TIME Research

The Scientific Reason Why Airplane Food Tastes Bad

It has to do with the dry cabin air

Why does airline food taste so lousy? A new study from Cornell University has come up with an answer, and it ain’t bad cookin’.

Turns out, the noisy environment inside a claustrophobic airplane cabin may actually change the way food tastes.

In the study, 48 people were handed a variety of solutions that were spiked with the five basic tastes: sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami (basically, a Japanese word for the savory flavor found in foods like bacon, tomatoes, cheese, and soy sauce). First, the testers sipped in silence, then again, while wearing headsets that played about 85 decibels of noise, designed to mimic the hum of jet engines onboard a plane.

What the researchers found: While there wasn’t that much of a change in how the salty, sour, and bitter stuff tasted, the noisy surroundings dulled the sweet taste, while intensifying the savory one—which might explain why a meal eaten on a plane will usually seem a little, well, off.

“Our study confirmed that in an environment of loud noise, our sense of taste is compromised. Interestingly, this was specific to sweet and umami tastes, with sweet taste inhibited and umami taste significantly enhanced,” said Robin Dando, assistant professor of food science. “The multisensory properties of the environment where we consume our food can alter our perception of the foods we eat.”

This isn’t the first time airlines have tried to figure out the reason behind funky in-flight food. The Fraunhofer Institute, a research institute based in Germany, did a study on why a dish that would taste just fine on the ground would taste, “so dull in the air,” as Grant Mickles, the executive chef for culinary development of Lufthansa’s LSG Ski Chefs, put it to Conde Nast Traveler.

German researchers tried taste tests at both sea level and in a pressurized condition. The tests revealed that the cabin atmosphere—pressurized at 8,000 feet—combined with cool, dry cabin air numbed the taste buds (kind of like when you’ve got a bad cold). In fact, the perception of saltiness and sweetness dropped by around 30% at high altitude. Multiplying the misery: The stagnant cabin dries out the mucus membranes in the nose, thus dulling the olfactory sensors that affect taste. All of which adds up to a less-than-fine dining experience.

The good news: This research may help airlines find a way to make in-the-air meals more palatable. (That is, for flights and airlines that still offer any food at all!)

The key, according to Mickles, may be using ingredients or foods that contain a lot of umami to enhance the other flavors. He may be on to something: The folks at the Lufthansa have found that passengers guzzle as much tomato juice as beer (to the tune of about 425,000 gallons a year). Turns out, cabin pressure brings out the savory taste of the red stuff.

Good to know. Now pass the earplugs—and bring on the Bloody Marys.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

More from Health.com:

TIME Transportation

Hired for Their Looks, Promoted For Their Heroism: The First Flight Attendants

Church Schroeder
AP Photo Ellen Church and Virginia Schroeder, another flight attendant, pose in front of a modern 12-ton United Mainliner on May 14, 1940.

May 15, 1930: Ellen Church, America’s first stewardess, works her first flight

Ellen Church could fly, but the airlines weren’t interested in hiring women pilots in 1930. In fact, they weren’t convinced that women could do any job aboard a plane, as the New York Times later noted.

So Church, who was a registered nurse as well as a licensed pilot, appealed to the chauvinism of airline executives to help women find work in the skies, as she herself hoped to do. She recommended that nurses be hired to perform some of the tasks then handled by co-pilots, like hauling luggage and handing out lunches, as well as to help put the public at ease about the dangers of flying on the clunky, crash-prone early passenger planes.

Who better than nurses to put fearful passengers at ease, and who better than women to show men it was safe to fly? Or as Church put it, per the Times, “Don’t you think that it would be good psychology to have women up in the air? How is a man going to say he is afraid to fly when a woman is working on the plane?”

Officials with Boeing Air Transport, the predecessor of United Airlines, went for her pitch, and agreed to hire eight women, conditionally, for a three-month experiment. On this day, May 15, in 1930, Church and seven others began their first day of work as the country’s first flight attendants. Four flew from San Francisco to Cheyenne, Wyo., and the other four flew from Cheyenne to Chicago.

After the three months had ended, the original eight stayed on — and other airlines began recruiting their own stewardesses. According to TIME’s 1938 analysis, the jobs were highly competitive, and the hiring process was steeped in sexism. “To get their $100-to-$120-a-month jobs, applicants for the 300 stewardess posts [since 1930] had to be pretty, petite, single, graduate nurses, 21 to 26 years old, 100 to 120 lbs,” TIME notes. “Many of them found husbands right after they found jobs; few married pilots.”

The work itself was much more than pouring drinks and looking pretty, however. Stewardesses cleaned the cabin, helped fuel the planes and bolted down the seats before takeoff. And while they normally drew on their medical training only minimally, in assisting airsick and panicked passengers, they occasionally played the part of first responders in an emergency — as when 22-year-old TWA stewardess Nellie Granger ministered to critically injured passengers and then stumbled through snowy mountains in search of help after her flight crashed in Pennsylvania in 1936. (TWA rewarded her heroism with a paid cruise in the West Indies, along with a promotion.)

Church’s proposal was a success by most measures. Hiring female attendants paid off so handsomely in the air, in fact, that railroad executives followed suit, hoping to bring some of their glamor down to earth. But TIME’s 1937 dispatch about a recruitment drive for hostesses on the New Haven rail line reveals that while Church’s pioneering efforts might have opened new doors for female workers, only those with pageant-winning looks and charm were allowed to walk through — in the air or on land. As the story explains:

Candidates are required to be unmarried, 5 ft. 7 in. to 5 ft. 10 in. tall, aged 24 to 35, 115 to 135 lb. in weight. College graduates are strongly preferred. They must pass a “personality test”—i.e., be reasonably personable as well as amiable. Because Superintendent H. W. Quinlan of the New Haven’s dining cars believes that grace of carriage and movement is important, he insists on modeling experience as well as hostess experience.

Read the full story, here in the TIME archives: Women on Wheels

TIME animals

How Bats Could Influence the Future of Air Travel

Researchers are learning from the way bats fly

A new study reveals how bats are able to fly with such precision in the dark, a finding that could eventually lead to innovations in airplane technology, researchers said.

The study, which examined big brown bats in North America and was published April 30 in Cell Reports, demonstrates for the first time that bats fly using highly sensitive touch sensors on their wings that respond to changes in airflow. These receptors then send signals to neurons in the bats’ brains, allowing the animal to make quick adjustments in flight.

The researchers from Johns Hopkins University, Columbia University and the University of Maryland say their findings could help people design aircraft that can sense and adjust to air turbulence and better avoid obstacles.

“This kind of information could be very important in the design of aircraft, particularly aircraft that must maneuver through complex environments,” said Cynthia Moss, one of the senior authors of the study and a professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Johns Hopkins. “Biology has done an exquisite job creating these animals that can maneuver so agilely, and so we might be able to learn some basic principles from the bat that could be transferred into technology.”

TIME Web

These Are the Best Flight Search Tools

Try searching on different days of the week

Online flight search services are big business, as more of us turn to computers and smartphones for travel planning. Last year, 40 percent of Americans booked flights, hotels, cruises and other holidays on their phones and tablets, a statistic based on 300 million bookings worth $150 billion, while the Economist reckons that online bookings account for 43% of total travel sales.

The options are growing. Google recently overhauled its flight aggregator service, Google Flights, with the addition of money-saving features posing serious competition to established heavyweights such as Kayak and Skyscanner. Then there are newer, design-led services like Momondo or Hipmunk, which offer filters by price as well as convenience.

Are you really getting the best deals?

We’re spoiled for choice when it comes to services that search other services for the best deals — but despite the thousands of results these services manage to turn up, you may not necessarily be getting the cheapest deal or even the fare advertised.

Buyer beware: Most fares found by these flight search engines don’t include the baggage fees charged by some low-cost airlines as well as United and Delta. In some cases, they don’t include fuel taxes and other surcharges.

Nor does every airline shows up in these metasearches, says Matt van der Rohe, an online travel expert with travel concierge service Flightfox. For example, Southwest Airlines does not put its fares on metasearch sites, and UK-based budget airline Ryanair saves its cheapest fares for its own site.

We picked six of the top-rated flight aggregator services and compared prices for 10 flights over a week in June, from domestic flights including New York to Los Angeles, Seattle, Las Vegas and Austin, and international flights from New York to Toronto, Sydney, Paris, Rio de Janeiro and Hong Kong.

Which flight search service is best for you?

Kayak

Available for iOS, Android, Windows and Kindle devices.

The granddaddy of flight aggregator search sites, Kayak, was recently redesigned to streamline its search interface. Kayak now offers tons of ways to filter your search, including an intuitive slider system for adjusting approximate takeoff times and options to show or hide redeye flights, view flights with Wi-Fi only and see “hacker fares,” where different legs of a journey are purchased separately. Also handy is the ability to adjust the maximum layover you’re willing to bear.

A new price trend graph offers advice on whether flight prices are likely to go up or down, giving you as much peace of mind as one might be able to expect, while the fee calculator can add credit card and check-in luggage fees to the posted fares. If you search for flight and hotel packages, Kayak can also tell you how much you’ll save by booking the two together over booking them separately.

Bottom line: Kayak almost always found cheaper fares than any the flight services in this list (or at least within a few dollars of the cheapest). On the NYC-Cancun flight, it scored the cheapest flight by far at $398 (compared to $466 and up on other sites), thanks to being the only site that accessed fares from Aeromexico. Its fee calculator for credit card and luggage fees also means you’re most likely to click through to a posted fare.

Skyscanner

Available for Android, iOS, Windows, Kindle and, BlackBerry devices.

Skyscanner is the other search giant offers similar results to Kayak in an equally straightforward interface. It provides a couple of easy tools for filtering out particular features like takeoff times and number of stops. Clicking on a particular flight shows exactly how long the layover is. However, there is little additional information given about flights; for example, there’s no obvious indicator for overly long flights (as most of the other services in this list offer), nor does Skyscanner show in-flight amenities like Wi-Fi.

Bottom line: Skyscanner tended to turn up domestic fares that were roughly the same as Kayak’s, give or take $5 to $10, for flights that cost $300 to $500. It matched the other services for rates to Paris and Sydney but missed finding the cheapest flights to Hong Kong and Rio (despite finding the same airlines).

SeatGuru

Available for Android and iOS devices.

SeatGuru is an airplane seat plan and flight search site, owned by TripAdvisor, offers many intuitive filters for your travel hunt in a simple, quick-to-use interface. Results are displayed in a clean, comprehensive style that allows you to sort based on price and direct flights, filter to “avoid early flights” and weed out pre-8 a.m. departures, and apply a “best value” selector calculated by flight time, cost and number of stops.

Each result displays various flight amenities, such as Wi-Fi, the option to purchase additional legroom and whether the seat pitch is average or good. SeatGuru uses the Expedia database for hotel packages, so you’ll see the odd, ad-like hotel suggestion pop up in the middle of your search results to show you how much you’d save by booking a stay along with your flight.

Bottom line: SeatGuru came up with comparable fares for international routes. For domestic flights, it sometimes turned up the cheapest fares found by the other services (give or take $5), but it was sometimes (Cancun, Austin) pricier by about 10 percent. Its filters for search results make choosing a flight easier than those on Kayak and Skyscanner.

Hipmunk

Available for Android and iOS devices.

The home page of Hipmunk consists of a search box asking where you want to go and when. The real design beauty of Hipmunk is its “agony” rating of the ensuing results. Whereas older sites such as Kayak and Skyscanner leave analyzing its thousands of results to you, the hunter, Hipmunk orders flights by how long they take. Layovers usually push up the agony factor. You can also order flights by price and takeoff or landing times.

When booking flights, the outgoing and return legs are chosen separately, making it much easier to pick the times you want, rather than plowing through the endless list of flight combinations employed by many other sites. Any extra cost incurred by particular flight times is displayed next to the flight, so you can easily scroll to the choices that don’t cost extra.

Bottom line: Hipmunk tended to find the cheapest international fares (that is, as cheap or cheaper than the other services in this list) and around the same prices on domestic fares.

Momondo

Available for Android, iOS and BlackBerry devices.

Momondo is a flight, hotel and car rental booking site that has a brilliantly fast search with intuitive controls. Flights can be ordered by price, speed or “best,” based on an algorithm computing flight duration and cost. There are extra checkboxes for filtering by airline, departure or arrival times and, uniquely, by frequent flier alliances, which is handy if you’re savvy about air miles. Two bar graphs show the rise and fall in price of both outgoing and return flights.

If you can’t quite decide where to go on your next vacation, hit the Trip Finder to find destinations based on what you want to do (city break, shopping, the beach), when you want to do it, a rough area to head for and, most usefully, the budget you have available.

Bottom line: Momondo has excellent coverage of online travel services and airlines and, in our test, it turned up the cheapest flights (either the same cost as the cheapest, or about 2 percent to 4 percent cheaper on both domestic and international). Choosing flights is made easy by a clever set of filters for airlines, flight times and convenience, while the bar graph fare calendar helps flexible travelers pick the cheapest dates.

Google Flights

With the world’s most-used search engine backing it, you’d expect Google Flights to clock a blistering search time, and it does. The interface is reassuringly clean, minimal and Google-y, returning results in about a second — much faster than every other service. At the top of each results list is a tip suggesting how you can fly for less; for example, we could have saved $25 on our $425 New York-LA flight by shifting the week-long trip forward by a day. This change is bookable by simply clicking on the tip. Otherwise, found flights are filtered with “best” flights first, based on flight times and flight duration balanced against cost; it doesn’t always choose the direct or cheapest routes.

Flights can be booked as separate legs with different companies. You can save your itinerary for price alerts on Google Now or share it via email with your travel buddies.

Bottom line: Google Flights scored the same fares for most domestic flights and the longest flight (NY-Sydney), but it turned up pricier flights for Paris, Rio and Hong Kong.

When travel agents come in

For straightforward flights — fly there, come back — most of us can quite easily get the best deals simply by hitting up one flight aggregator site or, in many cases, an airline that flies where we want to go.

But when it comes complex routes like a transcontinental trip in January from New York to Sydney with stops in Singapore and Bangkok, you’re unlikely to get the best price (or airline selection) by simply punching in a multi-city trip and booking it all through an aggregator site. For example, the low-cost airline Scoot that flies direct from Sydney to Singapore didn’t turn up as an option on this route (despite being listed on at least some of the other search engines).

This type of itinerary is where new-gen travel services such as Flightfox make their coin. Unlike traditional travel agents, Flightfox does not take a commission on flight sales. Instead, the company charges customers a flat fee for a human agent to hunt down the best fare for a given itinerary and then send the customer the link to book themselves.

Van der Rohe says he mostly uses the same sites as we might, as well as a few accounts that send extra information about fare availabilities. “What we have is a knowledge of routes, fare rules and loopholes that can lower the cost of itineraries beyond what you might see at first in flight search engines,” he says. (He won’t divulge what these loopholes are, exactly.) He did, however, share a few tips for searching with flight aggregator apps at home.

“There’s a lot to be said for brute force,” he says. Search as many flight combinations, airlines and routes as you can think of across many different sites.

If a flight aggregator site isn’t giving you the price you want, look up an airport’s Wikipedia page and see which airlines fly to it. Then search for fares on these airlines’ pages.

Comb forums such as FlyerTalk and MilePoint, which are bases for travelers to share flights and routes and deals.

Try searching on different days of the week. “Every day and every flight there are certain seats and certain fares, which change all the time,” van der Rohe says. (In the two days since the flights for this article was researched, some fares have dropped.)

If you’re very eager (or a travel manager),subscribe to Expert Flyer, a site aimed at frequent flyers that sends alerts when a particular seat on a flight becomes available. “Sometimes seats right next to each other are different fares,” says van der Rohe.

As for when to book to score those cheapest fares, Kayak research based on a year’s worth of search data found optimal days to leave and return and an optimal window during which to make your booking. For example, you’re likely to find the best airfares to Europe from the United States and Canada by departing on a Wednesday and returning on a Tuesday and booking six months in advance. In contrast, an Asia trip is best booked five weeks in advance, departing and returning on Wednesdays.

At the end of the day, finding the cheapest airfare is best accomplished by grunt work interspersed with anxiety over whether flights are going to get any cheaper. That’s why van der Rohe advises customers that if they see a price they’re happy with, they may as well just book it.

This article originally appeared on Techlicious.

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TIME Transportation

United Airlines Flight Turned Back Due to Disruptive Passenger

Violent passenger reportedly attempted to run towards the cockpit

A United Airlines flight heading to Denver returned to a Washington, D.C. airport early Monday after a passenger became unruly and disruptive mid-flight.

A passenger on Flight 1074 reportedly tried to run toward the cockpit before being restrained by his fellow passengers. The cockpit was secure at the time, according to ABC News. The incident occurred shortly after takeoff, and the plane was able to safely return to Dulles International Airport.

Pilots told air traffic authorities the passenger had become violent: “He ran forward towards the cockpit and he is being restrained by passengers,” one of the pilots said. “Cockpit is secure and we would like to return to the airport and have the authorities meet him.”

Washington authorities met the passenger at the gate of the airport where he was detained and later taken to a hospital for evaluation. The remaining passengers are expected to fly to Denver on Tuesday.

[ABC News]

 

TIME Aviation

U.S. Airlines Expecting Highest Passenger Numbers in 7 Years

If numbers bear out, it would be most passengers since the financial crisis

The spring travel season could see U.S. airlines post their highest passenger numbers in seven years, bolstered by rising employment and personal incomes, says industry group Airlines for America.

Some 134.8 million passengers — or about 2.2 million people per day — are projected to fly in March and April, according to a press release.

If accurate, that would mean the most airline travelers since numbers peaked in 2007 — right before the financial crisis.

The 2015 projections are a 2% boost from the 132.2 million people who flew on U.S. airlines during the same period last year.

John Heimlich, Airlines for America vice president and chief economist, said high consumer sentiment and “the continued affordability of air travel” may contribute to a busy travel season ahead.

TIME Travel

These Are the Coolest Airline Amenity Kits

american-airlines-kit
Courtesy of American Airlines American Airlines First Class Kit

This latest generation of kits is filled with items to surprise and delight

It’s good to be a premium-class flier for reasons large (ample seating) and small (these amenity kits).

Among the small yet profound joys of flying in a premium-class seat is opening the amenity kit to see what’s inside. And these days, you can expect much more than a collapsible toothbrush and earplugs.

Amenity kits are just one of the many details attracting the attention of airlines—eager to entice those lucrative first- and business-class passengers. Some airlines are tempting them with collectible cases that can be snagged only on certain routes, while others are recruiting top designers and brands to create goodie bags worth keeping.

Luxury labels like Ferragamo and Bulgari often lend their cachet to the bags, whether supplying a travel-size bottle of cologne, an exclusive lip balm, or a cheeky eye mask warning flight attendants: “Beware, I sleep walk.” Etihad, meanwhile, has partnered with Sougha, a group that supports local UAE artisans, to weave bags given out to all fliers, even those in economy.

Since the first amenity kits appeared in the 1950s (then known as RONs, as in “remain over night” kits), travelers have been eagerly rummaging through them. This latest generation of kits is filled with items to surprise and delight—from international and domestic carriers who know just how to pamper the fliers in front.

American Airlines First Class Kit

American Airlines provides first-class passengers with practical yet stylish kits by Eames, the American design group known for chic office spaces. The padded 8×10 bag is printed with the iconic Eames dot design—and doubles as a tablet case. What’s inside? Dermalogica skin products, including nail treatment and hand cream, a minty lip balm, a moist toilette, plus a microfiber cloth to clean your device’s screen before stowing it for landing.

Air France La Première Amenity Kit

Jet-setters who book one of only four private suites on Air France’s new Boeing 777-300ER aircraft get to lounge on a 6.5-foot-long bed, swathed in merino wool blankets and cotton sleep suits. They’re also each gifted with a leather cosmetics bag by French brand Givenchy. It’s filled with Biologique Recherche products: face cream, anti-fatigue roll-on treatment for eyes, an eye mask, and an oshibori towel.

Air New Zealand Business Premier Class Kit

Air New Zealand embraces its laid-back, quirky personality—evident in its viral in-flight safety videos and its latest amenity kit. This slim, gray felt pouch holds Clarins HydraQuench cream and lip balm as well as Pippi Longstocking–esque striped socks. The eye masks feature witty messages ranging from “Sleeping beauty” to “Are we there yet?” and “Beware, I sleep walk.”

British Airways Men’s and Women’s First

The sturdy wash bags in British Airways’s first-class cabins are stuffed with high-end beauty products (Aromatherapy Associates for women, London-based groomers The Refinery for men). Inside the women’s dusty-rose case, you’ll also find deodorant, a cotton wool pad, and a brush with a mirror attachment. The men’s steel-blue bag holds a similar arsenal of amenities, with the addition of a razor blade, shave gel, and eye cream.

Cathay Pacific First Class Female Travel Kit

When Cathay Pacific refreshed its first-class suites in 2013, it also revamped the amenity kits. The women’s Trussardi bag resembles a clutch purse; unfold the four-sided clutch to reveal hand, lip, and face creams from the Australian all-natural cosmetic line Aesop. There’s also a wooden compact brush worth pocketing. For men, Cathay Pacific supplies an Ermenegildo Zegna pouch full of Acca Kappa products along with a comb.

Read the full list HERE.

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MONEY Travel

Why You Should Book Your Summer Vacation Now

Rome, Italy
Image Source—Gallery Stock Rome, Italy

Planes are expected to be crowded, so finding low fares will take some work and advance planning.

With snow piling up in much of the United States, it might seem a bit early to start thinking about summer. But if you want to take a vacation on your terms, travel experts say now is the time to get the ball rolling.

Cheaper fuel prices, a strong dollar, and an economy on the upswing mean consumers will have a lot of competition booking airplane seats for summer vacations. “This is the perfect storm,” says Rick Seaney, chief executive officer of FareCompare.com, which analyzes airfares.

While experts say expectations of a booming summer travel season will prompt airlines to add capacity, the companies’ computer models will adjust pricing according to ticket sales. The fewer the seats left, the sharper the price increases.

Expect prices to rise through the spring, says Tom Spagnola, senior vice president for travel service CheapOair.com. Travelers should start booking international flights this month and domestic flights in the next month or two.

Asia- and Latin America-bound vacationers might find some bargains, while the carriers’ sharing alliances that dominate the business will probably limit the availability of deals elsewhere, says airline industry consultant Bob Mann.

How To Gear Up

To shop now, use one or more of the airline pricing websites to get notified of changes. Among those offering free fare alert services are Kayak, Yapta, Airfarewatchdog, CheapOair, and FareCompare.

A flight from New York to Paris on American Airlines on June 25 for one week would cost $1,232 non-stop round-trip if booked now. Trying for another day could reduce the price by $100 or more, so it is best to be flexible about travel dates.

And if you are willing to fly on a no-frills discount airline, you could pay even less. XL Airways France has a flight for $1,097 round-trip.

The day of the week you fly matters, FareCompare’s Seaney says. To get the best prices, try booking a flight for a Tuesday, Wednesday, or a Saturday.

On longer trips, Seaney suggests considering a connecting flight to get further savings. An example: An early summer non-stop from Washington, D.C., to Rome costs about $2,047 round-trip on United, compared with as low as $1,036 if you toss in a stop in Istanbul and fly Turkish Airlines.

You may want to vacation during off-peak periods. Seaney notes that the higher summer-season pricing does not start until after the first week in June and typically tapers down after the third week of August.

Also, keep an eye on the total price of a ticket, which can include taxes, surcharges, and fees as well as airfare.

For instance, there is still a $450 fuel surcharge levied on flights to Europe, but Seaney says it is just a matter of time before that is dropped or lowered because energy prices are so low.

Flights into and out of London’s Heathrow Airport carry an extra $70 to $90 tax, so you may want to use a different nearby airport, like Gatwick.

Cruise for Deals

This time every year, the cruise industry dangles its best deals during the so-called wave season—buy now for trips during the rest of the year.

“Now is when people will find some of the best pricing of the year and, more importantly, the best incentives,” says Gabe Saglie, senior editor for discount travel site Travelzoo.

One recent deal promoted on Travelzoo offered free drinks, prepaid gratuities and a $100 shore excursion credit on a 10-day Alaska cruise on Norwegian Cruise Line—about $1,200 in perks. An ocean-view room for a midsummer sailing was going for about $1,800 per person (based on double occupancy) with those bonuses tossed in.

Related: 6 Ways to Be a Savvier Traveler in 2015

TIME Travel

This is America’s Healthiest Airport

bwi-healthiest-airport
iStockphoto

Nearly all the restaurants in this airport offer at least one healthy, plant-based entrée

Travel plans in the near future don’t need to undo your newly minted resolutions, thanks to surge in healthful food offerings at airports across the country.

A recent survey showed that most restaurants at 75 percent of the nation’s busiest airports offer at least one healthy, veg-focused dish. This year’s healthiest airport, surprisingly, wasn’t highly ranked Portland International, or even body-conscious Tampa or star chef-studded JFK in New York.

Instead, it was Baltimore/Washington International Airport that took the top spot for its vegetable and hummus plates, gluten-free quinoa pasta, and locally sourced vegetable salads, just to name a few. Nearly all the restaurants in BWI offer at least one healthy, plant-based entrée.

Sure, you have to pass by Potbelly Sandwich and hand-shaken margaritas at Zona Cocina, but the selection of healthful options and nutrition-minded eateries (low-fat frozen yogurt at Tasti D’Lite; Nature’s Kitchen Fresh Café) have given BWI something to brag about.

This article originally appeared on Travel + Leisure.

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TIME Travel

What You Need to Know About Traveling to Cuba

travel-to-cuba-what-you-need-to-know
© F1online digitale Bildagentur GmbH / Alamy American flag with signboard of Cuba Southernmost Point, Key West, Fla.

There are 12 types of travel that are permitted, including family visits, journalistic activities, professional research and meetings

It’s happening, people. Travel to Cuba just got as little easier, thanks to a new set of regulations that take effect today and expand on President Obama’s recent policy changes.

The Department of Treasury dropped the amended regulations on the lap of tour operators and others with a stake in travel to Cuba yesterday morning. Just how quickly these changes can and will be implemented remains foggy—as do some of the particulars, which will likely be hashed out in the coming days and weeks. So watch this space.

In the meantime, for a sense of what the new regulations mean, we reached out to T+L’s trusted network of travel specialists for more insights. (A big hat tip to GeoEx, an operator that has been active in the country for several years, for help deciphering these regulations.)

Here’s what we know:

  • All travel to Cuba must still meet certain activity-related requirements. There are 12 types of travel that are permitted, including family visits, journalistic activities, professional research and meetings, educational activities, public performances, and religious activities.
  • “People-to-people travel,” the most common way most Americans currently now experience the country, is considered a form of educational travel that promotes meaningful exchanges between U.S. citizens and Cubans. It is officially still subject to “appropriate conditions” (meaning certain activities, such as going to the beach, are not permitted) and requires some sort of guide or agent to accompany travelers. In other words, you will still need to visit with a licensed tour operator.
  • Some operators are anticipating that the requirements and enforcement of people-to-people itineraries will soon be relaxed—meaning that even on these structured trips, you could more or less be able to travel through the island as you choose.
  • The new Treasury regulations lay the groundwork for a more simplified, general license for all types of travel to Cuba, which could open the door for more tours (and tour operators) bringing Americans to the country.
  • That said, the tourism infrastructure in Cuba remains very limited. It will be difficult for new companies to deliver meaningful experiences—for now.
  • Commercial flights are now authorized to Havana, but don’t expect them to start immediately (though U.s. carriers are already champing at the bit). Logistically, they will likely take several months to implement. So for the time being, it’s charter flights only from the States.
  • Americans can now bring back up to $400 in souvenirs home with them—that includes $100 worth of alcohol and tobacco.
  • U.S. travelers can also now use their credit cards in Cuba—a change that exists only on paper until U.S. financial institutions actually develop a presence in the country.

In essence, new flights, new tours and tour companies, and new ways to explore the island are coming soon. “Although things are sure to change in Cuba, we are viewing the regulatory amendments as very positive, and are excited about the possibilities.” says Jennine Cohen, the managing director for the Americas at GeoEx.

What remains to be seen is how long it will take to build up the tourism infrastructure in Cuba to meet increasing demand from Americans—and what this new tourism infrastructure will look like. “It is going to take a significant amount of time for Cuba to be considered a prime destination for tourists,” says Dan Sullivan, President and CEO of Collette tours.

In the meantime, the best experiences will be offered by operators who know the country well—and have relationships and connections already in place. We recommend GeoEx, Collette, InsightCuba, G Adventures and Smithsonian Journeys.

This article originally appeared on Travel + Leisure.

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