Tag Archives | Travel

New TSA Rules

Gizmodo has what’s supposedly Homeland Security’s revisions to TSA security rules in the wake of the failed terrorist attack on Christmas. They apply to international flights destined for the U.S., and I bring them up here mostly because they’re going to make it harder for international travelers to use tech: Access to carry-on luggage is banned for the last hour of flights, as are “personal belongings on the lap.” (It’s not clear to me what “on the lap” means–am I allowed to listen to music on my iPhone if I hold it a few inches above my lap, but not if it rests on it?)

The rules also seem to say that inflight entertainment and information services are now verboten, with the exception of canned movies and TV shows:

Disable aircraft-integrated passenger communications systems and services (phone, internet access services, live television programming, global positioning systems) prior to boarding and during all phases of flight.

Can someone explain to me (A) what we learned from the Christmas attack that we didn’t know beforehand that makes it appropriate to change the rules; and (B) why would-be terrorists won’t simply attempt their evil before the final hour of a flight?


5Words: No Electronics on International Flights?

I’m never flying internationally again.

Why Amazon should buy Netflix.

Negative Kindle reviews: No problem?

Nook problem: delayed book downloads.

Apple patent: tactile multitouch keyboard.

Laptop Magazine reviews Ion netbooks.


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5Words: Free Airport Wi-Fi? Thanks, Google!

5wordsGoogle springs for airport Wi-Fi.

Blockbuster’s memory-card movie rentals.

Nvidia shows off tablet prototype.

How many Droids? Maybe 100,000.

LinkedIn talks to Twitter now.

Nokia starts shipping N900 handset.

A whole new Google coming?

Blu-Ray managed copy: looks awful!

A projector dock for iPhones.


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Virgin America Wi-Fi for Free (Thanks, Google!)

Virgin AmericaI love in-flight Wi-Fi so much that I’ve used it on every flight I’ve ever taken that offered it, and don’t object to paying for it–actually, I’d probably still go online if it cost twice as much. But I’m still tickled by today’s news that Google is sponsoring free Gogo Wi-Fi on every Virgin America flight between November 10th and January 15th. More details are available here.

I presume that Google will get some promotional value out of the deal–maybe ads when you log in, with links to Google services–and am intrigued by the possibility that in-air Internet could go from a somewhat pricey paid service to a free, ad-supported one. Back on terra firma, Wi-Fi is increasingly complimentary (both Borders and Barnes and Noble now offer it gratis). Wouldn’t it be cool if that were true at ten thousand feet, too? May Google’s experiment be a success for everyone concerned, and therefore a widely imitated one…


Lufthansa Brings Wi-Fi Back

LufthansaThe longer the airplane flight, the harder it is to go without Internet access. So as happy as I am with the ongoing adoption of Wi-Fi by U.S. carriers for their domestic flights, I’ve been glum about the fact that the widely-used Gogo service is cellular-based and doesn’t work for international service. And I’m pleased to hear that Lufthansa is bringing back Wi-Fi after being forced to abandon it in 2006 when Boeing discontinued its brief-lived Connexion service.

As Glen Fleishman is reporting at Wi-Fi Net News, Lufthansa is working with Panasonic to put satellite-based Internet (and cell-phone) service on 120 long-haul flights. Wi-Fi will cost $12 an hour or $22 per day–as Glen says, on the pricey side, although not unreasonable if you take a long flight and stay online for hours at a time.

Connexion wasn’t perfect, but its main problem was clearly that it was ahead of its time. I wonder if Boeing regrets having killed it?

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Phones on Planes? No Thank You!

BlahI think of myself as not having a Luddite bone in my body. But there’s one example of American technological backwardness that I’m extremely comfortable with: the fact that we can’t use cell phones on planes. When I sit near someone–or, more typically, multiple someones–making a deeply personal and/or deeply boring call before takeoff or after landing, I always feel like I’m being held hostage. The notion of being subjected to six hours of such stuff on the way across the country is downright scary.

The New York Times has a story about the fact that there are now 15,000 flights a month on which use of cell phones is permitted–none of which are operated by U.S. airlines. The FCC still forbids them to let passengers use their phones, and as with many rules related to air travels, the reasons are somewhat murky. It’s only partially because phones might interfere with planes’ navigation equipment–wireless carriers are also worried that calls from 35,000 feet would screw up their roaming agreements. Widespread opposition by both the traveling public and flight attendants presumably doesn’t help the cause, either.

The Times quotes executives involved in in-air calling saying that fear of phoning is misplaced–the engine noise makes it hard to hear strangers’ calls, and it’s all supposedly a lot less obtrusive than you’d think. Maybe so. And while the Times story doesn’t make clear whether callers on international flights are paying a premium vs. calls they make from terra firma, I’d like to think that in-flight calling is costly enough to keep conversations brief and to the point. (I don’t remember being annoyed by my fellow travelers’ calls back during the golden age of Airfone, and even made an Airfone call or two myself in a pinch.)

Look, I’m willing to confront the possibility that I’m being an old fogy. The worst thing about calls made when a plane’s on the ground is their sheer obviousness to those who overhear them–how often have we all heard the words “Hi, we haven’t taken off yet” and “Hi, we just landed”? Maybe in-air calls would be less grating. I suspect that it’s inevitable that they’ll come to domestic flights, and I’m willing to wear industrial-strength noise-shielding headphones and to direct my attention to my laptop if need be, (My laptop will be online via in-flight Wi-Fi if it all possible–I told you I’m not a Luddite.)

Anyhow, let’s wrap this up with a T-Poll:


Goby, a Search Engine For Activities

Goby LogoLooking for something to do? Starting now, you can look to Goby, a new search engine that launched Tuesday night. Rather than trying to beat Google at its own game, Goby is trying to be really good at one thing: helping you find places to go and activities to participate in–whether they’re in your own backyard or halfway around the world. That includes everything from trails to hike to museums to visit to hotels you might want to stay at.

Goby’s search field is actually three search fields: What would you like to do, Where, and When. Fill in the first two (and, optionally, the third) and Goby will come back with Web results, including photos, map locations, and a “What’s Nearby” button.

Goby Results

How is this better than using Google? Goby, unlike Google, understands the concept of a general area; if you search for hiking trails in San Francisco, it’ll alert you to ones in Marin, too. Unlike Google, it can figure out the dates in results–if you’re going to New York over a specific long weekend, you can search for gallery shows taking place then. And Goby does a good job of winnowing out Web pages that don’t relate to activities and events–in my tests, it never returned results out of left field.

Much of the time it works quite well, but this debut version of Goby is interesting as much for its potential as for its current state. It asks you “What would you like to do?”, which implies that it wants you to answer with a phrase like “ride a bike” or “see a concert.” but when I entered those phrases for San Francisco, I got zero results. (Entering the terser “bike” and “concert” worked well.) When you enter a date or date range, Goby doesn’t sort the results by date, which means that its first results may not be for the period you specified even when it has ones that are. And I found it sometimes returned dupes–multiple links to the same event or locale. (In some cases, these were for activities that occurred on multiple dates, but you’d think Goby could roll up all the results into one entry.)

Goby’s default geographical range for results was also sometimes way broader than I expected–when I searched for museums on Cape Cod, for example, many of the results were in Boston. Using the embedded Google Map to pinpoint the area I was interested in helped a lot.

Unlike sites such as Yelp and TripAdvisor, Goby isn’t primarily about helping you quickly judge the quality of places you might go–it’s more of a traditional search engine, aggregating links that take you off to other sites when you click them. The basic idea’s full of promise, and the company is full of plans to expand up on it (with versions for mobile phones, for instance). I’m sure I’ll check it out when I’m planning to travel–or just looking for ways to fill a quiet weekend around town.

[UPDATE: I just encountered another Goby limitation I didn’t catch the first time around: It doesn’t work in Safari. You get a message saying it’s working to support all browsers, and a link to download Firefox. Certainly a major gotcha for Mac users…]


Virgin America Aircell Gogo In-Flight WiFi

While I’m a little late to this particular mile high club, I finally experienced the joy of in-flight WiFi last Friday. Unlike Boeing’s now defunct Connexion satellite solution, it appears that most domestic airlines are utilizing Aircell’s Gogo service – essentially 3G EVDO connectivity in the sky. On my cross country Virgin America flight, the prices for Internet access were more than reasonable: $13 for a laptop or $8 for a handheld. Although, as we discovered, we didn’t need to pay for each device, periodically swapping the connection between Macbook, iPhone, and Blackberry.

Not only were Gogo’s download speeds (and latency) perfectly suitable for typical web browsing, I also had no probs with SD YouTube video (above). In fact, after seeing how quickly the buffer filled, I gave HD a shot. Giving it a minute to build a buffer worked out fine as well. (In fact, I’m more stoked than ever about Call of Duty, Modern Warfare 2. Come November 10th, you can safely expect a period of blog silence.)

Officially, in-flight VoIP is restricted. Which is probably a good thing given how loudly most folks talk into their cell phones. However, when Melissa connected her 8900 Curve to check for email, T-Mobile’s UMA service automatically kicked in. I wouldn’t say it was very usable, with frequent audio drop outs, but the fact that she could check voicemail from 36,000 feet was inspiring.

(This post republished from Zatz Not Funny.)

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Look, Up in the Sky! It’s Wi-Fi!

Gogo LogoAt this very moment, I”m using inflight Wi-Fi for the third time in my life–and for the first time, it’s putting me in a good mood. The first time I did so was on a demo flight for the now-defunct Boeing Connexion service, and it essentially failed to work; the second time was on one of the last Connexion-equipped flights, and the fact that I knew it was going away put me in a melancholy mood. Even though Connexion, even when it worked, was kinda sluggish and kinda pricey.

This morning, however, I’m on a Virgin America flight with Gogo service. It’s six bucks for my flight from San Francisco to Los Angeles, and is quite speedy–YouTube is playing back more smoothly than it sometimes does via my home network. Virgin is the first carrier with an all-Wi-Fl fleet; it’s instantly become my default carrier on any route it travels. 

I should probably segue here into a sober rumination on the virtues of being disconnected and the downside of living in a world in which spending even 59 minutes (our flight time) without Internet access is a hardship. I’ll probably write one eventually, but for now, I’m happy. And it’s going to feel weird when I hear the plane’s wheels touch ground at  ourdestination and I have no need to seize my phone, fire up e-mail, and try to catch up…


Qik Roam: Travel Internationally, Pay Reasonable Rates

Qik LogoThere are plenty of benefits that come with owning an iPhone, but there are also some crosses that one must bear. One is the phone’s lack of support for video capture, which means that the nifty Qik video lifestreaming app only works if you’ve jailbroken your phone. (Or if Qik has given you access to the service via Apple’s approved “ad-hoc” access, which–full disclosure–it has for me.)

Another iPhone limitation: Assuming you’ve got an AT&T one rather than a pricey unlocked unit, it’s a costly phone to take on international trips. I’m on my way to Malta at the moment and have signed up temporarily for AT&T’s discounted global roaming rates and 20MB of international data access, but it’s still more expensive than buying the cheap local SIM I could pick up if my phone were unlocked. (AT&T has obligingly unlocked other phones I’ve bought from it in the past, but as far as I know,  it won’t free iPhones.)

So I’m slightly jealous of a new Qik service called Qik Roam, which is designed to control the cost of using the service and other Internet access, as well as making calls, while you’re trotting the globe.  Offered in partnership with a company called Cubic Telecom, Qik Roam gives you a SIM you can use for discounted calls and data in over 160 countries.  It makes perfect sense for data-intensive tasks like video streaming. And I can’t use it with my locked phone.

Out of curiosity, I used Qik Roam’s online calculator to do the math on whether the service would have saved me money in Malta versus AT&T’s rates–a moot point, but an interesting one. I discovered, first of all, that the extra $3.99 I’m paying this month for discounted international roaming is money down the drain:  Calls from Malta appear to be $2.29 a minute whether you’ve signed up for discounted roaming or not. But Qik’s rate for calls from Malta back to the U.S. is a much more affordable $1.22.

As for data, assuming I’m understanding the rates properly–never a given with wireless phone costs–Qik’s rate of $2.49 per 100KB is much, much cheaper than what I’d owe AT&T if I hadn’t signed up for 20MB  of international data. But it’s about what I am paying via AT&T, and AT&T might be cheaper if I purchased a large enough chunk of data. The cost comparison presumably varies meaningfully depending on who your carrier is and where you’re traveling to.

Another thing I just learned, maybe: The AT&T page for Malta seems to suggest that it may not have 3G data at all. I’ll let you know once I get there.

One lesson about international travel with phones that can’t be repeated enough: Don’t take your phone out  of the country without making some provision for avoiding paying undiscounted roaming data rates. One day I’ll tell you about the $900 bill I got when I surfed up a storm via my phone in an English village, and why I narrowly escaped having to pay most of it…