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The 7 biggest travel myths — and the real story behind each

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There are lots of air travel myths floating around, but some are more prevalent than others.

These are the ones I get asked about the most. See which are true and which are fake, and learn the real story behind them all.

Myth: A crazy passenger can open the airplane door in mid-flight

emergency door on airplane

The real story: Don’t worry; if someone tries to open the cabin door while you’re cruising along at 35,000 feet, the door will stay shut. Nevertheless, a succession of addled passengers keep trying, according to news reports. (Authorities usually blame this on panic, mental instability, drugs or alcohol.) The reason doors don’t open has to do with the shape of the doors, but mostly due to the pressure both inside and outside the airplane.

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Myth: Cancelled flight? Don’t worry, the airline will give you vouchers

cancel canceled flight istock

The real story: Some airlines used to give hotel and food vouchers when planes were delayed or canceled; today, it is rare, and there is no requirement that airlines do this. See the Department of Transportation’s guide for airline passengers, called Fly Rights for a full explanation, but this is the paragraph you’ll want to see:

“Each airline has its own policies about what it will do for delayed passengers waiting at the airport; there are no federal requirements. If you are delayed, ask the airline staff if it will pay for meals or a phone call. Some airlines, often those charging very low fares, do not provide any amenities to stranded passengers. Others may not offer amenities if the delay is caused by bad weather or something else beyond the airline’s control. Contrary to popular belief, for domestic itineraries airlines are not required to compensate passengers whose flights are delayed or canceled.”

Myth: Those super-cheap airlines always have the best deals

airfare deals istock

The real story: Sure, Frontier or Spirit or Allegiant often have very cheap fares, but they aren’t always the cheapest — not every day and not on every route. This is why you should always shop on an airfare comparison site to be sure of finding the very cheapest ticket. And if you’ll be flying domestic or to the Caribbean, do a separate search at Southwest Airlines as well, because Southwest is the only U.S. carrier that does not share prices with comparison sites.

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Myth: Flight attendants are on the plane mostly for your comfort

flight attendant istock

The real story: The main responsibility of flight attendants is safety — yours. Yes, they do push drink carts down the aisle to serve you drinks, but consider that a bonus. Their real work is making sure passengers are safe and secure. This means a crew member’s word is law on a plane, and if one of them tells you to do something, you are obligated to obey.

Myth: You’ll always save money by using a carry-on bag

Dozens of suitcases in the airport floor

The real story: On many airlines, carry-on bags are free, but some charge for all luggage, carry-ons and checked-bags alike. Be sure you know your airline’s bag policy in advance, and if you are charged a fee, pay it at your earliest convenience (it’s usually cheaper that way). Tip: Use a carry-on even if there is a charge, because the bag that travels by your side is the bag the airlines can’t lose.

WHY A CARRY-ON BAG SHOULD BE YOUR ONLY LUGGAGE

Myth: You can purchase tickets at the very last minute for incredible deals

airport screen ticket counter istock

The real story: This was sometimes true years ago, but that was before airlines perfected the art of capacity cutting. Today, computers basically tell airlines exactly how many of us want to fly any given route on any given day, so they can fill all their seats (or most of them). In other words, they no longer have to entice us with last-minute bargains to fill those last couple of empty middle seats. If you do wait to buy until just before you fly, you’ll pay the incredibly steep fares business travelers are charged.

Myth: On the ground or in the air, your right to free speech is protected

plane chatter istock

The real story: Nope! Over the years, passengers have been removed from flights for everything from wearing T-shirts featuring explicit phrases to starting political arguments that get out of hand (and it should be noted that passengers across the political spectrum have been kicked off planes). The vast majority of folks just want to get from Point A to Point B as quickly as possible with the least amount of hassle, so let’s all play nice and avoid drama.

Rick Seaney is an airline travel expert and the co-founder of FareCompare.com, an airfare comparison shopping site

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Hillary Clinton: ‘fun to watch FOX when it’s someone else being blitzed’

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Jason Decrow / AP

Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is interviewed during a gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Dec. 4, 2013, in New York.

Step aside, Jon Stewart. There’s a new political satirist in town.

Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state and a potential Democratic presidential candidate, took an apparent shot at Fox News during the Super Bowl on Sunday.

The tweet, which had been retweeted more than 30,000 times by the start of the game’s fourth quarter, was apparently a reference to the cable news channel’s coverage, which has been highly critical of Democrats and the September 2012 terror attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Clinton has come under fire for the State Department response to the attack.

The Fox broadcast network — which aired the Super Bowl — and the Fox News Channel are both owned by the Fox Entertainment Group subsidiary of 21st Century Fox, a division of News Corp.



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Racial discrimination in teen years could mean health problems later

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Racial discrimination isn’t just a civil rights issue — it can also affect teenagers’ health, a new study suggests.

Adolescents who experienced frequent racial discrimination without emotional support from parents and peers had higher levels of blood pressure, a higher body mass index, and higher levels of stress-related hormones at age 20, placing them at greater risk for chronic disease as they get older.

While other studies have looked at perceived racial discrimination and health among adults, this study, published Monday in the journal Child Development, is the first of its type to track the effects in youth. The good news: Teens who did receive emotional support didn’t show the biological effects of racial discrimination.

Researchers wanted to look at the relationship between racial discrimination and what scientists call allostatic load, basically the “wear and tear” on the body over time caused by frequent and repeated stressors. Frequent activation of the body’s stress response causes a cascade of problems including high blood pressure, cardiac disease, stroke and increases in the body’s inflammatory response. The researchers also wanted to determine whether parental and peer support would help mediate that stress, leading to potentially better health outcomes. 

The study involved 331 African Americans, all of whom lived in the rural South, who were asked to rate the frequency of perceived discrimination at ages 16, 17 and 18. These discriminatory events included racially based slurs and insults, disrespectful treatment from community members, physical threats, and false accusations from business employees or law enforcement officials.

When the adolescents turned 18, the youths were asked to assess their peer emotional support during these years. Caregivers, too, were surveyed regarding the emotional support they provided, with questions including “If my child talks to me I have suggestions about how to handle problems,” and “If my child needs help with school or work, she/he can ask me about it.”

Blood pressure, body mass and stress-related hormones were assessed when youths turned 20. The researchers controlled for variables including low economic status, depression, or unhealthy behaviors such as drug use, for example, all of which can affect health.

Although many African Americans, as well as other minorities, experience discrimination as a stressor, only a small percentage show increases in the biological havoc that stress can cause.

“People ask why is that, and one reason we’ve shown is that it’s due to emotional support, which is important at all times in life, but especially during adolescence,’ says lead investigator Gene Brody, Regents Professor and Director of the Center for Family Research at University of Georgia. “These kinds of relationships can be a protective barrier from stress-changing biology.”

In recent years, racial discrimination as a stressor affecting biology has been the subject of numerous studies, mostly involving adults, says David Williams, a professor of public health at the Harvard School of Public Health. Other research has shown that racial discrimination and resulting health problems are a global phenomenon.

“It is not just an African-American problem, it is a universal problem, affecting the health of disadvantaged populations across the world,” adds Williams, the developer of “The Everyday Discrimination Scale,” which is widely used to assess perceived discrimination. “When a person’s sense of human dignity is violated, there are physiological consequences.”

Although the study does have some limitations since researchers still must determine the mechanism by which parental or peer involvement actually worked in reducing the stress response, it challenges researchers to explain “the how” of their findings, says Megan Gunnar, Regents Professor and Distinguished McKnight University Professor, Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota.

“While we are working out the how this comes about in the body, this study provides us with rich targets for increasing resilience in youth and, as if we needed them, more arguments for working to reduce racism and discrimination in our society.”

For caregivers the message is simple. “Just sitting with them, gauging how they are doing is not race specific, it is important across all races, and can have a powerful effect in buffering the effects of discrimination,” says Brody. 

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Child, 4, dies after being pulled from Norwegian Cruise pool

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Richard Drew / AP

People pause to look at the Norwegian Breakaway on the Hudson River in New York in May 2013. A 4-year-old child died after being pulled unresponsive from a swimming pool on the Norwegian Breakaway on Feb. 3, 2014.

A 4-year-old child died after being pulled unresponsive from a swimming pool on a Norwegian Cruise Line ship off the coast of North Carolina on Monday, cruise line and Coast Guard officials said.

Crew members were able to revive a 6-year-old boy also found in the pool. He was airlifted to a hospital, where his condition was unknown.

The two children were found in the morning on the Norwegian Breakaway, the cruise line said in an announcement on its Facebook page. The statement did not give the ages of the children, but Coast Guard Petty Officer Adam SanSoucie said they were 4 and 6.

An emergency medical team on the ship gave both children CPR, but the younger child died, the cruise line’s statement said. The older child, a boy, was airlifted with his grandmother and a nurse to a hospital, the company said. It did not identify the gender of the younger child.

SanSoucie said the boy was taken by Marine rescue helicopter to Carteret General Hospital in Morehead City, N.C. The boy was then transferred to Vidant Medical Center in Greenville. A spokeswoman there didn’t immediately return a phone call Tuesday. 

“We extend our deepest sympathies to the family during this extremely difficult time and are providing full assistance and support,” the cruise line said in its Facebook statement. “The family is in our thoughts and prayers and we ask that you please keep them in your thoughts and prayers as well.”

The 4,000-passenger ship was bound for Florida. The Norwegian Cruise Line website describes the Norwegian Breakaway as the “newest and largest ship embarking from NYC” to winter destinations including the southern Caribbean, Bahamas and Florida.

— The Associated Press

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