Alitalia rumors: What's next for the Italian airline?
Troubled Italian airline Alitalia is continuing to fly thanks to a nearly half-billion dollar investment by the government this spring—which European officials have challenged as unfair.
Flights this month should not be affected by backroom talks. To avoid strikes, the government has postponed any decisions until the end of the month, says Reuters.
This fall, the airline may be put under "special administration", which is similar to bankruptcy in the U.S., explains Reuters. Then, Alitalia might receive up to $1.5 billion from private investors, says the newspaper Il Giornale, without naming sources. Potential investors include Air One, a profitable Italian competitor that we've blogged about before, and Lufthansa, the profitable German carrier.
Here's hoping there's a way to save the national airline, making it stronger without harming budget travelers.
"Brand Italy" has a powerful pull worldwide. It's a shame that no one has yet figured out how to make the Italian national carrier be as sexy and appealing as the country's reputation.
New Boston and Chicago passes offer discounts
Passes for discounts of up to 35 percent off major attractions in Boston and Chicago become available today from Smart Destinations. These Explorer Passes are a spin-off of their popular Go Cards. Here's how the passes work: You buy the business-card sized smartcards in advance online, selecting the tours, museums, and other attractions you want to see (with unlimited admission per person). You then either pick up the card when you arrive in your city, or have the card be mailed to you in advance. The Boston Explorer Pass Valid for 30 days (compared with nine days for, say, the typical City Pass) You're given two lists of attractions, and you can pick one item from the first list of "premier" attractions and two items from the list of "signature" attractions. Overall, there are 27 attractions to pick from, including the Beantown Trolley Tour; Mass Bay Lines Whale Watch; the Freedom Trail Foundation Walking Tour; Paul Revere's House, Boston Harbor Cruise’s 45-Minute Constitution Cruise; and Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum; Museum of Fine Arts; Bay State Cruise Company/Provincetown Ferry; Liberty Fleet Tall Ship Adventures; and Plymouth Plantation & Mayflower II (which are a drive outside of the city). If bought online, the passes will be mailed to a home or office, but not area hotels, for a fee. Or you can avoid the fee by picking your passes up in-person at the Mass Bay Lines ticket desk, 60 Rowes Wharf, next to the Boston Harbor Hotel. The price is ordinarily about $45, but there's a sale from now until Aug. 7. for tickets for adults and children 13 years and older for $39.59 each. (Younger children qualify for a deeper discount.) Details at explorerpass.com/Boston. The Chicago Explorer Pass Same deal as above. Possible attractions you can choose to add to your pass (up to three)include: two-day Hop-On, Hop-Off Trolley Pass; Shoreline Sightseeing Architectural River Cruise, Adler Planetarium, and the Field Museum. (Full list of 24 attractions, here.) Pricing starts at $44.99 for adults, but there's a sale of 12 percent off now through July 31. Smart Destinations already offers Explorer Passes for Las Vegas and New York. [explorerpass.com]
Gear: First checkpoint-ready laptop bag to hit stores in October
Hate having to take out your laptop for TSA inspection? We do, too. As we anticipated, manufacturers are racing to sell laptop bags that can meet TSA standards and allow screeners to catch a clear scan of the laptop without needing to remove it from a bag. Targus, manufacturer of laptop computer cases and other travel products, has previewed its Zip-ThruTM 15.4” Corporate Traveler Laptop Case, the first announced checkpoint-friendly laptop case. The bag will be divided with the laptop on one side in a cushioned pouch and your other belongings in the other half. This morning, the Detroit Free Press described how the bag works: Open it up, lay it on the conveyor belt and let it pass through. Pick it up at the other end, secure it shut and you're on your way. The bag will be black (surprise!) and made of an impressive-sounding "durable ballistic 1680 denier nylon." It measures about 17 inches by 6.5 inches by 14 inches, and weighs less than pounds. It will sell for around $99 when it goes on sale in October. EARLIER Gear: Laptop bags that will pass the TSA test
Ads on boarding passes: Are airlines sharing your info?
There's been some commotion in the blogosphere about airlines selling advertising space on the boarding passes that passengers print at home. You may not mind seeing ads on your boarding pass, such as one with a coupon for a restaurant at your destination. But should you worry that your privacy is being invaded? Are the airlines sharing demographic information (such as your gender, city of residence, and past flight history) to generate the ads? We called Sojern, the company that's selling the ad space, Delta the first airline to unveil the ads, and five other airlines who have contracts with Sojem, including American, Continental, Northwest, United, and US Airways. All confirmed that they do not share passengers' personal information. "We are not getting any information from the airline other than where they're going and when they're going to be there," said Sojern spokeswoman Susan Booth. Eventually, Sojern plans to offer an "opt-in" service, allowing travelers to customize their boarding passes based on the interests that they voluntarily provide, said Booth. For example, if you love Chinese food, you may someday be able to let Sojern know, and then it will offer you boarding passes that print out restaurant coupons relevant to your trip destination. But for those who aren't interested in the ads, or who want to save their color ink for printing vacation photos, all boarding passes have the option to "print without offers," said Booth. Would you print a boarding pass with ads? Send us your comments.
The lowdown on U.S. passport cards
This month the government began to produce U.S. passport cards—a cheaper, easier-to-carry alternative to traditional passports. Each passport card fits in a wallet and typically costs only $45, versus $100 for a passport. (Both are valid for a decade; prices and rules vary for citizens under 16 years old.) Whoa, back up a sec! I've forgotten the rules for traveling in and out of the country. Give me a quick update. Until recently, your needed a driver's license and birth certificate to return home after sea and land travel. Now you have an additional option, called a passport card. Starting June 1, 2009, you'll be required to carry a passport or passport card to return home after sea and land travel (with some exceptions). Do passport cards work the same way as traditional passports? No. Cheaper passport cards can only be used for land and sea travel between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and the Caribbean. For any air travel outside of the U.S., you need a traditional passport. Plus only traditional passports can be marked with cool stamps from around the world. I'm confused. Why would I bother with a passport card when a traditional passport covers both land/sea travel and air travel? Think of passport cards as similar to—though not exactly like—the EZ Pass electronic toll collection system that's popular on Northeast toll roads. Border officers can access photographs and biographical information on your passport card from 20 feet away because each card contains a radio frequency identification chip. Officers pull up your info on their electronic devices before you reach them, speeding up the process. Your traditional passport can't do that. Hmm.... Can anyone read my passport card and learn my private info? For people who may have concerns about privacy, "there's no danger of any personal information being transmitted from the chip on the card, because there is no information on the card," says Steve Royster, spokesman for the Bureau of Consular Affairs at the State Department. "Instead, all the chip has is an ID number that will be used to link the card to a secure government database that's accessed as someone drives toward the border." And for added security, each card comes with a protective sleeve that acts as a shield to prevent any kind of transmission. So which should I get: a passport or a passport card? Do you frequently cross either the Mexican or Canadian border by car? Get a passport card. It will speed your processing at the border. Plan to fly outside of the U.S.? You need a traditional passport. Taking a cruise? Ask your cruise line what identification you will need. Some cruise lines have identification requirements that are tighter than the State Department's. What's the best option for a child? If you don't expect that your child will take an international flight in the next five years—a passport card is best. It costs $35 for kids under age 16, versus $85 for a traditional passport. Is there any reason why someone might want to get a traditional passport and a passport card? Says the spokesman, Royster, "Some people like the convenience of having a reliable ID they can walk around with in their pocket or purse." When applying for a new job, a driver's license, a marriage certificate, or conducting financial transactions, you may need to show copies of your birth certificate. Now, instead, you can carry a passport card, which is valid in all states as a way to confirm your identity and citizenship. A tip: If you apply for both at the same time or if you already have a valid passport, you can get a passport card for an additional $20. How do I get a passport card and/or a passport? If you don't already have a passport, you must apply in-person at a passport acceptance facility (such as a post office, library, or courthouse). To find one, search by zip code at iafdb.travel.state.gov. To learn how to apply, visit travel.state.gov. As a general rule, bring proof of identity and of U.S. citizenship along with two passport-ready photos. If you already have a passport, you can apply by mail—the same way you would renew your passport. Note: Like a normal passport renewal, you'll have to send in two passport photos with the application, plus your current passport, which will be returned to you within about four weeks, regardless of when your passport card arrives. Is it easier to get a passport card than a traditional passport? Alas, no. The application process for the cards is the same as it is for traditional passports. With both, if you're eligible to mail in the application, you'll save the potential hassle of waiting in line at the post office or courthouse. Royster says that the cards will eventually have the same turnaround time as traditional passports (currently, about four weeks). But don't expect a four-week turnaround this summer: The State Department began accepting applications, first come, first served, for the cards in February and received more than 350,000 requests. It has mailed out 7,600 cards and expects to have the rest of the preorders sent out by the end of September. If you applied for a passport card today, the earliest you could expect to receive one is after the initial 350,000 orders are filled. Expedited service ($60 more plus delivery fees, for a two-week turnaround), like what’s currently offered for passports, will also eventually be available for the cards, but not until production catches up. Anything else I should know? Travel from U.S. territories, such as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, doesn't require either a passport or a passport card.