In travel news of some importance, a fair number of travel commentators have recently discovered that both domestic and international airfares, economy class, are now running from 12 percent to 20 percent below the levels of last year. The decline is undoubtedly due to the sharply reduced price of aviation fuel, though some of it also reflects a slight drop in the number of Americans traveling to Europe. While fares are supposed to recover next year, the price of air transportation currently has lowered the cost of vacations. Let’s hope that oil remains below $40 a barrel.
▪ Elsewhere in travel, the“privatizers” are again hard at work. Having failed to privatize Social Security some years ago and also failing to privatize the functions of the Transportation Security Administration at airports (they attempted to replace government screeners with profit-seeking corporations), they have now moved to privatize the activities of air traffic controllers. And no less than the Republican chairman of a House appropriations committee, William Shuster, has held up issuing any money for air traffic control until that massive airport operation is replaced by private companies. In view of the fact that, for several decades, not a single airline accident or injury can be blamed on air traffic controllers, we must all urge our representatives in Congress to oppose this effort to replace a well-functioning activity with businessmen operating a corporation.
▪ The headlong rush of the cruise industry to launch ever-more-gigantic cruise ships continues without letup. The latest mammoth vessel to join the world’s fleet is the 4,500 passenger Carnival Vista, which boasts the world’s longest recreational water tube into which passengers can hurtle themselves, as well as an onboard brewery producing made-at-sea beer for all to imbibe. And people sharing my own upset about these developments must now ask themselves the question: Do you want to take a cruise that has been booked by people anxious to try a water tube or a home-brewed beer? Unfortunately, the alternative for thoughtful Americans who enjoy relaxation at sea and interesting fellow passengers is to pay more for one of the smaller “premium” ships that steer clear of water tubes, breweries and 4,500 passengers in one boat.
▪ To no one’s surprise, the two destinations currently recording a sharp uptick in their incoming tourism are Japan and Africa. Japan has recovered from the tsunami of 2011, and its currency has weakened tremendously against the U.S. dollar, making vacations there far more reasonable. Similarly, it’s felt that the outbreak of Ebola in Africa has now been contained, and most African currencies – especially, the South African rand – are now weak against the dollar, causing conditions to be better than ever for a trip to numerous African nations.
Throughout Europe, the various river cruise companies are reported to have conducted training sessions for their personnel throughout the month of March, sessions conducted not aboard the actual river ships but in various cities. All this tends to reveal that hardly anyone books a river cruise that takes place in the winter months, which include March. River cruising apparently is an intensely seasonal experience, taking place from April through October in the main.
Note to the reader: Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip. The information in this column was accurate when it was released, but prices are competitive, sometimes limited and can always change without notice.
Arthur Frommer is the founder of the Frommer’s Travel Guide book series. Find more destinations and read his blog at frommers.com.