Posts filed under ‘Travel’

Japan: Where the Streets Have No Names

By Chad Upton | Editor

The U2 song, “Where the Streets Have No Name” refers to the city of Belfast, Northern Ireland, where the streets actually do have names. Bono wishes they didn’t have names because they can be used to determine the class and religion of some people.

In Japan; however, a majority of the streets do not have names.

So, how do you find a location? Instead of the streets being named, the blocks between the streets are numbered.

The houses and units inside a block are also numbered. The blocks are inside a named district, the district is within a city or town. So, other than the block numbers and street names, it’s quite similar to the Western address system.

In Japan, directions to a location often include references to visual landmarks or subway stations. The block numbers could also be good for driving directions; if someone told you to turn right at the end of block 4, you’d see block 4 on a utility pole and know that the next turn is yours. In the Western system, you rarely know when your street is next, unless you’re in one of the few cities that are built on a perfect grid and have incrementally named streets.

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Sources: songfacts, goabroad.com, Wikipedia (Japanese Address System)

July 16, 2011 at 5:01 pm 5 comments

Why Some Restaurants Provide Wet Towels at Meals

By Chad Upton | Editor

If you’ve ever flown first class or eaten at a first class restaurant, you’ve probably been handed a wet towel. The first time this happens, you’ll probably be confused and look to others for guidance on what to do with it.

Generally, it is used to clean your hands. This tradition comes from Japan, where “oshibori” (wet towels) are handed out before meals, to clean hands. In Japanese restaurants, they may be hot or cold, depending on the season. Some people may also use the towels to clean their face.

This tradition has been expanded outside of Japanese restaurants where the practice varies greatly. In Western restaurants, wet towels may be served beforeand/or after the meal — to clean your fingers and around your mouth. According to Etiquette Scholar, it is not polite to clean beyond these areas, such as your neck or behind your ears, in a restaurant.

Many airlines offer wet towels, particularly in first class. They are sometimes offered immediately after takeoff, which is standard in first class on British Airways, among others. These towels are usually hot, but may be cold if you’ve just boarded from a particularly hot environment or if the cabin air conditioning is out-of-order. At this time, they are useful to clean your hands before eating or to clean the travel sweat off your skin (forehead, back of your neck, etc.). On longer flights, wet towels may also be served after a meal or just prior to landing.

Wet towels are traditionally made from cotton and moistened with water. Lemon juice is sometimes added to the water for its fragrance and degreasing properties. In recent years, pre-moistened disposable towels have gained popularity and are often wrapped in a plastic package. These towels come unscented and in a variety of fragrances. They sometimes contain other cleaning solutions such as alcohol.

The next time you’re given a wet towel, you can tell everyone what it’s for and where this tradition came from.

If you’re interested in a particularly long, fairly humorous and sometimes snobby discussion about wet towels, you’ll love this thread on FlyerTalk.com.

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Photo: Christopher Doyle (cc attribution)

Sources: FlyerTalk.com, PlanetTokyo, Wikipedia, Airline Towels, Etiquette Scholar

April 15, 2011 at 2:00 am 2 comments

Your Passport May Expire Before The Expiry Date

By Kyle Kurpinski

Expiration dates are funny things. For instance, if I take a swig from a jug of milk that expires next week, I expect to get a mouthful of milk, not sour gym socks. Unfortunately, expiration dates are occasionally imperfect, and the gym sock thing tends to happen from time to time. But when it comes to something non-perishable, like a coupon booklet or an driver’s license, these dates should be a little more concrete. Or so you would think, anyway.

My cousin was recently on her way to Malaysia when she encountered a bit of a snafu at the airport. For travel to Malaysia, it’s not enough to simply have a “valid” passport (i.e. one that has not yet expired). Rather, US citizens must have at least six months remaining before the printed expiration date. My cousin only had five. She actually made it all the way through security before the airport authorities realized their mistake and stopped her from boarding. Trouble is, she had already flown from Portland to San Francisco with her sorta-valid passport, and now she had no choice but to turn around and go back. Even if her trip to Malaysia was only going to last one day, travel regulations would still have forbade the journey without the six-month buffer. I’m sure there are plenty of logical reasons for such a requirement (contingency for an unexpectedly prolonged trip, prevention of illegal immigration or fraud, etc. etc.), but my cousin’s experience still seems like the travel equivalent of buying your milk in May only to discover that it already soured last Christmas.

To make things even more complicated, each country has its own unique rules regarding passport validity. Most countries simply abide by the given date, but some – such as Malaysia, Brazil, and India – require a six-month window, while others – such as Switzerland, Greece, and Denmark – require only three months. When exactly does this window start or end? That’s different for every country too. In some cases it’s calculated from the date of entry into the foreign territory, while in others it’s based on the return date. If you’re planning to travel abroad, you can find the specific rules for each country on the State Department’s website.

Keep in mind that passport renewals typically take about six weeks, so it’s always best to plan ahead when making your travel arrangements. If you’re just learning of these rules before an impending trip, you can apply for an expedited renewal, which takes only two weeks, but also costs an additional $60. If you’re already at the airport (like my cousin was) please have a safe trip back to your house.

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Photo: Amy Barker (cc)

Sources: Wikipedia , Joel Widzer, and The U.S. Department of State

February 18, 2011 at 2:00 am 7 comments

The Hidden Lever to Raise Airplane Armrests

By Chad Upton | Editor

Airplanes are cramped places.

The leg room is short, the aisles are thin and the headroom isn’t room at all. The bathrooms provide some private space and a complimentary gymnastics lesson.

If you’re tall, fitting your knees behind the seat in front of you is a painful reality that many of us live with each trip, unless you get an exit row, a courtesy upgrade or a hole in your wallet.

Even if you’re not very tall, when you stand up in your seat, you have to duck to avoid a head-on-collision with the overhead bin, especially in smaller regional jets.

But, a few years ago, I saw a person in the row ahead of me raise the aisle armrest. That was a game changer for me. No more ducking! Simply raise the armrest, then stand up while you slide off your seat into the aisle.

There are a few planes that do not have movable aisle armrests. However, most of them have a small lever or button on the underside of the armrest, near the hinge. Pushing or sliding this lever will release the hinge lock, allowing you to raise the armrest.

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January 17, 2011 at 2:00 am 24 comments

Why Airplane Shades Must Be Up for Takeoff and Landing

By Chad Upton | Editor

You may not have heard of this, but it’s law in some countries and it’s growing in popularity around the world. The reason is similar to why the airlines dim the interior lights during takeoffs and landings at night.

In short, it’s for safety in the event of an accident. With the window shades up, passengers and crew can spot dangers outside the planes before they open an emergency exit. Dangers like fire, water and running airplane engines can be hazardous if someone opens an emergency exit right into them.

During bright daylight, it also allows your eyes to adjust to the brightness outside, which could be critical during an accident.

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Photo: contraption (cc)

Sources: Airliners.net, Straight Dope

December 10, 2010 at 2:00 am 3 comments

The Real Reason Cell Phones are Banned on Planes

I should start by saying that smartphones and simple cell phones are not banned on planes everywhere. Air France started allowing passengers to use their cell phones in 2008. Since then, a few Eastern airlines have followed suit.

These airlines use an in flight system that mimics cell phone towers found on the ground. The system relays the call/text/email to a satellite and back to the ground from there. Similar systems have been on cruise ships for years. On cruise ships, they use these systems because there aren’t any ground based cell phone towers in the middle of the ocean.

When you drive in a car, your cell phone call may jump from tower to tower as you travel out of range from one tower and into range of another. These jumps used to cause an echo with early cell phone networks, but it is pretty seamless today. Well, at least in your car it is. Airplanes move much more quickly and the network cannot pass your call from tower to tower at that speed. That’s why airplane systems typically bounce your call off a satellite, which it can easily maintain a connection to.

An unintended benefit of having the cellular connection on the plane is that the cell phone doesn’t require a lot of power to connect the call, so your battery will last longer and there will be less electromagnetic radiation in the plane. If you phone was attempting to connect to ground based towers it would have to amplify the signal much more and that consumes more battery power.

So, the technology exists. Why don’t most airlines allow it?

Firstly, there is the myth that cell phones cause interference with navigational equipment. Most people aren’t going to try to test it either, no phone call is important enough to take that risk. But, if you fly a lot then chances are good that you’ve realize mid-flight that you forgot to turn your phone off. It doesn’t appear that there have been any equipment problems. You seem to be flying in the right direction and you haven’t heard any complaints from the cockpit.

I asked an airline insider about this and they checked with some pilots and filled me in on the details. They said that old analog cell phones may have caused problems, but there is no evidence that digital phones cause any problems. Like I said before, Air France has been doing it for two years now without incident and there have been a number of studies that failed to find any incompatibilities between aircraft systems and cell phones. In fact, the problems are more likely with the ground based systems as they scramble to route your call to the nearest tower as you pass a new tower every few seconds in an airplane.

Here’s where it gets really interesting, many planes already have equipment to route in-flight cell phone calls without going to ground based towers (similar to what Air France uses to properly route cell phones through satellites). This equipment is often part of the system that planes use to offer in-flight wifi. Many US carriers currently offer that service and much of that equipment has cellular capability, it’s just not enabled right now.

If it was truly a problem with airplane systems, the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) would surely support the ban of cell phones. Instead, the FAA blames the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) for the in-flight cell phone ban.

The FCC regulates all electronics that are sold in the United States and they readily admit they’re cautious about changing the rules on this issue. Their main goal is to prevent electronics from interfering and causing problems with each other, especially with emergency and government systems. They say that limited information is available on the safety of using cell phones on airplanes.  They also note that consumers don’t want cell phones on planes.

They’re probably right about cell phone calls on the plane, although I’m not sure if that is their decision to make. I could see a war between airlines who adopt the technology and those who promote their flights as cell phone free.

The interesting thing about the technology is that the airlines can control which services the passengers can use. They can disable calls, but allow text messages and emails/data to be transferred. Disabling calls would maintain a flight environment similar to what we have now and that would ensure that screaming babies retain their exclusive right to prevent you from sleeping on red-eye flights.

As more airlines install the equipment for in-flight wifi, they’ll be itching to generate revenue from in-flight cell phone usage too. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the airlines lobbying the FCC for the right to offer these services. When they do, sign me up for the deluxe service package: 1 piece of luggage, cellular usage, 1 meal, 1 life vest during an emergency  and 1 bathroom break — not necessarily in that order.

Thanks to Gina for suggesting this secret!

Related: Why Airlines Dim the Lights Before Night Landings

Broken Secrets | By: Chad Upton

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Sources: Live Science, ABC, OnAir

Photo: lrargerich

June 24, 2010 at 5:00 am 11 comments

Altitude Does Not Increase the Effect of Alcohol

By Chad Upton | Editor

Whether you’re in a plane, at the top of a ski hill or reading this in the mile high city, your body will metabolize alcohol exactly the same in all cases.

It is a common myth that you get drunk at high altitude much faster than at lower altitudes. In fact, I set out to research why this is the case, only to find out it’s not the truth.

As you can probably imagine, they didn’t have any trouble finding volunteers to help them get to the bottom of this — it has been studied and studied and studied and studied (PDF).

Even without alcohol, high altitudes can induce high-altitude sickness, which happens because there is less oxygen in the air. Because the symptoms are much the same as a hangover (headache, nausea, vomiting…etc), the effects of alcohol are often confused with high-altitude sickness. In fact, there is a study that shows Alcohol can impede the initial stages of adapting to high altitude; therefore, it is recommended that people do not drink for the first couple days while their body acclimatizes to the lower oxygen levels of high altitudes.

A study with alpine skiers in Austria tested blood-alcohol content at sea-level and at 10,000 feet. After drinking a liter of beer, their blood-alcohol levels were the same regardless of altitude.

An FAA study (PDF) found that both alcohol and altitude affect pilot performance, but there was no interaction between the two. Altitude does affect your ability to perform tasks, but that effect is present with or without alcohol. Another US government funded study found the same thing, concluding, “there was no synergistic interactive effect of alcohol and altitude on either breathalyzer readings or performance scores.”

From my observations, college loans are another popular way to get government money to study the effects of alcohol.

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Sources: Pub Med, High Altitude, Annals, FAA (PDF), AHA

Photo: evilmidori (cc)

Relevant:

Professionals should always supervise detox from alcohol and other drugs to prevent any untoward medical mishaps.

May 19, 2010 at 5:00 am 8 comments

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