How to Make a First-Class Sandwich
It's a given that most airlines don't serve meals, and airport to-go options are pathetic, so your best bet is to pack your own eats. But if you're bringing a sandwich on board (the best option because it doesn't need a container or utensils), you have to build it to last. After all, you probably won't be eating the darn thing for at least three hours.
Here, Sisha Ortuzar, executive chef of sandwich chain 'Wichcraft chain, offers tips on how to create a sandwich that'll still be appetizing once you're in the air.
Bread For moist fillings--tuna salad, tomato--go for crusty breads, like ciabattas or baguettes. They'll soak up the flavors without getting soggy. Use sliced bread only if you're making a super simple sandwich, such as ham and cheese.
Mustard Condiments should be on the opposite sides of a sandwich; you don't want the flavors to get homogenized. To add richness, try a dash of olive oil or vinaigrette instead of mayo. Mustard travels well too--it packs a lot of flavor, and it doesn't spoil.
Cheese Don't be worried about letting cheese stay unrefrigerated for a few hours--most varieties are best at room temperature. Hard, aged cheeses are better than soft ones, which can melt or disintegrate. A slice of cheese also acts as an insulator between layers (to help control a tomato's moisture, for example).
Meat Most meats can't be trusted after more than an hour out of the fridge. Choose well-cured ones, such as prosciutto, serrano ham, and salami. Bacon, which is naturally preserved by its salt content, is another good option. Cook it slowly and thoroughly, to the point where most of the fat is rendered, so it stays crispy.
Fennel The minute lettuce touches something oily, like mayonnaise, it wilts. Fresh, thinly sliced fennel makes for a terrific alternative--its crunch doesn't sag with time. Cucumbers work well too, but they can be watery, so make sure your bread is crusty.
Paper Wrap the sandwich in light, thin paper--the kind used in delis--and slice it in half. Then wrap it in wax or butcher paper, which will keep moisture inside. The outer layer can be used as a makeshift plate.
Confessions Of...An Airline Executive
Our anonymous confessor has been in airline public relations, marketing, and customer relations for a decade now. Complaints Executives are concerned about the company's image, and the most effective complaints go right to the top with threats of talking to the media or the Department of Transportation. These complaints are handed off to someone like me, whose job is to make you feel better--in the form of free tickets, if you're lucky. Refunds and changes I'll never get those travelers who buy nonrefundable tickets and then give the airline a hard time because they can't have a refund. If you must change plans, you can request that a reservation agent waive a fee, but it's unlikely you'll get anywhere. Agents try as hard as an NFL defense to hold the line. We will, perhaps, waive change fees if there was a death in the family, you're horribly sick or under military orders, or you encountered a flash flood or some other disaster on the way to the airport. But don't be surprised when we ask you to prove your situation. Lost luggage Airlines anticipate that about 1 percent of checked bags will be mishandled, damaged, or lost, and they even budget accordingly. The maximum that domestic airlines have to pay for damaged or delayed bags is $3,000 per passenger, as per the Department of Transportation. But airlines hardly ever pay anywhere near that amount because they don't reimburse for cash, cameras, video equipment, computers, jewelry, antiques, or other expensive stuff. Delays and cancellations If flights are delayed or canceled, airlines usually promise to reimburse passengers only for immediate needs (such as meals, ground transportation, and lodging). Airlines will never pay claims for losses that are due to missed meetings or lost wages. If you make a big stink, however, we may provide tickets or discounts on future flights, as a gesture of goodwill. Sale fares We limit the number of sale seats on each flight, so only a few people get the cheapest fares. We may offer lots of sale fares on less popular "dog flights" (usually on Tuesdays and Wednesdays) but few or no discounted seats on Fridays and Sundays. There's no law stipulating that a certain percentage of seats be discounted when an airline announces a sale. In 1993, the DOT slapped Continental's wrist and stated that a combination of flights with sale-fare seats ranging from 0 to 7 percent of capacity wasn't reasonable. Our lawyers say we're safe if we discount 10 percent of capacity during a sale. Can an airline get away with 7.5 percent? Probably. Of course, there's the "float the boat" effect, in which a well-publicized sale brings in customers who wind up buying tickets at much higher prices. Another executive recently boasted to me that he offered a rock-bottom sale for a limited time--and nearly two thirds of the tickets were sold at higher fares. Where the deals are Consumers marvel at the ease and convenience of booking through an online travel site like Expedia or Orbitz, but airlines have to pay those sites as much as $10 per flight for the booking. It's no wonder that the lowest fares are usually found on the airline's own website.
Since 9/11, the Transportation Security Administration has collected tons of items at security checkpoints; in 2006 alone, screeners took in more than 13 million items. What happens to all that stuff? The TSA turns it over to state surplus property agencies, which tend to sell it online or at retail stores. (Sometimes the contraband is sold in bulk.) The agencies say they'll reunite you with your prized pocketknife, if they can locate it. But they would much prefer that travelers figure out the rules and abide by them. "Our goal is for passengers not to bring this stuff on anymore, so we won't have to deal with it," says Steve Ekin, Georgia's surplus property division director. Here's where to look, and what you might find. Alabama Airports: 14 in Florida and Alabama, including Miami, Orlando, Huntsville, and Birmingham Where to buy: eBay (seller ID: alstatesurplus) Typical deal: Golf driver $100 Craziest items? "There are always lots of plastic fake swords that people buy at Walt Disney World, so there are probably lots of mad kids." Info: adeca.state.al.us/surplus%20property Georgia Airports: Atlanta, Savannah/Hilton Head Where to buy: Stores in Tucker (Atlanta Surplus Center, 770/414-6468); Swainsboro (Swains­boro Surplus Center, 478/289-2623); and Americus (Americus Surplus Center, 229/931-2407) Typical deal: Hammers $3, cordless drills $10 Craziest items? "We get flatware and kitchen knives stolen from restaurants, and we've received a bowling pin, a chain saw, and a few circular saws." Info: surplusproperty.doas.georgia.gov Illinois Airports: Chicago O'Hare, Chicago Midway, and occasionally four more in Illinois and Michigan Where to buy: Auctions held at ibid.illinois.gov Typical deal: 25 pounds of Swiss Army knives for $250 Craziest items? "On occasion, we'll see big bowie knives and ninja swords. And nunchucks--a lot of those come through." Kentucky Airports: Eight in various states, including Orlando and Miami (Alabama shares the loot), and Louisville Where to buy: eBay (seller ID: kysurplus) Typical deal: 50 Swiss Army knives for $250 Craziest items? "We've collected about 500 mini Louisville Slugger bats bought at the Louisville Slugger Museum." Info: finance.ky.gov/internal/surplus Oregon Airports: Portland and Eugene Where to buy: eBay (seller ID: oregontrail2000) Typical deal: 10 Leatherman multitools for $75 Craziest items? "Golf clubs and machetes." Info: oregonsurplus.com Pennsylvania Airports: 13 from various states, including New York JFK, Newark, Philadelphia, and Cleveland Where to buy: eBay (seller ID: pastatesurplus) Typical deal: Deer-hunting kit (gut-slitting knife, multitool, pocket­knife, large safety pins, rope, flashlight) for $50 Craziest items? "We've received hundreds of pairs of fuzzy handcuffs and other S&M paraphernalia--I wanted to create funny Valentine's Day kits, but folks here thought taxpayers wouldn't like it." Info: dgs.state.pa.us/surp_prop Texas Airports: Seven across the state, including Dallas/Fort Worth and Austin Where to buy: Austin Storefront in Austin, 512/463-1990 Typical deal: Scissors and corkscrews 25¢, knives 50¢, multitools $2.50 Craziest items? "Brass knuckles, crutches, and piñata sticks. And we once got a cane with a knife inside it." Info: tfc.state.tx.us/communities/supportserv/prog/statesurplus Washington State Airports: Seattle-Tacoma, Spokane, and Tri-Cities Where to buy: Auburn Retail Store in Auburn, 253/333-4912 Typical deal: Corkscrews for 25¢ Craziest items? "Lots of ulus--round Eskimo chopping blades. Also, a Sit'n Putt. It's a short-handled putter designed to be used while you're on the potty." Info: ga.wa.gov/surplus
Your Tour Operator Went Out of Business
You paid with your credit card: Notify the credit card company right away. It's within your rights to ask for a refund for any services that were never rendered, as long as you contest the charges within 60 days of the charges' appearing on a statement (and some credit card companies extend this period to 90 days). The more money you've paid way in advance, the less you'll get back. So avoid paying anything but basic deposits very far out. You paid with cash or a check: Your sole recourse is filing a claim in bankruptcy court. Few businesses file for insolvency, but if they do, you become a creditor and stand a chance of recovering some of your lost funds--just be prepared to wait a while, at least two or three years. It'll help your claim if you have a receipt and if you noted on each check exactly what the payment was for. The operator was a member of a professional organization: The big three groups--United States Tour Operators Association, National Tour Association, and American Society of Travel Agents--may be able to help you rebook through a different operator (at additional cost). The USTOA has a consumer protection plan requiring members to keep $1 million in reserve so customers can recover at least some of their money. You bought travel insurance: See if your policy covers "operator default." You may be able to get the insurance company to recoup any losses that the credit card company hasn't already taken care of. If you purchased the insurance policy through the operator, direct your questions to the plan administrator. You used a travel agent: You have an advocate who can arrange a backup plan. Agents are unlikely to guarantee company solvency, how­ever, and they won't be helpful when it comes to recovering lost money. Sometimes they'll offer restitution to maintain a valuable relationship. While your odds of success are low, you could also try suing the agent in small claims court. You still want to go on the trip: Contact the NTA even if your outfitter wasn't a member. The organization might match you up with an operator who will be willing to accommodate you, at a discount, on short notice. Also, look closely at your itinerary and approach the individual hotels, airlines, and tour guides directly. Hotels should honor any paid reservations, and airline tickets are valid even if the middleman folds. You don't want to go: Make those phone calls anyway. You never know who'll take pity on you and refund some or all of your money. Watch out for these red flags There's no direct phone number Only the answering machine picks up Urgent requests for payment Few trip specifics A corporate shake-up Better Business Bureau complaints
Maui Shuts Down B&Bs and Rentals
California teacher Rebecca Vallejo had planned a two-week stay at the Haiku Plantation Inn on Maui. When the inn said it couldn't honor her reservation, she couldn't find lodging for under $350 per night. She had to cancel the trip. Haiku Plantation had no choice: Maui officials decreed in July that B&Bs and vacation rentals without permits must cease operations or face fines starting at $1,000. A study funded by the Realtors Association of Maui put the number of properties without permits at 816. The number of properties with permits is 21. There had been a long-standing tacit agreement between the county and property owners that the rules wouldn't be enforced except when complaints were lodged against a property. County officials have drafted a bill that would streamline the permitting process for B&Bs (and also prohibit vacation rentals in certain areas). It's unlikely that any legislation will go through before early 2008. A list of properties with permits would be helpful, but county agencies can't agree on who should distribute it. Why the sudden enforcement of a dormant law? Hotels certainly have much to gain from the crackdown. Locals, meanwhile, blame the lack of affordable housing on the number of properties that are being used to house vacationers instead of islanders, and they say that parking and crowding problems are worse because of the high concentration of B&Bs. Other islands may follow suit. On Oahu, residents of the Kailua area are agitating for similar enforcement. And on Kauai, a bill restricting the number and type of vacation rentals island-wide was introduced at the County Council late last year.