Is This Really the Busiest Travel Day?

So far, it seems that airport delays and other inconveniences have been minimal today, a good sign for millions of Thanksgiving travelers. That especially bodes well after the traditional hand-wringing about the busiest travel day of the year.

But is today actually the busiest travel day of the year? That depends how you're going, but for airlines the answer is a clear no. And it's not even close.

Federal statistics found that in recent years, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving didn't rank in the top 25 busiest travel days of the year for air travel, including a ranking of 55th in 2007 and 36th in 2006. Likewise, the days before Christmas generally rank below the top 20. Airports are expected to be much more crowded on weekends in the summer, when families are taking off for vacations.

For drivers, however, Thanksgiving is a rough time. According to AAA surveys, roughly 90 percent of the people going more than 50 miles will drive. This year, that's making Thanksgiving the busiest travel holiday since the start of the recession, with 42.5 million people traveling. Of those, 38.2 million are going by car, with another 3.4 million flying.

Interestingly, most of the travel that AA predicts will come on Thanksgiving day, not the day before. And airlines have said that during the Thanksgiving weekend, it's the return trips on Sunday and Monday that contribute to most of the traffic, rather than Wednesday being the busiest day.

That said, it's going to be more expensive to travel across the board. AAA found that gas, hotels and airline tickets and Amtrak round trip tickets had all risen in price compared to last year, with median spending expected to be $554 per person for the entire weekend.

Image by Flickr user dougww.

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What Happens When You Flush an Airplane Toilet?
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For millions of people, summer means an opportunity to hop on a plane and experience new and exciting sights, cultures, and food. It also means getting packed into a giant commercial aircraft and then wondering if you can make it to your next layover without submitting to the anxiety of using the onboard bathroom.

Roughly the size of an apartment pantry, these narrow facilities barely accommodate your outstretched knees; turbulence can make expelling waste a harrowing nightmare. Once you’ve successfully managed to complete the task and flush, what happens next?

Unlike our home toilets, planes can’t rely on water tanks to create passive suction to draw waste from the bowl. In addition to the expense of hauling hundreds of gallons of water, it’s impractical to leave standing water in an environment that shakes its contents like a snow globe. Originally, planes used an electronic pump system that moved waste along with a deodorizing liquid called Anotec. That method worked, but carrying the Anotec was undesirable for the same reasons as storing water: It raised fuel costs and added weight to the aircraft that could have been allocated for passengers. (Not surprisingly, airlines prefer to transport paying customers over blobs of poop.)

Beginning in the 1980s, planes used a pneumatic vacuum to suck liquids and solids down and away from the fixture. Once you hit the flush button, a valve at the bottom of the toilet opens, allowing the vacuum to siphon the contents out. (A nonstick coating similar to Teflon reduces the odds of any residue.) It travels to a storage tank near the back of the plane at high speeds, ready for ground crews to drain it once the airplane lands. The tank is then flushed out using a disinfectant.

If you’re also curious about timing your bathroom visit to avoid people waiting in line while you void, flight attendants say the best time to go is right after the captain turns off the seat belt sign and before drink service begins.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Don’t Fall For This Trick Used by Hotel Booking Sites
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Hotel booking sites can be useful tools when comparing prices, locations, and amenities, but some services use deceptive tactics to get you to click “book.”

A new report spotted by Travel + Leisure determined that those “one room left” alerts you sometimes see while perusing hotels can’t always be trusted. Led by the UK-based Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), the eight-month investigation concluded that many sites use “pressure selling” to create a false sense of urgency in hopes that customers will book a room more quickly than usual. Similar notices about how many people are looking at a particular room or how long a deal will last are some of the other tactics travel booking websites employed.

The CMA also found that some discount claims had either expired or weren’t relevant to the customer’s search criteria, and hidden fees—like the much-maligned "resort fees"—are sometimes tacked on at the end of the booking process. (To be fair, many hotels are also guilty of this practice.)

The report didn’t drop any company names, but the consumer agency said it warned the sites that legal action would be taken if their concerns weren't addressed. The companies could be breaking consumer protection law, the CMA notes.

“Booking sites can make it so much easier to choose your holiday, but only if people are able to trust them,” Andrea Coscelli, the CMA's chief executive, said in a statement. “Holidaymakers must feel sure they’re getting the deal they expected … It’s also important that no one feels pressured by misleading statements into making a booking.”

Still, booking sites remain a convenient option, so if you decide to use one, just take your time and be cognizant that some of the claims you're seeing may not be entirely truthful.

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

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