, which, 33 generations later, is still owned by the same original family. Imagine living in the same house as your Great X 30 grandmother.

Visiting: Reach Eltz Castle by flying into Frankfurt Hahn airport and traveling by bus or taxi for the final 15 miles to the city of Cochem.

haunted castles

Castle of Bardi (or Landi Castle)
Country: Italy
Built: 900, ish
Haunting: Built on a spur of red jasper, Bardi towers over the Emilia-Romagna valley. Bardi’s etymological impetus began with Hannibal and his cavalry of war elephants. The last elephant, named Bardus, allegedly died here during the march to Rome. Unfortunately, the castle is not haunted by a menacing ghost elephant.

A sad old story explains the real ghosts of this incredible fortress. Instead of Romeo and Juliet, we have a tale of Moroello and Soleste. Soleste was the daughter of the castle’s lord, and she was in love with Moroello, the captain of the knights. During a long battle, Soleste waited for Moroello to return, perched on the edge of her family fortress, eyes locked on the distant horizon. Eventually, she saw riders galloping back from the battlefront. When the soldiers reached her eyesight, she noticed they were riding with enemy colors. She was overcome with grief at the possibility of Moroello’s death and threw herself off of the castle’s edge. In a sad twist of irony, the riders were in fact Moroello and his soldiers, and they were just wearing the enemy colors to boast. Moroello found his love dead on the ground and immediately realized what he had done and killed himself. The ghost of Moroello haunts the castle to his day, wandering the grounds searching for his lost love.

Visiting: Bardi is located in Emilia-Romagna in northern Italy. The easiest way to reach the region is by plane to Parma or by train from nearby Bologna or Milan.

haunted castles

Dragsholm Castle
Country: Denmark
Built: 1215
Haunting: Some places are simply haunted by a ghost or two, but Dragsholm, located on an islet in Denmark, is allegedly home to 100 ghosts. How anyone came to take inventory on the ghosts and find such a round number was likely done with some relation to Dragsholm tourism development, but the place is wicked haunted, having functioned as both a prison and a battle fortification. Some consider it the most haunted castle in the world.

Of the many stories about Dragsholm’s ghosts, perhaps the most terrifying origin ghost tale involves the White Lady. Before she wandered the castle halls as a ghost, the White Lady was just a girl – a girl who was in love with one of the castle laborers. As a member of nobility, her father, and owner of the castle, condemned the relationship, but the affair persisted. Eventually, the father grew so angry about the ongoing affair that he imprisoned his daughter in the walls of the castle. She was not seen again until hundreds of years later. In the 20th century, during some routine castle remodeling, workers found a skeleton in one of the walls. The skeleton was wearing a white gown.

Visiting: Dragsholm Castle is open to overnight visitors, so if you want to stay in a really creepy castle this is probably the one. To get there, take a train from Copenhagen through Hillerød to Odsherred. The castle also has a restaurant.

haunted castles

Moosham Castle
Country: Austria
Built: 1208
Haunting: Built by the Prince-Bishops of Salzburg, Moosham Castle has a strange and sinister past. Hundreds of witches were beheaded within the walls of Moosham, and many still haunt the Austrian castle. Due to these hauntings, the castle is known colloquially as the Witches Castle.

In addition to being home to a coven of creepy witch ghosts, Moosham is also allegedly the lair of the werewolf. During the 1800’s, Moosham saw a sudden preponderance of mutilated cattle and deer corpses. As a consequence of this, several Moosham residents were tried and imprisoned as werewolves.

Visiting: Take bus #270 from the Salzburg bus station to reach Moosham. The trip takes about two hours.

haunted castles

Warwick Castle
Country: England
Built: 1068
Haunting: First built in the 11th century by none other than William the Conqueror, Warwick has seen more battles than perhaps any other castle in Europe. It has found peace in recent years, but the spirits still linger. Its eroded walls and faded battlements tell the tale of a long hard life for the spirits that now walk its halls.


The ghost tower is said to be one of the castle’s most haunted areas, as Sir Fulke Greville still wanders its interior. Murdered by his manservant in 1628, he is said to materialize from his portrait late on cold evenings. The castle dungeon, home to all sorts of past torment, also seems to be quite haunted. Many visitors complain of vertigo and nausea upon touching the dungeon apparatuses.

Visiting: Warwick Castle is very tourist accessible and is open every day except Christmas. Warwick Castle is located just 40 minutes from Birmingham airport.

Honorable mention:

haunted castles

Castle Bran or Dracula’s Castle
Country: Romania
Built: 1212
Haunting: In the heart of old Transylvania, deep in the Carpathian wilderness, is a castle named for a ruler from the 15th century – Vlad III Dracul. After Vlad’s father was assassinated and his brother was buried alive, he set out to become more ruthless than anyone in fiction could believably create. He makes pint-sized tyrants like Joffrey Baratheon look like equitable play dates.

It all began at an Easter feast when Vlad asked his nobles how many princes they had survived, insinuating that they conspired against past rulers. The story goes that he arrested all of them. He impaled the older ones and their families and made the younger nobles into slaves for a wave of ambitious improvements to the castle. All told, Vlad impaled tens of thousands of people, earning the nickname Vlad the Impaler, and the tales get so ridiculous that it is difficult to sift the myths from the truth. In fact, Vlad never actually lived in Castle Bran, though the castle has come to be associated with the “Son of the Dragon.”

Visiting: The easiest way to reach the castle is by traveling by train from Bucharest, Romania to Brasov, Romania. Many tour companies in Bucharest can arrange a day trip for well under 100 Euros.

[Top image of Brissac Castle via flickr image user @lain G]

Six Of The Most Scenic Train Trips In Europe

Forget flying around Europe. At 30,000 feet it’s impossible to truly experience the continent’s remarkable landscapes. Rather than being shuttled around in a plane that only allows a birds-eye view, train trips immerse travelers in the terrain. There’s a reason why trains are often thought of as the most romantic mode of transportation: riding the rails makes you feel more connected and in tune than air travel ever could. Instead of feeling like a chore, as flying often does, train travel can be an experience in itself. In fact, there are plenty of scenic train rides in Europe that are worth the trip just for the view. The following are top rated train trips, and from the rolling hills of England to the craggy Alps of Switzerland, each one offers travelers something different.

6. United Kingdom
London to Edinburgh
The rolling, green hills and moors that are often associated with Yorkshire make this one of the most scenic train trips in Europe. When entering the northern parts of England, travelers will catch glimpses of the rugged coastline along the North Sea. During the 4 1/2-hour train ride, English speakers will notice a distinct difference in passenger accents as the train gets closer to Scotland. Although the common language is English, it can be hard to decipher as the Scottish brogue gets thicker and thicker.

[Flickr photo via boutmuet]

5. Holland
Amsterdam to Groningen (best in April)
In Holland, the most scenic train trip isn’t necessarily about being on the right track; it’s actually all about timing. Travelers will want to hop onboard in spring – particularly in April – to see the blanket of colors that results when the famous Dutch tulips are in full bloom. On the two-hour route between Amsterdam and Groningen, travelers will also be able to spot plenty of windmills, another quintessential part of the Dutch landscape.


[Flickr photo by Amy Bonner]

4. Italy
Rome to Verona to Venice
Train trips don’t get much more romantic than the ride from Rome to Venice, especially if you make a stopover in Verona. The train ride starts in Rome, the enchanting “Eternal City,” and then makes its way through the Tuscan farmlands to Verona, a pleasant city famous as the setting for Shakespeare’sRomeo and Juliet.” Make a day of wandering around the city’s lovely corridors (pictured above) and passing some time in a local cafe or bar. Then head to Venice, Italy’s famed “Floating City,” that is by far one of the most romantic destinations in the world. The train approaches through Venice’s lagoon in the Adriatic Sea, and upon arrival you can hop on a gondola ride for two – what could be more romantic than that? Another scenic train trip in Italy is the route from Venice to Trieste. On this trip, the train hugs the coast of the Adriatic Sea until reaching Trieste, a charming destination with beautiful sea views and several cafes and pubs for you to spend your days and nights in.

Balconies in Verona, Italy [Photo by Libby Zay]

3. France
Montpellier to Nice
The train ride through southern France from Montpellier to Nice is another visually stunning trip. From Montpellier to Marseille, travelers will see the typical Provençal landscape of red-colored soil, tall cypress trees and expansive fields of lavender and olives. As the train gets closer to Nice, the coastal scenery along the Mediterranean Sea comes in to view. Note that if you have a France Rail Pass, it’s possible to break the ride up to spend some time exploring small Provençal towns, such as Aix-en-Provence, the famous home of Paul Cézanne, or Nimes, with its stunning Roman amphitheater that is second only to Rome’s Colosseum.

[Flickr photo by paularps]


2. Germany

Black Forest Railway
The Roman’s gave this thickly wooded and mountainous region in Germany the name Silva Nigra (i.e. “Black Forest“) because the dense growth of trees blocked out most of the light inside the forest. Experience the spectacular scenery on the Black Forest Railway, part of the German National Railway that connects Offenburg and Singen. The 93-mile-long route ascends (or descends, depending on which way you travel) more than 2,000 feet as it passes through 39 tunnels and over two viaducts. The section between Hornberg, Triberg, and St. Georgen is particularly pretty. The stretch is also popular with locals, who use it as part of their regular commute between the towns they live in and larger cities. Tourists, however, will probably think it looks straight out of a storybook – so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Black Forest is the setting for the Brothers Grimm tale “Hansel and Gretel.” But don’t worry, you won’t need to follow a trail of breadcrumbs to get back home.

Look closely for one of the viaducts trains along the Black Forest Railway pass over in Hornberg [Wikimedia photo by Prolineserver]



1. Switzerland
Wilhelm Tell Express (May to October only)
Switzerland is known for some of the most stunning scenery in all of Europe. This trip from Lucerne to Locarno connects two of the prettiest parts of the country, central Switzerland and the Italian-speaking Ticino region. While in Lucerne, travelers can opt to take a boat ride on a vintage paddle steamer where they can enjoy lunch or dinner. When the boat reaches Flüelen, step onto a panoramic train that will whisk you past lone cottages on pine-covered hills, glistening streams, cerulean lakes, vast valleys covered in green, and craggy, snow-covered peaks, as it makes its way to Ticino. If you get a chance, make a stop in the tiny town of Bellinzona, an easily walk-able place that is well worth a day trip in order to explore one of their three medieval castles. Switzerland has some of the most fantastic scenic train trips in Europe with the Golden Pass and Glacier-Express also offering awe-inspiring views through panoramic train windows.

[Photo by Libby Zay]

Scotland’s Balmoral Hotel now offers offers a “Tartan Butler”

tartan butler balmoral hotelCurious about your Scottish ancestry? Think you can pull of the tartan? Perhaps you should hie thyself to Scotland and embrace your heritage with the new “Tartan Butler” at Rocco Forte’s Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh to guide you.
Andy Fraser, aka the “Tartan Butler” is a master at tracing Scottish heritage, having successfully traced his own clan as far back as the early 13th Century by scouring over 30 variations of the Fraser family tartan.
Although not necessary, guests can relay the names of any known Scottish ancestors to the Tartan Butler even before they arrive at the hotel, and the Butler will establish a connection to one of thousands of clans and traditionally recognized tartans.

Guests have a number of options (prices vary, naturally) – if Fraser tracks down the guest’s clan, he can help arrange a trip to the city’s most established kilt shop, Kinloch Anderson, to have a one of a kind kilt made to reflect the traditional clan kilt design. For those wishing to literally follow in their ancestors’ footsteps, the Tartan Butler could arrange a bespoke tour of the guest’s Scottish region, visiting the place an ancestor was born or spent some part of their life.

We’re pretty sure this is something William Wallace would have heartily approved of.

Scottish National Portrait Gallery to reopen after major renovation

Scottish National Portrait GalleryAfter more than two years and £17.6 million ($27.4 million), the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh will reopen on December 1.

The remodel opens up more of the Victorian building to public view, adds more than 60% to the public space, and introduces several themed galleries, including Blazing with Crimson–a collection of full-length portraits of men in kilts.

The gallery’s massive collection of portraits includes those of great statesmen, royalty, scientists, engineers, soldiers, and athletes. Special galleries look at the new face of Scotland, with one exhibit highlighting Scotland’s large Pakistani community.

Another bonus to the revamped gallery is that entrance is now free.

The gallery opened in 1889 as the first purpose-built portrait gallery. While it has always featured paintings of Scotland’s great names, it now also includes a large space devoted to photography.

This is the second major museum reopening in Edinburgh this year. The National Museum of Scotland reopened this summer after a £47.4 million ($74 million) renovation.

Photo of Robert Burns portrait courtesy Wikimedia Commons.