Welcome to The Check-In, our weekend feature focusing on all things travel.
U.S. passport processing times are taking longer than usual
Check your passport — if it's expiring within the next six months and you'd like to travel overseas this summer, send it in for renewal now.
The State Department said there is "unprecedented demand" for new passports and renewals, with requests up 30 to 40 percent compared to this time last year. As of March 24, wait times are 10 to 13 weeks for standard processing and 7 to 9 weeks for expedited. This does not include the time it takes to mail your application to a passport acceptance facility.
Most countries will only grant entrance if a passport has six months of validity left, and some airlines heading to these destinations have blocked passengers who don't meet these requirements from boarding.
Flight attendants want to ban babies from sitting on laps
When it comes to the safety of their smallest passengers, flight attendants aren't messing around.
Right now, children under 2 are allowed to sit on a parent's lap on a plane at no charge. This is dangerous, Sara Nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, told The Washington Post. "We've seen airplanes go through turbulence recently and drop 4,000 feet in a split second," she said. "The G-forces are not something even the most loving mother or father can guard against and hold their child. It's just physically impossible."
The Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill expires in September, and the union is recommending a rule change so that every single passenger, regardless of age, has to have their own seat with a restraint. Nelson said the union has been fighting for this since 1989, when United Flight 232 crash-landed in Sioux City, Iowa. Parents holding babies on the flight were told to wrap the children in blankets and put them on the floor; three infants were injured and one died. "We must have children safe on the plane and in their own seats with a proper restraint device to make sure it never happens again," Nelson said.
Ben Hoffman, president-elect of the American Academy of Pediatrics, told the Post that the safest thing parents can do is purchase their child their own seat, then secure the youngin in an FAA-approved car seat. To help offset the cost of having to pay for this, Hoffman suggests that airlines offer discount tickets for small children.
Considering 'cancel for any reason' insurance? Here are some things to keep in mind
When booking a trip, in addition to basic travel insurance, travelers can opt to add "cancel for any reason" insurance, also known as CFAR. But is it worth it? Stan Sandberg, co-founder of TravelInsurance.com, told USA Today Blueprint that the decision to purchase CFAR "comes down to the level of concern a traveler has for things that can disrupt a trip that aren't covered under a standard plan."
CFAR can only be purchased at the same time as a travel insurance plan, and while it allows you to cancel the trip for any reason, it still has to happen at least 48 hours prior to your departure date. How much you're reimbursed for the canceled trip depends on your base travel insurance plan — if your reason for canceling is covered by that policy, you'll get back 100 percent of your investment. If it's not covered by that plan, you'll cancel under CFAR, and get back 50 to 75 percent. Megan Walch, product manager at InsureMyTrip, told Blueprint that adding CFAR to a travel insurance policy can add another 40 to 60 percent of the base policy cost.
Experts say CFAR is a good option for people with health issues that might prevent them from taking a trip, those concerned about the spread of COVID-19, and anyone planning an expensive, nonrefundable vacation. It's definitely pricier than regular travel insurance, "but if your trip is going to cost thousands of dollars, then getting comprehensive insurance is a no-brainer," Matthew Kepnes, founder of the blog Nomadic Matt, told Blueprint.
Plan accordingly: Upcoming events to add to your calendar
The Santa Fe International Literary Festival is drawing some big names, with this year's featured authors including Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl), John Irving (The World According to Garp), David Grann (The Lost City of Z), and Jennifer Egan (A Visit From the Goon Squad). The event will take place May 19-21 at the Santa Fe Community Convention Center, and the schedule includes author readings and discussions, book signings, and meditation sessions.
Take in the beauty of the night sky during the Lake City Star Fest, running from June 7-11. Lake City, Colorado, is in Hinsdale County, which is known for its "extraordinary darkness," event organizers said. The festival's schedule includes the Dark-Sky Summit for astronomy professionals, as well as events for amateur stargazers, like the Celestial Celebration — a night of art, astrophotography, and film — and plenty of opportunities to (safely!) view the sun through a solar telescope. Tickets are limited.