Travel Notes: Airline delays tell just part of story

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Airline delays and cancellations have dropped significantly in the past few years. At least that's what federal statistics show. But the numbers may not be telling us the whole story.

That is one of the conclusions in a new report by the office of inspector general for the U.S. Department of Transportation, which recommends new ways of calculating airline delays.

The Department of Transportation's data show that airline delays fell 33 percent from 2000 to 2012, while flight cancellations dropped 56 percent at the nation's largest airports.

The problem with the numbers, according to the inspector general, is that the Department of Transportation looks at flight data only from the 16 largest airlines. Those airlines account for about 76 percent of domestic flights. The other 24 percent is not calculated in the federal analysis.

The nation's "published flight delay data present the public with an incomplete picture of the number of delays that actually occur at a given airport or are generated by all carriers," the report said.

Another reason the numbers don't give an exact picture, the report says, is that most major airlines have increased their scheduled gate-to-gate time for nearly every flight, giving themselves a cushion to absorb delays.

In 2000, the time that airlines scheduled for a flight exceeded the actual flight time on 73 percent of routes analyzed by the office of inspector general. By 2012, this rate had grown to 98 percent of all routes. One example cited by the study was a LaGuardia-to-Indianapolis route -- typically a 21/2-hour flight. From 2000 to 2012, airlines have increased the scheduled flight time by 21 minutes, the report found.

End of hotel mini bars?

Is it time to say goodbye to the hotel mini bar?

A recent survey by the travel website found that the hotel mini bar was the least important amenity for U.S. travelers. Only 21 percent of travelers ranked the mini bar as an important amenity, compared to 89 percent who called free in-room wireless Internet the most important.

There is little financial reason to keep mini bars. Hotel consulting firms estimate that mini bars generate no more than 0.24 percent of total hotel revenue, with much of that eaten up by the cost to check and restock the bars.

Companies that build and sell automated mini bars that electronically charge guests when a drink or snack is removed from the bar say they can cut the labor costs up to 60 percent.

Still, industry experts say mini bars won't be around for long.

Many hotels don't offer them because of the hassle of restocking and the disputes with guests over mini bar fees, said Lynn Mohrfeld, president of the California Hotel and Lodging Association. "They are a very difficult amenity to manage," he said.

But the future of mini bars is bleak mostly because of social trends that have pushed travelers into the lobbies to socialize and surf the Web, instead of sitting alone in their rooms, eating mini bar food, said David Corsun, director and associate professor at the Knoebel School of Hospitality Management at the University of Denver.

It's the same reason some hotels are eliminating room service and beefing up the food and drink offerings in the lobby, he said. "People are migrating out of their rooms rather than being in the rooms."

Pot a no-go at Denver airport

Colorado recently became the first state where small amounts of recreational marijuana can be legally sold in specialty shops.

But if you are flying out of the Centennial State with a doggy bag of pot, be warned that Denver International Airport has a zero tolerance for the chronic.

Travelers are already prohibited from carrying marijuana through the airport's security gates. The airport has banned pot in the main terminal as well. The airport is installing signs that include marijuana among the list of prohibited items on airport property, said airport spokeswoman Stacey Stegman.

"We are just clarifying that the airport is not the place for marijuana," she said.If Transportation Security Administration officers do find small amounts of marijuana on travelers they will refer the matter to local law enforcement.

Airport police at Denver International will probably not arrest you for carrying small amounts of pot on your first offense, Ms. Stegman said. If you insist on getting on your flight, you must toss it in the trash, she said. If you can't part with your marijuana, Ms. Stegman said you will need to leave the airport with it.

At Los Angeles International Airport, you can fly with less than 8 ounces of marijuana but only if you have a legitimate medical marijuana identification card, LAX officials said. But you will be questioned, and airport police will try to verify your card, so set aside extra time for your pot delay.


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