Airplane-safe pens: Worth their premium price?
Pen makers like Fisher, Pilot, and Uniball have touted "airplane safe" technology for a decade. The technology has steadily improved over time. But is a pen that never leaks in flight worth its higher price?
You already know that rollerball pens work poorly under pressure—cabin pressure, that is. The typical rollerball may explode mid-flight, or malfunction after returning to earth.
What's less well known is that this problem is distinctive to rollerballs. Other types of pens—ballpoints and gels—are almost never affected by altitude changes the way rollerballs are. So the cheapest way to have a "airplane-safe" pen is to buy a ballpoint (like a Bic) or a gel pen (like a PIlot G2).
You remember ballpoints, of course. You probably chewed on the end of a ballpoint during the third-grade. They're still the best value in writing land. They're cheap (buy a dozen for about $4.50), and they last the longest (you could write a two-mile long line with a single Bic, for instance).
Gel pens are considered classier than ballpoints. After all, their design is relatively new and doesn't have grade-school connotations for most people. They're essentially a hybrid between ballpoints and rollerballs, a mix of oil-based ink and water-based ink.
But gel pens smudge. Oh, how they smudge! This is particularly a problem for travelers who like to send postcards. The most common postcard paper has a laminate-like glossy surface, and gel ink never dries properly on it. Write your postcard, and see your words blurred beyond recognition within an hour.
So: ballpoint pens are cheap and youthful, and gel pens are stylish yet smudge-prone. That leaves us with rollerballs—and their explosive habits.
Rollerballs are popular with frequent writers because their water-based ink soaks into paper more quickly than the ballpoint's oil-based ink. You don't have to press hard on the pen to get it to write, and the fineness of the line can be more easily controlled.
If you want a rollerball, you'll probably want one that's "airplane safe." I bought some of these best-selling models for testing on a recent flight.
Here are my quick conclusions:
Yes, the airplane-safe technology does work. I didn't have a single in-flight blow-ups—or even mild blottings—in my admittedly unscientific test of these pens.
One of the most widely sold "airplane safe" pens. It worked as promised at 30,000-feet.
Side notes: At about $3.75 each, it is somewhat pricey. In its defense, Sanford says its ink is of "archival" quality and is stable enough to prevent check fraud.
Worked in-flight as promised. Has a easy-to-hold rubber grip and a needle point.
Side notes: The nice thing about a retractable pen is that you can't lose the cap under your airplane seat. The bad thing is that they usually have metal mechanisms inside that may set off metal detectors. About $7 for a four-pack.
As far as airplanes go, it worked fine in my test.
Side notes: At about $8 each, it's expensive. Supposedly, it can work in space and at extreme temperatures, too.
Each traveler is fussy about pens in his or her own way. My comments point out some issues, but other fliers will have different preferences and experiences using the same pens. Feel free to share yours, below.
Disclaimer #1: I've generalized about types of pens and types of ink for simplicity's sake. There are some exceptions to what I've said. Go to pen connoisseur websites for the finer distinctions.
Disclaimer #2: Fountain pens may also act up under changes in cabin pressure. But who uses fountain pens anymore?
Disclaimer #3: I didn't like the Uni-Ball Vision Elite, despite its good performance and acceptable price. The forward portion of the pen, which includes the writing tip, tended to unscrew during use. Its manufacturer also sells retractable version, which doesn't come apart of its own accord. But that pen is even more expensive, at about $17 for a pack of 3. The lesson, which is worth repeating: Be sure to test a pen for your personal tastes.
Sneak peek: Aloft's first NYC hotel will open in Harlem
Finally New York is getting its own Aloft hotel. You know, that chic, affordable brand from the folks behind W. Not only it is the fastest hotel roll out in history, with more than 40 properties opened in two years, but Aloft also gotten attention for its modern design sensibility and cutting-edge technology. Nearly a century has passed since Harlem got a new hotel, which makes this opening especially noteworthy. Aloft Harlem has high hopes to fill a need for visitors while also winning over residents. The hotel held a casting call over the summer at the Apollo Theater to recruit employees with personality. And earlier this week I stopped by for a media preview—catered by nearby soul-food institution Sylvia's and held in the slick lobby bar and lounge. Aloft Harlem will be easily recognizable to fans of the brand. The 124 rooms, with either a king or two queen platform beds, have striped pillows and window shades, cork headboards, nine-foot ceilings, 42" flatscreen TVs, free Wi-Fi, numerous outlets, and Bliss Spa products. Bathrooms are equipped with refillable dispensers instead of throwaway plastic bottles, and a mini-fridge replaces the traditional mini-bar. The ability to choose your own room when checking in at lobby kiosks has also set Aloft hotels apart. Lately, the brand has been working to streamline the arrival process further. Guests can choose to participate in a pilot program—already underway at the Aloft Lexington and available next in Harlem—for keyless check-in. Here's how it works. You join the free Starwood Preferred Guest program and receive a special card with radio frequency identification (RFID) technology. On the day of arrival, you get a text message with your room number, and then you can head straight to your room and unlock the door using your Starwood card. When Brian McGuinness, the SVP of Specialty Select Brands, took me up to see a room at Aloft Harlem, he demonstrated the RFID technology by opening the door with his card. No need to wait in line or keep track of disposable hotel keycards. Room rates start at $239 for December, and McGuinness told me they will then drop to around the $175 to $200 range (Aloft rooms generally average $125 a night). From now through March 31, 2011, guests who book a stay at Aloft Harlem will earn double Starwood Preferred Guest points and a $20 voucher redeemable at the hotel's bar or grab-and-go pantry. The hotel is part of a 12-story, mixed-use building with condos and retail at 2296 Frederick Douglass Blvd. It's just south of bustling 125th St., where you can catch many subway and bus lines. The Apollo and the Studio Museum are within a few minutes' walk. Our profile of Harlem Hotspots includes Ethiopian restaurant Zoma, just down the boulevard. While the phrase "up-and-coming" hasn't been tossed around as much to describe Harlem since the recession hit, Aloft is clearly betting on a neighborhood renaissance. Chef Marcus Samuelsson is also embracing Harlem; his soon-to-open Red Rooster at 310 Lenox Ave., near 125th St., has been getting at least as much buzz as Aloft. In addition to serving his unique spin on American comfort food, the 3,400-sq.-ft. space will include a grocery store and a basement level for live music and cooking demos. Samuelsson now lives in the area, and in a video clip for Black Atlas, he stops in to chat with locals including the chief curator of the Studio Museum and the owner of 67 Orange Street, one of a few sophisticated cocktail and wine bars along Frederick Douglass Boulevard. Check out Samuelsson's video after the jump—it makes a nice introduction to the look and feel of Harlem. RELATED Looking to stay elsewhere in the New York area? Aloft Brooklyn is slated to open in January 2011. And find out why Jersey City can be an appealing option.
Readers' Choice: What's the most beautiful city in the world?
We're giving you the floor. To gear up for our second annual Readers' Choice issue in November 2011 we're turning to the true experts—you! Over the next few months we'll be asking for your thoughts on a variety of travel topics ranging from your favorite cruise line to your ultimate dream destination. Once your nominations are in, we'll give you the chance to vote on the best of the best. What is the most beautiful city in the world? Tell us below. The more details to make your case, the better. NOMINATE MORE: Tell us your favorite (and least favorite) airport. Tell us which airlines you love (and hate). What's your favorite hotel chain?
4 cool new ski resort features you just gotta check out
A self-operated roller coaster that zips through the forest sounds pretty cool to us. You don't even have to ski to enjoy most of these features and activities, all new for the 2010-2011 ski season: Big White's New Ice Climbing Tower The Big White Resort, in British Columbia, Canada, is adding a 60-foot-tall ice tower this season. How do they even build such a structure? Four telephone polls are braced together, then flooded with water that freezes. Big White's tower will be broken up (bad choice of words), or rather divided into sections for advanced climbers and beginners. Even kids are welcomed to climb, with the help of rented boots and axes. One climb costs $20, or an all-day pass is $55 (Canadian dollars). Breckenridge's New Gold Runner Coaster Colorado's Breckenridge resort, which opens today, November 12, is introducing a 2,500-foot-long elevated roller coaster that zips through the forest and is open for single and double rides in all four seasons. Okemo's New Timber Ripper There's also a mountain coaster due to make its debut this season in Vermont. Okemo's coaster, named the Timber Ripper, will rip along 3,100 feet of track and is scheduled to open on December 11. Like Breckeridge's coaster, Okemo's Ripper can be ridden by one or two passengers, who control how fast the sled-like cars zip down hills and around curves. The cars are expected to max out at about 25 mph. The Canyons' New Chairlift with Heated Seats This season in Utah, The Canyons opens a bubble-enclosed quad chairlift with heated seats -- the first of its kind in North America. The lift promises to not only be cozy, but fast, with snowboarders and skiers reaching the top of the mountain just nine minutes after sitting down on the lift's warm seats. MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL Trip Coach: Ski Vacations Shut Up and Ski: Top 10 Old-School Ski Resorts In Search of the Perfect Ski Village
Rome: A cool restaurant and art space in San Lorenzo
The San Lorenzo neighborhood has a gritty appeal that reminds me of New York's Meatpacking District. During the turn of the century, San Lorenzo was an industrial, working-class district of Rome, it was heavily bombed in World War II, and then gradually became a graffiti-plastered hangout for left-leaning university students. Recently the neighborhood has gotten more shabby-chic. A testament to that change is Pastificio San Lorenzo, a dimly lit restaurant with nostalgic decor, a trendy clientele, and even a gourmet hamburger that meets my American standards. Despite its foreign allure, which certainly has Romans buzzing about this place, it mostly serves innovative Italian dishes. I just spent a decadent evening at the restaurant that started with a pumpkin cappuccino: a salty-and-sweet pumpkin broth enhanced with crispy pancetta, layered with a creamy froth, and sprinkled with black truffle flakes. Other menu highlights include linguine with red onion and zucchini flowers, tuna and goat cheese dumplings on courgettes, and sliced smoked duck breast fillet with coconut milk and candied grapes. If you still have room for dessert, try the black cherry velouté with a crispy mascarpone pastry roll or the passion fruit crème brûlée with banana caramel. Entrees from €13 ($17.56), reservations recommended, 011-39/069-727-3519, open Tues.-Sun., 7 p.m.-2 a.m. Pastificio San Lorenzo is located within an early 20th-century building that used to be a pasta factory and flour mill. It's known as the Cerere Building, named after the Roman goddess of agriculture. Today, it also houses the Pastificio Cerere Foundation, an organization that promotes contemporary art. The entrance is at Via degli Ausoni, 7. MORE FROM OUR ROME-BASED BLOGGER Rome: 5 best November values Neighborhood watch: Monti, Rome Italy: How to tip in 6 situations