Chip and PIN cards, London airlines


Steve, this is about the letter on “Chip & PIN” credit/debit cards on page 15 of the July ’06 issue of ITN (the best travel magazine in the world!). What’s the answer for a pair of Yanks going to London in January? What can we do? — T. Harrison Stanton, Jackson, MI


Dear Harrison, first of all, I don’t want you to worry. You are doing the right thing by arming yourself against any problems. Knowledge is power.

In Britain, credit cardholders received new “upgraded” “chip & PIN” cards, and on the 14th of February this year, British merchants were required to start accepting them. But the merchants can (whether they know it or not) still accept American-style “swipe and signature” cards. In fact, the French introduced this type of card in 1989, with credit card terminals designed so that merchants could still “swipe” cards, which means we could and can still spend dollars there.

This new credit card appears to have a computer chip imbedded on the front, and the card is “inserted” into the terminal. The PIN is your “Personal Identification Number,” which supposedly only you know because you created it. Once you’ve inserted your card into the terminal, you follow up by typing your secret PIN. Theoretically, credit card fraud will be cut way down with this system, and merchants don’t need to check your I.D. to match up your signature.

In one of the two letters in the July issue, Jean Anderson commented that in the new machines the card is inserted, not swiped. She added, “However, on the side of the machine there is a place to swipe the card, so as we repeatedly ran into the problem (of not having a “chip & PIN” card), we advised the staff to insert the card again or swipe.”

I checked, and all but the least expensive credit card terminals have the capability of either inserting or swiping, in addition to having a keypad for manual entries. Be patient with the clerks, especially in out-of-the-way places where they don’t see many travelers. Explain the machine’s swipe capability if you need to.

Before you leave on your trip, you can get a PIN if you want by calling your credit card company at the number shown on the back of your card.

Take more than one credit card, tell your credit card companies that you’ll be using them in Britain (so that they won’t reject charges on a card, thinking someone else may be trying to use it) and keep a photocopy or record of both sides of your cards in a safe place so that if one is lost or stolen you’ll be able to contact your credit card company and provide all the information they need to protect you.

Merchants accepting your card will want to see your passport or I.D.


Steve, can you provide me with the names of some additional airline carriers that fly from London to other cities in Europe? Most of the carriers I have looked into are very high priced. — J. Hellman, Los Angeles, CA


Dear J., Europe deregulated their airline industry just like we did, so, yes, there are lots of airlines besides the “majors.”

Heathrow (LHR), 15 miles west of London, is London’s main international airport, with most of the big brand names. Gatwick (GTW) is about 30 miles south of the city and serves about half as many passengers as its bigger sister. Stansted (STN), 35 miles northeast of London, serves about a 10th as many passengers as Heathrow but offers Ryanair, one of the most incredibly cheap low-cost carriers anywhere.

As an experiment, while writing this, I checked their website at www. and was able to book myself from Stansted to Venice, Italy, round trip, for (and I know this sounds unbelievable) two pennies plus about 30 British pounds’ tax, which totals less than US$60. They do add “administrative” fees for using a credit card (£1.75), plus, effective Nov. 1, they limit each passenger to only 15 kilos of baggage, but, hey!, how can you beat that price?

London’s fourth “public” airport is Luton (LTN), which is 35 miles north and where you’ll find easyJet. They’re at, and using this site I counted 27 major cities in mainland Europe that they fly to, all at incredibly cheap fares, provided you book and buy in advance.
Besides these British companies, there are some foreign-based airlines that offer more limited service, only from their country to London and back again, with legitimately low fares.

The airport closest to downtown is called London City Airport (LCY). It’s the smallest of the five, serving about 1.5 million passengers in 2003 and currently offering several airlines that fly to about 20 cites on the Continent. On the airport’s website,, you’ll find most of the information you’ll need to make good choices.

A caveat is that Europe has many low-cost airlines plus a few phony ones that are really offshoots of the majors and designed to combat the spread of real ones. But just during the last four years Europe has lost nearly 50 airlines, mostly to bankruptcy. Some, such as JetsSky (which still has a website at, sold tickets for several months but never got an airplane off the ground and now says they hope to be offering new schedules by the 2nd of August 2004. Fat chance! That date has come and gone, big guys.

So be careful, and good hunting!

—Ask Steve is written by Steve Venables.