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Alaska Airlines, Delta Airlines ranked among best U.S. airline frequent flyer programs

Amid gripes from frequent fliers about difficulty using their miles for free flights, airlines are making some changes and adding features in an effort to keep travelers loyal.

In a ranking of major U.S. airline frequent flier programs released by U.S. News and World Report, Delta’s SkyMiles program ranked No. 2 for the second year in a row

U.S. News  evaluated the programs based on aspects like the size of their networks and the speed at which users can get enough points or miles to earn a free flight or hotel.

>> Read more trending news 

Delta came in behind No. 1 ranked Alaska Airlines, and ahead of JetBlue, American and Southwest frequent flier programs in the U.S. News ranking.

Southwest’s Rapid Rewards program has ranked higher in some other loyalty program rankings, based on the ease of finding reward seats.

As some frequent fliers face frustration with redeeming miles for flights, Delta has added other uses for miles. Earlier this year, Delta began allowing frequent fliers to redeem their miles for Delta gift cards. But those who get the most benefits in Delta’s frequent flier program are elite medallion members who reach a certain threshold of spending and flying.

The U.S. News Best Airline Rewards Programs are below. More information is at USNews.com.

  1. Alaska Airlines’ Alaska Mileage Plan program
  2. Delta Airlines Delta SkyMiles program
  3. JetBlue Airline’s TrueBlue program
  4. American Airlines’ AAdvantage program
  5. Southwest Airlines’ Rapid Rewards program
  6. United Airlines’ MileagePlus program
  7. Frontier Airlines FRONTIER Miles program
  8. Hawaiian Airlines’ HawaiianMiles program
  9. Spirit Airlines’ Free Spirit program

Southwest Airlines employee accused of putting camera in bathroom, charged with voyeurism

A Southwest Airlines employee was arrested and charged with voyeurism Sunday morning at Sea-Tac Airport in Seattle.

>> Watch the news report here

A witness told KIRO-TV that he saw Port of Seattle police officers surround the suspect and put him in handcuffs near gate B-9 about 11:30 a.m.

>> Man arrested after allegedly working out nude at New Hampshire gym

The suspect, Nicholas Williams, 25, who works for Southwest, was arrested on suspicion of voyeurism.

He was booked in to the King County Jail and appeared before a judge Monday afternoon.

Prosecutors say Williams put a camera in a bathroom at the gates that children sometimes use on their own. 

Investigators say Williams admitted he had done it four or five times before.

>> Read more trending news 

Southwest Airlines released the following statement:

"We will work with the appropriate authorities as they investigate an accusation that involves one of our Seattle employees. We do not have additional details to provide."

Besides working for Southwest Airlines, Williams also volunteers at the Chehalis Centralia Railroad and Museum. He posted pictures on his Facebook page last Friday.

The judge set his bail at $90,000. If he gets out of jail, he is not allowed to have contact with children.

Every Kid in a Park program gives 4th graders free entry to any U.S. national park

Trekking through some of the country’s most beautiful terrain just got cheaper. 

Thanks to the Department of the Interior’s Every Kid in a Park program, fourth-grade students can enter any of more than 2,000 of the nation’s national parks and other federally managed lands and waters for free for one year. 

Fourth-grade students can sign up for the free pass at everykidinapark.gov.  

>> Read more trending news 

The first three members in a group with a visiting fourth-grader will be granted free entry as well at sites that charge per person. For those that grant payment and entry by car, any accompanying passengers in a private, non-commercial vehicle with a fourth-grader will be allowed to enter at no charge. Educators can also obtain free passes. 

The Every Kid in a Park program encourages children to be active and explore nature at a time when more than 80 percent of American families live in urban areas and young people are more tethered to electronic devices than ever.

According to the program, the goal of the promotion is to “inspire fourth graders nationwide to visit our federal lands and waters, whether it is a backyard city park or a national forest, seashore, or marine sanctuary. By targeting fourth graders year after year, the program works to ensure every child in the U.S. has the opportunity to visit and enjoy their federal lands and waters by the time he or she is 11 years old.”

In June, the inter-agency program announced that Every Kid in a Park has been renewed for the 2018-2019 school year. Passes will be available Sept. 1.

Learn more and get a pass at everykidinapark.gov

Python found inside checked bag, hard drive at Miami airport

No it wasn’t the sequel to a Samuel L. Jackson movie. Someone really did try to get a snake smuggled onto a plane. 

Officials said a passenger traveling to Barbados from Miami International Airport tried to get a python onto a flight, but it wasn’t brought on the plane in plain view, it was being smuggled wrapped in nylon, inside a hard drive, WSVN reported.

The snake was a baby, WFOR reported.

>> Read more trending news 

Transportation Security Administration officials found the snake during a screening process of checked luggage, multiple news outlets are reporting.

Baggage screeners found what was described an “organic mass” during a screening process, WFOR reported.

“Upon the TSA officer’s discovery of the organic mass, one of our TSA bomb experts was called into the baggage screening room to investigate the innards of the hard drive and that is when he discovered the mass was a live snake,” Sari Koshetz told the Miami Herald.

The snake wasn’t the only one who didn’t get on the flight. The unidentified passenger also didn’t go to Barbados, the Herald reported.

The snake was taken away by U.S. Fish and Wildlife officers and the TSA said the passenger faces a fine, WFOR reported.

Sea lice in Florida? Beachgoers warned about itch-inducing pests

As travelers flock to northwest Florida beaches this summer, an unwelcome guest may await them.

>> What parents need to know about 'dry' and 'secondary' drowning

According to the Pensacola Beach Lifeguards Facebook page, purple warning flags indicating dangerous marine life have been flying along the shore this week thanks to an itch-inducing pest commonly called "sea lice."

WEAR-TV reports that the term is a misnomer: The creatures are really thimble jellyfish larvae, not lice, and cause a rash known as "seabathers' eruption."

>> Doctor answers 6 questions about flesh-eating bacteria

"People affected by sea lice may feel a prickling sensation on their skin while in the water, but the rash caused by the microscopic organisms typically occurs several hours after exposure," the station reported.

The rash often can be treated with hydrocortisone and antihistamine creams available at most drug stores, according to the Florida Department of Health. If you have symptoms, you may need to see a dermatologist, the department said.

>> Read more trending news 

Swimmers can reduce their risk of being stung by not wearing T-shirts in the water, using sunscreen, practicing good hygiene and taking off wet swimsuits immediately after getting out of the ocean, the department reported

New Texas billboard responds to sign telling liberals to leave state: 'Welcome, y'all'

Just one week after a billboard telling liberals to get out of Texas went viral, a new sign is offering a unifying message.

>> Texas billboard urging liberals to leave state to be taken down

According to KVII, Amarillo resident Roman Leal started a GoFundMe page Wednesday to put up a more welcoming sign after learning of a billboard near Vega that read, "Liberals, please continue on I-40 until you have left our GREAT STATE OF TEXAS." (That billboard has since been taken down.)

>> See it here

 >> Read more trending news 

"We need a sign that represents the true, hospitable spirit of the great state of Texas," Leal wrote in the fundraiser's description. "'Texas is for everyone – not for bigotry. Welcome, y'all!' will go up on the Lamar digital billboard at I40 and Coulter. It will be visible to travelers and commuters driving along the interstate in Amarillo, giving us a chance to put our best boot forward. Meeting the campaign goal will keep the billboard up for 4 weeks. Any contributions exceeding the goal will be used to pay for a longer duration."

>> Need something to lift your spirits? Read more uplifting news 

The campaign quickly met its $1,800 goal. By Monday morning, it had raised $3,075.

The new billboard reportedly went up over the weekend and has already gone viral on Reddit.

>> See the post here

Read more here.

Southern Living names this resort best in the South

Southern Living recently polled its readers to discover their picks for the top places to visit in the SouthBlackberry Farm, in Walland, Tennessee, south of Knoxville, took home the top prize.

>> Florida beach named nation's best in TripAdvisor Travelers' Choice awards

Southern Living noted, "Blackberry Farm emanates hospitality, from its farm-to-table offerings to the porches on guest cottages."

Blackberry Farm is a luxury hotel and resort situated on a 4,200-acre estate in the Great Smoky Mountains.

There is a spa, brewery and working farm on the property. The resort offers plenty of wine and dining options, musical entertainment, workshops and more. 

Activities include horseback riding, archery, fly fishing, hiking and paintball.

>> Read more trending news 

One Facebook reviewer noted, "Have traveled quite well in my 50+ years, but Blackberry Farm stands out as the BEST of all. They anticipate your every wish and deliver it with cordial efficiency. Understated, approachable elegance. Go there, go there, go there! It is transforming."

Southern Living honored The Barn at Blackberry Farm by awarding it the best restaurant in Tennessee, too.

Delta opens pop-up lounge for middle-seat passengers at Logan

No one likes being stuck in the middle seat, no matter where their flight may be going.

With that in mind, Delta Airlines partnered up with Coca-Cola for a special treat specific to those stuck in the middle seat.

The Atlanta-based companies are offering a a pop-up "Middle Seat Lounge" at Boston Logan International on Monday for only one day.

“From getting the VIP treatment with fellow middle seat travelers in the lounge to a surprise onboard, we wanted to recognize Boston middle seat customers in a unique way that will brighten their Monday,” said Julieta McCurry, Delta’s Managing Director

Those with a Delta boarding pass showing a middle seat assignment can enter the lounge near Boston Logan’s gate A11, where there will be a Coke beverage station and an appearance by Celtics TV analyst and former NBA star Brian Scalabrine.

Lucky Delta passengers flying out of Logan can even win a trip by posting a selfie with their seatmates.

Middle seat passengers can also bring a "three-pack" of Coke bottles to share with their seatmates.

>> Read more trending news 

“Coca-Cola is excited to partner with Delta to help celebrate middle seat travelers and provide them with a special beverage experience during their time at Boston-Logan International Airport and onboard,” said Lou Grill, Coca-Cola North America’s Vice President. “This unique opportunity to Share a Coke with fellow seatmates is another way to create meaningful moments and enhance our fans’ travel experience.”

Delta is expanding its flights in Boston this summer, and Coca-Cola also has a large presence in the area. The two companies have been partners since 1927 through Delta’s serving of Coke products on flights.

“From growing our Boston network to offering lie flat beds in Delta One on flights to San Francisco and Los Angeles to having two Delta Sky Clubs for guests to enjoy in Boston, we are investing in creating an unmatched experience for customers — one that’s right for every customer on every flight,” said Charlie Schewe, Delta’s Director of New England Sales.

This isn't the first time the two companies have joined efforts to bring a special treat to their clients.

Last year, the companies worked with 12 artists around the world to transform tray tables on a Boeing 767 into art. On that plane, the designs curated were all over the coach class seats for about a month.

Advertising firm Wieden+Kennedy New York worked alongside Delta and Coca-Cola to create the art gallery.

The tray table art was then displayed at the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution contributed to this story.

Southwest Airlines plane, pickup truck collide at Baltimore's BWI Airport

A truck struck a Southwest Airlines plane Monday morning at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, multiple news outlets are reporting.

>> RELATED STORY: Southwest Airlines cancels dozens of flights amid inspections after deadly engine failure

According to WJLA, none of the 172 passengers on Southwest Flight 6263 from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, were hurt when the pickup hit the plane, which was heading to its gate about 1:30 a.m. EDT. Those on board "were being assisted off the plane," WJLA reported.

Officials did not say whether the truck driver was hurt, WTOP reported.

>> Read more trending news 

The airline apologized to passengers who took to social media to complain when the incident put a snag in their travel plans.

"We're so sorry for the trouble tonight in Baltimore," the airline responded to one user who tweeted that it had been a "crazy couple of weeks" for Southwest. "We appreciate your patience, and our Team will do everything they can to get you all on your way as soon as possible."

>> RELATED STORY: Passenger killed in Southwest Airlines emergency landing identified

The incident comes less than one month after a Southwest passenger died when a plane with a damaged engine and broken window made an emergency landing in Philadelphia.

Read more here or here.

Viking Cruise announces 8-month-long trip

Imagine leaving all cares behind and climbing on board a ship for a monthslong world cruise. Viking Cruises is offering a new itinerary that the company calls the “longest-ever continuous world cruise.”

Those lucky enough to be able to take the time away from responsibilities and afford the trip, will embark on a 245-day trip from London on Aug. 31, 2019. After six continents, 59 countries and 113 ports, the ship will return to London after eight months, Forbes reported.

The ship will be the Viking Sun, which has a capacity of 930 passengers. It is the newest of the Viking ocean-going fleet, having been built just last year.

>> Read more trending news 

Usually world cruises by other lines last 90-120 days, broken into 20- to 30-day chunks. This voyage will have two segments that will last 127 days and 119 days each.

The long cruise comes with a large price tag -- $92,990 per person for the entire eight-month trip. Two shorter trips that correspond with the segments will set travelers back about half that cost, USA Today reported.

According to Viking Cruises, those who book by the end of May will get free business class airfare, shore excursion credits, ship board credits, unlimited Wi-Fi and a beverage package.

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