Boarding Pass

By David Tykol
This item appears on page 2 of the May 2008 issue.

Dear Globetrotter:

Welcome to the 387th issue of your monthly overseas travel magazine.

Before you get to the articles and letters sent in by other ITN readers — who write for your benefit as well as a love of travel, not for any personal gain — here are some news items you may find of interest.

Travelers flying into Johannesburg’s O.R. Tambo International Airport are no longer being asked by Immigration officials to state where they will be staying while in South Africa.

Officials also ask visitors to declare how much cash they are carrying, and after a number of arriving passengers apparently were followed to their destinations and robbed, it was deduced that each incident was an inside job, with the passengers’ information being passed on to the criminals. Police authorities, however, say their investigations show no such collusion.

Also in South Africa, on Cape Town’s Table Mountain for several months last year many visitors were mugged by criminals carrying knives. After 15 such incidents in 15 days in August, authorities increased the number of rangers patrolling the mountain to 50 and added police, a dog unit, surveillance cameras and, during the peak season in February, a helicopter.

From the chopper, police discovered hidden paths and hideouts on the mountain. A number of arrests were made, and muggings have decreased significantly.

In Scandinavia, the crime rate in Oslo increased 25% in 2007 to 90 per 1,000 inhabitants, giving it a rate 12% higher than Stockholm’s, 45% higher than Copenhagen’s and four times that of New York City.

Along with Heathrow Airport’s March 14 opening of the new British Airways terminal — the largest freestanding building in Britain — the airline introduced a new security policy: passengers who are not checked in and past the security checkpoint at least 35 minutes before their flight is scheduled to take off will be forced to rebook instead of being allowed to run for the gate.

The rule is meant to keep any one passenger from holding up a flight. It will be phased in at other Heathrow terminals and other airports in the UK.

ITN reported (Oct. ’07, pg. 25) that British Airways and Korean Air were fined in August 2007 for having fixed cargo rates and fuel surcharges. Virgin Atlantic, another cartel member, was not fined because it reported the collusion.

In a February legal settlement — the first class-action lawsuit resolved on a collective basis under both U.S. and U.K. law — British Air and Virgin Atlantic now must reimburse customers for the excess fees. Passengers who flew on either airline between Aug. 11, 2004, and March 23, 2006, can get back up to $20 (if tickets were bought in the U.S.) or £10 (U.K.-based passengers) for each flight segment.

For details, call 877/625-9432 (U.S.) or 0800 043 0343 (U.K.) or visit (U.S.) or www.airpassengerrefund. (U.K.).

In 2007, in an 11-year high, 63,878 passengers were denied boarding by the 18 largest U.S. airlines due to oversold flights, according to the Department of Transportation. That works out to an average of 1.12 passengers per 10,000.

Airlines oversell flights to compensate for no-show passengers. When too many passengers show up, airlines may offer free flight vouchers to passengers who volunteer to be bumped; when there are no takers, bumping is forced.

Delta Air Lines bumped the most people last year, with 16,691 forced bumps, averaging 2.47 per 10,000 passengers. Continental and Southwest also had high bumping rates, while JetBlue had the lowest (a total of 43 forced bumps all year).

It won’t take much to flunk this test.

In Hungary, where in January statistics showed that 13%-14% of fatal and injurious driving accidents were caused by drunken drivers, police plan to strengthen drunk driving laws and also allow fines to be collected from foreign motorists.

It is likely that the maximum allowable blood-alcohol level of .08% will be reduced to .05% and that fines will be given based on breathalyzer tests rather than blood tests.

Cyclos and other modified 3- and 4-wheel vehicles are being banned in Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam, to be replaced by new 4-wheel vehicles with less-polluting engines. Drivers of the new vehicles each have to practice and take tests for five months to obtain a B2 driving license.

Approximately 60,000 people depend on the old vehicles for their livelihoods, including transporting goods, selling food and collecting garbage. To give the vehicle owners more time to find other jobs, the city government delayed the ban until June 30, 2008; even so, the vehicles can be driven only from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m.

In the Netherlands, the Rijksmuseum locked up most of its collection (with the exception of Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch” and a few other masterpieces) in 2004 to make major renovations. The scheduled reopening date in 2008 was pushed back to 2010 over design plan disputes, and now construction delays have bumped it back to 2013.

Visitors to the Taj Mahal no longer can pay the entry fee in dollars. The fee is 750 rupees (about $19 at R39=$1). The previous fee was $15. The edict from the Indian Ministry of Culture applies to other national tourist sites as well, such as Humayun’s Tomb in Delhi and the Qutb Minar.

Self-guided-tour takers and Sinatra fans, rejoice. Refuting the results of a study I reported on in July ’07, recent research by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration indicates that cardiac pacemakers are not affected whatsoever by iPods.

The recent study involved several models of iPods and concluded that they were not capable of producing electromagnetic interference in implanted pacemakers.

ITN reader Richard Weiss wrote, “I found this new and interesting website, It shows the true best times to go to places around the world. It has a lot of links to places, too. For example, it links right to restaurants all over the world, showing their menus.”

The site includes, for various countries, monthly weather patterns, public holidays and estimates of the daily costs for a traveler, among other things. It also includes advertising; use the usual skepticism and vet firms, where possible, before purchasing.

Kit Stewart of Sequim, Washington, wrote, “In regards to the comments (Feb. ’08, pg. 95) on Jim Sill’s articles about his travels in West Africa and Venezuela, I too am an independent traveler and would much rather read about disasters, trials and tribulations than just another list of where to go and what to see. If you never reach that point where you must either laugh or cry, you haven’t traveled. I’ve had to do both at times — not always pleasant when it occurs but worthy of remembrance.”

ITN subscribers comprise all types of travelers, from independent to tour takers and from budget to luxury. What they have in common is a love of travel plus, by reporting their findings in this travel forum, the zeal to help others enjoy their trips more.

Dan Henige of Ontario, Ohio, appreciates the result. He wrote, “ I get several travel magazines that are far more glitzy than ITN. However, none is more valuable. I want information from people who are actually traveling, not some journalist.”

On ITN’s website, we’re slowly adding nearly the complete text of entire back issues of ITN. We’ve got all of the 2006 and 2005 issues up now and are filling in the photographs, then we’ll start on 2004 and 2003. All of this is fully searchable.

A reader was concerned, now that we’re printing the ITN Reference Index online only, that it would be updated only once a year. The index will be updated twice a year, as before.

We don’t want those of you who do not own a computer or know someone with one to feel left out. For the price of a reprint ($2.50), we will mail the index upon request for you to use in your travel planning. Let us know how else we can help.

Now see what this issue has in store. — D.T.