Photograph by Prabin Ranabhat, SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images
Photograph by Prabin Ranabhat, SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images
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Will new technology make flying safer now?

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By George Stone, TRAVEL Executive Editor

Robot cleaners. Nano needles. Facial recognition. Your future flights just got more futuristic. As air travel adapts to make flying safer in response to the COVID-19 pandemic (above), planes and airports are deploying new technology on the ground and in the air. What might this mean for you?

Medical screenings, most likely. Take your pick: Walk-through thermal-screening cameras (which operate by detecting heat emanating from a person’s body); gateways that measure temperature, blood-oxygen levels, heart rate, and respiration rates; negative pressure pods that disinfect passengers upon arrival (via “nano needles,” photocatalyst technology, and a sanitizing spray). One way or another, you will be detected!

“A tech revolution in the aviation industry was already in motion before the pandemic. But the medical and material demands of COVID-19 have brought urgency and velocity to the race to make passenger air travel safer,” reports Jackie Snow. She covers such topics as disinfecting robots that clean airports with ultraviolet C light (pictured below in Pittsburgh’s airport); touchless tech to speed up the boarding process; and the futuristic flair of new PPE uniforms for flight attendants.

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The goal remains to protect both passengers and flight attendants, who are at heightened risk for COVID-19 exposure on the job. New safety measures should not add time to your journey and your pre-flight safety videos will probably not feature cameos by Dr. Fauci. But there is concern that new protocols could be making airplane passengers more unruly. Flights have returned to the gate because passengers refused to wear masks.

“Technologies can indeed make us safer,” says Kacey Ernst, an epidemiologist and a professor at the University of Arizona. “But if our behaviors become riskier in response, it could cancel out the benefit of the technology.”

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Your Instagram photo of the day

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There goes yet another day: People living along parts of the Great Lakes get spoiled by the sunsets, but photographer Keith Ladzinski adds another ingredient: The sloping, grassy sand mounds of Michigan’s Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. This pristine area along Lake Michigan is comprised of over 50,000 acres of unique wilderness and various ecosystems ranging from the coastal dunes to wooded forests and wetlands.

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Today in a minute

Hear the world: A train ride across America. A Malaysian chef traces her roots. The sights, sounds, and barbecue flavors of Kansas City. These are a few episodes of the new Travel Tales by Afar podcast series. Hear funny, profound, and all-around delightful stories from travel writers, photographers, and inspiring people of the world. One highlight: The Incredibly True Story of Renting a Friend in Tokyo, a surprising story about what to do when you’re alone in Tokyo and you need someone to talk to. Hint: do as the locals do: Rent a friend.

How to revive a fading rural town? Restore a wooden castle and turn it into a hotel. That’s what a southern Japanese town is doing with the Ozu Castle. “With a history dating from 1617, it’s also one of only a handful of timber castles left in Japan,” CNN reports. Guests can wear medieval warrior outfits or kimonos—and be greeted with shell trumpets, waving flags, and a gunpowder salute.

Different monuments: Many U.S. stay-at-home tourists want to see monuments, but historians suggest trying something new. They suggest, on the heels of the Emmy-nominated Watchmen series, seeing Tulsa’s Tower of Reconciliation, remembering a 1921 massacre of Black residents by mobs of whites. Other ideas include Yellow Mounds Overlook in South Dakota’s Badlands or the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. See the full list.

Want a thatched roof? On an island in Denmark, Henning Johansen is restoring a 300-year-old tradition, placing thick, heavy bundles of silvery seaweed atop old homes. BBC News says Johansen is finding a market as he revives seaweed thatching. “[Eelgrass] is a very interesting material,” he said, “because it won't burn; there’s so much salt in the straw."

The big takeaway

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Portraying America’s Vacationland: Maine’s rocky shores, pine-tall forests, and bald granite mountains have long attracted artists such as Georgia O’Keeffe, Edward Hopper, and Anni Albers. These days, think fewer lighthouses, more interdisciplinary art installations, Katy Kelleher writes for Nat Geo. She talks with Marcia and Daniel Minter (above), co-founders of Portland’s Indigo Arts Alliance, which supports Black artists in Maine. Kelleher also covers an array of summertime art colonies and gathering spots around the state—and even secluded spots where art is created. Below, a small cabin tucked away in the fog and forest on one of Maine’s more than 4,600 islands.

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In a few words

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On Wednesday, Victoria Jaggard covers the latest in science. If you’re not a subscriber, sign up here to also get Rachael Bale on animals, Whitney Johnson on photography, and Debra Adams Simmons on history.

The last glimpse

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A trip to the taiga: Dream of a home where the reindeer roam? To find Mongolia’s reindeer herders, Erin Craig ended up on a small, half-wild Mongolian horse for part of the journey. “They respond,” Craig wrote of the horses for Nat Geo, “to one command: tchoo. It means ‘go faster.’” Pictured above, a Tsaatan woman feeding a reindeer.

This newsletter has been curated and edited by David Beard, and Jen Tse selected the photographs. Special thanks to Kimberly Pecoraro, Amy Alipio, and Jennifer Barger. Have an idea or a link, an experience with a reindeer? We'd love to hear from you at david.beard@natgeo.com. And thanks for reading.