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Security on flights to the USA just took another turn, super-speedy free Wi-fi comes to London, Google Photos made sharing trip photos even easier, and Airbnb’s testing new features for both wealthy vacationers, and everyone else.
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Another Twist in the US “Laptop Ban” Saga
The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) just announced new, albeit vague, security requirements for flights bound for the United States, and unsurprisingly, tablets and laptops in the cabin got a mention.
So far there’s little information about exactly what the new security measures will look like, and that’s likely deliberate. All that’s being said is that passengers should expect intensified security, in the form of equipment or sniffer dogs. Airlines have 21 days to implement measures around explosives, and four months for other, largely-unspecified requirements.
On the upside for laptop-toting travelers, the proposed expansion of the existing equipment ban to European and other flights doesn’t seem to be happening, at least not yet. In fact, DHS officials suggested Middle East and African airports currently affected by the ban could get it lifted by implementing the new ‘enhanced’ security measures, and that’s already happened at one such airport, Abu Dhabi.
On the downside, flights from any airport that can’t implement the new requirements will likely see large electronics banned entirely, not just from the cabin. The DHS expects only a small fraction — perhaps 1% — of flights to fall into that category, but at this stage we’ve got no idea how accurate that percentage is, or which flights they’ll be.
Watch this space.
Free Gigabit Wifi Hotspots Hit London
In recent years, London has become a very connected place. I’m there at the moment, and my phone continually tries to connect to free Wi-fi hotspots as I wander round the city.
Undeterred, the makers of the LinkNYC high-speed hotspots are starting to roll them out in the British capital as well. A couple are already operational in Camden Town, with around a dozen more planned in various spots around central London.
Like their counterparts in New York, the big drawcard is speed. Each kiosk has a gigabit Internet connection, meaning it’ll be super-fast even when several people are using it.
There’s a built-in tablet for getting local information, directions, and making phone calls, but if you want to surf the web, you’ll need your own device. As in New York, web browsing has been disabled on the tablets, after problems with people using them to watch porn. How surprising.
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Useful New Sharing Features in Google Photos
Google Photos already had several handy features for travelers, like automatically creating albums for each trip, and powerful search tools to track down random photos. That made it our photo and video cloud storage pick for 2017, and an update this month does nothing to change that.
With the new version, a ‘sharing’ tab down the bottom of the app makes it easier to see photos shared with you by others, and suggests people to send pictures to based (largely) on facial recognition. If you regularly send shots of a particular person to a particular email address, the app will suggest sending similar photos to them in the future.
Of most interest, though, is the automatic sharing option. If there’s someone you know and trust well — a spouse or parent, maybe — you can set some or all of your photos to be shared with them automatically. Again, it’s based on facial recognition.
Traveling with your kids and want to share photos with the other parent? Take dozens of photos of your girlfriend in front of famous landmarks, but sick of needing to find and send them all to her at the end of the trip? If you’re happy with the privacy implications of imperfect facial recognition technology, the app now automates the process completely.
Airbnb Testing Premium Tier for the Well-Off, Cost-Splitting for the Rest of Us
Airbnb might already be the biggest player in the holiday apartment rental market, but that’s not stopping it from trying to grow into new areas. Given how much money there is in high-end travel, that’s an obvious target, and one the company now seems to be actively pursuing.
Looking to attract customers who have avoided using Airbnb because they prefer the amenities of fancy hotels, the company will start sending inspectors to verify high-quality properties listed on the service. If they pass the test, those places will be listed on a special, premium section of the website and app.
For the rest of us, there’s another new feature coming that will likely be more interesting: the ability to split costs among a group of people. Up until now, if you’re traveling with friends, one person needs to pay, and then sort out reimbursement from everyone else later.
With this new approach, the costs can be split among up to 16 people at the time of booking. It’s a simple thing, and something that should probably have existed years ago, but it’s a welcome addition regardless. The feature is being tested with a small group of users now, so expect it to show up for everyone else later in the year.