ICYMI – This week in Travel News (11 March 2016)

In Case You Missed It: There is so much that happens in the travel industry every week and only a portion of it is reported in TravelLatte or other travel blogs. Each week, we aim to capture some of the highlights from the past week in Travel News. Please let us know you like it with a comment!

Harmony on the High Seas

The biggest travel news of the week, literally, was the float out of Harmony of the Seas, Royal Caribbean International’s new super ship. At 227,000 gross tons and room for 6,000 passengers plus 2,000 crew members, she is the largest cruise ship ever built. The ship left the French shipyard of her birth on Thursday, ready for a weekend of sea trials with about 500 crew and officials aboard. If all goes well, Royal Caribbean will take possession of the floating resort on 12 May and she’ll begin her maiden commercial voyage, a Mediterranean cruise setting sail from Southampton, later that month.

Not only is this ship larger than her sister Oasis-class vessels on the outside, many of the cabins are larger on the inside. Engineers applied what they learned building Anthem and Quantum of the Seas to maximize space, and made the cabins slightly longer on decks six and above. Harmony is also about 20% more efficient, with improved fuel efficiency, improvements in hydrodynamics, SMART air conditioning systems, and LED lighting. The cost of all this room and efficiency? “Somewhere north of a billion dollars,” according to Royal Caribbean officials.

A mammoth ship calls for king-sized entertainment options, and Harmony has them: A waterpark, a theatre, an AquaTheatre, two FlowRider surf simulators, a dual 10-story slide called “Ultimate Abys”, the Broadway hit Grease, and a host of swimming pools. As on other Royal Caribbean ships, guests can enjoy the DreamWorks Experience, including a character breakfast, “meet & greet” and photo opportunities, and Adventure Ocean programs.

Like most modern super ships, Harmony of the Seas is more of a resort than a cruise ship. While you can still sail around the Mediterranean, you clearly won’t have time in a week to experience the ports of call and everything the ship has to offer. On the other hand, it does offer more options for families and groups that tend to want something for everyone. There is plenty to do for those who don’t wish to go ashore. Which raises the question: Why take them on a cruise in the first place?

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Courting Cuba

Marriott and Starwood are Courting Cuba, via @TravelLatte

Marriott and Starwood, the hotel giants in courtship to become one giant-er company, are now courting Cuba…as is just about every other American travel company. The Wall Street Journal reported this past week that both of the hoteliers have applied to the necessary agencies in both the United States and Cuban governments to begin operations in the island nation, and could do so by the time of President Obama’s March visit.

Interestingly, the President will be joined on his trip to Cuba by Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson, who serves as vice chair of the President’s Export Council. That trip is scheduled for 20 to 22 March.

Of course, Starwood and Marriott are not the only companies eager to open doors in Cuba. Carnival Corporation and Norwegian Cruise Line, among others, have clearance from U.S. officials to call in Cuba, but have not receive approvals from Cuban officials. As we reported last week, at least eight American air carriers are also vying for rights to commercial Cuban flights.

Many expect the President will soon announce new policies that loosen trade and travel embargoes, and Senator Amy Klobuchar has urged the administration to ease investment restrictions as well. These moves would allow American hotels to operate in Cuba, and allow individual license for “people-to-people” travel. Many believe that would let independent travelers legally visit Cuba so long as they engage with locals, or explore the Cuban culture through events, museum tours, or similar activities.

Flushing your cares – and germs – away.

If technology is so great, many people ask, why don’t we have robot maids like Rosy on The Jetsons?

Well, that’s a fair question; one that we’ve wondered ourselves. Technology may not have progressed beyond semi-autonomous vacuums at home but, more importantly, it continues to revolutionize the in-flight experience. From autopilot to auto-toilet. Yes, auto-toilet.

Boeing's self-cleaning lav, via @TravelLatte.net

(Photo: Boeing)

If you are like 99.99% of passengers who get the willies just thinking about airplane bathrooms, we have good news. Boeing has unveiled a prototype of their self-cleaning airplane lavatory. The idea is, when not in use, the facilities self-sanitize with UV lights, which can kill up to 99.99% of germs in just three seconds. To help reduce the germs in the first place, the restroom also has hands-free soap and water, trash can, and hand dryer. The toilet seat even rises automatically to be sure every surface gets zapped by the lovely blue light. Boeing is also working on a hands-free door, and an automatic floor vacuum.

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“Hallelujah,” you say, and we hear you. But we also have bad news. Boeing says more testing is needed, and so the automated loo is not in service yet. Much like our flying Jetsons cars.

Once again, it’s time to write your Senator.

US Capital Building via @TravelLatte.net

It wouldn’t be a week in travel news without us urging you to give the people whose salaries you pay something to work for. This week, it’s the FAIR Fees Act.

Senator Edward J. Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts and a member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, has drafted a bill that would prevent air carriers from charging fees that the bill says “that are unreasonable or disproportional to the costs incurred.” It’s called the Forbidding Airlines from Imposing Ridiculous (FAIR) Fees Act. As of yet, it’s a work in progress.

According to the Senator, fees and ticket prices have gone up in recent years despite the fact that gas prices and airline choices have gone down. He says, “Airlines should not be allowed to overcharge captive passengers just because they need to change their flight or have to check a couple of bags. There is no justification for charging consumers a $200 fee to resell a $150 ticket that was cancelled well in advance.”

Under the FAIR Fees ACT, airline-imposed fees would provide for the cost of the air carrier’s operations instead of acting as a profit center that takes advantage of passengers. The Secretary of Transportation would have the power to regulate and set the prices of certain fees, making them proportional to the cost of providing the services. Baggage fees would be tied to the costs incurred by the airlines for providing the service of checking a bag, including labor and ticketing. Likewise, cancellation and change fees will be set according to the costs of changing the flights, as opposed to an expensive set price that airlines use to generate revenue today.

You would expect a bill like this to garner support from consumer advocates and business groups, and Business Travel Coalition founder Kevin Mitchell has already jumped on the bandwagon. In supporting the FAIR Fees Act, he said, “Airlines are overcharging consumers with fees that are grossly disproportionate to the value of the service received and result in a windfall for airlines.”

While it seems like common sense, it also seems those are the bills that are toughest to get passed, and the FAIR Act likely has a hard road ahead. The airline industry has deep ties to Congress, and even deeper pockets. All the more reason consumers – that’s you and me – need to let their members of Congress know where their constituents stand. You can find contact information for your Senators here, and your Representatives here.

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