Boarding Pass

By David Tykol

Dear Globetrotter:
Welcome to the 353rd issue of your monthly overseas travel magazine.

UNESCO officials have recommended that the number of visitors to Machu Picchu be cut in half, and they are considering placing the site on its “at risk” list.

Threats to the 500-year-old stone ruins in the Peruvian Andes include erosion of its pathways by all the foot traffic; walls being weakened due to people sitting on them, and stone structures being eaten away by salt deposits left by sweaty hands. Pollution from bus exhaust doesn’t help either.

The Peruvian government may avoid the “at risk” listing with a $130 million “master plan” to stop and counteract the damage. The plan will be reviewed by UNESCO, which hopes it will address alternative methods of transport to the mountaintop site; establish a program for conservation, and prepare for and work to prevent natural disasters in the area. In 2001, Japanese scientists warned that a landslide was imminent, endangering the town below.

Jim Walden of Santa Rosa, California, wrote to ITN about signing up for a Peru tour with Overseas Adventure Travel. He said he chose OAT because the brochure stated he would be flying out of San Francisco on American Airlines, which he preferred because he and his wife are over six feet tall (although, he said, “I understand that American is going back to tight quarters”).

When he received his flight information from OAT, he noticed that the carrier was Delta. He called OAT to protest but to no avail.

ITN sent a copy of Mr. Walden’s letter to OAT, and a Quality Management representative wrote back, saying, “Although our brochure airline chart did list American Airlines as the primary carrier for our ‘Real Affordable Peru’ trip, it also clearly states, in large print above the chart, that routing, travel times and airlines are subject to change. . . Airline contracts are just one factor that allow us to offer such high-value trips, and we do have preferred carriers for many of our destinations. However, as we state in the airline chart, we cannot guarantee that our preferred carrier will always have availability within the terms of our contract, such as during the Thanksgiving holidays when the Walden’s group traveled. I regret that the airline service fell short of the Waldens’ expectations, but I’m delighted that he rated our tour ‘excellent’ and his OAT Trip Leader ‘outstanding’.”

I print the above as a reminder: with many tour companies and cruise lines, the fine print often points out that virtually every facet of a trip can be changed. So if you select a company or itinerary because of one particular feature, remember that there’s always a chance you may not get it. Cruises end up skipping certain ports, and airlines and hotels get switched. When it happens, swallow hard, have a refreshing beverage and make the best of it. (Randy Keck explained how to possibly avoid this problem and gave suggestions for recourse in his July ’04 “Far Horizons” column.)

In this case, Mr. Walden did go on to say, “Delta was very accommodating in both Atlanta and Lima and for three-fourths of the trip we did have bulkhead seats, so it wasn’t too bad.”

You may want to keep in mind what the OAT rep said above, that the chances of a tour’s carrier being changed are greater at times, such as during certain holidays.

This would be a good time to bring up something else I’ve noticed while dealing with readers’ complaints about tour and cruise companies.

Often a reader will say, “I wrote about all this on my tour-evaluation form that we turned in after the trip, but the company never gave me the courtesy of a reply.”

In addressing this issue, one cruise line pointed out to ITN, “We are in receipt of (the passenger’s) comment sheet and note that she did not post any questions for reply.”

If you don’t even ask a question, don’t expect an answer.

Most often, however, travel firms do not send responses for the evaluation forms submitted. They’re only compiled and reviewed for statistical purposes (“9 out of 10 passengers rate our tour ‘excellent’”) or gleaned for suggestions on how to improve a trip. Individual replies cannot be provided for the hundreds, in some cases thousands, of forms submitted.

If you have an issue you want addressed by a tour or cruise company, send a letter focusing on that subject. And do not attach it to the trip evaluation form; again, that goes to a different department. Send a separate letter.

There’s still no guarantee you’ll get a reply, but at least your letter won’t languish in the wrong filing cabinet.

Margaret Stavick of Youngstown, Ohio, wrote, “I went through the Marseille, France, airport in December ’04. The security woman demanded that I put 50 rolls of 1600 film through the x-ray machine. I thought I’d let other travelers know.”

Rich Harvey of Athens, Ohio, e-mailed, “Cell phone use on planes? That would be disastrous for travelers. Am I the only person with that opinion?”

What do you think? Are you fer it or agin’ it? Why?

Barbara Jones of North Bend, Oregon, wrote, “Please send a free sample copy of ITN to two new-found friends we met on our wonderful trip to Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam with Overseas Adventure Travel. . .

“I sent them an excerpt from the article on Vietnam in the May ’05 issue telling of the experience of crossing streets in Hanoi (page 7). We had all experienced this same phenomenon in March of this year and marveled that we could survive the attempt. It definitely is a choreographed event, and one couldn’t have expressed it better than the author did.”

To avoid confusion in your future trip researching, you may want to make a correction on the front wrap as well as the Contents page of the June issue. The subject of the Mild Adventure column was Bolivia, not Brazil. My bad.

A couple of readers expressed exasperation at “all the jumps” they find in ITN — having to turn to a page in the back of the magazine to finish an article — so we’ve added an extra News Watch page and have moved the ITN Report Cards to a more flexible spot in order to alleviate that annoyance. Don’t count on me to stick to a single page, however. There’s too much I want to tell you.

Speaking of ITN Report Cards, we’d like to have more of you send them in more often. If you’d rather not forward a mid-trip or post-trip report by surface mail using one of our printed cards (see page 114 on how to get them), you can simply e-mail or access the ITN website, Share your on-the-road discoveries, tips and cautions while the news is hot.

I’ll leave you with this recollection from Pat McLeod of La Crescenta, California: “I did the Norwegian Coastal Voyage trip aboard the M/S Vesterålen several years ago. As we approached the metal sphere denoting the Arctic Circle and ‘planted’ in the Arctic Ocean, I was the only idiot on the bow of the ship that early in the morning.

“While I was trying to take a picture, the darned captain blew his horn, nearly knocking me off my feet and into the water. (I didn’t know that tooting the horn was customary.) When I angrily looked up at the bridge, the captain and his crew were hootin’ and hollerin’ like crazy. Coulda killed ’em.

“When I finally got to tour the bridge, I started looking at all the buttons to push. The captain saw me edging closer to them and said, ‘Don’t you dare!’” — David Tykol, Editor