Monthly Archives: April 2017

Information About Family Fun in Boston

“Huzzah!” we all shouted, hurling boxes of tea overboard into BostonHarbor, egged on by an actor dressed in 18th-century Colonial garb. A huzzah-inducing (or not) election season was around the corner, and I had decided to immerse my school-age kids in a little American history by taking them to the city at the heart of the revolutionary fervor that gave birth to these United States.

So we boarded replicas of the Beaver and the Eleanor — ships rebels invaded on the night of December 16, 1773, to protest Britain’s insufferable tax on their tea. They unloaded some 342 chests of it into the harbor.

We didn’t mind that the tea we dumped was really just empty boxes tied to the ship’s side so they could be hauled back up for repeated dumping. “Tonight we are joined together to end tyranny!” our leader cried, managing to stoke up a bit of giddy patriotic fire in kids and adults alike.

After a post–tea party good night’s sleep, we tackled a section of the Freedom Trail, the 2.5-mile route through the city that includes 16 historic sites at the heart of the revolutionary story. It winds through a bustling downtown to Charlestown on Boston Harbor.

We signed up for a 90-minute walking tour with the Freedom Trail Foundation, starting at historic Faneuil Hall and ending a little more than a half-mile away at Boston Common, the nearly 50-acre public park where British troops quartered in 1775.

Our guide (“Prudence,” in frock and bonnet) led us to the site of the 1770 Boston Massacre by the Old State House, and to John Hancock’s and Paul Revere’s graves in the Granary Burying Ground.

After lunch, we rejoined the Freedom Trail to see Old North Church (“One if by land …”) and Paul Revere’s house in the North End.

Boston is arguably best experienced on foot — if walking is not for you, there are also daily trolley tours — and you could walk the Freedom Trail in a day.

But we chose to save the final section, in Charlestown — with the USS Constitution and Bunker Hill, site of the 1775 “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes!” battle — for another time. We spent the late afternoon exploring the shops and ice cream vendors at Faneuil Hall. There’s such a deep pool of history here that a weekend allows for only a toe dipping. I’ll bring the kids back — after I’ve tried to explain U.S. electoral politics to them.

Travel Tips

  • Hit the ground ready
  • Reserve a table at Union Oyster House, billed as America’s oldest restaurant, to try “chowdahs.”
  • For more great getaway ideas, go to travel.aarp.org/weekend-getaways
  • Buy Steve Gladstone’s guide to the Freedom Trail online

Should You Know About Surprising Airline Rules

Unless all your devices have been on airplane mode, you’ve seen the video of a passenger being dragged off a United Airlines flight so his seat could be given to one of the carrier’s employees.

United’s CEO initially defended the forced — and bloody — removal, saying the airline has a right to bump passengers even though they paid for their tickets and were already seated. For many consumers, this was a shocking education on passenger rights — or lack of them.

“There are hundreds of rules that are listed in different documents that nobody reads,” says Rick Seaney, CEO of FareCompare, a travel information website. “It’s like your Apple phone. It asks you, ‘Do you agree to the terms?’ and it’s a 60-page document. Who is going to read that before they press ‘yes’?”

You’ll find the rules are spelled out in each airline’s “contract of carriage” or “conditions of carriage.” They vary from carrier to carrier. Here are some of them:

Overselling and bumping The practice of selling more tickets than there are available seats is legal. Airlines have been allowed to overbook to financially protect themselves against passengers who don’t show up and then claim a refund. Empty seats cost airlines money. Carriers also are permitted to bump passengers if too many of them show up.

In this recent case, the flight was fully booked — not oversold — when four United crew members tried to get to their destination by bumping passengers. Typically, airlines will first offer a financial incentive. They can offer any amount to people who voluntarily give up their seat, starting, say, with a $100 voucher for a future flight.

Under federal requirements, domestic passengers who are involuntarily bumped can receive up to $1,350 — and get it in cash. (You are most likely to be involuntarily bumped if you’re not part of the airline’s loyalty program, you purchased a cheap ticket and checked in close to takeoff, Seaney says.)

But this overselling practice is no longer needed, Seaney says. Years of experience and computer technology help airlines forecast cancellations, he says. Plus, now that some airlines charge a $200 fee to change a flight — about the cost of many tickets — it’s rare for passengers not to show up, he says.

United’s offer didn’t receive any takers, so the airline said it randomly selected seated passengers to be involuntarily bumped. One man balked and was dragged off.

“Once a pilot, flight attendant or gate agent says you are going to be removed from a plane, there is zero tolerance for [resistance] in the age of terrorism,” Seaney says.

“It should have never got to that situation,” he adds, saying the airline could have made a more generous offer before anyone boarded. It may have cost United a couple thousand dollars, but it would have saved the airline tens of millions of dollars in bad PR, he says.

“You’re wearing that?”: Airlines can prevent you from traveling on their planes if what you are wearing is deemed inappropriate. United, again, made headlines last month when it stopped two teens from embarking because the girls wore leggings. The girls were flying on a type of ticket for United employees and their dependents, but the airline told the New York Times that a dress code applies to all travelers.

The rules are vague, and it’s up to individual airline employees to decide whether you violate them, Seaney says. “They are the judge and jury. Definitely, certain people have different moral codes than others,” he says.

Size matters: As with attire, airline staffers have discretion on whether you’re taking up too much room and must buy another seat. (Some airlines, though, will seat “passengers of size” next to an empty seat if it’s available without charging them extra, Seaney says.)

Pay up front: Make a purchase through a retailer, say Amazon, and the retailer won’t charge it to your credit card until the item is shipped. But airplane tickets are considered contracts, Seaney says, so the charge will appear on your credit card at the time of booking — even though your flight may be months away.

And what if you are entitled to a refund for a canceled flight? Instead of crediting your account immediately, airlines can wait up until two billing cycles to refund your money, Seaney says.

Broken items: If you place electronics or other valuable items in your checked luggage and they break in transit, you’re out of luck. They aren’t covered by the baggage insurance, and you won’t be compensated.

Lost luggage: You are entitled to compensation if your luggage is lost or damaged. But you’ll get much more if this luggage problem occurs on a domestic flight — which comes under federal regulations — than on an overseas flight that’s governed by international law, says George Hobica, founder of Airfarewatchdog.com, a travel information website.

If you are traveling overseas and concerned about not being adequately compensated for lost luggage, consider purchasing insurance for checked bags from the airlines, Hobica says.

No guarantees: Transportation is not guaranteed — and neither are many other features of flying, Hobica says. “Most contracts say, ‘We don’t guarantee to get you there on time. We don’t guarantee that you will have a particular seat on the plane. We are not obligated to serve you,’” he says.

Of course, there are many more rules on air rights that would be useful for travelers to know. Hobica suggests that consumers at least once in their lives read an airline’s “contract of carriage.”

“Do it while they’re not listening to the safety demo,” he says.

Great Travel Deal Before It Vanishes

The clock is ticking on one of the best travel deals around for seniors: On Aug. 28, the cost of a lifetime pass to our national parks for those 62 and older will jump from $10 to $80.

That means you only have a few weeks remaining to lock in your $10 lifetime pass to more than 2,000 sites and parks across the country that are managed by the National Park Service. Those who purchase the passes before Aug. 27 will never have to pay an additional fee to visit any of the national parks, according to the NPS.

Passes can be purchased online for an additional service fee of $10 or at any of the parks without the extra charge. Passes also can be purchased through the mail, though applications must be postmarked by Aug. 27 to secure the $10 price.

The park service has offered the lifetime senior pass for $10 since 1994. It covers all entrance, day-use and vehicle fees, and provides discounts for things such as tours and campsites. At a site that charges per-person fees, pass holders can bring along three other adults for free. The price increase is part of a larger move to pay for major projects and enhanced services.

Seniors can still opt to buy an annual pass for $20. Those who purchase an annual pass for four straight years can convert their pass to a lifetime senior pass.

Even with the 700 percent price increase, the park service says the lifetime pass is still quite a bargain for those who purchase one. Single park-admission fees to the most popular sites — which include the Grand Canyon, Great Smoky Mountains and Yosemitenational parks — can run as much as $30.

“If a senior visits three of the $30 parks, she or he has already saved money,” NPS spokesperson Kathy Kupper said last month. “Plus, the pass allows those traveling with seniors to enter the park with them.”

In late 2016, Congress approved legislation, the National Park Service Centennial Act, that raises fees and sets up an endowment to help pay for projects and visitor services.

The price increase is intended to generate additional revenue, improve the visitor experience and provide more volunteer opportunities in parks across the country.