Boarding Pass

By David Tykol

Dear Globetrotter:

Welcome to the 347th issue of your monthly overseas travel magazine.

An ITN reader and her husband, senior travelers who had some difficulty walking, were on a 16-day river cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest in September-October ’03. This was a special trip for them, and they had booked the highest-grade cabin on board and upgraded to business class for their overseas flights.

Three days in, they were informed by the cruise-tour operator that the water level was too low to navigate the Rhine, Main and Danube. According to the reader, they were given three choices: 1) fly at their own expense to Paris or Lyon and join a shorter cruise in progress; 2) fly home from Frankfurt at their own expense, or 3) stay with the tour, which would become a bus trip rather than a cruise.

Our couple decided on the third option, and the ensuing week placed them in standard hotels of varying desirability and with some inconveniences, not to mention having to pack, unpack and carry their bags from place to place. Also, rather than stand another long bus ride and try to keep up with a fast-walking guide in each town visited, they skipped some sights.

“Instead of a great relaxing time and wonderful memories,” the reader wrote, “we were stuck with exhaustion and unhappiness.”

ITN sent a copy of the reader’s letter to the tour company involved and received a reply. The company explained that water levels and weather conditions can change rapidly. In fact, there were no problems with the sailing just prior to this one.

The rep also wrote that in addition to providing passengers who chose to return home a prorated refund of the cruise cost, the company offered to cover any air ticket change fees for those who wanted to return home early and to pay for the transport to France for anyone who wanted to pick up a cruise there, again covering any air ticket change fees.

Noting that there was a contradiction regarding who would pay for air ticket changes and transport to Paris, ITN wrote again to the reader asking if she and her husband were aware of the company’s offer. She answered, “We were at every meeting as well as one on one with the cruise manager and the offer for them to pay for the flight to Paris never was mentioned._._.” She supplied similar confirmation from another passenger on board who wrote, “There was no indication that (the company) would pick up the cost of changing airline tickets to return home, etc.”

ITN wrote to the company again as well, asking about what the passengers had been told. The company rep reiterated that these offers were indeed presented to the passengers by the cruise manager on board and added that there were some guests who went home, some who transferred to a cruise in France and others who chose the motorcoach land tour.

The upshot — the company offered the couple a 50% discount on a future cruise. For various reasons, the couple cannot use the voucher themselves, but the offer was made transferable and their granddaughter likely will use it.

In this matter, both sides had conflicting stories about what actually was said. In fact, in her follow-up the reader wrote, “I feel like kids on the playground saying, ‘He hit me first.’ ‘No, I didn’t’.” That point will not be resolved, but there are lessons that readers can learn from this matter.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, ask specific questions about your options and write down what is said, who said it and when it was said. Even if you don’t hear certain options brought up, ask what will be covered by the company and what won’t. Get answers regarding all scenarios. After making your decision, keep all of your records in case you need them later. (Make that much later; don’t throw all your receipts and notes away in disgust upon returning home as some other readers have admitted doing in the past.)

Whatever happens, make the best of your trip and look for bright moments.

Hopeful news — here’s a bright idea.

Delta Air Lines is creating a system that, with the aid of a small electronic transmitter imbedded in each bag, will keep track of checked luggage. Transmitters installed throughout the baggage system and even in planes’ baggage holds will receive low-frequency signals from the individually coded tags and send the information to a computer.

After tests on flights between Atlanta, Georgia, and Jacksonville, Florida, proved successful, in July Delta committed to installing the system. It is expected that it will take two years (and $15 to $25 million) to implement the plan systemwide and that it all will be turned on at once.

Regarding privacy issues, a Delta rep said that the electronic tags are disposable and cannot be tracked to passengers’ homes.

Currently, the airline misplaces one bag out of every 250 carried (the eighth-best bag-handling rate among the nation’s 19 biggest airlines), and it spends $100 million a year locating and delivering them.

Want more stories of reliability?

Brenda, ITN’s Advertising Manager, informed me that longtime ITN advertiser Kutrubes Travel has been in business now for 100 years. Kathy Kutrubes runs the family business these days. Her grandfather started it.

Our congratulations to the Kutrubes family on a century of service.

(The ITN Advertisers’ Index can be found on page 113.)

Dr. David Litowsky of Houston, Texas, sent a postcard to ITN saying, “Your issues never disappoint. Besides all the new info, there are reports from travelers to places we have already experienced which bring back good and bad memories of our trips. The surveys of good, bad and indifferent cities, countries, hotels, restaurants, etc., are wonderful features also.”

Lastly, Linda Steinbacher of Levittown, Pennsylvania, wrote, “Love your mag. Can’t put it down once it arrives.” And for readers of this column she added, “There are hundreds of languages in the world, but a smile speaks them all.”

Hey, you’re multilingual! — D.T.