Unlikely camping gear to put on your packing list

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I spent four months in 2017 seeing the 18 states I had never been to before. I thought I’d packed everything: I had the tent, the sleeping bag, the sleeping pad, the single-burner propane stovetop and two one-gallon jugs of water should I get stuck in the desert (which I almost did when a spark plug blew in Arizona). I even had a backup to my inflatable pillow. But what did I forget? Scissors.

Two years later, when I drove from New Jersey to Death Valley National Park, and my hair was so knotted that the hair tie got stuck in it, what had I once again forgotten? Scissors.

Fortunately, when I drove to Key West, Fla., in January and the tag from my bathing suit top would not stay inside said suit, I had remembered the scissors. I’m not a fool three times (at least when it comes to this).

If you’re headed out to camp this summer, as millions of Americans will, here are six things you might not think you need, until you absolutely need them.

Yes, you can use a knife, or the tiny scissors that are part of a multi-tool utility knife. But sometimes you just need the size and leverage that a pair of real scissors offers. I didn’t want to be holding a knife blade up to my bathing suit, especially when scissors let me clip the tag while wearing the suit. I now keep a small pair in the glove box of my car.

Welcome mat for your tent

Camping is by nature dirty, muddy and dusty. If you’re sleeping in a tent, you don’t need to bring that muck in with you. A small welcome mat can not only make your spot seem cozier, but also keep the grit of the outdoors as outside as possible. You can opt for a small mat made for RVs, or you can get creative and make one to fit the size you need. Mine is a piece of artificial turf from Veteran’s Stadium, the Philadelphia Phillies stadium that was imploded in 2004. My father, who worked on the construction of their new park, saw a roll about to be tossed and strapped it to the roof of his car.

You can, of course, keep your shoes or boots on the mat, but they may accumulate moisture overnight — or acquire a furry or slithery friend.

Things get wet while camping, especially if swimming, canoeing or kayaking is on your itinerary. A fuzzy towel might seem like a comfy idea, but a quick-drying towel will actually be ready by the next time you need it. Mine, which comes from REI, doesn’t even need to be hung up to recover from toweling off myself or the dog. Quick-drying towels are also good in a pinch to clear dew off your car windows in the morning.

Speaking of the need to dry: trees aren’t generally hard to come by while camping, but two trees perfectly situated for stringing a line between them can be. Instead, a clothesline with suction-cup ends can turn your car into a post. Generally, these clotheslines come with cups at both ends so if you have two cars, you can string between them, but it’s not necessary. I usually find a tree to tie one end around.

I would like to say that you’re going camping to completely get away, but WiFi is ubiquitous, even in campgrounds, these days. For that reason, I pack a place mat to serve as the base for my laptop. It will protect your technology, and it’s more versatile than a tablecloth. I have used it on picnic tables, on the hood of my car in a Walmart parking lot, and on outdoor dining tables at breweries and fast-food restaurants. My place mat is washable, too, so whenever I opt for a hotel and use the laundry roomor stop at a laundromat, the place mat gets washed, too.

If you’re going to a touristy area, you will find postcards everywhere: visitor centers, restaurants, gift shops and gas stations, just to name a few. But not many places sell postcard stamps, or stamps at all. Bringing them with you will save you the time and frustration of hunting down a post office that also happens to be open when you pass through. I buy them by the roll, which makes sending postcards to make my family and friends jealous both cheap and easy. Having a postmark from my far-flung location, rather than just mailing them when I get home, makes it all the more authentic too.

Jen A. Miller is author of “Running: A Love Story.” She reviews books at bookaweekwithjen.com.

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Rising gas prices force drivers to put travel plans on hold

MEMPHIS, Tenn.– There is no relief at the pump as gas prices continue to climb in the Memphis area and across the country. Gas prices are still breaking records, hurting drivers in their wallets and forcing them to make other travel plans for the summer.

Record high gas prices that seem to rise almost every day at Memphis area gas pumps have drivers digging even deeper into their pockets.

In West Memphis, Arkansas, it’s the same song, but with a different verse.

“We’re spending more money on the gas but for me personally I can afford it, but I can imagine people struggling financially. They wouldn’t be able to travel like I’m doing,” said George Johnson from Clarksdale, Tennessee.

AAA told WREG that as of Friday Tennessee has a state average of $4.29 a gallon. That’s nine cents more than on Monday.

Mississippi gas prices are now $4.18 and Arkansas has the lowest gas in the Mid-South at $4.12.

“We’ve seen record-breaking prices for over a week now. We’ve been over the four-dollar mark for a couple of weeks here in Tennessee and unfortunately, it looks like that trend is going to continue,” said Megan Cooper with AAA.

And with no end in sight to the rising prices and with Memorial Day fast approaching, AAA recommends you plan ahead.

“Make sure you’re up to date on your oil changes, make sure you’re looking at your tires, make sure they’re properly inflated and have proper tread depth,” Cooper said.

But the soaring prices are slowing down some summer travel plans and for others, it’ll mean not only putting the brakes on traveling but parking their vehicles altogether until gas prices come down.

AAA says as of Friday Memphis is the fourth most expensive metro area in the state of Tennessee.

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There are plenty of in-state travel deals for Alaskans put off by rising airfares

Are you ready to travel this spring? Lots of folks in the travel industry are betting that you’ll pack your bags and go somewhere.

Ready or not, airlines are having a tough time keeping up with increasing demand. Look no farther than Alaska Airlines’ decision to cancel its popular Anchorage-Honolulu nonstop flights. Slashing this route is part of a broader initiative to better align the schedule with available flight crews, avoiding further cancellations and delays this summer.

Even if you want to fly to Hawaii this summer via Seattle, the price shoots up from $377 round-trip — nonstop — in mid-May to more than $1,000 round-trip starting June 1.

Perhaps that’s your clue to check out some of the early-season specials available around Alaska. May is a great month to see the best of Alaska, if you can look beyond the random patches of snow and the brown lawns.

Stan Stephens Cruises in Valdez offers two glacier cruises each day. The most popular cruise leaves at 10:30 a.m. from the small boat harbor for Columbia Glacier. You’ll spend six hours on the water. In addition to seeing the glacier, there’s plenty of wildlife along the way: whales, otters and eagles, among others. The regular price for the cruise is $145 per adult. But if you live in Alaska, you can save 30% off the cost if you sail between May 15 and June 15. That brings the price down to $106.50 — there’s a $5 fuel surcharge. Use the coupon code “ak30.″

The coupon code also works on the longer Mears Glacier cruise. This tour can take as long as eight hours. According to the tour description, the captain “has the time to go where we typically spot sea otters, harbor seals, sea lions, humpback or orca whales, porpoise, eagles, puffins, cormorants and more.”

The Mears Glacier cruise doesn’t start until June 1, so there’s a two-week window until June 15 to get the discount.

Up in Fairbanks, the Riverboat Discovery and Gold Dredge 8 are offering a 40% discount for Alaska residents. (The Binkley family, which owns and operates the Riverboat Discovery and Gold Dredge 8, also owns the Anchorage Daily News.) As long as you purchase your tickets by May 6, you can visit anytime this summer, between May 11 and Sept. 17.

The Binkley family has operated sternwheeler riverboats in Alaska for more than 100 years. Today, though, the main focus is taking visitors on a three-hour tour down the Chena River in Fairbanks. The cruise includes a visit to the “Chena Indian Village Living Museum” and a stop at the home and kennel of the late Iditarod champion Susan Butcher. The kennel now is operated by her husband Dave Monson and their daughters. There’s also a touch-and-go bush pilot demonstration where the plane lands right next to the riverboat. The regular rate for the cruise is $75.95, but Alaska residents can sail for $45.57 per adult.

Gold Dredge 8 is a great place to catch “gold fever.” The giant dredge operated in the Goldstream Valley between 1928 and 1959. Your visit to the dredge includes a tour through the superstructure and a lesson on how the gold was extracted from the massive amounts of “paydirt” extracted by the dredge’s giant buckets. Then you’ll get a chance to pan for some gold — which is a very different process from the giant dredge. The regular price for the tour is $45.95, discounted for Alaskans to $27.57 each.

For the first time since 2019, Princess Tours will offer its rail/hotel packages between Anchorage and Fairbanks. The packages include rail transport between Anchorage, Talkeetna, Denali and Fairbanks, plus accommodations along the way at the Mt. McKinley Princess and hotels near the entrance to Denali National Park.

Using Princess’s online booking engine, you can choose from 15 itineraries between one and four nights that offer 2-for-1 deals.

For example, tour “72E” includes rail transportation in Princess’s private rail cars between the Anchorage train station and Talkeetna. From there, ride Princess’s bus to the Mt. McKinley Princess for a two-night stay. Then, take the train back to Anchorage. Usually, the cost is $549 per person. With the 2-for-1 offer, it’s $274 per person, plus tax.

Ride all the way to Denali and back on tour “72A” which features two nights accommodations near the park. Because Princess works with two hotels near the park entrance, they don’t specify whether you’ll stay at the Denali Princess or the McKinley Chalet Resort; it’s right next door. The regular cost for the tour is $849 per person, reduced to $424.50 per person.

You also can ride on the Princess cars all the way to Fairbanks, stopping off in Denali for two nights along the way. Choose tour “72B.” The sale rate is $399.50 per person.

The Princess rail tours start May 17, running through Sept. 11.

If you’ve ever wanted to sail through Alaska’s Inside Passage on a smaller, luxury ship, check out Alaskan Dream Cruises’ sale for May and early June.

You can review the itineraries online for the “Last Frontier Adventure” and the “Glacier Bay and Island Adventure.” But you won’t find the best prices listed on the web page.

There are special unpublished Alaska resident discounts available.

There are two ships operating the “Last Frontier” itinerary, the 54-passenger Admiralty Dream and the 76-passenger Chichagof Dream. Usually, the all-inclusive cruises start at $3,795 per person for the 8-day/7-night itinerary. That includes accommodations, meals and all activities such as kayaking, guided hikes and expeditions away from the ship in skiffs. Alaskans can sail for as little as $1,500 per person. The sale rate applies for departures on May 13, 14, 20 and June 3.

The 40-passenger Alaskan Dream will sail from Sitka on June 5 on the 8-day/7-night “Glacier Bay and Island Adventure.” The cruise includes port calls in the remote communities of Pelican and Kake, in addition to sailing deep in to Glacier Bay. This itinerary also features a cruise through the scenic Wrangell Narrows between Wrangell and Petersburg. Usually, the cruise rates start at $5,195 per person. Alaskans can sail for as little as $1,995 per person.

To get the Alaska discount, residents have to call the reservations line directly: 855-747-8100.

If you’re not ready to devote a week to sail the seas, consider the four-hour Resurrection Bay cruise with Kenai Fjords Tours. The cruises operate Thursdays-Sundays between now and May 16. Usually, the rate is $89 per adult. Book online and bring it down to $80 per adult. Plus, adults can bring one or two kids aged 2-11 free.

The cruise is booked as a “gray whale watch” cruise. You might see some gray whales. You might see some orcas, too. You’ll likely see some otters, an eagle or two, some porpoises and a bunch of glaciers.

Major Marine Tours in Seward invites you to bring your mom for free on Mother’s Day, May 8. At least one other person has to pay, though — you can’t just drop Mom off at the dock. This special offer is available either on the Spring Wildlife Tour or the six-hour Kenai Fjords National Park Cruise.

Clearly, there are plenty of incredible adventures here in Alaska to keep you busy until Alaska’s direct service to Hawaii returns on Nov. 11.

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How to build, stoke and put out your fire

Summer is still nearly two months away but Arizona is already experiencing damaging forest and brush fires, including the Tunnel Fire that burned Sunset Crater National Monument near Flagstaff and the Crooks Fire south of Prescott

So how do we avoid accidentally triggering a wildfire when we head out to the woods?

There are a few important steps to take to manage a campfire with care. From building your fire ring to making sure the embers are completely out, these easy precautions will reduce the chances of your fire getting out of control.

Here’s what to know about the proper way to build, maintain and extinguish a campfire.

Wildfire map: Track where fires are burning in Arizona in 2022

Check the weather and fire restrictions before you go

Before you leave town, check your weather app or a weather website, paying special attention to the wind forecast. Strong winds boost combustion by increasing the oxygen supply to a fire, and gusts can send embers flying into trees or brush.

Visit https://inciweb.nwcg.gov to learn about fire restrictions and fires in progress. And follow the National Weather Service Twitter account for your destination for the latest updates. The @NWSFlagstaff account is a good place to start for information about  northern Arizona.

What is a red flag warning?

A red flag warning is issued by the National Weather Service to alert people to imminent conditions that contribute to high risk of wildfire. The criteria that trigger a red flag warning include:

  • Relative humidity less than 15%.
  • Warm temperatures and high winds for several hours.
  • Dry vegetation.

Consider not building a campfire if a red flag warning is in effect.

Red flag warnings: What Arizonans should know about wildfire conditions

What to look for in a campsite

To learn about campfire safety, The Arizona Republic talked to Jon Mincks, education, outreach and safety specialist at the Arizona Hiking Shack and AHS Rescue in Phoenix.  

“When anybody is going out into remote areas, there’s a number of safety issues that come up,” Mincks said. “And certainly fire is one of the top issues, being that our desert is so dry and so full of life. So it’s important for people to know a few things about fire.”

Developed campsites typically have metal fire rings. If you are dispersed camping or backpacking, you’ll likely find places where other people have camped and those spots have been chosen for good reasons, Mincks said. They might have a nice flat location to put a tent, there might be water or firewood nearby and a previous user might have left a fire ring. 

“We don’t want to keep making marks on the land. It’s one of the seven principles of Leave No Trace. So if there’s already an established fire ring, use it. Remember, good campsites are found, not made,” Mincks said.

Camping this summer? Reserve your campsite as soon as possible

How to build a campfire 

Mincks offers these campfire safety tips:  

  • Choose a location that is clear of brush,  grass, dead leaves and shrubs.
  • Look up: Are there trees or overhanging foliage? Sparks can fly from your campfire and ignite them. 
  • Never leave a fire unattended, even for a minute. It could take a long time to summon emergency help.
  • Bring first-aid items such as aloe vera gel, antibiotic ointment and gauze in case someone gets burned. 

How to build a fire ring and make a campfire:

  1. Dig a hole five to six inches deep. 
  2. Bank the sand or dirt from the hole on the side where the wind is coming from. Then place rocks around the perimeter of the hole. This is your fire ring. If it’s breezy, build your rock layer several inches — or more — high. 
  3. Place one large rock on the far edge of your fire ring. “What that will do will take the smoke away from you and reflect the heat back on to you,” Mincks said. ”Smoke goes to the densest thing. If you put a chimney rock on one side of the fire, it will go towards that.” 
  4. Gather your tinder. You’ll need the smallest, most flammable materials available to start your fire. This could be dry grass, leaves, pine needles, dead bark or paper. 
  5. Make your wood pile. Have a variety of sizes — toothpick- and pencil-size sticks as well as thumb- to wrist-size sticks — sorted nearby. Never break or cut branches off trees. Use only dead and down wood.
  6. When gathering wood, Mincks recommends flipping sticks over before picking them up to avoid being bitten or stung by snakes, spiders or scorpions underneath. 
  7. Make a small, loose pile of tinder in your fire ring. Carefully arrange your smallest sticks atop that. Don’t make a dense pile or put large pieces on too soon. Fire needs air circulation. Light your fire with a lighter or matches.
  8. Add larger sticks gradually as the previous ones burn down. Keep your fire proportionate to the size of your fire ring. 
  9. Have ample water nearby. 

How to extinguish a campfire

Extinguishing a fire requires patience and careful burning. Here’s how to put your fire out cold.

  1. Burn your campfire down completely until it turns to ash. Don’t leave any embers or large unburned pieces.
  2. Stir the ash around with a stick. Let it burn some more. “If I burn the fire down to coals and put dirt on top of it to extinguish it, I could cause roots to catch underneath all this dirt,” Mincks said. “There may be something underground that I can’t see smoldering, and this can actually cause forest fires.”
  3. Pour water on the ashes until you no longer hear sizzling. Stir with a stick to distribute the water well. Then pour more water on it.
  4. Once you can feel no warmth by holding your hand over the ashes, you can cover the sludge with sand or dirt if desired.  

Never put these things in a campfire

Mincks said campers shouldn’t try to burn synthetic ingredients. These can include plastics, fabrics and other refuse. Such materials can cause fires to burn erratically and they can release toxins into the environment.

Don’t try to burn glass, cans, aluminum foil, most food packaging and plastic bags or wrappers. 

“Nothing we carry with us should go in the fire,” Mincks said. “If you have the good fortune to camp near water, rocks from the water should not go into a fire. The fire can expand the water inside a rock and cause it to explode.”

Do you even need a fire?

A campfire can set the scene for an idyllic evening. But do you really need that fire? If it’s not so cold, consider skipping it.

There are lots of ways to create ambience without flames. Check out Luci solar lanterns or light strings, little electric candles or strings of tent lights. If you adorn your campsite with lights, be mindful of whether the brightness will bother nearby campers.

You can connect with Arizona Republic Culture and Outdoors Reporter Shanti Lerner through email at [email protected]  or you can also follow her on Twitter

Support local journalism like this story by subscribing today.

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Tips for choosing mulch, where to use it and how much to put down

If the smell of fresh mulch is in the air, it must be early spring in Greater Columbus. As soon the snow melts and the first warm sunny day appears, gardeners head for their local garden center where they find pallets of bagged mulches and two-story high piles of bulk mulches ready to be loaded and taken home to be spread on flower and landscape beds as well as around trees and shrubs throughout the home landscape.

Spring lawn care: Gardening: Spring lawn maintenance should include weed control, reseeding, fertilizer

There are several benefits to applying mulch around trees, shrubs, annual and perennial flowers, and even vegetable gardens, with weed suppression likely being the primary objective for many gardeners. In addition to weed control, mulches help to retain soil moisture, moderate soil temperatures, prevent soil erosion and provide organic matter to the soil.

Gardeners have many options when selecting mulches to use in the garden and the home landscape. Organic mulches decompose over time and add organic matter to the soil as they decompose. These types of mulches may need to be refreshed each year. Synthetic mulches may not need to be refreshed each year but they do not add organic matter to the soil. Synthetic mulches may compact the soil and reduce microbial and earthworm activity required for healthy soil biology. 

Let’s take a look at the variety of mulches available to gardeners.

Organic mulches

Shredded bark, bark chips, pine needles, compost, rice hulls, various nutshells, shredded leaves, straw, hay and cardboard are all organic mulches. Biodegradable plastic sheeting is also available but it may take up to three years for this plastic sheeting to completely decompose and during that time, the remaining pieces of sheeting may be visible in the garden.

Bradford pear trees: Gardening: Deceptively beautiful Bradford pear tree grows into an invasive nuisance

Living mulches offer an outstanding opportunity for gardeners to build soil health below the ground and enhance design aesthetics above the soil.  Plants such as crimson clover, borage, yarrow, lemon balm, and even kale can be used to create pollinator-friendly living mulches. As these plants grow, their leaves shade the soil and their roots create air and water pockets, necessary elements for good plant health. These living plants will also be attractive and hospitable to songbirds, butterflies, bees and other pollinators.

Synthetic mulches

Rocks, gravel, plastic sheeting and woven landscape fabric are examples of synthetic mulches. Plastic sheeting and woven landscape fabric can be installed directly on the soil and covered with an organic mulch for aesthetic reasons.

Plastic sheeting and woven landscape fabric create impermeable and semi-permeable (respectively) barriers. These barriers prevent worms, water, and soil microbes from freely traveling throughout the soil. Limiting this movement interferes with normal biological soil activity.

Over time, these barriers can increase soil compaction and form a secondary barrier of living roots above and below the inorganic barrier itself.  Rocks and gravel absorb heat during warm days and can transfer the heat to the soil. This increase in soil temperature and reduced soil moisture may also harm beneficial insects and microbes living in the soil.

Synthetic mulches are often more expensive than organic mulches but they generally have a longer life span than organic mulches and do not need to be replaced as frequently.

Mulches for the vegetable garden

Mulches in a vegetable garden provide the added benefit of keeping the plants and edible plant parts such as tomatoes, squashes and peppers free of dirt and mud.

Most vegetable gardeners typically opt for inexpensive mulch options instead of bagged mulches. Straw is an excellent mulch that provides the added benefit of adding organic matter to the soil as it decomposes. Unfortunately, straw prices have recently escalated quicker than a gallon of gasoline!

Compost, dry leaves, dried grass clippings and even newspaper and cardboard are excellent mulches in the vegetable garden, although paper and cardboard require some management to keep them from littering your neighbor’s lawn in a windstorm. Keeping these mulches wet and covering them with a thin layer of compost or soil usually keeps them in place.

Synthetic mulches such as black plastic over the planting rows and permeable landscape fabric between the rows are excellent synthetic sources of mulch in the vegetable garden, and can raise the early spring soil temperatures by 10 to 12 degrees, allowing you to get an earlier start with both cool-season and warm-season crops.

Too much of a good thing

Whichever type of mulch you choose be sure that, you only apply to a depth of no more than 2 or 3 inches.  When refreshing existing mulch beds this may require removal a portion of the top layer of the existing mulch.  Applying mulch deeper than 3 inches can damage the bark of trees and shrubs covered by mulch, interfere with moisture and oxygen infiltration, and cause roots to grow up into the mulch instead of deep in the soil. 

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Reborn Flybe set to put first flights on sale

Revived regional airline Flybe is finally set to start selling tickets next week, as the carrier reveals its first routes from two UK airports with services due to begin in spring 2022.

The Birmingham-based carrier, which has been reborn following the brand’s collapse in March 2020, said flights will go on sale on 22 March featuring routes from its first two bases: Birmingham and Belfast City airports. 

Flybe said it would be announcing its full list of routes, destinations and fares next week, with plans to add more flights as “the summer progresses”. 

Flybe’s CEO, Dave Pflieger said: “Next week is going to be an exciting time for customers and communities that have been waiting to hear from us about low fares, new routes and new destinations – all of which are being timed to coincide with the restart of the economy and a return to normalcy after two difficult years for all. 

“Our team has been working hard for over a year and a half to bring customers a new airline that people will love, and we are particularly excited to be flying to Belfast City airport and serving Northern Ireland.”

Pflieger added that Flybe planned to add services to “many other cities in the UK and EU” after launching its initial network from Birmingham and Belfast City.

“We are confident that a new and improved Flybe will provide customers with great value, more choices, and the opportunity to quickly and more conveniently visit loved ones, go
on holiday and more easily visit customers or attend important meetings,” he said.

Flybe plans to use Dash 8-400 turboprop airliners for its services, with plans to build its fleet up to 32 aircraft.

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Chinese travel for Lunar New Year despite plea to stay put

BEIJING — Chinese are traveling to their hometowns for the Lunar New Year, the country’s biggest family holiday, despite a government plea to stay where they are as Beijing tries to contain coronavirus outbreaks.

The holiday, which starts with Chinese New Year’s Eve on Monday, usually is the biggest annual movement of humanity as hundreds of millions of people who migrated for work visit their parents and sometimes spouses and children they left behind or travel abroad.

Some 260 million people traveled in the 10 says since the holiday rush started Jan. 17, less than before the pandemic but up 46% over last year, official data shows. The government forecasts a total of 1.2 billion trips during the holiday season, up 36% from a year ago.

“I know we are encouraged to spend the New Year in Beijing, but I haven’t been back home for three years,” said Wang Yilei, whose hometown is Tangshan, east of the capital. “My parents are getting old and they are looking forward to seeing me.”

The Chinese capital, Beijing, is tightening controls to contain coronavirus outbreaks ahead of next week’s opening of the Winter Olympics, a high-profile prestige event.

China’s infection numbers are modest compared with India, South Korea and some other countries. But they challenge Beijing’s “zero tolerance” strategy that aims to keep the virus out of China by isolating every infected person.

Athletes, reporters and officials at the Winter Games are required to avoid contact with outsiders in hopes of preventing infection.

Some 106 of the 3,695 people who arrived from abroad for the Games so far tested positive for the coronavirus. Two are athletes or team officials.

Authorities in Beijing have ordered mass testing for more than 2 million people in the capital’s Fengtai district following outbreaks there. Some families were ordered not to leave their homes.

Elsewhere, 1.2 million people in an area 60 miles (100 kilometers) south of Beijing that is being developed as a possible site for ministries to relocate were told to stay put.

Restrictions were imposed on Xiong’an New District this week after five cases were found in people who came from the capital, according to notices circulated online by residents. They said the controls would last seven days.

People who travel are required to show a negative result of a virus test within 48 hours before departure.

“We should go back home for the New Year as long as we can, if the local prevention policies allow us to,” said Wu Jinpeng, a university student who was en route from the southern island of Hainan to his hometown near Beijing.

Some travelers face the prospect of being ordered into quarantine if they arrive from areas deemed at high risk of infection.

Travelers are tracked by “health code” software on smartphones that records where they go and the results of virus tests.

“I called the government hotline of my hometown and they said I can go back, as long as my health code is green,” said Sun Jinle, a bank employee from Qinhuangdao, east of Beijing.

“If I live in Fengtai District of Beijing then I can’t (go home),” Sun said. “Luckily, I live in Tongzhou District,” which has no travel ban.

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Travel disruptions put a damper on holiday celebrations : NPR

NPR’s Rachel Martin talks to David Slotnick, senior aviation business reporter at the travel website The Points Guy, about COVID-related staffing that has led to thousands of flight cancellations.


So I was on a lot of airplanes over the holidays. And yes, it was super crowded in those airports. But my family and I actually didn’t have any issues with delays or cancellations. However, a lot of people did and still are. Thousands of flights have been canceled. Hundreds more are already on the books for today and tomorrow. Now, some of this is because of winter storms. But airlines are blaming a lot of it on staff calling out sick with COVID.

David Slotnick is with us now. He’s the senior aviation business reporter for the travel website The Points Guy. David, thanks for being here.

DAVID SLOTNICK: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: So it’s part of your job to talk to people traveling the friendly skies. What have you been hearing from passengers as of late?

SLOTNICK: Well, so it’s really twofold. It’s pretty funny because a lot of people have had experiences like what you just described. I did, certainly, traveling over the Christmas holiday. So for some people, they’re a little confused about why there’s been so much fuss because their flights have gone without a hitch. On the other hand, I’ve been hearing from people who have had flights delayed for hours, days, even a week.

MARTIN: Oh, gosh.

SLOTNICK: People have been stranded. People have had a lot of trouble getting home. And there have been people who’ve been rescheduled by the airlines and just seen flights canceled one after another – every day just cascading. So it’s been a bad situation for sure for the people who’ve been affected.

MARTIN: Right. And for anyone who’s ever gone through this, you get a flight canceled, and they say you got to call (laughter) to get it rescheduled. That is a nightmare – trying to get an actual human who can help you on the phone.

SLOTNICK: It is definitely a challenge. The good news is that there’s a lot of this that you can do yourself these days. A lot of the times when our flight’s canceled, you’re rebooked automatically. And if it’s not a flight that you like, you can change it within the app or on the website yourself. But there are some times that you need to get through to a human. I have a coworker who called one of the airlines and cited an 11-hour wait time…


SLOTNICK: …As she was trying to get home from a wedding this week.

MARTIN: Oh, my…


MARTIN: That’s…

SLOTNICK: …Definitely not ideal.

MARTIN: Yeah. So, I mean, how much of your job is predictive? Like, what are you hearing from airlines about how long these disruptions will go on? I mean, they do have a follow-on effect, right? It’s hard to catch up once these cancellations start.

SLOTNICK: Yeah, absolutely. So now that we’re past the worst of the holiday week, I think that looking back, this really was more of a perfect storm than we even realized at the time. These weather storm – these winter storms just hit different hubs around the country – all pretty major hubs – Seattle, Chicago, Denver, Detroit. And it just created a mess that was on top of the people who’ve been calling out sick with COVID as the omicron cases have surged around the country. And this was all during the busiest travel week of the year.

So the situation now is a little bit different. Demand plummets. This is usually the very low season for airlines. There’s, in a perfect world, more business travel for them. That’s happening a little bit less as offices have pushed back reopenings again. So the good news there is that there’s more room for airlines to negotiate. There’s more of an ability for them to maybe combine flights or cancel flights proactively and then reschedule people just in advance. So that’s the good news. The bad news is I think this is really going to mirror the rest of the pandemic. So as it surges around the country, I think we’re going to keep seeing delays like this ebb and flow. I mean, pilots are just part of the general population. So…

MARTIN: Right.

SLOTNICK: You know, if people in one city are getting sick, then it makes sense the pilots who are there are also going to get sick.

MARTIN: I mean, we know that the industry writ large – the airline industry – has just been ransacked by the pandemic. Airline CEOs told Congress last month that they’re having trouble hiring enough employees. The flight attendants union says employees aren’t as eager to take on overtime. United and Spirit Airlines just decided to offer more pay to onboard staff. Is that kind of incentive going to help?

SLOTNICK: It definitely helps. It just may not be enough in the short term. A lot of people are – I mean, they’re tired. It’s the same as any other labor market – people who’ve been working under these conditions, which are difficult at best, for the last two years. And I think it’s just, you know, a lot of burnout, just like we’re seeing in other sectors.

MARTIN: Senior aviation business reporter David Slotnick with The Points Guy.

Hey, David, we appreciate your time and context. Thanks.

SLOTNICK: Thanks so much for having me.

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Airport workers put in extra hours during record travel numbers

TAMPA, Fla. — It’s the busiest travel day of the season and airport workers are putting in overtime to make sure people can get home for the holidays.

There will be a bunch of wheelchairs, feels like I’m working by myself sometimes, and I’m like doubling back, tripling back,” said Tampa airport contractor Anthony Sanders.

Tampa International Airport (TPA) expects 65-75,000 passengers to pass through each day during this holiday season, breaking pre-pandemic travel records. That’s just thousands of the 110 million people AAA predicts will travel across the U.S.

RELATED: Tampa International Airport reports record-breaking passenger numbers amid new COVID-19 surge

In fact, the airport is seeing passenger numbers 8-9% higher than the average of other airports across the country.

But when you look around, you see a lot of staff like Sanders working during the holidays.

Airlines took a hit during the pandemic and as people began traveling again, airports in general still haven’t been able to fully re-staff.

Sanders is a Tampa resident who is contracted by a company outside of TPA to assist elderly and handicapped passengers in wheelchairs. He was laid off for three months during the pandemic and with the cost of living in Tampa, he was facing homelessness, living out of hotels.

Now that he’s been back to work, he’s working overtime for the holidays — six days a week, eight or more hours a day and his pay is $6.98 an hour, so he relies on tips.

The minimum wage in Florida is $10 an hour, so similar to a restaurant employee, tips get him to the legal minimum wage.

“When I got rehired I mean, it was still like, you know, it wasn’t as busy as it is now. It was still like I wouldn’t you know, ‘cause I rely on my tip money and I wasn’t really — I was probably making maybe $30 a day in tips, and then, you know, we have to report our tips,” Sanders explained. “We weren’t making any money. I slept in hotels. It was very hard, very hard.”

Sanders will be working Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Years, and his birthday on January 2.

We’re very short, we’re very understaffed, and we, you know, we do our best. I do my best. Every time I’m here, I do my best to assist people, I go beyond and above for the people here and they do, they do you know, they do appreciate you back,” Sanders said.

He is also part of SEIU 32BJ, a union advocating for airport workers to get higher wages and safer working conditions.

If you’re one of the millions of people flying this holiday season, remember two things: get there early and workers like Sanders, who rely on tips.

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