Daily Archives: September 20, 2012

Thrill ride passengers stuck 300 feet in the air

BUENA PARK, Calif. — Twenty riders expecting a short thrill were left dangling at 300 feet for nearly four hours when the Windseeker ride at Southern California’s Knott’s Berry Farm amusement park stalled.

Knott’s said in a statement that the ride, which lifts fun-seekers high over the park with their legs dangling and spins them in a circle, came to a stop when its security system activated at about 4 p.m. Wednesday.

“They didn’t tell me that in the brochure,” said Jimmy Garrison, a tourist from Baltimore who was stuck on the ride as he left the park hours later with a souvenir T-shirt that read “I SURVIVED WINDSEEKER.”

TV cameras showed riders sitting calmly as they dangled and the sun set, some casually swinging their legs.

“They were on the PA system and they were telling us ‘be patient with us,’ and that sort of thing,” Garrison told KTTV-TV. “I was looking over at the steel cables, they’re about that thick,” he said, holding his thumb and forefinger several inches apart, “there’s a whole bunch of them so I know you can’t fall.”

Garrison’s wife Donna said her husband kept her from having a totally traumatic experience.

“I have a fear of heights so that first half-hour was a little bit daunting,” she said. “But he’s a great coach. He talked me through it.”

Maintenance workers brought all the riders safely to the ground between 7:30 and 8, long after the park had closed and night had fallen.

Knott’s says the ride, which also left riders hanging on Sept. 7, will remain closed while the cause is investigated.

Donna Garrison said she and her husband were returning to the park on Friday. Asked if she’d try out the Windseeker again, she replied “Oh, no, no no.” 

New York City’s future taxi fleet approved

Richard Drew / AP

A prototype of the Nissan NV200 taxi is off-loaded from a truck April 2 in New York. The city’s Taxi and Limousine commission approved the new fleet of Nissan cabs on Thursday.

New York City’s future yellow taxi has been chosen.

It’ll be a fleet of Nissan NV200s with skylights and electronic charging plugs, plus retractable steps that make entering and exiting easier.

Slideshow: A brief history of NYC taxi cabs

The new model was approved Thursday by the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission with a 5-2 vote.

The Nissans will replace the more than 13,000 existing cabs as they age and are retired — based on a five-year schedule created by the TLC.

The new taxis will be on New York roads starting in the fall of 2013.

Related: Drivers grumble, naturally, over New York’s new cabs

The Japanese-made Nissan is not wheelchair accessible. But TLC officials say there are now about 200 accessible taxis dispatched upon request, and another 2,000 are to be added as the rest of the fleet hits the road.

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Pakistan added to growing no-go list for US

Pakistan has become the third country in five days to be added to the State Department’s list of countries to which Americans should avoid traveling amid clear signs that anti-Western protests are likely to continue across the Muslim world.

Officials late on Wednesday upgraded their ongoing caution about the travel risks in Pakistan, explicitly advising Americans to put off any non-essential travel to the country and “strongly” urging those already there to avoid protests and large gatherings.

It followed similar warning on Tuesday against all travel to Lebanon and on Sunday against visiting Tunisia.

K.M. Chaudary / AP

Images of daily life, political pursuits, religious rites and deadly violence.

Launch slideshow

Thursday’s warning came as hundreds of Pakistanis angry at a crude, provocative anti-Islam film made in California, clashed with police in the capital, Islamabad.

A crowd of more than 1,000 tried to make their way to the U.S. Embassy inside, which is inside a guarded enclave that houses other embassies and government offices.

Analysis: ‘Manufactured outrage’ behind Middle East protests

Riot police used tear gas and batons to keep stone-throwing demonstrators away from the enclave, and hundreds of shipping containers were lined up to cordon off the area. Some protesters were students affiliated with the hardline Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami.

There were smaller demonstrations in Indonesia, Iran and Afghanistan.

Akhtar Soomro / Reuters

Protests ignited by a controversial film that ridicules Islam’s Prophet Muhammad spread throughout Muslim world.

Launch slideshow

The film’s vulgar depiction of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad as a fraud, womanizer and child molester, has sparked angry demonstrations in dozens of countries, including an attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in which ambassador Chris Stevens was killed. In total, violence related to the film has left at least 30 people in seven countries dead.

The demonstrations are expected to grow in Pakistan on Friday, the traditional day of prayer in the Muslim world. The Pakistani government called a national holiday for Friday so that people could come out and demonstrate peacefully against the film.

That decision drew rare words of praise from the Pakistani Taliban, which is usually at war with the government.

Meanwhile in Indonesia, the U.S. consulate in the country’s third-largest city of Medan shut its doors Thursday for a second day because of demonstrations.

Crowds of angry protesters showed up in Kabul, Afghanistan and Jakarta, Indonesia. The violent uprising followed a deadly weekend marking the deaths of eight International Security Assistance Force members. NBC’s Atia Abawi reports.

About 50 students from an Islamic university gathered in Makassar, the capital of South Sulawesi province in Indonesia.

They burned tires and forced a McDonald’s restaurant to close. The door was later covered with a sign saying, “This must be closed as a symbol of our protest of the ‘Innocence of Muslims’ made in the U.S.,” referring to the title of the film.

In Iran, hundreds of students and clerics gathered outside the French embassy in Tehran to protest the publication of the caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in a French satirical weekly.

Police are investigating a bomb blast in Peshawar, Pakistan. The explosion killed at least eight people and injured dozens. NBCNews.com’s Dara Brown reports.

Protesters chanted “Death to France” and “Down with the U.S.” and burned the flags of the United States and Israel. The demonstration ended after two hours.

In Afghanistan, a few hundred people demonstrated in downtown Kabul against the film, chanting ant-American slogans before dispersing peacefully.

The State Department currently has warnings in place for 32 countries, although many urge Americans simply to exercise caution when traveling there.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Flight attendants’ argument causes 4-hour delay

An American Airlines flight departing from New York’s JFK International Airport was delayed nearly four hours Wednesday after two flight attendants got into a verbal altercation, forcing the pilots to return the plane to the gate.

Flight 3823 to Washington, D.C., was scheduled to leave New York City at 3:10 p.m. ET and had begun moving along the tarmac when two female flight attendants began to argue, witnesses told NBCNewYork.com.

The incident came a day after The Wall Street Journal’s veteran travel reporter, Scott McCartney, told travelers to avoid the carrier because “American’s operation is in shambles.”

Flight cancellations have spiked at American Airlines, which is fighting with unhappy pilots ahead of a possible merger with Phoenix-based US Airways.

Read more on this story at NBCNewYork.com

Passengers told NBCWashington.com that the argument began when one of the women was spotted using her cell phone during the crew’s pre-departure checks. It reported that the other woman made an announcement ordering everyone to switch off their cell phones and electronic devices “including the other flight attendant.”

Travel writers are warning passengers to avoid American as the airline struggles with delays, and are now making plans to cut their scheduled flights by 1 to 2 percent through October. NBC’s Tom Costello reports.

“We were informed we were going back to the gate because the flight attendants couldn’t work with each other,” passenger Dan Alexander told NBCNewYork.com

“I find it hard to believe the flight attendants couldn’t work with each other for an hour,” he added, noting the approximate flight time from New York to Washington.

American Airlines flight attendants accept contract offer

Passengers had to wait approximately four hours while the airline searched for a replacement flight attendant crew.

“It was incredible, totally unbelievable that there was such little professionalism between these women,” passenger Marge Lopez told NBCNewYork.com.

Karen Grantham said it was “ridiculous” that the flight attendants became upset.

“Doesn’t anyone teach good customer service anymore?” she asked. “You have to be thick-skinned to be in customer service. It just happens, you can’t let this get the best of you.”

The flight was operated under the airline’s commuter flight brand, American Eagle.

American Airlines told NBC News that the two flight attendants would be meeting with their manager on Thursday to determine what will happen next.

A statement from the company, sent to NBC News, said: “There was a disagreement between two flight attendants Wednesday afternoon prior to the departure of American Eagle flight 3823 from New York JFK to Washington Reagan. The aircraft returned to the gate to switch flight attendant crews, and the flight departed a short while later. We’re looking into the matter.”



Free stopovers lure travelers to Iceland

Olivier Morin / AFP/Getty Images

Winter is an ideal time for a soak in the Blue Lagoon, a geothermal spa surrounded by lava fields.

Schnapps and smoked reindeer. Steaming hot pools. Crisp views of the dancing northern lights.

These are a few of the reasons to imagine Iceland for fall or winter travel.

Tempting first-time visitors are off-season discounts and Icelandair’s policy of allowing stopovers at no additional fare on flights between the U.S., Canada and more than 20 destinations in Europe.

“Most stopovers are two to three nights,” says Michael Raucheisen, a spokesman for the airline. “Just enough to make you want to go back for a full trip.”

Five hours by air from the East Coast, the capital city of Reykjavik, with its cozy cafes and village-like streets, makes a convenient base for viewing the aurora borealis, an atmospheric display of color often visible in the Northern Hemisphere between September and April.

Yes, it’s dark here in winter, but not completely. The shortest days are in mid-December and the first part of January when the sun rises just after 11 a.m. and sets between 3:30 p.m. and 4 p.m. But darkness is the point, especially this year. Astronomers predict that the northern lights will be some of the brightest in decades due to a peak solar cycle.

“Of course, there are no guarantees,” says Edda Jonasdottir, owner of Eric The Red Guesthouse, near Reykjavik’s historic center. “It can rain for the whole period and people won’t see it.”

No worries. There’s plenty more to do in Reykjavik, a sophisticated city with theater, museums, bookstores, bars and a lively weekend nightlife.

Despite its name, Iceland has a mild climate. Average winter temperatures are in the 30s, but biting winds can send the chill factor into the single digits, so plan to bundle up.

Plan a stopover on your way to or from Europe. Icelandair allows stopovers of up to seven nights in either direction, depending on seat availability and fares. The airline flies nonstop to Reykjavik year-round from Boston, New York, Seattle and Denver and offers seasonal service from Washington D.C., Minneapolis-St.Paul, Orlando, Halifax, Toronto and, starting in May 2013, Anchorage. 

Take advantage of the airline’s hotel discounts, or book a guesthouse or small hotel near the town center. The couchsurfing movement started in Iceland; many members offer free lodging or the chance to meet up for coffee or sightseeing.

Not planning a trip to Europe? Take long weekend, and book one of Icelandair’s all-inclusive three-night, four-day packages. Prices, including airfare, hotel, a northern lights tour and a glacier walk start at $787 per person, double occupancy for travel through March from Washington D.C., Denver, Boston, New York and Seattle.

Iceland is known for its geothermal spas and pools. Most famous is the Blue Lagoon located in a lava field and fed by water from a nearby geothermal plant. Save time and money by visiting on the way to or from Keflavik airport. Reykjavik Excursions offers transportation, admission and luggage storage via its Flybus shuttle for 8,000 Icelandic krona (about $65).

Less touristy and more affordable are the city’s pools. The biggest is Laugardalslaug, with an Olympic-size pool, four hot tubs, a steam bath and a water slide. Admission is 500 krona, about $4.

Aside from the deals, a visit here can still feel pricey. Icelandic wool sweaters sell for hundreds of dollars. Better to make souvenirs out of bags of colorful marzipan-filled licorice sold at a weekend flea market on the waterfront.

For a splurge, Jonasdottir of Eric The Red recommends visiting a restaurant serving a holiday-season buffet of Icelandic specialties such as smoked reindeer and lamb.

The drink of choice: A type of schnapps called Black Death,  made with potato pulp and caraway seeds, traditionally chugged after chewing on a chunk of fermented shark meat.

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