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That Airport Spa? It’s a Coronavirus Testing Clinic

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Until recently, XpresSpa was known for offering manicures, pedicures, massages and waxing services at 25 airports in the United States and around the world, where travelers with some time between flights could get themselves spruced up.

But on Wednesday, the company began offering a rapid molecular coronavirus test, manufactured by Abbott Laboratories, that will return results within 13 minutes at Kennedy International and Newark Liberty International airports under the name XpresCheck.

“We believe rapid Covid-19 testing at airports can play a major role in slowing the virus spread and decreasing the risk of new community outbreaks linked to travel as cases continue to rise throughout many states,” said Doug Satzman, chief executive of XpresSpa Group, in a statement.

The company’s move comes as the number of people flying remains low — on Tuesday the Transportation Security Administration screened about 590,000 people, compared with more than two million on the same date in 2019 — whether out of fear of air travel or because the 14-day quarantine requirements in some states make travel unattractive.

In recent weeks, airlines including United, Hawaiian Airlines and JetBlue, as well as airports, said they would begin offering coronavirus tests; with a negative test often meaning that the traveler can skip quarantine at their destination. As the travel industry grapples with how to get people traveling again, testing at the airport presents an opportunity to put people at ease about getting on a plane. No airline in the United States has suggested that it will require a negative test before boarding.

In March, when the coronavirus took hold of the world, XpresSpa was deemed nonessential. The company speedily closed its spas. Mr. Satzman said that he was, “feeling pretty helpless like a lot of people — at home, distressed and thinking about how I could help.”

At the suggestion of the chairman of the company’s board, XpresSpa started looking into whether it could shift into coronavirus testing.

By June, the company had hired medical staff and started testing airport and airline employees in the arrivals hall at Kennedy Airport’s Terminal 4. In August, testing was extended to passengers and the company started offering tests at Newark Liberty International Airport’s Terminal B for passengers and employees of airlines and the airport. The company was administering polymerase chain reaction, or P.C.R., tests and blood antibody tests, which can take 2 to 3 days to return results.

Although the company brought back most of its corporate staff who had been furloughed, including those who worked in construction design and human resources, most of its employees who worked at airports are still furloughed.

To some, the conversion of a business offering chair massages and mani-pedis into a medical testing facility might seem like a stretch.

But, “if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that businesses of all kinds have got to find ways to pivot in order to say alive,” said Scott Mayerowitz, executive editorial director of the travel news site The Points Guy. “If you asked me last year if a series of airport spas where people went to relax and escape the stress of travel would be offering medical services in a year, I would have laughed. But now it feels like a smart business move.”

XpresCheck’s Kennedy Airport clinic can test up to 500 people per day, and since August, Mr. Satzman said, many travelers opted to take both the PCR nasal swab test and the blood antibody test. At Newark Airport, the clinic can test up to 350 people a day. XpresCheck’s clinics charge $75 for one test or $90 for both the antibody and the PCR tests without insurance. The new rapid molecular tests cost $200 and are not covered by insurance.

The Abbott rapid coronavirus test, called the ID NOW, is fast and easy to operate, giving results in just a few minutes, but the test is less accurate than laboratory tests that use a P.C.R. technique. The test has not been cleared by the Federal Drug Administration, but it has been authorized by the agency for emergency use by laboratories and in patient care settings.

Mr. Satzman said that a company like his offering testing is just one part of a larger effort, and in order for tests to be more widely available, airlines, airports and companies need to coordinate.

“We are one piece of this to provide testing in the airport,” he said. “We’ve been on the phone lobbying congressional offices and representatives from the White House, the F.A.A., T.S.A. urging funding for testing in airports,” Mr. Satzman said.

The International Air Transport Association, a global airline trade group, along with Airlines for America and the World and Airports Council International-North America, requested in September that all international travelers be tested systematically before flights. That could make a coronavirus test an expected part of airplane travel, akin to having passengers take off their shoes and discard liquids before heading to the gate.

XpresCheck plans to open at La Guardia Airport and at Boston’s Logan Airport soon. Mr. Satzman said that the company is working to expand into other airports around the country.

By: Tariro Mzezewa
Title: That Airport Spa? It’s a Coronavirus Testing Clinic
Sourced From: www.nytimes.com/2020/10/07/travel/coronavirus-airport-testing-xpresspa.html
Published Date: Wed, 07 Oct 2020 23:51:18 +0000

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Witnessing Peru’s Enduring, if Altered, Snow Star Festival

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Stubbornly unfazed by warnings of “soroche,” or altitude sickness, I swung my legs up onto a donkey and began to ascend the steep trails. After trekking for a few dizzying hours alongside hundreds of others, I approached a glacial basin. The scene began to unfold before us: an immense valley flooded with so many pilgrims that it seemed to be covered in confetti, each tiny speck representing a huddled collection of tents and people.

The altitude sickness began to overtake every inch of my body. Even my eyeballs ached. But, undeterred, I slowly navigated through the throngs of people trying to take in every sight and sound.

Each year in late May or early June, thousands of pilgrims trek for hours on foot and horseback through Peru’s Andean highlands — slowly snaking their way up the mountainous terrain — for the religious celebrations of Qoyllur Rit’i, held some 50 miles east of Cusco, once the capital of the Incan empire.

Practiced annually for hundreds of years, the celebrations mark the start of the harvest season, when the Pleiades, a prominent cluster of stars, return to the night sky in the Southern Hemisphere. The syncretic festival, which is on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, interweaves Indigenous and Incan customs with Catholic traditions introduced by Spanish colonizers, who sought to undermine Andean cosmology.

Celebrations were suspended this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, with the route to the valley completely blocked off. But when I attended in 2013, the crowds were remarkably dense.

The festival takes place in the Sinakara Valley, a glacial basin that sits around 16,000 feet above sea level. Celebrants swarm in colorful droves with costumes, enormous flags, instruments and provisions in tow.

The festivities begin with the arrival of a statue of the Lord of Qoyllur Rit’i, transported from the nearby town of Mahuayani, to the valley’s small chapel. For three days, from morning until night, amid the nonstop sounds of drums, flutes, whistles, accordions, cymbals and electric keyboards, the air is filled with billowing clouds of dust kicked up from twirling dancers; it settles on the sequins, neon scarves, ribbons, tassels and feathers that adorn people’s traditional costumes and attire.

Pilgrims here are divided into “nations,” which correspond to their place of origin. Most belong to the Quechua-speaking agricultural regions to the northwest, or to the Aymara-speaking regions to the southeast. The delegation from Paucartambo has been making the pilgrimage for longer than any other.

“It’s important to maintain this tradition, because we have a lot of faith,” said a young Paucartambo pilgrim dressed as an ukuku, a mythical half-man and half-bear creature. Costumed in red, white and black alpaca robes, the ukukus are responsible for ensuring the safety of the pilgrims; they act as intermediaries between the Lord of Qoyllur Rit’i and the people.

Other participants include the ch’unchus, who wear headdresses and represent Indigenous communities from the Amazon; the qhapaq qollas, who wear knitted masks and represent inhabitants from the southern Altiplano region; and the machulas, who wear long coats over fake humpbacks and represent the mythological people to first populate the Andes.

Hundreds of ceremonies are held throughout the three-day festival. But the long-awaited main event is carried out by the ukukus in the early morning hours of the last day. Carrying towering crosses and candles, ukukus from each nation ascend the Qullqipunku mountain toward a nearby glacier, regarded as alive and sentient. (The snow-capped mountains circling the valley are also believed to be mountain gods, or Apus, that provide protection.)

According to oral traditions, the ukukus, after scaling the icy slopes, once partook in ritualistic battles that were eventually prohibited by the Catholic Church.

Another tradition was also recently put to rest, this time by Mother Nature.

Up until only a few years ago, ukukus would carve slabs of ice from the glacier, whose melted water is revered as medicinal. Pilgrims would eagerly await the ukukus, backs bent from the weight of the ice, who would place the blocks along the pathway to the temple, to be used as holy water. Sometimes the ice was even transported to Cusco’s main square where, as Qoyllur Rit’i draws to a close, Corpus Christi celebrations kick off with comparable religious zeal.

Many believed that carrying the ice was a penance for sins, and that fulfilling this ritual meant the Apus would offer blessings.

But because much of the glacier has melted, significantly reducing its size, the tradition of carrying chunks of sacred ice down the mountain has been banned.

Climate scientists say that glaciers in the tropical Andes have been reduced by nearly a quarter in the last 40 years. Some scientists predict that such glaciers could disappear entirely by 2070.

These changes have not only affected agricultural practices in the Andes, but also, as witnessed by Qoyllur Rit’i pilgrims, cultural ones, too.

Although the ukukus now carry only wooden crosses back down the mountain, they’re still met with great jubilation — a testament to human resilience in the face of destruction caused by climate change.

By: Danielle Villasana
Title: Witnessing Peru’s Enduring, if Altered, Snow Star Festival
Sourced From: www.nytimes.com/2020/10/26/travel/qoyllur-riti-snow-star-festival-peru.html
Published Date: Mon, 26 Oct 2020 09:00:33 +0000

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British Airways updates interim catering with – gasp! – hot food

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British Airways have been offering an extremely abbreviated on board service during the pandemic. Only passengers in first class received hot meals, with everyone else relegated to cold food. The interim catering has received a mixed reaction, especially as other airlines continue to offer full on board service.

All of this was wrapped in the safety banner, to reduce touch points and protect people. While perhaps admirable in its intention, frequent flyers have pointed the finger squarely at cost cutting, due to various inconsistencies in the approach. Either way, things are now moving back towards normality.

Updated Interim Catering

Hot food is back on British Airways long-haul services. First class continue to have theirs, and now everyone else on the plane gets to experience it too. That means business class passengers flying Club World, premium economy World Traveller Plus and economy World Traveller people can all chow down on something a little more fitting.

The Club World meal will be hot and served on a meal tray with a table cloth, with the second service a chilled item delivered the same way. The second service will come in a box as it does now on some return catered flights.



Those at the back of the bus will also get a hot meal, served on a half tray for the interim catering period. The second service will be chilled and be issued in a box or bag, depending on how lucky you are.

What About European Flights?

There are no changes to the current interim catering for European flights. This means that Club Europe continue to get a meal in a box or bag, and EuroTraveller customers receive a small complimentary on board snack.



The previous buy on board menu from M&S won’t be coming back, as the agreement expired this year and is not being renewed. A replacement British retailer is in the process of being recruited, so we will see a totally new buy on board menu on BA in due course.

Overall Thoughts

It is great to see some changes in the long-haul interim catering offering at British Airways. Not too soon either! Emirates return to their usual pre-Covid service on board from 1 November for example, so competition is afoot.

No doubt we will see further changes from BA as time passes on. Until the catering changes, I see no value in booking a flight with BA in a premium cabin. All my future travel is booked in economy with BA, as the value proposition for me in the higher classes has a lot to do with the food and drinks, which anyone who has read a flight review of mine will well know.

What say you? Are you happy with the improvements to the interim catering at British Airways? Thank you for reading and if you have any comments or questions, please leave them below.

To never miss a post, follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
All my flight and lounge reviews are indexed here so check them out!

Featured image by Rafael Luiz Canossa on Flickr via Wikimedia Commons.
With thanks to Inflight With James.

By: The Flight Detective
Title: British Airways updates interim catering with – gasp! – hot food
Sourced From: travelupdate.com/british-airways-interim-catering/
Published Date: Mon, 26 Oct 2020 13:03:17 +0000

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4 Top Stargazing Places to Visit in 2020

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Dark skies, bright stars are every stargazer’s main attraction spots. All around the world, people travel to experience the best spot the world has to offer. To most city dwellers, their experience with stargazing is bumping into the latest celebrity at the mall or grocery store checkout line thanks to air pollution and the city lights.

But there is nothing as magical as looking up into the dark skies dotted with constellations, planets, and shooting stars. The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) recognizes over 130 spots that preserve the most star-filled skies. UNESCO recognizes several starlight reserves on its Astronomical Heritage sites list. These spectacular spots offer stargazers an opportunity to reconnect with the planet and learn more about the universe.

We believe you deserve to know the top spots that will give you the most magical experience, yet.  Here are 4 top places to visit in 2020 for stargazing.

The Best Stargazing Places to Visit

Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah

Located in the remote Lake Powell of Utah, Natural Bridges was the first to be certified by the IDA as the international dark sky park. The IDA is the leading organization in combating light pollution, it is a big deal. The designation recognizes areas with some of the darkest and clearest skies in the world. It acknowledged darkness as a resource worthy of conservation and protection and appreciates the efforts extended to achieve this. The main attraction of the dark skies of Natural Bridges is a phenomenon that rises over the natural rock formation of Owachomo Bridge creating one of the most spectacular Milky Way you have ever seen. The bridge forms some sort of a window to the sky by beautifully framing thousands of stars, all of which are visible with the naked eye.

Plan to camp here overnight to have the full experience. Night photographers do get some of the most marvelous shots at the Natural Bridges National Monument, but always remember artificial sources of light for photography are prohibited.

Mauna Kea, Hawaii, United States

Located about 2,500 miles Southwest of California, Hawaii has evolved to be one of the leading astronomy destinations. The high volcanic peaks offer some of the most spectacular sceneries around the world.

Mauna Kea Summit is perhaps the most popular stargazing spots in Hawaii.

13,803 feet above the town of Hilo and close to Mauna Kea is the Mauna Kea Observatory, the largest of its kind in the world. It is a major astronomy hub.

What’s more, is that it is one of the few places on earth you can drive nearly 14,000 above sea level. Just make sure you check-in at the Visitors Station to acclimatize. You don’t want to experience altitude sickness. Still, the journey is magical with starry rewards. Make sure to bring the best telescopes as from this spot you get to see the celestial wonders of the Northern Hemisphere from bands of Jupiter to the constellations of Orion. Also because Mauna Kea is close to the equator, the stars of the Southern Hemisphere are visible, too. This means that over 80% of the earth’s stars can be seen from Mauna Kea.

Photographers have been known to capture the rare lunar rainbow from Mauna Kea. Lunar rainbows are essentially lit by the moon and not the sun, and occur under precise conditions.

Pic du Midi, France

Located in the Pyrénées Mountains of France, Pic Ddu Midi is good enough of a spot for NASA to take photos of the moon surface in preparation for their missions; it’s good enough for you.

A cable car from the La Mongie will get you to the summit, where an observatory is perched right above the clouds.

Also, the reserve is a UNESCO World Heritage Site as well as a major French national park. Plan to book an overnight stay to experience an unforgettable night under the stars.

Los Angeles, California

It is primarily known for another kind of star, the Hollywood star, and smog that is ever-present. To many, Lost Angeles does not come off as an ideal place to go stargazing. But those that have visited the iconic Griffith Observatory will tell you otherwise. Perched atop Mount Hollywood, it is one of the most astronomically intriguing places to visit. Depending on the time of the year, from Griffith Observatory you can observe assorted double stars, nebulae, Jupiter, and Venus. And with powerful telescopes, the incredibly detailed view of the Moon’s craggy surface can be visible.

The stars are accessible from most places and to everyone but some locations can get you the most from a night sky. Add these spots to your bucket list and start ticking. Once you do, you’ll be treated to an amazing view few people will even get to see.

The post 4 Top Stargazing Places to Visit in 2020 appeared first on Travel Experta – Family Travel Blog.

By: Marina Villatoro
Title: 4 Top Stargazing Places to Visit in 2020
Sourced From: feedproxy.google.com/~r/TheTravelExperta/~3/uLPw0ytsHf8/4-top-stargazing-places-visit-2020.html
Published Date: Mon, 26 Oct 2020 15:30:03 +0000

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