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Coming & Going: Fires in Mexico and U.S., and an update on United/Continental

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Out, out fires!

Dry-to-drought season has hit many states above and below the southern border, sparking wildfires and new restrictions on outdoor activities.

In Mexico, for example, dozens of forest fires are burning in Quintana Roo, the resort-heavy state on the eastern side of the Yucatan Peninsula. But so far, such vacation spots as Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Tulum and Puerto Morelos have remained untouched by the flames.

“There are fires in some specific parts of the jungle,” said Cessie Cerrato, a spokeswoman at the Cancun Convention and Visitors Bureau, by e-mail, “but not within the cities, and definitely nothing near the tourist areas.”

On the flip side of the border, the Texas Forest Service is fighting four major fires that have burned 175,769 acres. To prevent additional outbreaks, 195 of 254 state counties have instituted burn bans. The ban covers parkland as well, such as all 42 parks and recreation areas owned by the Lower Colorado River Authority. The order prohibits ground fires and cooking fires fueled by charcoal, wood or other solid fuels, as well as fire rings and barbecue grills. Campers may continue to use gas stoves, however. For updates on Texas wildfires: http://txforestservice.tamu.edu/main/default.aspx.

Texas’s neighbor to the west, New Mexico, is also struggling with infernos. At press time, Gila National Forest had closed selected trails, campgrounds and roads, and warns that firefighting helicopters may interrupt activities on Lake Roberts. Forest officials also implemented fire restrictions, such as no wood or charcoal fires. For New Mexico fire info: http://nmfireinfo.wordpress.­com/category/active-wildfire.

What merger? Oh, right.

It takes a while for passengers to notice the effects of an airline merger. Passengers on United and Continental, start taking note.

United Continental Holdings Inc. last week unveiled several changes aimed at creating a more consistent experience for passengers on both airlines.

The company introduced the changes at United’s hub at Chicago O’Hare and will roll them out at other airports over several months.

The merger was completed in October, but the airlines will have to wait until the fourth quarter to receive a single operating certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration. A single reservation system is scheduled to launch in the first quarter of 2012.

Among the changes:

-Passengers traveling on either airline can shop for flights, select seat assignments and check flight status on either United.com or Continental.com.

-A new Premier Access category includes a package of priority airport services, including designated check-in counters, priority security screening, “front of the line” boarding through special lanes and priority baggage handling for elite-level frequent fliers and premium-cabin customers.

-Frequent fliers with both airlines can now link their accounts and combine miles to earn rewards faster. They will also be able to view their balances, elite status level and elite qualifying miles side by side on one screen.

-Aligned check-in and boarding procedures and customer policies and fees, including those for same-day flight changes, standby requests, unaccompanied minor handling and in-cabin pet acceptance.

-A new Choice Menu in-flight meal and snack service, including an Asian noodle salad, a Thai chicken wrap and snack-box options.

Lounging at BWI

Air Space Lounge, a new hangout for travelers, opened last week on Concourse D at BWI Marshall. Anyone may enter; no airline affiliation required. Day passes start at $17.50 and include food, nonalcoholic hot and cold drinks, WiFi and more. The company plans to open 30 to 40 lounges in other airports worldwide. Info: www.airspacelounge.com.

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