Tag Archive for: airplane

The dirtiest place on a plane: The tray table

I got a lot of germs on this flight. Fail.

I got a lot of germs on this flight. Fail.

For generations, traveling parents have assumed the lavatory is the dirtiest part of a plane. But a study released this week offers ground-breaking new data: Nothing on an airplane is more germ-infested than the tray table.

The study, from an organization named Travelmath, gives us family travelers new reason to spaz out about wiping down our immediate seating space when we board.

In other words, now more than ever, it’s critical to disinfect these tray tables for our kids.

Think about it—once your kids are comfortable in their seat, what DON’T they do on their tray tables? Mine use the seatback tables to color, read books, make paper chains, and as a flat surface on which to set their Kindles. At snacktime, which is basically any time they want at 35,000 feet, they eat off those damn things, too.

Reading the fine print of the report (or subsequent coverage) will make you throw up a bit in your mouth. Apparently, Travelmath sent a microbiologist to test five different airports and four different flights on two major airline carriers.

These experts performed tests on different surfaces at each airport and on each plane. The surfaces were tested for the presence of colony-forming units (CFU) that could potentially make people sick (although the presence of bacteria does not necessarily mean that those exposed to it will get sick). Then they ranked each of the test subjects by the median of the results.

Tray tables came in first with 2,155 DFU/square foot. No. 2 on the list: Drinking fountain buttons, at 1,240 CFU/square foot. Third on the list was another common spot, the overhead air vents, and came in at 285 CFU. (If you want all of the results, click through here to a really easy-to-read infographic on the Travelmath site).

If you’re eager to find some good news in all of this, consider the following: None of the samples from airports and airplanes tested positive for fecal coliforms such as E. coli.

Translation: We likely will get germs, but it’s not very likely we’ll get those germs that could kill us.

(There are more juicy tidbits of information in the study, but these are the only ones relevant to the argument here.)

So how do we minimize exposure? We can avoid the brunt of the problems associated with these germs by being super-diligent about disinfecting our areas when we sit down. Bring extra baby wipes or a small spray bottle of bleach solution to wipe down the tray table, seatbelt, and armrests. Another option is to make sure your kids use hand sanitizer repeatedly throughout the flight. If you’re feeling really crazy, you could have your kids wear rubber gloves. (Yes, this last suggestion is VERY Michael Jackson.)

Germs are an inevitability when you travel by plane—especially when you’re traveling with little hands that like to touch everything. Still, moms and dads have plenty options to keep exposure to these sickness-inducing particles to a minimum. Good luck!

Great new tool for organizing family travel

This tool will change my traveling life.

This tool will change my traveling life.

Considering the chaos that is traveling with two (soon to be three!) kids under the age of 7, I’m a huge fan of tools that help organize family travel.

I’ve blogged about some of these tools previously. My new fave: The Qliplet.

Essentially, this tool is a carabiner on steroids. It’s a heavy-duty clip for consolidating bags or other items and holding them to larger objects. It also has a super-strong rotating hook that can be used for other stuff—everything from (more) totes to jackets to milk jugs (really) and more. The hook also can be used to support the carabiner.

The device went on sale at a discounted rate through an IndieGoGo campaign (from parent company, Lulabop) this week. I got to review device earlier this summer and found it useful, durable, and helpful, all at once.

I certainly put a prototype of the Qliplet through some paces. First I took it on a daytrip with the girls to our local children’s museum, and attached it to my backpack to carry L’s water. Next I clipped it to our jogging stroller and attached it to a different backpack while I took R on a run around the neighborhood. After that, just for fun, I hooked it to the back of our buggy and tried to see how much weight I could put on the carabiner part of the tool. I gave up after it easily handled 35 pounds.

The story behind Qliplet is pretty neat; the tool was invented by a mom and former professor of entrepreneurship as a way to manage the needs for lugging additional stuff after the birth of her first child. The inventor’s name is Mina Yoo. (You can learn more about her here.)

In all, the tool seems like a good investment. I’m sure I’ll be using mine frequently once we start schlepping a newborn everywhere later this year.

I’m looking forward to enjoying how much easier the tool makes my traveling life.

What are your favorite family travel tools and why?

Family travel hacks from an old friend

Traveling with kids is easy. If you know the right secrets.

Traveling with kids is easy. If you know the right secrets.

When Sara Clemence and I first met, we were two twenty-something freelancers who were (both working out of the same communal work space in Manhattan, and) still new to the whole writing game. Fast forward almost 20 years; the two of us are a lot more successful, and we’re still pals with a whole lot in common.

Nevermind that Sara is a big-time editor at Travel + Leisure magazine (a client), and I’m still out on my own. We’re both still writing. And we’re both parents. With young kids. And we love to travel.

Imagine my delight, then, when I spotted her first piece for T+L, a Web-only story about family travel hacks. Her piece offers up 10 hacks in all; each and every one of them is useful and worthwhile to consider.

Some of Sara’s hacks are eminently practical. Others are niche (or obtuse). Still others are what I would consider to be pretty major secrets (the site, Book a Suite, is a favorite of ours to see what we’re getting ourselves into). However you’d describe the missive, one thing is certain: Sara’s story is getting mad love on social media and it gives me great pleasure to see a friend of mine succeeding in this fahion.

So check out her post. And tell her (or me!) what, if anything, you’d add to her list. Finally, remember that the next time you’re traveling with little ones, never let them see you sweat.

A hook that makes family travel easier

The Airhook, in action.

The Airhook, in action.

Considering how frequently I travel with my kids, I’m always looking for gadgets and gizmos that can make the experience easier and more efficient. That’s one of the reasons I love a new product from an inventor named Craig Rabin. He calls the product The Airhook. And though he designed it to help business travelers, I see a ton of family travel implications as well. I recently caught up with Rabin over email to chat about his new product. Here is an edited transcript of our chat.

MJV: What prompted the invention of The Airhook? What challenge were you trying to solve? What was your frustration?

Craig Rabin (CR): I was flying from Seattle to San Francisco and was wearing a sport coat. After boarding the plane, I asked the flight attendant if there was space to hang my coat. There was not.  That left me with two options: Store it overhead (and have a horribly wrinkled coat) or wear it on the flight (and be horribly overheated). After choosing to wear it on the flight and noticing the sweat start to run, I sat there staring at the tray table in front of me. How handy would it be if there was a clip or hook that could better utilize the tray table to hang up my coat?  An invention was born.

MJV: For whom do you see this tool working best? Biz travelers? Leisure travelers?

CR: Our Design & Testing team has flown with The Airhook on many flights which span tens of thousands of air miles during the course of product development. On every trip we have met interested consumers that were all flying for various reasons. Some were road warriors, others were parents with families and some were big and tall and unable to utilize the tray table. But everyone seemed to want greater convenience now.  The common comment was something like, ‘The Airhook is great timing because as airlines are making seats closer and closer together, the tray table remains the same size.’

MJV: You mentioned family travelers. What specific benefits does The Airhook deliver for them?

CR: Families come in all different ages and sizes. Someone in a family headed to Las Vegas to celebrate a child’s 21st birthday will use The Airhook to hold a cocktail while practicing blackjack on the iPad. The family with young children will use The Airhook as hands-free entertainment to keep the little ones entertained while the grownups enjoy easy access to anything in a carry-on bag. One of the most interesting parts of testing and showing The Airhook simply has been telling folks about the concept. Everyone seems to have a different key benefit in mind, since everyone has their own travel quirks.

MJV: Are there any ways for moms and dads to use The Airhook to solve another problem/need associated w/family travel? If so, what are some of them?

CR: I have no children just yet, so I figured I would consult a higher authority and asked my mother what I was like as a child on an airplane. She said, ‘You never sat still and had to go to the bathroom every half hour!’ So for the child in me, The Airhook would have allowed me to have hands-free entertainment while still bouncing around in my seat. The tray table constricted me and I guess my kicking spilled a few drinks! The Airhook would also have allowed me (and the entire row most of the time) to freely stand and move out of the row when I asked to go to the bathroom for the fifth time.

MJV: How does Kickstarter play into your story?

CR: Kickstarter for us was more about marketing then crowd funding. We had already raised a friends-and-family round of funding that secured product development to date and allowed us to obtain global patent protection on the Intellectual Property.  We wanted to utilize Kickstarter for its viral abilities in order to get market validation and approval. The team decided to set our fundraising goal based on the minimum number of people we needed to reach (funding goal/lowest donation amount) vs. how much we hoped to raise. Once the Kickstarter community gave us their stamp of approval (they funded our dream in 73 hours), Kickstarter became a landing page for PR inquiries in order to further get the word out. Media outlets were reaching out to us saying, ‘We just saw your Kickstarter page.’ That further accelerated our growth.

MJV: When/where can people buy the product, and how soon will it be available?

CR: Right now we are taking orders on our website. It’s $24.95 per unit with discounts as quantity increases. We plan to ship product the first week of December as we are dedicated to getting The Airhook in customers’ hands by the busiest travel time of the year: THE HOLIDAYS! That means The Airhook is a perfect gift for the family travelers among all of us.

Back in action

Site for sore eyes.

Site for sore eyes.

Just about the last thing a family travel writer wants to hear from his kid is a request for a year off from flying.

Yet this was our reality in August of 2014, after we followed up five months of living abroad (for the last half of 2013) with family trips to Hawaii and Walt Disney World, and the Big Girl informed us that she needed a break.

Powerwoman and I wanted to be sensitive to L’s wishes; as major travel advocates, the last thing we wanted was to push our daughter to the point of resentment.

Still, we were bummed. Handcuffed, really. And concerned.

We responded by emphasizing road trips to local national parks and elsewhere around the state, as well as a greater frequency of daytrips to destinations less than three hours from our Northern California home. For a while, this strategy worked. But (being the inveterate travelers that we are) we yearned for more.

Then a funny thing happened. I went to Maui on behalf of the Expedia Viewfinder blog. I called home with reports every day. When I returned in person, I regaled the kids with stories of smooth flights, and the neat new personal entertainment devices passengers can rent aboard Alaska Airlines planes.

And, unprovoked, L declared that if she could have her own device, she was willing to shorten her moratorium and agree to fly again.

We were stunned. We clarified her statement four times to make sure we heard it correctly. We had.

Then, of course, we did what any travel-obsessed parents would do: We got out the laptop, pulled down the calendar, and started booking trips. When the hour ended, we had purchased plane tickets for the whole family to spend a long weekend (reporting some stuff) in Los Angeles. We also bought plane tickets to convert our full-on road trip from home to the San Juan Islands and back into a halfsie road-trip from Portland, Oregon, to the San Juan Islands and back to Seattle.

In all, we’re taking three separate plane trips as a family this summer, making the absolute most of the extra three months L gave us by rescinding her ban.

In short, thanks mostly to L, we’re planning to fly again this summer. And it feels good to be back.

No toys? So what!

When life gives you leaves and sticks, make fairy houses.

When life gives you leaves and sticks, make fairy houses.

One of my favorite things to do when traveling with the girls is put them in a situation that forces them to be creative—then sit back and see how they roll.

Sometimes they’re too tired to play along and they whine for crayons and paper (or, more commonly, pens and pages from my reporter’s notebook pads). Other times, however, they’re totally into it, scouring the area for twigs and rocks and any other “treasures” they can use to entertain themselves (and, of course, us).

During a recent weekend excursion to the Big City, I needed the kids to kill about 20 minutes in a park while I interviewed a source on the phone. I set them up in a (safe and) particularly vibrant corner. Five minutes later, L had found enough grasses and leaves to fashion a fairy house.

On another trip, a few weeks back, R was disappointed that I didn’t have any sidewalk chalk (because, you know, I don’t travel with that), so she improvised with a Starbucks stir stick and some water.

The best part: She called it “painting.”

These moments, these examples of my girls using nothing but their imaginations, are wonderful reminders that less can be more—especially when we travel. Sure, it’s always nice to have traditional entertainment methods on hand for our kids when we’re away from home. But it’s even nicer to have kids who reliably can create their own entertainment, no matter what.

How do you cultivate this proclivity? Necessity, I suppose. The first time L and R used their imaginations on the road, they had no choice, as Powerwoman and I had left traditional “toys” at home.

Since then, our other secret has been practice—we make sure the kids entertain themselves at least one afternoon on every trip. The more they engage in creative play, the easier it becomes, for everyone involved. Don’t take my word for it, though; try it yourself.

What sorts of creative play do your children like when you travel?

Don’t let the anti-vaxers win

Fear of contracting measles could have stopped this trip.

Fear of contracting measles could have stopped this trip.

I try as much as possible to stay away from politics here on this blog—those sorts of discussions are insidious, incendiary, and, most of the time, just plain irritating.

That said, it’s hard to ignore the recent hullabaloo over the resurgence of the measles virus, the role the anti-vaccination crowd has played in this resurgence, and the degree to which traveling with young children could put your family at risk of becoming one of the statistics.

I’m not going to rehash all the facts; for a solid rundown of how this mess got started, you can click here. I’m also not going to argue the science—if literally tens of thousands of doctors (and children’s book author, Roald Dahl) say vaccines are good, I don’t really understand how anyone could disagree. Still, because some parents believe vaccines are bad, the vulnerability they’re perpetuating in their kids essentially puts the rest of us with young kids (especially those who are too young to be fully vaccinated) in the line of fire to contract some pretty major health problems.

In recent days I’ve read a number of articles (such as this one) quoting parents who have canceled trips to Disneyland and other family trips out of fear of their kids contracting the disease.

Every time I read one of these stories, I want to scream: WUSSIES!

Don’t get me wrong; the threat of illness is real. And for families with babies who are too young to receive the measles vaccination, the decision of whether to go or not is, as the CDC tells us, serious business. But for those of us with kids over the age of 2 (or 4 or 6, depending on which researchers you choose to believe) to let this threat—or just about any other threat, IMHO—stop us from living our lives, THAT is the real tragedy of all.

So much of family travel is about setting examples for our kids. Do you want them to mimic your tendencies to live in fear?

The reality is that we all take significant risks the moment we leave the house every morning. You could be in a fatal car crash. My kids could be abducted. I could have a heart attack. Heck, in today’s day and age, any one of us could be the victim of terrorism or just a really violent temper-tantrum by a madman.

Whether you like it or not, anti-vaxers are among us, which means all of us are at risk of coming into contact with the measles virus at pretty much any time. Traveling may heighten this risk a little, but the risk is there nevertheless. In other words, scary shit is everywhere. So why stop traveling?

There are a lot of things in this life that can put us in danger of illness and eventually death. Travel, on the other hand, enriches us, nurtures our souls, teaches us about the world around us, and helps us strengthen a foundation of understanding in ourselves and our kids. Travel heightens the living parts of each of us. It’s the absolute last thing we should relinquish.

And so, I beg you: If you’ve got plans to travel and one of your kids hasn’t been vaccinated for measles, don’t freak. Instead, get the kid a vaccine, get some face masks. Get some gloves. And be diligent about keeping your child’s hands out of his or her mouth and face.

If you don’t have plans to travel and are shying away from doing so because of this issue, get over yourself and get out there. The world won’t wait for anti-vaxers. And it certainly won’t wait for you.

Standing up for family travelers

The smoking gun.

The smoking gun.

We family travelers have to stick together. That’s why I get outraged when haters lambaste us for bringing kids on planes. It’s why I wig out when people (usually people without kids) try to convince me that my children won’t remember anything about the trips we take until they’re at least 5.

It’s also why I support other family travel writers when they speak out against some of the idiocy others throw at globetrotting families around the world.

Naturally, then, I was happy to rally behind this recent blog post from writer, Zach Everson.

In the post, Everson (whom I’ve never met IRL) calls out #CarryOnShame, a hate-filled campaign about which I’ve ranted previously. In a nutshell, at least on paper, this hashtag was devised by a well-known newspaper editor as a way to shame airlines for not enforcing their own policies regarding carry-on luggage. The reality: Most of the shamers actually end up shaming other travelers.

To prove this ignominy, Everson essentially punked Spud Hilton, the man behind this shameful exercise in bad behavior.

A little while back, Everson Instagrammed a picture of a purported violator and tagged it with Hilton’s hashtag of hate. Earlier this month, Hilton included the photo with a clickbaiting roundup on the San Francisco Chronicle’s travel blog, adding some directed mockery of his own.

That mockery, of course, represented a smoking gun in Everson’s case against #CarryonShame. Among other things, Hilton poked fun of a “woman” who actually was Everson (a male human), and condescendingly snarked about a) the number of bags Everson was holding and b) a Hello Kitty design on one of the pieces.

Everson used these missteps to make two incredibly valid points concerning carry-on items and family travelers: 1) For us family travelers, it is common to have one parent bear the brunt of luggage-lugging, and 2) When we families purchase seats for each kid, we are entitled to bring along one carry-on and one personal item PER TRAVELER, just like everyone else on the plane.

(Also incredibly helpful was Everson’s link to a Consumer Reports piece about carry-on restrictions, and how some airlines exempt kid-related items such as medical equipment, diaper bags, and food.)

I won’t summarize the entirety of Everson’s piece here; I encourage you to click through and read it for yourself. Bottom line: It was brilliant. It railed on behalf of all family travelers. And it proved the hypocrisy, stupidity, and venom of this ill-conceived effort to make others look dumb.

I encourage you to fight this mean-spirited #CarryonShame campaign, and see shaming in general for the passive-aggressive hatemongering it is. I also encourage you to take positive and constructive action when you see carry-on violators. Quietly ask gate agents to enforce airline policies. Write letters to airlines about specific violations you’ve witnessed. This is the way to respect others and engineer change. Anything else is just trolling for attention.

Luxury family rooms coming to airports near you


The Family Room inside the Centurion Lounge at SFO.

The Family Room inside the Centurion Lounge at SFO.

American Express has talked about how “membership has its privileges” for most of my life. Now, with the company’s new Centurion Lounge program for Platinum Card holders (such as moi), I totally get it.

The lounges, currently available at four airports around the country, are the ultimate in VIP airport swank: Modern hangouts, free food, free drinks, free WiFi, and a host of other amenities for business travelers (heck, most of the lounges even have shower stalls).

My favorite part of the new spots: The “Family Rooms.” These facilities—available at three of the four lounges right now—boast beanbag chairs, toys, games, video games, giant televisions and a host of kid-friendly movies. They also have fun and colorful wallpaper. And soundproof walls so crazy kids won’t disturb grownups who are relaxing elsewhere in the lounge.

By the way, lounge-facing walls of these rooms are all glass, so, technically, parents can sit outside and drink hand-crafted cocktails while the kids blow off steam inside.

Official Centurion Lounge terms and conditions stipulate that so long as the Platinum Card holder is present, he or she can bring in a spouse or domestic partner and all children under the age of 18, no matter how many kids there might be. That means that when the four of us Villanos travel together, all of us can get in to these lounges free of charge.

I haven’t actually experienced the rooms with my kids yet, but I have visited Centurion Lounges at San Francisco International Airport and McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, and have admired the facilities in both spots.

(As of now, the other lounge with a family room is at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.)

With that in mind, I’ll tell you this: The next time I book a trip for the lot of us, I’ll be inclined to book from an airline that flies into or out of a terminal with a Centurion Lounge. I pay more than $400 per year for my Platinum Card; it’s nice to know my entire family now can benefit from some of the privileges of membership.

What are some of your favorite airport lounges?

An elevator your kids will talk about for years

Little R, enjoying Duplos inside the park.

Little R, enjoying Duplos inside the park.

Little R and I have been going through LEGO withdrawal all week this week, as we spent last weekend at Legoland California Resort and had an “awesome” time.

I’ll get to some of the details of our trip in a handful of pre-holiday posts next week. For now, I want to focus on the single best thing about our experience on site: The elevator at the LEGOLAND Hotel.

Yes, people, our favorite thing about the visit was an elevator.

This wasn’t just any old elevator. It was a Disco Elevator. With disco music that alternates depending on your destination. And flashing lights. And a disco ball. And a dance floor. Time and time again, every single person who asks R what she liked best about our visit, hears the same response: “The disco elevator.” It truly was THAT cool.

Every time we entered the elevator, it was playing standard elevator muzak—“The Girl from Ipanema” or some such smooth jazz. But when we pushed our button (we stayed on Floor No. 3) and the doors closed, the elevator transformed into a scene out of Saturday Night Live.

Lights went down. Disco music (or the LEGO theme song, “Everything is Awesome”) came on. A disco ball on the ceiling rotated. Laser spotlights zipped across the elevator walls.

It was impossible NOT to boogie to this scene; R and I obliged every time. (See YouTube video below.)

I know some might think this sort of gimmick is silly (or, worse yet, maddening). But as a dad who has ridden in countless elevators with his kids, I can tell you that the elevator made the simple (and often monotonous) experience of getting from the lobby to our room fun. And that set the tone for the rest of the trip.

My kid likely will be talking about the Disco Elevator for months. Yes, there were other things we liked at Legoland California. But that elevator was, without question, simply the best.