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Friday, January 23, 2004 - Page updated at 10:52 A.M.

Travel updates


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These items from the Port of Seattle:

• There's a new camera at Highway 99 and Highway 518 near Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, which should give some idea of traffic, or the lack of it, in the area. The view will be updated every eight minutes, according to the port. To see what's going on, visit www.wsdot.wa.gov/PugetSoundTraffic/cameras/default.htm.

• No more smoking outside the baggage-claim level at Sea-Tac, at least not right outside the door. The areas have been rearranged to prevent smoke from drifting inside, officials say. Smoking is not permitted inside the terminal or on the upper drive sidewalk outside of ticketing.

Nonstop, L.A. to Singapore, 18 1/2 hours

The first scheduled nonstop flight from Los Angeles to Singapore debuts next month, nearly 8,000 miles and 18 1/2 hours in the air. The trans-Pacific route will displace the current long-flight leader in terms of time aloft, which is Continental Airlines' 16-hour flight over the North Pole, from Newark to Hong Kong, in a Boeing 777.

Singapore Airlines Ltd., which will operate the service with a new Airbus 340-500, said the flight should save about two hours. Planes now flying the U.S.-Singapore route must refuel, usually in Japan.

Singapore Airlines said it will charge about 5 percent to 10 percent more for its nonstop flights to the U.S., compared with its flights between the U.S. and Singapore that have stops. The round-trip business-class ticket will cost about $4,500; the "executive economy" ticket — with more room than conventional economy — will cost about half that amount.

No food by mail? Please, Mr. Postman!

Prior to his departure from England, Robert Hegland of Falls Church, Va., looked at his bulging bags and asked a friend to mail him his excess luggage, including a few sealed bottles of dried herbs and spices, and one of whiskey.

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Later the friend called: The U.K. post office wouldn't mail the package because a new FDA rule prohibits the mailing of any food or drink to the United States as of Dec. 12, unless the sender had filed "prior notice" with the U.S. agency and gotten permission.

It's part of a law to prevent bioterrorism. But surely the rule must be intended for importers, not a guy with a jar of spices. Nope. The way the law is written, it allows no minimums and no exemption for personal use, says FDA spokeswoman Deborah Ralston. The only exception is for homemade food "made in the sender's personal residence."

Approval must be sought no more than five days before the package is to arrive, and no less than two hours before arrival if the package is arriving by land, four if by air, or eight if by sea. More details are at www.fda.gov.

Some security changes coming at you

After enduring two years of rigorous scrutiny, air travelers are getting a break at the security checkpoint: The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is allowing passengers who set off the metal detector to pass through it again before subjecting them to those extensive hand-wand searches.

Travelers now are permitted to empty their pockets and remove their shoes or belt buckles for a second walk though the checkpoint. The removed items are examined by X-ray along with carry-on bags.

New Zealand is No. 1 — again

Lonely Planet global staffers have submitted their annual votes for the hot (as in "gotta go there!") destinations for the new year. The grand winner in 2004, by a pronounced margin, is New Zealand — again.

The perfect storm of spectacular scenery, hospitable citizenry, compelling culture, perceived geographical safety and free global big-screen advertising courtesy of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy has catapulted New Zealand into the coveted top spot for the second year in a row.

As in previous polls, five places emerged as more popular than the rest. New Zealand was in the top five last year, but the other four were not. Newcomers this year are Peru, Croatia, Australia and Thailand.

— Seattle Times wire services

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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