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Flying Safer in 2015 and National Parks Go Hollywood: The View from AFAR

Plus: American sues Gogo, and a new road to the top of the world

The airline industry provided the most interesting travel news of the week with the announcement that the U.S. and Cuba will officially restore air travel. Of course other news—like Pee-wee Herman!—grabbed headlines, too, and we’ve summarized all of the juiciest tidbits for you here. As always, if you have questions or comments about what you read here, please Tweet them to us at @AFARmedia. And please share with friends!

IATA: Flying safer in 2015

According to a report released this week by the International Air Transport Association, commercial travel is the safest it’s been in a while. The 2015 global jet accident rate was just one major accident for every 3.1 million flights, which, while not quite as good as the rate achieved in 2014, was still 30 percent better than the previous five-year rate (from 2010-2014). More than 3.5 billion people flew safely on 37.6 million flights in 2015, with 31.4 million flying by jet, 6.2 million flying by turboprop. Finally, the report noted that 2015 saw only four accidents, and that all of these accidents involved smaller turboprop aircraft. Given these stats, it looks like commercial flights continue to be one of the safest modes of transportation around. 

National Park celebration movie debuts

The National Park System turns 100 this year, and the National Park Service is celebrating by debuting an IMAX film for the ages. The film, titled, “National Parks Adventure,” was first screened late last week and is already getting rave reviews. Narrated by Robert Redford, the movie follows a trio of adventurers, led by elite climber and mountaineer Conrad Anker, through some of the country's most magnificent park landscapes and natural wonders. Director Greg McGillivray, co-founder of McGillivray Freeman Films, told CNN that the film is designed to make people feel like they have teleported to each of the destinations. “It’s about as close to virtual travel as it gets,” he said. Even without the film, the park service is already at a high point in its history. Visits to the more than 400 national park “units” are at an all-time high: The park system set an attendance record with 292.8 million visits in 2014, and 2015 is expected to top 300 million.

Air carriers hike fares…again

This week many of the country’s biggest airlines completed their second fare hike of year—a bump of about $6 on each round-trip. According to a story in the Los Angeles Times, JetBlue started the fare increase, and Delta, United, American, Air Canada and WestJet promptly followed suit. This hike came after an earlier price bump of $6 per round-trip in January. The LA Times story quoted Rick Seaney, founder of the airfare-monitoring site FareCompare, as saying the latest increases are the carriers' way of seeing how high they can raise prices before travelers revolt by postponing or canceling air travel plans.

Trailer out for Pee-wee Herman travel movie

Pee-wee Herman is back in a new film coming next month, and according to the trailer, the flick is going to be a travel saga for the ages. We don’t know much yet about “Pee-wee’s Big Holiday,” but from the trailer, the new film appears to chronicle P.W.’s experiences on a road trip across the country. (It also stars a muscley Joe Manganiello, FWIW.) Though previous Pee-wee films have featured the gray-suited character having extraordinary adventures (remember The Alamo?), it seems this movie reboots the character’s story, making him someone who has never left his tiny hometown. Whatever the narrative, any travel movie is a good one for us. The film debuts March 18 at SXSW Festival in Austin, Texas, then streams live on Netflix later that night. We know we’re excited, but what are you?

 

Americans to spend $475B on vacations in 2016

Travelers from the United States will spend about $475 billion on vacations this year, at least according to a recent survey conducted for currency exchange company Travelex. The survey, which was released last week (and covered by TravelPulse), looked at responses from 2,000 Americans. According to the results, 95 percent of respondents plan to take at least one vacation this year, spending an average of $2,041 on the trip. The survey also looked at whether travelers prefer booking hotel rooms or vacation rentals and found that nearly one-third (31 percent) of respondents said they would book a hotel while just four percent will stay in a vacation rental. Finally, according to Travelex, a startling 29 percent of respondents said that their dream vacation would take them out of this world—and into space.

American sues Gogo for slow WiFi

Gogo inflight WiFi might be disappearing on American Airlines flights. The carrier, which has offered Gogo on regional aircraft and domestic flights, announced this week that it has filed a lawsuit against Gogo for what amounts to breach of contract. According to American, the problem began when American discovered faster and more reliable in-flight WiFi from ViaSat, which currently handles the in-flight WiFi for United airlines, jetBlue, and Virgin America. (While Gogo’s technology is based on an air-to-ground system, ViaSat delivers in-flight WiFi via satellites.) According to the terms of American’s contract, Gogo now has a chance to improve its service and submit a competing offer; if the vendor fails to submit that offer, or if American is unhappy with what is submitted, the carrier can choose to go with a new company. Whatever happens, the plan is good news for travelers who value having access to high-speed Internet on their flights.

Canadian island welcomes Trump refugees

If you’re one of the Americans who is worried about what might happen if Donald Trump wins the presidency, Canada’s Cape Breton Island has your back. Earlier this week, a radio host launched a website welcoming “Trump refugees” to relocate to the Nova Scotia island if the celebrity billionaire wins the election and anyone wants to flee the country in disgust. The deejay, Rob Calabrese, used the site to extol the virtues of island living and of life in Canada in general. He also took aim at Trump's plan to build a wall along the Mexican border, joking that in Cape Breton "the only 'walls' are holding up the roofs of our extremely affordable houses." In a story on CBC News, Calabrese noted that he’s fielded inquiries from a number of people about the site—people asking serious questions about relocation. "I'm hoping to get Cape Breton out in front of as many people as possible," he said. Mission accomplished.

Good reads

Everybody loves end-of-the-world stories, and Peter Kujawinski’s latest piece for The New York Times is just that. The story, titled, “The Road to the Top of the World,” describes Tuktoyauktuk, a remote village in Canada’s Northwest Territories and an idyllic setting to watch caribou and marvel at the Northern Lights. The drama? A new road threatens to change everything. Kujawinski expertly balances destination details with information abut the threat of progress and change. The result is riveting.

Pilgrimages lead to rich travel narratives, and Nancy Davis Kho has crafted a memorable one for WorldHum. In the piece, titled “Road Trip to the Spiritual Assembly,” Kho details the experience of tagging along with an elderly aunt on her annual trip to Western New York, historically a hotbed of Spiritualism (a religion that assumes the physical and spirit worlds are closely connected). The story is a delightful departure in more ways than one.

There are other ways to connect with the dead, and author Mike Gerrard chronicled one for BBC Travel. His piece, (oddly) titled “What you didn’t know about Elvis,” proffers a slice-of-life anecdote about connecting with Elvis Presley through a chance encounter with one of The King’s best friends at a restaurant in Tupelo, Mississippi. We dare you to read the story and resist the urge to play an Elvis tune in your head.

  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.