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Plastic Panic: Credit Card Snafus for Americans Abroad

No-ticket-gare-du-nord
Don't try your card here:
Crashed ticket machine
at Gare du Nord.

Photo: acb on Flickr
using Creative Commons

by Barbara S. Peterson

In June I spent a week in Paris--hard to complain about that--but one thing has been bothering me ever since:  I almost didn't make it home when my supposedly no-brainer plan to get to Charles De Gaulle International Airport (CDG) via one the city's enviably quick rail links got derailed by a piece of plastic. 

Before I get into the somewhat arcane explanation of all this, a warning:  a lot of American travelers are facing similar frustrations as Europe moves to the "chip-and-pin" cards that will render our old magnetic stripe cards obsolete overseas.

Here's what happened: I arrived at Gare du Nord with my bags and enough euros and time to get me a ticket to CDG, about a 20-minute ride.  (Taxis weren't a good option--it was Friday afternoon and they're expensive.)  I was prepared for the self-service thing: I'd traveled every day on the Metro. I'd also already had my American Express and MasterCard rejected by ticketing machines, but in each case I was able to use euros. 

No such luck this time.

Continue reading "Plastic Panic: Credit Card Snafus for Americans Abroad" »

JUST IN

20% Off JetBlue Fares

Jetblue-Twitter-Deal

by Barbara S. Peterson

You can knock 20 percent off all JetBlue flights departing through October 31--but you have to book by midnight tonight. The quickie air fare sale is in honor of @JetBlue reaching one million followers on Twitter.

JetBlue claims it's the first airline to reach the exalted one million mark. No one's come forward to dispute that, but airlines like American, Delta and United--with far more passengers than JetBlue--are aiming to catch up soon.

United, like JetBlue, already has regular weekly sales for its Twitter followers. United calls its deals "twares" and JetBlue's are "cheeps". Oh well, no one said they had to be brilliant.

So is the JetBlue sale a really big deal?

Here's what cheapflights.com wrote: "We did a quick search for flights to just about anywhere and the promo works. The only blackout dates are October 9 and October 12, 2009 (Columbus Day weekend)."

Agreed. We did some poking around, too. To book, go to jetblue.com/millionth.

JUST IN

The Dreamliner Problem Gets Worse

Boeing-787-Dreamliner
A Boeing artist's rendering of the 787 Dreamliner
Photo: Courtesy of Boeing Image

by Clive Irving

The Seattle Times is reporting today that Boeing's 787 Dreamliner may not be able to make its first flight until next year. If this is the case, Boeing will face rising anger from its airline customers and punishing demands for compensation due to late delivery. More critically, the structural flaw causing the delay is no longer likely to succumb to a quick fix. In fact, the latest revelation calls into question the integrity of the design.

When Boeing revealed the flaw, it said that there were 18 ruptures on each side of the fuselage at the junction with the wings. Translated into lay language, this puts the focus on the part of the structure that carries the most severe loads--what is called the wing box. The flaw was found in May during static tests in which an entire airplane that never leaves the ground is subjected over a long period to continual stresses similar to those in flight, and then some: The stresses are taken to "ultimate load," over 50 percent more than would in reality occur.

Until today, experts had assumed that the 787 wing failed near that point of maximum stress. Now, according to the Seattle Times aerospace reporter, Dominic Gates, it seems that the wing surfaces began to rupture well before the maximum stresses were applied. That being so, the test flights would have been pointless. Maneuvers would be severely constrained by fears of structural failure in the air.

At the heart of this crisis is Boeing's use of plastic composites in place of metal.  

Continue reading "The Dreamliner Problem Gets Worse" »

JUST IN

Only in the Hamptons

Yiddish

by Clive Irving

Temperatures are rising in the Hamptons, that summer playpen of the rich and infamous. The notoriously snarled only major highway, Route 27, has ten-mile tailbacks between Bridgehampton and East Hampton. What is a poor native to do when confronted with some of the world's most aggressive drivers? Resort to Yiddish.

This novel solution appears on adjacent flyers on Main Street, Sag Harbor (above). Once loved as the "Unhampton," Sag Harbor these days, with its docks full of mega-yachts owned by those shrewd enough to have taken the money and run, is as blighted as any place else by road rage. The twin tutorials offered here, on defensive driving and vernacular Yiddish (same phone number), could produce some vivid encounters. Having been rear-ended by a cell phone-addicted Range Rover driver, the victim should--before calling the cops--yell, "Meshuganah!" at the perpetrator, many times, in rising volume. Politely translated, it means mad person. Other suggestions, anyone?

JUST IN

Paris Lowers VAT, Wallets Unaffected

by Gerry Dryansky

My morning coffee at my favorite café here in Paris comes to 2.2 euros, or more than three dollars, but there's been a change on the check. The VAT that used to be 19.6 percent is now 5.5 percent. The overall price remains the same. 

France's restaurateurs have been lobbying hard for a cut in the VAT. Since the beginning of the month they've won their cause. The economic crisis, which has seen their clientele drop, was an argument in their favor. It went: lower the VAT and we can lower our prices. A study revealed by the French minister Patrick Devedjian, shows, however, that only 30 percent of independent restaurateurs and café owners have passed on the reduction by lowering prices.

The difference for the customer would come to 11.8 percent. Which means that, say, steak frites at a modest bistro will be about three dollars cheaper--roughly $30. Most restaurants that have lowered their prices have done so selectively. Nothing legally obliges a place to pass on the reduction to clients, but if it has an official sign that says "La TVA Baisse, Le Prix Aussi," it has to pass it on regarding at least 7 items.

For the rest, eat and bear it.

JUST IN

What to Do if an Airline Loses Your Luggage

Condé Nast Traveler senior assistant editor Beata "Boldface" Santora stops by New York's Channel 11 evening news to tell viewers what to do if an airline loses their luggage. The most important thing? "Don't panic," she says. Watch the segment above for more of Beata's tips.

JUST IN

The Hotel Bombings in Indonesia

Dinda_Indonesia_dt
Deputy Editor Dinda Elliott on assignment in Indonesia for Newsweek, 1998.

by Dinda Elliott

The bombings at the Jakarta JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels are a heartbreaking reminder of the damage terrorists can do. Eight innocent people were killed, and at least 50 more were wounded. My heart breaks for the victims and their families--but also more broadly for Indonesia. The consequences of these suicide bomber attacks come just as the country was finally getting its props.

In recent months, Western leaders have praised Indonesia as one of Asia's brightest success stories. The economy is one of the fastest growing in the region, and the country just held a fair democratic election in which the incumbent, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and his running mate, the pro-Western former central bank governor, won in a landslide--underscoring the country's successful transition to democracy after decades of authoritarian rule. Jakarta had successfully cracked down on Jemayah Islamiyah, the Muslim terrorist group that carried out a nightclub bombing in Bali in 2002, killing 202 people, and bombed the Marriott and the Australian embassy in Jakarta in 2004. Prospects for tourism were looking up again.

It's important to remember that Islamic extremists are in the extreme minority in Indonesia, where a syncretic form of Islam--combining aspects of Hinduism, Buddhism, and mysticism--has seemingly modern politicians going to mountaintops to meditate and villagers worshiping volcano spirits even as they pray at the mosque.

It's also worth remembering that Indonesia is a beautiful, exotic, and peaceful country with fabulous beaches, romantic Dutch colonial hotels, great food, rain forests and orangutans, luxurious spas, and a fascinating mix of modernity and tradition. (I'll never forget the young hipster at a club in Jakarta who, a few years back, told me that she has to approach her grandmother in Yokjakarta as a supplicant, walking in a traditional squat like a duck.) This is a fascinating, vibrant country that is fighting off the vicious extremist forces as hard as it can.

JUST IN

The Two Faces of Yemenia

by Clive Irving

Residents of the Comoros Islands are accusing Yemenia Airways of double standards.

They say that for months they have been protesting the poor condition of the Airbus A310 used as a link between the islands and the Yemeni capital of Sana'a, the principal route from their remote Indian Ocean home to France, where many Comorans live.

Flights from Paris to Sana'a are flown by much more modern A330s and, apparently, are well enough maintained to pass French inspections. French authorities say that the A310 involved in Monday's crash, which killed 152 people, was banned from French air space several years ago because of its poor condition.

Today a large number of Comorans refused to board a Yemenia airplane in Paris, protesting the risks involved in changing planes in Sana'a.

The French also reported today finding at least one of the flight data recorders from the A310. This should, at least, show whether there was a technical failure in the plane or whether it was a case of pilot error.

There are precursors to this accident from the 1990s. The Yemenia A310 was making its second attempt to land in bad weather when it went down. Three crashes, all in Asia, from the 1990s involving two A300s and one A310 (essentially the same planes with different sized cabins), killed a total of 462 people.

Continue reading "The Two Faces of Yemenia" »

JUST IN

Air New Zealand Exposes Itself

by Beata Loyfman-Santora

Those of you who follow our coverage of celebrity travel on Boldface know that the DT is fond of nudity. Very fond. So much so that we've brought you the best of nudity-friendly destinations time and time again.

Therefore, you can imagine our joy when we stumbled upon Air New Zealand's new in-flight safety video. In case you haven't seen it, here's a brief (ha!) description: It features a perennially happy flight crew wearing nothing but body paint and strategically positioned safety devices.

That's one safety video we can really get behind! Top that Virgin America.

JUST IN

UPDATE: Flight 447 and Two New Serious Airbus Emergencies

TAM_Airbus330
A TAM Airbus A330-200 landing at London Heathrow Airport.
Photo: Adrian Pingstone

by Clive Irving

How many Airbus A330s are flying throughout the world with a key piece of equipment that can jeopardize safety? This question became more urgent with the release last night of a statement by the National Transportation Safety Board revealing two recent incidents in which pilots had to regain control after automated controls failed.

Moreover, these incidents involve failure of speed sensors--the same kind of failure that is at the heart of the investigation into the loss of Air France flight 447.

Last night's notice from the NTSB disclosed that a TAM airlines flight from Miami to Sao Paulo, Brazil, on May 21 suffered an emergency while at cruise altitude. The A330's flight management system--the master computer that controls the whole airplane--"experienced a loss of primary speed and altitude information" said the notice. "The flight crew noted an abrupt drop in indicated outside air temperature, followed by the loss of the Air Data Reference System and disconnections of the autopilot and autothrust, along with the loss of speed and altitude information."

For five minutes the flight crew had to use backup instruments while rebooting the main computer until they regained control. The second episode was this week and it involved an American carrier, Northwest. There was, says the NTSB, "another possibly similar incident" on a flight between Hong Kong and Tokyo on June 23. Both flights landed with no further problems and no injuries or damage.

How the NTSB learned of these incidents shows how piecemeal and haphazard the means are for reporting potentially dangerous situations. A Safety Board spokesman told me today that it was the Brazilian government that informed them of the TAM incident. And it was not the airline that notified the board of the Northwest incident but it was reported to them by "a pilot-oriented internet publication."

There are striking similarities between the TAM and Northwest system failures and what was reported to be happening to Air France flight 447 before it disappeared. We know from data bursts sent from Air France A330 that it, too, suffered a similar sequence of failures in which, essentially, the computers shut down and gave up trying to fly the airplane. Add to that the fact that flight 447's course took it over the South Atlantic directly into the path of a monster storm that created violent turbulence, and that all this occurred at night, and you have a credible scenario for disaster.

The control failures have been attributed to sensors called pitot tubes made by the French company Thales. Air France is replacing pitot tubes on its A330 fleet because they are prone to ice at cruise altitude and then give false readings.

The NTSB is an investigative agency, not a regulatory one. Its advisories like the one issued last night carry no mandatory powers. As the Safety Board spokesman told me, "Only regulatory agencies can order mandatory refits."

So once more, the responsibility lies with the FAA to decide if there is now enough empirical evidence to show that these faulty speed gauges are an immediate threat to air safety, and order A330s grounded until they are fitted with upgraded pitot tubes. As Airbus itself said last week at the Paris Air Show, the A330 is a workhorse in wide use--"one takes off every minute" according to a company executive. From the urgent way in which the Safety Board made known these new episodes it seems that they are far from sanguine about the risks.

Further reading:
* The Fate of Air France Flight 447 (Daily Traveler on CNT)
* What is a pitot tube? (Scientific American)
* National Transportation Safety Board Web Site
* On the Fly: Barbara Peterson on the airline industry

Read Clive Irving's dispatches on Flight 447 in The Daily Beast:
* Picking up the Pieces from a Midair Explosion (June 14)
* The Myth of the Black Box (June 7)
* The Secrets of Flight 447 (June 6)
* Who Was Flying Flight 447? (June 5)
* Last Words of Flight 447: From a Robot (June 3)

JUST IN

So What Is Wrong With The Dreamliner?

Dreamliner
Photo: markjhandel on Flickr courtesy of Creative Commons

by Clive Irving

The Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which promised to bring travelers the future of flying as it should be in the 21st century (a lot less gas guzzled, a lot more comfort in the cabin) could be delayed reaching an airport gate near you for a lot longer than Boeing intended. Tuesday's deferment of the first flight raised more issues than it answered, the principal one being how long it will take to fix the flaw discovered in the structure.

A Q&A session between financial analysts and Boeing managers shed little light on specifics. In fact, reading the transcript, it seems that the analysts failed to ask an essential question.

Continue reading "So What Is Wrong With The Dreamliner?" »

JUST IN

Love Affair with Buenos Aires

Poor Mark Sanford. All the South Carolina governor apparently wanted to do was spend time in the beautiful city of Buenos Aires. But at his 2 p.m. press conference today, Gov. Sanford looked more like the victim of a Borgesian labyrinth than someone who spent seven days in the land of the tango and delicious grass-fed beef.

His demeanor could have had something to do with the press frenzy caused by his failure to notify anyone--his staff, the press, and, apparently, his family--about his disappearing act. Or it could have something to do with admitting to an illicit affair.

Or it could be something to do with what Gov. Sanford told Gina Smith, the reporter for The State who surprised him at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport this morning.  He had just returned from Buenos Aires, he said.  And while the governor wouldn't give any details, he did say that he went driving along the coastline.

Continue reading "Love Affair with Buenos Aires" »

JUST IN

Boeing's Dreamliner Debacle

Boeing787_dt
Currently battling paperweight status.
Photo: Katkreig on Flickr courtesy of Creative Commons

by Clive Irving

Boeing is facing the most embarrassing and costly debacle in its history. Today's announcement that the 787 Dreamliner's first flight has been postponed, due to the discovery of a structural flaw, is the latest in a series of poorly explained delays. The program is already two years late. In the company's history there has never been such a gulf between the brilliance of the concept behind an airliner and the ability of the company to deliver it.

Make no mistake, the 787 was--and probably will be--a game changer. Scores of airlines around the world have ordered it. Today all of them are wondering, what is the real problem?

It all seemed very different two years ago when the first 787 was rolled out with a great deal of hoopla. It turned out that that the 787 was a hollow shell. It looked every bit the sleek precursor of a new age of fuel-efficient, passenger-friendly machines it was cracked up to be. But, in truth, it had no moving parts at all, except its wheels.

It was a Potemkin Village of technology, camera-ready but a long way short of leaving the ground.

Continue reading "Boeing's Dreamliner Debacle" »

JUST IN

The Fate of Air France Flight 447

by Clive Irving

French officials are not stonewalling on the fate of Air France Flight 447. They just don't have much to go on. Without finding the black box data recorder and cockpit voice recorder, both of which are presumably resting on the ocean floor, the clue trail is frustratingly thin.

The trail remains the product of three sources: the 24 messages indicating a sequence of failures aboard the Airbus A330 sent digitally in the last four minutes of the flight; fragments of wreckage so far recovered, essentially only anything that could float; and autopsy reports on the recovered bodies.

The autopsies would show if the victims inhaled smoke and, therefore, if there had been a fire and they might show physical damage from a sudden loss of cabin pressurization.

Interestingly enough, the only news yet to come from the autopsies is that there were broken arms and legs. This could indicate what everything else is pointing to: A sudden and violent breakup of the airplane.

Nonetheless, even the best informed speculation is just that: speculation. The sonar pingers on the black box have only another two weeks of life left in them. A French nuclear submarine and American sonar searching gear have been deployed in the area of the South Atlantic where the remnants of the airplane are assumed to be, but it's a huge area to cover in such a short time and many experts doubt that the black box can be found before the pingers give out. That doesn't mean that the search stops at that point. It just becomes even harder.

Digital Flight Data Recorder Click the black box infographic above for a full-size version
Illustration: John Grimwade

Further reading:
* The Paris Air Show and the Brouhaha over Air France's 330 Crash
* Flight 447: The Pilots' Deadly Scenario

Read Clive Irving's dispatches on Flight 447 in The Daily Beast:

* Picking up the Pieces from a Midair Explosion (June 14)
* The Myth of the Black Box (June 7)
* The Secrets of Flight 447 (June 6)
* Who Was Flying Flight 447? (June 5)
* Last Words of Flight 447: From a Robot (June 3)

JUST IN

Amazing Race Winner Back In the Game

Our post about Competitours (and the chance to win a free European trip this summer) elicited a comment from one Tyler MacNiven, winner of The Amazing Race, season 9. Turns out Tyler's joining the competition:

"Can't wait to race with my superhero mother, can't wait to get back into the fun competition, can't wait to crush the other innocent teams," he says. "I decided to sign up for Competitours because races like this are as close as I will (and want) to become to being James Bond."

You hear that, Daily Traveler readers? Tyler MacNiven is taunting your travel prowess!  Enter the Competitours contest on Jaunted and you might just have the opportunity to tour Europe and take on an Amazing Race champion. 

JUST IN

Contest: Win a Free Trip to Europe This Summer

Competitours_logo

We at the Daily Traveler would enter The Amazing Race in a heartbeat if not for all the time competitors seem to spend in airports bellowing orders at the poor airline representative behind the counter.

Enter Competitours. Several weeks ago, company creator Steve Belkin stopped by the office to talk about how Competitours has managed to graft custom trips through Europe with some of the competitive, team-based challenges of The Amazing Race--sans the stress and yelling.

The nature of the challenges created to help their clients experience the place and, as a result, break out of their tourist shell, appealed to us, as did the fact that winning teams from each Competitour trip earn prizes.

Now Competitours has teamed up with Jaunted to offer a free trip for two on the next Competitours challenge this summer in Western and Central Europe.  All that is required of you is a suggestion on a new challenge for the upcoming European trip.  If Competitours and the people at Jaunted like your challenge, find your travel buddy and start packing your bags.

Visit Jaunted for the official entry form, an interview with Competitours CEO Steve Belkin, and suggestions on what makes a great challenge.

The contest ends on June 25, and judging from the number of entries so far, chances to win are huge!  Good luck!

JUST IN

Flight 447: The Pilots' Deadly Scenario

Flight447_dt
Brazil's Air Force official Henry Munhoz shows a photo of a piece of the Air France 447 flight being recovered from the Atlantic Ocean, Monday, June 8, 2009.
Photo: AP Photo/Roberto Candia

by Clive Irving

Whatever happened to Air France Flight 447, it happened in a way that denied its chief pilot, 58-year-old Marc Dubois, the chance even to send a Mayday distress call. But some of his colleagues are speaking for him. Bloomberg News reports today that a spokesman for Air France's biggest pilots' union, Eric Derivry, is citing as a likely cause the faulty air-speed readings that were indicated in the final burst of data sent from the airliner before it disappeared.

"These pilots were confronted with serious technical problems and erroneous indications of speed," said Derivry. Under those conditions, said the head of another pilots' union, Bruno Sinatti, "piloting becomes very difficult, near impossible."

It is extremely unusual for pilots to speak out in such clear terms before investigators have anything approaching persuasive and definitive evidence for the cause of a crash. They are usually averse to rushing to judgment, and the most skeptical critics of unproven theories. The fact that the French pilots have become so outspoken shows a surprising degree of confidence on their part that faulty air-speed instruments were to blame.

Their view gets some support in the latest issue of Aviation Week. In a detailed investigation of the flight systems of the Airbus A330, the reporters quote a longtime A330 pilot saying that if the pilots realized that the airplane was flying at the wrong speed--either too fast or too slow--what is called a pitch change, in which the stable balance of flight is lost, "can be extremely difficult to recover from."

Continue reading "Flight 447: The Pilots' Deadly Scenario" »

JUST IN

Searching for Air France Flight 447's Black Box

Clive Irving interviewed on CNN's American Morning about Flight 447
Clive Irving on CNN's American Morning,
June 9, 2009

Photo: CNN.com

Should the search for Air France Flight 447's flight data recorder in the middle of the Atlantic serve as a wake-up call for doing away with the so-called black box in favor of real-time data streaming?

Earlier today, Clive Irving, Condé Nast Traveler's senior consulting editor and aviation expert, appeared on CNN's American Morning to challenge the makers of flight recording technologies to adapt theirs to communications satellites already used for data streaming. Read the transcript from today's interview, then follow Clive's reporting on the investigation of the Flight 447 crash in The Daily Beast blog. 


Read Clive Irving's dispatches for The Daily Beast:
The Myth of the Black Box (June 7)
The Secrets of Flight 447 (June 6)
Who Was Flying Flight 447? (June 5)
Last Words of Flight 447: From a Robot (June 3)

JUST IN

Lose Your Job, Get a Refund on JetBlue

Racking up the corporate karma points, JetBlue announced today that any ticket holder who loses his or her job on or after February 17 can receive a full refund for any ticket purchases made between February 1, 2009 and June 1, 2009.  To apply, ticket holders must download the appropriate documents from The JetBlue Promise program, complete and notarize them, and return via certified mail and fax. 

There is one item to note. While JetBlue says that it will automatically cancel your flight upon receipt of your notice, they may ding you a $100 cancellation fee if they determine that your job loss does not qualify.  Remember, job loss must be involuntary, so don't bother trying to get yourself fired in hopes of getting off the hook of paying for that Cancun trip. Of course, these days, who would want to be fired?

JUST IN

Green Travel Dead? Not So Fast

Worldsavers

by Kevin Doyle

Can you hear it? Chris Elliott is clanging the death knell of green travel in a recent column. His postmortem is based on a recent YPartnership survey of travelers that found, to quote Chris, that "most of them now say they're unwilling to pay a premium for being green." I'm not taking issue with the facts here--just with the spin. Yes, a slight majority of those polled (53 percent) said they're not willing to pay extra to support hotels, airlines or other travel companies in their green endeavors. But that means nearly half of the travelers surveyed said that they would be willing to pay more. Not only that, but the majority of them said they would pay up to a 9 percent premium. This, during the worst economic downturn in more than 70 years, doesn't portend the death of green travel; on the contrary, it's proof that preserving the planet is still more important than saving a buck to nearly half the people who travel. Which means it's good business.

To be fair, the point Chris is making is a good one: Environmental stewardship is something we should not only expect, but also demand from travel companies. It should be as integral a part of a business as the bottom line, not some facile, feeble, or faux "environmental" effort (reusing towels and linens comes to mind) cooked up by a public relations department to win market share. One way to make that day dawn sooner rather than later is to choose companies with a demonstrated commitment to sustainable practices. A good place to start is with our annual World Savers Awards and with the World Travel and Tourism Council's Tourism for Tomorrow Awards, which just announced its 2009 nominations yesterday. Green travel isn't dead, and as long as we make that clear to travel companies through the choices we make, it never will be.

Kevin Doyle is the News Editor for Condé Nast Traveler.

JUST IN

Bedouins for Obama

by Susan Hack

I agree with Dinda Elliott's point, responding to President Obama's interview with Al Arabiya, that we as Americans need to listen to the world, especially when we travel.   

I just got back from a trek through the mountains of the Sinai Peninsula where I met Bedouin families living in remote communities that still lack running water and reliable electricity. At night I would sit with families around charcoal braziers, and the first question people had for me was, "What do you think of President Obama?" They are fascinated that a man of African and Muslim heritage has become the leader of the United States, and they are eagerly waiting to see if his eloquent pledge to seek a "new way forward" in the Muslim world--words they follow on car radios and shared generator-run television sets--will be matched by actual deeds. Obama gave his interview to Al Arabiya, and his new Mideast envoy George Mitchell was in Cairo while I was in the Egyptian mountains. More than the new shuttle diplomacy, the people I met were interested to know whether I as an American citizen have faith in Obama and think he's for real. They made me feel that individual American travelers have a role in Obama's mission of listening and engagement. 

What do you think? Can individual travelers play a role in Obama's call to listen and engage?

Susan Hack is a contributing editor at Condé Nast Traveler and an expert on the Middle East, from Dubai's booming art scene to Egypt's most famed antiquities guru. Read her piece on the changing Arab world here

JUST IN

Americans, Travel, and the Muslim World



Part I of the Al Arabiya interview is above.  Click here to play part 2.

by Dinda Elliott

The fact that President Barack Obama chose Al Arabiya, an Arab-language news channel based in Dubai, for his first official interview is a historic signal to the world that the U.S. will be rebuilding bridges. What a relief. It's time for Americans, starting with our own government, to stop fearing the world and to start reaching out instead. That applies to us travelers, too. Some readers criticized an interview I did last year with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

But I believe Albright got it right when she said the world thinks Americans are "selfish." She called for Americans to learn as we travel. "Globalization has made the world smaller," she said, "so we need to know about the cultures and histories that we deal with." In President Obama's message, we have the opportunity to shed that selfish image.

Right or wrong, the State Department warns us about the dangers of visiting countries like Syria, Iran, and Pakistan because they are home to some terrorist activities. The nuance that the State Department misses is what we gain by going. To wit: In a fascinating piece about Cairo, "the Arab world's aging movie star: seductive, repulsive, complex, and compelling" Condé Nast Traveler's Susan Hack reveals the magic of one of the world's most important Muslim capitals. That's where U.S. special envoy George Mitchell, who helped negotiate peace in Ireland, arrived today in the first leg of a trip to the Middle East. He has been instructed by Obama to "listen." Obama also reminded his Al Arabiya interviewer that he has Muslims in his own family. "To the broader Muslim world," he said, "what we are offering is a hand of friendship." We as travelers should do the same, and realize that the "other" is not so different from ourselves.

With Obama as our new president, do you think it's important for us as Americans to travel to Muslim countries? How can we improve our image?

Further reading:
* An Al-Arabiya journalist reflects on the Obama interview
* Make a Difference: Regular coverage of social responsibility and travel

JUST IN

Boston's Fairmont Battery Wharf Opens With Special Rates

After a prolonged construction period, the Fairmont Battery Wharf has finally opened on a spit of land at the fringe of the North End. The five-building complex makes its debut with an introductory offer called the Only One Way Winter Package: reserve two nights at the hotel and get the second night free. Just ask about it when booking your stay.

Rates for this package, which requires a non-refundable one-night deposit at the time of booking, start at $299 per night (not including tax or gratuity) through April 15. According to one Daily Traveler who recently stayed there, it's not too much to ask for plush rooms with satiny soft sheets, massive flat-screen televisions with complimentary movie selections, and posh Miller Harris bath amenities. While a bit removed from the city center, there are world-class cannolis within walking distance and a convenient water taxi to Logan Airport. And Guy Martin, of the Michelin-starred Paris restaurant Le Grand Vefour, presides over the intimate Sensing restaurant.

Further reading:
* Boston: A little black book and some summer cocktails
* Daily Traveler Mollie Chen finds the sandwich of her dreams in Cambridge, MA
* Guy Martin, not to be confused with Guy Martin

JUST IN

Air Tahiti Nui's New Year Fare Sale

Holiday vacations have come to an end, and our daily routines are on a roll once again. If it's all too big a dose of reality for you, jet off to French Polynesia for $860. We're serious: $860 nonstop round-trip. Air Tahiti Nui's flight from Los Angeles to Papeete, Tahiti, is valid on nine select departures from LAX February 7 to March 11, with returns from PPT February 11 to March 16. To enjoy these moana (economy) class savings, flights must be booked by January 22, so wake up, reserve a seat, and then go back to fantasy land. 

JUST IN

Luxury for Less in Monte Carlo, Fiji, and More

Click on this video to hear Daily Traveler Beata Loyfman tell Extra about some of the latest awesome travel deals on offer worldwide.

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