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Help! I’d Like to Ride the Train. Is it Safe?

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I’ve been hesitant to take a train during the pandemic because I have concerns about safety. I live in Philadelphia, which means that by the time I board, the train has already picked up new passengers at several other stops. What are rail companies like Amtrak doing to adjust to Covid-19, and what can passengers do to stay healthy while traveling?

Although recent studies from Europe and Asia suggest that public transportation isn’t a major source of virus transmission, I understand where you’re coming from. Trains — enclosed, sometimes crowded spaces with strangers — feel more worrisome than cars these days.

To answer the first part of your question: In order to keep employees and passengers safe and spur consumer confidence during a dip in ridership, rail companies, both regional systems as well as Amtrak, are undertaking massive coronavirus efforts.

“When the pandemic hit, Amtrak, like all transportation providers, was hit especially hard,” said Steven Predmore, Amtrak’s executive vice president and chief safety officer, in an emailed statement. “We took immediate action to protect the health and safety of our customers and employees and reduce capacity,” he added.

That “immediate action” by Amtrak and other train companies generally combines mandatory masks, social-distancing rules and signage, carry-out-only dining and improved air filtration. It also tends to include some form of enhanced cleaning — usually a morning or evening deep-clean paired with regular, en-route cleaning of bathrooms and other high-contact areas on trains and in stations.

But you’re right: Transit companies are not thoroughly disinfecting every train at every station, nor are they disinfecting every seat or surface before every new rider climbs aboard.

Any expectation to the contrary would be unrealistic, said Tanjala Purnell, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “It’s just like when you’re at the supermarket: Even when the best efforts are made to clean, as soon as we come in we’re already doing damage to the hard work,” she said. “We cannot go in thinking, ‘They said that it was cleaned and spotless, and now here I am.’”

Amtrak, however, is limiting passenger capacity to roughly 50 percent (a percentage that varies depending on the quantity and size of groups traveling together) and has expanded cars and routes that have reserved seating (now available on Acela business class, as well as business class on the Vermonter and the Palmetto routes). The company is also publicly encouraging riders to do what most regulars have been “sneak-doing” for eons, anyway: place their bags on the empty seat next to them in order to keep the space free. This summer, the company promoted its Private Rooms, found in sleeping cars on some routes, through two-for-one deals.

“Our top priority is keeping our employees and customers safe and we have been leading the way by delivering a new standard of travel,” Mr. Predmore said. “We have studied, analyzed and made improvements to provide a safe travel experience.”

Amtrak has also partnered with health experts at George Washington University and germ-killing experts and microbiologists at RB, Lysol’s parent company, to help strengthen its cleaning and disinfection protocols.

At certain stations in and around Philadelphia, meanwhile, S.E.P.T.A. (Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority) has enlisted employee volunteers to serve as “Social Distancing Coaches” who give out free masks to riders without them.

Other developments have taken place in the technology sphere. Amtrak just added a “Capacity Indicator” to its website and app, allowing customers to see, in real time, how full trains are. Those numbers, expressed as percentages, dynamically adjust as tickets are sold.

The Metropolitan Transit Authority — which runs the subways, buses and commuter rails in and around New York City — has introduced a crowding-data feature to TrainTime, an app that tracks real-time service status for Metro-North Rail Road. Riders can now see which trains are likely to be the most (and least) crowded, based on the median ridership numbers of the previous seven trips. The agency has spent $231.9 million on Covid-19 measures as of mid-September, according to a spokeswoman.

That brings us to the second part of your question: What’s a nervous rider to do?

Travelers with an average risk tolerance who are not compromised from a health standpoint can implement some easy measures on trains, Dr. Purnell said.

“The key is to go in preparing to use the same practices and protocols that you would use even if you knew nothing about Amtrak’s new enhanced safety measures,” she said.

She said that means wearing face masks, wiping down armrests and other surfaces with disinfectant wipes and handwashing (or using sanitizer) regularly during the journey.

Dr. Purnell also recommended using contact-free ticketing and check-in when it’s available (like the Amtrak app and the M.T.A.’s eTix app), staying outside when possible (some train platforms can be reached without entering the station), steering clear of others while boarding and traveling at off-peak hours. (Off-peak fares are in effect for all Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road trains, anyway.)

“Even without Covid, those are usually the times that are more manageable anyway,” she said. “If you have flexibility, they’re an even stronger option now.”

As for where to sit: “There’s no perfect solution,” Dr. Purnell said. Crew and passengers will come and go, and you’re guaranteed to be within six feet of someone outside your “quaranteam” at many points throughout the ride.

But depending on how the car is configured, some might feel most comfortable at the end that doesn’t have a bathroom. That way, anyone needing the bathroom won’t have to pass you to get there. And if you’re extra-concerned about people brushing against you as they traverse the aisle, go for the window seat.

“Let’s also keep in mind that train operators are also putting themselves at risk to keep our transportation running efficiently,” Dr. Purnell said. “So when we’re thinking about doing these things, it’s not only to keep ourselves safe — it’s also to keep them safe.”


Sarah Firshein is a Brooklyn-based writer. If you need advice about a best-laid travel plan that went awry, send an email to travel@nytimes.com.


By: Sarah Firshein
Title: Help! I’d Like to Ride the Train. Is it Safe?
Sourced From: www.nytimes.com/2020/10/03/travel/virus-amtrak-train-travel.html
Published Date: Sat, 03 Oct 2020 09:00:11 +0000

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Limited time Amex points transfer bonuses ending soon!

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During normal times, points transfer bonuses by Amex or any other issuer gain a lot of traction. However, we live in unusual times. Travel is nowhere close to normal and only a small minority is actively looking to book travel. Amex Membership Rewards points, along with Chase Ultimate Rewards points are two of my favorite transferable points currencies. Amex, in particular, has the edge over Chase when it comes to international airline partners. At the moment, Amex is running two lucrative points transfer bonuses with their Membership Rewards points. However, if you’re looking to travel any time soon then now is a good time to transfer time as these limited time bonuses end on October 31.

Amex Points Transfer Points Bonuses

Amex is currently running points transfer bonuses for Hilton and Marriott. These limited time offers expire on October 31, 2020.

Hilton Honors

The standard points transfer ratio for Hilton Honors is 1:2. With this bonus, you’ll get a ratio of 1:2.8. For example, if you transfer 1,000 Membership Rewards points, you’ll get 2,800 Hilton Honors points.

Marriott Bonvoy

The standard points transfer ratio for Marriott Bonvoy is 1:1. With this, bonus you’ll get a ratio of 1:1.4. For example, if you transfer 1,000 Membership Rewards points, you’ll get 1,400 Marriott Bonvoy points.

Crunching the Numbers

During normal times, many frequent travelers tend to jump on these limited time transfer bonuses. However, how lucrative are these bonuses during the current situation?

For example, let’s say you want to book a top tier Hilton hotel. One night will cost you at least 95,000 points for a standard room. With this bonus, you’ll need 39,000 Membership Rewards points instead of 48,000.

Similarly, let’s say you want to book a top tier Marriott hotel. One night will cost you at least 85,000 points for a standard room. With this bonus, you’ll need 61,000 Membership Rewards points instead of 85,000.

In short, the higher the category of the hotel, the more lucrative these transfer bonuses become for you.

Credit Card Bonuses

If you’re falling short on Marriott or Hilton points, another option is to sign up for co-branded credit cards from Marriott and Hilton. Currently, many of these cards are running limited time offers. Please note that Amex and Chase restrictions may apply to these credit cards.

Card Name Sign-up Bonus Application Link
Chase Marriott Bonvoy Boundless 30k points
Apply Now
Chase Marriott Bonvoy Bold 5 free nights (up to 50k points each)
Apply Now
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card 125k points + Platinum Status for 2021
Apply Now
Amex Marriott Bonvoy Business Card 100k points + $150 in credits
Apply Now
Hilton Honors Business Card 130k points
Apply Now
Amex Hilton Honors Card 95k points
Apply Now
Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card 140k points
Apply Now
Hliton Honors American Express Aspire Card 150k points + 1 free night
Apply Now

The Pundit’s Mantra

In most cases, I don’t recommend transferring points speculatively. However, if you do have a trip on the horizon, then it makes sense to use these Amex points transfer bonuses to your advantage.

In the past, I’ve used transfer bonuses to book some really cool trips. For example, I used a transfer bonus to British Airways in order to book a last minute trip to Colombia. However, given the current scenario, not many of us are planning such trips on the go.

Do you plan to make use of either of these points transfer bonuses before the end of the month? Tell us in the comments section.

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The Chase Sapphire Preferred is currently offering a limited time welcome bonus of 80,000 Ultimate Rewards points. You’ll earn a welcome bonus of 80,000 Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $4,000 in the first 3 months. You’ll also earn 2x points all on all travel and dining spend and 5 x on Lyft rides.

Apply Now

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Disclosure: The Points Pundit receives NO compensation from credit card affiliate partnerships. Support the blog by applying for a card through my personal referral links. This article is meant for information purposes only and doesn’t constitute personal finance, health or investment advice. Please consult a licensed professional for advice pertaining to your situation.

By: The Points Pundit
Title: Limited time Amex points transfer bonuses ending soon!
Sourced From: travelupdate.com/limited-time-amex-points-transfer-bonuses-ending-soon/
Published Date: Tue, 20 Oct 2020 12:10:32 +0000

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Cruise Ship Rescues 24 People From Sinking Boat Off Florida Coast

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The Carnival Sensation was sailing in international waters off the Florida coast on Saturday when crew members spotted a crowded 36-foot boat that appeared to be in distress.

The ship maneuvered alongside the boat and crew members handed over blankets, life jackets, food and water to the 24 people onboard the smaller vessel, including two children, according to the Carnival Cruise Line.

As it floated 37 miles off the coast of Palm Beach, the boat began to take on water. The passengers were quickly ushered aboard the cruise ship through a side hatch that is typically used in port to load supplies via a gangway. The boat sank after the rescue, a Coast Guard spokeswoman said.

The rescued passengers were the first guests to board the cruise ship in months, Carnival said. They were evaluated by the cruise ship’s medical staff and quarantined away from crew members, the cruise line said. They were picked up by the Coast Guard after about six hours, the spokeswoman said.

The rescued boat was coming from Freeport, Bahamas, said Nicole J. Groll, the Coast Guard spokeswoman. It was not clear where the boat was headed, she said, nor was it clear what had happened to the boat that caused it to sink.

“The disabled vessel sank and actions are currently being taken to coordinate the transfer of the individuals ashore,” Ms. Groll said in a statement Monday.

The $45 billion global cruise industry serves 20 million passengers in a typical year. But since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, ships have been roaming the seas for months without guests, staffed by skeleton crews. Operations have been suspended until Oct. 31, and some lines have canceled cruises into next year.

Carnival operates 23 ships. While they are idle, they maintain a “minimum nonoperational manning status,” according to a spokesman. That means they are staffed by 75 to 100 crew members, including marine engineers, technicians and officers, as well as housekeeping, culinary and other staff members.

Occasionally, they perform rescues, the spokesman said. In July, the Carnival Legend responded to a call for help from a boat that had run out of fuel off the coast of the Bahamas. The Legend gave the boaters 25 gallons of gas to help them make their way back to Jacksonville, Fla.

Ships are obligated under maritime law to respond to vessels in distress, said Jim Walker, a Miami-based maritime lawyer.

The duty to rescue a derelict vessel falls to a ship’s captain, who “has both a moral and a legal obligation to help,” he said.

There are typically three or four such rescues every year, some of which involve migrants, Mr. Walker said.

“Often there is no true ‘rescue’ of foreign immigrants at sea because the cruise ship will call the U.S.C.G. who will pick them up and then return them to their home countries,” Mr. Walker said in an email, referring to the Coast Guard. “It is not so much a ‘rescue’ but an ‘interception’ at sea.”

In some cases, he said, a ship’s captain or the captain’s employer could face criminal charges for ignoring a cry for help.

In 2012, Princess Cruises was sued after one of its cruise ships, the Star Princess, failed to help a disabled fishing boat that had been adrift for days when it was spotted by crew members and passengers. Two of the people on the fishing boat died.

The cruise industry has come under fire during the coronavirus pandemic, particularly early in the outbreak as passengers and crew members were trapped aboard ships where the virus spread rapidly.

In February, more than 700 passengers were infected on the Diamond Princess as the ship idled off the coast of Japan. Nine of the infected passengers died.

In August, the cruise industry voluntarily suspended operations until Oct. 31, following the extension of a no-sail order for cruise ships through Sept. 30 issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency noted that from March to July there had been nearly 3,000 suspected and confirmed coronavirus cases and 34 deaths on cruise ships in U.S. waters.

The Carnival Corporation, which operates Carnival, Princess and other brands and serves roughly 50 percent of the global cruise market, has dealt with outbreaks on several of its ships, including Holland America’s Zaandam, which tried to unload sick passengers in Florida in April. Last week, Carnival Cruise Line canceled several cruises that were scheduled for November and January.

By: Marie Fazio
Title: Cruise Ship Rescues 24 People From Sinking Boat Off Florida Coast
Sourced From: www.nytimes.com/2020/10/19/us/carnival-cruise-rescue.html
Published Date: Mon, 19 Oct 2020 22:51:45 +0000

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2,000-Year-Old Cat Etching Found at Nazca Lines Site in Peru

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The image, stretching for 40 yards on a hillside in Peru, shows a creature with pointy ears, orb-like eyes and a long striped tail. It appears to be a cat lounging, as cats often do.

Archaeologists stumbled across the faded etching while remodeling a section of a UNESCO heritage site known as the Nazca Lines, Peru’s Ministry of Culture announced last week.

The catlike geoglyph — which experts say dates to 200 B.C. to 100 B.C. — is the latest discovery among the carvings of larger-than-life animals and plants previously found between the towns of Nazca and Palpa, in a desert plain about 250 miles southeast of the capital, Lima.

“The discovery shows, once again, the rich and varied cultural legacy of this site,” the ministry said in a statement.

The Nazca Lines were first discovered by a Peruvian aerial surveyor in 1927. Images of a hummingbird, a monkey and an orca were unearthed at the site. UNESCO has designated the Lines and Geoglyphs of Nasca and Palpa a World Heritage Site since 1994.

The cat etching is believed to be older than any of the prehistoric geoglyphs previously unearthed at Nazca.

“It’s quite striking that we’re still finding new figures, but we also know that there are more to be found,” Johny Isla, Peru’s chief archaeologist for the Nazca lines, told Efe, a Spanish news agency.

The designs were believed to have been created when ancient Peruvians scraped off a dark and rocky layer of earth, which contrasts with lighter-colored sand underneath. Researchers believe that the figures once served as travel markers.

Drone photography has led to several discoveries in recent years, Mr. Isla said. In 2019, researchers from Japan, aided by satellite photography and three-dimensional imaging, unearthed more than 140 new geoglyphs at the site.

Research and conservation work had continued at the site even during the coronavirus pandemic, when most tourist sites have been closed. Archaeologists and employees were working on the Mirador Natural, a lookout point in the protected site, when they began unearthing something intriguing. When they cleaned the mound, clear lines showing the sinuous body of a cat emerged.

“The figure was barely visible and was about to disappear because it is situated on quite a steep slope that’s prone to the effects of natural erosion,” the culture ministry said in a statement.

The authorities said that even a stray footprint could mar the fragile grounds, and have imposed strict rules against trespassing at the site. Before the pandemic shut down tours, visitors were permitted to view the lines and figures only from planes and lookout points.

But disturbances at the Nazca lines have occurred, drawing widespread condemnation.

In 2014, Greenpeace activists left shoe marks near a large hummingbird design when they placed a sign that promoted renewable energy, Peruvian officials said.

“You walk there and the footprint is going to last hundreds or thousands of years,” Luis Jaime Castillo, a Peruvian official and archaeologist, told The Guardian at the time. “And the line that they have destroyed is the most visible and most recognized of all.”

In 2018, a truck driver was arrested after intentionally driving his tractor-trailer across three lines of geoglyphs.

Even as Peru works to preserve its ancient sites, officials reopened Machu Picchu this month for one lucky tourist after he became stranded during the pandemic and waited seven months to see the 16th-century Inca citadel.

By: Tiffany May
Title: 2,000-Year-Old Cat Etching Found at Nazca Lines Site in Peru
Sourced From: www.nytimes.com/2020/10/19/world/americas/peru-cat-nazca-lines-nasca.html
Published Date: Mon, 19 Oct 2020 08:48:43 +0000

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