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Travel Photo The Flight Crew, from left: John Deiner, Carol Sottili, Steve Hendrix, Anne McDonough, Gary Lee, K.C. Summers, Cindy Loose, Andrea Sachs. (Melissa Cannarozzi for The Post)
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NEW! Subscribe to the weekly Travel and Live Online E-Mail Newsletters.

Talk About Travel
Hosted by the Flight Crew
Monday, April 28, 2003; 2 p.m. ET

The Post's Travel Section Flight Crew -- pictured at right -- 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 and a list of frequently asked questions.

The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

The Flight Crew: Happy Monday out there in you-should-be-working-but-instead-you’re-surfing-the-‘net land. Welcome to our weekly chat. At least it’s part of our job to be here (but we’re glad you made it and we promise not to tell your boss).

Well, the war is over, terrorism is defeated and finally it’s safe to travel again! Time to dust off those long-delayed plans to visit China and Hong Kong and Toronto and….What’s that? Communicable disease? Infectious and fatal and loathsome epidemic? THIS IS JUST NOT FAIR! What’s next, airline bankruptcies?

Anyway, we know YOU’RE still traveling in spite of the biblical obstacles because you’re still sending us lots of questions. Here to answer as many of them as can (and fake the rest) are deputy editor John Deiner (in the attractive paisley face mask), soon to leave for Ecuador -- Gary Lee, just back from Santiago, Chile -- staff writer Cindy Loose, still warm from Australia -- Anne “Wonder Woman” McDonough, the cheapskate’s expert on New York City -- Carol Sottili, joining us by trunk line from Northern Virginia -- and me, Steve Hendrix, your chat emcee for the day and just back from a weird and wonderful week in Louisiana’s Cajun country.

Now for our weekly giveaway of cheap crap that people send us….tell us how SARS has affected your coming travel plans. The two people who make us feel sorriest for them will win either a copy of Zagat’s shopping guide to NYC, or a CD of mood music W Hotels.

Let the sob stories begin!

Tucson, Ariz.: I'm planning a trip to Greece in September; what is a "good" fare to Athens? Should I grab a ticket now or wait?

Thank you!

The Flight Crew: Tucson: Gary Lee says that he went from DCA via NYC to Athens on Delta last September for around $800. Rates may dip a bit lower but not much. My own advice would be that if you find a fare in that ballpark, go for it.

Columbia, Md.: My wife and I would like to go to see "The Lion King" in New York this July, but are only able to find tickets from scalpers -- at very inflated prices. Any suggestions? We'd like to take a bus up and back; do some bus companies specialize in package trips?


The Flight Crew: Sottili here: Try the New Amsterdam Theatre box office or its off-site agent, Ticketmaster. To purchase tickets by phone, call Ticketmaster's Broadway theater hotline (800-755-4000). Tickets are also available online at www.ticketmaster.com. If you know someone who lives in New York, tickets can be purchased at the theater on Broadway and 42nd Street. Standing-room only tickets are available on performance day when the box office opens (10 a.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 11 a.m. Sunday). Also, tickets that suddenly become available due to cancellations are sold two hours before curtain time. Also, try www.nywaterway.com for good package deals.

Arlington, Va.: I am in the process of planning a trip to Las Vegas this July. I was wondering if you could recommend the best time to purchase a flight for the trip. I don't want to purchase too soon and lose out on any specials that might be run closer to my departure date, but on the other hand I don't want to wait too long and have the price go up. This is common to all travelers planning a trip, I was just curious to see if you knew when on average specials from the D.C. area to Vegas are run? Thanks for your help.

The Flight Crew: Hey, Arl. Can't really tell you when to book a trip there, except to say that if you see a fare for $180 to $200, you should snatch it up. It happens pretty frequently these days, thanks to Southwest and America West. Right now fares are running about $240, which, really, isn't all that bad -- but they do get cheaper. And summer can be really quiet in Vegas, particularly weekdays, so you should be able to snap up some good hotel deals.


Uptown: Hi there -- love the chat! I was curious if you have done any diving off the coast of Aruba. What's Aruba like in late May/early June?

The Flight Crew: Uptowm: Gary Lee here. I have been in Aruba in May and found it dry but not too hot, in the high 70s and low 80s. Since the Easter crowd had long since gone, it wasn't too crowded either. I have not been diving there but maybe some other clickster has...

Washington, D.C.: Some questions about travel insurance: What does it typically cover? Would it do any good to purchase some for a planned trip to Asia (because of SARS)?

The Flight Crew: Travel insurance would typically pay to medivac you home or to a good hospital if you got sick, but I'm not aware of anyone agreeing to cover backing out of a trip because SARS is still a problem, or became it became a big problem in the place you want to go. Airlines and tours operators have been flexible about postponing travel due to SARS, but there is no guarantee of course that the provider from whom you bought your trip will be flexible enough to suit your needs or comfort level.

About what it typically covers: it varies a lot, and there are reams of small print you should always read to make sure it's covering what you want it to cover. But generally, it does not cover fear of anything, be it terrorism or epidemics. You can see loads of options for coverage at a virtual insurance mall -- insuremytrip.com. But I warn you, unless you like reading things like all the warnings that come on your drugs, you won't enjoy your trip to this mall. -- Cindy

Silver Spring, Md.: Hi Crew. Last week I wrote in saying that I was going to do New York on a budget, and since I would be arriving at 7:30 a.m., what could I do before hotel check-in. You replied that you needed more information. The additional info is that I will hopefully be staying at the Bentley Hotel near the Museum Mile, and check-in is at 3 p.m. Thanks!

The Flight Crew: Hey Silver,

A reader chimed in after we posted your question and made a great suggestion: the Cloisters. Here's what I wrote in response.

The Cloisters is a great idea, a bit of medieval Europe on the northern top of Manhattan, and a ticket there included same-day admission to the Met (the Cloisters is part of that fantabulous museum). The grounds open at 9:30, so you'd have time to do wander around Chinatown before heading to the other tip of the island (directions to the Cloisters from their Web site: M4 bus directly to the last stop (Fort Tryon Park–The Cloisters) or take A train to 190th Street, exit station by elevator, and walk north along Margaret Corbin Drive for approximately ten minutes; to avoid walking, transfer to M4 bus and ride one stop north.)

The Bentley lets you drop off luggage any time you want the day of check-in, so you could head up to the hotel, drop off your stuff, get breakfast in the area and then walk to the zoo (in Central Park at 64th Street, opens at 10 a.m. on Saturdays) before hopping on the Madison Avenue M4 to the Cloisters. On your way back to the hotel you can do like our intrepid reporter did for the Museum Mile issue and go from the Museo del Barrio all the way down to the Met (remember the same day ticket). Any other suggestions from the clicksters?


Falls Church, Va.: My boyfriend and I are thinking about taking a trip to Belize this winter. Are there any tour operators you would recommend if we were looking for an adventure packed vacation?

The Flight Crew: I'd start with GORP.com and Iexplore.com, Falls Church, both reputable companies that I've used that do a fair amount in Latin America.


Speaking of Belize, I'm reading the coolest book about that country from the '60s called "The Dog of the South" by Charles Portis, the guy who wrote "True Grit." Anybody know of it? I'd never heard of it before finding it in used bookstore in New Orleans last week, but it's a stone riot.

Silver Spring, Md.: I need to find a vacation home in San Diego to rent for a week in July. How do I find a realtor that specializes in vacation properties? Thanks.

The Flight Crew: Sottili here.

Here's what I wrote in Travel Q&A a couple of months ago:

Rentals can be had, however, through several for-rent-by-owner Web sites. The www.vrbo.com site, for example, offers nearly 150 San Diego rentals; choices include three adjoining units on the beach in Carlsbad, north of San Diego, that sleep 16 for a total of $5,600 a week. Other sites that offer rental units include www.cyberrentals.com, www.10kvacationrentals.com and www.vacationrentals.com.

Several realty companies also offer rentals, including Sandy Beach Rentals (619-224-1500, www.sandybeachrentals.com), ERA Coastal Properties (800-636-7368, www.eracoastal.com) and Penny Realty (800-748-6704, www.missionbeach.com).

Alexandria, Va.: Thanks SOOOO much for the "Fly to Buffalo, drive to Toronto" advice! Southwest and Hertz are the combo. We flew round-trip and got a Ford Taurus rental for less than a direct flight for two to Toronto this past weekend. The city was bustling, weather was great, and we had a wonderful time. And out of probably 100,000 people we saw, only one had on a surgical mask. We saw more people with pink hair than we did with latex gloves or surgical masks.

The Flight Crew: Thanks for the report from the hot zone, Alex.

Alexandria, Va.: I know Hanoi is on the WHO's and the CDC's travel advisory lists because of SARs. Is travel to the other parts of Vietnam safe? Thanks.

The Flight Crew: Double check this at www.cdc.gov, but I think I heard that folks felt that Hanoi had a pretty good hand on containing the epidemic. (Either that or I had a vivid dream, so do check.) Anyway, we've heard no other warnings about other places in Vietnam. My concern would be what conditions would be at the time you leave, assuming you're not already packed. Also, I would hate to go to Vietnam and miss Hanoi -- it is a fascinating city. If it were me, I'd hold off a bit and see where things are in a couple weeks, but that's just an opinion. -- Cindy

Greenbelt, Md.: How do you find out on international flights if you will have to climb the stairs in and out of the plane?

The Flight Crew: Sottili here: I'd call the airline. Unless you're going to small, off-the-beaten-track destinations where you'll have to walk out onto the tarmac, you're probably pretty safe. As for the larger jets, some have an upstairs section, but that's usually reserved for business-class/first-class.

Washington, D.C.: I'm planning on going to China for a month this summer. Been interested in the country for years, learning Mandarin for months, and planning intineraries for weeks. My question is about the effects of the travel restrictions due to SARS.

I'm not at all worried about contracting the disease (and I've read extensively on it), but I am a little concerned about the reliability of internal transport and whether traditional tourist sites will be open. Any idea?

The Flight Crew: We haven't heard of any tourist sites being closed in China. I personally agree with your assessment that the chances of getting SARS on the trip is an acceptable risk--probably less than getting run over by a moped. However, I would raise a bigger concern: if you get sick or injured some other way, getting treatment could be a problem. Last night I was speaking with a U.S. foreign service officer who mentioned that her office has been pulling people out of China because if they get really ill, they usually medivac them to Hong Kong hospitals for decent treatment, but the last place you want to be these days is in a Hong Kong hospital. -- Cindy

Washington, D.C.: Greetings. I wanted to congratulate you on the Sunday story about the Basque country. I'm from San Sebastian and was glad to see so much space devoted to my town. I also appreciate the writer's effort to dispel the image of San Sebastian as a troublesome tourist destiny. But I wish he didn't do it by repeatedly using mocking references to the "climate of fear" that does indeed exist for the people living there and is the source of much suffering. And it's not just according to CNN.

He and all travelers to the area need to be aware that the chance they'll run into any kind of trouble is minimal, so it shouldn't discourage them from visiting. That said, trying to prove that point with references to how no one flinched when "a balloon burst, echoing the sound of a gunshot" is just plain silly and, to me, hurtful. Maybe the writer should consider that he was the only one who noticed a resemblance between the two sounds because the locals have had the chance to learn the difference. There were many other teasing remarks that I won't bother to list here.

Donostiarras (San Sastian locals) and Basques in general have mastered, over the years, the art of living in public as if nothing is wrong in our land. The reason is that there -is- fear to speak out loud and we'll only discuss the political situation with close friends and relatives -- as long as they see things as we do, many families have broken ties because of their conflicting views; or they simply avoid the topic.

So: tourists have many things to enjoy in the Basque country and little to fear. But please say so without mocking a very painful and serious situation. Given that the author lives in the South of France, I'd have expected a little more knowledge and sensibility.

washingtonpost.com: In case you missed it: Basque Relief (Post, April 27)

The Flight Crew: Thanks for the comments, WDC, positive and negative. But it's true that for most readers, the primary thing they know about modern Basque region is that it's one of the places with a terrorism problem (albeit a low-grade domestic one). There was no way for us to write about travel there without addressing that throughout the piece, especially given the current state of mind of the American traveler. In all, I think the article made it very clear that he found the place safe, interesting and beautiful.

-- Steve

California, formerly Washington, D.C.: My boyfriend and I want to go to Peru in August. He went about five years ago and hiked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu with a group of friends. But apparently this is no longer allowed -- you have to go on a guided tour. Do you or the clicksters know of any tours that cater to the "we would have done it by ourselves if we could crowd"? i.e., we carry our own packs, make our own food, etc., with minimal support from porters?

The Flight Crew: Former D.C., For starters, says Gary Lee, I would try gapadventures.com. They are a low impact company that seems to fit your bill. I have not dealt with them directly but know folks who have to their great satisfaction.

Happy trails.

Seattle, Wash.: Wanna hear my sob story?

I've been assiduously building my United Mileage Plus miles over the last few month, using their charge card, flying on United and their partners, even getting miles for my new mortgage. I've been thinking I want to use these miles ASAP, before United goes bust or suddenly raises the miles needed to redeem for a ticket. I've been wanting to go back to Hong Kong for years, not having been there since 1988. I finally get just enough miles to book a free flight, having exactly 60,010 miles -- plenty of flights available to redeem these miles, according to the ual.com Web site.

And now SARS hits!

Now, I'll probably never be able to redeem these miles ever again! -sob!-

The Flight Crew: Ouch. Sorry, Seattle. But don't count United out yet. They have no plans to stop flying yet.

Alexandria, Va.: Good afternoon. I have already purchased airline tickets for a trip this summer to a SARS-affected country. I vaguely recall that some airlines had offered customers postponement options in light of the war. Do you have any info on whether there are such options with respect to SARS? Any suggestions for how I should approach my airline with such an inquiry? Thanks.

The Flight Crew: Sottili here: I'd call the airline and ask; no special approach is necessary. We devoted Sunday's Coming & Going column to the SARS situation, and wrote then that Air Canada was allowing passengers to change their travel dates without fees, if the tickets were purchased on or before April 24 for travel on or before May 14. American, US Airways and United issued similar policies. As the Travel section went to press Thursday night, Continental was not allowing refunds, but that may have changed. Check with the airline for the latest info.

Parisian mommies?: Does anyone know of any maternity stores in Paris? Thanks!

The Flight Crew: Hmmm...any clicksters with Parisian pregnancy-wear experience??

-- Anne

How SARS Helped My Plans, New York, N.Y.: This is terrible, but...

Over Memorial Day, I wanted to go to Costa Rica with a friend. I didn't have the cash to go, though, so she planned a trip to Taiwan to see another friend for a week. She then found out her company would quarantine (!) her for a week after her return, and she couldn't afford to take off two weeks. (Her company wouldn't credit her the mandatory second week.) Instead, she's offering up her house in Cape Cod and letting all friends crash there for free. So now, no trip to Costa Rica for me, but I get a free vacation filled with swimming, lobster, and low-key fun!

--A Very Poorly Dressed New Yorker (-ahem-, -cough-)

The Flight Crew: I KNEW there was silver lining to this fatal epidemic!

Washington, D.C.: Dear Flight Crew,

You guys are great. I read your section every week. My boyfriend and I are planning a wine tasting tour to Chile and Argentina with travelland mid June. It's about $1,200/person for the whole trip including airfare and hotels. Do you think the price is reasonable? Also, do you or the reader out there have any experience with the wine tasting tour? Anything else we need to concern about since this is the first time for both of us traveling to South America and don't speak any Spanish. Thank you very much.


The Flight Crew: Megan, Gary Lee says: I just returned from Chile, a trip which of course included some winetasting. I would say that the package cost sounds okay, if all hotels and meals and excursions are included. Don't worry too much about not speaking Spanish but your trip will probably be a bit more enjoyable if you learn a few phrases beforehand.

All day surfer: Has any of the Crew been to the Pike's Peak area of Colorado?

The Flight Crew: Sottili here: Yes, and it's very pretty. Pike's Peak itself was rather bizarre. There were masses of dead ladybugs everywhere on the top of the mountain, and people were smoking cigarettes in this strange little gift shop/coffee shop that was at the top (I think it's since been revamped, and hopefully smoking is no longer allowed). At the half-way point on the way down, where brakes are checked, we were told our brakes needed to cool down and we had to pull over right next to another strange little gift shop where birds were coming down and stealing food out of people's hands. I swear, I was not smoking or drinking anything at the time. Weird.

Silver Spring, Md.: Everyone speaks highly of nightlife in Madrid on Friday and Saturday nights, but I will be there Sunday through Tuesday. Is it worth the sleep loss to hit the discos on these nights? Thanks.

The Flight Crew: Silver Spring: In my experience, Madrid is an upallnight kinda town almost any day of the week, says Gary. I remember finding a pretty lively club or two one Sunday night. Go for it. You can catch up on sleep when you get home.

Alexandria, Va.: Hello -- I need to fly one way from London to Sydney in June and don't know much about the airlines that service that route. If you had to choose between British Airways, Virgin, Qantas, Singapore Airlines, Thai Int'l, Air New Zealand, Emirates, JAL, or Korean Air, do any of them jump out as being especially good or, on the other hand, not-so-good?

For an added twist, should I be concerned about connecting in Singapore or Malaysia in light of the SARS outbreak? (My instincts say don't worry, but maybe I should worry.)

The Flight Crew: From my experience, Virgin Air is great. Just took Quantas and was perfectly satisfied, but can't say it had good food or anything. Air New Zealand is having big time economic problems; don't know if it's affected service or not. Singapore has better food than most airlines. All I know about Thai is that the stewardesses are beautiful and have snazzy uniforms. I guess I'd go for the best connections first, price second, and just make sure the one you choose is offering personal video systems -- that to me is the difference between barely tolerable and unmitigated agony on long flights.

As to Singapore and Malaysia: get the latest at www.cdc.gov. Those nations haven't had a huge problem, but people worry about the people who are moving through those airports, and where they might have been recently. I guess if I had a choice and it didn't make a lot of difference, I'd just as soon transfer somewhere other than Asia. In fact, having just done L.A./Sydney, I'd rather not ever connect anywhere. It's a long enough trip without a connection, thank you very much. -- Cindy

For Athens: Last week Northwest was running a special on their Web site -- to Athens from Dulles was in the $220 range. I think the special is still on -- can't remember all the rules -- but it was for travel in August/September I think.

The Flight Crew: That sounds great, says Gary. Thanks for the tip!

Austin, Tex.: Re: Jetways vs. stairs on international flights. In my experience, it's not just out-of-the-way destinations where there are no jetways. I've had to use stairs on all my flights to Toronto-Pearson, because Air Canada and Delta use small jets to fly there from the U.S. cities I departed from.

The best advice is to call the airline and find out what kind of plane they are using for the route as well as the situation at the airports.

The Flight Crew: Sottili here: It happens, but not from Washington all that often. But yes, calling is best.

Washington, D.C.: Re: China -- I have taken two trips to China for a total of seven weeks there. Both times I came down with really awful illnesses -- sicker than I have otherwise ever been. That said, I wouldn't hesitate to go back (I'm 29 and healthy). With or without SARS, I would not go to China if I had a compromised immune system or were particularly elderly.

The Flight Crew: Thanks. I agree. But I'd also be concerned right now about needing medical attention. Even healthy people can get hit by mopeds. China has been there a long time, and will remain for some time, so there is no rush to see it. That's one person's opinion, and I don't feel strongly about not going. However, at the very least I'd be checking into insurance that would get me to a safe hospital should I need one. Cindy

A SARS infected relationship: I'm trying for a prize here, so excuse me if I'm a bit melodramatic.

One of my closest college friends is finally getting married. I've been excited for months about going to the wedding, seeing a bunch of old friends, and bringing my beau along for the ride to meet many of my college buds.

The bad news: the wedding is in two weeks in Toronto. To make matters worse, the reception is at a Chinese banquet hall. Besides all the additional stress this means for the bride and groom, my otherwise perfectly rational beau has been making a stink of the situation. He's very close to backing out, and is begging me to cancel. The rest of the story is for Hax's chat, but it honestly is straining our relationship.

On a lighter note, all of the friends of the bride and groom are trying to figure out how to work surgical masks into the weekend without offending the older generations. We're thinking of showing up at a bar with masks that have something sappy about their wedding on them. Any suggestions?

The Flight Crew: How 'bout this: The groom tenderly lifts the bride's veil at the appointment, only to reveal....a surgical mask! With the word's, "Not So Fast Buster" written on it.

Santiago, Chile-returnee: Did Gary try any of the wineries in Chile? I was there in January and have to admit I was underwhelmed. The lack of wine choice for tasting and the expense of the tours combined with a guide who didn't speak Spanish or English led to a disappointing day trip. They don't really seem to get the wine tourism business or appreciate how much they have to offer. What was your favorite part of your trip?

Did you go to El Otro Sitio or Palimpinpausen for dinner? Those were two of my very favorite places.

The Flight Crew: Gary says: I went to three wineries after seeking much advise from locals, who acknowledged that the quality of the tours is mixed. The places who did the best tours were Concho Y Toro and Santa Rita. Instead of going on an organized bus excursion, I went on my own, on the public bus from Santiago. Santa Rita in particular has a FIRST class restaurant that should not be missed. I did go to El Otro Sitio and loved it.

Crystal City, Va.: Hello on this beautiful day! I am looking to take a trip out to San Antonio for a long weekend in mid/late June. I am turning up fares of between $275-$400 using the various search engines and Southwest's Web site. What is a good fare to San Antonio? I am curious if there will likely be a last minute deal we should hold out for. Also, is Austin a viable alternate city to fly into? I see that come up fairly regularly, but not sure how far apart the two cities are. Thank you for your help!

The Flight Crew: Sottili here: $275 is good, $400 is too high. San Antonio is about 80 miles from Austin, so I wouldn't go that route unless I wanted to see Austin, too.

:-(: How come everyone on this chat is always on their way to Singapore or Spain or Italy or Chile? Isn't anyone broke and desperate for super-budget travel ideas like me?

The Flight Crew: Sure there are. And guess what -- I've often had as much fun on a local driving trip as on some of the exotic exhausting ones. Tell me what you want kinds of things you like to do, and I'll try to come up with an idea. Want to drive? Train? How much budget is there in that super budget?

Arlington, Va.: My husband and I are going to Negril for the first time next week. We have received conflicting advice regarding whether and when to exchange our U.S. dollars to Jamaican dollars. Should we plan on doing most of our exchanging once we arrive, and if so, where is the best place to do so?

The Flight Crew: Sottili here: I've been to Jamaica several times and have never had any problem using U.S. dollars.

Inca trail: For the poster headed to Peru -- yes you have to go on a guided tour and I think they all cater to you. We went on a budget one last year, where we actually carried our own packs, but porters still carried gear, set up tents, cooked, etc. I would recommend the company (Andean Life), all the other groups we saw were more posh, no one was on their own. It was actually kind of nice because the trail is pretty exhausting, even if you are in good shape, and being able to relax while someone else cooks dinner is not a bad thing!

One thing to note is that the Inca Trail is incredibly crowded, we camped with hundreds of other people every night. If I were to go back to Peru, I would pick a different trek to do farther north. But then, you have to see Macchu Picchu, of course.

The Flight Crew: Thanks much, said Gary. Good advice!

SARS Story: My spouse was supposed to attend a conference in Singapore in June. Due to the concerns about SARS, they are now planning to relocate the trip to London or San Francisco.

I must confess that I have limited sympathy at the change of plans! Too bad I can't come with him on this one.

On the other hand, we are planning our first-ever family vacation overseas and haven't changed our plans due to SARS. (We are seeking to use our free frequent flyer tickets now before United goes belly-up, though!)

The Flight Crew: Singapore is nice. San Francisco is better. London is the best.

-- Steve

Almost embarrassed to ask: I am going to New York in the next few months, and would like to find where, gulp, Kitty Carlisle Hart performs. My mother remembers her from the game show days, and was impressed by her Pilates moves on "60 Minutes" or "Dateline," some news show that she was on a few months ago. Is her show like Bobby Short's? My mother is really really intent on seeing her, thanks for not laughing at me!

The Flight Crew: No embarrassment necessary.

Kitty (along with Anne Kaufman Schneider) is performing today and May 4 (at 3 and 6:30 p.m., I believe) at the French Institute's Florence Gould Hall,(55 E. 59th St. They're doing an evening of tales from the stage, called "Tales and Tunes." Tickets are $35-$55. That's about all I could dig up right now, and I'm afraid no one here has had the pleasure of seeing her show live, so we can't weigh in on the Bobby Short comparison. So get thee to New York on May 4, and make your mother happy!


Fairfax, Va.: So Cindy just got back from Australia! Me too, and I'd go back in a minute. Wonder if she had as great a time as I did. Melbourne and Sydney may be the two cleanest, and friendliest, cities in the world!

The Flight Crew: I've only been back and day, and it would take a whole lot longer than a minute to get me back. All I want to do is sleep and make spaghetti in my own kitchen. But yes, it sure is clean. In fact, if you thought Melbourne and Sydney were clean, you should have seen Brisbane and Adelaide. I felt like I should wipe my feet when stepping outside.

-- Cindy

The problem with SARS: The problem with insuring against a case of SARS is that if you do get it you might never find an air carrier willing to carry you out. So insurance would be worthless since there would be nothing to pay for.

The Flight Crew: Good point -- now that you mention it I was thinking of private helicopters, not regularly scheduled planes. Anyone know for certain how that works. Thank goodness no one here has ever had to use that part of the insurance. Cindy

Germantown, Md.: I'm looking for an affordable way to get to BWI from Germantown without a car. Is there anything better than the $37 SuperShuttle? What about Metro to Lightrail; is that worthwhile? Any insights would be a great help. Thanks.

The Flight Crew: Hi, Germ.

Tricky one, that. One thing that would be better than SuperShuttle and probably only marginally more expensive is to take a cab. But to save money, you could hop on the subway down to Union Station and jump on a Marc train. The main problem with this plan is that Marc doesn't run on weekends, so you'd have to take a much more costly Amtrak if you were traveling Saturday/Sunday.

The one sure-fire, cheapo route is to take Metro to Greenbelt then hop on the BWI Express Bus, which leaves every 40 minutes from the station. Info: www.wmata.com.

-- John

Arlington, Va.: Good afternoon!

Hoping you can help. I'd like to surprise my boyfriend with a full day of whitewater rafting as a graduation gift this spring. I've found an overwhelming number of outdoor adventure companies, but it seems as though many are a hike and a half from D.C. I'm looking for something that could be a day trip; within two or three hours of D.C. with intermediate rapids. Any suggestions would be highly appreciated! Thanks!

The Flight Crew: You need to look around Harper's Ferry, Arl. Outfitters there ride some excellent white water on the Gauley, the Upper Yough and the outstanding New River. One outfitter I know: River Runners.

-- Steve

Jet Blue?: What kind of feedback have the travel gurus and others gotten about them? We're considering doing their Dulles-Oakland flight because 1. it's direct and 2. it's cheap!

The Flight Crew: We've heard nothing but praise, and those of use who have flown the airline agree -- it's a good airline, and a great value. Enjoy yer trip.

-- John

Ballston, Va.: My husband, a professor, is investigating sabbatical options either in Perth, Australia, or Pavia, Italy. My preference would be Pavia; however, are there compelling arguments for living in Perth for a year?

The Flight Crew: Yes, I'd say so. Australia is as big and as geographically varied as the U.S. In fact, I've been thinking that the only way to see it properly would be to live there a year and travel about from time to time. Italy of course would be great -- no one is going to pity you your dilemma. I would say one point in favor of Perth is that you can get to Italy and elsewhere in Europe pretty easily and can still go for a visit, whereas Australia is so far, and so expensive to get to, that it might be your biggest chance to experience a fascinating place. But I'm speaking from the perspective of one who loves animals in the wild and water more than art museums, so it's a personal thing too. -- Cindy

Internet twist: I am going to Scotland this summer for a wedding. Some family members decided to fly Icelandair so we could take advantage of the three day layover in Iceland. We were surprised to find airfares on their Web site higher than the fare quoted by their agents, about $400 more. I thought the Internet fares were always lower. I guess never say never applies in this instance.

The Flight Crew: Internet is supposed to be cheaper -- it sure costs them less to sell the tickets that way, so that's where some savings should be. But then, Iceland Air charges more to go to Iceland that it does to fly somewhere twice as far, with a stopover. Who can figure. -- Cindy

Boston, Mass.: I have a random "to check or not to check" question. Do airlines let you take a suit in a garment bag as a carry-on item, and would they provide a place to hang it up onboard?

Specifically, I'm flying to Atlanta for a wedding and only staying one night, so I won't have much stuff- just the suit/dress shirt/tie plus a small carry-on bag with other clothes, shoes, etc. If I'm only allowed one carry-on, do I need to either check the small bag or get one of those cardboard garment boxes and check the suit?

I've thought about just wearing the suit on the plane, but I'd rather not (I'm 23 and like to think that I don't much look like a business traveller -- plus it'll be uncomfortable). Any advice?

Thanks, y'all, you're the best!

The Flight Crew: I've done it, Boston. It shouldn't be hard, especially if the flight isn't packed. Hand the garment bag when you step on and you should still be able to stash a normal carry-on.

-- Steve

Washington, D.C.: I am flying to London this summer (arriving in Heathrow July 30). From there I am flying to Glasgow from Gatwick Airport. Should I buy a ticket now or wait and purchase it there? I am departing for Glasgow on July 31.

Thank you.

The Flight Crew: Sottili here: It's not a good idea to buy a walk-up fare -- you'll almost always pay more, plus it's a red flag to security personnel. Ryanair has great fares between London Stansted and Glasgow - go to www.ryanair.com.

Washington, D.C.: Our group of 18 is planning a trip to OBX during the long Memorial Day weekend. With the Saturday to saturday rentals; we would ideally want to check in Friday and checkout Monday. Realtors are asking us to wait till about two weeks before the weekend, what chances do we have?

The Flight Crew: Hi, D.C. A truly wild guess here, but I'd say you have a pretty good shot of getting the extra time (that's what you want, correct?). One of the little secrets of OBX is that the season really doesn't get cranking until mid-June, when all the kids are out of school. I'm thinking that if you have a house big enough to fit 18 folks, it would have been rented by now to a similarly large group for those days you want it -- and we all know how hard it is to get 18 people to have the same time off. Good luck!!

-- John

Transplanted Cajun: Hi Flight Crew. Thanks for the chats. Steve -- I hope you enjoyed the food and fun of South Louisiana. I miss it so! Am thinking of traveling to Ireland and Scotland in either August or September. Any suggestions for one month over the other? Any suggestions for how to spend our two weeks?

The Flight Crew: I'm still putting hot sauce on my morning cereal, Transplant. I had a hell of a time out there.

I haven't been to Iceland ever. But I have been to Scotland in both August and September (different years), and found September to be particularly lovely. It's a crap shoot of course, but the Scottish autumn can be quite dry.

-- Steve

Washington, D.C.: Hi. My husband and I would like to travel to Europe sometime this September. We would like to go to Dublin, London, and Paris all in two weeks. One of our problems is airfare. What is the best way to go if we want to fly into Dublin and fly out of Paris? Is there a better order to visit these cities? Should we visit travel agencies or keep trying to figure this trip out for ourself? If we should go with a travel agency, do you recommend any or have any criteria to base a decision on? Any other advice? Thanks!

The Flight Crew: D.C.: there are some low-cost Europe-based airlines that are worth checking out, says Gary. I would start by looking at the Web sites europebyair.com and ryanair.com. The Dublin-Paris itinerary sounds about right.



Washington, D.C.: I went kayaking with Down River Canoe this Sunday on the Shenandoah near Bentonville or Luray. It was FABULOUS. The river levels are great (although Compton Rapid is too high for kids or rank beginners) and the weather was PERFECT.

The Flight Crew: Thanks D.C.

Silver Spring, Md.: I travel for business a lot, and try to keep in shape on the road. The problem is that although most business hotels advertise a fitness center, that "fitness center" can range from two treadmills in a dank basement to a real gym. (Or in Europe, in particular, "extensive fitness center" can mean pool, sauna, and steam room, but only two treadmills.)

Is there any objective third party source out there that ranks hotel fitness centers? Or at the least, can anyone recommend a hotel in Amsterdam with a good sized gym?

The Flight Crew: Hey Silver -- I feel your pain. Travel usually means packing on a few, er, a dozen or so, extra pounds for me. So, let's see if the clicksters have any recommendations for excellent hotel fitness centers in Amsterdam... (although if you're there with good weather, i say forgo the gym and rent a bike; yes, it's flat but you can get quite a fabulous workout -- not to mention clocking serious scenery-viewing time -- by hitting the roads). Clicksters?

-- Anne

Washington, D.C.: For the couple going to Belize -- I went on a week trip with my boyfriend in March without a travel agency and found it very easy to manage on your own.

Belize has some great Web sites set up and you can easily make hotel reservations from the states. There are tons of scuba/snorkeling shops on the cayes for one day, half day, or week long excursions and all offer trips within belize to see the pyramids.

Belizeans are very friendly and helpful, the fact that almost everyone we encountered spoke English was super.

Flights in-country are pretty cheap and very flexible.

All in all, a very navigable place!

The Flight Crew: I just can't Belize it!


I wanna hear about Australia!: Cindy! What did you do? Where did you go? When will we see your adventures in print?

The Flight Crew: Hey, thanks for asking. Want to see my slides?

I spent a lot of time in search of wild animals, held a koala in a sanctuary, went to Sydney, Brisbane, Port Douglas, Cairns, Adelaide, Kangaroo Island and Yungaberra (or something like that) on a ridiculously whirlwind trip from which I may never recover. Don't know when it will run; I'll write it only when I know a date. (Procrastination is a critical part of being a journalist.)

Thanks: For the response to my question about flying London-Sydney (with any luck I should be in business class, which should help ease the pain and claustrophobia of the long flight).

Since you were just in Australia, any suggested sights/restaurants/must-sees around Sydney? Or do we have to wait for an article in the Travel section?

The Flight Crew: Mine was really a taste of Australia. If I had great insights for Sydney I'd share them now, but with two days there I'm hardly an expert except to say the harbors (more than one) are absolutely gorgeous. While I didn't get there, the Blue Mountains in the brochures looked terrific. Cindy

Washington, D.C.: Hi -- 29 and healthy got sick in China twice here -- I want to throw in one caveat. I would hesitate to go to China right now for one reason: I would feel it inconsiderate to my co-workers when I came back who would have to worry about me being contagious and of course, the real worry about spreading it to someone. My second trip in China and I came back sick -- co-workers at another job complained about my being there with some freaky foreign disease. So even though I would not hesitate to go based on my own personal risk, I would hesitate to go.

The Flight Crew: Would it be a funny gag to come back from China and pretend to hack all over your office mates?

Only about as funny as blowing powdered sugar around the office during an Anthrax scare. Forget I mentioned it.

Washington, D.C.: Sorry to ask such a specific question -- we're going to Scandanavia in September (should be cheaper than summer) the best fare I can find is about $580 round trip. It still seems kind of high to me. Is it unreasonable of me to expect fares to go below $500?


The Flight Crew: Sottili here: $580 is not a bad deal.

ConfusedLand: What or where is OBX?

The Flight Crew: Hey, CL. OBX is short for the Outer Banks...thanks for asking!

Hard Worker [ha!] in Northwest: I am eager to take a trip to Amsterdam between May 1 and August 30. But I recently heard of a few upstart airlines in Great Britain offering -insanely- low fares to the continent from English cities [from 5 pounds to 25 pounds for some, with VAT on top]. Do you know anything about such fares? I could enjoy some time in England and hop across to Amsterdam and back.

Also -- I would like to stay "on the cheap" [youth hotels, off-the-path lodgings], and splurge on a nice night or two in luxury. How would you handle and arrange those disparate plans?


The Flight Crew: Gary Lee says that the cheapie fares on Ryanair and other liners are for real and are a great way to get around the old country. For the best bargains, book in advance. Same with hostels. For pretty good information on them, check out the Web site www.iyhf.org, which is the site for the international organization of youth hostels.

Chicago, Ill.: I have a question for you relating to my business travels to the D.C. area. The majority of my business is Beltway oriented, but frequently I have to come in for a morning or two into the belly of the beast. Driving is not a fun experience in metro D.C. In your opinion, which is the easiest park and ride option from the Maryland side of the Beltway, close to I-95?

The Flight Crew: Hey, Chicago. Wish I had a better answer, but just not all that sure. I'm thinking that the Greenbelt Metro station, which is just off of I-95 near the I-95/495 divide, may be the easiest one to get into and out of, and it appears to have copious amounts of parking. Anyone out there know if this is a good option? And does the lot fill up?


Deep Valley, USA: Really need your help:

What's the best reasonably nearby national park/forest/monument where we can see old growth pine in a forest setting?


The Flight Crew: Why? Are you planning to handcuff yourself to the high branches of one as a protest? That's really a West Coast thing, Deep Valley.

Our snap guesses are Beltsville National Park, Shenandoah or Ramsey's Draft Wilderness in the G.W. National Forest (lots of ancient hemlock).

It's late, but let's through this out to the silviculturalist out there...folks?

Alexandria, Va.: I am going to Park City, Utah, at the end of May for a wedding. I have never been there before and wondering if the crew or anyone else has any suggestions on things to see in the immediate area. Also, any advice on the weather? I hear it is a bit up and down at that time of the year. Thanks in advance.

The Flight Crew: Sottili here: It's a beautiful part of the country. Town itself is very cute -- full of shops and restaurants. Surrounding area is great place to bike, hike. The Park City Silver Mine tour is really fun and interesting. Weather in late May should be nice, but even in summer you often need a jacket, especially at night. Go to parkcityinfo.com for more stuff.

Washington, D.C.: My fiancée and I are just starting to plan a honeymoon for early September. We have being trying to decide between the Amalfi Coast and the Algarve in Portugal. We are love the beaches but also like to do some sight seeing. We would like to keep the cost down and wanted to get some advice.


The Flight Crew: The Algarve region in Portugal is fabulous for scenery and food. The beaches are beautiful in that there are big cliffs sheltering them, but don't go expecting long beaches with fab. White coral sand -- the sand is closer to high grade construction sand, and the beaches tend to be in small coves surrounded by towering cliffs. Forget about going to them for beach time in the summer -- wall-to-wall people -- but since you're going in September, they should be great. Just wanted to warn you against expecting something like the long white beaches of Cancun, for example.

No one present today knows the Amalfi Coast. Can someone else help -- quickly.

McLean, Va.: I need your expert advice and I apologize that this question is similar to others recently. I've found tickets to London on Virgin Atlantic for the exact dates we want in early September for our two-week vacation. The tickets are about $500 RT and I'm not sure if I should go ahead and book them or hold out for sales. I know September is still technically the high season but was wondering if historically there are sales between now and then? What would you do?

The Flight Crew: Sottili here: Book it.

Fairfax, Va.: I'd like to go hiking in England this summer with a group. Can anyone recommend a good tour group for this that is reasonably priced?

The Flight Crew: Try Ramblers Holidays, www.ramblersholidays.co.uk.

Washington, D.C.: Hi Flight Crew, do you have any suggestions about a relaxing vacation (resort?) spot in Mexico? My husband and I are planning to be in Monterrey for a few days in August and were looking to spend the rest of the week at something resembling a vacation destination (we don't mind flying there as long as the price is right). Sand and drinks with umbrellas preferred. Bonus points for available activities like kayaking and hiking. Thanks!

The Flight Crew: One consideration is to fly to Cancun and then drive down the Riviera Maya. I'll ask them to post a recent story on that area. But I gotta tell you, it's hard to be on the Mexican coast and not find beautiful sand beaches, drinks with umbrellas, kayaking and hiking. Have a great time. --Cindy

Washington, D.C.: We've decided to do it -- we're taking 10 months to travel around the world. We start in South America (Peru, Brazil, Argentina, Chile) then to southeast Asia (Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, maybe parts of India), then on to the South Pacific (Cook Islands, New Zealand, Sydney, Melbourne), followed by southern Africa (Cape Town, Johannesburg, Victoria Falls) and Istanbul.

I'd love advice on the best guidebooks for these locations. Many thanks.

The Flight Crew: Good on ya, WDC (Sorry, Cindy Loose has been speaking 'Stralian to us all day long).

Cleary, this is a job for Rough Guides and Lonely Planet, both often used by this office in our farther flung travels.

-- Steve

Boston, Mass.: I have a random "to check or not to check" question. Do airlines let you take a suit in a garment bag as a carry-on item, and would they provide a place to hang it up onboard?

Specifically, I'm flying to Atlanta for a wedding and only staying one night, so I won't have much stuff- just the suit/dress shirt/tie plus a small carry-on bag with other clothes, shoes, etc. If I'm only allowed one carry-on, do I need to either check the small bag or get one of those cardboard garment boxes and check the suit?

I've thought about just wearing the suit on the plane, but I'd rather not (I'm 23 and like to think that I don't much look like a business traveller -- plus it'll be uncomfortable). Any advice?

Thanks, y'all, you're the best!

The Flight Crew: I'd check my small bag and carry the suit in a small suit bag, tell the steward you are carrying a wedding suit, and I'd be very surprised if they wouldn't find a nice place to hang it in that little section near first class. If they won't do that for you, the worst that will happen is that you'll have to drape it over the suitcases in the overhead bins, stand guard while plane is being boarded so no one crushes it with crap. Have a great time. Cindy

Arlington, Va.: I know crystal ball questions aren't fair, but please give me your best guess! What would be "normal" fare to Europe (London, Paris, Frankfurt -- gateway city) over Thanksgiving week? And when would be the best time to buy? Right before? (Right now they're around $600/700, and I think they'll get lower -- right?)

The Flight Crew: Sottili here: You can do better than that. Last year, going rate was about $400 that time of year.

washingtonpost.com: Beyond Cancun (Post, Feb. 9)

The Flight Crew: Behold.

Lion King alternative: Go to Toronto instead. Tickets are much cheaper, theatre nicer. A quality hotel room can be gotten at half-the-price (I once went to Toronto and stayed at a Sheraton for $40 a night that was four blocks from the theater district).

The Flight Crew: And the face masks are cheaper, too.

Washington, D.C.: Looking at renting a car to drive from San Francisco to L.A. Want to do at least part on scenic Route 1, but it will be just after Memorial Day (the following Tuesday to weekend, not the holiday weekend itself)

What's the traffic generally like? And can we specify we want a convertible via sites like Expedia, etc.?


The Flight Crew: Yes, yes, do Route 1. It's one of my favorite things in the whole world. The traffic usually isn't awful -- if it is, you just get to gape at the view at a slower pace. and yes, you should be able to specify a convertible at Expedia, etc. I've always wanted to do that in a convertible. Lucky people. You didn't ask, but I want to post a link to story I did on that drive a year or two ago. Stop at Nepenthe for drinks!!! -- Cindy

Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.: Feel like a real nerd for asking this question, but I have never been out of the country before. Heading to both France and Italy next month. Accommodations and transportation are both taken care of already. We were planning to use our Visa check card, but I wasn't sure if it would be accepted. Does anyone know? Thank you.

The Flight Crew: We're stumped, Ft. Lauderdale. Better call Visa to make sure.

Love Australia: Guys, it's Qantas, with no 'u'.

It stands for Queensland And Northern Territory Air Service

The Flight Crew: Oops. Thanks.

Washington, D.C.: I am woman in my 30s with rheumatoid arthritis. This means I may have to cancel travel plans at the last minute, if I have a flare of my symptoms. Are there travel insurance plans that cover this? I could always get a letter from my rheumatologist, but I don't go to see him every time I have a flare-up (but could, if need be). Thanks.

The Flight Crew: That sounds insurable to me, especially if you can get a doc note. But to be sure, you have to read the fine, fine print on policies. Again, shop around at www.insuremytrip.com. And once you identify a policy, ask the agent about your specific condition. -- Cindy

Washington, D.C., SARS-annoyed: Can I tell you how annoyed I am? I was supposed to go on this graduate school program to China and it was canceled. Gave notice at work, was packing up my life to go, no where to go! Fine fine, I am over that got the opportunity to do another program in Japan. But I have three weeks off this summer and was planning on going to China but the program won't let me come back to school if I do. I HATE SARS.

The Flight Crew: Now that sucks. Maybe they'll blow the all-clear by then, WDCSA.

Arlington, Va.: Hi! I'd like to know what success you or the clicksters have had with bidding for airfare on Priceline. I would like to go to Australia (and there are some bargains for summer) but I can only travel from late June to mid July. The current airfare at that time is about $1,600. Can I reasonably hope to expect Priceline to accept a 30 percent reduction in price as a bid or am I just fooling myself? Any input would be appreciated.

The Flight Crew: Hey, give it a try. It's possible. Cindy

washingtonpost.com: Dear Sur (Post, Oct. 28, 2001)

The Flight Crew: The the lucky convertible driver of the Big Sur.

Alexandria, Va.: Do you know of any lovely and reasonably priced resorts for a friend of mine who would like to go to the Caribbean for her honeymoon? And if the place had sailing, so much the better!

Much thanks.

The Flight Crew: There is sailing everywhere in the Carib. The cheapest island tends to be Jamaica, but get online and check out the deals -- it's not possible to know where the deal will pop, but if she's open to all the islands, something nice should be there for her. --Cindy

The Flight Crew: Phew. You've worn us again, folks, sucked all the knowledge out of us like a swarm of travel-hungry mosquitos and then cast us limply aside. We love that!

Now for the winners of the make-us-cry gemcrack prizes: the NYC shopping guide goes to "A SARS Infected Relationship" for her tale of wedding angst; and the CD goes "Washington D.C., SARS-annoyed."

Please send us your particulars at travel@washpost.com.

See you next week!


That wraps up today's show. Thanks to everyone who joined the discussion.

© Copyright 2003 The Washington Post Company