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Talk About Travel
Travel things to be thankful for, Mexico City, area small town escapes, Puerto Rico layovers, Naples and more.

The Flight Crew
Washington Post Travel Section
Monday, November 19, 2007 2:00 PM

The Post's Travel Section Flight Crew will take your comments, questions, suspicions, warnings, gripes, sad tales and happy endings springing from the world of ... the world. Of course, the Flight Crew will be happy to answer your travel questions -- but the best thing about this forum, we insist, is that it lets travelers exchange information with other travelers who've been there, done that or otherwise have insights, ideas and information to share. Different members of the Crew will rotate through the captain's chair every week, but the one constant is you, our valued passengers.

We know you have a choice in online travel forums, and speaking for the entire Flight Crew, we want to thank you for flying with us.

You may also browse an archive of previous live travel discussions. For daily dispatches, check out Travel Log, the Travel section's new blog.

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KC Summers: Hey everyone, welcome to the chat on the eve (well, almost) of the busiest travel day of the year. That would be Wednesday, and I sincerely hope you're not one of the poor multitudes caught in travel hell. But amid all of our usual complaining, here's a twist: On this week when we're supposed to count our blessings, just what *are* you thankful for about travel? Come on, there must be something. The most thoughtful and/or funny post wins a swell porcelain hula dancer for his or her dashboard, complete with faux grass skirt.

On board today to answer your travel questions are Flight Crew members John Deiner, Andrea Sachs, Scott Vogel, Christina Talcott, and me, your captain of the day. We're also fortunate to have Terry Ward, author of yesterday's "Palm Beach for the REst of Us" piece, here to answer any questions you may have about Florida. So, let's take off.

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Reston, VA: I take a few vitamin supplements per day and wondering if I can pack them in my carry on luggage? Does TSA require all pills, including vitamins, to be in the original container? I buy the larger bottles and not sure if I want to bring the whole shebang. Do you have any ideas? I was thinking about putting them all in a small container but then wonder if they ever look inside? Thanks!

Christina Talcott: Hi Reston! TSA only states that prescription medications need to be in their original container whose label matches the name of the person traveling. With non-prescription meds, it seems to be at the discretion of the screener. The only rule about vitamins and non-prescription medications is that gel or liquid capsules may need to be handed over to whomever's screening your bags. Though I've never had a problem getting medications through security, you might want to put them in a container and label it ("Centrum, Echinacea, Vitamin C," etc.), then pack it within reach so you can easily grab it to hand it to the screener.

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Occasional flyer: Are battery operated digital cameras considered an "electronic devices" that must be turned off during take-offs and landings?

KC Summers: Interesting question -- and we have no clue. Any experts out there want to enlighten us?

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Alexandria, Va: After successfully avoiding any thanksgiving travel for my entire life, I'm flying out of National tomorrow around noon. How bad should I expect it to be? How big a difference would taking only carry-on luggage make?

Andrea Sachs: Not as bad as Wednesday, Thursday or Sunday. Definitely check-in online and print out your boarding pass. And, yes, if you can go carry-on only, that will reduce your stress level immnensely. Also, check your flight status before you go. I flew this weekend and was delayed coming and going.

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Flying From Guayaquil to Galapagos: Hi,

I'm heading to Galapagos in December, but my flight from the US doesn't land in Guayaquil until mid-night and the first flight to the Galapagos doesn't leave until 9 am.

Does it make sense to get a hotel room for a few hours and/or do people normally just wait at the airport for flights with this kind of transfer situation?

Thanks.

John Deiner: Hey there. As I recall, Guayaquil's aiport is no place you want to chill for seven or eight hours (actually, most airports are places I don't want to chill for seven or eight hours). I'd get a room somewhere; it be relatively inexpensive. And as wonderful as the Galapagos Islands are, you want to at least have a decent night's sleep before you start your voyage, as there's a lot of hiking on most trips.

Any other thoughts on this?

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Arlington, VA: We are driving to Philadelphia from Arlington on Thursday. Any ideas on how bad traffic is leaving Thanksgiving morning will be, or when the best time to leave is?

Also, do you know of anything not to miss in Philly right now (like an arts exhibit or show, etc)?

Thanks.

Scott Vogel: There certainly is an art exhibit you must not miss, and it's the "Renoir Landscapes" exhibition at the Phil. Museum of Art. Held in tandem with the nearby Barnes Foundation, there will be over 250 masterworks by the French painter on display at once (through Jan. 6).

There won't be much aesthetic appreciation on the drive up there. Still, traffic should be lighter on Thanksgiving Day than on the day previous. Travel as early in the day as possible, however.

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DCA on Thanksgiving Morning: Hi Crew. We have a 10am flight from DCA on Thursday. Could you remind me--is there an online way to check if parking is full? Or should I just park my car at my job in SW DC and try and catch a cab (relatedly--advice on how to catch a cab on Thursday morning?)

Thanks!!

Christina Talcott: Hi DCA, CoGo's Cindy Loose wrote about this last weekend (link to come). You can check http://www.mwaa.com or call 703-417-7275. Parking at your job sounds better, to me, than battling airport lots, as long as you leave yourself enough time to get to the airport via cab or Metro. As for cabbing it, is there a hotel nearby that usually has cabs waiting? If not, you might consider calling ahead for one, or even scheduling a service like SuperShuttle.

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washingtonpost.com: Airport Parking

Christina Talcott: Here's last week's CoGo.

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Silver Spring, MD: Hi there! I've been invited by friends to join a group tour to Mexico City and surrounding sites. I'm usually a much more independent traveler and avoid the group tour thing. That said, nowadays would it be safer to travel that way to MC? Pros and cons? If there are enough cons to traveling with the tour group, I might be able to persuade my posse to go it alone. Would really appreciate your advice.

KC Summers: Hi SS. Sadly, our Mexico City expert, Gary Lee, is no longer with the Flight Crew (but check out his new restaurant, Las Canteras, in DC's Adams Morgan!), so I'm going to throw this one out to the chatters. Anyone been to Mexico City recently who can address the safety issue? I'll also link to Gary's December '06 story about MC though, in which he writes realistically about touring amid a city's turmoil. A bit dated, but still useful.

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Claiming Baggage at Reagan National: Hi Flight Crew!

The last two times I checked baggage and claimed it at National, I've had to wait what seems like forever compared to my experiences at other airports. Last year flying Frontier I waited over an hour for the bags to start coming onto the baggage carousel. Two weeks ago I flew ATA from Chicago to National and waited about 45 minutes for the bags to arrive on the carousel. I know both these airlines don't have a huge presence at National, but seems a bit excessive for a wait. Your thoughts?

Andrea Sachs: Agree that is long, but so much depends on other factors, such as how many other planes arrived at that exact same moment and how many ground workers are available to unload bags. I don't think it is necessarily airline related.

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Travel gift for my parents: Hi Flight Crew,

My dad is retiring at the end of Dec and for Christmas I'd like to give him and my mom a trip. A few years ago I sent them to the Inn at Little Washington where they stayed the night and had dinner. I'm looking for a place within driving distance of DC (no more than 2.5 hours). They love areas like old town area of Ellicott City--where you can walk around little shops and see historical sites. Any suggestions? Since they are retiring they can now do this during the week so I'm open to anything. Thanks!

John Deiner: Very nice! First, congratulations to your dad -- I'm sure he can't wait. And that was a nice trip you sent them on a few years ago: The Inn at Little Washington? Wow.

A couple of suggestions here: Both Frederick and Fredericksburg have nice little downtown areas with plenty of shops and sites. If you really want to go nuts, send them to the Inn at Perry Cabin and let them wander around St. Michaels, or any of the other little towns in the area (Chestertown, anyone?). Charlottesville has a terrific vibe and plenty of BnBs and hotels. And don't forget Annapolis -- great downtown, the Naval Academy, all sorts of nice lodging and restaurants. Let us know what you decide!

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Dulles parking: Hi Crew,

I'm flying out of Dulles on Thursday morning. Will I have trouble finding parking in their lots?

Thanks!

Christina Talcott: Hi Dulles, in Cindy's round-up of airport parking, she quotes National airport spokesman as saying Dulles is guaranteed to have plenty of parking. Call ahead to (703) 572-4500 to check on parking status, or tune your car radio to AM 530 as you're approaching for more updates. But prepare for the possibility that for cheaper parking, you may have to park in an overflow lot and take a shuttle bus to the terminal.

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Harrisburg, Pa.: I am most thankful this Thanksgiving for knowing I will not be winning a hula dancer with faux grass skirt.

KC Summers: Harrisburg, just for you I'm going to up the ante. I'm going to throw in a CD by the Ying Yang Twins (too bad they can't spell yin yang), that platinum duo (it says here) responsible for the smash singles "Dangerous" (featuring Wyclif Jean), "Jack It Up" and "Jigglin'." No, I have no idea why someone sent this to the Travel section.

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Central Cal: Thanks: I'm thankful that I finally understand that travel can be more than vacation time. It really does help you understand more about people and their views, and how they view us as Americans. More of us should travel.

I wish I would have found this out earlier in my life. And, with the internet and folks like you, travel here and abroad isn't as expensive as I thought, and the stories I can tell...Guiness at the Glenmore Pub in Ireland, snorkling between the Pitons in St. Lucia, even driving to Halifax from Boston (14hrs) with other displaced flyers... just go folks. It really is good for you.

KC Summers: Amen to that, CC.

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Cabs in SW: I'm a Southwest resident, and there is in fact a cab stand at the Holiday Inn near FEMA. If not, there's always Metro right nearby!

Christina Talcott: Hey, thanks for the tip for the DCA-bound parker!

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Thankful for it ALL!: As I get ready to make the (albeit short) trek to the Philly area for Thanksgiving, I realize that I'm thankful for most, if not all, parts of the trip! First, I'm thankful that I get time ALONE in my car (I work with teenagers), listening to a book on CD I've been waiting to enjoy for months. I'll sip a warm beverage as a tale is told; traffic only means I get further along in my book!

Happy Thanksgiving!

KC Summers: Love your attitude. Happy T-Day to you too.

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Washington, DC: I'm driving to NY tomorrow morning--and no, we're not the type to get up with the birds. Should I wait until rush hour is over? Or hit the road as soon as I can? I'm never on the Beltway during the week, so I don't know when the morning rush is over.

John Deiner: Hey, D.C. The Thanksgiving holiday traffic nightmare seems to be spreading itself a little thinner these days, but you never know what you're going to hit: One fender bender, and you have 30,000 eyes that just have to take a look. I'd either hit the road at 5 a.m. or wait till after 9:30, always listening to local traffic reports and keeping my fingers crossed. The Beltway may not be as bad as it usually is if more people are taking the day off, but again, you never know. I'd guess that from 10 a.m. to just after midday will be the best time to rush up there until things get really thick again.

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Thankful for: Three trips thus far to the Azores to meet long-lost distant cousins whom I discovered online and began email correspondence with them when I first got Internet. Some of them like to practice their English on me, and I like to practice my Portuguese on them. Plus, the Azores are scenic, largely unspoiled islands (#2 out of 111 vacation destinations on National Geographic Traveler's survey, just published this month); how lucky was I that my ancestors just happened to come from there?!?

KC Summers: Oh, you are so lucky. But it's of your own doing. Good for you. We love the Azores too -- did you see John's piece on them last March? Want a link?

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washingtonpost.com: Touring Amid a City's Turmoil, (Dec. 31, 2006)

KC Summers: Here's Gary Lee's story for the Mexico City person.

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PR?: is an hour a sufficient layover for a flight transfer in Puerto Rico? Coming from BWI to Antigua, changing in PR? And if not, does the airline have an obligation to me to get me on one of the 2 remaining flights that day?

Andrea Sachs: With so many plane delays these days, that could be tight but it is definitely doable, since you don't have to go through customs or immigration. Best to plot out your Airport Marathon route before you go, so you know which gate you have to race to. Also, try to go carry-on if possible, or carry extra clothes in your onboard luggage, just in case.

And, while the airline does have a responsibility to get you on a connecting flight (if it is the same ticket), if the following flights are booked, you could be stuck. You might have to overnight in Puerto Rico--not a bad place to be, but I'd prefer Antigua.

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MD: cameras don't have the ability to transmit a signal - that's the issue. I can leave my phone on during landing and takeoff, I just have to turn off the wireless transmitter/receiver.

KC Summers: I believe you, MD.

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Chicago, Ill: Last week there was a question regarding the safety of travel to Sri Lanka. I've been there twice (once just a month after the tsunami). Go! It is a lovely country, and the people are very proud of the history and beauty of the island and want to show it off. I was even invited to a wedding ceremony and reception. I visited Anuradahpura, Sigiria, Dambulla Caves, and Kandy - all UNESCO world heritage sites. Also Horton Plains National Park, tea plantations and Newara Eliya are worth a visit. The conflict is in the North and Northeast, and the only evidence I saw was sandbag bunkers manned by soldier in the diplomatic section of Colombo - Cinnamon Gardens neighborhood. English is widely spoken-and the people are very helpful - for example a taxi driver who took me to the train station didn't just leave me at the door - he helped me at the ticket counter and carried my luggage to the correct platform. Enjoy!

Christina Talcott: That's really great to hear. Thanks for writing in! I was hoping Colombo would be ok to visit, and I'm happy hear you didn't run into any problems there. It sounds like such a beautiful country, not least because of the helpful, kind locals. No doubt Sri Lanka can use all the tourism it can get.

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Boston, Mass: What about travel am I most thankful for? Noise-reducing headphones. They changed my life! I arrive at my destination happier and more alert thanks to not having spent hours with my ears completely overloaded.

KC Summers: I know a lot of travelers swear by those and I really ought to invest in a pair -- it just seems like one more thing to remember to take, but it sounds like an essential. Keep an eye out for this Sunday's edition when we check out three of the higher-priced versions.

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BWI Parking: Good afternoon--

In response to a letter in the Travel section from this weekend regarding off-airport parking, I want to point out that BWI also offers car-side to curb-side shuttle service in its Express parking lot. In other words, the BWI Express lot features shuttle service that picks up customers directly as their vehicles. BWI's Express lot is a high-level parking product that also includes luggage assistance.

With the current "Express for Less" coupon promotion available on the Airport website (www.BWIairport.com), travelers can save $5 off the full-day rate at the close, convenient Express lot.

I should also point out that with the busy holiday travel season upon us, the Express for Less coupons can be used in the BWI Daily Garage if the Express lot is full.

BWI believes that parking plays an important role in customer service, and BWI offers a number of excellent parking options that are close and convenient to the Airport terminal.

Thank you, and have a great Thanksgiving.

--Jonathan Dean/BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport

Christina Talcott: Thanks for the info!

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Washington, DC: I have to travel on business this Sunday morning. My flight leaves IAD at 7am to SFO. I was planning on getting there by 5am. I can't imagine the airports will be that busy so early in the morning. Sound ok?

John Deiner: Hey, DC. I'm thinking you'll be good at that early hour. It's the after-breakfast crowd that'll be packing the planes.

Anyone been to Dulles that early on the Sunday after T-giving?

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Anonymous: Comment and a quesiton: for the honeymooners who asked about Catalina in yesterday¿s Q&A column, I would suggest they also consider day outings to Channel Islands National Park and staying in Santa Barbara or Ventura (lots of nice hotels in both). Question: my wife and I may be in Memphis in March. I wanted to go to the Mud Island Museum (river history including the blues), but it will be closed. Any alternatives? My wife wants to go to Graceland. Before Memphis we hope to hit St. Patrick¿s Day in Erin, Tennessee.

Scott Vogel: The couple was actually on their anniversary but your point is well-taken. The Channel Islands would be a wonderful trip. As for Memphis in March, there's a wonderful pre-planned itinerary offered on the official Memphis Web site (www.memphistravel.com). For information on the world-famous Beale Street blues and jazz scene, see www.bealestreet.com, and don't miss the Memphis Rock 'N Soul Museum (www.memphisrocknsoul.org). Both make great supplements to that all-important trip to Graceland.

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Albuquerque, NM: I'll be going to Islamorada, FL next March. It will be my first trip to Florida and the Keys. Air fares to Ft. Lauderdale seem much cheaper than air fares to Miami, but the drive from Ft. L to Islamorada is longer. Why are flights to Miami so much more expensive? I know you don't have a crystal ball, but are airfares expected to drop much in the next two months?

Terry Ward: It's only a little over 25 miles between Fort Lauderdale's airport and Miami International - and when I mapped the mileage difference between each airport to Islamorada, MIA's advantage was only 22 miles. So if the price difference is considerable with the tickets you're finding, I say it's worth flying into Fort Lauderdale.

You're right - it's hard to speculate on the likelihood of airfares dropping in the next few months. But with ever-increasing fuel prices and Florida's popularity as a wintertime destination, I certainly wouldn't count on it. One perk about flying into Fort Lauderdale over Miami is Fort Lauderdale's considerably smaller size. A compact airport usually makes everything from luggage retrieval to car rental that much faster. Fort Lauderdale is sounding better and better..

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East Coast driving for Turkey: It used to be that driving on 95 early on Thanksgiving morning was a breeze but people have figured that out and now there's a lot of traffic. Late (after 11 p.m.) Wednesday is okay though.

John Deiner: I'm all for the going-late-at-night routine. That's how I travel most of the time, but wasn't sure if our Clickster felt the same way. Thanks for the nudge.

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Washington, D.C: I am so puzzled. Air France is having a sale to Europe for Fall/Winter. I can book a $520 RT fare to Dublin (with connection through Paris), and yet the same fare to Paris only is $740? Can I book the fare to Dublin, don't check baggage (carry on only), and then step off in Paris when I get there? How would the airline react when I show up on the return date in Paris and want to take half of my return trip (Dublin to DC) from Paris instead?

Andrea Sachs: It is my belief that if you don't check in at the original departure point (Dublin), the airline will assume that you are a no-show and will give away your seat. And there is no way they will refund your money. Best to either go to Ireland or find a cheaper flight to Paris.

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Chevy Chase, Md :

Enjoyed all the feedback on the hapless Naples-bound traveler!

Why was she so adamant about getting flights all the way to Naples, and rejecting a flight that would end in Rome? Those two cities are only about 140 miles apart, less than 2 hours by train or bus! What was she even thinking? Had she looked at a map before going to Italy?

Did you hear anything from Ms. Lanza in response to all the letters to the editor about what she should have done in the first place, that is, take a nonstop from D.C., or else drive/train to Newark?

KC Summers: Hi CC. Cindy Loose, the author of the Lanza piece, is off today, but I know that Lanza told her that she sort of panicked at the airport (probably due to sleep deprivation, from sleeping on the airport floor) and wasn't thinking clearly. Obviously, in retrospect, she should have gone to Rome and taken a train to Naples.

As for not connecting in Newark, that's a little less obvious. It wasn't the connecting itself that was bad, it was in not leaving enough time. I'm paranoid about that sort of thing. For example, when I went to Paris last spring I flew out of DCA and connected in Philly, but booked myself a six-hour layover just to allow for stuff that might go wrong. As it turned out nothing did, but I was content with a book and an iPod.

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Arlington, Va.: Are daily disposable contact lenses subject to TSA's 3-1-1 rule? I recently made the switch to daily disposables and haven't been able to find the answer on TSA's website.

Christina Talcott: Though I haven't seen anything specifically saying so, the consensus around the office is that you'd need to put them in your quart-size baggie, since they come packaged in liquid.

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Alternate airports: Why do you think people in this area don't really consider Philly or Newark as alternate airports? Taking the train to either airport is simple and even the cost of that can be less than the cost of flying from IAD/DCA/BWI to wherever.

KC Summers: I dunno -- the convenience factor, I guess. But you're right. Getting to BWI is such a hassle at certain times of day from N.Va., it can't be much worse to drive to Philly.

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Dupont, Washington, DC: I have an international flight out of Dulles tomorrow at 9:30pm. I don't fly internationally often and since the airport may be busier this week than a normal Tuesday night, I was wondering what time you think I should plan on arriving? Thanks for your help.

KC Summers: Hi Dupont. The airport is advising arriving at least three hours before international flights. Don't cut it any closer than that. Btw, they have a nice holiday travel tips guide at www.metwashairports.com/news_publications/holiday_travel_tips_2.

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Thankful for Disney: I recently traveled to Disney with my family and can honestly say I was dreading it. The whole prospect of forced merriment, crowds and noise really had me worried. But I can report I did not hate this trip. And my kids, husband and sister loved it. So I am grateful that this perceived parental obligation is out of the way and that my kids were so happy and loved it so much was quite a nice reward.

KC Summers: Awww. That's nice. I agree completely about Disney -- I also dreaded taking my kids there, but I also believe it's in the Kids' Bill of Rights to go, and it was worth it to know they could hold their heads up high at the school bus stop.

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Arlington, VA: I suppose you get this question frequently, but I'll ask it

anyway: Given that the planes will be full this upcoming

Thanksgiving holiday and that nerves will be frazzled, what

is the best diplomatic way to handle kids who kick your seat

onboard planes or stare at you from their seat in front of

you? Do you ask the flight attendant to ask the parents to

restrain their kids, or do you ask the parents themselves?

Thanks!

John Deiner: Hey, Arlington.

Ouch. That's always a tough question, because I know it drives people batty when kids are misbehavin' on a plane. Ideally, the parents would make the first move if they see their young'uns kicking the back of a chair, but I think if they continue to kick and the parents continue to ignore, you are totally within your right to turn around and (politely, pleasantly, etc.) ask the parents to step in.

I've often found that just being pleasant goes a long way to getting matters resolved. If it's not resolved? Hmmm. Bring in the attendant.

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Baltimore, MD: I am thankful for my parents who took me on trips to Africa, Europe and the Middle East so that I would learn to love to travel as well. No matter if it is to a new U.S. city (like the first time I went to New Orleans) or to the other side of the world (can't wait to visit my friend in China).

I wish more people had the means to see the country and the world. There is no better way to learn.

KC Summers: So true, and it's also good to know that you don't need a whole lot of means to travel cheaply, thanks to youth hostels, the couch-surfing movement, hotels with shared baths, etc.

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electronic devices: When they say to turn off your electronic devices during take-off and landing, they usually specify that it includes mp3 players, so it seems to me this would include digital cameras, too. I don't think they're worried only about transmissions (like from a phone).

KC Summers: Hmm. Care to rebut, original poster?

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Thankful....: I'm thankful that I've already had my Thanksgiving turkey dinner (holidays are prone to rescheduling when everyone's got ten places to be at once!). On Thursday, I won't even have to leave the house. No crowds, no lines, no traffic, no stress. A friend and I are going to watch movies in our pajamas all day and think of all the poor souls at the airport.

KC Summers: You've got the right idea!

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Arlington, VA: Hi, Flight Crew!

My wife, our baby (9 mos.) and I are considering a family trip abroad during Christmas this year. The parameters: a place suitable for baby travel (i.e. nothing exotic); a place where Christmas is celebrated; ideally, a non-stop flight from IAD (or one connection if we have to); and a place where we might find or take advantage of a deal on airfare and/or accomodations (understanding, of course, that we're dealing with a weak dollar). What would be your thoughts and suggestions? We'd appreciate any ideas you have. Thank you!

Scott Vogel: Would love to see if others have thoughts on this one. Given the current poor state of the dollar, it won't be easy to satisfy all your parameters. Having said that, my vote is for Stockholm, one of the most baby-friendly cities I know of (children of all ages seem to be welcome everywhere there), and Christmas is certainly celebrated with gusto. Flights won't be cheap unless you can leave well in advance of Christmas week, but keep your eyes out for deals; SAS does leave nonstop from Dulles.

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Arlington, VA: Hi Crew,

Something I'm sure many of us want to know.... What's the best time Wednesday to drive up I-95? 7am? 10am? noon?

Is Tuesday night much better?

Thanks!

John Deiner: Hey, Arl. Either go reallllll early (hit the road by 5 a.m.) or go realllll late. My folks make the drive each year from Jersey, leaving about 9:30 p.m., and arrive in Silver Spring by 1 a.m. Yeah, it's a late arrival, but they get real antsy in traffic (don't we all?) and haven't had many problems the past few years.

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Washington, D.C.: Flew Spirit airlines to Guatemala last week and what a hassle. Should have known the price was too good to be true.

While we were prepared to have to pay to check luggage we had no idea we would have to pay for everything, even water.

But, the flight down was uneventful so so far so good. The flight back and the connection in Ft. Lauderdale was a different story. We had a very tight turn around time (typically not a big deal), but the fact that you have to go back out to the main ticket counter to recheck your luggage after clearning customs and then have to go through security again made things extremely difficult. There was also no signage whatsoever explaining/pointing you in the right direction in Ft. Lauderdale.

Also, on our flights between Ft. Lauderdale and Guatemala and vice versa not one announcement was ever made in Spanish...not even the safety announcements. That's really silly on the part of Spirit, bordering on dangergous.

KC Summers: Thanks for the report, Wash. A bunch of us have flown Spirit and had no problems (well, other than not being able to carry on our bag -- they forced us to check it), but clearly you had a different experience. The no-Spanish thing seems particularly egregious, I agree.

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Alexandria, VA: Getting married next July -- looking to honeymoon in Maine (either Portland or somewhere water-side) for 3-4 days, then head to Montreal or Quebec City for 3-4 days. Biggest problem is: How to we get from Maine to either one of these spots without losing 5-6 hours of travel time or spending $600-$700 in airfare? Flights from Portland only seem to go through NYC and aren't cheap...

Andrea Sachs: Gosh, I am currently stumped. Flights are pretty expensive, and driving will eat up some hours. You can take a combination of trains, but then again you will be en route a lot. My thought is to maybe change your Canadian destination and think about Nova Scotia, a gorgeous parcel of land. On the CAT fast ferry, the crossing time to Yarmouth is 5.5 hours (three from Bar Harbor)--long-ish, but at least you're not driving and you can get some sun and sea on your face. From there, you can explore Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick. For ferry info: www.catferry.com.

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Fairfax, VA:2 questions, actually...

I am flying out of Dulles on Thursday afternoon (the flight leaves around 2). Will airports still be hectic then, or will it have died down?

Second, I love to travel. However, I was spoiled by traveling with the family, and now that I'm on my own (read: entry-level salary!) I just can't afford expensive travel. Any tips for traveling on a low budget? Are there any websites that keep track of airline specials, etc?

I loved the recent article on on shared-bathroom hotels in NYC...it's inspired me!

Christina Talcott: Hi Fairfax, so glad you enjoyed the NYC hotel piece! As for Thursday, I'd steel myself for a hectic experience and prepare for long security lines (airports.com/IAD says maximum waits can be around 20 minutes Thursday afternoon). Just give yourself plenty of time, bring reading material and music, and you should be fine. As for budget travel, there are so many ways to do it, and we're always trying to offer advice. A few tips: Travel off-peak if you can (on weekdays or 6 a.m. flights); take public transportation when at all possible; stay in hostels or spartan hotels, and find deals online, or try renting an apartment through Cragislist if you're staying more than a few days in a city; save $$ by not eating out every meal, buying bread, fruit and spreads and having picnics when you're out or in your hotel room. You can find out when the best time to fly to a location at www.farecompare.com, and sites like Expedia, Travelocity, etc. usually have great deals. Also, we'll post some recent budget-travel stories to inspire you. Happy traveling!

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Alexandria, VA: My wife is taking a group of high school students to France early next year. At least two of those students will be traveling on passports that will expire within six months of the date they will be arriving in France. We've heard this can be an issue - should we be concerned?

Andrea Sachs: Not a major issue, but some countries want a larger cushion of time before expiration. Since you are not leaving until early next year, have the students get their passport renewed tout de suite.

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Potomac MD: Hi Flight Crew,

I'm taking my nephews (in their 20s) to Turkey next year for a week to 10 days and want to know the best time to go (we have choice of mid-May or September) as well as whether we should plan everything ahead or leave room for discovery. We're all pretty adventurous and want to keep it fairly inexpensive- I'm thinking some hostels, train travel in-country. Do we need reservations ahead of time? Thank you!

Barbara

Scott Vogel: In a contest between May and September, May would win hands down during most years. It's a good time to visit for several reasons, not least of which is the fact that tourist season won't have started yet. It's certainly possible to do a "stream of consciousness" Turkey and have a ball. My one suggestion would be to book a few days in a hotel in advance so you might have a chance to get your bearings before the trip begins in earnest.

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Washington, DC: We have a reservation on United "Ted" for this Friday that we booked thru Expedia. The United website seatfinder says there are no seats available and that I have to get my seat at the gate. When I called the reservation line they concurred with that and reassured me that we have seats - just not assigned. I don't feel very warm and fuzzy about that. Is is that a standard practice? I have always been able to get assigned seating prior to my flight. Thanks.

KC Summers: Unfortunately, Wash, this is becoming more and more a standard practice. We've gotten LOTS of complaints from readers about it in recent months. It makes the boarding process very dicey: When you don't have an assigned seat, you're the first to be involuntarily bumped in the event of overbooking. All I can say is get to the airport very early and check in as soon as possible.

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Dallas, Tex: I am thankful for the ease of travel. One hundred years ago it was not easy to go to Europe for a week or on an African safari. Leisure travel was for the idle rich. If you had family far-off, you wrote to each other. I'm thankful that I can easily drive two hours to spend Thanksgiving with my nieces and nephew. And it is just a short three hour flight to see my parents. My Dad will be flying home from Nepal tomorrow, we he has spent the last few weeks hiking to Mt. Everest Base Camp with my brother.

We spend an awful lot of time griping about the experience of travel without being thankful that we have the opportunity at all. The world is so much more connected than it has ever been.

KC Summers: Very true, Dallas, that's something we often forget. Thanks for chiming in.

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Silver Spring, Md: I don't consider taking the train to Newark or Philly because you never know what the train's going to do. Yes, it basically works (and I love it) but if I plan to take the train to Newark, and then a freight train derails and I'm stuck on my train somewhere between here and there, I am 100% out of luck with my plane ticket. It's as bad as booking separate legs with separate airlines - if the first one doesn't get me there on time, the 2nd one will have no pity. I'd rather stick with one of the three airports within an easy, multiple-affordable-transportations-options hour of here.

KC Summers: When you get down to it, it's really scary to put your faith in any public conveyance. The last time I took the Metro to DCA it broke down halfway there and I was trapped underground for half an hour -- luckily I had built a cushion in, but I was sweating for a while there.

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Falls Church, VA: For the traveler with contact lenses:

The TSA's website says that contact lens solution is a medical necessity and thus doesn't need to conform to the 3-1-1 rule. I have twice taken my lenses in their case and a 4-oz bottle of saline solution (the smallest size I could find at Target) through the screening, with no problem. Just have the contact lenses and saline in a separate ziploc bag and note something as you send them through noting it's for medical reasons.

From the TSA's website:

"To ensure the health and welfare of certain air travelers, in the absence of suspicious activity or items, greater than 3 ounces of the following liquids, gels and aerosols are permitted through the security checkpoint in reasonable quantities for the duration of your itinerary (all exceptions must be presented to the security officer in front of the checkpoint):

....

-All prescription and over-the-counter medications (liquids, gels, and aerosols) including KY jelly, eye drops, and saline solution for medical purposes;....

Christina Talcott: Aha, thanks! That's helpful to know that you have the option to hand over contacts and saline solution to the screener for inspection instead of trying to cram them into your baggie.

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Indianapolis, Ind: They want you to turn off the MP3 player so you can hear instructions on take off, like "hold your nose we're going into the Potomac"!

KC Summers: Now, now.

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Disney Cruise: Hi, we were trying to price out the 3 night disney cruise and the flight charges were coming out 3k for 2 adults and 2 kids. Why do they make it this expensive. If we book on our own, we will only have to spend the 4k or 5k on the cruise. Is it worth taking the risk. I know we barely get any snow around christmas time but my family is saying if we book the whole thing as a package we will have some assurance of everything not falling apart if our flight gets delayed. Thanks.

John Deiner: Hmmmm. Good question. We recently ran a first-timer's guide to cruising that said, yes, if you book a cruise-and-air package with a cruise line they will either try to accommodate your late arrival or fly you to the first port of call.

That said, $3,000 for airfare to -- I dunno, exactly, Florida? -- does seem excessive. If you can find much cheaper airfare to the port, why not book a night or two ahead of time if possible to cover yourself if there are delays? And consider taking out trip insurance that would cover you in case of bad weather.

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washingtonpost.com: Euro Shock, (April 1, 2007)

Christina Talcott: Here's a recent story on budget travel in Western Europe (and no, it's not an oxymoron!).

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I'm Thankful for...: I'm thankful for all the bonding my son and I have done while traveling. I'm a single parent, military type and my son and I have traveled all over the world together. We moved from Texas to England when he was nine. He was such a little man, helping me lug our suitcases through multiple airports. I was so proud of him. Or the time when he was eight and we got bumped up to first class. He told all the surrounding passengers, that we'd never ridden in first class before and that we'd been put there by mistake. I was so embarrassed but he was so cute.

KC Summers: Awwwww. How old is he now?

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Rockville, MD: electronics on planes: as they say now on most flights "anything with an on/off switch should be switched off." it's true that the major concern are "transmitters" such as cell phones, but also there are take-off/landing safety issues. mostly the rule is, to the degree possible, to prevent people's attentions from being elsewhere in the approximately first 15/last 15 minutes of the flight.

KC Summers: Makes sense. Thanks.

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Delaware: For those of you traveling up I 95 to the Philly area during the holidays. You may want to consider taking rt. 40 east to 13 North and connecting back to 95 or 495 once you are past Newark, DE. They are doing some construction through Delaware and its a mess on a normal day/night.

John Deiner: Delaware is the Nightmare State these days . . . and they bumped up the toll on that plaza to $4 to boot. Both ways! Good suggestion, Del.

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Going to Mexico City: My son and I spent a week in Mexico City in August. We felt very safe (there are cops on every corner), walked all over and rode the subway. We stayed at Casa Gonzalez, a great little family owned inn. I forget what the neighborhood was called but it was accross the main drag from the Zona Rosa neighborhood.

KC Summers: Thanks very much for that firsthand report.

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Re: Traveling Wed up I-95N: So, leaving any time after 8am on Wednesday is evil? I may have no choice. Sounds like Tuesday late night would be best but I worry about being too tired.

If I need to leave Wed morning (with enough sleep to stay awake), is 8am (during rush but early) better than 10 (after rush but still before everyone leaves at noon)?

John Deiner: Good question, and let's slam this out there. Anyone know the best time to hit the roads on Wednesday morning?

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Digital camera: Hi,

Can I just ask why one would need a digital camera during take-off? I can't imagine any pictures taken through the window would turn out, and really, who wants the person sitting next to you snapping pictures on a busy travel day? I say, turn it off and put it away; don't submit strangers on a plane to being in your snapshots!

KC Summers: Oh, I dunno. I love slice-of-life snapshots -- settling in on a long plane ride, staring aghast at the meal tray, your sweetie pie asleep next to you. Personally, I don't think it would affect my hearing the safety messages.

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New York, NY: I'm trying to plan a 10 day trip to South America to meet up with a friend while she is traveling the continent. We have already determined that we will either meet or end up in Cartagena, Columbia in April. Any recommendations for our itineary after Cartegena? We want to go to places that are either cultural/historical or alternatively, just relaxing. Budget (especially any travel by plane, bus, etc.) is key. My friend also suggested going to Bogota. What do you think?

Scott Vogel: If you go to Bogota, you won't be far by plane from Leticia, which is Colombia's gateway to the Amazon (fares can be rather inexpensive too). There you can board boats of all sorts for a once-in-a-lifetime cruise upriver.

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Gaithersburg, MD: Call me crazy, but for each of the last 15 years, we have driven on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving from Gaithersburg to Philadelphia, leaving at 7:00 and the traffic is heavy, but not stop and go. A usual 2 hour 45 minute trip takes us 3 hours and 15 minutes.

John Deiner: You're crazy!!

No, you're not. You're incredibly helpful and this is a great thing to know. Thirty minutes extra is nuthin'.

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British Airways luggage woes: Hi, back in January my friend lost his luggage (both suitcases) while traveling to india on british airways. The suitcases never came to him. I was reading on the net around that time the BA is having severe problems with their baggage handlers and apparently there were 2000 luggage pieces stuck in heathrow. I am thinking of traveling on BA in February. Do you know if BA fixed the luggage handler contract issues and all that jazz?

Andrea Sachs: I am not sure if this will help you in time, but Heathrow is planning a major overhaul for 2012. That might help with some of the problems that have been dogging the airline--and airport.

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Maryland: if you get off your flight in Paris and don't check in to continue on to Dublin, the airline can and will invalidate the rest of the trip and you have no recourse for refund.

Andrea Sachs: Exactly what I said! So, best to stay on the flight and grab yourself a Guinness at your final destination.

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Pittsburgh, Pa: Would today's Flight Crew be so kind as to share with us clicksters what you're thankful for about travel?

KC Summers: Love having the tables turned on us, Pitt. Here you go:

Andrea: "I'm grateful for my parents instilling a love of travel in me as a young child, for giving me that sense of wanderlust."

John: "My iPod."

Scott: "Being able to reinvent myself."

Christina: "Finding a good travel companion."

As for me, I love the chance to spend one-on-one time with whomever I'm traveling with, far away from email and ringing phones. Also, getting to read all the magazines I never have time for in real life. Also, having my perspective altered by being in a new place.

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In response to DC United "Ted" flier: I will now avoid Ted flights like the plague. First of all, they seem to have on board a lot of clueless, inexperienced fliers who slow down the process.

Also I hate the lack of assigned seating. My husband and I were on a Ted flight from Chicago to Las Vegas and weren't able to get seats next to each other, even though we had called days in advance, told we had to get them at check-in, and arrived at the gate FOUR HOURS before departure!

Never again!

KC Summers: Thanks for the feedback. If anyone from Ted is online and wants to respond, feel free.

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Kids on plane: Sorry, but I have to throw this in... We travelled with our son who was 16 months at the time- he was restrained in his carseat. If the man sitting in front of him had not reclined the chair all the way back, my son's feet would not be able to reach. Trust me, as a parent, no one enjoys when their child has a meltdown on a flight or is noisy or anything else. Even with snacks and toys and flights scheduled around perceived nap times, not everything goes as planned.

My point- sorry to those travelling without kids- but cut parents some slack sometimes. If a child is truly misbehaving, that's one thing, but seriously, everyone has a right to travel. Don't put your seat back and turn up your headphones. If a child looks over the seat at you, hold your book up higher. Work with us.

John Deiner: Good points, and you should all feel that you can throw anything in. I don't want to get into the whole reclined-seat issue again -- I'm a non-recliner from my infancy and I know what you're talking about. And you're right: You make it easier for someone to kick your seat, it's your own fault.

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Re: Take-off and Landing: The airlines want ALL electronic equipment turned of during take-offs and landings. Basically if it has an on/off switch, they want it off. During the flight, "approved electronic devices" can be used so long as the wireless functions are disabled.

The poster who is using his phone (even in airplane mode) during take-off and landing is not following the rules.

Whether the rules make sense is another question altogether!

KC Summers: Yeah, it's best not to wonder why...

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Tysons Corner, VA: What happened to Anne? No offense to the rest of you, but she was my favorite travel crew member.

Christina Talcott: We miss Anne too! She disembarked a few months ago to start a new journey - grad school. I'm trying to fill her shoes here at the office, but I'm afraid no one can replace her unique voice here on the chat. Sorry!

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TSA stuff: re: contact lenses

what the poster wrote is true for DOMESTIC flights and please remember that international is entirely different. Had my lens solution confiscated in Heathrow last Summer and went to three stores before I could find a replacement (for gas perm lenses) in Paris--and then got to pay 3x as much as I pay here

re: camera

I've taken some GREAT shots from airplane windows!

re: phone

I hope you don't sit next to me because I will either ask you to turn it off or ask the stewardess to ask you. The rule is to turn off all phones and my life is not worth trusting that people know how to use their phones -that- intimitely. I've been next to folks who won't fasten their seatbelt, for goodness sakes!

Christina Talcott: Thanks for the info! I for one would be hesitant to try anything out of the ordinary at Heathrow. Sounds like the best solution would be to put your lenses and lens solution in 3 oz containers inside your one-quart baggie.

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Rockville, MD: Have a 5 hour layover in Oakland and want to dash up to Berkeley to my fav restaurant for lunch. Am flying on two tickets (a risk, I know but had no choice) and wonder how chancy it would be to not claim my luggage and then come back to claim it from unclaimed luggage.

Andrea Sachs: That sounds slightly risky, especially leaving your luggage alone for so long. Why don't you store your luggage at the airport; there is a storage service in Terminal 1. (Some BART stations also have lockers.)

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travel after Thanksgiving: I've got business travel the week after Thanksgiving. I've booked a direct flight, and made sure that I leave for home on a weekend. I do plan to check one bag for the flight, but will carry my laptop and a change of clothes on board.

Is this going to be as bad a time to travel as Thanksgiving, or am I missing the worst?

Andrea Sachs: You should be flying in the calm eye of the travel hurricane.

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Sterling, VA: Good Afternoon!

I am traveling to India in December and I've hired a van with a driver for the 10 days that I will be there. How much should I tip? Should I tip at the end of each day or at the end of the trip.

Thanks for your help.

KC Summers: Not sure how much you're paying the guy, Sterling, or if he's supposed to act as your tour guide or is just driving you to appointments, etc. Recently in Ecuador, I tipped my driver about 20 percent above his rate each day because he did such a nice job explaining things, buying admission tickets, etc, over and above driving. We think that if your driver is in fact being a tour guide, you should tip about $10 a day, each day. If he's just driving, about $5 a day. Hope that helps.

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Hyde Park, NY: Cara's nightmare trip points out the importance of overnighting before an important flight or cruise. We live about two hours from JFK but almost never fly out of there for a major trip without overnighting at an airport hotel. When you figure the two hour drive followed by three or four hours at the airport, you're investing half a day to get on a two hour flight. If you're meeting up with a cruise or taking a once a day overseas flight, you can get a room for about $130 and arrive at the airport fresh and ready to travel. As we drive to the airport, we use a park and drive hotel where we can stay overnight and park the car for the duration for little more than just the cost of parking at a reserved lot. For our cruise in March, we will fly out of Stewart in Newburgh,NY and overnight in Lauderdale to avoid hassles in the event of weather problems. For $115, the hotel will pick us up at the airport and shuttle us to the cruise terminal the next morning. Look at all the stress we're avoiding. For $130 bucks and a good night's sleep, Cara could have made her flight.

KC Summers: Yep, I think that's the biggest lesson of her horror story. Be forewarned, everyone!

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Washington D.C.:

After reading all the letters to the editor, and the comments on last week's Flight Crew, it seems obvious (alas) that in discussing Ms. L's problems, both you and she failed to address the root causes. Instead, you only looked at what she should have done after her trip already started.

A root cause analysis would have focused on her failure to book a non-stop flight from Dulles to Rome, or if she absolutely had to fly Continental's nonstop from Newark to Rome, her failure to consider more reliable methods for getting from D.C. to Newark (Amtrak or driving), as opposed to taking a connecting flight from DCA to EWR.

While I think you did a great job in highlighting what she should have done once airborne, it would have been even more informative, and a greater learning experience for your readers, to do a root cause analysis as that would have prevented her problems from occurring in the first place!

The fact that so many readers readily spotted these two issues also indicates that this article would have benefitted from a preliminary review on the Travel Log blog, to allow for reader comments that could have been incorporated before publishing in the print edition.

I encourage you to do more in-depth analyses of travel problems, but one that focuses on how to prevent the problems, and not just after-the-fact bandaid solutions.

Thanks!

KC Summers: Thanks for your thoughtful comments. Great idea to vet this stuff on our blog. I repeat, though, that there was nothing wrong with her connecting -- it's just that she didn't allow enough time. I'm famously paranoid about this and will book ridiculously long layovers because I'm so afraid of things going wrong. It's paid off so far -- I've never missed a flight. (Dang, I should never have said that, now I'm doomed.)

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KC Summers: Oops, we seem to have gone over our allotted time. Thanks for all your questions, everyone, and sorry if we didn't get to yours. We were down a couple staffers today. Try us again next week.

This week's prize goes to the single military dad whose young son was so helpful on their flights around the world. Please send your contact info to me at summersk@washpost.com and we'll get the prize right out to you. And if you don't want the hula dancer, let me know and I'll find something more suitable for a military guy. Also, never heard back from the lucky rap CD winner -- you know where to find me!

See you next week, and keep an eye out for this Sunday's issue, when we take a look at the conditions in Oaxaca, Mexico, one year after the riots.

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