Is Israel Safe for Tourists?

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that Israel is located smack dab in the middle of one of the world’s biggest political hotspots. But it does take a few to keep this tiny country along the eastern Mediterranean safe and secure, and that seems to be why Israel is bouncing back big time in 2015.

Israel is no doubt one of the planet’s top bucket list destinations for travelers from all over the world. As a hub of three of the world’s major religions and being cradle-of-civilization-adjacent, the modern state of Israel literally sits on top of thousands of years of incredibly dense history. At the same time, it is also a diverse, vibrant, trendy, and modern country with great night life that would be a top tourist destination even without its ancient biblical roots.

In the past, semi-frequent wars and skirmishes with its neighbors have kept many would-be tourists at bay, and as recently as last summer a short conflict with the Hamas-led government in Gaza on its southwestern border ensured a recent flood of sensational news headlines in the States and Europe that left Israel’s tourism industry decimated.

But unbeknownst to many, over the past 15 years Israel has implemented a series of both low-tech and high-tech solutions that have amazingly rendered the vast majority of the country perfectly safe and secure even during the occasional flare-ups around its borders.

In 2002, following another round of suicide bombings intentionally targeting Israeli civilians, the government built a physical wall around nearly its entire border with the West Bank. The combination of enormous concrete slabs along some of the more urban stretches with highly sophisticated “smart fences” (which can detect cutting, climbing, jumping, and even stray animals) along the more rural parts of the border almost immediately helped bring about a 98% decline in terrorism in the country by the following year.

Similarly, Israel’s state-of-the-art Iron Dome missile defense system detects and shoots down any rockets that are now fired into the country from the militants who embed themselves in civilian neighborhoods in the neighboring Gaza Strip. While these rockets usually don’t go any farther than the desert area surrounding that border, ones that find their way farther into the country are met with not one but two Iron Dome intercept missiles as backup. Israel is even now nearing completion of a much more advanced system to intercept and destroy longer range guided missiles, such as the kind that more militarized countries like Iran would have access to.

While we in the United States have only had marginal success developing our own missile defense systems dating back to the days of the Star Wars initiatives under President Reagan, Israel has implemented a system of both tight border and air security that allows Israelis to now go about their daily lives under a blanket of relative calm, stability, and security. For tourists to Israel, this means that visiting the country and even traveling around within it is completely safe, despite the occasional incident or flare up that makes the news back home.

Last September, just two months after the brief conflict on its border with the Gaza Strip, a friend visited Israel for a week of vacation just to see what the situation was like on the ground. As predicted, hotels were empty, ancient and holy sites that are usually bustling were quiet, and tour guides were out of work and twiddling their thumbs on their couches. My friend said he felt like he had the whole country to himself at times, and indeed he was posting no shortage of fabulous selfies of himself alone at the King David Hotel’s pool and walking around the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Wailing Wall, and the Mount of Olives without anyone else in sight.

Despite tourists’ initial queasiness with returning to Israel in mid to late 2014, this year has begun to see a return to higher levels of international visitors. Just this month, in fact, Israel once again hosted the Middle East’s only LGBT Pride celebration in Tel Aviv and it was its largest one to date, not to mention one of the world’s hottest (and I’m not talking temperature) and most diverse Pride celebrations anywhere.

DJs on the beach pumped music out over the white sand and azure Mediterranean by day, and clubs and bars packed in crowds from all over Israel in addition to Europe, Asia, Africa, and North and South America by night. Cafes, restaurants, and tourist sites throughout the rest of the country were finally bustling again, and many visitors were even giving Jordan a little tourist love too by jetting over to Petra for a day while they were close by.

There’s no doubt that the political situation in the region remains tense and there are some very serious and consequential issues of territory, citizenship, and governance of the Palestinian people that must be settled before a true blanket of peace will fall on this part of the Middle East. But even while the political processes, dialogues, negotiations, and yes even occasional fights and skirmishes continue, the reality on the ground within Israel proper is that the country is certainly a secure and safe destination for international tourists to visit.


Where to Stay in Montreal

Montreal is all about F words – fun, food, fashion, fitness, French, and a whole lot of fabulousness!

On a recent trip to Quebec, I spent some time in Montreal exploring some of its higher-end hotels and figuring out what makes each one of these properties unique. While there, I visited, toured, stayed in, and checked out the services and amenities of three of the city’s most luxurious (and surprisingly affordable!) hotels – the W Hotel, the Loews Hotel Vogue, and the InterContinental Hotel. I found that each property has gone to great lengths to carve out a unique niche while also putting a distinctive Quebecois twist on their respective well-known international brands.

For the latest episode of The AIRistocrat on “Where to Stay in Montreal”, check it out here:

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HuffPost Travel: “Why I Left Delta and Took My Diamonds Elsewhere”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADelta Air Lines used to be the shiz in my eyes, and I used to pay a premium to fly them even when cheaper options existed elsewhere. But lately, I’ve come to prefer other carriers and I took to HuffPost to explain why:

“At the height of my Delta patronage, I probably spent at least $50,000 to $60,000 in one year alone (2012) on Delta tickets for myself and my company’s clients. I easily achieved their top tier loyalty level, Diamond Medallion, and was even a member of their exclusive Delta Private Jets club…

…But Delta had it’s chance to impress me, to keep me flying it’s friendly skies, and to make sure those skies were consistently friendly. They weren’t, and as a result I took my and my clients’ frequent travel business elsewhere.”

Read more on my other blog over at HuffPost Travel.


HuffPost Travel: “Working It Out on the Go”


Yes, that’s really me. ;-)

It’s not easy trying to stay sexified, and its even harder when you’re traveling. All you gorgeous readers out there know what I’m talking about:

“The airline travel experience accommodates most of our modern lifestyle obsessions, from greasy fast food options in every terminal to mobile charging stations at every gate and even wi-fi now on most flights. But there is one modern lifestyle obsession that the airport/airline industry has yet to catch on to and accommodate — fitness.”

But there’s one thing that could help all you jet-setters keep up with your hotness on the go. Its it the wave of the future for airports and airline lounges, or just my wet dream?

Read more on my other blog over at HuffPost Travel.


Mom’s Private Chopper Charter Stunt + Delta’s Bait & Switcheroo

heliSo the AIRistocrat has been laying low for quite a while, hanging out incognito in Washington, DC and stirring up trouble there. Today I got word, however, that my mom had a stroke this afternoon and is being helicoptered from the sticks where she lives and plays bingo (kidding… that’s a sin) to a hospital better suited to treat stroke victims. Since I’ve shockingly never flown in a helicopter before, I’m fully expecting to get there tonight and find out she was just trying to one-up me on first-class private travel. She did that once before in 2008 when she conveniently decided to get severe pneumonia and go into congestive heart failure and then a coma just to get a private charter copter ride over to Duke. That sneaky snake! She was later fine back then, and I’m sure she’ll be fine after this episode too. My mom’s a tough cookie.

So as soon as I found out she was headed via air to the hospital, I booked a ticket to fly down South from DC. When I booked, Delta decided to tease me by offering me an upgrade to first class for only 70 bucks or so above the fare I was already paying. Damn them. So I went for it and figured, what the hell. If I’ve gotta stress for the next few hours, might as well stress in style again.

Well… imagine my surprise when I load my boarding passes on the spiffy Delta app and realize my second flight is in economy. Say whaaaa? Surely the short connection hop is a one-cabin aircraft, you’re thinking, right? Wrong! Turns out, Little Miss Delta did a bait and switch on me today. “Pay more to upgrade your ticket to first class.” Sold. Checkout. Then, BAM! I get my boarding pass and their tune is suddenly – “haha just kidding! That up-sell you paid more for was only for half of your trip today. We just forgot to disclose that in our tease.” Wtf?!?

When I get to the airport, homegirl at the ticket counter is evidently annoyed that I have a question about the bait n’ switcharoo and thinks that I should just be thankful that I’m on the status-based standby list for an upgrade, should one become available. However, the likelihood of that happening now that the cabin is sold out is somewhere between not gonna happen and “all those Tweens being ice-bucket-challenged are actually gonna follow through on those donation pledges” likely.

So Delta squeezes more money out of me by offering an upgrade to first class, but what they really meant was an upgrade on one segment only, but they didn’t say that in the tease or any-freggin-where before I hit “purchase” and dash off to the airport. And that’s legal and ethical how again?

On the brighter side of the moon, I’m on that flight now (the first class one, not the fraudulent second leg) and I have the cutest and sweetest flight attendant. I bitch and moan and complain so much about substandard service in my travel blogging (because believe it or not, it’s just so damn common), so I thought I’d at least provide some equal opportunity, fair and balanced-ness when I see right happen. I can’t tell this super sweet flight attendant’s name on her super tiny winged name badge and I don’t want to look too hard b/c it’ll look like I’m staring at her boobs then she might get all feminist on me and stuff. Can’t have that. I need her to keep topping off my baileys on the rocks, which she’s been pretty good about thus far.

Turbulence. In life, in love, on this trip, and even on this flight. Ugh. Just give me another baileys. And make it a double, please.


A Hay Ride on Wings

swaTake some industry-bucking practices, add in some thumbing your nose at the mass search engines, factor in staff and flight crew with personality and the elusive airline-industry smile, stir in some actually decent annual profits, and what do you get? No, not Emirates. Southwest Airlines! Say whaaaa? I know, right.

Bless it’s little heart – the one in the middle of those wings in its logo I guess. Southwest Airlines is just… awwwweeeeee. The AIRistocrat wants to dump on it so bad, being the world’s [probably] sole coach-only airline and all, but it’s just sort of too down-home precious for me to go all the way. As one friend described the experience to me today, it’s like “a hay ride on wings.”

So why is The AIRistocrat flying Southwest, with a layover in an airport that has no discernible Elite-Rich-People Club (that I could find… Houston Hobby)? Well, primarily because the trip was a comp, and because the plane happens to dump off in Las Vegas, so at least there was a pot of gold (or casino coins) at the end of the rainbow.

Would I fly Southwest on my own, if not handcuffed and strapped to a gurney (now we’re talking!)? Probably not. But I endured it. I will say, however, that one of the redeeming things about SWA is supposed to be the comedian flight attendants. While they all certainly seem more chillaxed than UpTight Airlines Inc. (i.e., every other American carrier), I didn’t get Pam Ann on either of my two SWA flights today. Bummer.


Flying 3-Room Apartments Are the New “First Class” on This Middle Eastern Airline

Competing for the best first class airline service in the world is SO 10 years ago. Now the world’s best airlines (spoiler alert: none of them are American) are tripping over themselves to one-up one another in the art of spoiling the uber-elite travelers whose uber-elite fares subsidize the cheap seats in the back of the plane (or these days, on the bottom level).

First, back in the day, those first class seats got super fancy schmancy, with fully flat beds and lots of compartments and such. Then that became passé (note: American carriers are still stuck at this level, if that), so the Middle Eastern carriers started adding mini walls around them (talking about you, Emirates). Then those walls got higher,  and we even got the ability to combine two of these “suites class” seats to form a full bed (thanks, Singapore Airlines). They also started adding bars and lounges up there and Emirates even installed a full fledged shower.

Not to be outdone, however, Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways has now built a damn 3-room apartment, which it’s calling “The Residence,” in the front of its new A380s. No, I’m not kidding. No, really… I’m not.

The new flying mini-palace will feature a cozy living room that comfortably seats 2, a full bathroom with a shower, and a bedroom with a full bed. And the airfare… around $43,000. At least that’s for two people.

However grandiose and over the top, this is still cool as hell. Can’t wait to try it! Call me, Etihad.

Etihad Residence




Awesomeness Amid Chaos

I saw this video from Alawj Media linked on someone’s Facebook page and had to click. I thought it was going to be something totally different, given the current chaos going on in Iraq right now, but sometimes it takes a little live-esque video footage to show us the normalcy and timelessness that actually goes on in some of these places that we in Le West believe are burning to the ground as we speak.

I used to do this in Egypt during the revolutionary period, when our media at home always showed b-roll of protests and riots while on the ground it was calm and peaceful and normal. But these time-lapsed vids are unlike anything I’ve seen out of Iraq. While there is certainly some chaos going on there in certain parts of the country right now, this shows that there is also some perennial awesomeness still going on amid said chaos.


Checking You Out While Checking You In

idealfaThis kind of shiznit is why I love Virgin Atlantic. They’re not only fashion-forward and branding geniuses, but they’re tech-forward too. But what’s kind of weird about this is that when one of these cyborg stewardesses approaches you, how do you know if she’s looking at you or the info about you in front of her. And how do we know that he’s not downloading an image of us from one of those body scanners? Not only might those queens be checking out an overlay of your junk as they bring your martini, but they’re more likely to catch those mini bottles of amaretto I hid in my carry-on too. Oh well, if they know to bring me a quick refill on my double bailey’s without me asking, it’s all worth it. Onward sky warriors.



sochiprobsOh dear God. This just further confirms that Russia has become a fourth world country. Not so much the conditions, but the attitude – the assertion that everything is fine and these conditions are perfectly ok. How dare anyone expect something like a lobby or a floor or privacy in the toilet or even a full toilet. And all while paying a mere $300-$1000 per night. The nerve!

The photos and tweets speak for themselves. Ladies and gentlemen of the world, I give you #SochiProblems.