Boarding Pass

By David Tykol
This item appears on page 2 of the August 2009 issue.

Dear Globetrotter:

Welcome to the 402nd issue of your monthly overseas travel magazine, the original travelers’ forum. That’s right. Worldwide travelers were interfacing here before there was an Internet. In fact, ITN was printing readers’ articles and candid appraisals of trips and destinations — the good AND the bad — before even newspapers and other travel magazines.


And it must have been a terrific idea. We’re still here, and the others have copied us, although I think we still provide more nitty-gritty information than any of them.

Share something from your latest trip that might help the next person who goes there. But first you’re going to want to read these items.

US Embassy personnel in Bogotá, Colombia, are no longer allowed to visit the city’s Galerias district (between Calles 53 and 54 and Carreras 24 to 27) and the Plaza de las Americas district (Avenida Primera de Mayo from Carrera 68 to Avenida Boyaca) because so many foreigners are being drugged and robbed there.

The drug is usually scopalamine, which is helpful for seasickness in small doses but causes stupor and delirium in large amounts. The method of delivery is spiked drinks, food, gum or cigarettes.

It is recommended visitors keep an eye on their food and drinks and that they not accept same from strangers and not go to nightclubs or restaurants alone.

In Bangkok, Thailand, in May police arrested five of possibly 10 gang members who for about a year robbed tourists. The criminals’ modus operandi was to pretend to drop papers or stage a fight nearby, then grab the tourist by the leg and shake while others swarmed and fleeced the victim of valuables before escaping in cabs. It happened most often in the Silom and Bang Rak areas and tourist districts.

Police arrested two of the crooks as they fought good Samaritans who jumped in to help a victim. After another robbery in a Starbucks, police studied the café’s surveillance footage and arrested three more, including two women. All five were from the Philippines, at least two on 3-month tourist visas.

Twenty-three people died of alcohol poisoning in Bali and two more on Lombok, Indonesia, at the end of May and beginning of June after drinking homemade arak that had methanol added to it to make it stronger. Methanol is used as antifreeze or a solvent and in paint.

Arak is distilled from rice or palm sap and has an alcohol content of 20%-50%. Because imported alcohol is heavily taxed and more expensive, home distilling is common.

All of the tainted arak was traced back to a small rice wine factory in Denpasar, Bali, whose owner and an employee have been arrested. Police removed suspect arak from shop shelves.

Among four foreigners who died was a Brit who had lived on Bali for 13 years and bought the wine at a roadside stall. Authorities say to avoid any arak that does not have a label; labeled brands are safe.

For international flights from the US, most US airlines still allow you to check one bag for free, but there can be sky-high overweight fees. (Lufthansa charges €10 to €20 per kilogram over the limit.) You’d best inquire about weight limits and the cost of checking a second bag. Airlines’ policies vary widely.

If your final destination is overseas, then international allowance rules still apply on domestic flights. But, in general, anyone checking in for a domestic flight in the US or Canada, even on a foreign carrier, most likely will pay to check bags. (Southwest does not yet charge for checked luggage.)

On domestic flights with United Airlines, passengers checking in online pay $15 for the first checked bag and $25 for the second. In May, United added $5 to those rates for bags checked in at the airport instead of online. Be aware that, overseas too, any domestic flight may have charges applied for checking bags.

From July 6 to Oct. 31 this year, Qantas will have no “first class” option on three long-haul routes: Sydney-Buenos Aires, Sydney-San Francisco and Melbourne-Hong Kong-London. The seats may remain, but the service level will be that of business class.

British Airways will have no first-class section on four of its new long-haul planes and is considering expanding the trend.

Air France-KLM and Lufthansa are opening new airport lounges for first-class passengers in Europe and the US.

In June, American Airlines joined a small group of airlines that no longer accepts cash payments for items purchased during flights in the US and Canada. They will accept only credit or debit card payments for items like headsets, snacks, meals and alcoholic drinks.

Passengers without credit cards are encouraged to purchase food prior to the flight or get a prepaid debit card (from stores such as Walmart or a grocery).

American is the first of the “Big 5” US airlines to implement this policy. The other airlines currently not accepting cash are Midwest, JetBlue, Virgin American, AirTran and Frontier.

After seeing the letter titled “Flyer Miles for First Class” from Peter Klatt of Berkeley, California (May ’09, pg. 15), Jane B. Holt of Hinesburg, Vermont, had a question for him, so ITN put the two in touch with each other. They shared their ensuing e-mail conversation with me, which included the following:

Peter: “One more comment — with our United-branded Visa credit card from Chase, my wife and I have separate Mileage Plus Visa accounts, each of which is linked to our respective frequent-flyer account to earn mileage credit. Not only does this generate a steady stream of mileage credits, it also keeps our Mileage Plus account active so we do not risk losing accumulated miles due to its expiration.”

Jane: “Another trick for you — if you only want to hold one Visa card account and save the annual membership fee on the second card, you can still earn miles on the other Mileage Plus account by doing your online shopping through the link from United Mileage Plus Mall (

“A purchase through the link earns you miles and keeps the MP account active even when you aren’t flying, plus you get extra miles (often double or more) for purchases you would have made anyway.”

Christopher Hartley of Ormond Beach, Florida, wrote, “I have an addendum to your story about the couple whose house was robbed because they left their address in their car parked near the airport (May ’09, pg. 83). For 10 years I have taught the Driver Safety Program for the AARP, and I must have told every class the following:

“NEVER put any identification on your key ring, especially your license plate number. The key ring needs ever-more-careful guarding, since modern keys have a ‘panic’ button which activates the car’s horn and lights and thus identifies it.

“NEVER leave the registration, if you must leave it in the car, in an obvious place. The first two places a professional thief looks are the glove box and the sun visor. If you must leave it, hide it under the carpet in the trunk or under the spare tire. Preferably, take it with you. The law says only that it must be in the car when it is in operation.

“PURGE the car of all identification, such as old envelopes. Obviously, do not leave the garage-door opener.

“If you are using an airport lot or something similar, use The Club® lock that immobilizes the steering wheel.”

In this issue, a couple of readers second and third the ‘duvets are too hot to sleep under’ letter printed in our June issue. The subject broached, I’m going to share something that dawned on me.

On rare occasions, mostly when the weather is changing, I will wake up in a sweat from a bad dream. What I finally realized is that the dream didn’t cause the sweating; the sweating caused the dream.

I think that when I go to sleep with one too many blankets on and I start to sweat, which is something the body naturally does in times of stress or fear, my mind creates a scenario to go along with that condition. It comes up with a stressful dream to explain the sweating.

Kicking off a blanket solves the problem. Starting with one blanket less prevents the unwarranted nightmare (though there are no guarantees during a financial crisis).

Sweet dreams!

Oh, one more thing. See Armond’s “Departure Lounge” for a major announcement. MOST of you will be pleased by this ITN policy change. — DT