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Share the road: More people will travel for July 4 holiday

What’s more classic than a road trip for the July 4 holiday? This year, you can expect to have a lot more company.

You’ll be sharing the road — and air space and rails and waterways — with a record number of travelers this year.

AAA July 4, 2017, infographic
AAA July 4, 2017, travel forecast infographic

Over 44 million people will travel at least 50 miles from home around the coming holiday, up 3 percent from last year, according to AAA.

Bill Sutherland, AAA’s senior vice president of travel and publishing, said strong employment combined with rising incomes “bode well” for summer travel, especially the July 4 holiday. And some travel costs, such as gas prices and airfares, are down from a year ago, adding incentive to travel.

Of people traveling for the holiday, 85 percent will drive to their destination, about 8 percent will fly and 7 percent will take other transportation modes, such as trains, buses and cruises.

Here are some reasons why are more people traveling:

Economy: The economy is growing at a good enough clip for the Federal Reserve last week to raise a key interest rate by a quarter percentage point to 1.25 percent.

Employment: People are working and feel more stable. While U.S. employment growth has slowed slightly in May, nearly 4.6 million jobs have been added over the last 12 months, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The nation’s unemployment rate was 4.3 percent in May.

Income: Salaries are starting to rise. The average full-time worker earned $22 an hour in May, up 2.4 percent from $21.48 a year earlier, according to BLS data.

Gas: The average gas price nationwide costs $2.28, 4 cents less than a year ago. Drivers, however, may see prices increase closer to the holiday weekend.

Airfare: AAA’s Leisure Travel Index shows that average airfares for the top 40 U.S. flights are 10 percent lower this year, with an average round trip ticket costing $186.

Car rental: The average daily car rental rate is $65, 14 percent less than last year.

Where are most people going? Orlando, Fla., remains the No. 1 destination for summer travel AAA says. That’s followed by (in order): Vancouver, Canada; Cancun, Mexico; Seattle; and Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.

Road trip food: Make cookies from frozen dough

Who doesn’t love a road trip?

Food, however, is always a problem on long drives. There’s either not enough or too much. And although I usually pack healthy snacks, such as fruit and nuts, it’s hard not to pick up candy or potato chips at the first rest stop.

So, in preparation for a recent road trip, I decided to make a tasty, portable snack that I hoped could stave off a junk food binge. I also wanted to make dessert for lunch guests coming before the trip.

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This is what frozen cookie dough looks like after spending several hours in the freezer. (Sheryl Jean)

I realized I could bake some cookies and freeze the rest of the dough to make a fresh batch later.

I dug through my clipped recipe file and found a favorite: chocolate chip oatmeal walnut cookies (recipe below). Yum!

On the eve of the lunch, I made the dough, rolling it into little balls. I baked a dozen balls into cookies that night and froze the rest.

To freeze, I lined two baking sheets with parchment paper and placed as many balls of dough as I could without touching each other. I stuck them in the freezer until the dough hardened — a few hours or overnight. (It’s a slightly different process to freeze slice-and-bake or cut-out cookie dough.)

After removing the frozen dough balls, I placed them in a large plastic freezer bag, squeezing out excess air before zipping it closed. Cookie dough can keep in the freezer for up to three months.

When you’re ready to use the frozen dough, simply take as many individual balls as you want out of the bag and place them on a cookie sheet. Add an extra minute or two to the baking directions in the recipe.

Continue reading for the recipe. Continue reading Road trip food: Make cookies from frozen dough

Find your hygge in the Twin Cities

You’ve probably heard the word hygge, but aren’t really sure what it means.

The Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul are good places to find hygge — the Scandinavian phrase for coziness found in the ordinary tasks of daily life — on display.

Hygge became hot as all things Nordic became cool. It’s taken on a life of its own much like tiny houses, man buns and flannel shirts.

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Minneapolis’ trendy Askov Finlayson menswear store has a festive atmosphere. (Sheryl Jean)
Nordic roots run deep in Minnesota deep (Nordic Vikings may have visited the state in the 1300s). Many Minnesotans claim Scandinavian heritage. Some Twin Cities Sandinavian shops date to the 1950s. In 1999, chef Marcus Samuelsson opened upscale Swedish-inspired Aquavit  in Minneapolis, but it closed four years later. (I ate there.)

In the last decade or so, Scandinavian culture has surged — along with the popularity of Nordic mystery writers, the Finnish television crime drama Bordertown and bands like Sweden’s First Aid Kit. Danish restaurant Noma was named the world’s best for four of the last 10 years. You’ll find the Minnesota version of New Nordic cuisine, which embraces regional foods and artisanal production, in the Twin Cities.

Hygge is on display at this sampling of spots in Minneapolis and St. Paul:

Food:

Bachelor Farmer, Minneapolis’ trendy North Loop neighborhood: Chef Paul Berglund was named Best Chef Midwest by the James Beard Foundation. Its Swedish-inspired menu includes butterscotch mushroom confit and toasts of duck liver pâté and lamb liver terrine. Owners Eric and Andrew Dayton, sons of Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, are in the forefront of the Twin Cities’ Nordic resurgence.

Spoon and Sable, Minneapolis’ North Loop:  The restaurant, led by chef Gavin Kaysen (a James Beard Rising Star Chef in 2008) won a coveted Best New Restaurant nominee in 2015. Order white asparagus chowder with smoked lake trout, pork schnitzel or smoked whitefish.

Uptown 43, Minneapolis’ Linden Hills neighborhood: Chef/owner Erick Harcey’s late Swedish grandfather provided the inspiration for the restaurant. Harcey puts a twist on family recipes: salmon gravlax smörgås; Pyttipanna (Swedish hash) with cottage cheese and fried eggs; and Swedish meatball sandwich with lingonberry, charred cucumbers and fried onion.

The Finnish Bistro, St. Anthony Park: This small spot has a big menu. Try the Finnish oatcakes for breakfast, reindeer sausage and potato quiche for lunch and traditional Finnish beef pasty or stuffed cabbage rolls for dinner.

Shops:

Askov Finlayson, Minneapolis’ North Loop: The trendy shop, named for two northern Minnesota towns, sells some Nordic menswear and accessories. Eric and Andrew Dayton are the owners. It sells clothing emblazoned with “North,” a label created by the brothers to highlight Minnesota’s ruggedness, hygge and coolness that’s taken off. Hip eyeglass outlet Warby Parker occupies the rear corner.

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Fjallraven opened its St. Paul, Minn., store in fall 2015. (Sheryl Jean)
Fjällräven, St. Paul, Uptown Minneapolis, Mall of America: The Swedish outerwear retailer is probably best known in the U.S. for its square backpacks, but it offers much more. Fjallraven blends function with design, bold colors and quality fabrics. The St. Paul store is the newest of three in the Twin Cities. (Photos at top and at right.)

The Foundry Home Goods, Minneapolis’ North Loop: The warm, bright shop oozes hygge. It sells Swedish soap and bath accessories, Nordic wooden products, but also products from Canada and Japan.

Ingebretsen’s Scandinavian Gifts, Minneapolis: Beyond selling Nordic items, it offers classes from cooking to traditional crafts and even making a troll mask.

Sandeen’s Scandinavian Gifts, Art & Needlecraft, St. Paul: Dating to the mid-1950s, this shop sells items such as imported crystal, trolls, ceramics, table linens, cookware, jewelry, Swedish Dala Horses and Rosemåling (traditional folk art) supplies.

Want to learn more about visiting the Twin Cities? Read this article I just wrote for The Dallas Morning News.

Finnair is latest airline to test facial recognition

Finnish airline Finnair is the latest airline to test facial recognition technology at check-in as a way to increase security and improve the airport passenger boarding process.

Finnair is testing the technology created by Futurice at Helsinki Airport this month on 1,000 of its frequent flyers. Those customers use a mobile app to send a photograph to Finnair and use a designated check-in counter equipped with face recognition technology at the airport. A Finnair agent still must check the customer’s travel information.

Last month, British Airways launched automated biometric technology at London’s Heathrow Airport for departing domestic flights at some gates, with plans to expand the program to international flights in the future. Travelers’ digital facial scan is recorded as they go through security and when they arrive at the gate. Their face is matched with this representation when they present their boarding pass.

Closer to home, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has been testing facial and iris imaging capabilities to improve travelers’ identity and security. Test sites have included Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C.; John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York; and Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta.

Finnair’s head of ground experience and ancillary, Sari Nevanlinna, said facial recognition could “eliminate the need for a [travelers’] boarding pass.” The airline carries more than 10 million passengers a year between Europe, Asia and North America.

 

SouveNEAR aims to make airport shopping fun and support local artists

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Items for sale at one of SouveNEAR’s vending machines in the Kansas City International Airport. (Sheryl Jean)

Airport gifts might bring to mind images of magnets and key chains.

SouveNEAR is trying to change that by selling locally made art through vending machines. I spied two of its vending machines at the Kansas City International Airport (it has six there).

This is the second time I’ve run across “vendo art” in my travels. In February, I wrote about a vending machine in Minneapolis that sells mini pieces of original art — at $5 a pop. Art-o-mat, a North Carolina artist collective, has more than 100 refurbished cigarette machines across North America.

SouveNEAR art 2
Visitors to Kansas City can by locally made gifts at a SouveNEAR vending machine at the airport. (Sheryl Jean)

SouveNEAR happens to be based in Kansas City, Mo., and run by two women — Tiffany King and Suzanne Southard. They started the business in 2014 to offer convenient mementos to visitors while supporting local artists. They find local artists — not just in Kansas City — and commission work designed and made locally.

Gifts I saw at the Kansas City airport ranged from chocolate and earrings to coasters and small paintings for $5 to $35. Customers can pay by credit card, Google Wallet or Apple Pay.

In addition, SouveNEAR has two other vending machines in the Kansas City, Mo., metro area: one at Union Station (downstairs by the Extreme Screen and Planetarium entrance) and one at Garmin Ltd.’s headquarters in Olathe, Kan. It also has three machines at the Oakland, Calif., International Airport and one machine at The Hall on Market, a food and drink venue in San Francisco.

Economy of the US continues to grow steadily, but uncertainty lingers

The U.S. economy keeps rolling along, but the latest Federal Reserve economic snapshot reveals some concerns about the impact of government policies.

Economic activity increased at a “modest” to “moderate” pace in all 12 Fed districts across the country from mid-February through the end of March, according to the “Beige Book” issued today from the Federal Reserve System.

Nationally, services, energy-related business and tourism/travel activity picked up. Some results were mixed: Home construction accelerated as home sales growth slowed and manufacturing grew, but the growth of freight shipments slowed. And consumer spending, agricultural and commercial and industrial construction varied across regions.

Still, some executives in manufacturing, housing, retail and technology around the country expressed concerns about policy uncertainty.

In the San Francisco district, hotel receipts were up, but hoteliers noted that hotel stays were “lower than expected due to changes in immigration policy and increased scrutiny of foreign arrivals.”

In the Dallas Fed district, a few manufacturers were especially worried about changes that would impact trade with Mexico. Mexico is Texas’ No. 1 export market.

Nationally, some retailers said expected visa reductions and limited ability to raise prices increased their uncertain outlook and could hinder expansion plans.

Some national tech executives expressed concern that continued legislative struggles could dampen future business confidence and that hostile immigration policy could further tighten labor markets for skilled and unskilled labor. Employment remained tight with increasing wage pressers in many regions. Some executives in the San Francisco district noted that technology and non-technology sectors increasingly are competing for workers with similar advanced skills.

In addition to California, the San Francisco Fed district includes eight other states — Alaska, Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington — plus American Samoa, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands. It’s the largest in terms of geography and size of the economy of the Fed’s 12 districts across the country.

Report vs. reality: Is airline service improving?

A new report showing airline improvements across the board comes on the tail of two recent examples of just how bumpy air travel can be.

The 2016 Airline Quality Rating report debuted today by professors at Wichita State University and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University found that airlines are flying on time more often, mishandling fewer bags,  getting fewer complaints and denying boarding to fewer passengers.

But over the last few days, Delta Air Lines canceled more than 3,000 flights after a storm at its home base of Atlanta. Chicago-based United Airlines created an uproar on social media after a video showed security agents drag a man off a plane on Sunday after he refused to give up his seat on the overbooked United flight. (See video below.)

 

Fellow passenger Audra D. Bridges posted the video on Facebook while the plane was boarding at Chicago O’Hare International Airport headed to Louisville, Ky. She also wrote on the post: “United airlines overbooked the flight. They randomly selected people to kick off so their standby crew could have a seat. This man is a doctor and has to be at the hospital in the morning. He did not want to get off. We are all shaky and so disgusted.”

Here was United CEO’s response on Facebook:

 

United offered compensation to four volunteers who would leave the overbooked flight so four crew members could get to Louisville for work the next day, according to Bridges’ report in the Louisville, Ky., Courier Journal. With no takers, United randomly selected four passengers; three left the plane but the fourth, the man who has dragged away, refused to leave, according to the news report.

United ranked No. 8 among 12 airlines in the Airline Quality Rating report. Alaska Airlines, which recently acquired Virgin America, as the No. 1 U.S. carrier.

Here are some other findings from the report, which is based on data from the U.S. Department of Transportation:

On-time performance: The share of on-time arrivals rose to 81.4 percent in 2016 from 79.9 percent in 2015. The DOT considers a flight on time if it arrives within 15 minutes of its scheduled time.

Customer complaints: The rate of complaints filed with the government declined 20 percent.

Baggage: The rate of lost, stolen or delayed bags fell 17 percent.

Bumped passengers: The rate of passengers bumped from oversold flights fell 18 percent.

What do World War I, the Liberty Bell and San Francisco have in common?

As we begin the centennial observance of United States involvement in World War I, the the iconic Liberty Bell comes to mind.

Following a recent visit to one of my favorite San Francisco spots — the Palace of Fine Arts — it was brought to my attention what role that site played in events leading up to the fateful date of April 6, 1915.

Liberty Bell
Liberty Bell (Pixabay/Creative Commons)

The Liberty Bell began its rise as a national symbol of independence in a cross-country train tour — from Philadelphia to San Francisco — in the summer of 1915 as President Woodrow Wilson and other leaders “felt the need to whip the nation into a patriotic frenzy to prepare for the war,” journalist Stephen Fried wrote in “How the Liberty Bell Won the Great War” in the April edition of Smithsonian magazine. (Note: The article is titled “Saved by the Bell” in the print edition.)

Along the way, Fried noted, the bell stopped at 275 cities and towns, drawing huge crowds.

Last year, San Francisco celebrated the centennial of when the Liberty Bell landed in the city on that trip: July 16, 1915. The next day the bell was paraded through the city’s streets to the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition — for Liberty Day at the Fair.

Fun fact: A petition signed by 500,000 California children helped sway Philadelphia officials who were hesitant to lend the bell, according to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. The Liberty Bell became the star of the exposition, which attracted 19 million visitors.

The trip to San Francisco and back was the last time the Liberty Bell left Philadelphia.

The California Historical Society has several digital images on its website regarding the Liberty Bell’s time in San Francisco. The Historical Society of Pennsylvania compiled 10 digital images of the Liberty Bell’s trip from Philadelphia to San Francisco in 1915.

Today, remnants of the San Francisco fair include the Presidio’s Crissy Field, the Marina Green and the Palace of Fine Arts, which was rebuilt as a permanent structure in the 1960s. (See my photo of the Palace of Fine Arts at top).

This week marks the 100th anniversary of the United States’ entry into World War I on April 6, 1915.  The National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Mo., on Thursday hosted a centennial observance below its 217-foot Liberty Memorial Tower and before thousands of attendees, including the Missouri governor, descendants of U.S. WWI veterans and foreign leaders, according to the Associated Press.

You can watch a video of the ceremony from the United States World War I Centennial Commission‘s website.

Globally, the WWI centennial observation began in 2014, in commemoration of the war’s outbreak in 1914, and continues through 2018.

Poll: High housing costs may push out San Francisco Bay Area millennials

It’s no secret that the San Francisco Bay Area is an expensive place to live.

Now, a new poll has found that nearly half of all millennials (people age 18 to 39) in the area are considering leaving because of the high housing costs and traffic.

Forty-six percent of Bay Area millennials (vs. 30 percent of people age 65+) are considering moving to more affordable areas in the next few years, according to the survey by the Bay Area Council, a business-sponsored public policy organization.

The average apartment rent in San Francisco was $3,809 in February, according to Rent Jungle. The Bay Area single-family home in February sold for a median $784,470, up 12 percent from a year earlier, according to the California Association of Realtors.

University of California, Los Angeles economist Jerry Nickelsburg recently wrote on Zócalo Public Square that often the most attractive cities are those where housing is considered “unaffordable.” It’s basic economics — supply and demand.

Some people, however, argue economics have been warped as Google workers and Airbnb rentals drive up housing costs. Demographia’s 2017 housing affordability study notes that rising housing costs usually hit younger and low-income residents the hardest.

Demographia’s list of 11 affordable U.S. major housing markets includes Buffalo, N.Y.; Cleveland; Detroit; Grand Rapids, Mich.; and Indianapolis. The least affordable places are San Jose, Calif.; Honolulu; Los Angeles; and San Francisco. Notice a trend?

Let’s face it people live in the Bay Area because it’s beautiful and it has many desirable amenities and jobs — high-paying ones — in growing industries. And people will pay more to live in a nicer place.

Nickelsburg asks a solid question: If housing prices were more affordable, would that improve supply in a place like San Francisco or would it simply drive up demand?

There’s no easy answer. One thing is certain: It’s likely that the Bay Area will continue to attract new residents.

Here’s why American Airlines is buying into a Chinese carrier

 

With China as the fastest-growing aviation, U.S. airlines are eager to make deals to gain entry to the highly regulated market in that country.

American Airlines’ just announced $200-million stake in state-owned China Southern Airlines in the latest example.

The deal will make it a little easier for Americans to travel to China and vice versa because it will provide travelers with a larger flying network and more price options in China and the United States.

“We are two of the biggest carriers in the world, and our networks are highly complementary, with the potential to offer China Southern and American customers an unmatched range of destinations in two critical markets for business and leisure travelers,” Robert Isom, president of Texas-based American Airlines said in a statement.

The deal will offer the airlines’ customers “more travel options and better value,” China Southern chairman Wang Chang Shun said.

China Southern’s headquarters and main hub is in Guangzhou, China. American flies from hubs in Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) and Los Angeles (LAX) to Beijing and Shanghai, and from DFW and LAX to Hong Kong.

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China leads the International Air Transport Association’s forecast of the top air passenger markets over the next 20 years. (IATA)

Later this year, the two carriers plan to start codeshare and interline agreements that will offer about 70 new destinations in China to American customers and nearly 80 new stops in North and South America to China Southern customers.

International air travel is expected to nearly double to 7.2 billion passengers by 2035, according to the International Air Transport Association. China is the fastest-growing market, with 1.3 billion new passengers by then. The industry group predicts China will pass North America as the world’s largest aviation market around 2024. (See graph at upper right.)

For the United States, China is the fifth largest tourism generator, bringing well over 2 million visitors a year, according to the National Travel and Tourism Office (NTTO). (See chart at lower right.)

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US travel to China also has increased — up nearly 8 percent to 1.2 million people in 2015, the latest data available from the U.S. Travel Association.

The now defunct Pan American World Airways began flying between the United States and China in 1981, two years after diplomatic relations between the two nations were established. But the expansion of flights has been slow in a competitive process for routes.

The United States doesn’t have an open skies agreement, which allows unrestricted flights in each country, with China. The current US-China bilateral treaty specifies the number of passenger flights allowed.

Other airlines have forged ties with Chinese carriers to gain more access to China’s growing travel market. Last year, United Airlines enhanced a partnership it’s had with Air China since 2003. In 2015, Delta Air Lines paid $450 million for a small stake in China Eastern Airlines.

American, the world’s largest airline, offers nearly 6,700 daily flights to nearly 350 destinations in over 50 countries. It carried over 198 million passengers in 2016.

China Southern, one of three major state-owned carriers in mainland China, operates more than 2,000 daily flights to 208 destinations in 40 countries and regions. It flew 115 million passengers in 2016.

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China Southern Airline’s base in Guangzhou, China. Beijing (at top right of map) and Shanghai (right center of map). (Sheryl Jean with Apple Maps)