United to Texas national guardsman returning from Afghanistan: Pay up for bag

A national guardsman on his way home to Kyle, Texas, after a 21-month deployment in Afghanistan said United Airlines made him pay $200 to check a bag because it was too heavy to qualify for the airline’s free military baggage policy.

A United Airlines plane takes off from San Francisco International Airport.

“I was told point blank that I’d have to pay $200 for the overage or find another bag to siphon stuff off with,” First Lieutenant John Rader, who was preparing to board a flight in El Paso Monday night when the incident happened, told FOX 7 Austin. “Well, I didn’t have another bag, so I was caught in a bind.”

United’s policy states that U.S. military and their dependents traveling on official business receive waived service charges for up to five checked bags at 70 pounds each. Because Rader’s bag, which contained items including a Kevlar vest, helmets and boots, was over 70 pounds, he said he was given no choice but to pay the fee.

“In the past, airlines have been very flexible to soldiers, whether its upgrading us in our seating arrangements, helping us with numerous bags we travel with often. This is the first time and an isolated case in my history where it’s actually occurred. It became upsetting when all you want to do is get home and you have a $200 charge thrown on top,” Rader told FOX 7.

Military baggage policies differ depending on the airline. Southwest offers active duty military an exemption from its two-bag limit and free baggage up to 100 pounds, while Delta allows two free bags up to 50 pounds for active duty military traveling on personal business.

A United representative said the airline has reached out to Rader in hopes of remedying the situation.

It hasn’t been a great year for the airline. In March, United received widespread criticism for barring two teens from their flight because they were wearing leggings. And in April, video footage of a man being forcibly removed from a flight made national headlines.

Read more about Rader’s experience here.

Love thrills? 6 can’t-miss rides, coasters and attractions coming to Texas this year

Sometimes you just can’t beat the whooshes, whirls and splashes of an amusement park. And according to the International Association of Amusement Parks, a lot of people really, really love them. In 2017 alone, parks in the United States and Canada are expected to entertain 412 million people and generate $23 billion.

We’re lucky in Texas to have plenty of places to go to get a thrill. Here are some of the biggest ride and amusement openings coming to the Lone Star State this year.

Thunder Rapids Water Coaster, Six Flags Fiesta Texas, San Antonio

Thunder Rapids is a new ride at Six Flags Fiesta Texas. credit: Six Flags Fiesta Texas

This three-story, 942-foot-long thrill ride includes five uphill blasts, four spiraling turns, custom-made inline rafts and new water jet propulsion technology. Oh, and there will be no awkwardly lugging tubes to the top of this ride — it features a loading system where guests board at ground level, then ride up the lift hill to the top of the slide. It’s part of White Water Bay, the free water park at Fiesta Texas (included with the price of admission). Learn more at sixflags.com/fiestatexas/newfor2017.

The Joker, Six Flags Over Texas, Arlington

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The Joker comes to Six Flags Over Texas on May 20. credit: Six Flags Over Texas

Got Batman fans in your house? You won’t want to miss this. Six Flags Over Texas is debuting The Joker, a 120-foot-tall “free-fly” roller coaster with 4-D seats that spin forwards and backwards. The ride, which opens May 20, will include leaps, dives and surprising drops. Riders will even flip head over heels, literally, at least six times during the course of the ride. See more at sixflags.com/overtexas.

“Wave Breaker: The Rescue,” SeaWorld San Antonio

The cars of “Wave Breaker: The Rescue” were designed to look like Jet Skis. credit: SeaWorld San Antonio

This double-launch coaster stretches 2,600 feet and goes as high as 61 feet. The theme? Marine animal rescue missions — it aims to replicate the high-stakes experience of animals being rescued at sea. The cars even look like Jet Skis. Get details at seaworldsanantonio.com.

“Constellation,” Reunion Tower, Dallas

Reunion Tower offers views of the Dallas skyline. credit: Helen Anders

This high-tech interactive attraction features a series of touchscreen monitors on the GeO-Deck, which overlooks the city skyline. Here, visitors can add their name and geographical information to a star, create an avatar and describe their experience with creative illustrations. Access is included with GeO-Deck admission. Visit reuniontower.com for more.

Caribbean Journey, Texas State Aquarium, Corpus Christi

The new Caribbean Journey will open soon at the Texas State Aquarium in Corpus Christi. credit: Texas State Aquarium

The aquarium has long been a must-go attraction for visitors to the Texas coast, and with the addition of Caribbean Journey, which will celebrate its grand opening May 13, that’s even more true now. The exhibition takes visitors into the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Preserve in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and the western Caribbean. It covers 71,000 square feet and includes a 100-seat 4-D theater, a 400,000-gallon shark habitat as well as interactive exhibits and a new education center. Check it out at texasstateaquarium.org/caribbean.

Topgolf, new locations in El Paso and Fort Worth

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Akash Patidar takes his turn at TopGolf near The Domain in Austin in 2013. Ashley Landis for American-Statesman

Feel like you’ve been missing out because there isn’t a Topgolf in your town? You may be in luck. This year, Topgolf is bringing its signature family friendly golfing experience to Fort Worth and El Paso. Never been before? Expect self-scoring microchipped balls, climate-controlled hitting bays and lots of snacks and sips for purchase. Get details at topgolf.com.

Call yourself a Texan? Make sure these spots are on your Texas travel bucket list

Editor’s note: This article was originally published for Texas Independence Day.

Hooray, it’s Texas Independence Day! The day we Texans indulge in queso and barbecue and celebrate the fact that we get to live in the greatest state (and former country) in the country.

There’s no better way to pay tribute to our wonderful, diverse, beautiful state than to travel to its far reaches. Whether you pay homage to Whataburger at its flagship store in Corpus Christi or pose for a selfie at Cadillac Ranch, the experiences you have on Texas soil will stay with you forever.

Here are 15 experiences that every Texan should have on their travel bucket list. But of course it’s only a sample. Something we missed? Let us know in the comments. And also be sure to check out our list of 180 things we love about Texas, from George Strait to Buc-ee’s.

1. Watch a sea turtle hatchling release in South Padre Island.

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A baby sea turtle scampers into the sea on South Padre Island. credit: Sea Turtle Inc.

Because baby turtles! Sea Turtle Inc. hosts public releases on South Padre Island at dawn on certain days mid-June through August. Padre Island National Seashore also offers public releases during the same season.

2. Climb Enchanted Rock.

Patty Williamson of Lizard Dreaming Yoga in Fredericksburg leads a sunset sun salutations yoga class on top of Enchanted Rock. credit: Tom McCarthy Jr. for American-Statesman

Climbing to the top of this hulking granite dome is a rite of passage for any true Texan. When you’re done, reward yourself with a beer at nearby Luckenbach, where “everybody’s somebody,” then settle in for a night at Starry’s Studio in Fredericksburg.

3. Sip a float at the Dr Pepper Museum.

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Adrieanna Macias makes a soda float in the soda fountain at the Dr Pepper Museum in Waco. credit; Statesman file photo

I’m a pepper? You’re a pepper! Whoever you are, don’t miss your chance to celebrate Texas’ favorite soda at this beloved Waco museum. While in Waco, check out the incredible Waco Mammoth National Monument and say hello to the elephants at Cameron Park Zoo.

4. Scale Guadalupe Peak.

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Guadalupe Peak is the highest point in Texas. credit: Mike Leggett

At 8,751 feet, Guadalupe Peak in Guadalupe Mountains National Park is the highest natural point in the state. Which means that if you climb to the top, you get the bragging rights of having been to the “Top of Texas.”

5. Pitch a tent at Big Bend National Park.

South Rim vista at Big Bend National Park.
South Rim vista at Big Bend National Park. credit: Reine Wonite for National Park Service

There’s nothing better than a long weekend getting back to nature at Big Bend. Also on your to-do list while you’re there: climb Emory Peak, hike the South Rim Trail and soak in the Boquillas Hot Springs.

6. Snap a photo at Cadillac Ranch.

View of the 10 Cadillacs that are buried in a wheat field outside Amarillo at the famous Cadillac Ranch. credit: Statesman file photo

Even if you don’t think you know about Cadillac Ranch, you actually do — it’s the Amarillo art installation that features colorful Cadillacs jutting up from the ground. While in Amarillo, make sure to go mountain biking at nearby Palo Duro Canyon and stop for dinner at the Big Texan Steak Ranch, where anyone who can finish their 72-ounce steak in less than an hour will get it for free.

7. Get fitted for a pair of boots at RJ’s, then stay to see the rest of Houston.

Opened in 1987, the Menil Collection features many of the more than 17,000 works from the private collection of John and Dominique de Menil.

Rocky Carroll, a second generation bootmaker, has worked with everyone from the Bush family to Dolly Parton, and he’d be glad to make you a unique pair, too. While you’re in Houston, drop by the amazing new Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern, carve out some time for the Menil Collection and stop for lunch at the original Ninfa’s on Navigation.

8. Bike the Galveston Island seawall.

Get a workout and see the sights with a bike ride along the Galveston seawall. credit: Kim Christensen Photography

Sure, it’s 10 miles long, but who cares when the ground is flat and the ocean is your backdrop? Bonus points for grabbing a shake at La King’s Confectionery, traipsing through the submarine at Seawolf Park or catching some beads on Fat Tuesday — Galveston has one of the best Mardi Gras celebrations in the country.

9. Bask in the glory of the flagship Whataburger.

Harmon Dobson opened the first Whataburger in Corpus Christi.

There’s a flagship Whataburger store in Corpus Christi. And it comes with oceanfront views, a bronze statue of founder Harmon Dobson and even an elevator. Can you imagine a better place to enjoy your Honey Butter Chicken Biscuit? Didn’t think so. Oh, and on a more somber note, while you’re in Corpus Christi also be sure to stop by the Mirador de la Flor statue, which honors “queen of Tejano music” Selena Quintanilla-Pérez.

10. Remember the Alamo (and salute Phil Collins).

No San Antonio trip is complete without a tour of the Alamo the
No San Antonio trip is complete without a tour of the Alamo, the most-visited site in Texas. credit: Mauri Elbel

Seeing the Alamo and marveling at how small it really is is a must for any Texan. But this time when you go, be sure to rock out to your favorite Phil Collins power ballad on the way, because the British superstar also just happens to be a huge Alamo fanboy. Seems against all odds, right? (See what we did there?) It’s not. He even donated his gigantic collection of Alamo and Texana artifacts to the Texas General Land Office, which will display the collection in a few years as part of a new Alamo museum.

11. Dance the night away at Garner State Park.

Garner State Park is popular in part because of its location on the Frio River. credit: J. Griffis Smith/TxDOT

Garner State Park’s idyllic location along the Frio River has long made it one of the most popular parks in the state, but to truly experience it you have to attend one of its famous summer dances, held nightly June-August.

12. Tube (or toob) the Comal.

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Tubers float down the Comal River. credit: Ricardo B. Brazziell/American-Statesman

There’s nothing better than a summer’s day spent floating the river. After, grab a bite at the Gristmill, then catch some live music at Gruene Hall. Don’t forget to schedule an annual trip to Schlitterbahn, either.

13. Go deep sea fishing in Port Aransas.

A year-round destination, Port Aransas is known for stellar fishing, both deep sea and bay. credit: Port Aransas CVB

Then find a restaurant to cook your catch. Also don’t miss the ferry ride to St. Jo island for an afternoon, a drink along the water at Virginia’s, dinner at Shells or a sweet treat from Winton’s Candy Company. Extra credit if you time your trip with the annual Texas SandFest, which this year is April 21-23.

14. Stare up at the sky during a McDonald Observatory Star Party.

McDonald Observatory is known for its star parties.

Then head to nearby Marfa, where your must-do list includes seeing the Marfa lights, taking a photo at Prada Marfa, wandering the Chinati Foundation, stopping for groceries at The Get Go and spending a few nights at El Cosmico.

15. Attend a cattle drive in Fort Worth.

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The Fort Worth Stockyards feature twice-daily cattle drives. credit: Fort Worth CVB

We Texans love our kitschy cowboy culture, and what better way to embrace that than during a twice-daily cattle drive in the Fort Worth Stockyards? Complete the theme with dinner at Cattlemen’s Steak House, where you can pick out the exact steak you’d like to eat for dinner, and a nightcap at the Stockyards Hotel, where you can sip your spirits the way every true Texan should — from atop a saddle.