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Coming & Going: Post-earthquake travel to Haiti; Amtrak gets WiFi; world's friendliest countries

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Sunday, January 17, 2010

Haiti: After the quake

The State Department is urging U.S. citizens to avoid travel to Haiti. At press time, the travel alert was set to expire on March 13.

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Travelers with preexisting plans to visit Haiti should note flight cancellations and ticket-change policies. American Airlines, for one, has canceled its flights from Miami, Fort Lauderdale and New York to Port-au-Prince until further notice. Spokesman Tim Smith said that customers who had planned to travel to Haiti in January and booked their tickets by Jan. 12 can cancel or reschedule with no fee or penalty. On new bookings, travel must begin by Feb. 14. Info: 800-433-7300. The airline is offering its AAdvantage members 250 bonus miles if they contribute at least $50 to the American Red Cross or 500 bonus miles for donations of $100 or more through Feb. 28. Check AA.com for details.

Delta Airlines canceled its one daily flight from New York's JFK airport to Port-au-Prince through Saturday and is waiting to determine resumption of service. Customers can receive refunds; call 800-221-1212.

Spirit Airlines has canceled service from Fort Lauderdale through Sunday and will waive all fees for passengers holding reservations through Jan. 20 as long as they rebook before the date and time of their original reservation. They must travel by Feb. 28; after that date, they will have to pay any difference in fare. Info: 800-772-7117. The airline is also giving 5,000 free miles to anyone who donates at least $5 to the Red Cross, UNICEF or Yéle Haiti. Info: http://www.spiritair.com/haiti.

JetBlue said its flights to the Dominican Republic were operating normally, but on its Web site, the carrier reminds visitors to allow "additional time to get to the airport because of possible road closures caused by the earthquake in neighboring Haiti." Info: http://www.jetlbue.com.

Royal Caribbean International said there was no damage to Labadee, its private resort on the north coast of Hispaniola, and that it resumed ports of call on Friday. "I am happy to say we are committed to continuing calls to Labadee with Independence of the Seas," John Weis, associate vice president of private destinations, wrote in a company blog. "There were a lot of discussions about this, but in the end, Labadee is critical to Haiti's recovery."

Amtrak 2.0

Amtrak joins the 21st century in March, when it will offer WiFi to passengers traveling between Washington and Boston on the Acela. The service will initially be free; when and how much passengers will be charged has not yet been determined, an Amtrak spokeswoman told CoGo.

In addition, 10 years after its debut, the faster and more expensive train will also be receiving a makeover. Later this year, Amtrak plans to upgrade the interiors with leather seats, improve tray tables and provide better outlets for laptops and other electronic devices. The railroad also plans to beef up security with more random patrols, baggage screenings and expanded use of its K-9 explosive-detection teams.

Amtrak also plans to replace and expand its fleet of locomotives and passenger rail cars. That will require the purchase of several hundred single-level and bi-level long-distance passenger rail cars and more than a hundred locomotives. "We have an aggressive game plan to modernize, renew and grow America's passenger railroad," president and chief executive Joseph Boardman said in a written statement.

Life and times abroad

You've got a friend in . . . Thailand, according to a recent study that gave the Land of Smiles the prize as the friendliest country in the world.

In the 2009 Expat Explorer study, HSBC Bank surveyed 3,100 expatriates to determine the nations most welcoming to foreigners. Besides Thailand, the top five included, in descending order, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Bahrain. On the opposite end of the nice-to-meet-you spectrum: Japan, Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Belgium. Those seeking a love connection should follow cupid's bow to Thailand, Germany and Brazil, where the matchmaking rate is highest.

The survey also determined the countries best for assimilation. The honor goes to our fraternal twin up north, Canada -- no big surprise, eh? -- followed by Australia and Thailand. If food determines your life's direction, pack your elastic-waist pants for France; 71 percent of participants said the quality of food in the Land of Butter and Cream is higher than in their homeland. For the full Expat Explorer survey: http://www.offshore.hsbc.com/1/2/international/expat/expat-survey/results-2009.

In other living-abroad news, International Living magazine last week released its 2010 Quality of Life Index, which puts visions of fresh croissants in CoGo's head. For the fifth year in a row, France scored highest in such categories as culture and leisure, environment and freedom, to claim the title of best place to live. The United States came in seventh. For more info: http://www.internationalliving.com/Internal-Components/Further-Resources/quality-of-life-2010.

Reporting: Andrea Sachs, Nancy Trejos. Help feed CoGo. Send travel news to: cogo@washpost.com. By mail: CoGo, Washington Post Travel Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071


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