The TSA's Preê ("pre-check") Trusted Traveler program. Also, travelers each bear the responsibility for having any needed visas.

By David Tykol
This item appears on page 2 of the September 2012 issue.

Dear Globetrotter:

Beautifully carved chattris on Gadi Sagar Lake — Jaisalmer, India. Photo: Guy Leroy

Welcome to the 439th issue of your monthly foreign-travel magazine. The original travelers’ forum, ITN began publishing decades before there were online travel-review sites, and, over all, it remains more reliable, since what you read here has been fact-checked and extensively edited, with follow-up corrections printed in plain sight.

And, while ITN was the FIRST travel publication to print travelers’ criticisms of airlines, tour companies and even travel destinations, what sets it apart from others today is that we allow travel firms the opportunity to provide responses to subscribers’ complaints about them. You won’t find “flaming” in these pages. We try to give you the whole story.

We toss in some travel news too.

The Transportation Security Administration has a passenger-prescreening program called Pre√™ (“pre-check”) that has been expanded to more US airports recently.

In the Pre√™ program, members of the Trusted Traveler programs Global Entry, SENTRI and NEXUS do not have to take off their shoes, belts or light jackets or remove their “3-1-1 bags” or laptops from their carry-ons, although they still are subject to random searches and further inspections.

These are US citizens who have previously provided personal information about themselves and had their applications approved. When they are ticketed with a participating airline and present their cards, they are directed to a special security lane. Airlines currently participating are Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and US Airways.

At this writing, the Preê program is in place at these airports: ATL (Atlanta), BOS (Boston), CLT (Charlotte), DCA and IAD (Washington, DC), DFW (Dallas/Ft. Worth), DTW (Detroit), IAH (Houston), JFK and LGA (New York), LAS (Las Vegas), LAX (Los Angeles), MCO (Orlando), MIA (Miami), MSP (Minneapolis), ORD (Chicago), PDX (Portland), SEA (Seattle-Tacoma), SLC (Salt Lake City) and TPA (Tampa),

The following airports are to be added before Jan. 1, 2013: ANC (Anchorage), BWI (Baltimore), CVG (Cincinnati), DEN (Denver), EWR (Newark), FLL (Ft. Lauderdale), HNL (Honolulu), IND (Indianapolis), MSY (New Orleans), PHL (Philadelphia), PHX (Phoenix), PIT (Pittsburgh), SFO (San Francisco), SJU (San Juan) and STL (St.

Apply for any of these programs at or at an automated kiosk in select US airports.

An ITN subscriber, who ultimately chose to remain anonymous, wrote, “Travelers, beware. Check your visa very carefully, even when you’ve gotten it through a visa agency.”

He had planned to take a 9-night cruise from Singapore to Shanghai on which several ports in China would be visited, so — through a visa agency in the US — he applied for a multiple-entry, 6-month China visa. On the visa form, three months ahead, he correctly filled in the dates of his cruise, sent it to the visa agency and received the visa.

His first day in China was to be March 11, 2011, to visit Hong Kong, with a visit to Xiamen on March 12 and disembarkation in Shanghai on March 14. Upon attempting to embark the ship, however, he was denied boarding because the visa stated he had to be in China before March 8. Specifically, the visa stated, “Entries 01” and “Enter before 08MAR2011.”

The embassy in Singapore was closed for the next few days, so he had no recourse. The cruise line rep told him to wait in a room for his luggage. There were 15 to 20 other passengers there, some with no China visas and others in his predicament. All had to find their ways home on their own after the cruise staff finished boarding passengers, shut down their computers and pulled out.

ITN was sent a copy of the visa agency’s reply to the subscriber. It stated, “The granting of any visa, and the specifics as to the validity of such visa, is completely up to the discretion of the issuing Consulate or Embassy. For reasons unknown, the Consulate decided to issue you a 90-day-validity visa." (This was a single-entry visa that expired 90 days from the issue date, Dec. 8.)

The agency added, "As outlined in our terms and conditions and explicitly stated on the insert attached to your visa… it is your responsibility to verify that all the visas you require for your trip have been obtained, that the visas for each country you intend to visit are valid for the entry and exit dates of your visit, that your personal details are reflected accurately, and that your passport is valid for at least six months beyond the completion of your trip….

“By engaging (this agency), you agree that the sole remedy against (this agency) for damages in connection with any and all claims, cause of action, liabilities and damages for any kind shall not, in any circumstances for any reason, exceed the lesser of the service fees or direct costs of up to $500 for the specified traveler. Consequential damages will not be covered.”

The subscriber summed it up with, “This was a hard-earned lesson. The visa fee was $240. The flight cost $1,332. The cruise cost $3,304. The hotel cost $445. Changing my flight cost $361. My losses totaled $5,682.”

The visa service, generously, did end up sending the subscriber a check covering his visa-processing service fee plus $500 for “direct costs.”

Nevertheless, this cannot be stated strongly enough. Not only is it always the responsibility of the traveler to verify the accuracy of his visa, it is up to the traveler to determine whether or not he will need a visa or visas to get where he wants to go. And only the embassy or consulate of a country will provide reliable information about that.

Visit the website of that country’s embassy or consulate or contact its embassy or consulate within your own country or in a country nearby or, if none is there, contact the Department of State for that country within that country.

This is a good time to finally visit the Taj Mahal.

The value of the Indian rupee fell almost 25% in 2012, in June reaching a historic low of 57 against the US dollar and 71 against the euro. Such exchange rates benefit travelers to India with some of the most favorable prices on hotels and tours in years.

In the July issue, I wrote about the rules on carrying spare batteries in checked luggage and carry-ons, then made this request: after you next board a flight within or from India, or if you recently did so, tell us what regulations you were made aware of in regard to packing spare batteries in your checked luggage — and whether or not the rules were different for lithium batteries. Let us know the flight date, the airport and the airline plus about how many batteries of what type you packed.

I did add that I was interested only in what the official rules were at any airport security point in India on a given day, saying, “I want NO reports on how batteries slipped through security undetected.” But I merely did not want to encourage anyone to break any laws on behalf of this project. If you do have experiences to report regarding batteries going through in your luggage undetected, please write in to Batteries on Flights in India, c/o ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818, or e-mail

ITN founder and publisher Armond Noble had asked our subscribers, “Where Were You in 2011?,” offering those who replied chances to win prizes. I now have the privilege of announcing the winners, but, first, here are our poll results.

ITN readers collectively visited all but 13 of the world’s 196 nations in 2011, and, once again, the most popular destination was the United Kingdom, with 36% of the votes.

In descending order, the 19 next-most-visited places among ITN subscribers were France, Italy, Germany, Canada, Spain, Croatia, Turkey, Thailand, India, Argentina, Mexico, Greece, Chile, Netherlands, South Africa, Bulgaria, Portugal, Vietnam and Russia.

Knowing the preferences of our subscribers is helpful to us, and this list may influence the choice of your next destination. We also use this information in our promotional material for ITN; it’s not collected just for fun, although fun follows….

Thank you, all of you who participated. We printed out all your names, cut them into separate slips of paper and held a random drawing for a ton of prizes.

The first name chosen, winner of a 50-dollar gift certificate to Magellan’s Travel Supplies (800/962-4943), was Nadine Buck of Lisle, IL. The next two chosen, who each win a 2-year ITN subscription extension or the gift of a 2-year subscription for a friend (including a gift card), were Rosemary McDaniel of Trenton, FL, and Brita Bishop, Dallas, TX.

Rounding out the top 10, the following seven people or couples each will receive a one-year extension to their ITN subscriptions: Solomon Gold, Las Vegas, NV; James Dahmann, Cincinnati, OH; Tom Stone, Port Ludlow, WA; Tom and Mary Lahmon, Anaheim, CA; Ray and Wanda Bahde, Summerfield, FL; Robert Ippolito, Sanford, NC, and Rich & Joan Blacharski, Roswell, GA.

These next 10 subscriber households each will be sent an ITN mug: Ethel Peterson, Bloomington, MN; Stephen Rule, The Villages, FL; John Hilliard, San Antonio, TX; Richard Wood, Lancaster, CA; John Scheleur, Arnold, MD; Larry Flinner, Cincinnati, OH; Marilyn Goeldner, Boone, IA; John Melton, Palo Alto, CA; Dave and Phyllis Stolls, Riverside, CA, and Muriel and Roy Trulson, The Villages, FL.

And the following 20 people or couples each will have two months added onto their ITN subscriptions: Robert Aagre, Binghamton, NY; Lee Harnett, Palo Alto, CA; Rhoda Ratner,Washington, DC; Deby DeWeese, Santa Maria, CA; Paul Wheeler, Birmingham, MI: Phyllis Bettleheim, Temecula, CA; Barb Hartwell, St. Petersburg, FL; Dee Poujade, Portland, OR; Robert Burke, Monterey, CA; Joan Barrett, Tucson, AZ; Ruth and Nick Barnes, Merritt Island, FL; Albert Kandarian, Cumberland, RI; Bobbi Benson, Burlingame, CA; Robert MacCallum, Charlottesville, VA; Tim Huber, Pebble Beach, CA; Russell Russo, Tucson, AZ; Mary Hoffman, La Mesa, CA; Emilia Jonsdottir Anderson, Albertville, MN; Lyn Scanlon, Naples, FL, and Gordon Stoff, Venice, FL.

In a few months, we’ll be asking where you went THIS year, so keep track. We’ll keep the prizes coming.

Ken Harris of Winnetka, Illinois, wrote, “I am a longtime subscriber to ITN. Over the years, your publication has been an invaluable source of information — but never more so than the July 2012 issue with Wayne Wirtanen’s column ‘Eye on Travel Insurance.’ That article has been extremely meaningful to me relative to a forthcoming vacation. Many good suggestions!

“Also, I contacted sources mentioned in the article, i.e., CSA Travel Protection and Dan Drennen at Travel Insurance Center, and they were very generous with their time and were most helpful. Because of the information I obtained, I was able to significantly reduce my travel-cancellation-insurance expenditure — just one more reason why ITN is an outstanding ‘investment’.”

You know all that fine print that you gloss over before signing an insurance application? Wayne has read reams of that for us and then researched possibilities.

After Wayne and I worked on his latest article, in this issue, he told me he wanted me to print the following statement of his: “The topic of travel insurance is incredibly complex, and we go to great lengths to ASSURE that the information being provided is not only accurate but understandable.

“To the extent that I’m aware, no other travel publication is providing travel-insurance information of this depth and usefulness. You’re not getting a hint of this information anywhere else.”

In the August ’12 issue, pages 30-31, Jeffrey Zarit of Wylie, Texas, told about a cruise he took with his wife, Susan, and how they arranged for her to have dialysis treatment on board.

Jeffrey asked readers about more options — tours, travel packages, etc. — for people requiring dialysis who wish to travel internationally. Write to him at He will share with us whatever he learns and will answer any of your questions he can on the subject.

More fun! Alexis Breeding wrote, “New subscriber and now completely addicted to your crosswords in the print editions. They’re great! Any chance you have crosswords from past issues available for download or printing?”

Alexis is in luck. I asked our Web Designer, Arthur, about this and learned that, along with the changes made to our website earlier this year, it became possible to post online the travel crossword puzzle that Myles Mellor provides to ITN for each month’s issue.

He set it up with instructions for typing in the letters. Over time, the crosswords from previous years’ issues will be added.

This magazine exists because all of you — our subscribers — send in e-mails, articles and photos about experiences you’ve had overseas. Tell others what you’ve found.