Oops, wrong city! Don’t let geographic illiteracy destroy your next vacation

Want to hear the latest stupid-passenger joke? Just hang out near the galley on your next flight, and you might catch the attendants poking fun of our gullibility — and geographic illiteracy.

I overheard two crewmembers on a recent flight from Orlando to Seattle mocking customers who believed the Earth’s rotation could slow the speed of an aircraft.

“And that’s why the westbound flights are slower than the eastbound flights,” one of them giggled.

Actually, a strong tailwind might account for the difference in speed.

The travel industry employees shouldn’t be so smug. After all, their geographic illiteracy — if not their gullibility — has cost us in the past.
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Daddy can’t fly: Parents who shouldn’t be allowed on a plane

During a recent 2 1/2-hour flight from Portland, Maine, to Charlotte, N.C., Tom Meador heard nothing but crying.

“The baby in the back row screamed bloody murder,” he remembers. “Its mother did everything she could think of to quiet the baby. She actually was dripping with sweat because you could tell she worried about what it was doing to the other passengers. I think she had reason to worry, too, because there were some very sour fellow passengers.”

The problem is as old as air travel itself: Adults seated next to misbehaving kids while confined to a pressurized aluminum tube. But it seemed like until now, at least, we knew whose side the parents were on. Like the mom on Meador’s flight, they did everything they could to keep their offspring from driving the rest of the passengers quietly mad.

Today, you can’t be so sure.
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The honest guest’s guide to free hotel amenities

Where’s the line?

When you’re staying at a hotel, is it OK to pocket the bottles of shampoo and lotion? How about the magazines? Bathrobes? Furniture?

It depends on the traveler. A recent Travelocity survey found 86 percent of hotel guests admitted to taking toiletries, like oatmeal soap and lavender body gel. About three percent said they swiped a bathrobe or slippers, and one percent said they stole dishes, silverware, electronics and — I’m not making this up — Bibles.
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Four secrets for upgrading your next vacation

Think this is bad?

It could get worse. Much worse.

Travel is still at the beginning of its long descent into mediocrity. Airlines seem to invent new surcharges and passenger-hostile rules every week. Hotels aren’t far behind. Just the mention of the word “customer service” in the back office can be enough to evoke cackles of disdain from the underpaid employees. Worse, there are virtually no consumer protections against any of the inevitable abuses.

But you don’t have to go along for the ride. Sure, the latest customer surveys suggest customer satisfaction scores have plummeted to their lowest levels in years. (How bad is it? In one notable case, the industry celebrated a customer-approval grade of C-.) And if you read this column, you can try to count the many times the travel industry has let its customers down.

What, you’ve lost count? Me too.

“They have little regard for the customer,” says Ed Smith, a retired minister from Lenoir City, Tenn. “We used to be considered guests, but now — especially on the airlines — we are considered a necessary evil.”

There is hope, though.
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Busted! How to ensure your luggage survives a trip

One minute I was rolling my carry-on bag along the concourse floor at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. The next, I was arguing with a useless box on wheels — and dreading what would happen to my back if I had to carry it.

The extendable handle on the bag was stuck, and no matter how hard I tried, it wouldn’t retract. I had to haul the bag on the plane without the help of wheels. With my bad back, I knew I would feel that the next morning.

And I did.
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