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Sunday, March 18, 2012

Going Places: Travel news and tips

Overhead bins getting bigger

Airline overhead bins, which have been increasingly stuffed to capacity, are getting bigger.

But the big surprise may be that the airlines offering larger bins aren’t sticking passengers with new fees for the extra space – at least not yet.

Oversize bins can be found on many of American Airlines’ new Boeing 737-800s, which were deployed starting in May with a new interior design. The new overhead bins pivot down and out and can hold as many as 48 more bags per flight than standard bins.

Starting in April, United Airlines plans to replace the bin doors on 152 planes with new ones that curve out, providing more interior space. With the new doors, bins on United’s Airbus A320s will hold 106 typical roll-on bags, up from 64 bags in the traditional bins.

Meanwhile, international passengers will also find bigger storage bins on Delta Air Lines’ Boeing 767-300ER planes, flying on long-haul routes. The bins hold 26 more bags than the old ones, a 23 percent increase.

Conventions on upswing in 2012

It looks as if 2012 is shaping up to be a big year for conventions and conferences.

Room bookings for groups are up nearly 6 percent from February 2012 to January 2013 compared with the same period in 2011-12, according to data from TravelClick, a New York company that provides e-commerce products and services to the hotel industry.

The good news for people who go to conferences and conventions is that daily group rates for the rest of the year are down 1.1 percent, according to TravelClick.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that Charlotte, N.C., has already recorded a 50.3 percent increase in group bookings compared with last year, because the city is scheduled to be the site of the Democratic National Convention the week of Sept. 3.

Another jump in group bookings this year, according to TravelClick, is taking place in Tampa, Fla., where bookings are up 15.1 percent over the same period last year. Tampa is scheduled to host the Republican National Convention the week of Aug. 27.

Group bookings are up 15.3 percent in Houston, which will host several smaller gatherings, including a conference for Microsoft customers and partners, a gathering of oil-and-gas industry representatives and workers who keep the nation’s Starbucks stores dispensing caffeine-fueled drinks.

TSA dismisses scanner video

When an online video gets more than 1 million views, it’s hard to ignore.

That may be the reason the Transportation Security Administration took the unusual step recently to address an online video that purports to show how to circumvent the full-body scanners the TSA has installed at 140 airports across the country.

Jonathan Corbett, a blogger and TSA critic, posted a video titled “How to Get Anything Through TSA Nude Body Scanners” on YouTube and his own blog, www.tsaoutofourpants.wordpress.com.

To prove his method works, Corbett’s video shows him sneaking a small metal box past full-body scanners at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Florida and Cleveland Hopkins International Airport.

“The TSA can’t be that stupid, can they?” Corbett asks in the video.

The TSA responded on its own blog, calling the video “a crude attempt to allegedly show how to circumvent TSA screening procedures.”

The TSA doesn’t dispute that Corbett found a way to sneak items past the screening machines, but added that the scanners are one of many techniques the TSA uses to keep weapons off planes.

The TSA also uses pat-down searches, behavior detection experts, explosive detection units, specially trained dogs and armed federal marshals.

Tourism growth boosts economy

The World Travel & Tourism Council has some cheery economic projections in its latest report: Travel and tourism will grow by 2.8 percent this year, trumping the predicted global economic growth rate of 2.5 percent.

The industry is expected to contribute $2 trillion to the global economy and support more than 100 million jobs.

And when you take wider economic impacts into account, the number jumps to $6.5 trillion and 260 million jobs.

The report forecasts strides and stumbles in specific destinations. Among them:

South and northeast Asia will be the fastest-growing regions in 2012, expanding by 6.7 percent.

After a tumultuous period, Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and North Africa are showing signs of recovery. Morocco, which is perceived as more stable than Egypt and Tunisia, is at the head of the class.

Expect slow growth in the restless Middle East. Of the countries in the region, Qatar is expected to grow fastest.

Interesting trivia: In 2010, Syria attracted almost 15 percent of all international arrivals in the Middle East, just behind Saudi Arabia. It isn’t looking likely to repeat the feat in 2012 so far.

North America and Europe will continue to struggle. In fact, the European Union could experience a decline.

Finding hotels that are family-friendly

There’s enough to worry about on family vacations. Now, you can at least take some of the guesswork out of deciding where to stay.

Parents Magazine evaluated 70 hotel chains for family-friendly aspects such as room layout, children’s programs, baby-sitting services and recreational facilities.

In the budget category ($99-$149 a night), the top chains were Embassy Suites, SpringHill Suites by Marriott, Hyatt House, Residence Inn by Marriott and Holiday Inn.

One step up in the mid-priced group ($150-$249 a night), the magazine liked Loews Hotels & Resorts, Kimpton Hotels, JW Marriott Hotels & Resorts, Omni Hotels & Resorts and Westin Hotels & Resorts.

Check out the explanations behind the rankings at www.parents.com.