Federal Shutdown 2019: How Travelers Can Help
With the longest government shutdown in America’s history hitting the one-month mark today, many federal employees and contractors are struggling to make ends meet. Some 800,000 government workers have been furloughed or required to work without compensation since the shutdown began in late December, and though the President signed a bill ensuring they’ll receive back pay once Washington reopens for business, they're still contending with immediately pressing concerns like rent, bills, and how to put food on the table. (Contractors have no such safety net, but last week, a handful of Democratic senators introduced legislation that would secure back pay for low-wage contract earners as well). Here's how you can help.
First Things First: What's the Damage?
Transportation Security Administration airport screeners are considered essential and required to work, but the organization has seen a decrease in available personnel as the shutdown drags on, with unscheduled employee absences rising steadily from 6.8 percent on Jan. 14 to 10 percent on Jan. 20. The National Park Service is also feeling the burn: An estimated 16,000 employees—80 percent of its total workforce—is currently furloughed, according to the National Parks Conservation Association, and our protected lands are sustaining heavy damage without the proper oversight in place.
(Courtesy World Central Kitchen)
How Can Travelers Pitch In?
Contrary to rumors making the social-media rounds, executive-branch employees like TSA workers aren’t allowed to accept cash tips, but there are other ways you can lend a hand. Hunger is a real issue, and federal employees are leaning hard on food banks, as well as churches and other community organizations. Consider giving time, money, and/or supplies to food pantries working directly with these impacted populations, and look into the on-site resources available to TSA, customs, and Federal Aviation Administration employees before you leave for the airport—you may be able to bring groceries and the like to donate. At the Tampa airport, for example, a pop-up food bank is offering provisions to employees working without pay; local groups in Texas are distributing food to workers right at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport, and in Seattle, there's a donation area on the airport's mezzanine level where non-perishable food and gift cards are being accepted.
If your airport doesn’t have anything like that in place, you can still make a difference. Give your business to one of the many private companies providing assistance, whether it’s waiving late fees on bill payments or offering discounts on dining and events, or give your dollars to a group that’s doing the work on the ground. Through his humanitarian organization, World Central Kitchen, chef José Andrés set up a kitchen in D.C. to feed federal employees during the crisis, and he’s not the only celebrity helping out. Jon Bon Jovi’s New Jersey restaurant, Soul Kitchen, is a nonprofit that allows any guest—regardless of employment status—to pay a suggested donation or work a shift in return for a meal. (Both organizations accept tax-deductible donations.)
Planning a trip? Look for an Airbnb host participating in the company’s A Night On Us program, which pays executive-branch employees for an extra night, up to $110, for hosting a three-night stay. You can also buy a beer for a federal worker or contractor, or give to one of nearly 2,000 GoFundMe campaigns for people affected by the shutdown.
Have You Experienced Unusual Airport Delays Lately?
On January 3, an airline passenger passed through security at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, the busiest airport in the world, carrying a firearm, and flew to Tokyo with the weapon. Is the Government Shutdown Hindering Airport Security? Travelers are asking themselves whether this breach of security has anything to do with unpaid Transportation Security Administration (TSA) workers reportedly not showing up for work. The TSA denies, in a statement, that the breach has anything to do with the government shutdown, and goes so far as to deny that TSA worker attendance is lower than usual, which one could interpret as sort-of good news or really bad news, depending on your point of view. Have Your Travel Plans Been Affected by the Shutdown? Although the firearms incident may very well be an isolated, and certainly not unprecedented, snafu, of perhaps more concern to the average traveler are reports that TSA understaffing is now causing the closure of some airport concourses, leading to delays and confusion for air passengers and airport staff. We want to know: Have you experienced unusual airport delays lately? Post in the comments below, or email us at info@BudgetTravel.com.
Travel 101: Tips for Traveling Internationally With Electronics
We’ve come to rely on our electronic devices, including smartphones, tablets, digital cameras, and other gadgets, to help ensure a great travel experience. How else would we capture beautiful images and fun videos of our trip, stay in touch with friends and family, and share brag-worthy moments on social media? But as helpful as those devices can be, making sure you can transport and use them when traveling internationally can seem like a challenge. We’re here to take the mystery out of traveling internationally with electronics. From voltage, adapters, cords, packing, security, and more, consider this your ultimate go-to guide. Choose the Right Adapter When you’re planning an international trip, be sure to educate yourself about the power outlets you’ll be using at your destination. And we don’t mean google it the night before you fly. In fact, as soon as your airline tickets and hotel reservations are booked, find out what kind of outlet your destination uses and be sure to travel with a reliable adapter that will allow you to plug in your U.S.-purchased device in a foreign outlet that may be shaped differently and offer a different voltage from the one at home. One of the most versatile options is Ceptics World Travel Adapter Kit, which includes 2 USB ports, 2 U.S. outlets, and 6 adapters. Basically, this kit, available for $22.99 is one-stop shopping for most international destinations, including North America, the U.K., most of Europe, Australia, Japan, some African nations, the Middle East, most of Asia, China, and other countries. The kit comes equipped with a grounded adapter, surge protection, and a “smart voltage” indicator to take the mystery out of the sometimes complex issue of outlet voltage. If you happen to be traveling to one of the few regions in which the World Travel Adapter Kit is not compatible, such as Botswana or South Africa, Ceptics offers nation specific adapters for $14.99 each. For more in-depth information about foreign outlets and adapter options, visit ceptics.com. Pack Electronics for Efficient Travel (Bignai/Dreamstime)Let’s talk about airport security. The words may send a chill up your spine, especially if you’re traveling with an array of devices, cords, and accessories, until you learn the basic packing protocols recommended by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA): Pack valuable items, including laptops and tablets, in your carry-on instead of in checked bags. Label your carry-on bags and laptop case with your name, address, and phone number, and include a tag with the same information inside each carry-on as well. To streamline your trip through airport security, pack clothing at the bottom of your carry-on and place electronics and toiletries on top, with electronic cords stored in ziploc bags. This will make it easier for security agents to assess your bag. If you’re traveling with a laptop, remove it from your carry-on before you get to the X-ray machine. If you have any doubts or concerns about the electronics you’re traveling with, be sure to review the TSA Prohibited Items List or download the MyTSA app. Keep Devices and Data Safe When it comes to traveling internationally with electronic devices, there are two security concerns: Keeping the device itself safe, and protecting your personal data such as passwords and other information that can put you at risk for identity theft. To protect your devices, a TSA-recognized lock is essential, such as Captics TSA-Approved Combination Lock Set, available for $14.99, with a resettable combination lock. A TSA-recognized lock allows TSA officers to open a locked bag when it’s necessary for them to physically inspect a locked piece of baggage using a universal “master” key, so that no damage occurs to the lock or to the bag. To protect your data and passwords: When using public or hotel Wi-Fi, always opt for a “secured” connection, which is encrypted and protects you from hackers. Other ways to protect data include creating a mobile hotspot from your smartphone or buying a secure portable hotspot from your mobile carrier. Always turn off your device’s wireless signal when not in use, and install the latest antivirus software on all electronic devices. Don't Forget These Helpful "Extras" (Olezzo/Dreamstime)While the following suggestions are not as essential as those referenced above, these “extras” can provide additional security and comfort at a reasonable price: A portable charger, ranging from a small device the size of a lipstick to a bag that can hold a laptop or tablet, provides some freedom from electrical outlets. You charge the portable charger before leaving your home or hotel, then use it to charge your device’s battery when you’re, say, hiking in the woods or skiing down a mountain, where electrical outlets are, we hope, the last thing on your mind. Noise-canceling headphones are by no means necessary, but they can improve your enjoyment of streaming music and video on the road, and by blocking out up to 90 percent of ambient noise, they can enhance your ability to catch some sleep on a plane or during a long airport layover. A portable bag scale is small, roughly the size of a luggage tag, but it can save you big money on overweight checked bags. Hook it under your bag’s handle and lift it up, and the scale will tell you exactly how much your bag weighs. Traveling with a power strip can turn one available outlet into several, allowing you to charge multiple devices at the same time and providing surge protection.
The 2019 Women’s March: What Every Traveler Should Know
We know that hundreds of thousands of you are considering making the trip to Washington, D.C., for the third annual Women’s March on Saturday, January 19. Read on for important logistical tips. And while the current partial federal government shutdown may not allow you to squeeze in visits to the Smithsonian and other cultural gems, which are currently closed, we do have the lowdown on three relevant places that are open that you may want to see before heading home. For in-depth information on planning your trip to the march, visit womensmarch.com/2019. Getting There Amtrak will be your best option for getting in and out of D.C., either for a day trip or a weekend stay. Trains arrive in Union Station, which is centrally located for getting to the march and other points of interest. Where to Stay At this point, D.C. hotels and home rentals will likely be booked up or pricey. If you’re planning to travel from the mid-Atlantic or Southeast, consider making it a (long) day trip; you can also try booking lodging across the Potomac in Northern Virginia or in nearby Baltimore (a destination in its own right). What to Bring to the March First of all, don’t bring your luggage—store it at your lodging or at Union Station. Do bring small backpacks and bags, packed with refillable water bottles (water stations will be available) and healthy snacks (nuts, dried fruits, whole grains) to help you power through the day. Do we really need to remind you to wear walking shoes? And, of course, dress in layers for the changeable weather in D.C. March Location and Schedule On Saturday, January 19, marchers can begin gathering at 10 a.m. on the National Mall between 12th and 3rd Streets. The march steps off at 11 a.m. The rally takes place at the Lincoln Memorial starting at 1:30 p.m. (don’t expect to get too close, but watch and listen from a distance like most marchers). There will be a Support Station set up at Constitution Gardens, north of the reflecting pool at 21st and Constitution Avenue NW, offering toilets, water stations, heating and medic stations, and a “lost person” tent. The rally is scheduled to end at 4 p.m. Public Transportation You can access the gathering location (on the National Mall between 12th and 3rd Streets) from several Metro stations, including Metro Center, Penn Quarter/Navy Memorial, L’Enfant Plaza, and Smithsonian Metro. The march organizers recommend the following Metro stations for leaving the rally: Smithsonian Metro, Farragut North (at 17th and K Street NW), and Farragut West (18th and I Street NW). If you plan to use the Metro the day of the march, buy a D.C. Metro card in advance at smartrip.wmata.com/storefront. Visit the National Museum of Women in the Arts If you wake up in D.C. on Sunday morning wondering what you could do to possibly top the experience of participating in the march, head to the National Museum of Women in the Arts (nmwa.org), the only museum in the world devoted entirely to women artists, with a permanent collection of more than 4,500 works by more than 1,000 women. Visit the Newseum After exercising your 1st Amendment right to free speech on Saturday, head to the Newseum (newseum.org) to educate yourself and celebrate our nation’s free press at this highly engaging, interactive museum dedicated entirely to the news. In addition to the permanent collection, there’s still time to catch “1968: Civil Rights at 50,” devoted to the year in which Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy were assassinated. Visit the Martin Luther King Memorial In West Potomac Park, next to the National Mall, the memorial to Martin Luther King, Jr., packs a powerful emotional impact any day of the year, but perhaps especially during the national holiday that honors him (Monday, January 21). The understated design of the civil rights leader’s sculpture and the presentation of some of his most inspiring quotes have made this spot one of the most photographed and cherished by visitors to Washington, perhaps especially those visitors who are dedicating themselves to fulfilling the promise of our nation’s founding principles.
Airline Food: What You Need to Know
It’s happened to the best of us: You’re sitting 35,000 feet in the air and hunger takes hold. Like, uncompromising, I-just-ran-from-a-jaguar-caliber hunger. And the temptation to eat anything that passes through your field of vision is severe. That diet? That commitment to cut back on additives and processed food? Out the window. But it’s important to remember as the food lands on your seat-back tray that all airplane food is not equal. In the 2018-2019 Airline Food Study conducted by the Hunter College NYC Food Policy Center, Dr. Charles Platkin, the executive director and editor of DietDetective.com, undertook an exceptionally thorough investigation of 11 airlines’ food options, from snacks to meals, and provided the calorie count for each, as well as other bits of information, like the exercise equivalent for each calorie count, health ratings, prices, nutrition information, and even how transparent each airline is with nutrition information. He even includes which flights each option is available based on takeoff time and flight duration. Numbers Don't Lie Coming out on top is Alaska Airlines, with the study noting that “Alaska’s meals are now on the lighter, better, and healthier side, having gone from ‘Island hash’ and teriyaki chicken bowls, for example, to Fall Harvest Salad on coast-to-coast flights.” The airline, which helpfully lists nutrition information on its app, allows main cabin passengers to reserve food from 12 hours to two weeks prior to the flight. There were plenty of other interesting finds across the study as well. For instance, generally speaking, calorie counts have decreased. The average number of calories per menu choice in 2016 was 392, in 2017 it was 405 calories, and this year it dipped down to 373. American and Hawaiian Airlines have improved their offerings the most since the last study. On another happy note, the study noted that American and Delta serve complimentary meals in economy class on domestic flights, the likes of which haven’t been seen in over a decade. The Challenges of In-Flight Dining There’s a reason you get ravenous on a flight, even if you ate before takeoff. And even if the food might not look quite as inviting as a meal at a five-star restaurant, you’re likely to scarf it down nonetheless. Thing is, your body and your senses react differently to air at high altitudes than they do on the ground. For one, your senses are dulled, which means your taste buds need food that’s high in salt and fat for your brain to register feeling satisfied. It’s largely why tomato juice is so popular with flyers. Challenges abound when it comes to serving food a mile in the air. Top among them are the logistics of the cabin. The time and space constraints that flight attendants deal with, not to mention interruptions that turbulence or passenger issues could cause, make food prep and service far more challenging than they are in a kitchen on earth. Plus the trays and plates are small, and equipment isn’t exactly designed to the same standards as a restaurant. “Meat can be served medium-rare on a plane in flight, but if there’s turbulence, the hostess can’t get up and take it out of the oven at the right time,” Daniel Dilworth, director of Culinary Development for Danny Meyer’s Union Square’s catering business, told The New York Times in 2016 when Delta teamed up with the high-profile restaurant group to serve fine-dining-caliber meals in its Delta One cabin. “So it’s probably best just not to try to serve meat done to medium-rare.” Celebrity Chefs Pitch In Delta wasn’t the first airline to recruit a celebrity chef to get a leg up in the increasingly competitive market for first-class passengers. Air France distinguished itself a few years ago by getting Alain Ducasse to endorse several food and wine pairings in its elite cabins, while United Airlines partnered with Charlie Trotter to develop menus and worked with alumni of his restaurant after he passed away in 2013. These efforts to stand out are nothing new. Writing in The New York Times in 1973, longtime food journalist Raymond Sokolov notes that the competition—or “food wars,” as he calls it—began in 1962, when American collaborated with the famous New York restaurant 21 to develop first-class menus on cross-country flights: “Redchecked tablecloths, modeled after ‘21's’ napery, were used and the New York&dash;Los Angeles flight was dubbed Flight 21. Then TWA introduced its Royal Ambassador service. And then, in 1964, Eastern Airlines used famous Miami restaurants for its Captain's Table flights from New York to Miami. More recently, stewardesses have been set to tossing salads and carving steaks on carts. James Beard and Charles Chevillot have consulted with American (their casseroles were reportedly practical and delicious but not popular with steak&dash;loving passengers). And now United has hired Trader Vic.” There are certainly more celebrity chefs now than ever before, so time will tell who gets recruited to design a gourmet mile-high menu next.