Summer skies may be packed

It looks as though summer fliers will be cooling their heels as congestion worsens in the skies, according to a top transportation official.

"In many markets, traffic and delays are back at a rate as severe as 2000, when travel disruptions were at their peak," Kenneth M. Mead, U.S. Department of Transportation inspector, told the Senate Commerce Committee last month. "In some markets they are worse."

Through March, more than one out of four flights arrived late, up 17% from the same period last year, he said. The average delay, 52 minutes, was nearly four minutes longer than in the first quarter five years ago, a period "generally considered to be the hallmark of poor on-time performance," Mead said.

Some airports were hit worse than others. Through March, flights were late more than 30% of the time at Florida's West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale airports; Philadelphia; Newark, N.J.; and New York's JFK and LaGuardia airports. LAX was right at the average: 25%. A big reason for the delays is the increase in the number of passengers.

This summer, Mead said, international traffic is expected to be 16% higher than in 2000.

In Portland, a gourmet walk A popular new walking tour lets you eat and drink your way through the artsy Pearl District in Portland, Ore.

The three-hour Epicurean Excursion visits about two dozen establishments that prepare and sell baked goods, pizza, olive oil, gelato, chocolate truffles, coffee, microbrew beers, wine and more. The selection varies with the timing and pacing of each trip, said David Schargel, president of Portland Walking Tours.

The tour steps off at 10:30 a.m. Saturdays through November.

The price, $59 per person, includes food and drink samples. Through June, online bookers get a $10 discount. Groups are limited to 15, and some dates are sold out.

The company, founded in 1999, leads more than 20 types of walking itineraries in Portland, serving about 200 people a week in peak season.

For information and reservations: (503) 774-4522, .

Florida beach chosen No. 1 A Florida beach was named North America's best in an annual list by "Dr. Beach," a.k.a. Stephen Leatherman, a director of Florida International University's International Hurricane Research Center and the Laboratory for Coastal Research.

Fort De Soto, on the Gulf of Mexico near Tampa, has fine sand, thriving natural dunes and "great shelling," said Leatherman, who has studied the coastal environment for 30 years and began compiling his list of the nation's top beaches in 1991.

Only one California beach made Leatherman's Top 10: Coronado Beach in San Diego. Also ranked were Ocracoke Island on North Carolina's Outer Banks; Hanalei Bay in Kauai; Caladesi Island State Park in Clearwater, Fla.; Fleming Beach in Maui; Coast Guard Beach, Cape Cod, Mass.; Cape Florida State Park, Key Biscayne; Main Beach, East Hampton, N.Y.; and Hamoa Beach, Maui.

Associated Press

Now for rent: Hummer H3s Starting this month, you can rent a Hummer H3 at Avis airport outlets.

The specialty vehicle, equipped with free satellite radio, is available in Dallas, Denver, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, Seattle and Portland, Ore. Rates vary by location and date.

For instance, a weekly rental priced online for the Seattle airport outlet was recently about $659, including taxes.

Information: (888) 777-2847, .

— Jane Engle

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