In a time where everyone has something terrible to say about the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), I am usually the “black sheep” who will stand up and defend this government organization.  Perhaps I am slightly biased because one of my best friends works for them or perhaps I am simply naive in thinking TSA's presence at airports DOES act as a deterrent to further acts of terrorism on planes.  Regardless, although this is not a TSA-bashing article (as so many are), I will say TSA is an organization comprised of imperfect human beings and because of this, someone at TSA messed up earlier this year while I was traveling.  The end result of this error was that my personal property was damaged.

When I first discovered my property was damaged, I knew immediately the culprit could be none other than someone from TSA.  In the following step-by-step guide, I will lay out the process for making a claim against TSA.  In my case, justice was served.  After a lot of patience, I was granted the full amount needed to replace the damaged item and I am completely satisfied with the end result.

No one is perfect and I’m a forgiving person.  At the same time, when the government screws up, it’s nice to know they will at least reimburse you for the damages.

Safe flying!
Jenn Grahams

Step 1: Determine the Appropriate Action

Your stuff was damaged during transit within the United States and you are rightfully upset about it, but who should you blame? 

A few questions you should ask yourself are:

  • Did the damage to your property happen within your sight? 
  • Is it possible the damage occurred during the packing process or while you were traveling to or from the airport? 
  • Was the property within a checked bag and perhaps the fault of an airline, not TSA?

For the purposes of this Step-By-Step guide, I will be discussing damage rendered to checked baggageIn most cases, lost or damaged baggage will be the fault of the airline on which you were traveling.  For these claims, it is important to contact the airline directly via their website or Customer Service phone number to begin the claim process with them.

CAUTION!
You should only file a claim against TSA (instead of the airline) if you have a strong reason and supporting evidence to support your claim.

Making a false claim against TSA and/or using fraudulent evidence in a TSA-related claim could result in a personal fine upwards of $5,000 and possibly even land in you jail for up to 5 years!


In my case, it was perfectly clear TSA was the appropriate authority to which I should submit my claim because the evidence pointed to negligence from a TSA employee, NOT an airline employee.

If / when you decide that making a claim against TSA is appropriate, you have 2 years from the date of incident to make your claim, but don't be a slacker!  Act quickly while you still have the evidence you need to make a claim!

Step 2: Gather Information and Evidence for Your Claim

Per the Transportation Security Administration's claims website:
"Provide as much detail as possible including receipts, appraisals and flight information to avoid delays [in processing your claim]."

Here is a list the data I needed in my claim for damages made to my checked baggage:
  • Personal Contact Information (Name, Address, Phone Number, Email, Marital Status, Birth Date)
  • Date of Incident
  • Time of Incident
  • Travel Itinerary Information (Airline Names, Flight Numbers, Flight Times)
  • Description of Damaged Item
  • Value of Damaged Item (Include original purchase receipt or appraisal if at all possible!)
  • Description of the Damage
  • Cost of Replacing / Repairing Damaged Item (Research it! Provide Quotes!)
  • Checked Baggage Tag Number / Tracking Sticker Used By Airlines
  • Witness / Travel Companion Information
  • "Basis of Claim" (More Info Provided Step 3!)
Here is a list of the photographic evidence I used for my claim:
  • Photo of Baggage Tag Number
  • Photo of Damages to Property
  • Photo to the Item's Packaging / Bag Used to Transport Item (including TSA inspection notices)

Step 3: Writing Your Claim

Download a copy of the PDF titled "Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Claims Management Branch Tort Claim Package".

At the time of this article, it could be found HERE on the TSA Claims webpage.

Using the information you gathered above, filling out the form should be painless and easy.  Simply insert your information into the appropriate boxes.

When you've finished with the easy portions, take some serious time to address the following sections:
PAGE 1, SECTION 8. -- BASIS OF CLAIM
PAGE 2, SECTION 25. -- Why do you believe that TSA was Responsible?


These sections are probably the most important determining factor on whether your claim will be accepted or denied.  It's important that you include concise and clear descriptions for both!  Use facts, not emotions when writing.  Describe, do not rant.  You are probably upset about the damages, but the bureaucrat reading this form doesn't care.  Think of this as a court case.  You are your own lawyer so be level-headed and stick to writing as objectively as possible.

In the BASIS OF CLAIM, describe exactly what happened.  Describe when you last inspected your property before travel.  Mention who else (if anyone) also came in contact with the property.  Indicate how you packaged your item for travel.  Include when and where your property came in contact with TSA employees.  Indicate when you first noticed your property was damaged. (You can describe HOW it was damaged in a different section.)  Describe what steps, if any, you took to contact the airlines about the problem.  When filling this form out on the computer, this section is restricted to 1,100 characters including spaces!

Here is a small sample of what I included in my claim:
"On [DATE], the night prior to travel, I packed a brand new Lori Greiner Tabletop Spinning Mirrored Jewelry Safekeeper into a large suitcase.  The jewelry box was removed from its original packaging and a few soft items were packed inside of it.  At this time the jewelry box appeared to be in factory condition; the blue tape across the mirrors was not removed.  The jewelry box was then reinserted into its ORIGINAL packaging (a cardboard box with custom-fitted Styrofoam inserts).  I packed three more boxes around the jewelry box’s packaging so that its cardboard box would not jostle during transport.  I added another layer of Styrofoam on top (see photo).  On [DATE] I checked my bag with [AIRLINE] at the [CITY] Airport.  On [DATE], I unpacked my bag at home.  Upon opening the bag, everything appeared to be intact.  The exterior packaging showed no sign of jostling, denting, or damage; however, the jewelry box itself had a crack in the mirror which was not there when it was packed. 
I found TSA Notice of Baggage Inspection Forms both OUTSIDE and INSIDE the jewelry box (see photos)."

Your BASIS OF CLAIM will be stronger if you can support it with photos.  Here are a few of the photos I included in my claim.  (I was fortunate I noticed the problem immediately after unpacking and was able to photograph how my item was packaged in the checked bag!)

In SECTION 25, you are asked to answer the question, "Why do you believe that TSA was Responsible?" In this section you are allowed (at last!) to give your own opinion concerning the incident.  Try to remain civil in your accusations, but it is appropriate to finally reveal your opinion on how you think someone at TSA really screwed you over.

Here is what I wrote for this section:
"
As per my BASIS OF CLAIM description, the jewelry box’s mirror was undamaged at the time of packing.  Upon unpacking the checked bag, there was no sign of baggage jostling or “rough handling” of the bag’s contents as everything including the layer of Styrofoam was still in place.  Inside the cardboard box, however, the jewelry box was somehow damaged. A TSA Notice of Baggage Inspection Form was INSIDE the jewelry box, indicating that the item had been removed from its original packaging and handled by TSA.  It my belief that during the TSA inspection, something hit or bumped the jewelry box’s exterior mirror, resulting in the half-moon crack on the mirror’s surface."

Step 4: Send Your Claim and Get Ready to Wait

There are 3 methods to deliver your completed Tort Claim Package to the TSA's Claims Management Office.  Your choices are:
  • E-mail
  • Fax
  • Snail Mail

Please check the TSA's website or look at the bottom of the PDF Tort Claim Package to find the most updated addresses and fax numbers for your claim!

At the time I made my claim, the E-MAIL option was not available and there was a longer wait for snail mail so I went to my local library and used their fax machine to send in my paperwork.  Today, email will certainly be the fastest way to process these claims.  Nevertheless, prepare for a wait!  It can take up to 6 months to complete the claim process!  Once you've received a status claim number in the mail, you can track your claim's process by clicking the "Check Claim Status" on TSA's website.

For me, the long process was worth the wait.  After several months of patiently waiting, I received this letter in the mail, indicating my claim would be made in full.

Step 5: Getting Your Payment

The Last Step:
At the time I made my claim, there was ONE ADDITIONAL STEP to the claims process.  I had to sign a letter saying that I wished to collect my reimbursement funds and indicate how I wanted the funds to be delivered.  If I had not responded, I would not have received my reimbursement!

Although TSA has recently updated its claims process, I am fairly certain this last step still applies.  You will be required to provide the TSA with information regarding how you wish to be paid.  Thus, it's important to pay close attention to any follow-up information you receive from TSA and make sure to respond in a timely manner so that your efforts do not go to waste!

I hope you found this helpful!  Have a question?  Write me in the comments below and I will try my best to help!  Good luck and safe flying from your favorite flight attendant, Jenn Grahams.

 
 
PictureLe Reve performs at the Wynn Theater.
LE RÊVE, French for "the dream", is the perfect name for the water and acrobatic performance featured at the Wynn hotel and casino in Las Vegas!  The show's plot is simple: A young woman must decide her answer to a marriage proposal.  She falls asleep and as she dreams her thoughts take her to a colorful world filled with mythical creatures, stunning sights, and passionate emotions - all of which reveal her inner struggle.

LE RÊVE is distinctly different from other Vegas shows because the actors (or should I say, athletes?!) perform on a moving stage in a pool of water.  The technical side of the show is absolutely mind-boggling.  A team of scuba divers are under the stage directing traffic, helping the actors, and sending up props.  Actors all have diving experience and must breathe through regulators sometimes when waiting underwater for their cues.  You can learn more about the show's technical side here:
LE RÊVE is a show you could watch a hundred times and still find something new and interesting you didn't notice before!  There is so much happening all at once!  You want to keep your eyes on the endearing water sprite character, but then your eyes dart over to catch someone's backflip and then you're entranced by a flock of angels that just dropped from the ceiling!  I sat in shocked silence. I laughed. I cried. I almost fainted at one point because of a dangerous stunt!  It truly is the best show in Las Vegas and it is well worth the ticket price.  Go see it!

Photography (without flash) is allowed during the performance.  Below you'll find some photos my husband took during the show we saw on January 16, 2015.  Which one do you like best?  Are there other Vegas shows you recommend?  Write me a comment in the space below!

Safe travels and happy flying!
~Jenn Grahams

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Fire dancing on the water!
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Will you marry me? = The show's driving question.
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We were so close to the stage! The theater is circular so every seat is a good seat!
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I want those red shoes!
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These suit-clad gentlemen were the "clowns" of the show and they were hilarious!
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It was easy to forget you were sitting in a crowded theater because the lights would hide audience.
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The timing has to be perfect or he could sit another swimmer.
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You can't tell, but this globe is twirling around and there is NO safety net, just water below.
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See diver? See water? I wasn't sure if this stunt was going to work, but he made it!
 
 
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Photo Credit - Adrian Snood
I noticed him right away.  He sat in an airport wheelchair, the overly wide kind with my airline’s logo stamped on the back.  He was hunched over, the shoulder blades beneath his shirt pushed high into the air like a kid portraying Quasimodo in a school play, but his “costume” of neon orange sunglasses and a lopsided beanie hat made him look less like the hunchback bellringer and more like a certified beach bum.

“Punk,” I thought, as I crossed the airport lobby, disgusted.  A thousand people were crisscrossing the area, scurrying and panicked, getting checked in for their flights out of Los Angeles.  Most didn’t notice him, but I did.  Even though I wasn’t in flight attendant uniform, just being in the LAX airport awoke my instinctive need to plaster a smile on my face while simultaneously putting my brain on high alert, looking for suspicious activity.  That is my job after all and despite being on vacation, I couldn’t just set aside my training and NOT notice this punk kid sitting in that wheelchair, pathetically pretending to be an old man just so he could have a comfy seat next to the one and only wall outlet in the lobby!  I couldn’t help but peer closer and see his fingers poking away at the cell phone tucked between his legs.

Part of me could empathize with him. There’s never enough seating in airports.  I too was hoping to sit down and the airport lobby was like a barren desert when it came to seating.  Fortunately, the hubby and I found a place to rest; a ledge near the escalator that led upstairs to security.  At its base was a young lady, probably only in her early twenties.  She stood at her full-height, chin held high, and eyes fierce as she demanded the tickets of everyone who approached her. 

“The Gate Keeper,” I observed.  A very young woman, entrusted with much authority.  I didn’t envy her position.  A minimum wage job, probably.  A job with plenty of confrontation, certainly.  As the Gate Keeper, she was in charge of turning away passengers who had oversized bags.  She was in charge of telling them to “make it fit in the bag sizer” or go back to the ticket counter and pay hundreds of dollars. 

“She’s just a kid, really,” I decided, feeling that early twenties still warranted a “kid” title.  Behind the bag sizer I saw a fabric sling purse, something I would have owned back in high school.  It was colorful and bright and probably what the Gate Keeper would wear after work.  I could just imagine it.  She would sling the cute purse with its stripped blue and white print over her left shoulder and trot down a California beach with her friends, looking like a completely different person once she had changed out of her black slacks and hideously maroon airport vest.  She would be smiling and happy and certainly not resemble the type of person who could stop you from going up an escalator.

I tried not to stare too long, but I found it fascinating to watch her and think about her life, to imagine me being one of her friends and how we would hang out at the beach together later.  It was probably during one of these musings that the punk came over.  I glanced at him warily.  He was just a few feet away from me now, dragging behind him a rollaboard suitcase as if it were Linus’s filthy blue blanket.

“What are you up to?” I wondered silently.  “Trying to find a way to sneak past this girl?  Trying to find a way to get up the escalator without her knowing?”

It was strange.  He was just standing by the bag sizer and looking at her.  Waiting.   

“Oh, no. Please don’t make a run for it when her back’s turned.”  I groaned inwardly.  I didn’t want to get involved, but it was too late now that I was conscious of the pending situation.  What would I do if he tried to sneak past her?  As an airline employee, heck, just as a concerned citizen, I felt obligated to stop this guy. 

I tried to shake off my paranoia, but then during a break in the passenger traffic, the Gate Keeper turned her back.  In two giant steps, which to me were the size of football fields, she walked away from her post even and then to my horror, turned her gaze around the corner and starting addressing another airport employee!  That’s when the punk moved.  I caught my breath. He stepped forward and completely surprised me.  Instead of making a run for it, he stepped forward and then simply bent down, picked up his rolling bag, hugged it to his chest like a teddy bear, and walked away.

“That’s right.  Keep walking,” I growled at him, narrowing my gaze and feeling quite certain that somehow my powerful mind had deterred the punk from doing something terrible.  Of course, after ten minutes had passed without incident, the punk now completely out of sight, my earlier judgement seemed silly.  I had been completely overacting.  In fact, I ought to feel a bit sorry for the guy.  Here I was, calling him a punk and completely judging his appearance because –

“My bag!” I looked up. The Gate Keeper was looking straight at me, the fierceness from her eyes replaced by a wide-eyed look of distraught.

“Did you see my bag?” the Gate Keeper asked me and for a moment, I was completely thrown off guard.  I had been watching her from a distance almost as if she were on a television screen and so, for a brief second, I had forgotten she could see me too.

“Your bag…” I repeated, as the invisible wall between us faded.  Then, it all became clear.  The bag, her cute fabric sling purse that had been discretely hidden behind the bag sizer, was gone.

The girl lost her wallet, a phone, and car keys.  She was devastated.  We talked with the police.  We rattled off the details as if we had rehearsed it, like actors in a skit.

“Caucasian man.”

“Probably late twenties. He was wearing, um..”

“Neon colored sunglasses!”

“Yes! That’s right.  They were orange.”

“Bright orange!  Neon!  And he was sitting in a wheelchair earlier…”

“Yes! The ladies over there had to kick him out of it.  He was a real jerk about it.”

We had paid attention.  We had done our jobs.  We had both noticed the most suspicious person in that airport lobby, but in the end, he got away with it. 

This time, I failed.  Next time, I won’t dismiss my instincts. 
=========

The type of crime I witnessed is known as Slider-Theft.  Learn more HERE.

Stay safe out there!
Jenn Grahams


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Cell phones, laptops, tablets, music players, and eReaders are quite commonplace in the United States and they are items which make flying more enjoyable! Thanks to the FAA’s new regulation passed in October 2013, many (but not all) of these electronic devices are now approved for use during ALL phases of flight, giving passengers more time to play games, watch movies, or work on their devices. As a rough estimate, I would guess that over 60% of the passengers on the domestic flights I work within the United States I see using some type of electronic device during flight. If you are one of those Candy Crush players, web surfers, or ebook readers, I would recommend considering the danger that flying poses to your personal property.

Unfortunately, flying poses some risk to your personal electronic devices, a fact which most passengers never even consider! As a flight attendant, I’ve seen and heard it all so let me share some insight into the world of flying with electronics. Listed below are my top five horror stories concerning electronic devices being stolen or damaged during airline travel.

#5  The Seatback Crusher

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Leg room is getting smaller and smaller on commercial flights. When the person in front of you leans their seat back fully, you almost feel it's polite to make a formal introduction! (“Hello. My name is Jenn and you’ll be resting your head in my lap on this flight!”) 

A passenger told me how the lack of clearance between seats directly resulted in the death of his laptop. My frequent flier friend was going about his usual day, pulling out his laptop after 10,0000 feet and preparing to get some work done. He pulled down his tray table, moved his laptop to the tray table's back edge, and began typing up an important email. Moments later, he was taken by complete surprise as the person in front of him forcefully dropped his seat into the most reclined position. SNAP! The screen of the laptop caught under the seatback and literally snapped in half as the passenger’s chair came flying backwards. 

“That’s horrible!” I gasped, as the man recounted this story to me. “What could you do? Did you confront the person in front of you?”

The business traveler said his laptop was completely broken. There was no way to fix it and because it was an innocent mistake of the person sitting in front of him, there was no way for him to collect any sort of compensation for the broken device.

Lesson: Be cautious of placing your laptop on the tray table’s back edge. Your computer could get crushed!

#4 Liquid Drop Zone

On your next long flight to L.A., you might hope to get an aisle seat. That gives you a little more legroom and a chance to get up without inconveniencing others, right? Well, little did you know that the aisle seat comes at a cost. The aisle seat puts you, the passenger, directly inside the Liquid Drop Zone.

Sadly, this next story comes from personal experience. I was working in Main Cabin. I remember feeling rushed. Perhaps we were running late with our service or maybe the captain had reported choppy weather on the horizon. For whatever reason, my co-worker and I were working as quickly as possible to finish our drink service. I served a woman tea with milk and sugar. For the milk, we use a small carton, the individual serving size you might have received on a lunch tray in elementary school. I found out a second later that when dumped, that little individual serving size of milk looks like a tidal wave. As soon as I set the milk back down on the cart, my co-worker unknowingly bumped the carton with his hand as he reached for something and I watched in shocked silence as the milk carton plummeted upside down and flopped down onto the keyboard of a man’s laptop. It was one of the most embarrassing moments of my career.

I wish I could say that flight attendants accidentally spilling liquids was as infrequent as a solar eclipse, but unfortunately, I’ve witnessed other spills and often, those happen on top of the aisle seat passenger’s body or property.

Lesson: Consider hiding your electronic devices under the tray table while flight attendants pass out drinks! We’re kinda clumsy sometimes.

#3 - Liquid Drop Zone, Part 2

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Flight attendants are not the only ones guilty of accidentally spilling. Unfortunately, travelers also need to be wary of their seatmates! The person sitting next to you might just turn out to be a complete klutz! On more than one occasion when answering a call light, I have arrived on the scene to find a very upset passenger pulling his or her tablet or cell phone out of a pool of Diet Coke that was spilled by someone else.

Of course, extra precaution is needed with children. Adorable and cute, yes, but coordinated enough to last a three hour flight without spilling? Not usually. Add a little turbulence to the mix and something is bound to go flying!

Lesson: Keep an eye on your neighbor’s drink and be prepared to react quickly if someone’s coffee does tip over.

#2 - Thieves In Flight

PictureKeep an eye on your cell phone...
Airline travel is open to everyone, including soul-less jerks who have no moral compass. Yes, sadly, many expensive pieces of technology get stolen during flights. I have met numerous flight attendants who had their phones or tablets stolen because a passenger went rifling through their purse or bag when it was left unattended in the back galley or even in an overhead bin. I have also heard of a passenger getting up to use the lavatory and coming back to find their headphones or iPod missing. Obviously, the flight crew will do their best to help a passenger if the person suspects their item was stolen during the flight, but this can sometimes be difficult.

A fellow co-worker and her crew worked hard to retrieve a stolen item. Frankly, I am a little surprised this story didn’t make the news! A passenger seated in the last row of First Class reported that he couldn’t find his new laptop. Believing it had slid under his seat during take-off, he and the flight attendants looked everywhere, but the missing laptop was no where to be found! A little later, a passenger who sat in the first row of Main Cabin, approached my flight attendant friend in the back galley. The passenger reported that he saw the woman sitting next to him bend down after take-off, grab something from under the First Class seat, and shove it into her oversized bag-purse. 

The flight attendants questioned the woman and asked if she had found the missing laptop. She held her purse firmly in her lap and said no. The flight attendants asked if it was possible to check her purse to make sure the tablet “hadn’t accidentally slid into the bag during take-off”. The woman clutched her purse more firmly and said no, that would not be possible. After discussing the situation with the Captain, it was decided that authorities would meet the plane upon landing and question the suspected woman. Shortly before landing, the flight attendants explained to the woman what was going to happen and that she would need to remain seated so the police could talk with her upon arrival. As the flight attendant left to take her jumpseat, the woman headed straight to the bathroom, bringing her purse with her. As soon as she exited the lavatory, another flight attendant went inside, checked the trash can, and found the laptop buried inside under a mound of paper towels. Crazy, right? The woman should have been in the World’s Dumbest Criminals book. 

Lesson: While this lady wasn’t too clever in her attempted robbery, beware of your electronics because a more clever thief might be sitting near you.

#1 - Dip in the Blue Lagoon

The number one way to totally embarrass yourself and completely wreck your electronic device is to bring it to the plane’s bathroom. That’s right. Some passengers bring their cell phones to the toilet and sometimes they accidentally drop their precious electronic devices right into the murky blue belly of the crapper. Not only will your phone be completely GROSS after this, it may be impossible to retrieve. If this happens during flight, you can count on the crew giving you dirty looks and possibly making an in-flight announcement to explain WHY over one-hundred or more passengers are going to be stuck using one less bathroom for the rest of the flight!

I heard a story of how one gal dropped her cell into the toilet and how she then had the audacity to ask the flight attendant to retrieve it for her. Guess what? That’s not part of our job description! (The flight attendant made sure to inform her of this.) If you drop your new iPhone 6 into the pit, we’ll give you a pair of gloves and you are welcome to go after it yourself, but we're not sticking our hands into sewage and you probably should just consider buying a new mobile.

Lesson: When it comes to bringing your electronics in the lavatory ...umm, don’t. Please, that is so gross.

Have you or someone you know had an electronic device stolen or damaged while in-flight? Have some extra tips on how to protect your property while flying? Write me in the comments below!

Join my newsletter for more flight attendant stories! :)

Happy Flying!
Jenn

 
 
Speak the words modern art and my brain immediately conjures up the image of a canvas with enough primary colors splattered across it to resemble any preschooler’s first take-home painting.  Better yet, I’ll imagine a mishmash of broken items (maybe a doll’s head, an umbrella, scattered playing cards, and a wooden chair) stacked into a Jenga-like tower and glued together.  "How is THAT art?" I’ve often asked museum curators.  (That’s a lie.  I’ve never had the audacity to ask aloud, but I’ve sent this question out telepathically several times to no avail.)  It wasn’t until a recent visit to the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. that my opinion of modern art completely changed.

I hadn’t planned to visit the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.  I needed a reprieve from the sun’s skin-frying rays and the strange donut-like building not only intrigued me, but offered an air-conditioned haven from the outdoors.  Inside I found myself transported into a strange environment of sight and sound, light and shadow, and a dimension of imagination.  It was something straight out of the Twilight Zone! 

Now, many of exhibits still left me shaking my head and wondering what con artist managed to fool someone into thinking it was worth money.  At the risk of offending those people, here are a few examples of pieces I personally thought were complete rubbish (Andy Warhol fans, be warned):
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Someone was throwing out their old Eater decorations, I guess.
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The Display Stand with Madonnas is supposed to be "familiar and fantastical" instead of tacky and boring.
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This is really just an anagram for the message: "NOT ART, SON. HEHE! -W"
Art, however, is subjective.  It was interesting to notice how museum visitors reacted to the pieces.  I would pass right by one display while someone else would stand there marveling at it.  Likewise, a few pieces I found incredibly deep and thought-provoking whereas other visitors breezed right past them without a second glance.  The art I loved the most included:
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Stand before it and stare into an abyss. Stand before it and you get a visual representation of infinity.
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A fun light project. I liked being in the room of cool blue for awhile. :)
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For me, a glimpse at social dynamics and human cruelty.
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The next time you’re in Washington D.C., I hope you’ll consider visiting this Smithsonian museum.  Unlike the other museums, it isn’t swamped by school children.  For me, it was a wonderful escape, an opportunity for introspection, and a chance to appreciate modern art.

Happy flying.
~Jenn Grahams
 


 
 
LaGuardia Airport
LaGuardia Airport - My first flight attendant base!
In my head I can picture them clearly.  I see the grubby, dirt-smeared faces of poor European immigrants beaming joyfully at the Statue of Liberty in all her glory as their boat pulls into the harbors of Ellis Island, just beyond the skyline of New York City.  This was the arrival for passengers coming to the Big Apple in the early 1900s.  Today, the port of arrival for many is LaGuardia Airport, a building that is as grubby and perhaps as down-trodden as the immigrants of old.  (Click HERE to hear U.S. Vice President Biden compare LaGuardia’s sad, decaying structure to a “third world country”.)

LaGuardia Airport (LGA) was my first flight attendant base and I worked there for nearly a year.  When in uniform (and even in plain clothes), I was often approached by frazzled-looking passengers who needed help navigating their way around LaGuardia.  Here are some basic tips I learned from my days working in the Big Apple’s smallest airport.

Please note:  LaGuardia is undergoing many renovations.  Check the airport’s website HERE for the most up-to-date information.  The article below was written in April 2015.
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A cockroach in the airport's basement crawling near the mice traps. Gross!

Tip 1. Know Your Terminal Before Arriving at the Airport

“What terminal is Delta?”  People driving would slow down their vehicles, roll down their windows, and shout this question at me as the traffic behind them began honking mercilessly.  My answer was always, “Delta is in terminals A, C, and D!  Good luck!”

LaGuardia's configuration sucks.  The terminals are separated and there is no easy way to connect them.  You need to know where you’re going.  Delta and American/US Airways are located in different terminals and each of those terminals has its own security.  And just to make things more confusing, the American flights in terminal B use the D gates and the United Airlines flights (also in terminal B) use the C gates.  It really makes no sense.

Basically, here is the breakdown of where your airline might be.  It’s best to use a smartphone or computer ahead of time to find out exactly.  Read Tip #2 for info on switching terminals.

Terminal A (Marine Air Terminal)
Delta Shuttle

Terminal B
American (C & D Gates)
United (C Gates)
Virgin America (C Gates)
Southwest (B Gates)
Spirit (B Gates)
Air Canada (A Gates)
Frontier (A Gates)
JetBlue (A Gates)
United (A Gates)

Terminal  C
Delta / Delta Shuttle
US Airways / American

Terminal D

Delta
WestJet

Tip 2.  Connecting to a different terminal? Get on the right bus!

LGA Bus
The inter-terminal buses pick up on the lower level at the green shelters that look like this:

There are two buses.  Both are notoriously slow during rush hour traffic.  (Not that I can blame them.)

Route A – The longer route that loops around Terminal A.  This is the only bus that goes to Terminal A.

Route B
– The shorter loop that goes to Terminals B, C, and D and the parking lots in between.

The Route A bus takes a good 10-15 minutes extra time to get out to Terminal A so be careful when getting on it.  You could waste a lot of time!  Check out the map below. 

EXAMPLES: 
Notice how the buses run in the same direction.  If you are at Terminal B and you need to get to Terminal D, it would be faster to wait for the Route B bus.  Do NOT take the Route A bus.  If, however, you are at Terminal D and headed toward Terminal B, you can take either Route A or B because you would get off Route A before it makes the long jog to Terminal A.  Confused yet?

American / US Airways Passengers!  There is/was a special bus that connected passengers between Terminals B and C.  I'm not sure if it's still running.  Check with a representative from your airline.

Tip 3. Consider walking between Terminals B and C.

Laguardia Bus route B
Is it faster to walk or wait for the bus?  I spent many days “racing” the bus to see which was faster.  It’s a tough call.  The walk can take around 15 minutes if you are leaving from the East end of Terminal B and headed toward C.  The sidewalk isn’t great and the walkway isn’t covered.

My golden rule for deciding to walk was always this:

  • I must have less than two bags with me.
  • I must be unhindered by children. (Better to walk solo!)
  • The weather must be reasonably comfortable.
  • The traffic needs to be crawling at a snail’s pace.
  • I need to be wearing decent shoes. (Sidewalk is terrible for anyone wearing heels.)

Tip 4. Keep Your Baggage Claim Ticket!

Baggage claim is located on the lower level.  Just take the escalator or elevator downstairs. (Who am I kidding?  Those are both broken so go find the stairs.)  

To find the carousel with your checked bags,
check the monitors.  Look for your inbound destination to see which carousel will have your checked bags. (If you came in from Oklahoma City, you need to look for Oklahoma City NOT New York City.  Everyone is in New York City, dummy.)

Unfortunately, LaGuardia’s baggage claim has been targeted by thieves.  Whenever bags start to go missing, the security heightens.  They have a very “sophisticated” security measure.  You must show your baggage claim receipt to an airport employee who stands near the exit and compares your receipt with the bag's tag.  The baggage claim receipt is often a white sticker with a barcode that the gate agent sticks to the back of your boarding pass.  If you don’t have your receipt....I have no clue what happens.  If you find out, write me in the comments below!

Tip 5.  Head to the city!

Cabs NYCTaxis waiting outside Terminal B.
Were you supposed to connect to Detroit? 
Forget about it!  Go visit New York instead!  It’s the busiest, most energy-filled city you’ll ever experience.  All city-bound transportation is located on the lower level. 

TAXIS

Lower level.  They are everywhere!  All the yellow cabs are metered which mean they charge the same amount of money.  That rate can change depending on how long you sit in traffic, but it should cost around $40 with tip.

BUS
The NYC Airporter is a shuttle bus that will take you to JFK Airport, Newark, or downtown Manhattan.  You can purchase tickets online or on the lower level from the NYC Airporter employees.  (Look for their branded shirts and jackets.)  Check out their website for rates.  Don’t plan on the shuttle running on time.  It was always late when I used it!

PUBLIC TRANSIT

Want to be a local?  Try New York’s MTA.  Go to the lower level and look for a kiosk machine to purchase your Metro rail card.  You need a credit or debit card to make this purchase.  No cash.  Otherwise, if you can buy a one-way fare using EXACT change on the bus.  (The driver will NOT break a bill for you.)

Check out the MTA’s website HERE for rates.

The easiest way to get to Manhattan is to take the Q70 bus to Roosevelt / Jackson Heights and then catch the Manhattan-bound E train on the blue line.  :)

More questions about New York City's LaGuardia Airport?  Write me a question in the comments below and I'll try my best to answer!

Safe travels!
~Jenn Grahams


 
 
Flight Attendant Ear ProblemsI've been having major ear problems recently. :(
“Never fly if your ears are blocked!” my instructors told us at flight attendant school. 

I took their warning seriously especially after one guest speaker swore he sat on the jumpseat next to a flight attendant whose eardrum ruptured and caused blood to “pour out of her ear” as she “screamed in pain”.

Not wanting to suffer the same fate, I’ve been cautious this year when I’ve fallen ill.  I don’t usually get sick, but this year I’ve somehow caught three bouts of either the flu or a sinus infection.  The too-busy-to-talk walk-in clinic doctor didn’t think it was necessary to diagnose me and quickly prescribed medication that “would cure either thing.”  (Ohh-kay???  Thanks, doc?)

Due to my health and ear problems, I've had to drop two trips so far which will cost me a lot of money and make my next few paychecks look pretty pathetic.  I’m feeling better now, but started second-guessing my decision to stay home instead of "toughing it out".  (I wasn't contagious when I dropped the second flight, but I still had an earache.)  To assuage my fears and clear up myths about flying with clogged ears, I’ve done a little research and I’m happy to share my findings with you!  I’ll post them below in a Question and Answer form. 

Have YOU ever had a problem with your ears during flight?  What helped you?

Hope to hear from you!  Happy travels!
~Jenn Grahams


Can an eardrum rupture inflight due to pressurization problems?

PictureSnagged this pict when I saw the doctor.
Yes.  According to this article at Patient.co.uk, in rare cases a person’s eardrum can rupture when the middle ear is unable to adjust after a sudden change in air pressure (like when the plane is descending).  A perforated (meaning ruptured) eardrum causes hearing loss, but fortunately, the ear will heal itself over time in most cases.


Could the story about the flight attendant’s bleeding ear be true?

Yes, but it’s more likely an embellished story.  According to many medical articles (including THIS one at Entnet.org), a perforated eardrum usually results in a liquid discharge – NOT blood.  In some rare causes, blood may be included in the discharge, but only if the ear is injured internally.  In our story, the flight attendant would have needed to perhaps bang her head on something or have injured her ear in some way - perhaps by poking something forcibly inside it.

What sort of medical examinations are required before becoming a flight attendant?

In the United States, the FAA mandates medical exams for all airline crew members.  At my airline, I was required to take (and pass!) the medical exam BEFORE I was admitted into flight attendant school.  The flight attendant physical exam is less stringent compared to the requirements for pilots, but there are certain visual and hearing criteria that need to be met before someone can qualify to be a flight attendant.  As part of my exam, I went into a soundproof room and took a hearing test in which I pressed a button every time I heard a beep.  The beeps changed pitch and became progressively softer.  A nurse also stuck a probe in my ear that supposedly registered whether or not my ears could properly pressurize inflight.  (She had trouble getting my right ear to give a passing reading so perhaps I’ve always been doomed to have these ear problems.)

What causes ear pressurization problems?  How can I unblock my ears inflight?

This well-written article titled “Ears and Altitude” explains the problem thoroughly and describes the most common methods for unblocking your ears.

Surprisingly NOT mentioned is the method where you place a cup of hot water next to your ear (making sure to keep the water from splashing INSIDE the ear)!  The steam supposedly helps relieve the pressure.  I tried it once when I had a bad cold and it seemed to work although the timing could have been coincidental. 

When I’m flying, I have to pop my ears numerous times a day.  With practice I’ve gotten to the point where swallowing hard or yawning will usually do the trick.

While doing my research, I discovered that several businesses are selling ear popping devices.  I have no idea whether or not these are actually useful (or safe?), but if anyone knows please write me in the comments below.

Do passengers often complain about their ears? 
Have you ever had an inflight medical emergency where a passenger could not pop their ears?

I get a handful of complaints and worried passengers every month that can’t pop their ears right away while inflight.  Usually it’s a panicking mother with a toddler.  I can’t offer much assistance other than quote the different methods I know for unblocking ears. (We aren’t allowed to use the steam method because that’s a lawsuit waiting to happen!  Think turbulence and boiling water…not a good combo.)  We would never divert a flight or land early if a passenger was experiencing ear problems.  If the pain was extreme, we might seek out medical assistance, but we won’t divert or land a plane early unless it is a true medical emergency.  The passenger would unfortunately have to endure the ear discomfort for the rest of the flight.  Fortunately, blocked ears usually cause only minor pain.

Interesting Fact.  If everyone on the plane starts having ear discomfort / ear blockage at the same time, it means you're probably about to experience a rapid decompression so get ready to grab your oxygen mask!  Just another fun thing you get to think about all the time when you're a flight attendant.  :)  My ears usually only "pop" on ascent and descent so if it happens inflight, I always tense up, turn to my crewmate and ask, "Are your ears popping?"  Thankfully, the answer has always been no.

 
 
The flight attendant life is fairly transient.  Between working and commuting, this month I’ll take an average of six flights each week for a total of twenty-seven flights in March!  Maintaining that average, I could possibly take over three hundred flights in 2015!  (And I’m considered a “low time flier” by most flight attendant standards!)

When friends and family hear about my flight attendant schedule, some shake their heads and say I’m crazy.  They can’t imagine maintaining such an “unstable” lifestyle.  In all truthfulness, it really isn’t as frantic as it may seem at first glance.  In fact, I feel like my life is pretty grounded! 
Although I travel A LOT and spend much of my time bouncing around in airplanes, I always return to one of my homes - either my permanent residence with my husband in the Midwest or my sister-in-law's apartment in my base city (Washington D.C.). Now, try to imagine a life where you didn’t have any home!

I recently stumbled upon some truly adventurous people who take their passion for travel to an entirely different level!  Let me introduce you to some individuals who live a life that is filled with constant travel.  These are full-time travelers who have chosen to break free of traditional norms and live a nomadic life where their only agenda is to see the world and experience its riches!  How do they do it?  How do they have the funds to travel endlessly?  Surprisingly, they’ve all accomplished their travel goals in different ways!  I am amazed at their courage and I know you’ll find their stories fascinating!

Nicole & Michael  from SuitcaseStories.com

Suitcase Stories
Used with permission from SuitcaseStories.com.
Picture
Paris, Costa Rica, Barbados, Spain, Fiji – these are just some of the places Australian couple Nicole and Michael have visited since starting their journey.  A few years ago, they took the plunge to quit their jobs, sell nearly all their possessions, and set off on the adventure of a lifetime!  Last December they celebrated over 1,000 days of being on the road.

What surprises me most about Nicole and Michael’s story is that they haven’t been spending their nights in run-down youth hostels.  In fact, most of the time they’re staying in beautiful fully-furnished houses!  Their secret?  They’ve had over thirty house-sitting jobs


Suitcase Stories CoupleUsed with permission from SuitcaseStories.com.
When house-sitting, this couple is responsible for taking care of the property while the homeowners are away.  This involves fairly simple tasks such as keeping the walkways cleared of snow during winter (in some countries!) and taking care of the homeowner’s pets.  The best part is, they’re paid to sleep at the person’s home and given ample time to explore the city where they are staying!  Michael and Nicole have written an ebook – House Sitting | A Travelers Guide – to share their secrets.  Ebook sales, travel blogging, and their house sitting jobs have allowed the couple to keep traveling and they don’t plan on stopping any time soon!

Follow them on Twitter @Suitcases2
!

The Janssens Family from HappyJanssens.com

Think back to your family’s camping trip you took as a kid.  Maybe you rented an RV camper – one of those giant rolling mobile homes?  Now imagine a life where that RV is your home!  Until recently, this was the life for Americans Sara, Matt, and their daughters who traveled across the United States for four whole years while living in their RV.
Nomads RV Life
Used with permission from HappyJanssens.com.
RV HomeA look inside the Janssens' mobile home! Photo used with permission.
Sara and Matt felt inspired to live a simpler, greener life and to teach their kids to cherish the most important things in life – God and family.  One day they sold the majority of their belongings, left a few boxes of keepsakes at a family member’s home, and took off into the sunset in their mobile home which they nicknamed “The Rig”.  While roaming North America, they marveled at the beauty of nature (visiting sights such as the Redwoods in California and the Rocky Mountains in Colorado) and met diverse and interesting people.  To fund their journey, both parents took up odd jobs along the way.  Matt offered his services as a handyman to fix and remodel other RVs while Sara worked as a freelance photographer and graphic designer.

With the arrival of a third daughter and two dogs, the couple finally decided to buy a “real” home in Colorado, but they didn’t stay for long!  Sara’s posted in her blog last September that they are renting out their house and taking off for another 9 months of traveling in their new RV!  Talk about living the life of adventure!


Follow them on Twitter @happyjanssensman and @
nestinggypsy

Jonny Blair from DontStopLiving.net

Jonny Blair
Jonny Blair in Kharanaq Iran! Used with permission from DontStopLiving.net.
PictureJonny working as a steward on a car ferry!
This Northern Irishman tops the charts when it comes to traveling the longest!  Twelve years ago Jonny Blair left his home in Northern Ireland and he has been traveling ever since!  This true nomad has seen a vast portion of the world and experienced many things.  To fund his travels, Jonny has taken on all sorts of odd jobs including teaching English to Kindergarteners in Hong Kong, working as a bartender in Australia, and milking cows in Colombia to name a few!  Currently though, Jonny earns most of his travel money as a travel writer and successful online blogger.

Jonny admits that during this twelve years he has stopped on occasion to stay for longer periods of time in cities such as London, Hong Kong, Bournemouth, Parramatta and Poatina.  Nevertheless, he estimates that he’s “traveled properly” for about seven of the twelve years!  In his fascinating blog, you’ll read Jonny’s amazing tales of backpacking in Azerbaijan, climbing mountains in Borneo, skinny dipping in Antarctica, and discovering new, tasty beers in Andorra, New Zealand, and well…nearly every place he’s visited!  ;)
PictureJonny in South Korea!
In his upcoming ebook ("Backpacking Centurion: A Northern Irishman's Journey Through 100 Countries"), Jonny plans to share some of his grand adventures which have taken place in all seven continents!

Follow Jonny on Twitter @JonnyBlair!

I am truly amazed by all these individuals who have found ways to live a life of endless travel!  After reading their stories, I know I've felt tempted to trade out monthly home mortgage payments and rooms full of possessions for a nomadic lifestyle that would feed my wanderlust!  At the same time, I know I'd cave pretty quickly to homesickness!  For now, I'll stay put in my "white picket fence" home and live vicariously through these astounding adventurers!  What about you?  Do you think you'll try to follow in their footsteps?
 
 
I am a flight attendant, but NOT a stewardess.  Although many people use the two job titles interchangeably, many flight attendants view the word stewardess as offensive! 

I vividly remember the moment someone first brought the flight attendant/stewardess controversy to my attention.  It was a summer’s day back in 2012 and I was attending my first interview for a major airline carrier in the United States.  (I didn’t get the job, by the way.  I was eventually hired by the third airline for which I applied.)  I was a nervous wreck and felt completely intimidated seeing the fifty other confident-looking, well-dressed people against whom I was competing.  I stuck like glue to my only friend – a woman named Sandra whom I had met on the bus.

Sandra had years of flight attendant experience on her resume.  She had left her job at the age of thirty to become a full-time mother, but with her kids grown, hoped to get back into the airline business.  To be perfectly honest, I had a bit of a “girl crush” on this woman.  She seemed so completely put together!  She was sassy and quick-witted and very knowledgeable.  It was therefore a huge stab to my ego when Sandra laughed at me when I used the word stewardess to describe the position for which we were applying.

“Stewardess?” Sandra had repeated, crinkling her forehead and wrinkling her nose as if the spoken word had emitted an unpleasant smell.  “That is so outdated.  No one says stewardess, hon.  It’s flight attendant.”

War of Words - Why Flight Attendant is Politically Correct

Sandra was right.  No one in the airline industry – within the United States, at least – uses the word stewardess.  Why was the name changed?

The name change reflects how the job itself has changed drastically in the past few decades!  In the past, stewardesses in the USA had to be female, unmarried, and meet specific appearance and weight regulations.  Now flight attendants can be either male or female.  Physical requirements are limited to height (Flight attendants must be tall enough to reach safety equipment in the overhead bins!) and airlines can no longer discriminate against applicants on other physical appearance aspects. 

The job of a stewardess in the 1950s was focused on passenger comfort.  Flight attendants today put passenger safety as their number one priority.  Flight attendant training schools spend less time on image standards and etiquette and instead devote their curriculum to teaching employees how to handle medical emergencies (such as passenger heart attacks), fires, emergency landings, and a whole array of other safety-related topics!

Airline Lingo and Flight Attendant Culture

I can’t speak for flight attendants around the world, but within the United States I know that flight attendants despise the word stewardess.  I inwardly grimace every time someone calls me that!  Although I would never correct someone for accidentally saying it, hearing someone call me stewardess feels degrading.

Unfortunately, the word stewardess in today’s modern society is a bit tarnished.  The word harkens back to a time before modern feminism really took hold.  It reminds us of when the women working a flight were intended to be eye candy and a time in which advertisers used flight attendants as explicit sexual icons
The Braniff International ad campaign  in the 1960s featured flight attendants in Playboy magazine and highlighted inflight outfit changes known as the "Air Strip".  Even commercials such as National Airline’s “Fly Me” ad campaign back in 1971 gave the perception that flight attendants were "easy" women who were there to please.
Within my company, flight attendants today only use the word stewardess jokingly.  Here are a couple of common phrases my co-workers will say:

“Well, aren’t you just a super stew?”

This is usually said in a derogatory, sarcastic manner and refers to a flight attendant who is being too meticulous about something whether it be their personal appearance or passenger comfort.

“Yeah, she’s a sassy stew.”
“He’s the best stew I know.”


A light-hearted comment about a flight attendant whose personality or work habits are memorable.  In this case, stew is just being used as a fun nickname. 

Flight Attendants Around the World

Hopefully I’ve emphasized well enough that the information in this article applies to flight attendants within the United States.  I can’t speak for airlines in other parts of the world, but I have observed that most Western cultures recognize the word flight attendant as the internationally accepted term for my job.  (In German you see the word Flugbegeleiter or Flugbegeleiterin more often now than Steward or Stewardess.)

In the United States, we tend to get a bit overly zealous for using the “right” word for things.  Outside of the English-speaking world, it’s hard to say if this battle of words is happening.  In many Middle Eastern / Asian airlines, the words Cabin Crew Member often refer to flight attendants.  I’ve also heard the term Air Hostess used. 

In some foreign countries, airlines still enforce rigid appearance and gender requirements.  Here are a couple of online job postings for companies that filter out candidates by appearance, gender, or age:

Flight Attendant Weight Requirements
Oman Air has restrictions on gender, age, and weight.
Picture
This Korean Air posting limits gender, marriage status, and age.
Picture
Air Arabia restricts applicants by age and weight.

Flight Attendant Jobs in the Future?

So, what happens next?  Will the flight attendant position get another name change when we begin commercial transport into space?  Time will tell!

In the meantime, if you’re traveling in the United States and want to refer to that person who just told you to shut down your laptop for landing, try calling them a flight attendant and not a stewardess.  ;-) 

-Jenn Grahams

 
 
On a cold day in February, I journeyed to New York City to visit one of my favorite neighborhoods in Queens known as Jackson Heights.  While based in New York, I routinely traveled through Jackson Heights.  The Roosevelt Avenue / Jackson Heights subway station served as my access point to trains bound for Manhattan. 
In some ways, Jackson Heights is just like any other neighborhood in Queens.  You’ll find food trucks, hole-in-the-wall shops, flocks of dirty pigeons, and of course, mountains of trash and recycling on pick-up days.
There’s an exciting energy about this little neighborhood that I find fascinating and distinct from other places in the city.  Walking down the main street, your senses are awakened by the smell of spices, the sounds of rumbling trains overhead, and the feel of the underground subway vibrating beneath your feet.

Also striking is the diversity.  Shop owners in this area are mainly immigrants from Mexico, South and Latin America, and Asia.  Walking down a side street can make you feel as if you’ve just stepped into another part of the world.

76th Street and Broadway

I began my visit at 76th Street and Broadway.  Immediately upon wandering down the street, I began seeing signs written in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean.
Fruit Market NYC
A sign for apples written in four different languages!
Sabay Thai NYC
I stopped for a delicious lunch at Sabay Thai!
Chinese Church Jackson Heights NYC
New York Seventh Day Adventist Chinese Church
Jackson Heights Queens
A friendly shop owner who let me take his picture!

72nd Street and Broadway

After finishing my delicious lunch, I wandered to 72nd Street where I found many local women in full-length dresses and headscarves and men wearing beards and turbans.  Shops in this area cater to Muslims seeking Halal food and drink.
Dera Restaurant Queens New York
This restaurant is famous for its Indian and Pakistani food. I want to stop by the next time I'm in New York!
Halal Meat Store
There are several competing Halal Meat stores around this block.
Asia Tribune
The Asia Tribune - a newspaper in Arabic for sale inside several shops.
Ainul Haramain
A travel agency advertising for Muslim pilgrimages.

76th - 80th Street and Roosevelt

Next I headed north to a cross-street known as Roosevelt.  Here you’ll find shops predominantly run by immigrants from Spanish-speaking countries such as Mexico, Peru, and Colombia.  Block after block you’ll find shops labeled purely in Spanish, advertising help with immigration papers and passport photos.
Visit New York Queens
Mmm....tacos!
Picture
A vendor unloading a TON of Mexican beer!
Picture
I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of the "immigration offices" along this street specialize in fake IDs.
Piñatas for sale New York
Piñatas for sale!
It’s amazing really to see so many cultures blended into one neighborhood.  Jackson Heights isn’t a beautiful neighborhood.  In fact, it’s a bit grimy.  If you walk down the streets at night, you’ll get solicited to visit the upstairs “massage” parlors or encouraged by promoters with flyers to enter the strip clubs.   Despite all this, I still love visiting Jackson Heights, Queens and I know you’ll love it too!  If you’re planning a trip to New York City any time soon, be sure to stop by this diverse and unique neighborhood!

-Jenn Grahams


 

    Jenn Grahams

    is a flight attendant and an aspiring writer.  She lives in the Midwest with her husband, many pet fish, and two chinchillas named Kuzco and Pancho.

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