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Bedbugs Knock Out NBA Star and Amtrak to Allow Pets: The View from AFAR

Plus: Windstar launches foodie cruises, and renting friends in Tokyo

Another week, another batch of the best travel news stories from around the world. As always, if you have any questions or comments about what you read here, please Tweet us at @AFARmedia. And please share this with friends!

NYT Frugal Traveler assignment becomes news

A travel journalist found himself in the middle of a breaking news story this week when the discount bus he was taking exploded into flames in the middle of a ride. The writer, Lucas Peterson, was on Megabus, an intercity service that has gained attention for $1 fares (Peterson paid $11). The incident occurred on the way from Chicago to Milwaukee, and Peterson, the New York Times’ new “Frugal Traveler” columnist, live-tweeted events as they unfolded. He later summarized the entire experience in a blog post. Thankfully, none of the passengers were hurt in the incident. Unfortunately, however, a number of riders lost valuable personal belongings in the fire. Because Megabus carries a maximum liability of $250 per passenger, most of these people will not be able to replace their stuff. (A good reminder that when you travel, you should always carry your most prized possessions with you.)

Hotel bed bugs knockout NBA star

The Skirvin Hilton in Oklahoma City got some unwanted attention this past weekend when Cleveland Cavaliers star Kyrie Irving missed most of his team’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder and blamed his absence on bedbugs. Irving played nine minutes of the game before exiting with what team officials first described as flu-like symptoms. Later, the 6'3", 190-pound Irving noted that he was tired and achy because the bugs had forced him to relocate to his room’s couch to sleep. Hilton Hotels tried to control the debacle swiftly, apologizing for the critters and saying that the bugs were an “isolated incident.” The hotel hadn’t had a bedbug complaint since 2013, so some couldn’t help but wonder if Irving’s claims were legit. Next time you’re out traveling and you wake up hungover from a night out, maybe you could give your boss the bedbug excuse, too.

Air New Zealand to 3D-print aircraft parts

Tray tables of the future are coming to Air New Zealand. The airline announced this week that it has been working with Auckland University of Technology to manufacture fold-down cocktail trays using 3D printing. Pending regulatory approval (of course), it hopes to start installing the components in Business Premier cabins in the next few weeks. According to COO Bruce Parton, the move marks the airline’s first foray into 3D printing, but it will likely not be the last. “Aircraft interiors are made up of tens of thousands of parts,” he said in a press release. “A big advantage of 3D printing is that it allows us to make cost-effective lightweight parts ourselves and to do so quickly without compromising on safety, strength or durability.” 

Windstar partners with James Beard Foundation for foodie cruises

Traveling with Windstar is about to get a lot tastier. The small-ship cruise company just announced that it will partner with the James Beard Foundation (JBF) on three themed cruises this year. Each James Beard Foundation Collection Cruise will feature an accomplished host chef who will cook specials that will supplement the regular on-board menu, lead culinary demos, and take guests on excursions to markets and other foodie hotspots. Each trip also will feature a wine expert and complimentary daily winetastings. Food cruisers can choose from two different itineraries: A 10-day trip through Spain and France that features Maria Hines, owner of Tilth restaurant in Seattle and winner of JBF's Best Chef Northwest award, and an eight-day trip around Spain and Morocco with Chef Michel Nischan, a leader in the sustainable food movement. Promotional rates start at $3,399 per person for the first cruise and $2,199 for the second.

Amtrak allows pets on trains

Pet owners now have another way to travel with their favorite critters: Amtrak. Following a long trial period in the busy Northeast Corridor, the national rail service announced this week that it will welcome pets on nearly all of its trains. The policy change, codified by the Passenger Rail Reform and Investment Act, allows Amtrak to designate at least one car on each train as pet-friendly. But before you grab Garfield and run for the train station, be aware that the new rules are full of fine print. For starters, passengers are permitted one pet each, and the pet—with its carrier—can weigh no more than 20 pounds. (Yes, this means if you have a big dog, or if you wish to travel with a pet emu, you are out of luck.) What’s more, not all trains will accept pets, and some will only accept them on certain days: The Amtrak Auto Train, which runs from Lorton, Virginia, to Sanford, Florida, will continue to be pet-free, and pets will only be permitted to ride the super-fast Acela train (in the Northeast Corridor) on weekends. The fee for taking pets on Amtrak: $25 per animal. Perhaps the best part of the story is what drove the change. According to a report on USA Today’s “Road Warrior Voices” blog, Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA) initiated the legislative change after discovering that he was legally unable to bring his dog Lily on an Amtrak train with him. Now that’s loyalty.

Lufthansa facilitates universal passenger check-in

This week a team inside Lufthansa unveiled technology that could allow passengers to check in on any airline using one central program. The service, dubbed Airline Checkins, facilitates automatic check-ins on more than 100 airlines worldwide by letting members simply forward their booking confirmations. According to an article on Tnooz.com, the free service is the brainchild of the Lufthansa Innovation Hub, the tech development division of the Germany-based airline. We don’t yet know which carriers will be featured on the service, but the article noted that participating airlines will include large and medium-sized carriers. Lufthansa is part of the Star Alliance, so it’s a good bet that other partners, such as United and Air Canada, will be involved. Stay tuned for more details.

Good Reads

Ian Urbina’s most recent feature for The New York Times Sunday magazine is a wonderful introduction to the island republic of Palau. The piece both explains how the local government is fighting illegal fishing in its waters and also paints a vivid and colorful picture of life on Palau. The story has the sort of vivid narrative quality that you find in the very best travel stories. 

We’re firm believers that travel is something that should be available to everybody. So when someone writes about travel for people with disabilities, we listen. This is why we loved Aaron Millar’s recent feature for CNN Travel about Accomable, an Airbnb-style service for disability travel that launched in June of 2015. It’s more of a news story than a literary one, but that’s not the point. We’re just happy to celebrate the focus on disability travel for a change.

Not to toot our own horns, but sometimes we just have to call attention to one of our favorite stories from Afar’s print issues: In this case, it’s Chris Colin’s article about rent-a-friend services in Tokyo (now available online). The story is almost too wacky to be believed, but it’s real, as evidenced by the details Colin weaves throughout the piece. In the end, the author comes to the conclusion that having a friend enhances the solo travel experience considerably. Maybe the Japanese are on to something.

Matt Villano is a freelance writer and editor based in Healdsburg, California. In more than 18 years as a full-time freelancer, he has covered travel for publications including TIME, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Sunset, Backpacker, Alaska Airlines, and more. He is a senior editor for the Expedia Viewfinder blog from Expedia, and writes a monthly food column for Islands magazine. Villano also serves on the board of the Family Travel Association, and blogs about family travel at Wandering Pod. Learn more about him at Whalehead.com.