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Tag Archives: travel

Baggage handler gets life in prison for smuggling drugs

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A former American Airlines baggage handler has been given life in prison for his role in a drug-smuggling ring operating through John F. Kennedy International Airport.

Victor Bourne received the sentence Tuesday in federal court in Brooklyn. Bourne was found guilty last year of charges he used his behind-the-scenes access at New York City’s busiest airport to orchestrate the smuggling of more than 330 pounds of cocaine from 2000 and 2009.

Prosecutors accused the 37-year-old native of Barbados of helping recruit and organize a crew of corrupt airport employees.

Authorities say Bourne made millions of dollars in drug proceeds he laundered through business ventures in Brooklyn and Barbados.

The sentencing capped a federal investigation that has resulted in the convictions of 20 people, 19 of them airlines employees.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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The former captain of the Costa Concordia luxury cruise ship Francesco Schettino.

Experts: Costa Concordia equipment may not have been working before crash

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Plane from Miami quarantined in New Orleans after passenger becomes ill

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American Airlines: ‘Gunk’ from spilled drinks partly to blame
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Plane from Miami quarantined after passenger becomes ill

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A plane that originated in Miami had to be quarantined when it arrived in New Orleans after a female passenger fell ill on board Monday, airline officials said.

This story originally appeared on NBCMiami.com.

A medical emergency was reported on American Airlines Flight 1003, which left Miami International Airport at 4:31 p.m. and landed at Armstrong International Airport at 5:27 p.m., officials said.

The plane was held in quarantine as the woman was checked out by local emergency medical responders and transported to an area hospital, officials said.

Medics determined the woman wasn’t contagious and the rest of the 146 passengers and six crew members were allowed to deplane.

The plane was cleaned and arrived back in Miami at 10:48 p.m.

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Experts: Costa Concordia equipment malfunctioned before crash

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Video: Francesco Schettino, the captain of the capsized Costa Concordia, faced the survivors and families of victims at a court hearing where audio from the ship’s black box was released. NBC’s Michelle Kosinksi reports.

Gregorio Borgia / AP

The case of the former captain of the Costa Concordia luxury cruise ship Francesco Schettino, 51, is of such interest that a theater had to be turned into a courtroom to accommodate those who had a legitimate claim to attend the closed-door hearing.

GROSSETO/GIGLIO, Italy – An Italian court heard on Tuesday that equipment aboard the Costa Concordia luxury liner may not have been functioning when she ran aground and capsized, killing 32 people.

The list of issues compiled by a panel of court-appointed experts included a wide range of alleged malfunctions, from lights that did not work during the disaster to the possibility that radar equipment had been turned off or broken.

The hearing is closed to the public because the huge media interest could not be accommodated.

The 114,500-ton luxury cruise ship capsized on Jan. 13 after approaching the Tuscan island of Giglio to perform a maneuver close to the shore known as a salute. It struck a rock which tore a gash in its hull.

Previous story: Packed court as Costa captain hears evidence

Also on Tuesday, Francesco Schettino, the captain blamed for the disaster admitted he made mistakes but accused the cruise liner company of mishandling the response. He said last week he was suing Costa Cruises, a unit of Carnival Corp., for unfair dismissal following the accident.

His lawyer Francesco Pepe said the hearing would show his client was not solely responsible for the disaster.

“Schettino’s responsibility needs to be established and it needs to be established that others may have contributed as well,” he said after the conclusion of the hearing’s first day.

Meanwhile in Giglio, where the stricken liner still lays on her side awaiting salvage, news has emerged that thieves broke into the Costa Concordia earlier this year, stealing furniture, paintings and luxury goods from a gift shop. Sources at Costa Crociere say the thieves had used entry holes and guide ropes made by search and rescue teams to get into the ship.

Video: An Italian court will decide if Francesco Schettino, the captain of the capsized Costa Concordia cruise ship, should face a full trial next year for the deaths of 32 people. NBC’s Claudio Lavanga reports.

I saved your lives’
Schettino slipped into court by a back door on Tuesday, wearing dark glasses and offering just a brief wave to waiting journalists. According to Italian TV network Tg1, he spoke to two German Costa passengers inside court, saying, “I saved your lives and those of many other passengers.”

This week’s hearings will help the judge decide if Schettino should stand trial. He is accused of manslaughter, causing the shipwreck and abandoning ship while passengers and crew were still aboard. He denies the accusations and has not been charged.

Video: Six months after the Costa Concordia disaster, some of the survivors are fighting the settlements being offered to them and sounding the alarm that throughout the cruise industry, passengers have fewer rights than many may realize. Rock Center’s Harry Smith reports.

Previous story: Costa Concordia cruise ship captain says sacking unfair

A key question is how much of the blame Schettino should shoulder himself and how much responsibility lies with his crew and employer, Costa Crociere, a division of the Miami-based Carnival Corp. Costa Crociere has denied negligence and has distanced itself from Schettino, firing him in July.

In all, nine people face the prospect of criminal trial, which would be unlikely to begin before next year.

The company’s lawyer defended the ship’s other crew.

“I believe that everything that came out yesterday — and the conclusions drawn by the court appointed experts — acknowledge that everything that could have been done by the Costa Concordia crew, was done,” Marco de Luca, a lawyer for Costa Crociere, told NBC News, outside the courtroom. 

“The one fact that has been completely underestimated is that more than four thousand people were disembarked in a short period of time — some two hours — and this was done exclusively by Costa personnel.”

Praxilla Trabattoni and Claudio Lavanga of NBC News, Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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Fall getaways: Splurge or steal?

Nilou Motamed of Travel + Leisure tests the TODAY anchors’ travel smarts by sharing four great getaways, from sunny beaches to mountain retreats, to see if they can tell the splurge from the steal.

Whether you want to escape to wine country or a Caribbean beach, we’ve found a hotel to match your budget.

1. Southern Retreat

Courtesy The Willcox

With crown moldings, four-poster beds and fireplaces in rooms, you’ll see plenty of antebellum charm at The Willcox hotel in Aiken, S.C.

Steal: The Willcox, Aiken, S.C. (from $185/night)
Travel + Leisure readers ranked the hotel No. 3 on the 2012 World’s Best Awards list of Top Inns and Lodges in the Continental U.S. And it’s easy to see why, as rooms have plenty of antebellum charm: crown moldings, four-poster beds and fireplaces. The Willcox even has its own food truck serving dishes such as spicy fish burritos and fried chicken biscuits. Fuel up and then head outdoors to enjoy local parks or go for a horseback ride.

Splurge: Inn at Palmetto Bluff, Bluffton, S.C. (from $475/night)
This atmospheric plantation-style resort has Spanish moss dripping from low-lying oak branches and egrets soaring overhead. The rooms within 29 cottages are outfitted with pine floors, gas fireplaces and private screened porches. Bird lovers can paddle a complimentary kayak or canoe through the lagoon to see more than 100 species, including bald eagles, great blue herons and snowy egrets. Guests also keep busy with activities like golf, fly-fishing and naturalist-led alligator “hunts.”


Related: Best affordable beach resorts

2. Vineyard Vacation

Steal: Gaige House, Sonoma, Calif. (fall getaway special from $195/night beginning Oct. 28)
Set on three lushly landscaped acres, Gaige House actually has two parts: an original 1890 building with 15 rooms, and eight new stand-alone spa suites. All are decorated with Asian-themed minimalist chic, meaning dark-wood platform beds, rice-paper screens and black-granite baths. There’s a heated outdoor pool, as well as spa services that can be enjoyed in your room, on a creek-side deck or in a cabana surrounded by greenery.

Splurge: Carneros Inn, Napa, Calif. (from $505/night)
Sophisticated cottages with outdoor showers and decks await in one of Napa’s most pastoral landscapes: the rural Carneros wine region. (The spa incorporates local ingredients in treatments like the Chardonnay Antioxidant Wine Therapy Facial.) Book a garden cottage for views of the vines from your enclosed patio. Take advantage of complimentary bikes to tour the area.

3. Caribbean Fantasy

Steal: Rosalie Bay, Dominica (from $149/night)
Twenty-eight gingerbread-trimmed cottages look out onto either a rocky beach or the Rosalie River. One of the world’s few carbon-negative resorts, Rosalie Bay not only relies on solar panels but also has its own wind turbine and organic gardens—and just received a Travel + Leisure Global Vision Award for responsible tourism. There’s also a restaurant, where most dishes are made from regional ingredients, from the Kalinago porridge with cassava root to the smoked cod on fried green plantain.

Splurge: GoldenEye, Jamaica (from $560/night)
Jet-set bohemians and creative types have flocked to GoldenEye since the mid 20th-century, when it was the cliff-top retreat of Ian Fleming, who wrote 14 of his James Bond novels here. A two-year overhaul (completed in 2010) has transformed the property from a private villa rental to full-fledged 22-room hotel on the waterfront amid gardens of banyan and mango trees.

4. Mountain Escape

Steal: Waldorf Astoria Park City, Utah (from $199/night)
Fireplaces, balconies and mountain views are a few of the in-room perks that come with staying here. The hotel’s restaurant, Spruce, is one of Utah’s best—order a hearty dinner of elk and roasted potatoes—and you won’t want to miss a warm-stone massage at the 16,000-square-foot Golden Door Spa. Outside, there are patios with fire pits and year-round heated pool and whirlpools.

Splurge: Washington School House, Park City, Utah (from $395/night)
With creamy white wainscoting, vintage chandeliers and French and Swedish antiques, this renovated 1889 schoolhouse is more Alpine chic than Rocky Mountain rustic. Staffers offer spot-on recommendations for restaurants and boutiques and instantly coordinate the complimentary transportation to your mountain of choice (though Park City’s Town Lift is steps away).

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Forget fancy hotels! Hostels catering to families

Courtesy HostelBookers.com

The five-star Danhostel Copenhagen City hostel in Denmark has fine views and is within walking distance of major attractions and the city center.

Zenos Dupuis, from Saginaw, Mich., does not like fancy hotels or spending $200 a night for a room. But he does likes a good value, a central location, and clean and comfortable accommodations. So when he travels with his extended family these days, he prefers hostels.

“I like the huge restaurant-style kitchen, where you can bring your own food,” said Dupuis, who stayed at the Chicago Getaway Hostel several times recently with his wife, grandchildren and children, including an infant son. “The employees treat us like family; they make you feel at home.”

He also likes that the hostel is just a short walk to the Lincoln Park Zoo.

Many people associate hostels with lone backpackers, traveling groups of students and even older singles, but these days, more families than ever are vacationing at hostels, industry experts said. They are located in a diverse range of locations, too, including urban centers, like London, where they are close to museums and parks; in resort areas like Orlando or beach towns; and in exotic locations, like a “tree house” style hostel in Olympos, Turkey.


“Hostels are becoming increasingly appealing to cost-conscious travelers with children,” said Giovanna Gentile, public relations executive for London-based HostelBookers.com, which specializes in budget accommodations internationally. As the demand continues to increase, she said, “hostels are adapting themselves to offer the types of accommodation and services that traveling families are seeking.”

“Most hostels offer games rooms and where children can watch TV and families can relax in the comfortable lounge areas after a busy day of sightseeing,” said Gentile. And “hostels often organize free activities such as city tours or movie nights, which are also popular with families.”

Other family-friendly features include common kitchens to make packed lunches or dinner for tired (or finicky) kids, which is both cost effective and convenient; private rooms with en suite bathrooms, so the entire family can sleep together in one room; bike and skate sharing programs; pingpong tables; and movie rooms. There are also amenities to keep the parents happy, like on-site bars. “You won’t have far to travel once you have put the kids to bed and settle down for an evening drink,” the HostelBookers.com website notes.

The site designates a number of family-friendly hostels, but not all. So if a destination is not listed, Gentile recommends reading the description and customer reviews to determine which property is most suitable, and to ask about things like location, elevators, on-site facilities like swimming pools and if the hostel provides cots or highchairs. Some hostels, she said, provide baby-sitting services. At the Villa Saint Exupery Gardens, in Nice, France—located in a residential area in a converted monastery—“there are plenty of activities on offer to keep the children happy including canyoning, sailing and horseback riding,” the listing reads. “The hostel offers a free baby-sitting service and parents can enjoy some much needed time to themselves on a free city tour.”

Courtesy HostelBookers.com

Stay in a tree house style hostel at Saban Treehouse in Olympos, Turkey.

Dupuis, the Michigan father and grandfather, said some guests at the Chicago hostel were initially surprised to see young children.

“You do get a few looks, like, ‘Why are the kids here?’ But I never got the feeling that we were annoying anyone,” he said. “And many would break the ice by asking, ‘How old is your baby?'”

Overall, guests and employees were welcoming, Dupuis said. “A guy from Dublin asked if he could sing to my son. He actually got down on his knees and sang my son an Irish lullaby.” And when his 4-year-old granddaughter began to play with one of the white pool balls in the game room, “an employee racked up the balls for her,” he said. “They made her feel like she belonged there.”

Dupuis said he also enjoys mingling in the common areas and the diversity of guests. “You always hear a variety of languages and meet people from all over the world. I think that’s what I enjoy the most. You never know what accent you are going to hear,” he said. “It opened my eyes.”

That’s exactly the philosophy behind hostels, said Mark Vidalin, marketing director for nonprofit Hostelling International USA. In recent years there has been a trend toward smaller, more private sleeping areas. “And hostels are far less rustic and far more service-oriented than 20 years ago,” and there are more worldwide now than ever, he said.

“But come with an open mind,” as hostels are not intended to replicate hotels. The goal has always been “to intentionally create a shared space, an environment to connect. It’s all about the international, intercultural experience,” he said.

In addition, what is unique about hostels is that no two are the same. Many are historic landmarks, or are located in quirky or fun places, like former lighthouses or Norman castles. Vacation at a place like that, Vidalin said, and the “kids will never forget it.”

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