This week’s round-up brings the latest airline and travel news – from bill introduced to curb airline fees, U.S. & Canada expand pre-clearance program, and Nintendo announces theme park to open by 2020, to United tests biofuel, Hilton introduces concierge robot, and hotel turns down royal family. Enjoy!

Bill Seeks to Curb Airline Fees

Unless you haven’t flown or read anything about air travel in the last few years, you are probably all too familiar with the fees all airlines have added to the cost of your ticket — whether it’s bringing a carry-on bag, checking a bag, selecting a seat, or even printing your boarding pass at the airport. Some members of Congress have finally decided that the fees have reached “ridiculous” levels and this past Wednesday introduced a bill that would put a limit on what they deem is price gouging. Known as the Forbidding Airlines from Imposing Ridiculous Fees Act (FAIR Fees Act), the co-author of the bill, Democratic Senator from Massachusetts Edward J. Markey, said in a statement, “Airlines should not be allowed to overcharge captive passengers just because they need to change their flight or have to check a couple of bags.” Opponents of the bill, Airlines for America, the airline industry trade group, said the bill was nothing more than an effort to re-regulate the industry.

U.S. & Canada Expand Pre-Clearance Program

One of the announcements to come out of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House was the expansion of Canada’s pre-clearance program. The program currently allows passengers flying from eight Canadian airports (including Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver) and one rail station to clear customs and immigration before leaving Canada for the U.S. The program will now include Toronto’s Billy Bishop Airport (located in downtown and used by Porter Airlines), Jean Lesage Airport in Quebec City and Montreal’s Central Station.

Nintendo Announces Theme Park

Fans of Nintendo will soon have a theme park they can visit to interact with their favorite video game characters. One of the world’s leading consumer electronics and software company, Nintendo’s stable of well-known franchises include Mario, the Legend of Zelda and Pokémon. The theme park will be part of Universal Studios Japan located in Osaka, and is slated to open before Tokyo hosts the 2020 Summer Olympics. The $350 million project is reported to include rides and attractions based on Nintendo’s most popular games with a focus on Super Mario brothers.

United Tests Biofuel

This morning, United Airlines started testing the use of biofuel on flight 708 from Los Angeles to San Francisco. This test will run for the next two weeks, and following that, United plans to start using this mix of petroleum-based fuel and biofuel on all its flights that refuel at Los Angeles. United has agreements in place with two biofuel suppliers for this project — AltAir Fuels (who also provides biofuel to the U.S. Navy) and Fulcrum Bioenergy. AltAir converts inedible animal fat, grease, and oil into fuel, while Fulcrum converts “municipal solid waste” into jet fuel. This isn’t the first time United has dabbled in alternative-fuel, having tried out algae-derived fuel in 2009.

Hilton Introduces Concierge Robot

If you have an upcoming stay at McLean Hilton Tysons Corner, located just outside of Washington, D.C., or happen to be near it, you can get some concierge help from Hilton Hotels & Resorts’s new concierge robot, Connie, named after founder, Conrad Hilton. Created in partnership with Watson, the “Jeopardy!”-playing computer, Connie can provide guests with information about the hotel’s amenities and services, as well as options within walking distance. According to Jonathan Wilson, vice president of Product Innovation and Brand Services for Hilton, Connie could potentially be used in locations that either don’t have a concierge or only have a small staff. Robots in the service industry certainly isn’t new, as Royal Caribbean International has robot mixologists on its ships, and Henn na Hotel (Weird Hotel, in English) in Japan has different types of robots on staff, including one that looks like Connie, one in a female human form, and one in the guise of a dinosaur.

Random News of the Week: Hotel Turns Down Royal Family

Being part of the British Royal Family, one can expect a lot of things that commoners can only dream off, but being turned down by a hotel, is probably not one of them. Prince William, Princess Kate and Prince Harry are planning to visit Amiens, in northern France, for the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Somme in June, and the 12-room, luxury Hôtel Marotte was approached to accommodate them. However, the five-star hotel had to turn down the royals because it was fully booked. The 100th anniversary of the Battle of Somme is expected to bring 25,000 to 30,000 visitors to the area, according to Olivier Walt, the owner of the hotel. Mr. Walt added that they “can’t tell people who reserved rooms with us months ago and have already paid for their stay: ‘Sorry, but the royal family are coming, so we’re going to have to cancel your stay.’ It wouldn’t be fair.”

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Kim has been hunting flight deals and writing travel articles for over 13 years. His articles have appeared in the Boston Herald, Chicago Daily Herald, and Frommer’s Budget Travel, among other publications. Amsterdam, Bangkok, Rome, and Sydney are some of his favorite destinations and he aspires to one day live in Italy. La dolce vita!

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