Travel notes: Washington Monument to reopen on May 12


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The scaffolding is coming down from the Washington Monument as the National Park Service prepares to reopen the landmark with extended hours on May 12 after being closed for nearly three years.

The park service has spent $15 million -- including $7.5 million donated by philanthropist David Rubenstein -- to repair damage from a 5.8 magnitude earthquake on Aug. 23, 2011. The earthquake caused more than 150 cracks in the structure.

Public tours of the monument will begin at 1 p.m. on May 12. The tickets will be available on a first come-first served basis starting at 8:30 a.m. that day at the Washington Monument Lodge, on 15th Street, between Madison and Jefferson Drives. Tickets for tours on May 13 and all future dates will be available on the NPS reservation page, www.recreation.gov, starting at 10 a.m. on April 16.

On opening day, the National Park Service and Trust will host a re-opening ceremony at 10 a.m.. Details will be forthcoming.

From that day until the end of summer, the monument will be open for extended hours, from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily

For more details, go to www.nps.gov/wamo.

Wi-Fi on cruises

Yes, when you're on a cruise, you're supposed to sit back, prop up your feet, breathe in the sea air and not worry about being connected electronically to the world.

But if you insist on checking your email or downloading a movie the action can cost you big bucks -- usually 75 cents per minute -- and it adds up fast.

Disney Cruise Line is the first to introduce a new pay model for Wi-Fi use, which charges by the megabyte rather than the minute. And for passengers who just want to make a few quick checks -- mostly email checks or social media activity-- that's good news. Streaming entertainment will cost a lot more.

There are four options in Disney's Connect@Sea system: Pay-as-you-go: 25 cents per MB. This is a good choice if you're not sure how much you'll need and you want to test the waters. The plan can always be upgraded to another level: small package, $19 for 100 MB (19 cents per MB); moderate use, $39 for 300 MB (13 cents per MB); and large package, $89 for 1,000 MB (9 cents per MB). This is the one to have if you want to stream movies or music.

The new system, which was introduced in February, is available now on all Disney cruise ships.

Cleveland, anyone?

Because Pittsburghers sometimes fly out of Cleveland to get a wider array of flights, an announcement that Frontier Airlines will be adding six seasonal destinations there as United dismantles its longtime hub at Hopkins may come as welcome news.

Frontier is establishing what it calls a "focus city" in Cleveland. New destinations from Cleveland will be Atlanta; Fort Lauderdale; Fort Myers, Fla.; Phoenix; Raleigh-Durham and Tampa. Frontier will offer five weekly flights to Atlanta beginning June 13. The airline will fly three flights a week to the other five destinations.

When the new routes begin, Frontier will offer nonstop service to 12 destinations from Cleveland. The carrier currently flies from Cleveland to its bases in Denver and Trenton, N.J. Nonstop service to Seattle and Orlando will begin this June. Frontier also flies from Cleveland to Cancun, Mexico, and Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic as part of its partnership with Apple Vacations.

Upside of airline fees

Travelers protested when airlines began charging bag fees in 2008, saying the extra charge was a blatant money grab.

But a new study concludes that the nation's airlines quietly lowered airfares slightly to make the bag fees more palatable to those fliers who would get stuck paying the new charge.

Still the airlines are profiting because the drop in fares was so small it did not totally offset the added cost of checking a bag, the study found.

"The fact that the airlines are doing it must mean they are coming out ahead," said Jan Brueckner, an economics professor at UC Irvine who co-wrote the study with other economics experts.

The study will appear later this year in the Journal of Economics and Management Strategy.

A trade group that represents the nation's airlines did not dispute Mr. Brueckner's theory, saying fares are lower now that airlines are charging fees for extra services such as checking bags.

The nation's major airlines began to adopt checked-bag fees about six years ago when a spike in fuel costs and the country's financial crisis squeezed the airline industry's already-thin profit margin. Bag fees started at $15 a bag and grew to about $25 each. In the first nine months of 2013, the nation's airlines collected $2.5 billion in bag fees, according to federal statistics.

When the airlines added the bag fee, they faced downward price pressure -- the resistance of budget-minded travelers to pay more, the study said. In response, airlines dropped fares slightly, by about $7 for most lower-priced tickets, according to the study.

Airlines didn't lower fares for first-class and business-class fliers who are usually exempt from bag fees, the study concluded. But for travelers who do pay the extra cost, Mr. Brueckner's study found the drop in fares offset only about half to one-third of the cost of the added fee.

Stuffed carry-ons

The addition of airline bag fees several years ago created another travel annoyance: people who cram all their travel necessities into carry-on bags to avoid the fees.

United Airlines recently began a crackdown on those passengers. And it seems that many fliers agree with United.

Nearly half of recent fliers who were questioned said they support United's crackdown, according to an online survey of more than 1,000 adults, conducted by London research company YouGov.

In fact, 44 percent of people who have flown in the last year said passengers carry too much onto planes, making life miserable for other fliers, the survey found.

But the survey aims some criticism at the airlines as well.

Half of recent fliers said oversized carry-ons wouldn't be a problem if airlines didn't charge so much for checked bags.

Scented pillows, perks

More and more air travelers are buying expensive first-class and business-class seats, and airlines are coming up with some creative amenities to keep those big spenders happy.

That includes scented pillows and chauffeured SUVs.

The number of passengers buying expensive premium seats jumped 4 percent in 2013 and continued to grow thanks to improved business conditions around the world, according to the International Air Transport Association, the trade group for the world's airlines.

To serve well-heeled travelers, United Airlines recently announced it is expanding a service that takes elite fliers straight from one plane to a connecting flight in a chauffeured Mercedes-Benz SUV.

The service that has been offered at airports in Chicago, Houston and New Jersey will be expanded this spring to San Francisco International Airport.

Meanwhile, Etihad Airways, the national airline of the United Arab Emirates, has launched a program to improve sleep for long-haul fliers. It offers mood lighting, hot chocolate and herbal teas, noise-canceling headphones and pillows spritzed with lavender and camomile.


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