Boarding Pass

By David Tykol

Dear Globetrotter:

Welcome to the 376th issue of your monthly overseas travel magazine.

• In 2006, the accident rate of airlines in Russia and the other countries in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) was 13 times the worldwide average. At 8.6 accidents per million flights, it was even twice that of African countries. Western-built jets averaged 0.65 accidents per million flights. This was reported by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) in April.

• The Indonesian government ran a safety audit of its airlines after a plane crashed in January and another overshot a runway in March. It gave no airlines the best of three grades, and it warned six airlines to meet safety regulations within three months or risk being shut down.

Separately, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration stated that airlines in Indonesia do not meet the standards of the International Civil Aviation Organization, prompting the U.S. Embassy to recommend that travelers avoid domestic flights there and fly straight to their destinations on international airlines when possible.

• Ethiopian Airlines recently received a passing grade from IATA in an Operational Safety Audit. In the four dozen Sub-Saharan African countries, which have 29 IATA-member airlines, only four other airlines have passed the safety audit: Air Mauritius, Comair Ltd., Kenya Airways and South African Airways.

Both fires were quickly put out: one in an overhead baggage compartment on a JetBlue flight on Feb. 10 and another on an American Airlines flight from Argentina on March 18. The former was likely started by one or more loose batteries and the latter by a battery’s overheating.

The Department of Transportation now is advising air travelers to keep spare batteries in their original packaging or stick insulating tape around the ends to keep them from connecting with metal objects or each other. Batteries should be packed in carry-on luggage, not checked, and protected from getting crushed or punctured.

The FCC has announced that, for now, it will not proceed with plans to allow cell phone use on commericial aircraft in the U.S. Chairman Kevin Martin said it is still unclear whether or not cell phones can interfere with radio pilots’ communications, “so at this time it doesn’t make as much sense to go forward.” What may have been a larger factor, however, was travelers’ overwhelming objections to allowing noisy cell phone use on planes.

The European Aviation Regulatory Authority is still considering allowing it in Europe, and airlines there are testing systems.

In the village of Luckington in England this April, for a week an average of two cars a day had to be pulled from the River Avon because drivers had trusted the information on their GPS screens rather than the signs warning them that the bridge was closed plus the fact that there was water straight ahead.

“My sat-nav told me it was this way,” one driver said.

Also in England but in the village of Crackpot, the GPS-recommended route has taken lemmings, er, drivers to the edge of a 100-foot dropoff. No serious injuries yet, but some cars have been stranded on a rocky path.

Sometimes you just have to trust your instincts.

Carolyn and Harv Soff of Ocala, Florida, learned a couple of lessons the hard way and want to prevent their fellow ITN subscribers from making the same mistakes.

While they were on a 3-day cruise of the Galápagos Islands in May ’06, part of a longer tour, Carolyn twisted her left ankle when going down the ship’s stairs on the way to dinner.

After dinner, her left ankle swollen and sore, she went to the ship’s doctor, who told her she had a sprain. The doctor sprayed her foot with some medication, ace-bandaged it, recommended she apply ice and told her to come back if the pain persisted.

Carolyn’s husband, Harv, asked the doctor if there were an accident form to complete and was told that a form would have been required only if the foot were broken.

Carolyn said the pain persisted and she saw the doctor again the next day, having her foot rewrapped. The Soffs then continued their tour on the mainland for another three weeks, with Carolyn in pain and limping the whole time.

Carolyn wrote, “When we arrived at the airports on the mainland, our guides each noticed I was limping. One got pain medication for me at an airport pharmacy and the other took me to an all-night pharmacy for medication. In Cuzco, I purchased more pain medication and got an ankle brace and a cane. I grinned and bore the pain because I assumed it was only a sprain.”

Upon arriving home, Carolyn’s physician ordered x-rays and determined that her ankle had had a fracture the entire time.

The Soffs had their tour company request from the ship’s doctor a report of Carolyn’s visit. According to the report and the doctor’s logbook, she had recommended that Carolyn have an x-ray taken if the pain persisted in order to rule out a possible fracture. She also said that Carolyn had never requested a report for the insurance company nor gone back to see her a second time.

The Soffs say that if the doctor had ordered x-rays, they would have asked “Where?” since there was no x-ray equipment on board. The Soffs wanted the doctor to change her report to reflect what they knew to be the truth. The doctor did not change her report.

In this case, it was not a matter of money. Carolyn’s primary insurance covered the bulk of her expenses for her home doctor visit, x-rays, medicines and a special cast, and their travel insurance covered the remainder. For someone else, however, what the doctor writes could make a difference in insurance coverage or other matters.

The Soffs advise readers who visit a doctor overseas to get copies of all pertinent paperwork, especially the doctor’s report. If possible, have the doctor go over it with you; any disparities can be taken care of at that time, plus all doctor’s recommendations will be made clear.

If it’s not outlined in your policy, it might be worth making a long-distance call to your insurance company to ask what they require.

Lastly, if the pain persists, consider getting a second opinion.

Be your own advocate.

The Soffs’ writing to ITN — to YOU — is just one example of what ITN is all about: travelers helping each other. And you don’t need to wait until you learn one of Life’s Lessons before writing in.

If you’re an ITN subscriber who has returned recently from a trip, you’re qualified to report on your experiences. (Remember, ITN does not cover North America or the Caribbean.) You know which parts of your trip worked out well and which parts could have been better planned. Tell others.

Keep your message short, concentrating on the details you think would be important to a traveler, and include contact information of any travel firms involved plus dates and prices. Help others duplicate what you enjoyed and avoid or improve what you didn’t. Pictures are always welcome, too; include captions.

Pat Saurer of Tujunga, California, wrote, “I want to thank Pat Blakeslee of Carpenteria, California, for her informative appraisal of the Elderhostel program she took on the Impressionist School of French Painting (Jan. ’07, pg. 76). I had no idea there was such a tour available. My daughter and I are both amateur artists and, thanks to this wonderful article, I have contacted Elderhostel and we plan to make the same trip to France in 2008. Many thanks for the one magazine I read cover to cover.”

Vernon Hoium of Columbia Heights, Minnesota, sent in this travel tip: “When you visit countries where you cannot drink the water out of the tap, I suggest you put hand towels over the faucets in the bathroom. This will remind you to not use the tap water for brushing your teeth or drinking.”

Simple, and helpful.

Now it’s your turn. And if you’re e-mailing, remember to include the address at which you receive ITN. — D.T.