Boarding Pass

By David Tykol
This item appears on page 2 of the November 2009 issue.

Dear Globetrotter:

Welcome to the 405th issue of your monthly overseas travel magazine.

Big Ben, London.

Don’t panic! the “Funniest Thing” has only been moved, not eliminated. It now will be found at the end of the last (third) section of Travelers’ Intercom letters. We’re just tidying up a bit.

Of course, I’m well aware that you’ve already found it. I know from numerous phone conversations that the “Funniest Thing” is what most readers turn to first. “Boarding Pass” is farther down the list. That’s okay. I’m just glad you’re reading it.

Heading to Nepal? Pack face masks if you want to blend in with the locals in Kathmandu, where air pollution is alarmingly high. The World Health Organization says that an acceptable limit of “total suspended particulates” in an area is 150 to 230 parts per million; in Kathmandu’s main commercial areas, the average is 1,000 ppm.

Increases in traffic, inconsistent environmental policies and corruption are contributing causes. Gas stations frequently, and illegally, mix kerosene into gasoline and diesel fuel to stretch profits. The bowl-shaped Kathmandu Valley traps the haze. Asthmatics, you have been warned.

London is no longer the most expensive city in the world, a position it held only a year ago. According to UBS Bank, London now is 21st!

Oslo is number one on the list, followed by, in the top 10, Zürich, Copenhagen, Geneva, Tokyo, New York, Helsinki, Vienna, Paris and Dublin. The bank’s standardized Prices and Earnings survey covered 122 products and services plus apartment rents in 73 cities in March-April 2009.

Further, has determined that hotel prices in London are 25% cheaper than they were a year ago.

As of Oct. 7, British Airways customers may select their seats at the time of booking but for an extra charge: from £10 (near $16) per person in economy class on a flight in Europe up to £60 ($98) in business class on a long-haul flight. First-class passengers and parents with infants are not charged extra.

Anyone still can select a seat (from those remaining) for free 24 hours in advance of the flight. Also, children traveling on their own and passengers traveling with children age two to 11 can select their seats for free three days before the flight.

Exit-row seats will not be released for selection until 10 days before a flight and will cost $75 per person.

Be aware that each of those fees is charged per flight segment. For each change of planes, you need to pay again.

The low-cost European airline Ryanair now charges passengers £30 for the first checked bag and £70 for the second… one way. Passengers checking bags online pay £15 and £35, respectively.

At airport checkpoints in the US, the Transportation Security Administration now also is screening for powdered substances that could be used in improvised explosive devices.

Common powders are not prohibited in passengers’ carry-on luggage, but some, selected using x-ray technology, may require additional screening with a powder test kit. The test involves treating a small sample with a solution.

On a related subject, a year ago the TSA had hoped by now to have installed high-tech x-ray machines that could scan for certain liquids, meaning the “3-1-1” rule could be dropped that prohibits from carry-ons any containers that can hold more than 3.4 ounces of liquids or gels. But software problems have pushed full implementation of that off for at least another year.

In July 2008 I reported that US Customs & Border Protection (CBP) officials had been given the okay to examine, copy and seize indefinitely the laptop computers and mobile devices of travelers even when there was no probable cause for suspicion. Those guidelines were revised this year on Aug. 27.

Border protection agents now may not keep laptops for more than five days, barring extenuating circumstances, although certain Homeland Security officers may keep devices for 30 days. Also, although not allowed to see what the agents are doing, a traveler may be present during the search of his laptop and “assert that certain information is protected by attorney-client or attorney work product privilege.”

As before, possibly sensitive information, such as medical records, confidential business information and work-related information carried by journalists shall be “protected from unauthorized disclosure.”

It was reported that out of the 221 million travelers who passed by CBP agents from Oct. 1, 2008, to Aug. 11, 2009, about 1,000 of them had their laptops or mobile devices searched. Of those, the individual files of 46 people were searched “in depth.”

A couple of weeks before a flight from Texas to Peru, an ITN subscriber checked her flights online and found a revision had been made that allowed only nine minutes to change planes in Atlanta, plus the return flight from Ecuador had been discontinued and she had been rescheduled to return two days earlier.

She called the airline and was told, “You should check your reservation more frequently!”

A rep stated the airline has an automated system that, in the event of a change, contacts each customer using the phone number or e-mail address listed in the reservation, but this subscriber, who had made the original reservation by phone, said she had received no notification.

The rep also stated that when a flight is discontinued, the airline will arrange alternate reservations on its next available service. However, it would not reimburse any extra amount (above the original value of the canceled flight) that the customer spends on another carrier.

Marta Goldstein of Orange, California, shares this travel tip: “On a whim, before checking my luggage for a Qantas flight from Los Angeles to Auckland, New Zealand, a few years ago, I took pictures of my two suitcases with my digital camera. When one piece failed to arrive, I was able to SHOW the person helping me in Lost & Found exactly what the duffel bag looked like.

“He liked the idea of the picture. He said not everyone correctly remembers the brand, size, color, etc., of their missing luggage.

“The bag caught up with me in Christchurch the following morning.”

Elizabeth Van Berckelaer of Santa Maria, California, wrote to ITN’s “The Cruising World” columnist, Lew Toulmin, “I enjoyed and agreed with your article “Tips on Not Gaining Weight on a Cruise” in the June ’09 issue. I can only add what has worked for us over many cruising years: never take an elevator!

“It’s amazing how you can eat as you wish (in moderation, of course) if you walk the ports and wherever else you can — and laugh a lot!”

Claus W. Hirsch of New York City wrote, “The September 2009 issue arrived in yesterday’s mail. I read Beth Habian’s fine and well-balanced article on the Dordogne, and the Travelers’ Intercom section yielded some useful advice, including Peter Klatt’s warning (page 12) about those elusive bargains for the first leg of a trip on the Deutsche Bahn.

“It is this sort of information that makes it worth subscribing to ITN if you are a globetrotter. I’ve been subscribing for several years now and find helpful information in each and every issue. Keep up the good work.”

I will point out that just one such travel tip may pay for an entire year’s worth of ITN. And that each person reading this has a tip that another traveler would find helpful.

Let’s hear yours.

Same time next month? (Once you read the “Funniest Thing,” that is.) — DT