In which we present a regular round-up of news from the world of Grown-up Travel
Travellers fake disabilities to skip airport queues
An increasing number of air travellers are faking disabilities to skip queues at security, check-in and departure gates, according to airport and airline staff.
Passengers with reduced mobility (PRM) are entitled to free assistance, and are permitted to cut queues at the airport.
Support can be requested at the time of booking, or during check-in, but passengers are not required to present proof of disability, prompting unscrupulous able-bodied travellers to exploit the policy.
The practice is becoming so common that airline staff have coined the phrase “miracle flights” to describe how some travellers require a wheelchair to board the aircraft, but depart without it.
“We’d say there was a miracle because they all needed a wheelchair getting on, but not getting off,” Kelly Skyles, an American Airlines flight attendant told the New York Times. “Not only do we serve beverages and ensure safety — now we’re healing the sick.”
She added that disabled travellers are usually the first to board the aircraft, but the last to depart, meaning the deception only benefits the passenger on departure, not arrival.
Evelyn Danquah, who provides PRM assistance for Delta Air Lines, said passengers in long queues will often request help, while some will even attempt to look more convincing by walking with a limp. “When they see that the line is so long,” she added, “they just ask for a wheelchair.”
A Birmingham Airport worker, who asked to remain anonymous, told the Sunday Times: “I’ve seen people sail through security in wheelchairs, then watched them wandering around the shops before being driven to the gate.”
Where to go, what to miss in Europe
Life is busy and vacation time is precious. With so little time to plan, the pressure is on to make all the right choices when planning a trip. But how to select the right destination? It ultimately depends on your interests, your tastes — and what your experienced travel writer tells you.
It’s my job to sort through all the travel-industry superlatives and “top 10” lists. Readers naturally want to know the “Best,” but it’s just as important to know the “Worst.”
With that in mind, I’ve pulled together a round robin of my candid opinions on the best and worst European destinations. Here goes:
Let’s start with the British Isles and its dullest corner, southern Scotland. It’s so boring that the Romans decided to block it off with Hadrian’s Wall. But don’t skip Hadrian’s Wall; it covers history buffs like me with goose bumps (or goose pimples, as the English say).
London, York, Bath and Edinburgh are the most interesting cities in Britain. Belfast, Liverpool, and Glasgow are quirky enough to be called interesting. Oxford pales next to Cambridge, and Stratford-upon-Avon is little more than Shakespeare’s house — and that’s as dead as he is.
Extra caution is merited in southwest England, a minefield of tourist traps. The British are masters at milking every conceivable tourist attraction for all it’s worth. Stay away from booby traps like the Devil’s Toenail (a rock that looks just like … a toenail), Land’s End (you’ll pay, pay, pay) and cloying Clovelly (a one-street knickknack town selling useless goodies).
Tune out the hype around Ireland’s Blarney Stone (slobbered on by countless tourists to get the “gift of gab”), Spain’s Costa del Sol resorts and the French Riviera in July and August. These are among Europe’s most overrated spots.
Geneva, one of Switzerland’s largest and most sterile cities, gets the “nice place to live but I wouldn’t want to visit” award. It’s pleasantly situated on a lake — just like Buffalo is. While it’s famous, name familiarity is a rotten reason to go somewhere. If you want a Swiss city, see Bern or Luzern instead.
Germany’s famous Black Forest disappoints more people than it excites. If it were all Germany offered, it would be worth seeing. For Europeans, any large forest is understandably a popular attraction. But I’d say the average North American visitor who’s seen more than three trees in one place would prefer Germany’s Romantic Road and Bavaria, or the Rhine and Mosel country — all high points that cut the Black Forest down to stumps.
Memorable movie locations in San Francisco
The spot where Jimmy Stewart saved Kim Novak in Vertigo is at Fort Point, just under the base of the Golden Gate Bridge.
A few miles down the bay is Alcatraz, where Nicolas Cage and Sean Connery prevented missiles from launching and Clint Eastwood may or may not have escaped. Up on shore, there’s Coit Tower, City Hall, the Transamerica Pyramid, all those hills that have been the setting for so many chase scenes.
Filled with iconic landmarks, breathtaking scenery and a wide range of locations, San Francisco has a long history as a favorite site for filmmakers – and the movie buffs who want to see the places where their favorite scenes were filmed.
“So many people are so familiar with the icons, with the landmarks of San Francisco,” said Bryan Rice, owner of San Francisco Movie Tours. “You can show the Golden Gate Bridge, you can show the Transamerica Pyramid in the background, show these different places where people are familiar with and it draws people in.”
The Bay Area’s moviemaking history goes back to the beginning of film, to Eadweard Muybridge’s study of a horse galloping in Palo Alto, widely regarded as the first motion picture ever made.
Charlie Chaplin’s movies and many of the first silent films were shot near San Francisco, along with parts of The Jazz Singer, the first “talkie” released in 1927.
Alfred Hitchcock loved shooting in the Bay Area, as did George Lucas and Clint Eastwood.
It’s easy to see why: The bay, the bridge, the landmarks, and a variety of elevations for interesting angles to shoot from. Locations are diverse: downtown, the waterfront, the Painted Ladies Victorian homes, Chinatown, the gritty Tenderloin. Film noir can be shot in the fog; a screwball comedy can bounce along hilly streets. Many films shot in San Francisco are written for the city, so it, in a sense, becomes a character in the movie.
Is this the most relaxing airport in the world?
“Please hurry – or I’ll miss my flight,” I plead with a taxi driver early one steamy morning as I rush from Colombo’s Galle Face Hotel.
“Where are you flying?” asks the still-sleepy driver after we travel a few blocks and I tell him I’m headed for Kandy.
We’ve raced along back roads at breakneck speed but now, in dawn’s half-light, he suddenly hits the brakes.
“Don’t worry,” he says, in an attempt to be reassuring. “We have plenty of time.”
I’d wrongly assumed I’d be going to the Sri Lankan capital’s Bandaranaike International Airport. It may be one of the region’s best but getting there can take more than an hour in morning and evening traffic.
Instead, after a mere 10-minute drive, we stop just beyond downtown’s edge at the entrance to Gangaramaya Temple in a district called Peliyagoda.
The temple – a place of pilgrimage since the 1800s – is one of this predominantly Buddhist city’s most revered.
Clearly, I decide, the cabbie has made a time-wasting mistake at a time when every minute counts. Why would he be taking me to a temple that’s firmly on the tourist trail?
We drive slowly up a driveway between Buddhist statues and giant tropical trees. I spot a sign pointing to the air taxis’ check-in desk. So, we’ve come to the right place.
After initially worrying that I’d miss my flight, I find I now have 20 minutes to spare. In front of me is the lazily flowing Kelani River, Sri Lanka’s fourth-longest, which is used as a runway by seaplanes belonging to Sri Lankan Air Taxis.
A friend – well-travelled in Asia but who hates airports, which she describes as noisy shopping malls where hustle and bustle is combined with too-pervasive security and confusing self-service procedures – ranks Peliyagoda’s temple one of her favourite places of arrival or departure.
“It’s the world’s wackiest airport,” she insists. “But I love it. Because it’s in the grounds of a Buddhist temple it’s so beautifully soothing and quiet. There’s no terminal – in fact, you almost forget you’re at an airport.”