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Potty Humor in Las Vegas Hotels


Vegas Chatter: Probably not the no. 1 or no. 2 most important thing you'll do today, but care to guess which Vegas hotel is really into potty humor?

We had no idea fellas were the butt of this hotel's joke until we found this pic on Flickr. Being a chick, we've never been mocked in the Vegas loo, but we have been greeted by some attentive ladies ourselves. Except these gals left nothing to the imagination. And, we really mean, nothing.

Apparently, there's a lot more to flush out about the Vegas potty scene, because there's even a blog dedicated to it now, too. The Straight Flush only has a handful of posts and has been a bit silent of late (perhaps a laxative is in order?), but has already shared some hidden and disgusting finds.

Come back tomorrow to find out which Sin City loo is pictured above. Update: It's the Las Vegas Hilton.

Index Weighs Consumer Attachment to Brands

Charlie's Angels
USA Today: What do American Airlines and the new fall television show Charlie's Angels have in common? Apparently, a large number of consumers who love them both.

So say the findings of a 2011 television program study by NewMediaMetrics, a strategic marketing and analytics company, which has developed an index that measures the level of emotional attachment consumers have to different brands — and how that mirrors their connections to media, ranging from magazines to mobile phones.

A look at airlines and the new fall TV lineup reveals that 33.8% of those who felt a strong attachment to American Airlines had similarly strong feelings for ABC's updated take on the 1970s viewers' favorite with Farrah Fawcett. Among Delta's biggest fans, 35.2% felt equally strong about the CBS drama Unforgettable. And 35.5% of those who most loved JetBlue were also strongly drawn to the Fox series New Girl.

The information can help companies figure out the best media in which to place their ads, either to boost sales to customers who already feel a strong bond, or to woo those whose feelings aren't as intense, says Gary Reisman, NewMediaMetrics' co-founder.

"If you're attached, you are loyal," Reisman says. The company's index, using a scale of 0 to 10, has measured emotional connection to hundreds of brands in the past six years.

"If we target … the people attached to the brand and attached to the (TV) program, those individuals are three times as likely to consider buying and using the brand."

Similarly, those consumers who are slightly less attached to a carrier might be swayed if the airline's ads target shows they are more passionate about.

Stacey Frantz, a spokeswoman for American Airlines, says having an emotional link to passengers is key to customer loyalty. "We are always interested in where our customers are connecting emotionally," Frantz says. "In fact, it's one of the key barometers by which we measure the success of our advertising concepts."

While the airline hasn't used NewMediaMetrics' research, it has conducted its own.

"We leverage a significant amount of customer research to make decisions like this about where our customers are best connecting emotionally as it relates to our brand," Frantz says.

The TV study also looked at other travel companies. The new ABC show Revenge, for instance, was popular with many who felt most attached to online travel sites Expedia, Travelocity and Hotels.com. Many who felt a strong connection to Hilton hotels had similar feelings for the new show Person of Interest on CBS.

People who like this airline also like that show

Consumers with the strongest emotional attachment to these airlines, cruise lines and hotels had a similarly strong one to these new TV shows, according to a new NewMediaMetrics survey to measure the level of attachment to different brands.

Airlines:

American Airlines
Charlie's Angels (ABC)
Curiosity: The Questions of Life (Discovery Channel)

Delta
Unforgettable (CBS)
Curiosity: The Questions of Life (Discovery)

JetBlue
New Girl (Fox)
Curiosity: The Questions of Life (Discovery)

Southwest
Person of Interest (CBS)
Curiosity: The Questions of Life (Discovery)

United
The X Factor (Fox)
Impractical Jokers (TruTV)

Cruise lines:

Carnival Cruise Lines
Prime Suspect (NBC)
Semi Pro (TruTV)

Disney Cruise Lines
Unforgettable (CBS)
Rocco's Dinner Party (Bravo)

Norwegian Cruise Lines
Pan Am (ABC)
Impractical Jokers (TruTV)

Hotels:

Embassy Suites
New Girl (Fox)
Rocco's Dinner Party (Bravo)

Hyatt
Revenge (ABC)
Curiosity: The Questions of Life (Discovery)

Marriott
New Girl (Fox)
Curiosity: The Questions of Life (Discovery)

Sheraton
New Girl (Fox)
Falling Skies (TNT)

13 Reasons Why Delta Might Kick You Off a Flight

AirFareWatchdog: Every airline has different rules published in their contracts of carriage stating under what conditions they might refuse to fly you. As noted earlier, United has a rule governing the transport of passengers who don't fit in a single seat or are so large that they can't lower an arm rest between them and fellow passengers.

Delta has a slightly different set of rules. You can be removed or refused transportation if you can't buckle your seat belt. As with United's contract, no shoes, no service and if you're stinky, it's no go. But in addition, there's a rule about passenger conduct, and it's somewhat vague (no word if it includes two women kissing). Here are the 13 reasons you might not be able to fly on Delta, from Delta's contract:

1) When the passenger’s conduct is disorderly, abusive or violent.

2) When the passenger is barefoot.

3) When the passenger appears to be intoxicated or under the influence of drugs.

4) When the passenger attempts to interfere with any member of the flight crew in the pursuit of his or her duties, or fails to obey the instruction of any member of the flight crew.

5) When the passenger has a contagious disease that may be transmissible to other passengers during the normal course of the flight;

6) When the passenger has a malodorous condition;

7) When the passenger is unable to sit in a seat with the seatbelt fastened;

8) When the passenger requires an onboard stretcher kit;

9) When the passenger’s behavior may be hazardous to himself/herself, the crew, or other passengers;

10) When the passenger is seriously ill, and fails to provide a physician's written permission to fly.

11) When the passenger is traveling in an incubator.

12) When the passenger’s conduct creates an unreasonable risk of offense or annoyance to other passengers.

13) When the passenger’s conduct creates a risk of harm or damage to the carrier’s aircraft and/or property, or the property of other passengers.

Entrepreneurs Race to Create Best Bed Bug Killer

Fox News: Some want to bake them. Others prefer to freeze them. Still others dehydrate them.

Inventors will try just about anything to kill bed bugs, those nasty, reddish-brown, blood-sucking parasites that are the worst nightmare of many hotel guests. America's obsession with bed bugs has led to a rush of entrepreneurs seeking profit from exterminating them, and about 75 companies gathered this week in hopes of launching the perfect beg bug killer.

"I never figured I'd be in Chicago for a bed bug conference. I never thought that in my wildest dreams," Mike Bourdeau, operations manager at Flynn Pest Control in Massachusetts, said at the second annual Bed Bug University. Bourdeau said bed bug business is booming. It went from virtually zero percent of Flynn Pest Control's business less than five years ago to about 20 percent of what the company brings in today.

"It's probably going to be a big part of our business for ... the next ten years," he said.

A study this year by University of Kentucky researchers and the National Pest Management Association showed 80 percent of surveyed pest control companies had treated hotels for bed bugs within a year, up from 67 percent a year ago. More than 80 percent of the surveyed companies said they believed bed bug infestations were on the rise.

Whether there are more bed bugs these days or just more publicity about them is hotly debated, but there is general agreement that the problem is here to stay.

"It will become like roaches and ants. It's not going anywhere. We will deal with bed bugs the rest of our lives," said Phillip Cooper, chief executive officer of BedBug Central, a research and information firm.

Companies attending the conference showed search and destroy methods ranging from bug-sniffing dogs to vacuum-like machines that spout carbon dioxide to freeze the bugs. For example, The Bed Bug Baker features a heated tent that can hold a dining room's worth of furniture to bake away bed bugs at home. For hotel room infestations, there's an electric heater that can bake the whole room.

Another product is a dust made of crushed fossils called diatomaceous earth that can be sprinkled on floors. It kills bed bugs by dehydrating their shell. Bed bugs walk through the dust, which is also a desiccant, and gradually dry out, said Jeffrey White, an entomologist with BedBug Central.

The measures might seem exotic, but academics and inventors say the number of bed bug hiding spots in hospitals, hotels, homes or even on public transportation, make it hard to apply a "silver bullet" treatment.

While hotel infestations get the most attention, a new study conducted by the University of Kentucky showed college dormitories, nursing homes, hospitals and office buildings are the new battlegrounds. Pest control companies report double-digit growth from last year in treating bed bugs at each place.

"It's no longer going to be the hotels that are the problem," said Mike Lindsey, president of Bedbug Boxes. "So you're going to have to keep chasing it around and find that solution for that particular place."

Lindsey quit his six figures engineering job to chase the dream of being a bed bug entrepreneur. He invented a box lined with what look like solar panels to heat clothes or luggage to temperatures that kill bed bugs after his family brought the pests home to Colorado from a Mexico vacation. Now he is marketing a suitcase that uses the same strips to roast any bed bugs inside.

Kenneth F. Haynes, a professor who studies insect behavior at the University of Kentucky, said people have a stigma about bed bugs, and are often embarrassed to get help treating an infestation. The industry is trying to defeat the stigma, which could unlock more customers.

For now, a scramble is on to tap a growing market. Once extermination products for the pest are widely accepted the need for a gathering of experts will fade away.

"We don't have a roach conference. We don't have a mouse conference. So, once we get to that point, there will be no need for a bed bug conference," Cooper said.

Priceline Unveils 'Tonight-Only Deals' Mobile App

USA Today: Need to book a hotel room in a pricey city tonight and still want a deal? As of today, Priceline.com is ready to help. The hotel discounter is unveiling a mobile service, Tonight-Only Deals, aimed at travelers who are looking for a room at the last minute and want a deal — and the identity of their hotel — before they make a purchase. Priceline says consumers can expect up to 35% off published room prices by using the service.

Priceline is best known for its "name your own price" feature promoted by actor William Shatner. It offers up to 60% off published rates in exchange for hiding the hotel's name until the purchase is complete. Last-minute bookers will find the Tonight-Only Deals featured on Priceline's 2-year-old Hotel Negotiator app for iPhones. The app doesn't yet exist for Android phones.

"Think of this as a way to get savings but also know the hotel upfront," says John Caine, Priceline's senior vice president of marketing.

Priceline thinks the service will be a hit given the mobile world's "I want it now" attitude. An example of rates Wednesday night that Priceline says would be typically available on Tonight-Only Deals: A same-day room at the luxury Taj Boston was $230 compared with $280 on Hotels.com and $349 on the hotel's website. Priceline decided to go after the same-day booking market after finding that 70% of its mobile bookings are made the same day, Caine says.

So far, Priceline has little competition in the app world for travelers with constantly changing plans or those who are planning a last-minute getaway. Only one company — app-only start-up HotelTonight — targets these travelers.

HotelTonight founder Sam Shank says his service has seen steady growth since its launch in February. Today, Shank says, HotelTonight will expand into weekend-getaway hotels, resorts and bed-and-breakfasts near four major cities, including Boston and New York.

HotelTonight offers same-day deals in 22 cities. Priceline is launching its new service with 34 cities, including New York, Las Vegas and Boston. Deals will be posted at 11 a.m. local time.

Legoland Florida Ready for Soft Opening

Orlando Sentinel: The rides at Legoland Florida are up and ready to roll, as Central Florida's newest theme park prepares for its first guests this weekend — the contractors who built the park and the families of the park's 1,000 employees.

Legoland doesn't open to the public until Oct. 15., but the Winter Haven park is nearly ready, with rides in working order, landscaping all but complete, and hundreds of Lego sculptures scattered throughout the property, waiting to be discovered by eager eyes.

"We're in full training mode. Our merchandise people are filling in the stores, our food people are practicing food preparation," Jill Swidler, the park's marketing director, said Wednesday. "So we'll be ready to go Oct. 15."

Legoland conducted a brief, technical rehearsal Wednesday of part of its water-ski show, the first time the show has been done in full costume. Dubbed "The Battle for Brickbeard's Bounty," the show includes a boxy Lego pirate named Brickbeard and the "spicy and brave" heroine, Ms. Miranda, who defends Legoland's happy harbor with her Lego soldiers and a pirate-eating shark named Sawtooth. The show set comes complete with a large-scale model of a Lego pirate ship.

"We actually have a Lego ship that we modeled this after," said Marc Kish, project manager for Nassal, the Orlando company that built the set piece. "We had to make sure every line and every seam and every placement is true."

The park also gave members of the media a sneak peek of Lego City, with its Boating School, Ford Driving School and Lego City Rescue Academy — a firefighter-inspired race that pits family against family in a bid to battle a burning building.

"The rides at Legoland are really special rides in that, instead of being a passive participant, you're an active participant," said Bill Vollbrecht, the park's senior project designer. "Everything they do, it's hands on. They drive the car — there's no track. They drive the boat on open water."

The park's Lego Technic Test Track was also ready Wednesday. The steel roller coaster offers a high-rise view of the park before riders plunge down a 45-foot drop.

Legoland said it will soon begin selling discount tickets at area Publix Super Markets. At $60 for adults and $50 for children, the tickets cost $15 less than those purchased at the gate and $5 less than pre-opening prices available online.

Park officials also expressed confidence in their annual-pass sales, saying area residents are already clamoring to get into the attraction.

"Our pass sales are going through the roof, totally exceeding our expectations," Swidler said. "We know the locals are totally excited to get in here."

Video:

How Mobile Technology Will Streamline Airport Check-In

Fox Business: The future looks bright for travelers with smartphones wanting a smoother travel experience at the airport. Airlines recognize that one of the major pain points for travelers is the check-in process, which often involves a long wait time. They’re making strides to ameliorate the inefficient and annoying process using mobile technology.

According to SITA’s 2011 Airline IT Trends survey of the top 200 passenger carriers, over 90% are planning to invest in passenger mobile services this year, with the focus on check-in, flight status notifications, and electronic boarding passes.

Here’s a look at the current state of mobile check-in technology - and why it’s about to get even better.

Current: Emailed Mobile Barcodes
Travelers with smartphones are quickly adopting mobile boarding pass technology - airlines surveyed by SITA say that 15% of all air travelers will use a mobile phone to check-in at the airport and obtain an electronic mobile boarding pass by 2014. Self-service check-in at kiosks already offers some convenience, but using a mobile device to do so without the burden of printing and keeping track of a paper boarding pass with make the process even faster and easier. The time-saving benefit for travelers is indisputable - Quantas says frequent flyers using its Next Generation Check-In Program (which incorporates a mobile boarding pass) can complete the process in 5 seconds. Great news - but what happens at the check-in scanner when the traveler’s mobile device isn’t getting a great wireless signal, and retrieving the barcode pass from email is impossible? Enter Near Field Communication...

Future: e-Travel Documents via Near Field Communication (NFC)
Near Field Communication technology enables secure data sharing between a traveler’s mobile device and a reader at the airport. That means not only boarding passes but all travel documents - e-Passports, e-Visas, baggage receipts, itineraries, immigration forms and more - can be stored electronically and retrieved without an Internet connection. SAS Scandinavian Airlines is an early adopter of this technology, allowing their frequent flyers to use an NFC-based Smart Pass sticker at check-in, security, lounges, and gates throughout the airport. Newer smartphones already on the market have an embedded NFC chip that will send encrypted data, ensuring the privacy of sensitive traveler information.

As new passenger-centric technology like NFC is introduced and adopted, the airport experience will evolve from streamlined to seamless - all travelers will need to remember is a smartphone.

Real 'Pan Amigos' to Reunite in Miami

Jaunted: Pan Am is back in on the air and the real-life pilots and flight attendants who inspired the ABC show are coming out of the woodwork... er, retirement.

In this Miami Herald rundown of the airline's ties to the city, we learn that there is a group of former Pan Am-ers who stay in touch via the Pan Amigo newsletter. And it's not restricted to former employees either—'industry friends' who'd like to stay in touch can also become Pan Amigos.

The group of old-timers are having a 'Worldwide Family Reunion' October 20-23 in Coconut Grove—to celebrate Pan Am and the centennial of aviation in Miami. According to the Herald, they're expecting members to come from Norway, London, Australia and Germany. (Reckon they'll spend the first hour comparing notes on the abysmal state of flying today? Or will it be all: "I'm Christina Ricci," "No, I am!"?)

For the regular plane spotters among us, there's another way you can get your Pan Am on in Miami: The University of Miami’s Otto G. Richter Library has a collection of 1,600 Pan Am documents and photos. The library regularly gets calls from people interested in learning more about the storied airline, including ABC producers who studied photos and plans from the archives before designing the terminal set for the show.

The Richter is a private research library, so unless you're a student or alum of The U, you'll have to call ahead and make an appointment to visit and gawk at the Pan Am ephemera. (Info on all that good stuff here).

Finally, if your Miami travels take you to the Opa-locka airport, you can feast your eyes on the restored 1958 DC-7B that was used in the filming of the show. It was actually operated by Eastern Airlines, but whatevs. There's nothing a little TV magic can't fix...

The Bubble Hotel: Rooms With a View

Not far from the city of lights, a new hotel offers weary Parisians the chance to fall asleep beneath the glow of the stars. The unique Bubble Tree hotel is the brainchild of French designer Pierre-Stephane Dumas.

Strategically placed in areas chosen for their natural beauty, the air-filled bubble rooms allow guests to experience nature without the hassle of setting up a tent. This particular bubble tree is situated near the bucolic grounds of the Chateau Mal-maison, once home to Napoleon’s wife, Josephine de Beauharnais.

Video:

Jamaican Resort Launches Fantasy, Fetish Weddings


USA Today: Hedonism II resort, the adults-gone-wild playground in Negril, Jamaica, has a new come-on. It offers fantasy, fetish weddings, for $250 with a minimum six-night stay (room is extra, but rates include all you can eat and imbibe).

Twilight and True Blood fans can tie the knot in vampire regalia; kinky romantics can opt for a "leather and lace" union; and outlaw duos may choose a "Pirates & Wenches" celebration.

The "fantasy and fetish Weddings" at the resort that bills itself as a place where "almost anything goes," include a ceremony and cocktails, a cake, a specially decorated room and more. Hedonism staffers on hand will dress according to the theme. Vampire duos get costume fangs to wear, a blood orange champagne cocktail, plus red, black and white cake, and a bouquet and boutonnière of black or red roses.

Leather and lacers wield play whips and chains; brides are encouraged to strut down the aisle in lingerie and high heels. There's a set of handcuffs waiting in the room. Pirates and wenches get a "happily ever after" treasure hunt.

Florida Won't Inspect Legoland Rides

Orlando Sentinel: The roller coasters and other rides at Legoland Florida, the theme park scheduled to open in Polk County next month, won't have to undergo any state safety inspections.

State officials agreed last month to spare Legoland from safety oversight because the Winter Haven theme park will qualify — albeit barely — for a 22-year-old exemption that was initially written into Florida law for Walt Disney World and other big theme parks.

The move makes Legoland parent company Merlin Entertainments Group the fourth park owner in Florida to operate free of state ride-safety regulation. The others are the Walt Disney Co.; NBC Universal, which owns Universal Orlando and Wet 'n Wild; and SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, which owns SeaWorld Orlando and Busch Gardens Tampa Bay.

"Within our industry, it is common practice for the theme parks to govern themselves as far as ride inspections go," Legoland spokeswoman Jackie Wallace said Tuesday. "We are following suit."

To be exempt from the state's inspection-and-permitting requirements, Florida law requires a theme park to have a minimum of 1,000 employees. Legoland is not there yet. It currently has 994 workers — "with offers out to the last six," Wallace said. If Legoland's employment falls below 1,000 at any point, state officials say, the park would become subject to regulation by theFlorida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

The law requires exempt parks to employ full-time, in-house safety inspectors and to file annual affidavits with the state certifying that each of their rides has been inspected. Legoland Florida, whose approximately two dozen rides range from the relatively tame Big Rig Rally — a semi-truck ride for toddlers — to the more extreme Flying School — a suspended, steel roller coaster that promises kids the "thrill of flight" — said it has 28 people in its rides division whose duties include inspections.

Boosters of self-regulation say theme parks already have ample motivation to take safety precautions, as accidents can spark negative publicity and public backlash. They also say the biggest parks design ride systems and safety protocols that are far more sophisticated than anything that would be mandated by the state, which focuses in large part on traveling fairs or carnivals and smaller attractions.

Jim Miller, Legoland's director of maintenance, said the park's in-house inspections — some of which are conducted daily — will go beyond what would otherwise be conducted by the state. "I think we have more expertise. We surpass what the state is asking for as far as inspections," Miller said. "We feel like we go above and beyond when it comes to the safety of our guests on the rides."

Legoland also plans to contract with a third-party company, Recreation Engineering Inc., which will conduct certain types of tests and submit required documentation to the state. In addition, Legoland has agreed to abide by the terms of an existing "memorandum of understanding" between the other big theme parks and the Florida Bureau of Fair Rides Inspection, in which the parks submit quarterly reports with basic details of injuries that occur on their rides.

Some argue that Florida's voluntary reporting requirements are insufficient. Barry Novack, a California lawyer who has been involved in a number of personal-injury lawsuits against parks, say records produced from some of those suits show that parks frequently underreport the number of injuries suffered on their rides.

He said the situation is particularly acute in Florida — home to eight of the 11 busiest theme parks in the U.S. — because parks have to report only injuries that result in an immediate hospital stay of more than 24 hours "for purposes other than medical observation."

"What they [the theme parks] say is very few have been injured compared to the number that ride. It's not that very few have been injured, it's that they've only disclosed very, very few," Novack said. "It's really a farce." Whatever the reason, reported injuries are rare.

SeaWorld Orlando and its sister water park Aquatica, which drew an estimated 6.6 million visitors last year, haven't reported an official guest injury since the second quarter of 2008, according to state records. Busch Gardens and sister water park Adventure Island, which drew an estimated 4.8 million visitors last year, haven't reported an official injury since the second quarter of 2006, according to the records.

Disney World, whose four theme parks and two water parks drew 51 million visitors in 2010, has reported 87 injuries since the second quarter of 2008. Universal, whose two parks drew 11.2 million guests last year, reported 14 injuries over the same period. Wet 'n Wild, which drew 1.2 million, has reported five.

A spokesman for SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment said the company takes injury reports seriously and goes as far as to alert the state even to medical conditions that occur on a ride but are unrelated to the ride's operation.

"Each of our rides is inspected daily to ensure all components and equipment are operating within manufacturer-recommended specifications," spokesman Fred Jacobs added. "Each ride is subject to a rigorous schedule of preventative maintenance and nondestructive testing according to ride-cycle parameters, as specified by manufacturer specifications, state and local requirements, and internal SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment standards. Our rides-maintenance teams remain in contact with ride manufacturers for ongoing support, parts and service for the life of the attraction."

Disney World noted that it employs more than 1,000 "engineers, mechanics, safety professionals and specialists" who are dedicated to the safety of guests and workers.

Supporters of the current system also say it fosters a culture of collaboration, because the parks annually consult with state regulators on best practices and safety trends. Universal Orlando recently hosted a session during which it showed inspectors new portable, emergency-shut-down units it has given to employees working three big thrill rides: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit, and Popeye and Bluto's Bilge-Rat Barges.

"No one cares more about the safety of our guests than we do. No one knows more about how to keep our guests safe than we do," Universal spokesman Tom Schroder said. "We are always willing to discuss ways to enhance our industry's strong safety record, but more government programs and regulations are not the answer."

UK Theme Park Super-Sizes Its Seats

UK Press Association: A theme park has installed super-sized seats on one of its most popular rides after an "embarrassing" number of people had to be turned away because they were too big.

Thorpe Park in Surrey said it had to tackle the heavyweight issue to make sure all its customers could enjoy the Nemesis Inferno ride.

The park's divisional director Mike Vallis said: "We listen to the concerns of our customers and continually monitor trends, so that we can modify our offering to ensure we're giving them the very best possible experience.

"The reality is that we are super-sizing - and that's a fact we're embracing. Why shouldn't people be comfortable when they are enjoying a day out with their friends or family?"

Proposed Airline Ticket Tax Bump Has Tempers Soaring

USA Today: President Obama is asking passengers to pay a few dollars more in taxes for an airline ticket — which already is about 20% taxes and fees. And the travel industry is in an uproar about it.

Big airlines say people would buy fewer tickets if Congress approves the president's proposal to help cut the deficit and pay for the nation's aviation system. Regional airlines, which carry more than half of domestic fliers each day, say it could force them to pull out of small cities.

Small-city airports worry about that.

And some travelers and consumer groups say it's just unfair to ask passengers to pay more on top of the taxes and fees that government and airports already charge.

"We are flying on packed planes at increasingly higher rates with larded-on fees and taxes," says Adam Conrad, 45, a health care software executive from Duncansville, Pa. "I have flown over a million miles, and my next million is looking like it will cost a million."

Obama's proposal, which he spelled out last week, would:

> Impose a $100 fee on each commercial airliner and corporate jet every time they take off. Only military planes and small planes with piston engines would be excluded from the new take-off fee.

> Raise the per-passenger security fee, which helps pay for the Transportation Security Administration's airport screening, from the current $2.50 for each leg of a flight to a maximum $5 for a one-way trip to a flat $5 one way. The fee also would rise another 50 cents a year from 2013 through 2017 to $7.50. The Homeland Security Department could raise it further through regulation.

The president's goal is to raise $36 billion to help trim $4 trillion off the deficit in the next decade and get more so-called user-fee money to underwrite aviation security, airport improvement and air traffic control.

Although the increases would be passed on to passengers through ticket prices, and some of the effects of increases would be small or not felt by passengers for a while, the airline industry says they're a burden at a time the industry is struggling to make a profit.

"Aviation shouldn't be a piggy bank for every other purpose," says Roger Cohen president of the Regional Airline Association. "This was proposed, I think, based on the (bank robber) Willie Sutton theory that this is where the money is."

Small airlines, big hit
Perhaps no part of the industry is howling louder than regional airlines. They say the $100 tax on a plane every time it takes off hits them — and the passengers who fly on their planes — the hardest.

Although more than half of all domestic passengers travel on roughly 13,000 regional airline flights a day, they're flying on smaller planes with fewer fellow passengers than on a 200-seat jetliner flown by bigger airlines such as Southwest or Delta. They're often the shuttle airlines between smaller cities and larger ones, or between big cities that aren't that far apart.

Indicative of their load: About 63% of the departures at Chicago O'Hare in July were on regional carriers. It was 82% from Cincinnati and nearly 88% from Des Moines. Some of the flights, especially from smaller cities, carry only seven, nine or a dozen passengers.

Cohen estimates the tax would cost passengers $3.23 more per ticket to fly out of Springfield, Ill.; $15 from Pierre, S.D.; and $36 from Joplin, Mo.

Smaller airports would lose out, he says, because travelers would balk at the higher ticket prices and choose to drive to bigger airports rather than take a connecting flight to their destinations. "It's not a question of if, it's just a question of how many would lose service," says Cohen, whose association represents 30 regional airlines. "They might as well put the 'Closed, going out of business, not coming back' sign on every one of those communities."

Some regional airport managers fret about that, too. "Particularly for the discretionary traveler, they are very sensitive to price," says Sherry Wallace, spokeswoman for Roanoke (Va.) Regional Airport. She worries that because regional airlines have fewer seats to charge the fee, they might abandon routes altogether and "definitely affect smaller communities."

Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., says flights from his hometown area of Dodge City already are struggling, although taxpayers subsidize them. If flights are canceled, passengers have to drive nearly three hours to Wichita or farther to Denver or Albuquerque.

The president is selling the tax as one on executive jets, saying corporations need to pay their share to fly. The tax would generate $11 billion over 10 years, with the money going to the Airport and Airway Trust Fund to pay for improvements to airports and air traffic control.

The White House argues that big airlines flying large commercial jetliners pay the government $1,300 to $2,000 in taxes for a flight from Los Angeles to San Francisco, while a corporate jet flying the same route and using the same Federal Aviation Administration services pays $60.

Lew Bleiweis, airport director for the Asheville (N.C.) Regional Airport, agrees that corporate jets need to contribute to air-traffic control. But, he warns, burdening commercial airlines with too many fees "could lead to a domino-effect of reduced service."

Although passengers on big jetliner flights won't pay as much, the nation's big airlines don't like the $100 tax, either. "We already pay more than our fair share of taxes — more than the alcohol and tobacco industries, whose products are taxed at levels to discourage their use," says Nicholas Calio, president of the Air Transportation Association.

The association, which represents most of the nation's big airlines such as Delta, United Continental and American, says federal taxes, fees and airport charges already make up about 20% of an average ticket for a domestic flight.

For an average $300 ticket, the association says, passengers pay about $60 in taxes, fees and charges.

Reason for raising
The security fees that passengers pay now cover about 43% of the TSA's costs of providing security in the air. The president says that it needs to better cover the agency's costs — hence the proposed increase. Passengers who routinely fly connecting trips wouldn't see an immediate price increase if Congress approves raising the $2.50 fee. But anyone who flies direct each way on a trip would see the tax double immediately. It would triple in the following five years.

"This is going to hit the middle class right in the pocketbook," says Charles Leocha, director of the advocacy group Consumer Travel Alliance.

The White House says the security fee increase is "modeled" on an idea from Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the House Budget Committee chairman. But a Ryan spokesman, Stephen Spruiell, says his boss' plan simply raised the fee to $5 for a one-way trip, rather than growing to $7.50 in five years with "this crazy provision" that Homeland Security could raise it even higher.

Some travelers don't mind paying a little more for security. Fernando Mariano, 65, who flies more than 150,000 miles a year as an advertising executive in Orlando, is one. "I positively agree with anything that means more security — including more taxes," he says. "When you're talking about the expense of a trip, it's really something you could accept."

But a big source of contention about the security-fee increase is that roughly $15 billion of the $24.9 billion it would raise over 10 years wouldn't go to the TSA. It would go straight to deficit reduction. "It's just really unacceptable," Leocha says. "They're basically saying they're going to take our money and put it in another pocket."

Tough to pass?
Although many in Congress see the merits of better financing the aviation system and are keen to cut the deficit, the lobbying power of the industry and opposition by many members to any tax increase automatically puts the Obama proposal in jeopardy.

Similar legislative proposals have met stiff opposition in the past. In 2007, former president George W. Bush proposed charging higher taxes on business and private aircraft, but Congress refused.

House Republicans, led by Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, have generally rejected any attempt to increase taxes. But lawmakers give a more sympathetic ear to raising aviation taxes and fees to better cover costs of security, personnel and construction at airports.

And because aviation taxes represent a single string in the tangled spending debate on Capitol Hill, they aren't necessarily dead.

Calio says Congress' so-called supercommitee, which is searching for ways to cut $1.2 trillion from the deficit in the next decade, might look at the taxes as "low-hanging fruit" because airlines collect them and forward to the U.S. Treasury without passengers always noticing they're paying them.

Earlier this year, a proposal to raise the security fee $1.50 per ticket ran into turbulence in the Senate Appropriations Committee, which narrowly kept it. "I'm not sure I like every part of it, but I think it's worthy of hearings," Rep. Sander Levin of Michigan, the top Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee that sets taxes, says of the proposal.

Flight Attendants Injured After First Officer's Mistake


Terminal U: Two flight attendants suffered minor injuries when an All Nippon Airways (ANA) plane entered a violent roll en route to Tokyo, the Japan Transport Safety Board said on Wednesday.

117 passengers and crew were on board the 737-700 jet from Okinana Prefecture to Tokyo Haneda when the plane rolled suddenly, descending 6,000ft (1,900 metres) in 30 seconds after the first officer mistook the rudder trim switch for the cockpit door switch, Japan’s Kyodo News reports.

The incident happened off Shizuoka Prefecture on September 6.

The safety board’s head Norihiro Goto, told a news conference that the plane continued to roll until it reached 131.7 degrees to the left, leaving it almost belly up.

When the co-pilot stabilised the aircraft, it was close to heading in the opposite direction, according to the safety board.

ANA Senior Executive Vice President Shin Nagase bowed in apology during a press conference at the transport ministry in Tokyo, adding: “We deeply apologise for causing tremendous trouble and anxiety to our passengers.”

The transport safety board is continuing its investigation.

TSA Agent Arrested in Phony Marriage Scheme

The Smoking Gun: A Transportation Security Administration agent was arrested this week on federal charges for her role in an alleged phony marriage scheme that sought to secure U.S. citizenship for her purported spouse, a Lebanon native.

The case against Krista Taha, 34, is, in part, based on information provided by two male TSA agents who told investigators that they dated her while she was reportedly married to Ali Taha, who was also named as a defendant in a felony criminal complaint unsealed yesterday in U.S. District Court in Detroit.

Taha, pictured right, and one of the male TSA agents are the parents of a four year-old boy.

The federal criminal complaint does not detail Taha’s alleged motive for taking part in the sham February 2002 marriage (or whether she was paid in return for the marriage vows). Taha, charged with conspiracy and making false statements, has worked as a TSA agent at the Detroit airport since late-2002.

The World's Weirdest Hotel Room?

Daily Mail: Forget the penthouse suite, one unusual hotel is sending its most important guests 500ft below ground to sleep.

The Sala Silvermine Hotel, in Vdstmanland County, Sweden, has created a room so far beneath the earth's surface that it can only be accessed through a mine lift shaft - which sends guests 509ft into the ground in a matter of seconds. The bizarre bedroom, which costs £380 ($594) a night, comes complete with a luxurious double bed, silver furnishings and champagne platter.

But anyone who lives by their phone would be best off staying in one of the hotel's 14 ground-level rooms as there is certainly no mobile signal down there. In fact, the only way visitors can communicate with the outside world is through the dedicated personal intercom connected to reception on the surface.

And guests are warned to bring warm clothing as temperatures have been known to drop to a chilly two degrees celsius (35.6 ºF) at the bottom of the cavernous mine. But don't worry, the room itself is actually located in a warm air pocket, with relatively balmy temperatures of 18 degrees (64.4 ºF).

Despite its shortcomings, the mine suite is so popular with those looking for an alternative stay that it is fully booked Friday-Sunday all year round.

The hotel's director of marketing, Sofie Andersson, said: 'We haven't heard of any other venues with such a unique location, especially none so far under ground. People may think that a hotel suite in a mine will be cold and dark, but the mine suite is located in one of our warm halls where the temperature is 18 degrees (64.4 ºF).'

'We have also used chandelier-like lamps and candle holders to illuminate the room in a way that lights up the silvery surfaces to get the right glow. Silver can feel very cold or warm depending on the lighting, so that was really important. It is easily the most extraordinary place to stay in the world in our opinion. And the environment is real and not artificial like many hotels.'

The silver mine in the town of Sala was originally dug by miners who carried the silver ore out by hand. They each painstakingly slaved away, chipping at the mine's face at a rate of just one metre a month.

It took nearly 10 years just to carve out the bedroom, thanks to the slow mining method employed at the time, called fire-setting. It involves burning wood, which is used to heat up and crack the silver, allowing it to be chipped away more easily.

But the end result has visitors raving about the unusual accommodation. One guest from Denmark said: 'The night was brilliant - but be aware of warm clothing in order to visit the toilet as the caves are two degrees at night. I can only recommend this experience to everybody who is looking for the unusual.'

Another, from Ireland, excitedly proclaimed: 'It definitely has the wow factor.'

For at least 400 years the mine was Sweden's largest and most important silver producer, and today the area has also been developed into a venue for events and adventures.

Ms Andersson added: 'Since the mine shut down the underground hotel experience has become the new silver and is what makes people from far away visit Sala once again. We connect the past with life today and have created a room that will be interesting and feel right in the future too.'

United and Continental Experience Merger Pains

Pilots Protesting on Wall Street Tuesday
 Wall Street Journal: In the year since United Airlines and Continental Airlines merged, the economy has weakened and the price of aviation fuel has soared. But business for United Continental Holdings Inc. has been surprisingly rosy.

The Chicago-based airline, now the world's largest by traffic, is on course to turn a $1.4 billion profit this year. It is sitting on an $8.4 billion cash pile, its unit revenue gains are leading the industry and it is moving briskly to repaint its fleet and rebrand its airport terminals. Earlier this month, Fitch Ratings raised United's credit rating by a notch, citing significant debt reduction and cash-flow generation.

But things may become difficult in the coming months as the new United tries to clear three tall hurdles: new labor contracts, a new reservations system and government approvals. Events this week suggest that may come to pass.

On Monday, the Air Line Pilots Association, which represents United pilots, sued the company in federal court, alleging that "revised operating procedures" in relation to the merger are "inadequate to maintain the levels of safety" United passengers expect. The union is asking to postpone the airline's implementation of its latest phase of postmerger training.

United said the suit is an attempt by the pilots union to tilt current negotiations for a new contract toward the aviators' interest, according to internal correspondence between the company and the union. It said the complaint "is entirely without merit."

The suit "is a shameful effort to influence negotiations for a joint collective bargaining agreement, under a false guise of safety," the company said. Pilots from United and Continental, which both are represented by separate branches of the ALPA, are scheduled Tuesday to protest what they see as the slow pace of labor negotiations. Safety concerns aren't expected to be voiced in that venue. The pilots are planning a rally outside the New York Stock Exchange to send a message that some of the merger synergies investors want to see won't be realized until the carriers' work forces are combined. Currently, both pilot groups are working under concessionary terms negotiated years ago when the industry was in dire straits.

To Jeff Smisek, United's chief executive officer, the merger process is on course. "We're where we expected to be," he said in an interview last week. "There are thousands and thousands and thousands of things to do, but just like dominos on a table, you knock 'em over one by one by one."

Asked to judge Mr. Smisek's performance, Capt. Jay Pierce, chairman of the ALPA branch at Continental, said last week: "In terms of painting airplanes and maintaining the stock price, I'll give him an A. But in terms of operational issues, I'll give him an Incomplete."

Mr. Smisek initially expected United would be able to reach common labor agreements with all its workers by the end of this year.

But in recent months he has conceded that he was overly ambitious and that the "cumbersome" process of employees selecting which unions will represent them in the combined company has slowed progress. He also has warned that United isn't going to agree to contracts it can't afford.

Capt. Wendy Morse, union chief of the United pilots who sued the company Monday, said the lawsuit aims to halt unsafe training procedures the union complains are being rushed to complete the merger. "There is no stopping, no taking inventory," she said. "It's just proceed, proceed, proceed."

The FAA declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Also on United's checklist, the company must secure a single-operating certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration so it can meld its safety, maintenance and operating procedures, which will let it mix and match its planes and crews.

The company must then integrate its complex and incongruent passenger-reservations systems, which are the digital heart of airlines' customer relations—storing, organizing and calculating flight schedules, fares and passenger transactions. The airline plans to transplant United's Apollopassenger-reservations system into Continental's Shares system. It plans to make the switch in the first quarter of 2012.

Merging two systems is an enormous technology undertaking. "No one's ever done one this big," said Scott Nason, an airline-technology consultant and former information-technology chief of AMR Corp.'s American Airlines. "And there have been others that didn't go so well." Problematic switchovers can lead to flight delays, lost bags, overwhelmed reservations centers and inoperable check-in kiosks—for days or even months. Marrying computer systems is a bloodless task. Merging cultures and unions can be hairier.

Finally, in what is likely to be the most arduous task, United must reach new labor contracts with its far-flung employees—and then hope that the various unionized groups can agree among themselves to joint seniority lists.

At stake is more than $1 billion of annual cost savings and revenue gains United hopes to lasso by 2013, when the company is fully operating as one.

Already, United is "connecting the dots" on its extensive route network, Mr. Smisek said, by leveraging the market clout of one subsidiary to add flights by the other. For instance, Continental has long been strong in Mexico, so the combined airline has added flights to that country from United's West Coast hubs. United is big in Hawaii, so the airline has added flights from the West Coast to the Aloha State with Continental aircraft.

Mr. Smisek, a 57-year-old lawyer who was CEO of Continental before the combination, aims to secure the single-operating certificate by year end. To do so, management must align thousands of rules and procedures into standard operating manuals.

Pilots and independent safety experts said Monday's suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, N.Y., is unusual because it raises safety questions in the context of litigation and contract negotiations.

Some frictions arise from differences in training procedures and philosophies at Continental and United. Continental pilots tend to rely on off-the-shelf Boeing Co. operations manuals. United pilots said they have traditionally worked more closely with management to agree on safety and training issues.

One reason behind the United pilots' suit is the growing reliance on computer-based training. Many commercial pilots feel pressured because their annual training courses cover more topics each year, while time to learn the material has steadily been reduced.

Dangerous Snake Scares Beachgoers in Australia

Courier Mail: Never mind the sharks - it's the snakes you have to watch out for at the Gold Coast's Main Beach.

A deadly eastern brown snake slithering through the dunes sent a scare through school holiday crowds at the popular beach today.

The snake species, rated among the most venomous in the world, is prevalent along the Southport Spit - so much so that luxury beachfront hotel the Sheraton Mirage hotel has had to install a viper-proof fence to protect guests.

Snake-catchers are regularly called to the Spit to relocate snakes that could threaten beachgoers.

``The venom from a single eastern brown is enough kill something like seven humans,'' snake-catcher Steve Noy, of wildlife consultants Naturecall, said. ``They can also be very aggressive. You peeve them enough and they'll just explode.''

Mr Noy said that, despite trying to jump out of the relocation bin it was put in, the eastern brown caught yesterday at Main Beach was relatively placid. He said although eastern browns were not in plague proportions on the Spit, their numbers were healthy and they posed a risk to beachgoers.

``It's prime habitat for them because there's plenty of food and water,'' he said.

``There are more snakes out there than what we realise because they're magicians when it comes to hiding. But with the weather warming up and more eyes on the beach during the school holidays, you're probably going to get more sightings.''

Customer Finds B Word on Her Starbucks Cup

Vicki Reveron is a native New Yorker and, until a few weeks ago, a loyal Starbucks customer. That changed one morning when a barista wrote “Bitch” on her cup instead of her name.

"I was shocked. I didn't understand why they would do that," said Reveron.



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The Surprising Success of Rock 'n' Roll Cruises

Fox Business: Most of us have to work hard for a living, but Andy Levine gets to run Sixthman Productions, and he might have a little more fun than workers stuck behind a desk all day.

His company was just named as one of the nation's 500 fastest-growing companies by Inc. Magazine and was rated at number 87 overall, and the leader in the travel category. But calling Sixthman a travel company is like saying Eric Clapton is just a guitar player.

Sixthman Productions specializes in one particular kind of theme cruise: live rock 'n' roll concerts on cruise ships. Two of my favorite things are live music and cruising, combine them, and they’re magic.

How does Sixthman work? First it charters a cruise ship that holds 1,600 to 3,600 passengers. Chartering an entire ship means Sixthman gets total control of the cruise: where it sails and stops, food selections and who provides the entertainment. Naturally, they scrap the cruise line's usual production shows like “Karaoke Live!” and instead offer live concerts with headliner rock 'n' roll bands.

While the process sounds fun, it's not as simple as it sounds.

Chartering cruise ships and producing rock concerts are both risky investments. Consider the experience of another company, Shoreline Charters, which recently tried to promote the Bret Michaels Rock Your World Super Cruise, featuring the ex-lead singer of the band Poison. Michaels now alleges the company tried to renege on its original contract and cut his performance fee to $350,000 from $750,000. The cruise has been canceled.

There are a few successful companies producing music cruises. The Blues Cruise has handled some three dozen successful sailings, and The Smooth Jazz Cruise has presented two to five jazz cruises annually since 2004. But Sixthman, based in Atlanta, produces a greater variety of music theme cruises every year.

Here is a typical Sixthman Production (although there is nothing typical about it): The upcoming Kiss Kruise – Wet, Wild and Rockin’ isn’t just a cruise for Kiss fans to buy collectible Kiss dolls (although that is part of it). This cruise features the actual band playing live -- Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Eric Singer and Tommy Thayer. Only the first two are original members, but the important thing is being at sea with nothing to think about but your Kiss makeup and a chance to meet Gene Simmons as he heads to the dining room for baked Alaska.

The Kiss Kruise sets sail on Carnival Destiny Oct. 13 – 17 from Miami to a private island in the Bahamas and to Nassau. There will be two shows by Kiss for everyone onboard to see, plus performances by four other bands. Guests on the Kiss Kruise will pay from $799 to $2,995 per person for a four-day cruise. Sixthman brings its own sound system, controls what is shown on the stateroom televisions, chooses the “drink of the day,” plots the ship’s itinerary and more. For four days Sixthman will basically “own” the cruise ship.

Other Sixthman ventures include two successful Kid Rock cruises, with a third one coming next April. Then there’s the Weezer Cruise, featuring the namesake band plus 15 or so special guests. The Rock Boat, now in its 12th year, started it all and features dozens of different bands.

I am really sorry I missed the last Simple Man Cruise, the fifth of which sailed last January with classic rock bands Lynyrd Skynyrd, 38 Special and Little Feat, but cruise number six is being planned right now.

Then there's the fifth annual Cayamo Cruise sailing Feb. 5, 2012, where songwriters like Lyle Lovett, John Hiatt, Lucinda Williams, John Prine and about 20 more will present their work -- and, more importantly, talk to fellow passengers and share their ideas on songwriting and performing. Other rock cruises include the VH1 Best Cruise Ever and Ships & Dips, that includes the Barenaked Ladies and several more bands.

Sixthman plans so many different cruises every year that the best thing to do for planning purposes is just visit its website to see what’s coming up. But be warned: Music cruises are highly addictive. Sixthman says more than 60% of guests on each cruise are repeaters. One of Sixthman’s competitors, the Jam Cruise, now in its 10th year, refers to its loyal client base as “repeat offenders.” Keep in mind that Sixthman's cruises often sell out up to a year in advance.

Sixthman is branching out beyond music to offer the Turner Classic Movie cruise on Dec. 8, 2011, showing several cinematic classics and bringing aboard Ernest Borgnine, Tippi Hedren, Norman Jewison and Eva Marie Saint to discuss and reminisce about the golden age of Hollywood. Overseeing the events will be TCM channel hosts Robert Osborne and Ben Mankiewicz.

Another Sixthman distinction is its choice of ships. While both Smooth Jazz and the Blues Cruise have only used Holland America ships for years now, Sixthman will be chartering Carnival's Inspiration, Destiny and Fascination; Celebrity Millennium; and NCL's Norwegian Pearl and Norwegian Dawn during the upcoming season.

When they are finished with each cruise, they will break down the stage, sound and lighting systems they bring on board and get them ready for the next adventure. And let me just say one thing: I would not want to be the person collecting the empty beer bottles.

Actress Escorted Off Plane for Kissing Girlfriend


New York Daily News: Former "L Word" star Leisha Hailey and her girlfriend are calling for a boycott of Southwest Airlines, saying a flight attendant scolded them for mile high kissing.

"I have been discriminated against by @SouthwestAir," the 40-year-old tweeted. "Flt. attendant said that it was a 'family' airline and kissing was not ok." Hailey blasted the airline for hiring "homophobic employees" and called for a boycott and public apology.

Hailey and her girlfriend were travelling from Baltimore to St. Louis Monday when they started smooching mid-flight and were told to cool it. They were pulled aside by an attendant when the plane landed, Hailey said, and told their public display of affection was unacceptable on a "family" airline.

"Since when is showing affection toward someone you love illegal? I want to know what Southwest Airlines considers as 'family.' I know plenty of wonderful same-sex families I would like to introduce them to. Boycott @SouthwestAir if you are gay. They don't like us," Hailey tweeted.

Southwest officials insist Hailey and her gal pal weren't singled out because they're lesbians. "We received several passenger complaints characterizing the behavior as excessive," the statement said.

"Our crew, responsible for the comfort of all customers on board, approached the passengers based solely on behavior and not gender," it added. "The conversation escalated to a level that was better resolved on the ground, as opposed to in flight."

Hailey played bisexual journalist, Alice Pieszecki, in the Showtime series that features the lives of lesbian friends an lovers living in L.A.

Southwest Airlines came under the microscope earlier this month after an attendant tossed Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong for wearing his pants too low. The airline eventually apologized.

Cruise Ships to Mark Titanic Centenary

Titanic
Daily Mail: This month marks 100 years since tickets went on sale for the ill-fated maiden voyage of the Titanic. Fast-forward a century, and a UK cruise company has also put tickets on sale for a second cruise designed to commemorate the tragedy, after the first sold out almost two years before its departure date.

With the centenary now just under seven months away, it’s safe to say public interest is reaching fever pitch, especially with news that Downton Abbey writer Julian Fellowes is penning a mini-series to mark the anniversary.

So what better time to launch a second memorial cruise? The Azamara Journey, which can carry 694 passengers, will leave from New York and trace the Titanic’s footsteps in reverse (minus the iceberg collision). It is set to meet the Fred Olsen MC Balmoral cruise ship on the way, which will be following the Titanic’s course to New York from Southampton (also avoiding said iceberg).

The two vessels will cross paths at the exact site of the calamity on April 14, at 2.20am, to pay tribute to the 1,578 men, women and children who lost their lives a century earlier.

The second cruise, which is offering the all-inclusive, eight-night voyage from £4,419 per person, has been hurriedly put together due to popular demand, but the somewhat morbid idea has certainly had its detractors.

Miles Morgan, managing director of Miles Morgan Travel, has insisted the trip is designed to be ‘a commemoration not a ghoulish recreation of the original journey.’

Either way, on the anniversary you’ll find us watching the ITV mini-series from the comfort of our sofa, rather than tempting fate…

Utah Commemorating 'Thelma & Louise' Anniversary

USA Today: Has it really been 20 years since Thelma and Louise lit out from Arkansas and landed in a suicide plunge off the Grand Canyon in what is certainly one of the all-time great buddy/road trip movies?

Most of the location scenes were shot in Utah and a couple of locales there are marking the occasion this week. In Salt Lake City, actress Geena Davis, who co-starred with Susan Sarandon, will appear at Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center in a conversation with Utah Tourism director Leigh Von der Esch. After a screening of the movie, producer Mimi Polk Gitlin will participate in a discussion about the film.

On Thursday, the show moves to Moab, where many of the film's memorable red-rock scenes were shot. A free screening is set for Thursday night at Star Hall, followed by a discussion including Gitlin and Von der Esch.

A number of promotions are tied to the anniversary, including a Girlfriend Getaway at Sorrel River Ranch in Moab. (Leave your guns at home, girls.)

The movie, about two friends who become accidental outlaws after one shoots a would-be rapist, earned six Academy Award nominations. It also helped put Moab on the tourist map, though the area had previously had its share of on-screen close-ups, from John Wayne westerns to Marlboro Man commercials.

More recently, the raw landscape played a starring role in 127 Hours, the true story of hiker Aron Ralston, who was forced to amputate his own arm in May 2003 after being trapped for five days in a remote slot canyon.

Echoes of that tragedy occurred earlier this month when 64-year-old Amos Richards fell 10 feet, breaking his leg in Little Blue John Canyon, the same area in which Ralston was trapped, the Salt Lake Tribune reported. The Concord, N.C., man, equipped with five liters of water and two power bars but no map, crawled through the desert for four days and three nights. National Park Service rangers began a search after spotting his abandoned campsite. They rescued him on Sept. 12 and said he's expected to make a full recovery from multiple injuries, the Tribune reported.

Like Ralston, Richards had not told anyone where he was going. That, along with failing to carry adequate water and other essentials, like first-aid supplies, is a common misstep, says Kent Green, a former search and rescue worker in Moab.

"There are so many nooks and canyon crevasses, you could get lost out there forever," he said of Little Blue John Canyon, which lies in some of the region's most remote and rugged terrain. "You'd be surprised how many people come out here and they'll spend $2,000 or $5,000 on a mountain bike, but nothing on a fanny pack full of stuff that could save their life."

Green's No. 1 piece of advice for hikers and cyclists: Always tell someone where you're going. And don't change your plans.

Hotel Industry Outlook Beginning to Brighten

USA Today: The doom-and-gloom attitude that's plagued the hotel industry for about three years is starting to lift.

During the annual Phoenix Lodging Conference last week, hotel developers, executives, designers and financiers huddled in discussions over possible deals — something not seen since the financial crisis.

"There was more positive activity at this year's event than last year's," says Nancy Johnson, an executive vice president at Carlson Hotels, which runs Radisson, Radisson Blu and Country Inns & Suites brands.

A prime reason why hotel development sank was financing dried up after Lehman Bros. crashed in September 2008, sending the globe into a financial crisis and keeping travelers at home.

"The pall of the recession has psychologically passed, if not financially passed," says Hotel Interactive's Glenn Haussman. "Everyone realizes it's time for things to happen."

But the financial pall may be lifting, too.

A senior executive with GE Capital's hotel financing arm told the audience that the giant is hiring sales people, and he invited them to call for loans.

"If you haven't heard from GE in a while, you're going to," said Scott Andrews, senior vice president of GE Capital's franchise finance. "We are fully back in the market."

Other signals of optimism:

•Budget hotel company Choice Hotels International just announced deals to build three locations of Cambria Suites — Choice's most upscale brand — in Washington, D.C., Houston and White Plains, N.Y.

Those are urban markets where it's easier to get new hotels financed, Choice Hotels CEO Steve Joyce says. "We are out providing significant seed capital to get deals over the finish line because we're sensing now is the right time," he says.

Choice also has started helping owners of its budget Sleep Inn hotels finance renovations.

•The Country Inns & Suites chain, specifically, signed twice as many hotel deals this year as last year, Johnson says. That exceeded expectations, although it's still not back to pre-recession levels. Most of the deals are conversions because financing has been lacking. But one deal will mean a new Country Inn in Port Orange, Fla., near Daytona.

•Major West Coast hotel developer R.D. Olson plans to open four new limited-service hotels in the next nine months. It's also working on a full-service hotel in San Diego, CEO Bob Olson says. With construction costs down as much as 30% from four years ago, he says, "It's an incredibly opportune time to build in certain markets."

The company invested in the four hotels that are slated to open, he says.

Some of the optimism stems from improving forecasts from hotel prognosticators. Revenue that hotels get per available room at the end of this year is expected to be 7.2% higher ($60.54) and rise an additional 7.3% in 2012, according to PKF Hospitality Research.

The average daily room rate this year in U.S. hotels is expected to reach $101 by year's end, a 3% gain. An additional 5% gain is expected next year, PKF says.

Still, any rebound in the hotel industry depends on the market.

For instance, at the Arizona Biltmore, the Waldorf Astoria-affiliated hotel where the conference was, average daily rates remain as much as $85 below pre-recession levels, says Andrew Stegen, the hotel's general manager.

Is Boeing's Dreamliner a Game Changer?

After three years of delays, Boeing has delivered its first 787 Dreamliner to Japan's All Nippon Airlines. The $200 million plane is scheduled to head for Tokyo today.

Will Dreamliner change air travel? Boeing says yes, but not everyone is convinced.

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Fact Checking ABC's 'Pan Am'

MSNBC: How does the "Pan Am" television series compare with real life travel?

If you watched the Sunday night premiere of "Pan Am," you might be wondering if the idyllic version of 1960s air travel matches the reality of those who worked for the iconic airline.

Overhead Bin wondered, too. So we asked two former Pan Am flight attendants to watch the show and tell us if their experiences were anything like those portrayed on-screen.

Bronwen Roberts was hired at Pan Am in 1958 shortly after graduating England’s University of Leeds with a degree in French. She flew until 1989 and kept in a scrapbook the advertisement listing the 15 qualifications required of flight attendant applicants. “You had to have a pleasant personality and speaking voice, excellent health and you had to be single,” said Roberts. “Really single. Not widowed, divorced or separated.”

A weight between 110 and 135 pounds was another qualification. Roberts said the pre-flight weigh-ins and grooming inspections depicted on the show were true-to-life.

“When you checked in for a flight you’d go into the office and there’d be a grooming supervisor on duty all the time,” said Roberts. “She could say, ‘Your hair is too long’ or ‘You are overweight’ and send you home until you fixed it. Just like the TV show, you could get grounded for uniform violations.”

Helen Davey also found the on-screen grooming checks familiar. Now a psychotherapist in Los Angeles, she was hired as a Pan Am flight attendant in 1965 at age 21 and flew until 1986.

“Yes, we had to wear girdles,” said Davey. “And if you were one minute late for a trip, they’d send you home.”

In the first episode, a child is escorted into the cockpit mid-flight to visit the pilots. Passengers are also offered ashtrays so they can smoke. Roberts and Davey both said that those in-flight activities were once very common.

“We definitely took children into the cockpit so they could sit in the pilot’s seat,” said Roberts. “And in terms of smoking, we’d have little packets of cigarettes and matches that we’d go around with.”

“Even flight attendants could smoke,” added Davey. “But when they did, they had to be sitting down.”

In the episode (spoiler alert), two of the flight attendants are shown doing work for the CIA. If this seems like the least plausible story line, Roberts and Davey both said it was realistic.

“That is definitely a true story,” said Roberts, who during her tenure heard rumors that at least one flight attendant was involved with the CIA. “At one point she just disappeared. No one knew what happened to her.”

In fact, Nancy Hult Ganis, an executive producer for the show and a former Pan Am flight attendant, told wired.com that her research turned up stories about the airline’s involvement with State Department operations on behind-the-scene missions in dangerous locations.

The TV program also shows flight attendants with plenty of time to chit-chat, and at least one crew member involved in an off-duty affair with a passenger.

“Some of those flights were quite long – 15 or 20 hours – and there were fewer people, so you could get to know them,” said Roberts. “People weren’t glued to their laptops like they are now. And some people did end up marrying passengers they met on flights."

Roberts and Davey had only a few quibbles with the first episode. Both said their uniforms were a warmer, more subdued shade of blue than those worn by the TV actresses and that flight attendants in their day would never be allowed to have hair touching their shoulders.

But there’s one moment that Davey said was spot on. “I liked the scene when they were ready for take-off and one flight attendant says to the new hire, ‘Buckle up. Adventure calls.’ That’s how it was. We all thought we had lucked into the best job into the world.”

'Pan Am' Review: Bouncy Hair and Aviation History

Jaunted: So, did you watch the premiere episode of ABC's Pan Am last night? It seems like half the world did, from the way Twitter was blowing up about it. Of course you can't go about judging a show from its premiere eppy—it's like judging a book by its heavily-financed cover—but we'll attempt to anyway.

Yesterday evening, we were introduced to Maggie, Kate, Colette, Laura, Dean and Ted. Their complexions are perfect, their Pan Am crew uniforms perfectly starched and their curiosity for the world genuine. Alas, it's not just because they are actors, but because this is the truth of what it was really like back in the heyday of the jet age. Also it's worth noting their hair is very bouncy.

Beyond appearances, the show actually makes an effort to touch on real history, as the premiere featured the first flight of the Clipper Majestic from New York to London. Nevermind that there was no Clipper named Majestic, the story the show attempts to tell is rooted in fact. We particularly loved all the shots of the Boeing 707 and glimpses of vintage airline interiors, naturally created on a soundstage but so realistic that we wish the ABC Pan Am set crew would have a hand in fitting a current plane with a retro interior for a special route. We can dream.

Now perhaps we should have seen this coming: Jetsetter has partnered with ABC's Pan Am for a curated selection of hotel sales. They've just launched the first bunch in London—keeping with the premiere's theme—and there'll be five more coming up, though all for US cities.

The Dazzling Physics of the Boeing 787's Engines

Seattle Times: What metallic object spins at supersonic speeds, about 900 mph, and operates at a temperature half as hot as the sun?

The 787's Rolls-Royce engine.

Actually, any modern jet engine approaches this astonishing performance. The Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 powering the Dreamliner is just the most efficient example being produced today.

Bill Boyd, the new head of Rolls-Royce's Boeing support office in Seattle, just gave a briefing on the engine that began with the utterly dazzling engineering behind the engine.

Steel starts to glow red at 1,292 degrees F, but inside the engine core the temperature reaches higher than 3,000 degrees F. Somehow the engineers contrive with special coatings and heat distribution to prevent the metal from melting.

Meanwhile the tips of the hollow titanium fan blades at the front are spinning at 900 mph. At take-off, the force on each blade is equivalent to hanging a freight train off the blade, Boyd said.

And inside the core, many little three-inch blades turn, each one producing as much power as a NASCAR auto in an environment that is beyond the melting point of the metal.

It's physics that seems like magic.

The Rolls-Royce engine is certified to fly 5.5 hours ETOPS (i.e. the plane is certified to fly that long with one engine out.)

And while the 787 is in service, a team of Rolls-Royce engineers will monitor the engines while in flight via a radio frequency data communications and detect any degradation in performance that might need to be dealt with upon landing.

The Dreamliner's Trent 1000, Boyd said, is "the most efficient, highest technology production engine in the world today."

Converted Oil Rig Escape Pods Now Hotel Rooms

Daily Mail: Looking for a weekend retreat that's perfect for an escape? Here's a hotel that's built just for the job.

Holidaymakers are now being offered the chance to stay in an oil rig survival capsule. The bright orange pods have undergone an incredible transformation and are now available to tourists for 60 Euros ($81) a night.

Kitted out with lights, a survival suitcase and sleeping bags and guests can choose between simple hammocks or a normal bed in their pods. Some of the more luxurious designs contain a water boiler and, bizarrely, karaoke sets.

Creator oil rig even fitted one with a James Bond theme - like the one featured in the film The Spy Who Loved Me. The capsule includes several of the films on DVDs, silk sheets on the bed, champagne and a vodka martini bar.

Tourists with a sense of adventure are now clamoring to spend the night in the rooms, which measure just 14ft across. Mr Oudendijk, who lives in the Hague, in the Netherlands, said: 'Since we launched them, the pods have been very popular - they've even saved some relationships.'

The 44-year-old designer stumbled across the pods for sale on the internet while looking for a boat. He explained: 'I was planning to travel over Europe's waters by boat looking for waste to turn in to re-usable objects. I was looking for an enclosed boat for me which could function as a house and a research laboratory. Then I found the survival capsules on the internet and had the idea for the hotels. Each have been adapted differently. Some are simply fitted with a hammock made from a fishing net. But in one I took out the whole engine space and put in a normal bed.'

'They come with lights, survival suitcases, sleeping bags, and some even have a waterboiler and karaoke set depending on the location. Once I had a James Bond meets Barbarella arrangement and the capsule came with Bond DVDs, silk sheets, champagne and a vodka martini bar.'

The capsules are currently available in Scheveningen, in the Hague, and the Verbeke Foundation in Belgium. Two others are also currently being renovated and will soon be deployed to new locations. Mr Oudendijk has stayed in the capsules himself and describes the experience as fun.

He added: 'It's great having your own little survival capsule. I've stayed in one for a month with my girlfriend in Nantes, France, and it was very comfortable.'

App Helps Travelers Speak Foreign Languages

Vocre App
 Reuters: Communicating with local people in a foreign country can pose difficulties, whether it is asking for direction or making a special request at a restaurant.

But Vocre, a new iPhone app released by translation company myLanguage, aims to ease those problems by enabling users to translate their spoken voice into foreign languages.

It leverages crowd-sourcing to continually improve the accuracy of its translations to allow people to express themselves in the same way as native speakers.

"It's like asking your friend down the street, 'How would I say this in Spanish?" said Andrew Lauder, founder and CEO of myLanguage.

"It might not be something that's expected by a dictionary -- but it is the right way to say it when you go to that specific part of the world. It has the colloquialisms or slang of the area."

The app uses the iPhones accelerometer as a source of input so that users don't need to tap the screen. They simply hold the phone in one direction to record their voice, and then flip it in the other direction to make it talk in the translated language.

Lauder said that the company's expertise lies in the translation technology, rather than the voice transcription or human speech technology, which are driven by Nuance (speech-to-text) and iSpeech (text-to-speech) respectively.

The translation engine trains itself based on user-contributed corrections, queries made by other users in their native languages, as well as their own linguists, to determine the most common way a native speaker would say a particular phrase.

"Weve really invented a new type of translation technology that learns every single time a translation is done," said Lauder. "Nobody has focused on what's the right way of saying this. And that's important because there's meaning attached to what we say -- people will know if you're saying something funny, for example."

Although the technology has been praised, the app has been criticized for its ease of use and pricing. Lauder said the company hopes to resolve both issues in an update expected this week that will make the app more intuitive to use, and also introduce a new pricing model.

The pricing will move away from a credit-based model towards a subscription-based model. The app will be free for use for the first 24 hours upon initial launch, but then will require a weekly or monthly subscription.

Competitors for the app include Google Translate, Jibbigo (both of which have free versions of their apps) and SmartTrans, which also makes use of Nuances voice recognition software and costs $19.99.

The app, available on the Apple App Store, currently supports nine languages - three dialects of English, Spanish, French, Italian, German, Chinese and Japanese. Support for ten more languages is planned.