AAA Says Labor Day Weekend Travel Will Be Highest In Five Years

AAA
Eric Polk

A report by the American Automobile Association shows a bright spot in the nation’s economic news.

The AAA predicts that 34.1 million people are planning to take a trip of more than 50 miles from home this Labor Day weekend, up from 32.7 million last year and the highest in five years.

The rise is due to increased consumer confidence, with one poll saying it’s at a six-year high. A slight dip in fuel prices may also be a contributing factor.

The AAA says the average trip will cover 594 miles and travelers will spend $804.

Are you planning on going anywhere this Labor Day weekend? Are you feeling more or less confident about the economy and is this affecting your travel plans? Tell us about it in the comments section.

American Airlines To Cram More Seats Onto Aircraft

legroom plane
big-ashb, Flickr

As if squeezing into an economy-class seat wasn’t already a claustrophobe’s nightmare, American Airlines has announced plans to add even more seats to its planes, further encroaching on passenger legroom.

The carrier, which is trying to raise revenue following its merger with US Airways, will increase the number of economy class seats on its 737s and MD-80 fleet. The news came out after the airline’s VP of flight services made an announcement to the carrier’s flight attendants.

American Airlines says it doesn’t know exactly how many extra seats it will add, but airline consultant Michael Boyd told CNN that for the plan to be cost-effective, the airline would have to install at least 10 new seats in each aircraft. Adding what amounts to roughly two extra rows would mean taking 2.5 inches of legroom from each of the existing rows of seats.Freaking out yet? Well Boyd said passengers shouldn’t be too concerned at this stage. A slimmer seat design, along with changes to the bathroom and galley layout could save precious space. All up, he believes we might be left with about one inch less legroom once the new seats are installed. Still, it’s one inch too much for passengers who are already feeling the pinch.

Money-Saving Strategies From Other Places That Work For Airports Too

Money-Saving Strategies

As much as we might not want to admit it, many of us enjoy the whole process of flying. Maybe it’s the thrill of the hunt when exploring a complex matrix of flights, airlines and prices. Perhaps exercising the survival skills that find power for electronic devices we bring along satisfies a primitive need. Whatever the reason, we like to fly. Some travelers like to fly so much that we spend more than we need to. A good battle plan combined with budgetary prowess learned from other activities can go a long way.

Eat before arriving
Frugal grocery store shoppers know that arriving hungry can lead to impulse buying, and most don’t even eat what they select until later. Arriving at the airport famished, maybe a bit earlier than normal to make up for sequester-induced lines, has trouble written all over it. Airport food courts are grounds for impulse buys. Forty pounds ago, I used that as an excuse to overdose on food I would have had serious guilt issues with if consumed elsewhere. A decent airport app like FlySmart can offer healthy suggestions.Bring an empty water bottle
Heading out on a hike, camping or just the drive to work, eco- and budget-friendly travelers bring a reusable water bottle. Head to the airport and many forget or don’t know that the same reusable bottle will indeed make it through the security screening process. In most cases, the $4 bottle of water at the conveniently located kiosk by the boarding gate costs more than a whole bunch of reusable water bottles. Concerned about the taste of that tap water found after screening? Go crazy and buy a self-filtering water bottle.

Let an expert help
This could be the “insert name of travel agent here” part of the story and, for many, that might be a good idea. Those comfortable with using an attorney for legal matters, an accountant for taxes or even a good mechanic for auto repairs could easily buy into that notion. For air travel, many of the sources we feature here like AirFareWatchdog, Kayak and others can go a long way to maximizing savings on airline fares – obviously a big ticket item in the whole scheme of things. Better yet, ask a local travel blogger based out of your hometown airport. Odds are they have it down to a science.

Leave time for the satellite lot
When going to a concert, major sporting event or local convention center, penny-wise drivers park remotely, realizing that convenience equals higher prices. Parking close to the terminal at almost any airport will cost dearly compared to the price of a secure, remote lot. AirportParking boasts savings of up to 70% off the price of terminal parking, and allows reservations and payment in advance. In Orlando, for example, terminal parking is $10 per day; remote parking from a number of lots is less than half the price.

The whole idea of applying money-saving strategies learned from other activities to air travel comes with a bonus too. We’re already comfortable with the process so applying does not require learning a new skill or forging a new path where no one has gone before.

Looking for some other money-saving ideas to use when at the airport? Check this video:


[Photo credit – Flickr user Grant Wickes]

Take A Look At The Future Of Economy Airline Seating

Contorting your body to fit into cramped economy class airline seats is bad enough without the person seated in front of you invading your space. Reclining seats have been a point of contention amongst fliers for years and as seat pitch gets smaller, the problem has only gotten worse with some passengers even coming to blows over the issue.

Other passengers take a more passive aggressive approach. Remember this traveler who took matters into his own hands and rigged the seat in front of him so it would stay in the upright position? Or what about the Knee Defender, the invention we told you about last year, which is designed to keep airline seats from reclining?

Well, finally, someone has come up with a solution to the seat reclining dramas. The AirGo is an economy class seat designed by an engineering student for the James Dyson Award. Alireza Yaghoubi took first prize for his design concept, which aims to give fliers control over their limited seat space, even when the passenger in front of them reclines.The seats are designed with individual bulkheads, so each passenger has their own area to stow luggage. Suspended from this are the tray table and TV screen, which aren’t affected if fellow passengers recline. The seats themselves are made of a nylon mesh designed to minimize sweating and are fully customizable to suit each traveler’s posture.

While the seating concept does take up 16 percent more space than a regular economy class seat, hopefully the benefits will sway airlines to get onboard.

Check out pictures of the AirGo seat below.

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[Photo credit: Alireza Yaghoubi]

Kurdistan: The Other Iraq

Kurdistan, Iraq, Iraq tourism, Iraq travel
Families out for an evening stroll, friends sipping coffee at sidewalk cafes, tourists seeing the sights without a police escort – am I still in Iraq?

Sort of.

I’m in Kurdistan, an autonomous region made up of Iraq’s three northernmost provinces. The Kurds kicked out Saddam in 1991 after suffering years of bloody persecution, and they’ve pretty much been doing their own thing ever since. I never saw an Iraqi flag flying in the Kurdish region, only the Kurdish “regional” flag that everyone seems to look to as their national flag. The region even has its own national anthem. The Kurdish government also acts independently at times, such as making oil deals with foreign companies even though they’re supposed to be approved by Baghdad.

Erbil, the region’s capital, is a boomtown. New buildings are going up everywhere and the shops are full of expensive products and people who can afford to buy them. Auto dealerships, electronics stores, and swank restaurants are everywhere. There’s a relaxed, optimistic mood in the air.

The Kurds have reason to be optimistic. A distinct people with their own culture and language, their population stretches across several international boundaries. Kurds are found in Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and Syria. Being a minority with a strong sense of independence has meant they’ve faced persecution in all of these countries. Now they have their own region and they’re doing well for themselves. Kurdistan has the lowest rate of poverty in Iraq thanks to a booming oil and gas industry.

There’s even a tourism industry. This is the one part of Iraq where you can travel individually, and an increasing number of curious Westerners are doing just that. Kurdistan’s mixture of ancient sites, functioning cities and rugged mountains has a lot to offer.

%Gallery-172501%Like everywhere else in the Middle East, foreign visitors are treated with curiosity and hospitality. Tourism isn’t big enough here yet for visitors to be pestered by carpet sellers like in Istanbul or Cairo. The relaxed vibe extends to everyone. As we visited the impressive Erbil citadel, a medieval fortress built atop ruins stretching back at least 7,000 years, we had a steady stream of people welcome us to Kurdistan (always Kurdistan, never Iraq) and chat with us as much as their English would allow.

We had people coming up to us all through Iraq, but here it was different. The locals were less surprised to see us, less anxious to know what we thought of their country. The Kurds show a confidence not seen in other parts of Iraq.

It’s difficult to judge a region after such a short visit. I only got to hang out in Erbil for a day, plus see some ancient Assyrian sites and an Iraqi Christian monastery. My impressions are only first impressions and I’m sure I missed a lot. The Kurdish hinterland, with its various factions and ethnic groups, is a mystery to me that would require another long visit to even partially unravel.

There’s no doubt that Kurdistan has its share of problems. Not everyone is profiting from the good economy and ethnic minorities complain they aren’t getting their fair cut. Still, I get the sense that they’re better off than in other parts of Iraq. The oil industry is booming and the leaders of the various factions are keeping a lid on the worst of the violence in order to make money. That’s something the factions in the rest of Iraq, intent on getting the whole pie for themselves, just don’t understand. They’re wrecking the very economy they’re trying to control.

Example: on my first day in Baghdad I ditched my guards and went to the market to find my son an Iraq National team football uniform. I nearly got arrested by the Iraqi police and didn’t even get the uniform. The security situation made the cops jittery and the market streets were clogged by a series of checkpoints. This, of course, hurts businesses. In Erbil, I wandered freely through a busy market and after a bit of hunting in a new, clean shopping mall found a uniform in my son’s size. When I paid for it the shopkeeper added my money to a huge wad of notes he pulled from his pocket. Business was good that day.

I was happy, the shopkeeper was happy, and my son was happy. The difference between Baghdad and Erbil really comes down to that – stability brings prosperity, and that’s better for everyone.

Don’t miss the rest of my series, “Destination: Iraq,” chronicling my 17-day journey across this strife-ridden country in search of adventure, archaeology and AK-47s.

Coming up next: “A Family Night Out In Baghdad!”

[Top photo by Sean McLachlan. Bottom photo by Rob Hammond]

Kurdistan, Iraq, Iraq tourism, Iraq travel