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Ovation's weekly client e-newsletter, the Informed Traveler, keeps readers updated on travel industry news and trends.

Following is a recap of December's Top 5 (most clicked by Ovation clients) e-newsletter stories.

1. AMTRAK CONSIDERS NEW FEES

Amtrak is contemplating new fees for changing itineraries, and may also start selling non-refundable tickets, reports Business Traveller. According to an internal Amtrak memo that was leaked to the media, Amtrak is considering making “Saver” fares non-refundable after 24 hours of purchase and adding change and cancellation fees to “Value” class fares. Also under consideration, cancellation of "Value" tickets would incur a 25 percent fee; changes made within two weeks of travel would incur a 15 percent fee. The potential changes are similar to charges and products used in the airline industry and could come as soon as January 2020.

2. AMERICAN AIRLINES ADDS NON-BINARY GENDER BOOKING OPTIONS

Travelers can now choose non-binary gender options when booking flights through American Airlines, reports CBS News. The new non-binary gender option is only available for travelers who book their flight over the phone or call the reservations team after booking online to have it changed. However, the airline plans to add non-binary options for online bookings sometime in early 2020. In part, American Airlines made the change in order to better meet TSA requirements. Some US states and foreign countries provide IDs with a gender of U or X and, as part of TSA's existing requirements, airlines must obtain a first name, middle name, last name, gender and date of birth for all travelers. Therefore, if a traveler wishes to choose the non-binary gender options, it still needs to match the gender displayed on their ID.

3. AIRPORTS AND AIRLINES WANT TRAVELERS TO DITCH PLASTIC WATER BOTTLES

Airports and airlines are trying to get travelers to cut back on plastic water bottles and make reusable water bottles essential travel amenities, reports CNBC. Airports have done everything from phasing out plastic straws to offering reusable bottles to employees. Airports such as San Francisco International Airport (SFO) and Dubai International Airport (DXB) have implemented initiatives to significantly reduce or completely remove the amount of single-use disposable plastic used at the airport. Airlines such as Alaska Airlines kicked off the "FillBeforeYouFly" initiative, asking travelers to help reduce the use of single-use plastic bottles inflight by bringing their reusable water bottles to the airport and filling them at airport hydration stations before their flight, while Scandinavian Airlines and Air New Zealand have introduced compostable plant-based cutlery, cups and meal packages.

4. AMERICAN AIRLINES ENABLES PASSPORT SCAN IN MOBILE APP

American Airlines is now offering international passengers the ability to scan their passport within the carrier's mobile app, reports Travel Weekly. "Mobile passport-scanning removes a time-consuming step, providing our customers with a smoother check-in experience for international flights," said Maya Leibman, American's Chief Information Officer. Travelers using the feature can skip the visual passport check at the airport check-in counter. When using the app, users will be prompted to enter their passport information and then scan the passport with an iOS or Android device. The app will then securely transmit the information embedded in the passport's electronic chip. American says it is the first airline to offer such a service.

5. FAA DENIES APPROVAL FOR BOEING 737 MAX RETURN THIS YEAR

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has announced that it would not clear the grounded Boeing 737 MAX jets for flight by year’s end as expected, citing that Boeing has not yet reached a series of milestones necessary for the jet’s approval, reports Travel Market Report. There are five key milestones Boeing must complete with the FAA before return to service: FAA eCab Simulator Certification Session, FAA Line Pilots Crew Workload Evaluation, FAA Certification Flight Test, Boeing Final Submittal to the FAA and the Joint Operational Evaluation Board (JOEB) Simulator Training Evaluation. Currently, Boeing has only achieved the FAA eCab Simulator Certification Session. According to a report from Reuters, the FAA is unlikely to approve the jet’s return until January, though some US officials think it may not be forthcoming until February at the earliest. Airlines have said they need 30 days or more to prepare their jets and crew once the FAA gives clearance for flight.