Vol. 38 No. 17 • The Washington Sun • January 24, 2013
President Obama nominates 4 for Cabinet
(UPI) — U.S. President Barack Obama Tuesday sent the Senate four Cabinet nominations in the first step to reshape his administration for his second term.
The names were among 16 sent for approval and had been announced earlier.
Obama nominated John Brennan to head the Central Intelligence Agency, replacing David Petraeus, who resigned amid revelations of an affair with his biographer; former Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., to replace Defense Secretary Leon Panetta; Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., to be secretary of state, replacing Hillary Clinton, and Jacob Lew to replace Timothy Geithner as treasury secretary.
He also nominated Lew to the U.S. representative at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the International Monetary Fund, the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the Inter-American Development Bank — posts also being vacated by Geithner.
Also nominated were:
— Sylvia M. Becker, to the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission and the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission,
— Robert F. Cohen Jr. to the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission,
— Richard J. Engler to the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board,
— Alan F. Estevez to be a principal deputy undersecretary of defense,
— Christopher J. Meade to be general counsel for Treasury,
— David Medineas chairman of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board,
— Carol Waller Pope to the Federal Labor Relations Authority,
— William B. Schultz as general counsel for the Department of Health and Human Services,
— Jeffrey Shell to be chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors,
— Frederick Vollrath to be an assistant secretary of defense,
— Derek Anthony West to be associate attorney general, and
— Jenny R. Yang to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
President Obama to Back ‘Suspension’ of Debt Ceiling
(UPI) — President Barack Obama would sign a House Republican plan to ignore the U.S. debt ceiling for four months, the White House said ahead of a House vote Wednesday.
The GOP bill would declare the $16.4 trillion debt ceiling “suspended” and therefore “shall not apply, until May 19.”
The move, which The Wall Street Journal called “a legislative sleight of hand,” would let the U.S. Treasury Department keep borrowing money to pay its bills but would not require lawmakers to vote on actually raising the debt ceiling.
Once the suspension period ends, the borrowing limit would be adjusted upward to account for the country’s increased debt level.
House Republican leaders said they were confident the bill would pass with strong GOP support.
Several conservative lawmakers said they would support the plan after Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, promised the House would propose a 2014 budget designed to balance the budget within 10 years.
Last year’s House budget plan sought to balance it over nearly 30 years, the Congressional Budget Office said.
However, some conservatives said they still had doubts about the debt-ceiling and budget-balancing deal.
“I can’t get to yes on this,” Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., told The Washington Post. “I’m going to vote on principle. And I understand the principle of the next three months, but I think that every vote you take should be on principle.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he was “very glad” House Republicans intended “to send us a clean debt-ceiling bill.”
“I’m glad we’re not facing crisis here in the matter of a few days,” he said.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday, “The bill still has to overcome some concerns expressed by members of the House and the Senate before it can pass both chambers and reach the president’s desk.
“If it does [pass Congress] and it reaches the president’s desk, he would not stand in the way of the bill becoming law,” Carney said.
“Clearly, we support extension of the debt ceiling without drama or delay,” Carney said. “That has been his position forever — as president and since we’ve had these rather novel debates about whether or not we should engage in games of chicken over the full faith and credit of the United States.”
The White House later said Obama looked forward “to continuing to work with both the House and the Senate to increase certainty and stability for the economy.”
Mayor Announces 2013 Summer Youth Employment Program
SYEP application will be available on Friday, January 25
(Mayor Vincent C. Gray and the DC Department of Employment Services (DOES) announced that the application process for the District’s 2013 Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) will open on Friday, January 25. The program will provide six weeks of meaningful employment and work-readiness training to District youth this summer.
“Last year’s Summer Youth Employment Program was the most successful in its history, and we will continue to build on that success this year,” said Mayor Gray. “Through SYEP, our youth are able to learn and develop the skills they need to be successful in the workplace. I am challenging private and public-sector employers across the District to participate in the program by providing meaningful internships for young District residents.”
The online application for the 2013 SYEP will be available to District residents between the ages of 14 and 21 at www.summerjobs.dc.gov starting at 12:15 pm, on Friday, January 25, which will coincide with SYEP’s official 2013 kick-off event, “Midnight Madness.”
Midnight Madness will be held at the DOES Headquarters Community Room, located at 4058 Minnesota Avenue NE, on Friday, January 25 from 12:15 p.m. to midnight (12 am). All eligible youth and their parents and/or guardians who need assistance with online applications or simply a place to access the Internet are encouraged to attend.
Applications will be processed on a first-come, first-served basis and must be received by Saturday, February 16, 2013. Space is limited, so youth should apply early.
“We are excited to embark upon this new season of SYEP,” said DOES Director Lisa María Mallory, “Based on the success of last year, I am confident that our participants will gain positive and useful work experiences that will remain with them for a lifetime.”
The 2013 SYEP will begin on Monday, July 1, 2013, and end on Friday, August 9, 2013.
Milken Institute Ranks DC Metro Area No. 5 Best-Performing City
Region Jumps 12 Spots from Last Year’s Index Ranking
On Tuesday January 22, Mayor Vincent C. Gray received word from the Milken Institute that Washington, DC– including the surrounding metropolitan area – was named the fifth-best-performing metro region in the Institute’s annual index of Best-Performing American Cities. The DC area was 17th in last year’s rankings.
The index shows that tech is back, driving growth and innovation in the top-performing cities. Other leading metropolitan areas with strong tech sectors include San Jose, Calif., the capital of Silicon Valley (No. 1); Austin, Texas (No. 2); Raleigh, NC (No. 3) and Cambridge, Mass. (No. 8).
“The Milken Institute ranking affirms what we have known for some time now: that the District is at the heart of a growing tech hub,” said Mayor Gray. “We have invested heavily in the local tech sector, exemplified by our successful efforts to keep LivingSocial headquartered in the District. Under my Five-Year Economic Development Strategy, we will continue to support local innovation to create the largest technology center on the East Coast.”
The index uses measures of job, wage and technology performance to rank the nation’s 200 largest metropolitan areas and 179 smaller metros. Unlike other “best places” rankings, it does not use quality-of-life metrics, such as commute times or housing costs. In the Institute’s index, employment growth is weighted most heavily due to its critical importance to community vitality. Wage and salary growth measures the quality of jobs created and sustained.
The Miliken Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank with a stated mission to improve lives around the world by advancing innovative economic and policy solutions that create jobs, widen access to capital and enhance health.
District’s Unemployment Rate at 8.5 Percent
Mayor Gray says figures reinforce need to eliminate uncertainty around sequestration, continue to invest in diversifying and growing the District’s economy
New federal figures showing a slight uptick in the District’s unemployment rate last month underscore the need for federal officials to end the uncertainty around budget sequestration and for District officials double down on efforts to continue growing the economy and connecting DC residents with jobs.
Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics figures for December showed that the District’s unemployment rate notched up by a tenth of a percentage point over November’s rate, to 8.5 percent.
“While I’m disappointed by the uptick in the unemployment rate, I’m heartened by the fact that our economy is still creating jobs,” said Mayor Gray. “As I’ve said numerous times before, we must not rest and we must not fool ourselves into thinking that our work on job creation is done. I remain hopeful that, working with the Council, we can move forward on implementing my administration’s Five-Year Economic Development Strategy and continue growing our economy and training our residents for the many new jobs that are being created in the District.”
But Mayor Gray noted that the slight increase in unemployment should not overshadow the overall growth in the DC economy last month:
The number of District residents employed increased by 2,900 over the month, to 336,300. The civilian labor force increased by 3,600, to 367,300.
One year ago, total employment in the District was 310,600 and the civilian labor force was 345,300. The number of unemployed was 34,800, and the unemployment rate was 10.1 percent.
Mayor Gray also emphasized that some of the decline in employment likely owes to the uncertainty the entire region’s economy is experiencing due to the specter of federal budget sequestration.
“I call on members of Congress to act swiftly to end the uncertainty around future federal spending – thus eliminating the drag that this uncertainty is adding to our local and regional economy,” Mayor Gray said. “Continued inaction by Congress will only worsen the problem – and our residents who need to put food on the table can’t afford that.”
Clinton: Can’t Confirm Libya-Algeria Link
(UPI) — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a Senate panel Wednesday she could not confirm terrorists killed in Algeria were involved in the Libyan attack.
Algerian officials have made the claim, but Clinton said, “We’re doing everything to determine” if that’s true.
The attack on an Algerian gas plant last week left at least 37 foreign hostages dead, Algerian officials said. Algerian forces killed at least 29 of the 32 kidnappers to end the hostage crisis.
Clinton also told the Senate panel she did not see requests for extra security in Libya prior to the Sept. 11 attack.
She said she did not deny any requests, and procedures were being put in place that any future secretary would see security messages.
Clinton’s voice broke with emotion as she talked about the families of the victims of the Libyan terror attack.
U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed in the attack on the Benghazi consulate Sept. 11, the 11th anniversary of the terror attacks on New York and Washington.
“I directed our response from the State Department,” she told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Citing an administrative review board report, she said there were “no delays in decision-making, no denials of support from the Pentagon or the administration … the board said our response saved lives and it did.”
She also stressed that on the day of the attack, “In that same period, we were seeing violent attacks on our embassies” across North Africa. She cited a demonstration in Cairo in which protesters were trying to climb over the U.S. Embassy walls.
Clinton said the United States must still be represented in dangerous places.
“Let me underscore the importance of the United States continuing to lead in North Africa and around the world,” she said. ” That is why I sent Chris Stevens to Libya. … He knew the risks … [but] they cannot work in bunkers and do their jobs. That’s why we must do everything possible” to give them security.
Clinton also said the attack didn’t happen in a vacuum, citing the problems created within the security apparatus of the region caused by the various government revolutions.
Clinton, her voice breaking, said to her the attack was personal, noting she stood beside President Obama as the caskets of the four people killed in the attack, including Stevens, were returned to the United States.
Microsoft Announces 2013-2014 Scholarships
— Deadline is February 1, 2013 —
Microsoft, a global leader in software, smart phones, tablets, video games, and more, has announced that they are giving away millions in scholarships this year. They are offering four different types of technical scholarships for the 2013-2014 academic year to current undergraduate students: General Scholarships, Women’s Scholarships, Minority Scholarships, and Scholarships for Students with Disabilities.
To be eligible, applicants must be enrolled full time in a Bachelor’s degree program at a 4-year college or university in the United States, Canada, or Mexico at the time you submit the application. Plus, they must be making satisfactory progress toward an undergraduate degree in computer science, computer engineering, or a related technical discipline such as electrical engineering, math, or physics.
Because the scholarship is merit based, students must maintain a 3.0 cumulative grade point average out of a possible 4.0, or a 4.0 cumulative grade point average out of a possible 5.0. Also, in addition to submitting an application, students must submit a resume, an academic transcript, answers to essay questions, a letter of referral, and a confirmation page from the online application.
The deadline to apply is February 1, 2013. Students are encouraged to get started on the application process right away!
To apply for this scholarship, visit: www.scholarshipsonline.org/2012/09/microsoft-scholarships.html
For a complete list of other scholarships available in 2013,
Prostate Cancer Roundtable Announces Updated National Policy Agenda
Representing the interests of the 240,000 American men who are at risk each year for a diagnosis of prostate cancer, and the over 2 million men living today who have been diagnosed with this deadly form of cancer, the members of the Prostate Cancer Roundtable have updated their shared, national policy agenda which will act as the basis for discussions with policy makers starting in 2013.
“This policy agenda is the result of a very constructive meeting of the members of the Prostate Cancer Roundtable in Washington, D.C., on November 30, 2012. A key point in that agenda is the absolute need to update the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force decision-making process for the benefit of not just those at risk for prostate cancer, but those at risk for all chronic and deadly diseases,” stated Scott Williams, Senior Vice President of Men’s Health Network.
Senior delegates to the Prostate Cancer Roundtable have emphasized the continuing value of the close working relationships that have been formed between the member organizations over the past 4 years. The regular meetings of the Prostate Cancer Roundtable have led to a closer working relationship and improved insight into how the member organizations can best work together to promote broad public awareness of risk, high quality research, appropriate early detection, and more effective treatment strategies for men with and at risk for prostate cancer.
“The Prostate Cancer Roundtable continues to work closely together to ensure progress against the most prevalent form of cancer affecting men in America today,” added Merel Nissenberg, President of the National Alliance of State Prostate Coalitions.
“The semi-annual meetings of the Prostate Cancer Roundtable in our nation’s capitol continue to provide insight into how the prostate cancer community can best work together to promote research, early awareness, and effective treatment strategies,” said Thomas Kirk, President and CEO of Us TOO International Prostate Cancer Education and Support Network.
The fundamental priorities of this policy agenda are as follows:
- We continue to seek an increase in the appropriation to support the successful work of the Prostate Cancer Research Program within the Department of Defense’s Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program – from its current $80 million to $120 million per year.
- We continue to work with the broader cancer community to support increased federal funding for cancer research through the annual appropriations process for the National Institutes of Health, the National Cancer Institute, and the Centers for Disease Control.
- Within the annual appropriation for the National Cancer Institute, we seek an increase in the current funding of $288 million for basic and translational prostate cancer research to $400 million per year.
- We seek passage of a bill to create an Office on Men’s Health within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that can mirror the 20-year successes of the Office on Women’s Health established in 1991.
- We support legislative, research, and educational efforts needed to effectively combat – and ideally to eliminate — the epidemic of prostate cancer among African American men.
- We seek the establishment of a Prostate Cancer Scientific Advisory Board for the Office of the Chief Scientist at the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA), with the goal of accelerating the real-time sharing of the latest research data and the movement of new medicines into clinical practice in the best interests of patients.
- We seek revisions to the decision-making processes of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) to ensure appropriate input from representatives of patient advocacy groups, specialty medical groups, and other federal agencies that have expertise in each area of preventive services under review.
“Research is the hope for the future. Key research programs like those at the Prostate Cancer Research Program within the Department of Defense’s Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program and at the National Cancer Institute provide hope for better diagnostic tools and for a much-needed cure,” said Skip Lockwood, CEO of ZERO – The End of Prostate Cancer.
”African Americans are at highest risk for prostate cancer, and our organizations plan to continue efforts to promote awareness among policy makers and others of the tragic effect this disease has on the families in the African American community,” stated Thomas Farrington of the Prostate Health Education Network.
“The members of Prostate Cancer Roundtable have been working since 2009 to ensure that policy makers understand how prostate cancer is affecting the lives of men and their families. This policy agenda sets the standard for prostate cancer advocacy across the country,” said Joel Nowak, Director of Advocacy for Malecare.
Seeking Better Answers to Your Health Care Questions
(NewsUSA) – What are my options? What would work best for me? Those questions are asked every day by individuals in doctor’s offices and hospitals when trying to decide on the course of action for a health condition or disease.
Patients want to know which therapies will work best, given their personal characteristics, conditions and preferences. They may be deciding between medicine or surgery, between traditional therapies or alternatives, or even between treatment and no treatment at all.
Too often, patients do not have reliable, research-based information to make choices that reflect their situations or the outcomes most important to them.
The Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) was established to help bridge these gaps by funding research to answer patients’ questions.
“Traditional research simply has not answered many of the questions that matter to patients, such as ‘How will this treatment affect my daily life?'” says PCORI Executive Director Joe Selby, MD, MPH. “In other cases, research results have not been communicated effectively to patients and their caregivers. “No matter the cause, patients suffer when there are gaps in the information available to us.”
PCORI now wants your help to identify which questions to study.
A “Suggest a Research Question” feature on PCORI’s website, www.pcori.org, allows you to submit the specific questions you want the institute to address. PCORI evaluates every question it receives and will fund studies where it thinks it can make a difference by providing patients with more information.
PCORI invites questions about how different prevention, diagnosis and treatment options compare, how disparities can be reduced, and how to improve health care systems and the way health information is communicated.
Here’s an example of a recent question PCORI received: What medical procedures get the best results for back pain among options that include physical therapy, chiropractic, drugs or surgery?
PCORI is dedicated to addressing questions that are important to patients and can help them make more informed decisions. Your input can help the institute understand the needs patients have and the decisions they face.
“PCORI’s approach is to include the patient’s voice in the research we fund,” Selby said. “This is your opportunity to ask the challenging, real-world questions you face with your caregivers and clinicians.”
2013 Program Aims to Help Thousands of Women in Debt
24/7 enrollment available by calling (888) 235-7939 or visiting www.WomenDebt.org
The Helping Women in Debt Program is a national program that specializes in helping women eliminate their debt in months instead of years, thereby saving thousands without filing for bankruptcy. To date, the program has already helped thousands of women, and in 2013, they are aiming to help thousands more.
The program helps women who are tired of fighting the losing battle of never seeing their debt balances go down, finding it hard just to make the minimum payment, and their desire to take control of their finances. According to them, the main advantage of their program is that interested ones can talk to a live consultant before they make any decisions.
The process starts with a free consultation with a member of their underwriting staff. They will work with you on the phone in total confidence in a completely private conversation to review your current financial picture, and suggest a means of dealing with your debt while still providing for your family. Once this is done, a person can decide whether or not to start the enrollment process.
For more details or to get started, visit www.WomenDebt.org or call (888) 235-7939 to speak to a live debt consultant. Consultants are available 24/7.
Phony $1,000 Target Gift Card is the Scam of the Year
A fake contest for a $1,000 Target (TGT) gift card has been declared 2012’s “Scam of the Year” by online complaint resolution platform Scambook.
The fraud, which Scambook spotted back in November, actually spread via text rather than through social media or email channels. Victims of this “smishing” (SMS phishing) scheme received a text reading “Your entry last month WON! Go to TargetContests.com enter winning code 3847 to claim your FREE $1000.00 Target gift card within 24hrs.” Gullible users who clicked through to the (now-defunct) website and entered the code were prompted to enter a wide range of personal information, but never gottheir hands on the promised gift card.
The Target scam followed similar scams promising gift cards from the likes of Walmart (WMT) and Best Buy (BBY). And according to Scambook’s Kase Chong, those two scams (in January and April, respectively) were smaller test runs for the main event, which dropped like a nuclear bomb in mid-November and prompted more than a hundred complaints to Scambook overnight.
“We believe that it was meant to center around the shopping holiday season,” says Chong, who estimates that between 200,000 and 350,000 people across the country received the text on their cell phone. The scammers likely used a random-number generator that picked potentially active cell numbers with a reasonably high success rate.
The good news is that those people who clicked through to the site weren’t directly relieved of their money. Instead, they were asked a series of seemingly innocuous questions intended to steal as much personally identifying information as possible, from the victim’s mailing address to the name of his or her dog.
“The private info goes into a database, and they sell marketing lists on the black market,” Chong explains. “Best-case scenario, you end up getting a whole lot more targeted spam.” And the worst case scenario? Your information is used in identity-theft schemes — or to con you with further scams: By including personally identifying details about you, the next wave of phishing emails will appear more convincing. In other words, this is a scam that breeds more effective scams.
Simple common sense should help most consumers sniff out this sort of fraud: If you didn’t enter a contest to win a gift card, that should be your first tip-off that something is amiss. But Chong adds that cell phones are an unregulated “wild west” that makes them particularly susceptible to this kind of fraud. For instance, texting STOP to the number texting you — a sort of universal code for unsubcribing to text lists — will actually backfire in this instance, as it confirms to the scammers that your number is valid, and prompts them to send you more spam texts.
How to Pick the Right Tax Professional
(NewsUSA) – It takes a certain kind of person to understand complex tax codes and breeze through credits and deductions without chewing a fingernail or two. The rest of us call a tax professional and heave a sigh of relief as the weight is lifted for another year.
Hiring a tax preparer is a solid investment, but first you should know what to look for. All enrolled agents specialize in taxation, unlike CPAs and attorneys, many of whom focus in other areas. In fact, enrolled agents are the only federally licensed tax practitioners who specialize in taxes and also have unlimited rights to represent taxpayers before the IRS, which is especially pertinent since audits have jumped exponentially.
“Enrolled agents, America’s tax experts, make sure their clients take advantage of all the credits and deductions they’re entitled to, and minimize their tax burdens,” says president of the National Association of Enrolled Agents, Frank Degen — also an enrolled agent and U.S. tax court practitioner. “And, with IRS’s increased emphasis on enforcement, it’s more critical than ever to have an EA making sure your taxes are done right.”
Degen also points out that the status of enrolled agent is the highest credential awarded by the IRS.
For adults who are at the beginning of their career, expenses are relatively straightforward, and filing taxes is generally simple. But, as adults have children, start their own businesses, buy homes and make investments, tax codes get much harder to decipher.
Even if you manage to get a handle on your state’s tax code, next year is bound to bring a wave of changes. Or, what if you relocate to a different state? That’s another perk of working with an EA.
Enrolled agents are federally licensed so they can practice anywhere in the country. Other tax specialists, like CPAs and attorneys, are licensed by the states. EAs are also required to take continuing education courses every year.
One last tip about hiring the right tax professional — someone who specializes solely in taxes has the best chance of saving you money and preparing your finances for next year. Let this year’s April 15, 2013 deadline start percolating now so you’ll be better prepared.
Learn more about enrolled agents, including how to find one locally, by visiting www.naea.org.
2013 travel trends include increased fees, better WiFi, higher ethics
(UPI) — U.S. travelers in 2013 can expect better WiFi at cruising altitude, less time at the baggage carousel and the opportunity to travel with a clear social conscience, travel industry experts say.
Travel has always been known as good for the soul although not necessarily the pocketbook, but the U.S. Travel Association is promoting the idea that travel is good for the heart.
The association, which represents the U.S. travel industry, has started a new campaign to promote travel as an essential part of our lives, rather than a luxury. A report posted on the group’s new website Traveleffect.com says an annual vacation can cut a person’s risk of heart attack by 50 percent and women who take more vacations are more satisfied with their marriages.
The new “Travel Effect” campaign is aimed at helping people understand the impact travel has on relationships, health, education, business and communities.
“What we’ve long known anecdotally, we will prove through authoritative research: travel has a measurable and positive effect on health, relationships, business performance and the well-being of communities,” said Roger Dow, president and chief executive officer of the U.S. Travel Association, in announcing the campaign last week. “And since travel supports 14.4 million American jobs and $1.9 trillion in economic output, the more we get people traveling in the U.S., the more we can improve our well-being as a nation.”
Travelers can improve their social-consciousness by choosing destinations that rate high from an ethical standpoint.
Barbados, Uruguay and Lithuania are among the top ethical travel suggestions for 2013 suggested by the non-profit group Ethical Traveler, which calls on vacationers to seek destinations in the developing world that demonstrate “a clear and continuing commitment to environmental protection, human rights and social welfare.”
Cape Verde, Costa Rica, Ghana, Latvia, Mauritius, Palau and Samoa also made the list, which was released last month.
“Every dollar we spend is a statement about which countries and governments we choose to support,” Executive Director Jeff Greenwald said in a statement. “By visiting the countries on our list, savvy travelers can have great vacations and promote the values we all share.”
Travel and Leisure says millennials are an increasingly important segment in the the travel industry.
The magazine says many travelers in their 20s and 30s are looking for authenticity over thread count and luxury tour operators are adjusting their offerings accordingly.
Airfarewatchdog.com founder George Hobica predicts more airline mergers this year, higher airline ticket prices and more bundled fares. Hobica says there may be fewer regional jets flying this year because they tend to be gas guzzlers.
Increased fees, higher fares and security headaches could lead to fewer airline passengers as people look for alternate modes of transportation. Non-U.S. airlines, however, could see an increase in passengers as they expand their U.S. service, he said.
Hobica predicts a major U.S. airline will soon add a fee for carry-on bags, similar to what is already being done by Spirit and Allegiant.
“My crystal ball is older than an American Airlines MD 80, so it could be a bit cloudy,” Hobica said in a statement. “My most bold prediction is, of course, that a major U.S. airline will add a carry-on bag fee. But that idea was put in my head by my best friend’s brother-in-law, who manages gates at a United hub. Quoth he: ‘It’s coming.'”
Connectivity is becoming increasingly important as smart phone-obsessed consumers demand 24/7 access to WiFi. United Airlines last week announced the introduction of onboard satellite-based WiFi Internet connectivity on the first of its international widebody aircraft. United says it is the first U.S.-based international carrier to offer customers WiFi on long-haul overseas routes.
United has outfitted Ku-band satellite WiFi on two Airbus 319 aircraft serving domestic routes, offering customers faster inflight Internet service than air-to-ground technology. The company says it expects to complete installation of the service on 300 mainline aircraft by the end of this year.
The convenience, however, comes with a cost. Travelers will have the choice of two WiFi speeds at prices ranging from $3.99 to $19.99.
American Airlines says it is also boosting connectivity as it continues investments to offer inflight WiFi, in-seat entertainment and universal AC power outlets at every seat.
The airline said Thursday it plans to supply flight attendants, pilots and maintenance workers with tablets that will offer real-time information.
United is joining American Airlines in offering travelers the option of having their checked bags delivered directly to their final destinations, allowing customers to skip baggage claim upon arrival. United says baggage delivery will initially be available to customers departing from any domestic airport and arriving in Boston, Chicago, Honolulu, Houston, Los Angeles and Orlando. The airline plans to expand the service to more than 190 domestic airports.
“United’s new baggage delivery service offers an alternative for travelers who prefer the convenience of having their checked bags delivered directly to their homes, offices or hotels,” said Tom O’Toole, United’s senior vice president of marketing and loyalty, in a statement. “Our customers have told us this type of option adds value to their travel experience.”
The cost for delivery within a 40-mile radius of the airport starts at $29.99, United said.
The U.S. travel industry is starting to pay more attention to the Hispanic market.
“The emerging Hispanic market is expected to wield up to $1.5 trillion in spending power by 2015, which represents a significant opportunity for the rebounding U.S. travel industry,” said Victor Owens, vice president and general manager for Hotels.com North America, in a release. “We’ve made a concentrated effort to better connect with our U.S. Hispanic customers.”
Family travel was a significant trend among customers who booked hotels on the company’s Spanish-language website. Hotels.com said family-oriented theme parks helped put Orlando, Fla., on the top of the travel list, followed by Miami and New York City as the top travel destinations for Hispanics last year. Las Vegas and Puerto Rico rounded out the top 5.
Mobile apps and online booking sites are making it easier for last-minute travelers to find a good deal. Hotwire.com said a survey conducted last fall suggests 71 percent of Americans believe booking a last-minute leisure trip costs more than booking one further in advance. Actually, pricing trends suggest hotels are offering their lowest prices on the day of check-in.
Hotwire says large hotels in major cities like Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco adjust their prices on a daily, or sometimes hourly, basis. When hotel demand doesn’t materialize, hotels discount heavily on the day of check-in as a last ditch attempt to fill the empty rooms.
“Folks visiting major metropolises are typically wary of waiting until the last minute to book a hotel because they’re worried about being able to find an affordable room in a prime location,” said Clem Bason, president of the Hotwire Group. “But in reality, hoteliers are dropping prices right up until the day of check in to attract last-minute bookings, with more and more coming from mobile devices.”