Travel Notes: The romance of writing on rails gains traction

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The wheels have begun moving on Amtrak's plan to offer writers a rolling residency aboard their trains.

Last week the company announced that up to 24 writers, chosen from a pool of applicants, will be given a round-trip ticket on a long-distance train, including a private sleeper-car room with a bed, a desk and electrical outlets. The trains promise the romance. The writers will have to do the rest.

The idea was born in December when the novelist Alexander Chee, in an interview with PEN America's magazine, casually mentioned his love for writing on trains, and added, jokingly, "I wish Amtrak had residencies for writers."

When Jessica Gross, a writer in New York, echoed the sentiment on Twitter, Amtrak got in touch with her and asked if she would like to do a trial residency on the Lake Shore Limited from New York to Chicago. She agreed. Her account of the trip, "Writing the Lake Shore Limited," published by The Paris Review in February, grabbed the attention of The Wire, The New Yorker and The Huffington Post. Soon after, Amtrak decided to turn the trial run into a full-fledged program.

Writers must fill out and submit an application posted on Amtrak's website. http://blog.amtrak.com/amtrakresidency. Winners will be selected starting Monday through March 31, 2015. Residencies will be from two to five days, "with exceptions for special projects." Routes will be determined based on availability.

-- The New York Times

Oversized bags

United Airlines, the nation's third-largest carrier, is cracking down on passengers who drag oversized bags into the cabin.

And the airline is doing this to win points with passengers.

After all, the Chicago carrier was recently ranked eighth among the nation's top 10 carriers in a survey of about 24,000 people in the U.S. The survey by Satmetrix, a cloud-based software company, named Southwest Airlines as the top-rated carrier.

The crackdown on oversized bags is an effort to address what United says is one of the biggest gripes among its passengers: The overhead bins are so overstuffed with carry-on bags that the boarding process is often bogged down as fliers try to find space for their luggage.

"We are getting feedback from customers who have the right-size bags, telling us that there is not enough space in the overhead bins," said United spokesman Charles Hobart. "This is a response to that."

United sent messages to its MileagePlus members, reminding them that carry-on bags can be no bigger than 22 by 14 by 9 inches. The airline also distributed new "sizers" that are installed in the terminal to measure the carry-ons.

Mr. Hobart rejected speculation that United was launching the crackdown to boost revenue by charging passengers with oversized carry-on bags a $25 fee to check their luggage.

On social media sites, the crackdown was getting mostly positive reviews among airline fliers.

"Good," Haley Gross wrote on Facebook. "This is one change I can get behind."

Another Facebook member, Dan Banddanman, agreed. "I wish all airlines would do this. Tired of people carrying huge, multiple bags and being rude when they can't bring them on the plane," he wrote.

-- Los Angeles Times


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