friendly skies

Survey: People are more satisfied with airlines than ever before

May 14, 2014
Getty Images/ Andrew Burton

Wait, what? Fliers are less dissatisfied than ever with North American airlines — even when they're saddled with extra fees, fewer flight options, and record-breaking cancelations, a new survey from J.D. Power and Associates reveals. The airline industry earned 712 points out of 1,000 — its highest ranking since 2006.

Passengers said they were pleased with easier check-in, new in-flight services such as Wi-Fi, and are coming to terms with being nickel and dimed for services that were once complimentary, like checking bags. Of course, that doesn't mean customers love paying more: "We certainly would not conclude that people are happy with these fees, but we are seeing it go from worst to less bad," a J.D. Power and Associates told Bloomberg. "There is certainly less dissatisfaction."

For the seventh year, Alaska Airlines was ranked as the the favorite airline among bigger carriers, with Delta Air Lines and American Airlines placing in second and third, respectively. US Airways scored the lowest. Among the budget carriers, JetBlue scored the highest and Frontier Airlines ranked the lowest.

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Watch a moving, drone's-eye tour of Auschwitz, 70 years after liberation

4:50am ET

Steven Spielberg will be among the boldface names attending Tuesday's memorial service marking the 70th anniversary of the Soviet liberation of Auschwitz, the largest Nazi concentration camp. In a speech in Krakow on Monday night to some of the 300 Holocaust survivors also in Poland for the commemoration, Spielberg said that one important way to fight resurgent anti-Semitism is by "preserving places like Auschwitz so people can always see for themselves how hateful ideologies can become tangible acts of murder."

Assuming you didn't make it to Auschwitz for the service yourself, the BBC has a cinematic visual tour of the concentration camp and its pure-death-camp cousin, Birkenau (or Auschwitz II), that wouldn't look out of place in a Spielberg film, complete with aerial shots (from a drone) and soaring, melancholy soundtrack. The tour shows the railroad tracks that brought a million people to their deaths between 1940 and 1945, the converted Polish army barracks of Auschwitz and ruins of Birkenau's wooden bunkhouses, a courtyard where the Nazis frequently executed prisoners, and the cruel, mocking inscription above the death camp's welcome gate: "Work sets you free." —Peter Weber

The Daily Showdown

Jon Stewart mirthfully critiques the GOP hopefuls who spoke in Iowa last weekend

4:03am ET

"A lot of Republicans who will never be president met in Iowa this weekend," Jon Stewart said on Monday night's Daily Show, and luckily for him, they gave some entertaining speeches. In his arch look at what he called the "Fox News correspondent auditions," Stewart critiqued the addresses by Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wis.), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Mike Huckabee, Rick Perry, and finally — or so it seemed — Donald Trump.

"That's it," said Stewart. "It can't get more entertaining, and less electable, that Trump." So of course he spent the next few minutes focusing on Sarah Palin's speech, which, thanks to a TelePrompTer malfunction, bordered on incoherent at times. If you stick through to the end, Stewart has one not-unkind idea for how Palin can use her talents. —Peter Weber


Kurds declare victory over ISIS in Kobani

3:13am ET

The Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) and Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga fighters drove Islamic State to the edge of Kobani over the weekend, and late Monday they declared victory in the 131-day battle for the strategically and symbolically important Syrian town. "The city of Kobani is fully liberated," Syria's Kurdish Democratic Union said on Twitter, and Kurds in Kobani and across the border in Turkey celebrated.

Fully liberated may be a bit of an overstatement, though. The entire town is under YPG and peshmerga control, Kobani Kurdish leader Anwar Muslim tells the BBC, but YPG fighters are conducting a "final clean-up" on the eastern edge of town, and the situation is "a little tense."

The Kurds' apparent victory in Kobani is being seen as evidence that the U.S.-led airstrikes can help defeat ISIS, at least if there is a ground force that can capitalize on the strikes. U.S. Central Command said in a statement that it "congratulates these courageous fighters and thanks them for their efforts." The fight against ISIS "is far from over," CENTCOM noted, but ISIS's "failure in Kobani has denied them one of their strategic objectives."

That ISIS lost this round is important, but the Islamist would-be caliphate is doing well in other parts of Syria and Iraq, and has even started to expand into Afghanistan. As CNN notes below, ISIS reacted to its loss by calling for attacks against the West. —Peter Weber

snow joke

Yeti braves blizzard to lurk around Boston

1:50am ET

Boston residents, this news is bigger than the snowstorm: There's a yeti on the loose, and it has internet access.

Yes, someone wearing an abominable snowman outfit is wandering the cold streets and tweeting about it, using the handle @BostonYeti2015. So far, he's posted rather creepy pictures on deserted highways, sidewalks, and roads around town, and who knows where he's headed next. Your move, @NYCBigfoot212.

Surveillance States

Report: The DEA is spying on millions of U.S. cars

1:21am ET

Since 2008, the Drug Enforcement Administration has been secretly compiling a Justice Department database of millions of U.S. license plates and tracking the associated cars through a network of license plate readers, The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday night, citing "current and former officials and government documents." The program started as a means to seize drugs and other contraband near the U.S.-Mexico border — a part of the program the DEA had previously acknowledged — but it has expanded nationwide. How does it work? The Journal explains:

The DEA program collects data about vehicle movements, including time, direction, and location, from high-tech cameras placed strategically on major highways. Many devices also record visual images of drivers and passengers, which are sometimes clear enough for investigators to confirm identities, according to DEA documents and people familiar with the program. [Wall Street Journal]

As of 2011, the DEA had 100 such cameras around the country, but the agency also uses state-operated license-plate readers — and lets some state and local law enforcement agencies tap the database, run from the DEA's El Paso Intelligence Center in Texas. The formerly secret program "raises significant privacy concerns," says Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). "The fact that this intrusive technology is potentially being used to expand the reach of the government's asset-forfeiture efforts is of even greater concern." Read more about the surveillance program at The Wall Street Journal.


Lance Armstrong says he would 'probably' cheat again

1:15am ET
Handout/Getty Images

Lance Armstrong admitted that although it was a "bad decision" for him to start doping, he would likely do it all over again.

"My answer is not a popular one," he told the BBC. "If I was racing in 2015, no, I wouldn't do it again, because I don't think you have to. If you take me back to 1995, when it was completely and totally pervasive, I'd probably do it again." Armstrong continued to reiterate that everyone else was doing it, saying, "When I made the decision, when my team made that decision, when the whole peloton made that decision, it was a bad decision and an imperfect time. But it happened." He also added that his high profile allowed his charity to go from "raising no money to raising $500 million, serving three million people. Do we want to take it away? I don't think anybody says 'yes.'"

In August 2012, the United States Anti-Doping Agency stripped Armstrong of his seven Tour de France titles and banned him from the sport of cycling. Since then, he said his life has "slowed from 100 mph to 10," and he would like it to go up to "50, 55." Armstrong also said he thinks the world is ready for his comeback, and he's ready to start the next chapter in his life. "Of course I want to be out of timeout," he said. "What kid doesn’t?"


Fidel Castro: 'I don't trust the politics of the United States'

12:04am ET
Handout/Getty Images

In a statement sent to a student federation at the University of Havana, Fidel Castro spoke out for the first time since the U.S. and Cuba announced plans to restore full diplomatic relations. "I don't trust the politics of the United Sates, nor have I exchanged a word with them, but this does not mean I reject a pacific solution to the conflicts," wrote the 88-year-old former president of Cuba. He continued:

Any peaceful or negotiated solution to the problems between the United States and the peoples or any people of Latina America that doesn't imply force or the use of force should be treated in accordance with international norms and principles. We will always defend cooperation and friendship with all the peoples of the world, among them our political adversaries. [Castro]

Castro's remarks also appeared in the Communist Party newspaper, Granma.


Deflategate: Louis CK is sure the Patriots cheated, and he thinks that's great

January 26, 2015

Louis CK is from Boston, so naturally he's a Patriots fan. And like a lot of Patriots fans, he isn't too worked up about NFL allegations that the team illicitly deflated its footballs. In fact, he's positive that quarterback Tom Brady and coach Bill Belichick cheated, "because they want to win real bad," and "I have no problem with it — I think it's hilarious," he told David Letterman on Monday night's Late Show. "And why not? It's a stupid football game. I mean, just deflate the balls, poke a guy in the eye, or whatever — it's football!" He has a point. And there's more in the video below. —Peter Weber

lest we forget

Elderly survivors return to Auschwitz for liberation anniversary

January 26, 2015
Sean Gallup/Getty Images

For Marcel Tuchman, the best revenge against the Nazis was living well. After surviving four concentration campus, Tuchman, now 93, moved to the United States, became a doctor, and taught at NYU School of Medicine.

He returned to Auschwitz this week along with 200 other survivors to mark the 70th anniversary of the camp's liberation by the Soviets on Jan. 25, 1945. Tuchman says he had to be there to speak for those who didn't make it out alive. "Their voices have been silenced by gas chambers and crematoria, so we the survivors have the duty to honor their memory and speak the best we can for them, and tell this unprecedented story of destruction of millions of people," he told NBC News.

It's been a hard trip, both emotionally and physically, for the elderly survivors. Many brought along their children and grandchildren, who say they will keep their stories alive. That's important for Tuchman: "The reason why I am here, I am going to stress and request that this would be repeated and repeated and repeated, 'Lest we forget.'"

it's the law

In Seattle, residents who throw away food will be fined

January 26, 2015

In Seattle, a new city law makes it illegal to put food in trash cans, and violators will have to soon start paying up for their transgressions.

If a garbage bin is filled with more than 10 percent food, a red tag will be placed on it for public shaming. The goal is to keep food out of landfills while helping Seattle increase its recycling and composting rate to 60 percent of all its waste, NPR reports, and Seattle is the first city in the U.S. to fine people for not sorting their trash properly.

Seattle Public Utilities estimates that each family in the city tosses out about 400 pounds of food annually. To keep food out of landfills, households receive a bin for food and yard scraps so they can compost it themselves (or, for a fee, the city will do it). Right now, offenders of the sorting law are just being warned, but starting in July, they will have to pay $1 per violation at a house and $50 at an apartment, condominium, or commercial building.

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