TIME Infectious Disease

How to Get to Monrovia and Back

A Brussels Airlines plane bound for Monrovia at Brussels Airport in Brussels on Aug. 28, 2014.
A Brussels Airlines plane bound for Monrovia at Brussels Airport in Brussels on Aug. 28, 2014. Dominique Faget—AFP/Getty Images

People, and viruses like Ebola, can go anywhere these days

None of the passengers who flew with Ebola Patient Zero from Monrovia, Liberia to Dallas, Texas will have to worry about catching the deadly virus. The patient wasn’t contagious in-flight. Airlines may be called carriers, but airplanes themselves are not particularly good at spreading viral diseases such as Ebola.

What they are good at is transporting people infected with viral diseases from a seemingly far off and remote city such as Monrovia to a big American town such as Dallas. But the global economy has brought cities a lot closer together, and changed disease vectors accordingly.

Need to get to Monrovia? Easy. We can book a trip for you immediately if your passport is handy and you have the visa. There’s a flight leaving JFK in New York City at 5:55 p.m. on Thursday that gets you into Monrovia 21 hours and 25 minutes later. (Relax, Delta passengers; the airline serves Monrovia through Accra from New York, but suspended that connecting service on August 30.) The current itinerary is JFK to BRU to DKR to ROB, airline code for New York to Brussels, where you’ll change planes, then a stop at Dakar, Senegal, before heading to Monrovia’s Roberts International Airport. All that travel takes place aboard Brussels Airlines on wide body Airbus 330s. Indeed, the worst part of the trip may be flying to New York on a commuter jet from Dallas.

You have other options, too: the airline-listing site Kayak offers 1,673 combinations that will get you to Monrovia from New York. Or you can make 574 connections through Chicago. And Open Skies agreements that freed global airlines to fly point-to-point across continents have, as the State Department puts it, “vastly expanded international passenger and cargo flights to and from the United States.”

You can hop an A380 on Emirates Airlines from Dallas to Dubai, change there for a Qatar Air flight to Casablanca and then find a Royal Maroc 737-800 to Monrovia via Freetown. Or fly non-stop to London and then connect via Casablanca or Brussels to Monrovia.

The point is, you can get anywhere from here. And so can the germs.

MONEY Airlines

Holiday Travel Just Got More Annoying Thanks to New Airline Fee

A ground crew member loads baggage onto a Spirit Airlines Inc. plane at the San Diego International Airport in San Diego, California, U.S.
Sam Hodgson—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Spirit Airlines already charges more fees than any other domestic carrier. Now it's adding a surcharge for checked bags on flights around the holidays.

In an industry enraptured with airline fees, Spirit Airlines stands out as the most fee-crazed carrier of all in the U.S., with fees for things others still provides at no additional charge, including carryon luggage, water, and the printing of a boarding pass at the airport. (If you don’t print yours at home, you’re asked to cough up $10 at check-in.) Spirit is also known for being highly profitable, and for being outrageous to get attention—the latest example being the gimmick of giving away free miles to customers who send a message to the airline explaining why they hate it so much.

This past spring, Spirit relaunched its brand to better explain how exactly it does business—low upfront fares combined with a la carte fees for almost anything beyond basic transportation, dubbed the “bare fare”—in order to quell the hate. CEO Ben Baldanza has also gone on record saying that his company may stop adding fees because it’s become difficult to think up any more new ones.

Apparently, however, the creative folks at Spirit have put their heads together and come up yet another fee—or, rather, a fee on top of a fee it already charges. The Los Angeles Times reports that Spirit has quietly tacked on a $2 surcharge on top of its usual checked baggage fees for passengers traveling during the peak winter holiday period, December 18 to January 5. The standard price to check a bag during online check-in is $40 for the first piece of luggage, so if you’re flying during the holiday period, it’ll run $42.

“Winter is coming … and that means holidays. Which means more people than ever will be traveling with Spirit to visit their loved ones,” states a message from Spirit attempting to explain the holiday surcharge. “To make sure we have room for everyone’s bags, we’re encouraging customers to pack a bit lighter.”

It almost sounds as if without such a fee, and without customers packing less, Spirit might have difficulty finding space for all the luggage people want to bring. Which is preposterous. Clearly, the fee is intended to milk passengers for a couple more bucks here and there, at a time when they’re more likely to have to pay up because they’re flying with gifts and bulky winter clothing.

No matter how Spirit tries to spin this, the airline is yet again demonstrating that it’s in love with fees, that it can’t help but push the envelope with the annoying, outrageous, nickel-and-diming of its customers—and that, in all likelihood, it’ll maintain its status as a highly profitable operation regardless.

TIME Transportation

This Is the Busiest Airport in the World

A jet lands at Hartsfield-Jackson International airport in A
A jet lands at Hartsfield-Jackson International airport in Atlanta, Georgia, Thursday July 6, 2007. Chris Rank—Bloomberg / Getty Images

Not even Beijing, London or Tokyo could compete with Atlanta's 94 million passengers

Some 94 million passengers travelled through Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in 2013, making it the world’s most heavily trafficked airport, according to a new air traffic study released Wednesday.

The findings, released by Airports Council International, show that Altanta, even with a 1.1% dip in traffic, had a 10 million passenger lead ahead of Beijing Capital International Airport, the world’s second-busiest airport.

London Heathrow Airport, Tokyo International Airport and Chicago O’Hare International Airport rounded out third, fourth and fifth places respectively with traffic ranging from 67 to 72 million passengers in 2013.

“Despite this challenging operating climate, worldwide traffic surpassed the 6 billion passenger mark in 2013,” said Angela Gittens, ACI’s Director General. “This represents an enormous feat for the airport industry as we commemorate the 100th anniversary of commercial aviation in 2014.”

Asia-Pacific led regional growth with an 8.7% jump in passengers, followed by the Middle East, home to the world’s fastest-growing airport, Dubai International, with a galloping 15% growth in 2013.

TIME

United Airlines Offers Big Buyouts to Flight Attendants

United Airlines Highlights A 787 Dreamliner
United Airlines flight attendant Tina looks at personal entertainment systems on the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner during a tour of the jet at Los Angeles International Airport on Nov. 30, 2012. Kevork Djansezian—Getty Images

A lump-sum payout worth up to $100,000

United Airlines announced Monday that it will offer its thousands of flight attendants an early and voluntary buyout option, a lump-sum payout worth up to $100,000.

The airline, which employs more than 23,000 flight attendants and was the only major one to announce a quarterly loss this year, is also recalling the 1,450 attendants who were on leave this month so they can apply for the option as well, Bloomberg reports. The bid to downsize comes six years after United announced a large fleet reduction that left it about 2,000 stewards above capacity.

A statement released by the Association of Flight Attendants labeled the program an “unprecedented” and “unique opportunity” for employees who wanted to either rise in the ranks or pursue other opportunities.

“The cost is less to have a flight attendant with less experience versus one that has more,” United spokesperson Megan McCarthy said. The airline would not disclose the criteria needed to earn the maximum buyout but is hoping at least 2,100 employees take advantage of the offer.

TIME Airlines

Massive Flight Cancellations as Air France Pilots Go on Strike

An Air France Airbus A330 aircraft takes off at Charles-de-Gaulle airport
An Air France aircraft takes off at Charles de Gaulle Airport, near Paris, on Sept. 14, 2014 Christian Hartmann—Reuters

Pilots are protesting cost-cutting measures

A weeklong workers strike that began Monday has caused Air France to cancel over half of all its flights, as pilots protest cost-cutting measures.

Six out of 10 flights were canceled, Reuters reports, with similar cancellations expected in the days to come. Pilots are striking to protest the airline’s expansion of its low-cost operations.

Air France announced last week a plan to move much of its operations in Europe to the company’s cheaper subsidiary, Transavia, and base some flights out of foreign countries to save approximately $1.3 billion, the Associated Press reports. Pilots claim the airline is moving jobs outside of France in order to pursue cheaper taxes and cheaper labor.

Another, briefer pilots strike was planned for the German airline Lufthansa but was ultimately called off. Many European carriers have been forced to restructure and adjust their business models as they face competition from cheaper rivals.

[Reuters]

TIME Airlines

US Airlines Improve Their On-Time Performance

A Delta Air Lines Inc. airplane departs Ronald Reagan National Airport in Washington on July 18, 2014.
A Delta Air Lines Inc. airplane departs Ronald Reagan National Airport in Washington on July 18, 2014. Andrew Harrer—Bloomberg/Getty Images

(DALLAS) — At the height of this summer’s travel season, airline flights were more likely to arrive on time and less likely to be canceled than they were last year.

The improvement in airline performance in July was a welcome break for travelers. Over the first six months of 2014, delays were the highest since 2008 and cancelations the highest since 2000.

The U.S. Department of Transportation said Wednesday that among 14 of the largest airlines, 75.6 percent of flights arrived on time in July, up from 73.1 percent in July 2013 and from June 2014’s 71.8 percent rate.

The airlines covered by the report canceled 1.6 percent of their trips, down from 1.7 percent a year earlier and 2 percent in June.

The best for arriving on time were Hawaiian, Delta and Alaska, all above 84 percent.

At the bottom of the rankings: JetBlue Airways and Southwest Airlines, with nearly one in three flights arriving late.

JetBlue spokesman Morgan Johnston said the airline was making better use of spare planes and adjusting staffing in its operations center to handle delays during summer thunderstorms. He said the airline’s August numbers, not yet released by the government, were better.

Southwest had a pattern of consistently late arrivals on many routes. According to the government, Southwest ran late more than half the time in May, June and July on three short daily flights — a 6 p.m. Houston-Dallas trip, a 7:45 p.m. flight from Los Angeles to San Francisco, and a 9 p.m. Las Vegas-Phoenix flight. No other airline had any flights that were tardy so often for so long.

Another 108 Southwest flights regularly ran late for two straight months. No other airline had more than six such chronically delayed flights.

Southwest has struggled to fly on time since tightening its schedule in August 2013. Senior vice president of operations Greg Wells said that the airline thought it could boost revenue by adding 16 planes’ worth of new flights without increasing the fleet.

“We gave it our best shot,” Wells told reporters this week. “The combination of weather, higher load factors (fuller planes) and things like that just caused our on-time performance to plummet.”

Wells said the airline “stopped the bleeding” by focusing on starting morning flights on time, putting more time between connecting flights, and allowing more time to unload and load planes. Since Aug. 24, he said, the airline has been running at 84 percent on-time.

The Department of Transportation said that two flights in July — one by Spirit Airlines and another by US Airways — were stuck on the tarmac longer than the allowed three hours. The airlines could face fines.

There were 10 reports of pets that were lost, injured or died during flights, down from 11 in June. That only covers pets that were accompanied by their owners. Beginning Jan. 1, the Department of Transportation will require airlines to report deaths of cats and dogs that are shipped by breeders too.

TIME Transportation

Knee Defender Passenger Says He Never Reclines His Seat

Finnair Oyj Becomes First European Airbus A350 Customer
The economy class passenger seating of an Airbus A350 XWB aircraft is seen during a media event by Finnair Oyj at Helsinki-Vantaa airport in Vantaa, Finland, on Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

He says he's embarrassed by how the altercation ended

An airline passenger who got in a fight over reclining seats and was later booted off his flight says he now feels bad about the altercation.

James Beach was on an August flight in which he used a product called a “Knee Defender” which prevented the seat in front of his from reclining. Beach, who is six feet, one inch tall, told the Associated Press Wednesday that he doesn’t always use the device, but he needed to do some work on his computer during the flight. Beach also said he never reclines his own seat.

After the woman seated in front of Beach figured out he had installed the Knee Defender, preventing her from reclining her own seat, the pair got involved in an altercation. Things got messy, with bad language and tossed beverages. The pilots ultimately diverted the flight to Chicago and removed Beach and the woman from the plane.

“I’m pretty ashamed and embarrassed by what happened. I could have handled it so much better,” Beach told the Associated Press.

Beach says his Knee Defender was a gift from his wife. “I put them in maybe a third of the time. Usually, the person in front tries [to recline] their seat a couple of times, and then they forget about it,” Beach said. “I’d rather just kind of let them think the seat is broken, rather than start a confrontation.”

After getting kicked off his first flight, Beach says he took a Spirit Airlines flight, since the airlines does not use reclining seats.

[AP]

MONEY Odd Spending

Fine! Whatever! Top 10 Gifts for the Passive-Aggressives In Your Life

Reclining airplane seat into passenger's knees
Jason Hetherington—Getty Images

The Knee Defender—which prevents airline seats from reclining—is one of many products passive-aggressive consumers can use to protect their turf or ward off uncivil behavior. Hopefully without confrontation, of course.

Two recent passenger squabbles on airplanes have greatly boosted the profile of the Knee Defender, a $22 device that can be attached to the back of an airline seat to prevent it from reclining. The device prompted a brawl on a recent United Airlines flight from Newark to Denver, causing the plane to be diverted to Chicago, where both the man who attached the Knee Defender and the woman who didn’t like it (and threw a glass of water at the guy behind her) were escorted off the aircraft. Sales of the device soared after the news of the incident went viral, and plenty of observers weighed in with opinions, some defending the Knee Defender, others bashing it and anyone who would selfishly prevent a fellow passenger from “right to recline.”

Many others lamented the apparent need for such passive-aggressive behavior in the first place. Ira Goldman, the inventor of the Knee Defender, said the airlines are to blame for these ugly incidents because they’ve reduced legroom. By extension, the airlines are also to blame for the newfound popularity of his odd gadget. “When the airlines solve the problem, I’ll go out of business,” he said.

Flying is hardly the only sphere where humans have been known to exhibit uncivil behavior, and where others feel forced to resort to passive-aggressive (OK, sometimes more aggressive than passive) strategies as a counteroffensive. Here are some other products for the passive-aggressive people in your life.

The Parking Chair
People in Boston, Chicago, and other snowy cities regularly use chairs (or ironing boards, or buckets, or oversized kids’ toys) to call “dibs” on the street parking spaces that they dug out in front of their homes. The passive-aggressive tactic for defending one’s spot is popular but often illegal. In fact, a “No Savesies” movement was launched via social media by police in Philadelphia to spread the word that savesies, dibs, or whatever you want to call it is not allowed.

Spike Away Vest
Tired of fellow commuters bumping into her or otherwise invading her personal space, an industrial designer in Japan created the Spike Away vest, a plastic, porcupine-like accessory sure to keep strangers from rubbing up against you on the train.

Slogan T-Shirt
Rather than boldly confronting those exhibiting boorish, insensitive, or just plain dumb behavior, the passive-aggressive have been known to wear certain T-shirts as a way to get across a message—and perhaps their sense of humor as well. Here’s one offering the message “Thank you for not crop dusting” (a.k.a. farting).

Office “Courtesy” Signs
The office, a mishmash of different personalities from different backgrounds where everyone is expected to behave professionally and politely, is always a hot spot for subtle passive-aggressive behavior. And sometimes overt and totally juvenile passive-aggressive behavior too. Signs posted at cubicles (“Quiet Please… Important Work in Progress”) and in office kitchens are often rife with passive-aggressive intent.

Bumper Stickers
Pretty much every bumper sticker is passive-aggressive—a means to get some sort of message across without saying a word or doing much of anything besides driving around. Like this one, which aims to keep would-be tailgaters at bay: “Sorry for driving so close in front of your car.”

Toilet Decal
Confronting people in your house about their refusal to put the toilet seat down is so, well, confrontational. It’s also difficult to do in the middle of the night, when said people are probably barely awake. The passive-aggressive solution just might be a glow-in-the-dark toilet decal with the reminder to lower the seat after relieving oneself.

Curb Your Dog Signs
“Please Don’t Water Our Plants!” one Curb Your Dog sign pleads, showing a pooch peeing on what’s presumably a garden. “Make Sure Your Dog Doesn’t Drop Anything,” another sign warns, showing a dog doing something worse than merely peeing. Either option is nicer than putting a fake headstone on your lawn marking the spot of “The Last Dog That Pooped in My Yard.”

TV-B-Gone
OK, this one is probably more aggressive than passive. The TV-B-Gone gadget hit the marketplace in the mid-2000s, allowing anyone to turn off a TV blaring CNN or whatever at the airport or some other public venue. Tranquility at last!

The Ordinary Cellphone
Nearly everyone is in possession of a tool that makes it incredibly easy to passive-aggressively avoid talking to people or even making eye contact. According to a Pew Research Internet Project survey, 13% of all cell phone owners—and a whopping 30% of millennials—say that they have pretended to be using their phones for the express purpose of easily avoiding interactions with people they come across.

Related:
5 Reasons September Is the Best Month to Go Shopping

 

TIME Business

5 Ways To Be an Airplane Aggravation

Passengers sit with their luggage while waiting to board a flight in the domestic terminal at Sydney Airport in Sydney, Aug. 27, 2014.
Passengers sit with their luggage while waiting to board a flight in the domestic terminal at Sydney Airport in Sydney, Aug. 27, 2014. Brendon Thorne—Bloomberg/Getty Images

There are more passengers than the seat recliners who ought to be tossed off flights—preferably at 10,000 feet

Another flight, another fight. This time, a Delta flight to West Palm Beach from New York was diverted to Jacksonville over another dispute about reclining seats. The war between the recliners and decliners has broken into the open as airline travel continues to get decidedly more angry. I’ve already pledged my flying allegiance to the decliners — I don’t go back and I don’t think the passenger in front of me ought to, either. And I’m more than a little cranky about it.

But let’s not stop here. There are more passengers than the seat recliners who ought to be tossed off flights — preferably at 10,000 ft. — although that’s a good place to start. The list of uncivil aviation offenses just begins with the people who insist on intruding on my personal space. Here are other things you can do to qualify as the complete airline a-hole:

1) In the lounge, hog all available outlets with your myriad devices — phone, tablet, laptop, and headphones — and then start talking loudly on your mobile. Because you’re so, so important, aren’t you. Ignore the dirty looks for everyone within 25 yards of you. Yes, we’re still staring at you.

2) Try to barge on the plane before your row is called. Just act stupid — it won’t be a reach — and proclaim complete surprise when you reach the agent. All of these people should go to the back of the line — uh-huh, just like grade school — but the gate agents seem to have given up the fight. Can’t say I blame them, but if the carriers are going to go through the trouble of sequential boarding, a little enforcement wouldn’t hurt. Except in France, where this is completely futile.

3) Bring an oversized rolling suitcase, a briefcase, plus a couple of shopping bags on board and get ticked off when you can’t fit it all in the overheads. Extra annoyance points for arriving late. Then, keep opening bins that are already full until stuff cascades onto another passenger. Then act frustrated because you have to pick up the stuff you just knocked over. Yes, this is yet another case where the carriers are the root cause. Since the airlines have added outrageous fees for checked baggage, people naturally want to bring their stuff on board. All of it. So passengers push the envelop with oversized bags and everything from guitars to cases of wine, slowing the boarding process and sowing hostility because there isn’t room for all their stuff.

4) Once seated, take as much room as you can. That’s right, use both armrests for yourself. Spread your feet out until you make contact with the passenger next to you. Of course you are going to recline your seat with saying anything — slam — right into the knees of the guy behind you.

5) Now, when the plane taxies to the gate, push your way back to where you stowed some of your stuff, and then push your way forward to get back to your seat. Then, try to beat the passengers across the row into the aisle, so you can leave the jet 15 seconds faster than them. And be sure to complain about something on your way out.

You’re never going to fly this airline again, you say? Great. Can you start today?

TIME Business

The Knee Defender Is Cheating—And Of Course Guys Love It

No Leg Room
Getty Images

One person should not have the right to determine his own destiny while the rest of us suffer

If you have been busy following real news about people with real problems you might not know that on Sunday, on a flight between Newark and Denver, a woman dumped a cup of water on a man sitting behind her when he prevented her from reclining her seat back with a device called a Knee Defender.

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the man who purchased the Knee Defender and the woman who reclined her airplane seat into the knee defender and subsequently dumped a cup of water on his head are both total jerks. Anyone who can’t control themselves 40,000 in the air and causes stress for their fellow passengers and flight attendants needs to be alerted to the whole “other people in the world” thing. That said, the Knee Defender guy is probably more of a jerk than the woman who reclined. Why? Well, this is perhaps a bit of a sophomoric defense. But…

He Started It.

If you made a list of things you’d expect to see on an airplane, among “fellow travelers,” “suitcases” and “small packets of nuts,” you would also very likely list “reclining seats.” Reclining seats are to be expected, a known entity. They are part of the Social Contract.

What is not part of the Social Contract? The Knee Defender. The Knee Defender has only been around since 2003. Justin Bieber is older than the Knee Defender, and only slightly more obnoxious. When you buy an airline ticket, you think, Oh, maybe I will watch a show about giraffes on the Discovery Channel. Or, maybe I will drink tomato juice. Or, maybe I will sit next to my future wife. Or, maybe I will sit next to someone who smells. But you don’t think, Maybe the person behind me will have a little plastic device with its own key that keeps the seat from reclining, because why shouldn’t one person have the right to determine his own destiny while the rest of us suffer?

Buying a Knee Defender is cheating. It is like insider trading, but worse, because not everyone expects to get rich. Everyone does expect to recline.

Another thing about the Knee Defender that sucks: its tagline (“Standing Up For The Right Of The Tall Guy to Sit Down”). I can just hear the company spokesperson(man) saying, “Women also buy the Knee Defender,” and I am sure that, indeed, the company has five or six female customers. But the fact that “guy” is in the tagline, well, it’s clear that the target market is a man who is absolutely horrified that he might have to be uncomfortable for a few hours, i.e. men.

Putting a giant thing up in the sky that moves through the air and needs to be scheduled in such a way that it doesn’t run into other giant things in the sky is complicated and expensive. I am not going to say that the airlines are our friends, but I think they have a lot to deal with. Gas costs a lot. Employees cost a lot. Weather happens. And you can’t ever make everyone happy.

Yes, the seats on airplanes are very small. I don’t think anyone would argue with that, except of course people who fly First Class all the time, and they are too busy complaining about paying taxes to complain about air travel. But air travel is mostly a miracle and a privilege. You can get from coast to coast in five hours, and you can do so because you have at least some disposable income. We’ve gotten so used to it, however, that we forget how amazing it is.

I can just hear the Knee Defender guy right now: So what am I supposed to do then? Just be squished for five hours? Well, until there’s a better solution, yes, squished—just like the rest of us. When it gets really bad, just think about how the Donner Party crossed the country. Now that is uncomfortable.

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