Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Manila's latest colorum taxi scam

Rush Hour
Light traffic in Manila
creative commons, wingmarc on Flickr
In late September, a new Manila colorum taxi scam emerged, targetting Manila Ninoy Aquino International Airport passengers. 'Colorum' is a Filipino slang term used to refer to illegal vehicles.The incident occured in Makati, one of the 16 cities that make up Metro Manila.

In this latest Manila taxi scam, while travelling, the car's motor suddenly conks out, forcing the driver to pull over. After checking under the hood, the driver beckons for his passenger to get out, to observe or assist in some way.

Once the passenger is outside the taxi, the driver gets back in, miraculously starts the engine, and speeds off with the passenger's luggage and possessions, leaving the passenger stranded.

The entire incident is facilitated by a hidden switch which the driver uses to turn the engine off and on.

Tip: whatever happens, do not get out of your taxi, or if you must, take your valuables with you! Better yet, stick to official taxis.

There has been a crackdown on colorum vehicles (taxis, buses) in Manila since August 2014, taking hundreds of vehicles off the road.

Related resources:

Friday, 17 October 2014

Headed to one of the 10 most dreaded?

The visually stunning architecture of the immense Hajj Terminal at
Jeddah KAIA Airport, built to handle 80,000 pilgrims simultaneously
(the holes in the roof elements allow natural air-conditioning).
Unfortunately it's still crowded and uncomfortable inside.
(creative commons, FoxyGuy on Flickr)

Yesterday, Sleeping in Airports announced the results of their Best Airports of 2014 and Worst Airports of 2014.

Inspired by the Worst list, our sister-site, LayoverIdeas.com, wrote a corresponding blog post of layover ideas, in case you are headed to one of these famously dreaded airports:

1. Islamabad Benazir Bhutto International Airport (ISB)
2. Jeddah King Abdulaziz International Airport (JED)
3. Kathmandu Tribhuvan International Airport (KTM)
4. Manila Ninoy Aquino International Airport (MNL)
5. Tashkent International Airport (TAS)
6. Paris Beauvais International Airport (BVA)
7. Frankfurt Hahn International Airport (HHN)
8. Milan Bergamo International Airport (BGY)
9. Berlin Tegel International Airport (TXL)
10. New York LaGuardia International Airport (LGA)

Click here to read Layover Ideas for the World's Worst Airports.

Enjoy!

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Make your own bed and sleep in it at Westin!

Heavenly Bed in Room 470 at the Westin Maui
Do you feel like making your own Heavenly Bed at Westin?
The Westin Hotel chain is now offering you money to make your own bed!

If you ever plan to spend a night or two at Westin Hotels & Resorts in North America, you will now be offered up to $5.00/day voucher for meals or club points to forego housekeeping. The Make a Green Choice microsite touts the green benefits of the promotion. As Westin is part of the Starwood Hotel & Resorts brand, the club points available for those who opt in are Starwood Preferred Guest (aka SPG) points.

The $5 a day can add up quite quickly, if you are a frequent traveler and spending multiple nights in the same hotel chain. And let's be perfectly honest here - who really needs their room cleaned every day anyhow? There are enough towels in the room to last several days and most of us are quite hygienic to avoid daily bed sheets being changed.

Do I get a treat for making my own bed?
Undoubtedly what Westin is doing will spread amongst other competing hotel chains, where the practice of incentifying customers with discounts, in order to pass on expected hotel services, will become the norm. Arguably, this could be yet another silent war to reduce the costly requirement of human labour in society, but ultimately, in the era of reward points, it will likely be widely popular among consumers.

At Westin, the front desk staff will offer you this incentive once you check-in, but thereafter they place the onus on you to bring down your coupons upon check-out or earlier in order to cash-in. If you forget these coupons in your room, or misplace them somewhere else, then your benefit becomes null and void and the hotel wins free and clear.

The program is also loaded with restrictions. You can't, for example, use your $5 towards an alcoholic drink. While you can use the coupon at the local Starbucks, how far does that $5 go? A small coffee, perhaps?

And how green is printing all those coupons? "If this was a truly green choice there should be an option not to get the cards and for Starwood to just post the points or take $5 off your bill for services. It can't be that hard to do it electronically and it would save paper," argues OasisNYK on  FlyerTalk forums.

Regardless, the truth is in how the program is working out - from the customer's perspective. A quick read of the Make a Green Choice Issues thread in the FlyerTalk forums reveals many inconsistencies, from coupons promised but not delivered and hotels running out of the cards, to inadequate garbage cans for guests to dump their own trash in to promised SPG rewards not assigned. Or how about the room cleaning that takes place despite opting in - or, worse, no room cleaning for guests who opt out of the program entirely? It does seem guests are spending an inordinate amount of time chasing down the supposed benefits of going green.

The hotel's argument is about "making a green choice" but let's get real: ultimately, this about saving money and passing a (small) portion of such reductions onto the consumer. Is it worth it to you as a guest?

Look for Westin Hotels & Resorts to extend their program globally later on next year. Let's hope they make it a whole lot greener (goodbye paper cards?), simpler and consistent before doing so.

Related resources:

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Travel in the time of Ebola

Perhaps a fitting symbol for worldwide sadness about Ebola
Photo: John LeGear, creativecommons (more info)
With all the buzz about Ebola and airport screenings, what's a traveller to do? Is it really OK to be "out there"? In a word, yes.

 If you already travel saavy, you know about - and hopefully practice - road warrior street smarts: wash your hands (frequently, with soap), wipe down surfaces, carry sanitizer (but don't overuse it), drink plenty of sealed bottled water, get plenty of sleep and enjoy your journey.

Weighing in on the subject, is Robert L. Quigley, MD, D.Phil, Regional Medical Director and Vice President of Medical Assistance, Americas Region, International SOS. In his piece, Ebola Outbreak Spreads Across Three Countries: What Do Travelers Need to Know? for @HuffPostTravel, Quigley advises, "For travelers, it means staying away from affected areas, and avoiding contact with people who are sick as well as practicing strict attention to hygiene."

Unless you are travelling to one of the Ebola hot zones in Africa (it's a big continent), then these actions will serve you well. Of course, pay attention to travel advisories for your destination, and check for updates periodically. Common sense will get you further than panic.

DON'T be alarmed if you see overt health screening in an airport. Rather, see this as the authorities taking the necessary measures to protect everyone.

An excuse to buy gloves?
If you tend towards the panic end of the spectrum, then add some face masks and disposable gloves to your backpack. Hopefully, knowing they are there, will help you relax. Heck, pick up a lovely pair of gloves on your travels and wear them whenever you feel like it (who cares how silly you look?). They won't necessarily protect you how you imagine they will, but if they keep you from giving in to panic, then fine, whatever it takes.

And if you do feel yourself starting to get run down, take it as a sign to take time out - get a decent place to stay, curl up with a book, eat well and rest. Then hit the road again. Your immune system will thank you.

In her piece for @Forbes, Ebola, Erupting Volcanoes, Terrorism: Travel Tips For Scary Times, author Lea Lane brings much needed perspective, "The bottom line is to keep traveling: using your head, trusting your gut, controlling as much as you can — and realizing that you can’t control everything."

We couldn't agree more.

"Travel should continue and be an exciting adventure. With the right precautions in place, it should also be a safe endeavor," says Quigley. 


Related resources:

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Renting diesel in North America

By Todd Romaine
A cheaper alternative when renting cars in North America is….DIESEL!

The Diesel engine and fuel were invented by the
German mechanical engineer Rudolf Diesel (1858–1913).
Read about his mysterious disappearance and death.
When most of us think of diesel vehicles, we think of large pick-up trucks with Albertan or Texan license plates rolling down the highway making a lot of noise. The driver possibly wearing a white tank top, goatee and those cheap white framed sunglasses with a Calvin & Hobbs sticker on the back window.

Let’s be honest here, most of us only have limited experiences with diesel. Admittedly, my only experience was when I accidentally filled up my car with diesel at a local gas station. A hundred dollars later at the service station and the issue was embarrassingly rectified.

My short lived conviction at the time that combining gas with diesel resulted in a ‘super fuel’ was short-lived. Not many people in North America drive diesel vehicles, though they are on the increase. Many of us have been deterred by getting such a vehicle because naturally we are worried about the lack of readily available businesses offering diesel fuel. That being aside, people are becoming increasingly cost conscious when it comes to vehicles and especially car rental agencies.

Hertz Car Rental in the United States has been testing out the consumer market to see if people would consider renting a diesel car that has better fuel mileage than a traditional gasoline one. The other selling feature, arguably, is that using a diesel vehicle is better for the environment (using less fuel to get from A to B than a gas guzzler).


If you can't see the Hertz Green Traveler Collection video above, click here to view it on YouTube.

So far, so good, with Hertz locations offering diesel expanding in the USA, and into Canada as well. Hertz markets these cars as part of its Green Traveler Collection.

If you decide to rent from Hertz, and are interested in their diesel fleet, make sure you inquire about their Volkswagen Jetta TDI. Anticipate other rental car agencies to follow suit if there is sustained interest from the cost conscious public.

If you go down this path, make sure you avoid my mistake of turning your brain off at a gas station and assuming gas and diesel are interchangeable!

Related resources

Saturday, 13 September 2014

You can't plan to visit Midway Atoll Airport

Midway Atoll Airport is more important than you might guess
Where, exactly, IS Midway Atoll Airport?

Midway Atoll, an unincorporated territory of the United States, is situated in the North Pacific Ocean, roughly equidistant between North America and Asia. Longitudinally, the atoll lies almost halfway around the world from Greenwich, UNited Kingdom. Midway Atoll is situated 259 kilometres (161 miles) east of the International Date Line.

Not to be confused with Chicago's Midway Airport (MDW), Midway Atoll Airport (MDY) is located on Sand Island, the largest of the two biggest islands in the atoll. TtIt's not an airport you should expect to ever visit.

MDY airport plays an important role as an emergency diversion point for what is referred to as Extended range Twin Operations, or ETOPS. In layman's terms, ETOPS diversion points provide a safe place to land an aircraft experiencing difficulties while flying over vast oceans.

It is occassionally used, as recently as July 2014.

It happened when a Guam-bound United Airlines Boeing 777 from Honolulu began experiencing electrical problems. The incident began with the smell of electrical smoke. Shortly after, the radar failed and smoke began to fill the cockpit. Thankfully, the pilot was able to make a safe emergency landing at Midway Atoll. The passengers departed, flying back to Hawaii just a few hous later, on a replacement plane [read the story].

In another recent incident, in July 2011, a Delta Boeing 747-400, enroute from Honolulu to Osaka, made an emergency landing at Midway Atoll when the cockpit's windshield cracked. Although the plane hit a couple of birds on its approach, the pilot made a safe landing.While the runway could handle the aircraft, the tiny airport was not equipped to handle a 747, and did not have roll-up stairs that would reach the doors! While the passengers waited onboard for a replacement aircraft to arrive, the resourceful workers quickly built some wooden stairs on top of existing stairs to literally fill the gap. Less than 24 hours later, the airport was quiet again, the passengers arriving at their destination 16 hours late on the replacement plane, and the original plane had also departed [read the full story].
MDY is next to the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge

More interesting facts:
  • Midway was the focal point of the Battle of Midway, one of the most important battles of the Pacific Campaign in World War II
  • The Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge encompasses 590,991.50 acres (239,165.77 ha) of land and water (mostly water)
  • The refuge and most of its surrounding area are part of the larger Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument
  • Midway Atoll NWR is the world's largest nesting albatross colony  
For more on Midway Atoll Airport (aka Henderson Field), visit our Midway Atoll Airport (MDY) guide.

Related resources

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Geological explosions to rock Iceland and disrupt your air travel?

Iceland's Bardarbunga volcano
By Todd Romaine

Things are brewing in cold, rugged Iceland. Another earthquake hit the Icelandic volcano (Bardarbunga) earlier today. This is not to be confused with the other volcano - Eyjafjallajokull) that erupted back in 2010. This recent shake was the largest of the multiple earthquakes to hit over the past week, sending out suspicions of a volcanic eruption in the coming days. Such an eruption would disrupt air travel across Europe and possibly North America. Many transcontinental flight hover in and around Icelandic air space and several include regular stops in the capital, Reykjavik.

Eyjafjallajokull's eruption in 2010
Like me, many would think the reason for disrupted travel in the event of a volcanic eruption is that it affects visibility and hence it becomes a safety issue without basic navigation abilities through a thick plume of smoke. But truth be told, volcanic ash contains glass and pulverized rock particles that are bad for airplane engines. Apparently such particles can erode the engine compressor or even solidify on the turbine blades, blocking the engines. That being said, the grounded flight option for 6 straight days like such as occurred in 2010 is unlikely to ever repeat itself again. Airlines have relaxed their policies since such time and increasingly comfortable on flying through ash or deviating around the perimeter of the eruption and its smoke trails. So if this sucker explodes soon, you may be delayed but most likely you will viewing some possible impressive views between North America and Europe or vice versa.

Eyjafjallajokull's ash cloud
And if you are delayed for a day or two, feel free to spend some time exploring (if time permits) in and around your departure city rather than being cramped and stressed at the airport. You may need to extend your car rental which likely can be done over the phone or when you return back to the airport. So keep your eyes frequently on the news and be prepared to have a few buffer days planned for in the event you are temporarily stranded because of an explosion on some remote island in the middle of the North Atlantic!

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Are cross-border car rentals possible?

EU Swiss border post
Swiss border post in Italy
Thinking of renting a car and traversing across several countries?

Well, it is not always as easy as it seems.

Besides USA-Canada-Mexico, parts of Western Europe, and parts of Southern Africa, there are still many complications with cross-border car rentals that will make things difficult, costly or outright impossible.

Rental car agencies are naturally quite concerned with renting their vehicles for travel in countries that have a notorious reputation of theft or damage and, sadly, this includes a good chunk of the world.

Donegal Carrickfin Airport - Rental car - geograph.org.uk - 1174901
Donegal, Ireland car hire
Even if a car rental agency will let you take a vehicle into another country, it will unlikely be their best make and model.

You may find yourself behind the wheel of a small economy car that has limited functionality to traverse in countries with bad roads. An economy car will likely have issues in countries with lots of potholes and lack nearby logistical support to help out a strained car, leaving you at the mercy of the general public for assistance.

Also, a small car will likely show your belongings more on the backseat as you will be cramped with trunk room and this will again attract attention from possible thieves, carjackers etc.

Uruguay rental car vehicle registration plate
Rental car plates in Uruguay are
identified by the word "alquiler"
Another thing to think about is do you really want to tell the next country that you are a foreigner and attract unwanted attention? If you are driving from Hungary into Bulgaria or Romania, or from South Africa into Mozambique, you may elicit unwanted attention (“we need to check your paperwork”) in the forms of frequent traffic stops and bribes from the police.

Bottom line, if you can find alternative transportation, such as a train, then this is your best bet. You can always try to rent a car locally for the country in question versus irregular cross-border journeys. However this is not always realistic based on limited infrastructure in some of these countries, so if you need to drive cross-border here are some things to plan for:
  • Confirm first and foremost you are permitted to drive to another country. This includes the online booking details as well as asking in person once you are picking up your car 
  • You need special insurance to go into another country and this is something the car rental agency will arrange for you beforehand (keep these documents in your glove box and present these to the relevant authorities: highway police, immigration control stops) 
  • Make sure you have an international drivers permit – this will avoid the “you are not authorized to drive in country X” accusation (and the accompanying "we need to be paid off in order to let you drive away" bribe)
  • Inquire about vignettes, or road taxes, (especially in Central & Eastern Europe) that essentially covers off all toll roads – if you don’t get this figured out you could be in for a nasty surprise when dropping off your car or being pulled over by the police 
  • Check out our page on renting How to Protect Yourself When Renting a Car for more tips
Related resources
Ready to book? Click here to book your rental car with IHateTaxis!

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

May the odds be ever in your favour

Where Lady Luck is always welcome: Monte Carlo Casino, Monaco
Architect Charles Garnier, built 1878-79 (image source: wikicommons)

by Todd Romaine

Three recent airline crashes, 462 needless deaths and the notorious missing Malaysian Airlines flight has put a definite scare in both novice and experienced flyers alike. More people have perished in the first 6 months of 2014 in air travel than all of 2013. 

Oddly the safety statistics for flying these days is better than it has been before. One M.I.T. statistics professor indicated that a person could fly every day for an average of 123,000 years before dying in a crash. The mechanical and structural parts of an air plane have become more reliable and navigation more intelligent thereby avoiding other planes and structures due to poor visibility. You have a significant higher possibility of perishing in a car accident where about 1.24 million die on roads worldwide each year, the bulk of this in the developing world where lack of enforcement and traffic etiquette creates needless reckless driving and ensuing fatalities. Even car fatalities in the West are on the consistent decline with better safety features such as air bags, brakes, GPS and the likes. However, how often are car fatalties on the news unless it is involves someone famous, multiple deaths, or it results in some general traffic disturbance. Most car accident fatalties are non-broadcasted lonely journeys devoid of deeper meanings to the general public. They lack the public appetite for group tragedy sensationalism like the Titanic or 9 11. 

What makes people eery about flying recently is that the way planes crash, the collective suffering and death toll, images of mangled and burned bodies, and the associated media coverage of grieving families at the airport. It is this sensationalism that makes some of us rethink the concept of flying altogether. But at the end of the day, most of the alternatives to flying are less safe, more timely and or more expensive. Naturally, we gravitate towards decisions that cost us less and take less time - a byproduct of our DNA perhaps...choosing the path of least resistance. 

So keep flying - the odds are statistically in your favour.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Taxis in Hong Kong

Taxis in Hong Kong are plentiful, clean and efficient - and quite cheap compared to many other large cities.
Hong Kong New Taxi 2013
There are three types of taxis in Hong Kong, easily identified by their colours: red, green and blue. It's important to know the difference, as was highlighted in Week 3 of The Amazing Race Canada's 2nd season!
RED TAXIS (Urban)

The Urban (red) taxis can travel most destinations in Hong Kong and are also the most expensive. Note that on Lantau Island, red taxis are only permitted to go to the airport, Tung Chung and Hong Kong Disneyland.

Byd e6 new territories taxi hong kong
GREEN TAXIS (New Territories)

NT (green) taxis are slightly cheaper than the red ones but are fundamentally confined to rural areas in the New Territories (NT), the airport, and Hong Kong Disneyland.

Toyota Crown Comfort LPG Taxicab (Hong Kong) - Flickr - skinnylawyer
BLUE TAXIS (Lantau)

Lantau (blue) taxis (the cheapest of the three) operate only on Lantau Island (including the airport and Hong Kong Disneyland).

FROM THE AIRPORT

The airport will have taxis with all three colours, however both signs and attendants will make it (relatively) easy for you to make the right choice. If you are unsure, just ask making sure you have your final destination ready.

TO THE AIRPORT

All three taxi types (red, green and blue) serve the airport and Hong Kong Disneyland.

IN THE CITY

Hong Kong Taxi - 10-12-2006 - Cross Harbour Taxi Stand
Cross-harbour taxi stand
What you need to know about taking a taxi in Hong Kong:
  • By law, Hong Kong taxis must take you to your destination, however in practice they tend to ignore this rule if it isn't convenient to them. However unless it is raining extremely hard, then there will be no issue finding another taxi close by to take you.
  • All taxis are equipped with mobile phones and can be reserved and requested via an operator for a token fee of $5 (Hong Kong Dollars), payable to the driver. You are unlikely to need to call a taxi, though, as they are plentiful. 
  • Only during Friday night rush hour in central you might find long lines on taxi stands.
  • The wearing of seat belts is required by law, the driver has the right to refuse to carry the passenger if they fail to comply. In practice this is rarely observed.
  • Drivers are required to provide change for $100 notes, but not for higher denominations.
  • If you only have a $500 or $1,000 note and are going through a tunnel, let the driver know beforehand and he will change it when paying at the toll booth. 
  • Some taxis accept credit cards and Octopus cards to avoid hassles with small change although these are still very rare. If you are unsure, or cannot paid cash, then flash your credit card at the driver before getting in and you'll know if it will be accepted or not.
  • Paying with foreign currency is illegal in China, although some taxi drivers may accept US Dollars for payment, but you will be quoted an unfavourable rate. It is always best to have HK dollars with you.
  • There are no extra late-night charges nor peak-hour surcharges.
  • Luggage carried in the boot ("trunk" in American and Canadian English) will cost you $5 per piece, except for wheelchairs.
  • No charges are levied for travel to/from the airport or within downtown but all toll charges for tunnels are added to the bill. The driver will normally pay on your behalf at the toll booth and you just need to reimburse him at the end of the journey. But you can also just pass the driver the money before the toll booth too.
  • Be aware that crossing the harbour is considered a relatively significant trip, and some taxi drivers may be reluctant to take you. To do this you can stand at a cross-harbour taxi rank (there are not many), by hailing a taxi by making an arm movement like an ocean wave (They will not stop if they don't want to go) or just asking your hotel to call a taxi firm with your destination. Harbour crossing passengers are expected to pay the tolls (add around $70 for your trip).
  • All taxi drivers are required to display inside the vehicle an official name card that includes the driver's photograph and the license plate number. 
  • Unless a taxi has an out of service sign displayed, they are legally required to take you to your destination. 
  • Taxis are required to provide you a receipt upon request.
  • If you think you have been "toured" around the city, or if they refuse to either carry you to your destination or provide for a receipt, you may file a complain to the Transport Complaints Unit Complaint Hotline (Voice mail service after office hours) at 2889-9999.
Tips:
  • Unless you are fluent in Cantonese, it is good practice to get a local person to write the name or address of your destination in Chinese for you to hand to the taxi driver, as many drivers speak limited English.
  • If you wish to take a journey back to your hotel, ask a receptionist for the hotel's business card.
  • It also helps if you have the phone number of your destination, so you can give it to the driver to call there and ask for directions.
  • Nevertheless, even if you don't take these steps, most taxi drivers know enough English to communicate the basics.
  • Be aware that buildings might have an English name used by foreigners and a different English name used by locals. The HSBC building in Central is called "Hong Kong Bank" by taxi drivers for example.
  • Tipping is not expected in taxis but passengers will often round up the fare to the nearest dollar.
  • During a typhoon, when any loss is not covered by insurance, a tip will be expected, or the taxi driver will ask you to pay a surcharge.
  • Read more in our Hong Kong Airport transportation guide's taxi section
Related resources