Chicago Sun-Times

Travel

With Lori Rackl

For those of you who aren't flying into Oshkosh for EAA AirVenture, here's a heads up from Wisconsin's Department of Transportation:

Travelers to EAA AirVenture will face road construction challenges

When the EAA AirVenture turns Oshkosh into a beehive of aviation activity from Monday, July 25 to Sunday, July 31, hundreds of thousands of visitors will be traveling to and from Wittman Regional Airport each day.

"The annual EAA AirVenture is one of the biggest traffic safety challenges we face all year. But this year's event will be even more challenging because of the extensive reconstruction of US 41, which is the main route through Winnebago County into Oshkosh," says Wisconsin State Patrol Sgt. Tim McGrath.

According to Sgt. McGrath, motorists should be particularly cautious in the following areas:

· Construction continues along 13 miles of US 41 in Winnebago County with 11-foot-wide lanes. Shoulders are reduced to one-foot widths and lined with concrete barriers. Speed limits in the work zones are reduced to 55 mph and are strictly enforced.


· The US 41 and US 45 interchange in Oshkosh is closed for reconstruction. The detour for US 45 is from US 41 onto WIS 76 to US 10 and then to US 45.


· The 9th Avenue interchange in Oshkosh has just re-opened except for the southbound ramps.


To prevent traffic crashes during the EAA AirVenture, the State Patrol is reminding motorists to be patient, slow down and pay strict attention to rapidly changing road and traffic conditions, especially in work zones. Fines for traffic violations in work zones are double the usual amount when workers are present. Posted work zone speed limits are still in force even when workers are not present.

For the latest information on construction and incidents that may affect highway travel, motorists should use the state's 511 traveler information system by dialing 511 on a phone or visiting www.511wi.gov on the Web. Information on US 41 construction projects is available on the Web at www.us41wisconsin.gov .

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If you're ever in the Netherlands during the spring, you've got to swing by Keukenhof to check out the tulips: http://bit.ly/kiInkZ

With today's announcement by the DOT that new customer service rules are now in place (including one that forces airlines to refund bag fees if they lose your luggage and an extension of the 3-hour tarmac delay rule now applying to international carriers), Airfarewatchdog's George Hobica weighs in:

1. Refund of bag fees if luggage is lost

This is an absolute no brainer and too bad the airlines had to be regulated into doing this. If you send something by FedEx and it's an hour late past the promised delivery time, you get a refund no questions asked. Disappointed that the rule doesn't include delayed bags--just lost ones. It should have included delayed as well.

2. Full disclosure of all fees on websites. In fact, if you know where to look, most airlines have already done this, but the fees aren't all on one easy to find page. Ryanair in Europe actually has had this for years--a link to showing all its fees, clearly spelled out. US airlines need to do this too. It will lead to better customer relations. All fees, including frequent flyer fees, bags, online booking, changes, pets, infants and whatever else should be clearly organized in one place. Whether they should be displayed at check in counters is another matter--it'll be a pretty big sign.

3. Involuntary bumping payment increased.

Even $1300, the new maximum, won't compensate someone who missed a $10,000 cruise, or forfeited a $5000 vacation and missed two days of work plus other expenses. We would rather have seen some mechanism for passengers who incur enormous financial loss because of a bump situation to get compensated fairly. The good news is that a relative few passengers are involuntarily bumped each year (about 65,000 in 2010).

4. Tarmac delay rule extended to international flights.

Good idea. Overdue. Airlines and airports are getting their act together and developing strategies to offload those passengers who with to return to the terminal in the event of long tarmac delays. Remember, the rule does not say a flight has to be cancelled. Just that you have to let whoever wishes to return the to terminal the chance to do so.

5. Requiring taxes to be shown in all advertised fares.

This seems unfair to us. So now should restaurants add the meal and or sales tax to all menu prices? Should the local electronics retailer include sales tax on their television ad prices? Hotels? Rental car companies? Why are airlines being singled out? We do think that any fare that requires a round-trip purchase be listed in ads only as a round-trip fare. But requiring taxes to be listed is discriminatory and will be a nightmare for the airlines (especially since some taxes vary depending on connecting city and routing).


6. One regulation we need: compensation for schedule changes made long after you bought your ticket.

You buy a ticket in April and in October the airline tells you they don't fly that route anymore, but you can buy a new fare on another airline for three times the price or get your money back. No. The original airline should put you on the alternate airline at the same price you paid.

You buy a nonstop flight but the airline switches you to one making two connections at the same fare. No. A hamburger is not the same as a filet mignon.

Your airline used to fly daily from a city but now only 3 times a week. You'll 5 months after buying your fare and making land arrangements that are non-refundable, you have to buy two nights hotel at your own expense to wait out the next departure home. No. The airline should pay for the hotel.

Civil War in Illinois

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Just because there were no Civil War battles fought on Illinois soil doesn't mean the Land of Lincoln didn't play a crucial role in the war. (Sorry for the double negative in that sentence, but you get my drift.)

A bunch of events are going on across the state to commemorate the war's sesquicentennial: http://www.suntimes.com/lifestyles/rackl/4715226-452/remembering-civil-war-in-land-of-lincoln.html.

Let me know if you have any to add to the list!

I had the chance to check out the newest member of Uniworld's fleet last month on a three-night christening cruise for the S.S. Antoinette.

The ship really was impressive. Seemed like no expense had been spared in the decor. The food was great, too, but I'm wondering if it's always that good or if they raised the bar for the christening cruise. Either way, they're clearly capable of turning out delicious cuisine. I hope they live up to that.

Would love to hear from veteran river cruisers as to what their favorite ship is....

Any Chicago-area tourists who are in the tsunami/earthquake-affected areas of Japan or Hawaii?

If so, please give me a shout out. We'd love to hear your first-hand report...

Stay safe.


Found this in my email in box this morning. Have been waiting for Virgin America to get here....

 
San Francisco - February 17, 2011 - Virgin America, the California-based airline that is reinventing domestic travel, today announces it will bring its low-fare, upscale service to Chicago O'Hare International Airport (ORD), with daily nonstop flights from both Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and San Francisco International Airport (SFO) starting May 25, 2011. Known for its beautifully designed cabins and high-tech amenities, Virgin America has been winning over consumers and sweeping the major travel awards since its August 2007 launch - including capturing the "Best Domestic Airline" title in both Condé Nast Traveler's Readers' Choice Awards and Travel + Leisure's  World's Best Awards for the past three consecutive years.   With legacy airlines representing 98 percent of domestic departures at ORD, Virgin America hopes to inject some healthy competition into the market. 
 
"Until today, travelers flying from O'Hare to SFO or LAX had little choice and few low fare options.  With unrivalled service and new planes that look like nothing else in the skies, we hope our flights will be a breath of fresh air for Chicago travelers," said Virgin America President and Chief Executive Officer David Cush.  "When more airlines compete, consumers tend to win - with lower fares and better service.  Mayor Daley and the airport have shown tremendous vision by investing in ORD's future and by helping to open up access to new competition."
 
Virgin America originally announced its intent to serve ORD in 2008, but its plans were delayed due to gate availability.  Through the leadership provided by Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley and ORD Airport Commissioner Rosemarie S. Andolino, the airline reached an agreement to occupy gate space at ORD's now vacated Concourse L. 
 
"We couldn't be more pleased to welcome Virgin America to Chicago O'Hare," said Mayor Daley.  "O'Hare is one of the world's busiest travel hubs, and our air transport infrastructure continues to play a critical role in our region's economic future.  New airline service stimulates travel demand and job growth - and is a powerful economic driver, especially when linking major business centers like Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles.  Our investment to help bring new airline competition to ORD will not only stimulate economic growth, it will directly benefit travelers by lowering fares and improving service."  
 
"We're thrilled to welcome Virgin America to O'Hare," said Airport Commissioner Andolino.  "Our passengers will see a big benefit from the increased competition and from Virgin America's low fare, innovative service."
 
Virgin America's Main Cabin ORD fares start from $99*(restrictions, taxes and fees applying) and are on sale today on the airline's Web site (www.virginamerica.com) and at 1.877.FLY.VIRGIN (1.877.359.8474).** To kick off its new Windy City service, the airline is teaming up with the Chicago-based Groupon for today's Featured Deal that will give Groupon subscribers in Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco the chance to purchase a $7 Groupon good for $77 in air fare for a roundtrip purchase on Virgin America's new ORD routes.*** When more than 25 people accept the offer, thousands of Groupon customers will score an incredible deal on the airline's new ORD flights.  The offer for travel on the tech-forward new airline is the first Featured Deal that Groupon has launched solely for air travel.  For more, visit: http://www.groupon.com/deals/virgin-america-chicago

Dirtiest hotels in America

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Here are top 10 dirtiest hotels in America, according to traveler ratings for cleanliness on TripAdvisor:

1. Grand Resort Hotel & Convention Center - Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

2. Jack London Inn - Oakland, California

3. Desert Inn Resort - Daytona Beach, Florida

4. Hotel Carter - New York City, New York

5. Polynesian Beach & Golf Resort - Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

6. Atlantic Beach Hotel - Miami Beach, Florida

7. Rodeway Inn - Williamsville, New York

8. Super 8 Estes Park - Denver, Colorado

9. Palm Grove Hotel and Suites - Virginia Beach, Virginia

10. Econo Lodge Newark International Airport - Elizabeth, New Jersey

New York City's infamous Hotel Carter made its return to the dirtiest hotel list in 2011, and has appeared on the list five times in six years. What an honor....

This year, the tarnished title of America's dirtiest hotel goes to Grand Resort Hotel & Convention Center, in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. The southern belle hotel failed to charm TripAdvisor travelers; 87 percent of those who reviewed it recommended against staying there. The unpopular property elicited such hotel review titles as "Worst Hotel Stay of My Life," "Stay Anywhere Else But Here," and "Absolutely Horrible!"

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