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October 16, 1999

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Sears Travel Club

If you fly American Airlines, then join the Sears Discount Travel Club. What's the connection? Well, new members get savings of as much as $700 on American flights. There are other benefits as well, like hotel discounts, but it's the American deal that sets this apart.

Here's how it works: Join the Sears club and get six certificates good for American Airline flights. A couple let you save up to $200 on trips between the U.S., Canada and Mexico. How much you'll save depends how expensive your ticket is. A couple other certificates knock $250 off flights to Europe. And another pair gives you $250 off flights to Central and South America.

Naturally there are black-out dates and other restrictions. And it does cost $60 to join the Sears travel club, $50 if you pay for it with your Sears charge card. For details, visit sears.com or call 800-331-0257 and ask about code T5D29.

Sears -- more than just a place to buy a power saw. That's my Deal of the Week.

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Changes in Evacuation Testing
Here's an interesting fact: did you know that in a fatal plane crash, most people don't die from the impact? It's the fires and smoke that get you. That's why the F.A.A. puts all new planes through rigorous evacuation testing -- to make sure there are enough exits, that the aisles are wide enough, and the plane's not loaded with too many seats.

Well, this week that changed. A federal judge upheld the F.A.A.'s decision to stop testing some modified aircraft designs -- planes where other tests have shown similar models to be safe. Now, aircraft makers can use a mathematical evacuation "analysis" to test for safety.

Paul Davis from Ralph Nader's Aviation Consumer Action Project challenged the switch. I asked Paul what he thinks the change means.

Davis: "What it means is that we're downgrading safety. And for passengers it means that the first time there's an evacuation test, it will be with real passengers when there's a real crash. And they, in effect, are the guinea pigs."

Now, the F.A.A. says the new policy affects only those models they've already tested. And these new "virtual tests" will tell them things couldn't learn from the real thing.

Flight Delays on the Increase
Well, I hate to say this, but there's another great mystery out there. Many of you who traveled this summer don't need me to tell you -- it was rough. Flight delays were up 36 percent from April to August. The mystery: who's to blame? Well, in congressional hearings last week, it was fingers that were flying.

See, the airlines blame the F.A.A. They say its antiquated air traffic system can't handle all their planes. F.A.A. officials blamed the weather and out of date airport facilities. Even the air traffic controllers got in on it -- and guess what they said? Too many planes, too many people. It's the airlines, they cried.

The hearings were supposed to get to bottom of it, but instead all anybody got was confused. And with more and more people flying -- one report says 43 percent more by 2008 -- the delays are expected to get worse before they get better.

Barcelona Opera House Re-opened
It was an all-star gala in Barcelona, Spain this week, when they re-opened the Barcelona Opera House. It was gutted by fire back in 1994, but now it's back, in all its red and gold glory. They rebuilt the entire backstage but the hall itself looks much the same as when it opened, back in 1847.

Garage Sale at Place de la Bastille
Meanwhile in Paris, it's out with the old, in with the new. At L'Opera de Paris, it's a giant...well...garage sale with thousands of old costumes, masks and props for sale. Look for the tent next weekend, on the Place de la Bastille.

Travel Advisory
by Cheryl Glaser

Hurricane Irene
Hurricane Irene doesn't pack the punch of other storms this season, but it still forced evacuations in western Cuba. As the storm moves through Florida and further into the United States, expect travel delays all over the East Coast.

Travel Delays in France
In France, protests are sporadically affecting travel. Workers protesting new labor laws have shut down major highways and airports in that country, though government mediation has postponed an airport strike scheduled this week. In Paris, police had to use tear gas last Monday to put down hundreds of French chefs. The chefs were protesting a two-tiered restaurant tax that, they say, makes it hard to compete with fast-food chains.


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