By Peter Greenberg

Covid. Canceled flights. More Covid and Cold Weather. Winter travel news can sound depressingly familiar. Amid all the stock video footage and desultory verbiage busy people can be forgiven if they just skip the news and go straight to comics and sports. There are, however,  a few recent stories worth your attention and a few may even save you grief and money. 

Exercise Your Fifth Freedom

Want to fly from New York to Athens? You might choose Delta or United. But few people know that Dubai-based Emirates flies that route.

How about Sao Paulo to Buenos Aires? You might choose LATAM or Aerolineas Argentinas. But you can also hop aboard a non-stop flight on Turkish Airlines.

Welcome to the world of little-known secret flights, or in airline business parlance, fifth freedom flights. These are agreements that allow airlines not based in a country to fly from a city in that country to another city where the airline is also not based.

These are often positioning flights, but it’s legal for you to fly them, and often at an attractive discount.

The latest fifth freedom flight is from Milan to Barcelona on another airline that may surprise you — Singapore.

A Few Useful Travel Apps

As you begin to plan your travel choices for 2022, consider a few innovative — and useful — travel apps.

The National Park Service has a free app that’s been refined and improved and is very helpful to find parks — and experiences — that are open and available.

Una is a smart trip planner app that wants to know about your travel style, food choices, beach or mountain and then makes intelligent suggestions based on your destination.

And then once you’re ready to go, check out an app called Bublup. It’s actually a storage service on the cloud that lets you both save and organize your travel content — everything from photos and videos to documents and links in easy to retrieve folders.

 

Smackdown on Aisle 27

The final numbers from 2021 are in from the Federal Aviation Administration on unruly, disruptive or downright violent airline passengers. It’s a staggering number — 5,891 to be exact.

Of that total, 72% or 4,290 were mask-related issues. Some planes were diverted, passengers were taken off flights and in some cases, fines and criminal charges were proposed.

Several passengers are now banned from flights. In response, many airlines announced they were eliminating or restricting on board alcohol service, at least in coach class. But that has not reduced the number of incidents moving into 2022.

Why?

Because many of these passengers were drinking at the airport before they boarded their flights. They already were drunk when they boarded the plane. Add altitude, a pressurized cabin, and you get the picture.

Will it get any better?

The solution may be not in the air but on the ground.

Can airport retailers be convinced not to serve alcohol to any passenger within 45 minutes of their boarding time? There may be push back from people in coach.

Packing Heat at 30,000-ft.

Passengers (on the ground at least) can disagree over the wearing of masks. But there’s an even bigger, more worrisome statistic — nearly 5,700 firearms were confiscated at airport security checkpoints. This is the highest number of seized weapons ever reported.

Even scarier, the overwhelming number of guns seized — 85% — were already loaded.

The airports with the highest number of confiscated guns are Atlanta, Dallas and Houston.

This is not a simple case of TSA agents discovering a bottle of water in your carry-on. Passengers whose guns are seized face fines between $3,000 and $10,000 plus possible criminal charges.

Cruise Ships Are Still Sailing. Will you have a Bon Voyage?

The Centers for Disease Control report that every single cruise ship the agency is monitoring has reported at least one COVID case on board. At the same time, while some cruise lines have canceled sailings, nearly 220 cruise ships are continuing their itineraries.

One reason is the number of cases. Even the largest number of cases reported on any one cruise ship — about 50 passengers —  occurred on a ship that was carrying 4,300 people.

That’s about a 1.5% caseload (not exactly an outbreak). And those passengers were also fully vaccinated and were either mild or asymptomatic cases. No one was hospitalized.

At the same time, the CDC has now made its COVID guidance optional for cruise lines and reduced quarantine periods to five days for those cruise ship passengers testing positive.

Why Airplane Food Tastes Differently

Airline food is, more often than not, an oxymoron. Besides, most people don’t eat airline food because they’re hungry but because they’re bored.

But if you fly business class where most domestic airlines still serve meals, then you will probably notice that it tastes differently than the same dish on the ground.

There are a few reasons for this. One is that all airline food is heated twice  — once in the flight kitchens on the ground and then reheated in the air.

Because the air in the cabin is drier, the meal is as well. And so is your nose, and that reduces your ability to smell.

Low humidity and altitude also inhibit our sense of taste. That’s one reason airlines add so much salt to their inflight meals.

No problem if you’re in coach. It’s easy to turn down a sandwich, chips and cookies. But many frequent flyers, who probably are out there somewhere, know that is you want +a really good hot meal you should wait and buy it on the ground.

Underwater Mexico Welcomes Fish, Turtles & Humans

Just about everywhere you go, there are great opportunities to get on, in and under the water, to see and often interact with an amazing variety of Mexico’s marine life.

Cancun and Riviera Maya

Whale shark season in Cancun and on the Riviera Maya typically runs from mid-May to mid-September, when the water is warmer. These colorfully spotted creatures grow to more than 40 feet long and can weigh more than 20 tons.

From Riviera Maya, a one-hour boat ride to blue water will get you to the whale shark aggregation, where you can get up close with these gentle giants.

June through early October is nesting season for green turtles and loggerhead turtles. A number of hotels have special interactive programs that allow guests to help protect these turtles; at Moon Palace Cancun, you can participate in the hatching and release of newborn turtles to the sea every September and October. Always call ahead to determine specific schedules.

Los Cabos

Whale-watching season in Cabo ranges from early December to mid-April. That’s when about a thousand gray, humpback and orca whales head south from Alaska. There are a number of ways to experience these whales. Perhaps the best is to go in the early morning, when the sea is relatively calm, and on a larger boat (instead of a Zodiac) if you’re prone to motion sickness.

If you like to snorkel, about nine miles from Cabo San Lucas and away from the crowds is Santa Maria Beach. Arrive around sunrise, when the water in Santa Maria Bay is calmer and you’ll have the entire bay nearly to yourself before the big tour boats arrive. You’ll see colorful yellow porkfish, parrotfish, sergeant majors and pufferfish, to name a few.

Sea turtle estuary

Another hidden gem of Los Cabos is the 345-acre estuary of San José del Cabo, which was designated a state ecological reserve in 1994 and is untouched by hotel development. Within walking distance from this estuary is a sea turtle preserve. If you visit during turtle hatching season (August through December), you can not only witness the process of hatching but also join volunteers from the Organization for Sustainability and Environmental Conservation as they release the turtles into the sea.

Puerto Vallarta and Riviera Nayarit

Located in the state of Jalisco, Puerto Vallarta and Banderas Bay offer generally calm waters and a number of special chances to experience sea life. Whale-watching season in Puerto Vallarta is a winter and early spring activity, running from December through March.

Other inhabitants of Banderas Bay include dolphins—bottlenose, spinner and rough-toothed dolphins. A number of tours allow you to get in the water and swim with them.

Farther north of Puerto Vallarta (about a one-hour drive) is the lush but relatively secluded Riviera Nayarit. With almost 200 miles of coastline, you’ll discover the prime breeding grounds for olive Radley turtles, as well as hawksbill, leatherback and black turtles, with their nesting season from June to December.

You’ll also have a number of chances to spot whales in both Sayulita and Rincón de Guayabitos. From December to April in Sayulita, you’ll see humpback whales, along with bottlenose and spotted dolphins. A little farther north, about a 30-minute drive from Sayulita, the whales swim by the coast of Rincón de Guayabitos between December and mid-March.

 

CBS News Travel Editor Peter Greenberg hosts a weekly radio show called CBS Eye on Travel plus an investigative PBS television program called The Travel Detective.