Ten cities with the worst air pollution, plus more

By David Tykol
This item appears on page 2 of the May 2014 issue.

Dear Globetrotter:

Streetlamps and the Egyptian obelisk in Place de la Concorde — Paris, France. Photo: ©123rf

Welcome to the 459th issue of your monthly foreign-travel magazine.

We’re getting plenty of emails and postcards with answers to the question “Where were you in 2013?” And all are going into the “hat” from which we will randomly select winners of prizes. 

You still have time to enter the contest, which is open to ITN subscribers. All you have to do is send in a list of the countries that you visited during the calendar year 2013. Either email it to editor@intltravelnews.com or mail a postcard or letter to Where Were You in 2013?, c/o ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818. Include your mailing address (where you receive ITN).

I’ll announce the country-count results and prizewinners in this column.

Meanwhile, here are a few items of possible interest to travelers.


During five days in which air pollution in Paris, France, exceeded safe levels of 80 micrograms of particulate matter per cubic meter of air, the air pollution level rose as high as 180 micrograms per cubic meter (180μg/m3) on March 14. The Eiffel Tower was barely visible through the white haze, which developed during a series of cold nights and unseasonably warm days.

In response, the City of Light enacted a temporary driving ban, allowing only cars with odd-numbered license plates to drive on March 17 and just those with even-numbered plates on the next day. Exceptions were made for cars with three or more passengers as well as for taxis and commercial electric and hybrid vehicles. Paris also made public transportation and bike-sharing services free for three days.

Reims, Rouen, Caen and a few other cities in France made public transport free for a weekend as well. In Belgium, the speed limit on main roads was temporarily reduced.

Speaking of high levels of air pollution, Beijing, China, is infamous for them, but in 2013 Delhi, India, surpassed it. Both cities averaged readings of well over 100μg/m3, but Delhi’s average was 198μg/m3 and Beijing’s, 121.

But even those levels paled in comparison to what is experienced in the world’s 10 most polluted cities, according to a study by the World Health Organization (http://qz.com/136606).

Ahwaz (Ahvāz), in southwestern Iran, tops the list, averaging an eye-tearing 372μg/m3. The industrial processing of petrochemicals and metals in the area and desertification due to local marshes being drained are cited as the primary causes.

Trailing Ahwaz are Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia (279 μg/m3); Sanandaj, Iran (254); Ludhiana, Punjab, India (251); Quetta, Pakistan (251), Kermanshah, Iran (229); Peshawar, Pakistan (219); Gaborone, Botswana (216); Yasouj (Yāsūj), Iran (215), and Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, India (209).

In fact, Beijing has taken steps to combat its foul air, investing increasing amounts of money in reducing industrial pollution, limiting the number of cars sold annually and giving more support to public transportation. On Jan. 22, Beijing’s municipal legislature introduced emission controls on both coal burning and automobiles, for the first time setting an upper limit on the total emission of major pollutants in the city.

Alas, conditions in Delhi continue to get worse. According to the Centre for Science & Environment, based in New Delhi, levels of particulates in the air around that city rose 75% over five years, topping out at one point, in winter 2013, at 575μg/m3!


Flying anywhere soon? Beginning in December 2013, in an effort to improve its passenger-screening processes, the US Transportation Security Administration began partnering with domestic airlines to allow their frequent flyers to opt in to the TSA Pre√™ (Pre-check) program. 

Available for certain flights at participating US airports, the TSA Preê program allows for expedited security screening of approved travelers, who may qualify for the program after submitting an application, background information and fingerprints and paying a fee.

An airline’s frequent flyers who opt in to participate in Pre√ can expect to receive expedited screening (less hassles!) more often than those who have not done so but less often than travelers who have actually applied and qualified for any of the Trusted Traveler programs, And they won’t have to provide any more information than what is already required of all passengers: name, date of birth, gender and, if applicable, redress number (assigned after being misidentified as someone on the No Fly List).

As of mid-March, the participating airlines were Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, US Airways and Virgin America. Each has been contacting eligible frequent flyers with invitations to participate in TSA Preê on an opt-in basis. A passenger who accepts the invitation is eligible for the expedited screening only for flights with the airline(s) with which he opted in.

But even more passengers will be pleasantly surprised, as Wanda Walker of Palo Alto, California, found out. She read the item “TSA Pre√™ for US Citizens(Feb. ’14, pg. 4) and wrote to ITN, “Since last fall, my husband and I have been Pre-checked on Alaska and Southwest airlines flights without submitting an application or paying anything. 

“Our boarding passes have each had the Pre-check logo at the top. We take off no shoes or jackets because we’re over 75, but now we also do not have to take liquids or computers out of our carry-on bags, which has been wonderful.”

So did the TSA slip up in giving the Walkers Pre√ privileges without their applying for them? No. Nor can the Walkers expect expedited screening on every flight from now on. Here’s what’s happening.

In addition to applicants who have qualified for the Pre√ program and frequent flyers who have opted in with particular airlines, a number of other frequent flyers still may be assigned expedited screening on a random basis through the TSA’s Secure Flight system. 

Secure Flight takes the information you provide when purchasing a ticket and matches it against government watch lists. (By the way, the TSA does not collect or access commercial data, including credit card numbers.)

If it is determined that you are a no-risk passenger, and if certain variables are in your favor (such as passenger volume), you may receive the Pre√ authorization without having requested it. If so, when your boarding pass is scanned at the checkpoint, you may be referred to a Pre√ lane. (Some airlines print the indicator on the boarding pass; look for it.)

This allowance is made on a flight-by-flight basis and may not be available for every ticket, nor is there any indication which passengers might be eligible beforehand. Even if you have received the random Pre√ status once, there is no guarantee that you will ever get Pre√ approval again under the current system.

For the record, in order to retain an element of randomness, no one is guaranteed expedited screening.

For more info on the whole program, including how to enroll and which airports have TSA Preê lanes, visit www.tsa.gov/tsa-precheck.


The flight-booking site CheapAir.com did a study of all of the airfares that were offered for the four million domestic and international flights that they listed in 2013 — a total of 1.3 billion airfares — in an effort to determine how far in advance of a flight a traveler should purchase his ticket in order to get the lowest airfare.

For each flight that was going to take place from one city to another on a specific date, CheapAir.com noted the costs of the airline’s tickets in all of the different seat classes and then kept track of them daily across the 10½-month period (the booking window) in which the tickets were offered for sale.

I’ll cover the results on domestic flights first. 

CheapAir.com determined that the perfect time to have purchased tickets for a domestic flight in the US was exactly 54 days (7½ weeks) in advance of the trip.

Most domestic airlines started selling tickets 331 days before the flight was to take place. That far ahead, the ticket prices were fairly high. The prices stayed steady for about four months; at about 225 days before the flight, prices began to fall, and by 104 days out they had dropped to about $10 short of their lowest listed prices. 

At 54 days before the flight, the average prices of tickets were at their absolute lowest, after which they began to slowly climb up again. At 29 days until departure, the prices began to rise more steeply until 14 days out, when they climbed dramatically, eclipsing the initial prices.

The findings varied more for international flights than for domestic ones, but there were patterns to them as well. 

CheapAir.com discovered that average airfares to destinations in Africa were lowest when purchased 166 days before departure. Average ticket prices to Europe were lowest 151 days out; to Asia, 129 days ahead; to the Caribbean, 101 days; Mexico, 89 days; the Middle East and South America, 80 days, and to destinations in Oceania and the South Pacific, 70 days.

CheapAir.com advised that it is always better to buy too early than too late, especially regarding international flights. 

Another observation — CheapAir.com noted that of all the tickets booked through their site, only 5% were purchased within the first two months after they were offered for sale, while 36% were purchased in the final two weeks before the flights.


ITN subscriber George Byam of Grand Rapids, Michigan, wrote, “In Bryan Henry’s ‘The Geografile’ item on page 11 of the February ’14 issue, he refers to Great Britain as a country. To my knowledge, there is not a country named Great Britain. 

“Great Britain is an island, which — together with Northern Ireland, which occupies a section of the island of Ireland — is part of the country called the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.”

Noting that many smaller islands are included in this definition, George is correct in regard to the country’s formal designation, though the country is casually referred to by some as, simply, “Great Britain” or “the UK,” which is the spirit in which the term was used in the item referenced. To avoid any confusion, however, the full name should have been printed. 

We appreciate when our readers bring such oversights to our attention, as we never stop working to publish the most accurate information possible. 

In the case of the island of Great Britain, which comprises England, Wales and Scotland, things may soon get even more complicated.

On Sept. 18 of this year, the citizens of Scotland will vote on whether or not they want Scotland to remain a division of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Should the vote be in favor of independence, Scottish leaders have set March 24, 2016, as the date for assuming autonomy.

A resulting consideration — the UK is a member of the European Union, but at what point would Scotland be a member if it breaks off from the UK?

There is no rule in the Treaty of the European Union regarding the immediate acceptance of a new country formed from a portion of an already existing member state, but, given Scotland’s current status, Scottish leaders are confident that they can use Article 48 of the treaty, a clause that allows members to amend the treaty with a unanimous vote, to allow Scotland membership due to a “continuity of effect.” 

Otherwise, it will have to apply for membership and show that it meets certain requirements (functioning market economy, legislated protection of minorities, etc.), a process which can take years.


In listing items in ITN that she found to be helpful, a subscriber mentioned having stayed in Buenos Aires several years ago at a B&B that had been recommended by at least three readers: B&B Olleros 3000 (Olleros 3000 Colegiales, Buenos Aires, 1426, Argentina), whose pleasant proprietress was Claudine Van Hemelryk.

Double-checking the info, ITN staff emailed Ms. Van Hemelryk, who replied on Feb. 24, “We decided to close B&B Olleros 3000 a few months ago, as we needed the house for the exclusive use of the family. We are now managing a few apartments in the best neighborhoods of Buenos Aires and a lodge in the countryside of the Province of Cordoba, as you will see on our new website, www.stylishstayargentina.com

“We enjoyed our 10-year experience managing the B&B Olleros 3000, during which we made many friends.”


It took us long enough, but we’re finally introducing ITN Travel Awards for destinations in Asia.

The categories are North and Central Asia (5 countries plus 1 [Siberian Russia, a necessary exception for a country spanning 11 time zones]); East and Southeast Asia (17); South Asia (8); Western Asia (18), and All Asia (48 + 1).

For the lists of countries, see the Awards page.

Incidentally, we have modified the list of countries associated with the Oceania Award. Fourteen countries are now on the list, with the Philippines returning to its original place under the Asia heading.

To receive your award(s), at $7 each, check off all of the countries on the list or on a photocopy and send it to ITN Travel Awards, c/o ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818, along with payment. For each application, you will be sent a personalized certificate measuring 8½"x11" and suitable for framing. Your name will be listed in the next issue of ITN, as well.

Subscribers have been suggesting ideas for new ITN Travel Awards, so more are coming.


According to my calendar, May 11 is Mother’s Day in the US, Canada, England, Italy, Germany, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Brazil. We have readers in all of those countries, and there are a lot of mothers out there who would love to receive subscriptions to ITN.

Click on “Subscribe” or call, toll-free, 800/486-4968. A gift card can be sent in your name.

Be nice to Mom in May.    — DT