Archive for June, 2011

FBI: Stowaway slips onto cross-country flight

June 30th, 2011 by Mariah

(CNN) — Investigators have charged a man with being a stowaway after he allegedly took a flight from New York to Los Angeles, even though he didn’t have a proper boarding pass and was not on the flight manifest.

 

It wasn’t until after Virgin America Flight 415 took off from John F. Kennedy International Airport on Friday that the airline discovered the man, identified as Olajide Oluwaseun Noibi, wasn’t supposed to be on the flight, according to an FBI affidavit.

 

But authorities did not arrest him Friday. They arrested him this week, on Wednesday, when he returned to LAX airport in Los Angeles and tried to fraudulently board a Delta flight bound for Atlanta. Officials found he was carrying numerous boarding passes, none in his name, the FBI said.

 

FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said the FBI did detain Noibi when the flight from New York landed in Los Angeles. Agents investigated to see if he or his luggage posed any immediate threat. They then released him, Eimiller said.

 

The FBI is not saying what investigate steps it may have taken in the following days nor whether it knew Noibi would appear for the Delta flight. The FBI affidavit says an agent was at the Delta departure gate when Noibi arrived.

 

“We are investigating his motivation, and whether it was anything beyond not wanting to pay for a ticket,” Eimiller said.

 

Authorities are also looking to see whether Noibi has used aliases or multiple addresses, she said.

 

Noibi appeared in court Wednesday. His case was continued. He is expected back in U.S. District Court on Friday, Eimiller said.

 

Virgin America had no immediate comment Thursday morning.

 

Noibi is from Nigeria and is a U.S. citizen, Eimiller said.

Public records show he is 24 years old.

 

When flying to Los Angeles last week, Noibi was questioned by a flight attendant. He produced a boarding pass from a different date that was not in his name, FBI Special Agent Kevin Hogg said in the affidavit.

 

The man whose name was on the boarding pass told Hogg that his boarding pass had disappeared from his back pocket after he took the subway to the airport last Thursday, the day before the flight Noibi was on, according to the affidavit.

 

A law enforcement official told CNN there is nothing at this point to indicate terrorism in the case.

 

Transportation Security Administration spokesman Greg Soule issued a statement saying, “Every passenger that passes through security checkpoints is subject to many layers of security including thorough physical screening at the checkpoint. TSA’s review of this matter indicates that the passenger went through screening. It is important to note that this passenger was subject to the same physical screening at the checkpoint as other passengers.”

 

The TSA had no further comment due to the ongoing FBI investigation, Soule added.

 

It was not clear how Noibi got to the gate for the flight at JFK.

The University of Michigan website lists someone by that name as being enrolled in an electrical engineering program.

 

The university lists an e-mail address for Noibi. A message from CNN to that address Thursday morning was not immediately returned.

Noibi said he has a U.S. passport that had been stolen and that he had his Nigerian passport at home, Hogg wrote in the affidavit.

Federal law states that being a stowaway on board a flight is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison.

 

 

A flight attendant noticed Noibi “occupying a seat that the other attendants said was supposed to be empty,” the affidavit says. When the attendant, Satoshi Saito, asked to see his boarding pass, Noibi responded that it was in his bag in an overhead bin, the affidavit said.

 

After the bag was retrieved, Noibi reached in and handed Saito a boarding pass, which had a different date. Noibi said he had missed the flight the day before.

 

Saito then brought the boarding pass to the captain, who instructed Saito to request further ID.

 

“At that point, Noibi did not want to talk with Saito and was hesitant.

 

Eventually Noibi produced a University of Michigan identification card

with his photo and his full name. Saito took the identification card to the captain, who observed that the names did not match and the date was wrong on the boarding pass. The flight crew noted that Noibi was not on the flight manifest.”

 

It is not clear what Noibi did for several days in Los Angeles, but he later told authorities he was recruiting people for his software business.

 

A LinkedIn page for someone with Noibi’s name lists him as “president, CEO and co-founder” of a company and links to its website. The site says the company is in Lagos, Nigeria.

 

A man who answered the phone listed for the company and gave his name only as “Timi” said Noibi does some consulting for the company.

 

On Wednesday, Hogg wrote in his affidavit, he was with an officer from Customs and Border Protection when Noibi approached the Delta departure gate counter at LAX for a flight to Atlanta. Noibi showed a Delta agent “a portion of a green boarding pass,” but the agent told him the ticket was for the previous day and was not a valid boarding pass for the flight.

 

Noibi insisted that he had been told he could go to the gate for the flight, the affidavit said.

 

When Hogg approached Noibi and read him his Miranda rights, Noibi acknowledged that he had not paid for his flight to Los Angeles.

 

He also said he spent the night at LAX in the secure portion of the airport, the affidavit said. “Noibi claimed he was able to go through passenger screening by obtaining a seat pass and displaying his University of Michigan identification and a police report that his passport had been stolen.”

 

Authorities found he had two boarding passes in his pocket and more than 10 in his two bags. “Noibi did not have any boarding passes in his own name,” the affidavit said.

 

FBI spokeswoman Eimiller said the FBI has not determined how he came into possession of the boarding passes.

Twitter is handy tool for airline passengers

June 27th, 2011 by Mariah

 

(CNN) — When you’re traveling and something goes wrong, all you want is for someone to help you get back on track. That used to mean lengthy lines in the airport or long hold times on the phone, but that’s been changing, thanks to social media. Airlines are quickly learning that social media tools, particularly Twitter, can act as an excellent customer service channel.

 

Though Twitter and Facebook have been around for several years, many airlines, like other companies, were hesitant to really embrace them. These outlets have given people a great deal of power, and companies are generally afraid of things they can’t control. Forward-thinking airlines like Southwest and JetBlue have long participated, but others have only recently realized that it’s a smart move.

 

The power of social media is undeniable. Just ask Delta Air Lines. A video posted on YouTube of military personnel upset over fees for their fourth checked bags recently earned the carrier a tidal wave of negative attention. The airline already provided three checked bags for free to active-duty military, and the government reimbursed fees for any additional bags, but the reaction via social media channels was overwhelming anger. The uproar actually caused Delta to change its policy and increase its allowance, and other airlines followed suit.

 

In the past, many airlines have tried to ignore things that bubbled up via social media, and that hasn’t worked well. Remember “United Breaks Guitars,” where a frustrated United passenger took to the Web with a music video to get satisfaction? United finally responded once the story got legs, but now airlines are quicker to react.

 

But those instances are few and far between. More important than how an airline reacts to viral stories is how an airline responds to regular people with travel problems.

 

Delta has become one of the most proactive airlines over the past year or so when it comes to using social media to serve regular folks. The airline has created a model for others to emulate.

 

Delta now has a social media lab where it runs its efforts. It has created the @DeltaAssist Twitter account specifically to deal with customer issues, though it monitors all mentions of the airline through all channels.

 

The fact that Delta now provides Internet access on all of its non-regional “mainline” aircraft means it can help people while they’re in the air (if the passenger has paid the fee for wi-fi). I’ve personally contacted the Delta Assist team on a few issues, and the results have been excellent. Here’s how it works:

 

From your Twitter account, send a note that mentions @DeltaAssist and then make sure that you’re “following” the airline from your account. One of Delta’s nine agents who work with Twitter will respond, and you can go back and forth via direct message.

 

This is best for problems that aren’t complex. Remember, Twitter allows only 140 characters per message, so you have to get to the point quickly. (And that makes it very attractive to the airlines.) If it’s a very involved issue, you’ll still need to talk to a person. But even for issues like a missed flight or a delay, this can get quick results without having to wait in line.

 

Delta isn’t the only airline that uses Twitter for good. Most airlines will now respond to at least some customer service tweets, and some — like JetBlue — have dedicated staff, though none has as much infrastructure behind social media as Delta. Here’s a list of other major U.S. airlines and their Twitter accounts:

 

Alaska Airlines: @AlaskaAirAmerican Airlines: @AmericanAirFrontier: @flyfrontierJetBlue: @JetBlueSouthwest:@SouthwestAirUnited: @UnitedUS Airways: @USAirwaysVirgin America: @VirginAmerica

 

Of those airlines mentioned, JetBlue, Southwest and Virgin America are probably the most responsive, while Frontier and US Airways fall to the back of the pack.

 

The best advice for dealing with airlines on Twitter is this: Give it a shot. If you don’t get a response in a timely manner, get in line or on the phone for an agent. You’ve got nothing to lose by trying to contact airlines via social media, and the results might be surprisingly positive.

Hotel housekeeping: Do you tip?

June 27th, 2011 by Mariah

CNN) — Business traveler Bob Logan always tips hotel housekeepers, but he still has questions about the best way to do it.

 

“Let’s say I’m going into a hotel for three nights, do I leave something every night, do I do it only at the end? Does the housekeeper at the end — is it the same one that did it the other night?” wonders Logan, a New Jersey business development director who spends about 50 nights a year in hotels.

 

Housekeeping is a realm of hotel tipping that even frequent travelers find confusing. Tipping the bellman is obvious; he’s standing right there. But many guests skip tips for the hidden housekeepers or forget gratuities in the scramble to get out of the room.

 

Survey data shows that about 30% of U.S. hotel guests leave tips for hotel housekeepers, according to Michael Lynn, a professor at the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration.

 

Since housekeeping positions fall into the out-of-sight (”back of the house”) category of hotel work, the jobs aren’t considered tips-based positions. Still, that doesn’t mean tips aren’t warranted, and in terms of tipping etiquette the rule of thumb is, “When in doubt, do,” said Lizzie Post, an etiquette expert with the Emily Post Institute.

 

“This is a person who really does try to make your stay in your room nice every single day, and that is why we tip her,” Post said.

So when and how much? Post offered these guidelines:

 

• Tip every day to ensure your tip gets to the person who actually cleaned your room.

• Leave a note in your room with the money indicating it is for housekeeping.

• Tip $1 or $2 per person, per night in most hotels. In higher end hotels, $3 to $5 per person per night is typical.

• In a motel, tips are generally not necessary for a one-night stay. The $1 or $2 standard is appropriate for multiday stays.

 

Tipping housekeepers is “a really lovely thing,” said Reneta McCarthy, a Cornell lecturer who started out in the industry as a housekeeping manager with Marriott.

 

“But generally speaking I would say the majority of people don’t do it.

And when you look at it, you know, I hate to say it, but this is not considered a tips position. The housekeepers, unlike the bellmen, are not filling out tip reporting forms,” she said.

 

The national average hourly wage for bellhops was $11.40 in May 2010, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics wage estimates. The average for housekeepers was $10.17, according to survey data. Survey forms issued by the bureau ask for information on tips, but it’s unclear how reporting varies between housekeepers and bellhops.

 

While those who study the lodging business are on the fence about tipping rules, many who give travel advice are fully in favor of tips for housekeepers.

 

“You really should, especially if you’re a very messy guest and if you use all the towels … and request extra pillows and blankets,” said HotelChatter.com managing editor Juliana Shallcross.

 

“Housekeepers have so much more work to do these days as hotels roll out superplush bedding with six pillows at least and heavier sheets and duvets and everything needs to be washed and cleaned.”

 

The most typical tip is $2 a day, according to Bjorn Hanson, a professor at NYU’s Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management.

 

In some hotels, envelopes marked with the housekeeper’s name remind guests of the service they’re receiving.

 

Post isn’t a big fan of being told she’s supposed to tip, but said sometimes it is nice to know the name of the person who is taking care of the room. And she admitted that occasionally she forgets to tip on hectic business trips.

 

Business traveler Logan said he feels uncertain when he waits until the end of his stay to tip his standard $2 per night, so he’s a fan of the envelopes as a reminder to take care of it daily.

 

“I kind of like that because it just makes me think that it’s a little bit fairer.”

Queen Mary 2 fails sanitation inspection

June 27th, 2011 by Mariah

(CNN) — Queen Mary 2, billed by its owners as “the most magnificent ocean liner ever built,” isn’t getting such rave reviews from government sanitation inspectors.

 

The ship was checked earlier this month as part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Vessel Sanitation Program, which aims to prevent gastrointestinal illnesses on cruise ships.

 

During the visit on June 10, inspectors found a number of violations, including “extremely dirty” water and floor tiling in a splash pool; a human hair in an ice machine; and various chemicals stored near napkins, paper cups and utensils.

 

As a result, the ship received a score of 84. The government has two score classifications: Anything 86 or higher is “satisfactory,” while scores of 85 or lower are considered “not satisfactory.”

 

Failing grades for ships, especially the larger vessels, are extremely rare, according to CruiseCritic.com. There have been no failing scores since Albatross, a private ship, received a score of 69 in February 2010, the site reported.

 

The kind of violations found on board the Queen Mary 2 are unacceptable, especially the dirty pool water, said Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor in chief of CruiseCritic.com.

 

“I’ve been chronicling the CDC scores for 14 years and this one is unusually bad,” Brown said. “What really bothered me was the use of the word ‘filthy’ five times.”

 

Cunard Line, which operates the Queen Mary 2, called the ship’s most recent grade “an uncharacteristically low score.” It stressed that on most previous inspections, the ship scored over 95 and achieved the maximum of 100 on three occasions.

 

“The poor assessment on 10 June resulted largely from one small area of the ship’s overall operation. All the issues raised in the report were immediately addressed and have now been corrected,” said Cunard spokeswoman Jackie Chase in a statement.

 

Ship and shore management have now “redefined certain roles and responsibilities” and the company’s training schedule has been stepped up, Chase said.

 

“The Company is confident that failings of this nature will not occur again, and that the ship’s VSP scores in future will return to the customary consistently high level.”

 

So should you worry if you have a cruise coming up on the Queen Mary 2? Brown said you shouldn’t have second thoughts.

 

“I’m sure after this, it’s probably the cleanest ship out there,” she said.

TSA stands by officers after pat-down of elderly woman in Florida

June 27th, 2011 by Mariah

(CNN) — The Transportation Security Administration stood by its security officers Sunday after a Florida woman complained that her cancer-stricken, 95-year-old mother was patted down and forced to remove her adult diaper while going through security.

 

Reports of the incident took hold in social media, with scores of comments on the topic and reposts appearing hourly on Twitter Sunday afternoon.

 

The TSA released a statement Sunday defending its agents’ actions at the Northwest Florida Regional Airport.

 

“While every person and item must be screened before entering the secure boarding area, TSA works with passengers to resolve security alarms in a respectful and sensitive manner,” the federal agency said.

 

“We have reviewed the circumstances involving this screening and determined that our officers acted professionally and according to proper procedure.”

 

Jean Weber told CNN’s Fredricka Whitfield on Sunday that the security officers may have been procedurally correct, but she still does not believe they were justified, especially given her mother’s frail condition.

 

“If this is your procedure — which I do understand — I also feel that your procedure needs to be changed,” she said.

 

Weber said the two were traveling June 18 from northwest Florida to Michigan, so her mother could move in with relatives before eventually going to an assisted living facility.

 

“My mother is very ill, she has a form of leukemia,” Weber said. “She had a blood transfusion the week before, just to bolster up her strength for this travel.”

 

While going through security, the 95-year-old was taken by a TSA officer into a glassed-in area, where a pat-down was performed,

 

Weber said. An agent told Weber “they felt something suspicious on (her mother’s) leg and they couldn’t determine what it was” — leading them to take her into a private, closed room.

 

Soon after, Weber said, a TSA agent came out and told her that her mother’s Depend undergarment was “wet and it was firm, and they couldn’t check it thoroughly.” The mother and daughter left to find a bathroom, at the TSA officer’s request, to take off the adult diaper.

 

Weber said she burst into tears during the ordeal, forcing her own pat-down and other measures in accordance with TSA protocol. But she said her mother, a nurse for 65 years, “was very calm” despite being bothered by the fact that she had to go through the airport without underwear.

 

Eventually, Weber said she asked for her mother to be whisked away to the boarding gate without her, because their plane was scheduled to leave in two minutes and Weber was still going through security.

 

By this weekend, the 95-year-old woman — who was not identified by name — was doing “fine” in Michigan, where her niece and her family “was treating her like royalty because they love her so much.”

“My mother is a trouper,” Weber said.

 

This is not the first time that the TSA’s pat-downs of passengers have come under fire, nor the first time that the agency has rallied behind its officers and policy.

 

Last year, the administration announced it was ramping up the use of full-body scanning and pat-downs to stop nonmetallic threats, including explosives, from getting on planes. The goal is to head off attacks such as the one allegedly attempted in Christmas 2009 by Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab, who allegedly had a bomb sewn into his underwear on a flight from the Netherlands to Michigan.

 

The TSA estimates that only 3% of passengers are subjected to pat-downs — and then only after they have set off a metal detector or declined to step into a full-body scanner. Yet the new policy has triggered an uproar online and in airports, from a relatively small but vocal number of travelers who feel their rights and privacy were being violated.

 

But the federal safety agency hasn’t backed down, making some adjustments but no major changes to its policy.

 

“Every traveler is a critical partner in TSA’s efforts to keep our skies safe,” Administrator John Pistole, who ordered the new approach, said last fall. “And I know and appreciate that the vast majority of Americans recognize and respect the important work we do.”

 

More recently, outrage erupted over a video-recorded pat-down of a 6-

year-old passenger last April at New Orleans’ airport. The video, which was posted on YouTube, shows the girl protesting the search by a female security officer at first, though she complies quietly while it is underway.

 

Pistole addressed this controversy at a Senate Homeland Security and

Government Affairs Committee meeting last week, explaining the pat-down was ordered because the child had moved while passing through a body imaging machine. He told committee members that “we have changed the policy (so) that there’ll be repeated efforts made to

resolve that without a pat-down.”

 

The next day, TSA spokesman Greg Soule said that the new policy — which will apply to children age 12 and younger — is in the process of being rolled out. It will give security officers “more options,” but does not eliminate pat-downs as one of them.

 

“This decision will ultimately reduce — though not eliminate — pat-downs,” Soule said.

Jet narrowly avoids collision at JFK

June 23rd, 2011 by Mariah

New York (CNN) — A Lufthansa jumbo jet nearly collided with another plane at John F. Kennedy International Airport Monday after an EgyptAir flight apparently veered into its path just as the jet barreled down the runway, according to air traffic controller tapes.

The near miss was captured on audio recordings, revealing an air traffic controller communicating with the Lufthansa pilot, yelling “Cancel takeoff! Cancel takeoff plans!” as the two planes moved toward each other.

The pilot of the Lufthansa jet acknowledged as the plane rolled to a halt.

Lufthansa Flight 411, an Airbus 340 packed with 286 passengers and crew, was cleared for takeoff by air traffic control shortly before 7 p.m. Monday, according to a statement from Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen.

EgyptAir Flight 986, a Boeing 777, was issued instructions to taxi from the ramp area to the airfield for departure.

The plane was instructed to turn onto another taxiway, but instead went straight, the statement said.

A spokesman for EgyptAir said the flight was delayed 40 minutes because Lufthansa’s departure was delayed.

The plane did not move until the tower issued clearance, spokesman Mohamed Rahma said.

After a brief inspection at the gate, the Lufthansa flight continued on its flight to Munich, Germany, and arrived safely, according to Lufthansa spokesman Martin Riecken.

The FAA is currently investigating the incident.

U.S. fines China Airlines for deceptive advertising

June 23rd, 2011 by Mariah

(CNN) — The U.S. Department of Transportation fined Taiwan’s China Airlines Tuesday for “deceptive advertising of airfares.”

China Airlines was fined $80,000 for failing to include various fees in their prices for transportation, a DOT statement said.

“We take our airline price advertising rules seriously and expect carriers to comply with them,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in the statement.

China Airlines did not post information on additional taxes and fees on their website for a time, the department’s Aviation Enforcement Office said.

The DOT requires any price for air transportation listed in advertising to be the full price customers will pay. The only exception to their rule, which will end October 24, is for government-imposed taxes and fees based per passenger, the statement said.

“When passengers shop for air transportation, they have a right to know the full price they’ll be paying,” LaHood said in the statement.

Advertisements must also disclose if fees and taxes are not mentioned as part of the fare they promote. Carriers also have to identify the September 11 security fee of $2.50 for each passenger boarding at a U.S. airport, a fee that applies to foreign carriers and ticket agents as well, the statement said.

Less Americans Traveling This 4th Of July

June 23rd, 2011 by Mariah

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — More Americans are staying home for the 4th of July weekend compared to last year, according to a forecast released Wednesday.

Motorist group AAA said that 39 million Americans are expected to travel 50 miles or more from home between Thursday, June 30, and Monday, July 4. That’s down 2.5% from last year, when 40 million Americans celebrated the long weekend away from home.

High gas prices are to blame. Although they’ve inched lower in recent weeks, the average price for a gallon of gasoline is $3.64 — about a dollar more than it was at this time last year. That’s enough to keep some Americans at home over the long weekend, according to Glen MacDonell, director of AAA Travel Services.

Higher gas prices are hitting lower income travelers the hardest. In homes with a total household income of $50,000 or less, the percentage of travelers is forecast to fall from 41% to 33%.

Meanwhile, in households with total income of more than $100,000, the percentage of 4th of July travelers is expected to increase from 26% to 35%.

Despite the increase in gas prices, 84% of holiday travelers will be driving.
More than half of 4th of July travelers said that rising gas prices would not impact their travel plans, but 44% said that the rising cost of fuel would impact their plans.

Of those who said they would change their weekend travel plans, about a third said they would travel a shorter distance or take an alternate mode of transportation. The rest said they would pinch pennies in other ways.

Even as drivers shorten their routes, slightly more than 3 million Americans will fly over the 4th of July weekend, AAA predicts, up 9% from last year.
Part of the increasing appeal of airline travel is the increased expense driving, the report said.

Whether going by air or by land, travelers should expect to shell out more money this year; median spending is expected to rise 25% to $807.

The report from AAA was based on research and economic forecasting by IHS Global Insight.

ANOTHER earthquake hits Japan

June 23rd, 2011 by Mariah

Tokyo (CNN) — An earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 6.7 struck off the Pacific Coast of northern Japan early Thursday, Japanese and U.S. seismologists reported.

The Japan Meteorological Agency warned that a tsunami could be generated by the temblor, but canceled the warning less than an hour after the quake.

The coastal cities of Kamaishi and Ofunato ordered about 8,000 households near the coast to evacuate, the Japanese public broadcaster NHK reported, but there was no immediate reports of damage or injuries.

Train service in the area was stopped temporarily, but resumed operation within an hour, NHK reported.

The quake struck shortly before 7 a.m. (6 p.m. Wednesday ET) and was centered 530 kilometers (330 miles) north-northeast of Tokyo.

The epicenter was off the northern prefecture of Iwate, about 175 kilometers (109 miles) north of where the magnitude-9 quake that devastated northern Japan struck in March.

New York Times Article Featuring Willows Inn

June 17th, 2011 by Mariah

A special congrats to the Innkeepers and Staff at Willows Inn for being featured in the New York Times!!!

Here is an excerpt from the article, “Seattle, a Tasting Menu”:

“I know that from previous visits to the region, and on the basis of those trips I can also say that its culinary strides of late seem especially long and fleet. One measure of these advances is the transformation of the Willows Inn, a longstanding lodge on Lummi Island that has recently become the focus of considerable chatter among (and pilgrimages by) restaurant lovers.

Lummi Island, a hilly, verdant, narrow finger of land that’s only about 10 miles long, is another of the San Juans, and isn’t especially trammeled or set up for significant tourism — at least not yet. After a roughly two-hour roadtrip from Seattle, a sign I confronted as soon as a ferry deposited me and my car there made that clear. It pegged the population at 816.

Lummi, which rhymes with chummy, has such a closed, cozy feeling that if you drive down streets away from the main part of town, people tilling their gardens or mowing their lawns look up expectantly, seemingly poised to wave hello to someone almost certain to be familiar to them. When they realize they don’t know you, there’s a moment’s pause. Then they wave anyway.
Willows Inn goes back to 1910, but in 2001 its current owner, a commercial fisherman named Riley Starks, bought and began to refurbish it, turning each of its 15 rooms, including two cottages, a yurt and several suites, into rustic delights. He wanted to upgrade its restaurant, too, and make it a showcase for the island’s small farms, one of which belongs to the inn, and for fresh catch from the surrounding waters. But his vision didn’t fully come together until late last year, when a young chef who had spent several years at Noma, a Copenhagen restaurant internationally renowned for its dedication to local products and traditions, agreed to take over the kitchen.

The chef, Blaine Wetzel, 25, has tried to create a North American Noma by faithfully — even slavishly — reproducing the original’s theatrics and grace notes. As at Noma, dishes come to the table in unconventional vessels: cedar boxes, clay flower pots, wicker baskets. As at Noma, there’s a profuse deployment of arcane greens (beach mustard, sheep sorrel, pine shoots) and vivid flowers (salmonberry, arugula blossoms, wild roses), some of them pickled and many of them foraged — as at Noma — that very day. And in yet another crib from Noma, Mr. Wetzel and his assistant chefs deliver these dishes themselves, so they can brief you on the backstory of each ingredient and how very nearby it sprouted, bloomed, grazed or swam.

What they don’t tell you, the printed menu does, providing assurances, for example, that reef netting, “considered one of the most sustainable fishing methods in the world,” and the labors of “Lummi tribal members” were responsible for much of your seafood.

A bit much? Perhaps. But the atmospheric and gustatory joys of dinner, which is a pre-selected tasting menu of five courses for $85 (not including drinks, tax and tip) redeem the preciousness. The inn’s hillside perch affords an expansive view from the dining room of the sea and the sky, streaked with orange and pink as the sun sets.

And Mr. Wetzel and his team for the most part do justice to incomparably fresh food. Seared spot prawns, floating in a cloud of mussel-broth foam, put me in mind of Lilliputian lobster tails. Their flavor was that rich, their texture that buttery. Equally tender fingerling potatoes, dressed with melted havarti and buttermilk whey, had such a true, clear taste it was as if someone had infused them with, or marinated them in, some magical potato extract.

They had been harvested from the inn’s farm, just a mile up the hillside. That’s where I stayed, in a satellite suite the inn has there. Rosemary, rhubarb and lovage skirted its stoop. Through the front windows I could see and hear the strutting and clucking of free-range chickens. You want a closer relationship with what you eat? At the Willows Inn you can practically bed down with it.

By taking culinary trends further than other places manage or care to, Seattle and its environs put a pleasantly kooky spin on things — which brings me to Woodinville, an audacious exurb of Seattle that indulges Americans’ deepened romance with regional winemaking through the illusion of vineyards where they don’t really exist. There’s no significant grape cultivation in Woodinville. That happens in areas of Washington far away. But to allow Seattle residents to sample the fruits of their state’s considerable — and noteworthy — viticulture without a long drive, more than 90 winemakers have set up tasting rooms here, many within the last two years. And they’ve been joined recently by artisanal producers of vodka and whiskey who actually distill their grains in Woodinville office parks and warehouses, then sell them from adjacent tasting rooms, taking advantage of a captive audience of tipplers. ”

To read the entire article click here:

http://travel.nytimes.com/2011/06/12/travel/eating-in-and-around-seattle.html?pagewanted=1&hpw

Travel Warning For Philippines

June 15th, 2011 by Mariah

(CNN) — U.S. citizens should “exercise extreme caution” when traveling to the Philippines, the U.S. State Department said Tuesday in a statement.

“Targeted sites may be public gathering places including, but not limited to, airports, shopping malls, conference centers, and other public venues,” said the statement.

The warning, which is an update from November, specifies the island of Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago as particularly dangerous and at great risk of harboring terrorist activity. Manila might also be included, the statement said.

Because of election-related violence, the Philippine government declared a state of emergency in November 2009 for the Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat provinces, as well as Cotabato City in Mindanao. This state of emergency is still in effect, according to the State Department.

Travelers should be aware of heightened police and military presence in these areas and of kidnap-for-ransom gangs that are active in the Philippines and target foreigners, the department said.

Mindanao is a predominantly Muslim autonomous region, set up in the 1990s to quell armed uprisings by people seeking an independent Muslim homeland in the Philippines, a predominantly Christian country.

In November 2009 at least 57 people were killed when their convoy was ambushed in Maguindanao. The former mayor of the province was accused of plotting the deaths to thwart a political rival.

The State Department issued a worldwide caution to warn U.S. citizens that terrorism can happen anywhere and urges those visiting the Philippines to register with the U.S. Embassy to be notified of emergencies, the statement said.

Last Minute Father’s Day Gift Ideas

June 15th, 2011 by Mariah

Father’s Day is almost here. Do you have something for the special dads in your life? You don’t have to spend a ton on great tech for dad, we have our top ten affordable tech toys for him right here, and you still have time to get them in time to give them to him on the 21st.

1. Kodak Easyshare C143 $59

A digital camera for less than $60? How good can it possibly be? The Kodak Easyshare C143 is possibly one of the best deals you can find on a digital camera. It’s 12 megapixels, a 3x zoom, a 2.7-inch LCD, built-in flash, and a form factor that makes it easy to hold. It comes in silver, blue, or green and comes with rechargeable batteries (with a charger), as well as a matching carrying case.

2. Barnes & Noble Nook $129

Barnes & Noble has completely redesigned their eReader, making it one of the lightest on the market. They also changed the shape to make it easier to hold. The battery life is a phenomenal two months, and the touch screen LCD has crisp, scaleable text that’s easy to read for almost every senior. You can read over 2 million available books from Barnes & Noble, lend and share books with friends and family, and more.

3. Oregon Scientific Talking Wireless BBQ/Oven Thermometer $56

This is such a great idea for grilling. You tell it what kind of meat you’re cooking and how you like it done (e.g. steak, medium rare) and it tells you when it’s cooked to perfection. And you don’t even have to be there. You can be up to 330 feet away from the grill, relaxing indoors in the air conditioning, and it will tell you, by voice, how your meat is cooking.

4. iPhone 3G $50 with two-year contract $49

One of the best smartphones, certainly one of the easiest to use and with the most apps, on the market today. It’s an iPhone. And even if it isn’t the newest iPhone, it still runs all the great apps and it’s a fraction of the cost. Only $49 with a two year contract.

5. Kaldi $159

Who doesn’t love a perfect cup of tea or coffee? The Kaldi from Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf makes individual cups of coffee, tea or espresso in your choice of sizes. It has dual pressure capabilities make espresso perfectly as well. Making a cup is easy, cleanup is easy, and it’s very fast.

6. Foster Grant glasses $25

These glasses are inexpensive and have easy-to-use lights on the temples to magnify anything. Whether it’s for a hobby where you need to see close-up details or just for reading, even reading in bed with your own lights so you don’t disturb anyone else’s sleep. These work great with the Nook for bedtime reading.

7. Coby Kyros 7-inch tablet $165

Who doesn’t want a tablet these days? Web browsing, email, social networks, games, even as an eReader. If you don’t have the money to buy that iPad, Xoom or Playbook, check out the Coby Kyros. It’s a 7-inch tablet that runs the Android operating system. It’s not as fast as an iPad 2, but for the money, it’s a solid tablet.

8. Motorola S9-HD $52

Motorola’s S9-HD Bluetooth headset is a great choice. Not only can you stream great-sounding stereo music from your iPhone, Android or Blackberry smartphone, but if you get a call you can answer it from the headset and your music will be paused for you. Easy to hear, especially in stereo, and the sound quality is clear. The battery is in the middle and comfortably rests behind your head while you wear the headset.

9. Kodak Pulse 7-inch Frame $96

Kodak’s Pulse W730 7-inch digital photo frame is so much more than a simple way to show your digital photos. Sure, you can load them in via the built-in USB reader, but this frame has built-in Wi-Fi. It can automatically sync with your friends’ pictures on Facebook or Kodak’s site, but family members or friends can also email pictures that will be uploaded to it automatically via a special account. You will always have new pictures surprising you.

10. IOGEAR Solar Bluetooth Hands-Free Car Kit – $26

IOGear’s solar Bluetooth hands-free car kit is the perfect gift for anyone who drives and spends time in the car. It clips to your visor, recharges using the sun so it’s always ready, and has an 11-hour talk time. It can even sync to multiple phones, so when either of you gets a call, you can easily answer it, hands-free.