Saturday, November 19, 2011

We've Moved!

We've changed our website and moved to a new address! Click here to visit us at our new site!!

Friday, November 18, 2011

NYC Steakhouse Workers Arrested for Fraud

NBC New York: More than two dozen current and former waiters and their associates from some of the city's top steakhouses have been arrested in an alleged identity theft ring, accused of stealing credit card numbers from wealthy customers, NBC New York has learned.

Several suspects are from top city restaurants like Smith and Wollensky, Capital Grille and Wolfgang Steak, as well as Morton’s in Stamford and the Bicycle Club in New Jersey, sources said.

The alleged scam targeted customers who often paid with American Express Black cards and other high-limit credit cards, according to sources.

Law enforcement sources said some restaurant workers used handheld scanners to copy the credit card information as they walked away to process the bill. Later, that information would be sent to leaders of the alleged fraud ring, who would forge new credit cards with the stolen information and test them out on taxis.

If the cards worked, the suspects would go on major shopping sprees, buying up expensive goods like Chanel goods and Jimmy Choo shoes. The thieves would then re-sell the luxury brand items for cash.

Officials estimate profits totaled at least $1 million, sources said.

NYPD officials and District Attorney Cy Vance were expected to announce details of the case Friday. Many of the suspects are also expected to be arraigned in Manhattan criminal court.

An NYPD spokesman declined to comment Thursday, as did a Vance spokeswoman.

Managers at Smith & Wollensky, the Bicycle Club and Capital Grille restaurants declined to comment.

A manager at one Wolfgang’s restaurant said he believed all workers on the schedule Thursday had arrived and was unaware of any law enforcement allegations against any worker.

A manager at Morton's also referred calls to its corporate headquarters.

Officials stress restaurant operators had no knowledge of the alleged crimes by the few employees.

Volcano Eruption Sparks Tourism

Mount Nyamuragira 
Mail and Guardian: Its status as the battleground in "Africa's world war", and possibly the worst place on Earth to be a woman, makes it arguably the world's most counterintuitive holiday destination.

Yet tourism in the Democratic Republic of Congo's ravaged east is doubling by the year as intrepid travellers set out to witness its natural wonders.

From a standing start of zero in 2008, when war was still raging, Virunga National Park's visitor numbers climbed to 550 in 2009, then 1 800 in 2010 with an expected 3 800 for 2011. As a result, this year the oldest national park in Africa expects to raise more than $1-million.

Among the attractions on offer are an overnight trek to the eruption of the Mount Nyamuragira volcano and tracking through forests to glimpse critically endangered mountain gorillas.

In a sign of growing confidence, Virunga is also due to open its first tourist lodge on January 1, with guests paying $200 a night in 12 bungalows boasting lava-rock walls and thatched roofs.

"Clearly it's not Spain we're trying to sell," said Cai Tjeenk Willink, the park's business development officer. "The good thing is we have high-quality attractions here: the mountain gorillas, the active volcanos, safaris with elephants, lions and leopards, the lake, a lowland forest and one of the highest mountain ranges in Africa. We have a lot to offer."

Willink said that most visitors were from Belgium, the former colonial power, and about one in 10 is British.

The Nyamuragira volcano began erupting on November 6 and has several lava fountains spewing up to 200m into the air, with lava flowing slowly north into an uninhabited area of the park.

The park, a Unesco world heritage site, has set up a tented camp in a safe area close to Nyamulagira, where visitors can stay overnight.

Let Delta Haul Your Christmas Tree

Jaunted: If you’re off to grandma’s house next week to celebrate Thanksgiving and you want to bring a Christmas tree back home with you—no problem! Delta will gladly carry your tree under the belly of the plane, and in fact, they’ve been doing this for a few years now and are the only domestic carrier to do so—we think.

Delta is hardly an extension of Santa's sleigh, so obviously there’s some special rules and regulations when it comes to checking a Christmas tree. First, we’re thinking that you might need to remind the agent at check-in that this is totally normal, as this is probably not one of Delta’s most widely used policies. Next, be sure to get ready for plenty of stares from fellow passengers and well as those TSA folks that seem to always be hanging around.

Once it's time to check the tree just remember that freshly cut trees are considered limited-release baggage, so that pretty much means you just need to accept whatever damage might occur. So please don’t flip out when there’s a couple pine needles missing once you get home. It’s a domestic option only, so no American trees overseas please.

Just like its fellow cargo companions, your tree is subject to all sorts of size restrictions and baggage rules. We guess the tree counts as you first checked bag, so be sure to carry-on if you’re dreaming of bringing a tree along as your traveling companion. Finally, you might need to make a quick trip to Home Depot or the local garden center, as your tree needs to be wrapped up in burlap or something similar for its holiday flight.

Hotel Dispenser Systems

Hotel Chatter: To dispense or not to dispense? We're talking about hotel toiletry dispensers, that is. We (and a few of our readers) have said before that dispensers are cool so long as there are some good products in them. Fortunately, if you are visiting these hotels along the West Coast, you'll be encountering some good "tropical" stuff from Tommy Bahama.

The Acqua Hotel, Hotel FIVE, The Maxwell Hotel, University Inn, and Watertown Hotel have all added gallon dispensers of Tommy Bahama toiletries to their guestrooms in an effort to be eco-conscious. But Kurt Helmke, the general manager of the Acqua Hotel, outside of Marin in California, knew that not any old brand would work in the dispenser.

A lot of hotels have started moving to dispenser systems, but the Tommy Bahama products make us stand out.

Tommy's amenity line, distributed by Pineapple Hospitality, includes the Exotic Coral Shampoo, Protective Conditioner, Liquid Soap, Hand and Body Lotion and Bath and Body Gel. The amenities are all natural, have never been tested on animals and exude a clean, fresh aroma. No Hawaiian shirts needed!

Man Sues Airline for Expired Drink Coupons

Reuters: Southwest Airlines Co. was sued by an Illinois man over the discount carrier's decision to stop honoring coupons for free alcoholic drinks, which it had given to select travelers and which lacked expiration dates.

The plaintiff Adam Levitt said Southwest had for years awarded customers like him, who bought tickets through its premium-priced "Business Select" program, hundreds of thousands of coupons for the drinks, which would otherwise cost $5 each.

But on Aug. 1, 2010, Southwest changed its policy, and said Business Select passengers may use their coupons only on the day of travel printed on them. Some other passengers were given more time.

"In an industry where the competition is always knocking (or banging) on the door and where watching the bottom-line is more important than ever, we owe it to our employees, customers, and shareholders to find ways to operate smarter," Mike Hafner, vice president of cabin services, wrote on a company blog.

Levitt, who lives in the Chicago area, said the policy change amounted to a breach of contract. He attached to his complaint copies of 45 coupons for free drinks, which he said he had accumulated and which the change left worthless.

"Southwest decided that it would make more money -- improve its 'bottom-line' -- by choosing not to honor the coupons that consumers had already paid and bargained for," said the complaint filed Wednesday in Chicago federal court.

The lawsuit seeks class-action status for Southwest customers in the United States with unredeemed drink coupons. It seeks compensatory damages and other remedies.

Southwest had no immediate comment. A lawyer for Levitt did not immediately return a call seeking a comment.

U.S. carriers are reducing services and cutting expenses as fuel costs rise and an uncertain economy threatens to reduce demand for travel. Southwest, based in Dallas, has long been among the healthiest major U.S. carriers financially.

TLC & Southwest Team Up for Reality TV Show

MSNBC: Americans seem to have an insatiable appetite for reality shows. They also seem to be endlessly fascinated with the good, the bad and the ugly about their flight experiences.

Now, it seems, the two will be mixed for the television public – again.

TLC, the television network that is part of Discovery Communications, announced Wednesday that it is starting production on a new series that will take viewers behind the scenes of the modern air travel experience.

The network has ordered 13 half-hour episodes, which will be produced by ITV Studios America and based on unprecedented access to Southwest Airlines.

“We were interested in working with Southwest,” said Dustin P. Smith, vice president of communications for TLC, “as it is one of the largest airlines in the country and is known for its exuberant corporate culture and for having refreshing and personal customer service that is regarded as unique in the industry.” Those qualities, combined with an in-depth look at the hurdles of traveling, would create a dynamic show, he said.

Ashley Dillon, a spokesperson for Southwest Airlines, said the airline was chosen also because of its tradition of transparency, which relies heavily on the use of social media, blogs and other media.

“We’re always telling people what we’re doing behind the scenes. Why not put that on TV?” she said “That makes us an attractive airline for a TV show.”

Southwest’s daily operations were previously the subject of a television series in 2004-2005 when “Airline” ran for three seasons on A&E.

“Customers loved that show,” Dillon said. “Airline”aired on Monday nights, and on Tuesday mornings there would be a surge of people applying for jobs, as the show reflected the important role that employees played at the airline, Dillon said. And even six and seven years later, employees featured on the show are stopped at airports by travelers seeking autographs.

“We found people loved behind-the-scenes views.” Most travelers, she said, do not know about all the challenges of flight – from getting all the bags boarded to landing safely.

The new series “will be fresh and new and different,” Dillon said. The earlier show focused on customer service at the airport, but the current production will be broader and will include many more employees: maintenance workers, providers of drink and food, pilots as well as attendants.

“Employees will be the storytellers,” she said.

The series will also feature stories of real travelers – beginning with the purchase of tickets at their homes and continuing for the duration of their journeys.

What’s the appeal of a show based on such a mundane occurrence?

“Airlines are a fascinating business,” said Henry H. Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst and co-founder of the Atmosphere Research Group, a market research company. “It's an industry known for attracting 'characters' in certain roles, especially like pilots and flight attendants. Non-airline employees see the industry as somewhat 'glamorous' thanks to the ability to see so much of the U.S. (and abroad) either for free or on deep discounts. Some mistakenly believe that there is a lot of hanky-panky on crew layovers, though that couldn't be further from the truth.”

Harteveldt said other recent shows to profile the industry include "Fly Girls", a series that “capitalized on the popularity of reality shows, presented against the background of a fun, young, hip airline like Virgin,” and “Pan Am,” “a scripted show that is trying to capitalize on the popularity of the 'go-go' time frame of the 1960s when the economy was stronger and so much was new and possible. It's a clear rip-off of 'Mad Men,' and a bad one at that.”

Harteveldt said he was not surprised that Southwest was chosen as the focus of the TLC series.

“Southwest is a well-known national airline with a reputation for friendly, and a bit off-beat, customer service,” he said. In addition, Southwest is careful about the people it hires, and has a distinct corporate culture which adds to the appeal. “Its employees are generally happy to work there, so you're less likely to hear negative comments from employees.”

A title for the series and a firm date for the premiere have not yet been set, but it is expected to debut sometime in the spring of 2012, Dillon said.

Production is scheduled to begin this coming weekend at Baltimore Washington International Airport and Denver International Airport, with additional airports to be added in coming weeks.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

New Website Offers Deals on Last Minute Getaways

MSNBC: First came LivingSocial Escapes, which offers customers discount vacation packages.

Now comes LivingSocial Instant Escapes, launched Thursday, which offers customers last-minute travel deals up to 55 percent off.

Doug Miller, senior vice president for LivingSocial’s new business initiatives, told msnbc.com that he’s seen a lot of interest from customers in last-minute travel. While most LivingSocial Escapes packages can be booked several months out, Instant Escapes deals are aimed at travelers who don’t have plans for the upcoming weekend. “Our focus is on creating demand,” he said.

Customers can find these last-minute deals on the current LivingSocial Escapes website or mobile app or sign up to receive weekly e-mails. New deals will be posted on Wednesdays, focusing on destinations within driving distance and are good for either that Thursday, Friday or Saturday night. Most deals are one-night stays, Miller said.

The first Instant Escapes deals include:

- $139 per night at the Larkspur Hotel in San Francisco, which also includes a $15 credit to the on-site Bar 1915 and a $75 credit to rent a luxury car;

- $265 per night for a room at The Hudson Hotel in the Hell’s Kitchen area of New York City, as well as free WiFi, late check-out and continental breakfast for two; and

- $84 per night at Washington, D.C.’s Hotel Madison with a complimentary room upgrade and late check-out.

Since launching a year ago this month, LivingSocial Escapes has sold nearly 600,000 room nights at more than 800 different properties around the world. It was quickly followed by Groupon Getaways, which launched over the summer.

Carroll Rheem, director of research for PhoCusWright, said the challenge for deal sites is to drive incremental bookings, not undercut the price for a customer who was already planning a trip. She sees last-minute escapes as a niche market.

“If you’re kind of bored for the weekend, that’s a very different experience than ‘I know I was going to take a trip,’” she said.

Airline Passengers Told to Pay Extra for Fuel

Hundreds of passengers on a Comtel flight from India to Britain were stranded for six hours in Vienna when they were told they had to pay extra to buy more fuel. 
The charter service asked them to kick in more than 20,000 pounds ($31,000) to fund the rest of the flight to Birmingham, England. In the video below a Comtel cabin crew member tells passengers, "We need some money to pay the fuel, to pay the airport, to pay everything we need. If you want to go to Birmingham, you have to pay."

Some passengers said they were sent off the plane to go to cash machines to get the money.


AAA: Thanksgiving Travel Up 4% Over 2010

Click on Detroit: More Americans are hitting the road this Thanksgiving holiday, despite higher gas prices, according to the motorist group AAA.

The American Automobile Association projects 42.5 million Americans will travel at least 50 miles during the Thanksgiving weekend, an increase of 4 percent from the 40.9 million people who traveled last year.

But gas prices are also up, making the drive more expensive this year. The nationwide average price of unleaded gasoline was $3.39 per gallon on Thursday, compared with an average of $2.88 a year ago.

The high cost of gas might be why travel was flat for Memorial Day and actually decreased, compared to last year, during Independence Day and Labor Day. But the Americans who have been staying home to save money are shrugging off their financial concerns for Turkey Day, according to AAA.

"Driving AAA's projected increase in the number of Thanksgiving travelers is pent-up demand from Americans who may have foregone holiday travel the last three years," said Bill Sutherland, vice president of AAA Travel Services, in a prepared statement.

"As consumers weigh the fear of economic uncertainty and the desire to create lasting family memories this holiday, more Americans are expected to choose family and friends over frugality.

Driving will be the dominant mode of transportation during Thanksgiving, while forecasts for air travel are mixed. AAA is expecting air travel to increase by nearly 2 percent, but the Air Transport Association of America is projecting a 2 percent decrease.

AAA defines the Thanksgiving weekend as the period from Nov. 23 to Nov. 27.

New York Tops December Hotel Searches

Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree
USA Today: Where are travelers most searching for hotels this December? New York tops the list, according to Kayak.com's analysis of two years of hotel-search data.

The Big Apple, after all, does a fantastic job of decking itself out for the holidays. And each year, tourists from the Tri-State area - and around the world - flock to the city to soak up the atmosphere.
Last week, workers were busy hanging gigantic snowflakes from wires high above Fifth Avenue. Visitors also love to photograph the spectacular Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, which will be lit this year on Nov. 30, and take in other festive sights - including hotels adorned with decorations.

So what about the four other cities that made Kayak.com's Top 5 list? They're all warm-weather destinations.
It makes you wonder if Northeast residents rushed to book December trips after the freak, Oct. 29 snowstorm pounded the region and left millions without power for days.

The full Top 5 from Kayak:
·         New York
·         Las Vegas
·         Orlando
·         Cancun
·         Miami

The Top 5 cities that experienced the biggest increases in hotel search volume for December travel on a year-over-year basis:
·         Miami
·         San Francisco
·         New Orleans
·         Fort Lauderdale
·         New York

On the flip side, Kayak.com also looked at cities that fell out of favor this year compared to 2010.
Deal seekers may want to scan this list of Top 8 cities where hotel search volume decreased the most on a year-over-year basis because they could have better luck in these destinations finding hotel bargains in December:

·         Barcelona
·         Los Angeles
·         San Diego
·         Boston
·         Nassau, Bahamas
·         Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
·         San Juan, Puerto Rico
·         Chicago

Developer Says S. Florida Could Be Bigger Than Vegas

Sun Sentinel: The developer behind a plan to build the world's largest casino on the Miami waterfront predicts gamblers will spend more in South Florida than they do in the Las Vegas Strip, the kind of grand transformation that now has the mayor of Miami rethinking his support of the project.

The Malaysian-based Genting Group released a one-page summary of an economic study it commissioned saying the addition of three 5,200-room casino resorts would generate as much as $6 billion in gambling revenue a year. The Vegas Strip, long considered the hub of American gambing, generated $5.7 billion last year, according to the Nevada Gaming Control Board.

The striking numbers come on the heels of a letter by Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado to Genting Chairman K.T. Lim that rolls back the mayor's previous embrace of the company's planned Resorts World Miami casino resort on the city waterfront.

"I believe that your proposed project may be one of the best things that ever happened to our community -- or the worst,'' wrote Regalado, who in June presented Kim with the key to the city shortly after Genting paid $236 million for the Miami Herald's waterfront headquarters. "It is too early in its planning to tell."

The mayor's Nov. 8 letter calls for both Miami and Genting to "stop and think and work together, carefully and unrushed, to avoid any problems that may develop" with the massive project, which would include 5,200 rooms and nearly four times as much gambling space as the largest casino in Vegas. Genting issued a statement Wednesday saying it was "working closely with authorities at all levels of government" as it moves forward with the proposed development.

Genting hired Spectrum Gaming Group to prepare an economic study on bringing three casino resorts to South Florida. On Wednesday Genting released a one-page letter by Spectrum stating three casino resorts would generate between $4.5 billion and $6 billion in casino winnings a year. The letter does not make the Strip comparision, but Spectrum managing director Michael Pollock said it's reasonable to imagine South Florida eclipsing Sin City.

"You've certainly got the population,'' Pollock said. "You've got the tourism infrastructure. You've got access to multiple markets -- many of which are untapped by gaming, such as Latin America."

Pollock said the study was based on three resorts the same size as Resorts World Miami. That would mean world's three largest casinos would operate in South Florida. The letter was released the same day Genting executives made their case in front of a Senate committee considering a industry-backed bill that would allow three casino resorts to open in South Florida.

In an interview, Regalado said his letter does not reflect a change in his position, and that the Resorts World Miami project would not be too large for the city as long as Genting can address traffic woes and new strains on city services.

"It could be manageable,'' he said. "But we just need to understand what kind of impact it will have."

Regalado's newest statement is "gratifying" to business leader Norman Braman who recently met with the mayor urging him to reconsider his views on gambling.

"I think it gets back to the more that people really think this through, the more they realize and understand all the pitfalls that casino gambling will bring to this community," Braman said. "I don't think Tomas Regalado wants his legacy stained by being instrumental in bringing casino gambling to this community."

Braman, who recently engineered the successful recall of Miami Mayor Carlos Alvarez, said he will make it his mission to defeat the casino gambling bill and the potential of three destination resort casinos in South Florida. He said he's received an flood of calls in the last few weeks from other community leaders interested in supporting his efforts.

"I will do whatever is necessary to prevent casino gambling from coming into this community," Braman said. "People now are really waking up to what's happening.This is an assault on our quality of life."

Innovative Travel Companies Recognized

MSNBC: Travelers face no shortage of challenges, from finding the right hotel to making the most of their vacation to knowing which restaurant recommendation to trust.

On Tuesday, 32 companies looking to make the travel experience better presented their products at the Travel Innovation Summit at this year’s PhoCusWright conference before their peers in the travel industry, a circle of critics and a panel of judges.

Among this year's winners, announced Wednesday:

GroundLink: a global, private car service that can be booked online or via mobile.

Gtrot: a website that provides travelers with targeted content such as deals or things to do in a specific city, based on their friend's social media activity through sites such as Facebook or Foursquare.

Evature: Eva, its Expert Virtual Agent, is designed to understand travel requests submitted in natural language, also known as free text.

Hipmunk: offers a flight and hotel search that now integrates with a traveler's calendar and features a heatmap for cities throughout the world based on, for example, the density of shopping or nightlife in a particular neighborhood.

ReviewPro: a customer intelligence tool that hotels can use to profit from the social web and manage their online reputation.

The judges also gave runner-up nods to two companies: Tru, a global mobile carrier, and TripLingo, a language-learning app that includes, among other things, a Slang Slider that helps travelers find the best translation.

“Travel is still very open to innovation,” Gregg Brockway, co-founder of TripIt and one of this year’s judges, told msnbc.com “I think we saw some companies that are answering really interesting problems.”

TSA Blasted for Being "Bloated, Inefficient"

CNN: Ten years after its formation, the Transportation Security Administration on Wednesday got the type of birthday card no one wants to receive -- a blistering report from Republican lawmakers who said the agency is "bloated" and "inefficient" and has done little, if anything, to improve aviation security.

Rep. John Mica, R-Florida, a longtime critic who has fought to privatize TSA screening jobs, said Congress never intended the agency it created in November 2001 to "mushroom" into a workforce of 65,000 employees, "top heavy" with bureaucrats.

"I can tell you, in our wildest dreams ... no one ever envisioned 4,000 administrative personnel in Washington, D.C., making on average ... almost $104,000, and then nearly another 10,000 out in the field," Mica said.

But the most scathing comment came from Rep. Paul Broun, R-Georgia.

"Americans have spent nearly $60 billion funding TSA and they are no safer today than they were before 9/11," Broun said.

Pressed on the accuracy of that statement, Broun and Mica said the TSA has never stopped a terrorist attack, and gave credit to private citizens or others for terrorist plots disrupted thus far.

"Unfortunately, the focus has been diverted from security ... into managing a huge bureaucracy," Mica said.

Broun concurred. "We must focus on identifying terrorists and stopping them instead of patting down grandma and children. And we must stop worrying about political correctness," he said. "TSA needs to put their resources into intelligence and technologies that can be more effective when it comes to catching highly elusive and dangerous terrorists."

The lawmakers said they are preparing legislation to reform the TSA.

A TSA spokesman called the GOP report "an unfortunate disservice to the dedicated men and women of TSA who are on the front lines every day protecting the traveling public."

The country's aviation system is "safer, stronger, and more secure than it was 10 years ago," spokesman Greg Soule said. The agency has screened more than 5 billion passengers over the past decade, he said, and has prevented more than 1,100 guns from being brought onto passenger planes this year alone.

Mica and Braun released the GOP report at a news conference held in the main concourse of Reagan-Washington National Airport. Their remarks criticizing the state of aviation security were amplified over a loudspeaker, and drew sidelong glances from passengers headed to airport checkpoints.

One day earlier, TSA Administrator John Pistole stood in the same location to discuss holiday travel preparations, touting advancements in screening technology and saying passengers are happy with changes that have reduced the number of pat downs of children.

The report released Wednesday was prepared by Republican staffers on House Transportation and Oversight committees. It is largely a compendium of earlier critical reports of the TSA, looking at its deployment of failed technology, such as puffer machines; the failure to interdict terrorists, such as 2001 "shoe bomber" Richard Reid and 2009 "underwear bomber" Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab"; and the lack of card readers for the 1.8 million ID cards issued to transportation workers.

The report says the agency has grown nearly four-fold since its inception, from 16,500 workers to more than 65,000, while commercial passenger traffic has increased less than 12 percent.

But a TSA spokesman said the agency had approximately 56,000 security officers in 2002, the year it started screening, and has approximately 52,000 today.

The report by the Republicans contains 11 recommendations, saying the TSA must act with greater independence from the Department of Homeland Security, and the administrator's stature must be elevated. The TSA has become "lost" in the Homeland Security bureaucracy, Mica said.

It also calls on the agency to contract out more screening jobs to private industry. Currently, 16 airports, including San Francisco International, have "opted out" of federal airport screening and use private screeners under what is known as the Screening Partnership Program. The screeners wear the same uniforms, use the same technology and follow the same procedures.

Mica advocates the continued privatization of airport screening jobs, but administrator Pistole has been less supportive, at one point saying he would expand the program only if there was a clear advantage to doing so.

In other TSA news, a travel industry group Wednesday said the agency's screening procedures remain "inefficient and frustrating" for travelers.

The U.S. Travel Association released the results of an online survey it conducted last month of about 600 people.

According to the survey, "four of the top five air traveler frustrations relate to the checkpoint process," including the top frustration: "People who bring too many carry-on bags through the security checkpoint." But five of the 11 options on the survey pertained directly to TSA checkpoints, and the remaining options did not include some common irritants, such as excess baggage fees.

The survey says 66.2 percent of air travelers are "somewhat or very satisfied" with the TSA's overall performance as it relates to security, 21.2 percent are neutral, and 12.5 percent are "somewhat or very dissatisfied."

But frequent air travelers are less happy, with 54.6 percent "somewhat or very satisfied."

The group said that despite the TSA's new initiatives to improve passenger screening, an "overwhelming majority" have not recognized any improvements in checkpoint efficiency when compared to the previous year. It said 81.8 percent plan to arrive at the airport the same amount of time before a flight as they did last year.

The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.

The TSA said it was pleased to see the vast majority of travelers polled believe the agency is moving in the right direction, and said checkpoint screening has gotten speedier, taking less than 20 minutes for more than 99 percent of passengers last year.

"The increased number of carry-on bags impacts our ability to further reduce wait times, but not the level of security we provide, which remains our priority," the agency said.

Hotels Serving Up Their Own Honey

Los Angeles Times: Thanksgiving dinner guests at Carmel Valley Ranch can expect the Central California resort to serve a honey of a meal.

The great bird will be basted to a rich golden brown in a glaze of honey, apple cider and butter. And there will be honey corn muffins and an elegant ice cream that's a delicate mix of honey scented with lavender.

Guests can give thanks for these sweet dishes to the bees of Monterey Peninsula, most specifically the 70,000 Italian bees of Carmel Valley Ranch (www.carmelvalleyranch.com), which work overtime to provide honey for the upscale 500-acre resort.

The ranch's four colonies of bees are part of a new trend swarming across North America and Western Europe. It's accompanied by the buzz of millions of bees, many of them living on the rooftops of urban American hotels.

From Honolulu to Paris and from Vancouver, Canada, to the Florida Keys, honeybees have taken up residence on hotel ledges, rooftops and balconies and are busy doing what they do best: pollinating plants and making honey.

The hives are part of a beekeeping movement that has a two-fold purpose: to save the species, which has been decimated by colony collapse disorder; and to bring hyper-local honey to guests staying at these hotels.

Urban beekeeping has been growing in popularity for several years. Opéra Garnier, the Paris opera house, has kept hives humming on the roof for more than a quarter of a century.

The Obamas hopped on the bandwagon earlier this year when they served White House Honey Ale, home-brewed by their chefs with honey from the White House beehive.

But the loudest buzz comes from the hospitality industry, where hoteliers have found on-site beehives another prong in the movement to localized sourcing. Hotels are adding beehives to their properties to produce organic honey for use in a variety of areas, from spa treatments to cocktails.

At the Montage Deer Valley in Park City, Utah — the Beehive State — dandelion and lavender honeys are popular and are served at Buzz, the resort coffee shop (www.montagedeervalley.com).

Eighteen Fairmont Hotels have added apiaries, mostly on rooftops. At the Fairmont Washington D.C., the hives are named Casa Blanca, Casa Bella and Casa Bianca; at the Fairmont Newport Beach, executive chef Chad Blunston works with beekeepers to extract honey for use in Bambu Restaurant; and at the Fairmont San Francisco, 50,000 honeybees produce honey to be used at the afternoon tea service.

Last month I stayed at the Fairmont Waterfront in Vancouver, British Columbia, where I could look down from my 20th-floor room and see six hives — and about half a million bees — in the center of a third-floor balcony herb garden. The bees quietly went about their business within 20 feet of the hotel pool and within 50 feet of the mammoth Vancouver Convention Centre. Meanwhile, I snacked on a selection of the hotel's delicate honey truffles, Bee's Knees. In the dining room, I found a small jar of honey on the table at breakfast.

Despite the interest in saving bees, their numbers continue to dwindle.

In March, the United Nations sounded the alarm, seeking international efforts to save bee colonies, which have declined as much as 85% in some areas, particularly the industrialized Northern Hemisphere, according to a report by the U.N.'s environmental agency.

The causes: pesticides, air pollution, parasites, the loss of flowering plants and a decline in beekeepers in Europe.

"The way humanity manages or mismanages its nature-based assets, including pollinators, will in part define our collective future in the 21st century," said Achim Steiner, executive director of the United Nations' Environment Programme.

"The fact is that of the 100 crop species that provide 90% of the world's food, over 70 are pollinated by bees."

In the greater scheme of things, the hoteliers' beekeeping efforts probably aren't "a blip on the radar for honey production or pollination input," said Kim Flottum, editor of Bee Culture magazine.

"But the promotional value far outweighs the practical application value," he added. From the standpoint of the beekeeping community, the hotel trend is appropriate because "it keeps honey bees in front of people all the time, and featured in a very positive light."

The bottom line, Flottum said: "The hotel wins, the bees win, beekeeping and beekeepers win, the local flora thrive, folks who never thought about where their food comes from get a little insight into that side of the business. It's all good."

John Russo, the beekeeper at Carmel Valley Ranch, couldn't agree more. He runs a program there called the Bee Experience that introduces guests to beekeeping. "When people get enthused about the bees, and want to have their own hives, I feel like I've made a few more converts," he said. "That's a terrific feeling."