Ask TSA? Sure…

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration isn’t always looked upon kindly by weary travelers who have to endure long security lines at airports. But there’s another side to the TSA. It’s one of the friendliest government agencies you will ever meet on social media. If you have a question about air travel, what you can pack in your checked bags, or if you can tuck an orange into your carry-on, then ask away. The TSA will answer.

How do you ask them? Social Media…go figure.

So, can I pack snails?

The TSA has an active presence on popular social sites Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Usually Twitter and Facebook are the best places to ask questions. The TSA is available for your travel queries every day of the year, but it keeps Twitter and Facebook Messenger hours from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Eastern on weekdays and from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Eastern on weekends and holidays.

Here’s a simple idea: The @AskTSA account on Twitter lets you send text-only questions or include an image. This is a quick way to find out if you can pack an unusual item in your carry-on or checked luggage. Just snap a photo and tweet it to @AskTSA.

The TSA has recently answered questions ranging from whether you can bring a bouquet of flowers through the security checkpoint (yes, but only with no water and you must put them in a bin or on the belt for X-ray screening) to whether you can take a drone with you (you can bring it through the checkpoint, but contact your air carrier for specific policies on bringing it aboard the aircraft).

The Ask TSA Facebook page looks pretty barebones because the agency will only respond to queries sent through the site’s Messenger service. You can’t leave comments or questions on the page itself. The TSA has earned Facebook’s hard-to-get “Typically replies instantly” badge for its snappy Messenger responses. Keep reading to find out what happened when we put it to the test.

If you don’t want to use Facebook or Twitter, you can still get in touch with the TSA the old-fashioned way by calling its customer service hotline at 866-289-9673 during the agency’s business hours.

Their answers come quickly… And, no matter how serious or how seemingly trivial your travel-security question might be, the TSA is there to answer it, so take advantage of its social media access. You will no longer have to wonder if you can pack a can of green beans in your checked luggage (the answer is yes).

 

While you can ask the TSA for guidance with specific questions, the agency also offers some general travel tips that will help make your experience go more smoothly:

  • Double-check carry-on bags before you leave to make sure you haven’t accidentally packed any knives, liquids over 3.4 ounces, or other prohibited items.
  • The liquid rule for carry-ons applies to more than just beverages. Common travel items like sunscreen, toothpaste, shampoo, lotion, spray or gel deodorant, and insect repellants all come under the rule.
  • You can bring food through the checkpoint, but it is subject to X-ray screening and can’t include liquids over the limit of 3.4 ounces.
  • Medications, whether pills or liquids, are allowed in carry-on bags, but must be screened. There is an exception to the 3.4-ounce rule for medically necessary liquids or creams. Just be sure to inform the TSA security officer when you reach the checkpoint.
  • Arrive two hours before your domestic departure or three hours before your international departure to allow plenty of time to get through security.
  • Wear slip-on shoes if possible in order to get through the checkpoint quickly.

 

 

Be Nice….

 

Things I’ve learned from flight attendants are really pretty simple and courteous acts we could all do when flying.

Here are a few:

They really do appreciate it when you board and de-plane quickly. This is their job, and they have things that need to be done after you leave the plane.

We’re supposed to listen to the safety instructions. Do you? Do you think it’s unnecessary to buckle your seat belt before take-off, or to make your seat full and upright? Well, according to the FAA, it is the job of the flight attendant to make sure that’s done…on every passenger. If not, they could lose their job. And, guess what? There are unknown riders on board who are watching what they do.

You know where the galley is, right? It’s not a free-for-all space. It’s for the flight attendants to prepare meals or snacks, and to talk to each other. They really don’t need you invading that space.

They are there to help you. So, if you feel sick or need something…ask. They can’t give you medicine, but they can bring you an airsick bag! In addition, most airlines prohibit crew members from helping you lift your bag into the overhead compartment. Why? Injuries. It’s about safety. Bottom line, if your  bag is too heavy for you to lift…check it.

Traveling with kids? Be sure to have everything you need, as supplies may not be available from the flight attendants. And, don’t ask them to hold your kids while you go to the bathroom and freshen up. They aren’t babysitters.

Do you wear headphones to block out the noise? So do I. But, flight attendants appreciate it if you remove at least one when they are coming down the aisle asking what you’d like to drink.

Passengers who are prepared are wonderful. Ones who block the aisle while they load their bag into the overhead bin, then remove their jacket, then take out their magazines, then readjust their shirt, then stretch…not good passengers.

Finally, flight attendants love nice people. You’d be surprised how many people don’t even say hello, one flight attendant told me.

 

 

Champagne…More Than Just a Celebration Drink

The first documentation of using the Champagne method to make sparkling wine appeared in the 1600s, and many of today’s most well-known Champagne houses, including Taittinger, Moët & Chandon, and Ruinart, were founded in the 1700s.

The Champagne appellation was formally created in 1936. Major houses launched marketing campaigns in the United States that portrayed Champagne as the ultimate luxury beverage for celebrations and aperitif-style sipping. Today, many Americans use the word Champagne to mean any and all sparkling wines.

Because of a combination of place, soils, grapes, and the Champagne process, Champagne is one of the most unique beverages in the world. Vintages vary dramatically due to the region’s marginal climate. For example, the differences between Champagne’s 61 Grand and Premier Cru villages are vast. Specific vineyards within those villages have unique terroirs, some of which are small, even tiny, parcels with completely different soils and aspects than those just next door.

Champagne has just three key grape varieties, with seven permitted in total. In addition, decisions about viticulture, aging, and blending create a huge variety of finished wines to study and dissect. Think of blanc de blanc, blanc de noir, rose, cuvee…

This diversity is one of the reasons why a Champagne-only pairing menu can emphasize the wine’s overall food-friendliness. With a combination of refreshing acidity and palate-cleansing bubbles, Champagne pairs with foods ranging from raw oysters to fried chicken, and everything in between. Those bubbles are not only lively to look at and refreshing to drink, but they offer you a drink relatively low in alcohol and fairly high in acidity.

Where Did I Park?

You’re ready to fly out for your next adventure. You’re excited…

Everything is ready to go…luggage, passports, tickets, camera. You park your car at the airport and head to the terminal. At some point, it dawns on you that you think you remember exactly where you parked. It was Section D 21. Right?

Or, was it G 21?

I used to take a picture of the sign in that section. But, then I’d have to scroll through my vacation pictures to find it. Someone suggested writing the section on the parking ticket. But, what if you don’t take the ticket with you? Or, you left it in the car? Not very helpful.

Here’s a better tip I learned from an airport shuttle bus driver.

Put the section number in your phone’s calendar on the day you will be returning. All you have to do is look at your calendar…and there is the section where you parked.

The things I’ve learned…

What Should I Give?

Wondering what to give for a gift this year? Looking for something different than your usual ideas?

You’re looking for a special gift for a special friend or loved one. But, you just don’t know what to do.

How about giving travel? That’s right…Travel.

Here are a few ideas to get you started thinking.

1…Accommodations: Give a free night at a hotel or a gift card to Airbnb, bedandbreakfast,com, or any hotel chain. These are usually open to dates the person chooses.

2…Airfare: While airfare is probably non-refundable, give a gift card from an airline. Check to see if that airline flies into the person’s home airport before you spend the money.

3…Car Service: How about an Uber gift card?

4…Museums: Check out museums in the person’s home town or one they like to visit and buy them a membership. If that’s not in your budget, how about a day pass?

5…Food Tours: Many cities have food or specialized tours. A gift certificate might be just the thing.

6…City Pass: Many cities also have City Passes, where attractions are discounted. Check to see if the city nearby has one.

7…Classes: Cooking classes, wine tasting classes, cheese tasting classes are all fun things they might not do on their own. Pick one which will interest your friend.

8…Eating: Face it…who doesn’t like to get a gift certificate to a restaurant? Give them one to a favorite or surprise them with a new and different place.

9…Surprise: Is there a NASCAR driving school they’ve always wanted to go to? How about an in-depth cooking class at the CIA? Maybe it’s a private lesson from a ski instructor in Breckenridge. Whatever it is…this might be your opportunity to give a bucket-list gift.

Whatever you do…it will certainly be different than socks!

Do I Have to Pay For That Room?

Until recently, if you made a hotel reservation, you guaranteed it with a credit card.

In almost all cases, if you canceled the reservation, even on the day you were supposed to check in, you weren’t charged.

Those days may be over.

I just read of a new policy from Marriott that levies a one-night penalty for cancellations made within 48 hours of expected check in.

The new policy applies to all of Marriott’s brands in the U.S., Canada, and Latin America.

Hilton has also implemented a similar policy.

Is it negotiable?

If you have frequent stay status with the major chains, the answer is a qualified yes, but under no circumstances should you ever cancel a reservation online.

That will almost always cost you a cancellation fee.

Best suggestion is to have a conversation with a manager, if possible. Don’t just call the 800 reservation line. Second choice would be to talk with a supervisor at the front desk of the hotel.

Does it mean you won’t get charged for paying for a room you won’t be using? Not necessarily. But the chances are better.

Are these policies here to stay? Not sure. We’ll have to check in a few months and see if they’ve changed again. Stay tuned…

 

Winter Ideas

Summer is ending. Leaves are beginning to turn color or have already fallen…depending where you live. The pool is a little too cool. Days can still be warm here in northern California.

Maybe it’s time to think about a winter getaway.

If so…now is the time to book that airfare and decide on those accommodations.

Yes, now is a good time to get serious about booking your airfare. Especially if it is an international trip you’re planning. I’ve found that international airfare starts rising about 90 days out. Domestic fares are supposedly at their best 54 days out, unless you find a fantastic fare.

Also, where do you want to stay? Is it an all-inclusive, a vacation rental, hotel, or resort? Are you flexible or do you need a specific time and location? Look at Internet specials. Sometimes you can get lucky and find deals at the last minute as resorts like to have all their facilities booked, but don’t count on that.

If you’re traveling internationally, be sure to check your passport. Make sure it doesn’t expire in the next six months. If it’s close to expiring, apply for a renewal immediately. Right now, the passport offices tell me there could be a three month wait. After all, it will be January in two months!

Do you have a house sitter or pet sitter? If so, check their availability. You wouldn’t want to find out at the last minute they are already booked with someone else.

Do your plans include a special type of getaway where you need a guide? If you’re thinking of diving in the Caribbean, exploring Antarctica, checking out all the Christmas markets in Germany, or hiking in the Andes…regardless of the time of year, you’ll need some type of guide. Start looking now at who offers what packages and what appeals to you and your budget.

If you’re planning weekend getaways instead of a longer stay, start looking at where you want to go and what’s going on that weekend. Maybe there are festivals, wine harvest events, concerts, sporting events, or performances which would be fun to attend. Accommodations might already be booking or booked. Check the calendar for events in the area where you want to go.

Regardless of when or where you are thinking of going…a little advance planning now will help you have a wonderful time on your winter getaway. Let me know where you went…