EU airlines' payouts for delays. Polio cases dwindling. Best airports for layovers

By David Tykol
This item appears on page 2 of the December 2015 issue.
The St. Petrus fountain, erected in 1870 at the south side of Cologne Cathedral in Germany. Photo: ©villorejo99/1232rf

Dear Globetrotter

Welcome to the 478th issue of your monthly foreign travel magazine.

Each month in this magazine, we present a number of articles and letters written by our subscribers, people who travel outside of the US for fun, adventure or just because. They share their findings here, where like-minded travelers are looking for recommendations, warnings or simply new ideas for places to visit.

We also have several longtime columnists who report on their travels and on travel-related subjects. In instances when a writer has gotten a trip for free or at a discount, that fact is not hidden but is mentioned within or immediately following the article.

We try to keep readers informed of news events around the world that travelers would appreciate knowing about, such as natural disasters, political strife or transportation problems. And we toss in miscellaneous items that may be helpful, interesting or surprising.

Readers also can benefit by perusing the advertisements, both the display ads and the classifieds (in The Mart), all of which pertain to travel. 

To keep all of this International Travel News coming, contact ITN advertisers when planning your next trip… and let them know where you learned about them. But ITN receives about equal support from its advertisers and its subscribers, so it’s also helpful to spread the word about this magazine to others. 

Send us the names and addresses of people who appreciate travel and we’ll send them each a free sample copy of the next-printed issue. (Your friends’ privacy is safe. We do not sell or trade addresses to other firms.) Or you can buy gift subscriptions for them; gift cards will be sent to let recipients know how their subscriptions started. See page 9 for details.

Meanwhile, keep the dialog going. Send in a report on some aspect of your latest trip outside the US. Along with your experiences, observations and opinions, include trip dates, contact information of travel firms mentioned and an idea of how much things cost. Oh, and your mailing address (where you receive ITN). ITN prints letters and articles from subscribers only. Write to or to ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818.

Now here’s some of that travel news I was talking about.

• A recent ruling in the European Union (EU) came down in favor of airline passengers.

On Sept. 18, the European Court of Justice ruled that flight delays caused by “spontaneous” faults with airplanes are not exempt from EU rules regarding delayed-flight compensation. 

Weather conditions, labor strikes, natural disasters and civil wars: these were among causes for delay that have been considered legally “extraordinary circumstances” by courts and for which airlines have been exempt from having to pay out claims to passengers because the resulting flight delays or cancellations could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken.

EU courts do not keep an official list of what constitutes “extraordinary,” however, and, for years, EU-based airlines have argued that flaws that would not be spotted during normal maintenance should be considered extraordinary and should be exempt from flight-delay claims, but that argument has now been dismissed by judges. 

Judges found that airlines each are “confronted as a matter of course with unexpected technical problems. Furthermore, the presence of such a breakdown or the repairs occasioned by it, including the replacement of a prematurely defective component, is not beyond the actual control of that carrier, since the latter is required to ensure the maintenance and proper functioning of the aircraft it operates for the purposes of its business. Therefore, a technical problem cannot fall within the definition of ‘extraordinary circumstances’.”

The result is that, when it involves an airline that is based in the EU, any passenger departing from or flying to an EU country whose flight is delayed at least three hours due to airplane repairs, no matter if it is a routine repair or an unexpected one, can now make a claim against the airline for damages, regardless of the flyer’s nationality. 

This means that an American flying from New York to Frankfurt aboard a Lufthansa plane can make a claim against the airline if that plane is delayed in New York for at least three hours due to maintenance issues. 

For a delay of three or more hours, a passenger can file a claim for up to 250 (near $275) on a flight of fewer than 1,500 kilometers or up to 400 for a flight of 1,500 to 3,500 kilometers. For a flight of more than 3,500 kilometers, he can claim up to 300 for a delay of three to four hours or up to 600 for a delay of more than four hours. 

A delay claim must be filed with the airline. If an airline rejects the claim, the claimant may ask the National Enforcement Body (NEB) of the airline’s home country to make a ruling. (For a complete list of NEBs in the EU, visit and, under the heading “National competent authorities,” click on “National Enforcement Bodies.”) 

The NEB will provide a written ruling explaining why a damage claim should or should not be paid. While a ruling for payment is not legally binding, it may sway an airline to pay compensation anyway. Should an airline continue to deny a claim after an NEB ruling, the only resort left to the claimant is to take the airline to court in its home country.

During a lengthy delay, an EU airline is also responsible for providing each affected passenger with food and beverage (usually in the form of vouchers) plus access to a telephone to make essential calls to others who need to know about the delay.

If the delay ends up lasting overnight, the airline must provide a passenger with a hotel room as well as one-way transport to the hotel or, if he lives near the departing airport, ground transport back to his home. The airline is not required to set passengers up in luxury, however.

• Some global good news!

As of August 2015, no cases of wild polio (polio contracted from another person) had been reported on the continent of Africa for an entire year, and as of press time the record still holds, the last case having been reported in Somalia on Aug. 11, 2014. 

Currently, worldwide, there are only two nations with outbreaks of polio: Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the numbers in Pakistan are falling.

During 2014, there had been 209 cases of wild polio reported in Pakistan by Oct. 20 and 12 in Afghanistan (and these numbers would increase to 306 and 28, respectively, by year’s end). As of Oct. 20 this year, Pakistan had reported 38 cases and Afghanistan, 13. Countries having reported cases of wild polio in 2014 also included Ethiopia, Somalia, South Sudan, Nigeria, Madagascar, Equatorial Guinea and Cameroon, in Africa, as well as Syria and Iraq in Asia.

The credit for this monumental achievement goes to the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) polio-eradication initiative, which began in 1988, a year when more than 300,000 cases of polio were reported worldwide. In order to stop polio in Africa, WHO doctors managed to inoculate children in places like Nigeria and Somalia, despite the presence of militant and terrorist groups like Boko Haram and al-Shabaab. 

Wild polio is carried only by humans and is spread mostly through contaminated water. About one person in every 4 million people being vaccinated will contract what is known as “vaccine-derived polio virus,” which is accompanied by polio symptoms, but such cases are not considered an outbreak, nor are they usually contagious.

Following a 2010 outbreak in Russia, Europe went five years without a case of polio, but in September of this year, two children in Ukraine became infected with vaccine-derived polio and were left paralyzed. The virus did not spread to others during the course of the disease. (It is estimated that only half of the children in Ukraine are fully immunized against polio.)

For the African continent to be declared truly polio-free, there must be no reported cases of wild polio for three years. If Pakistan and Afghanistan are ever free of polio for that length of time, and barring any newly detected cases in other countries, WHO will consider the disease expunged.

WHO and the US State Department recommend that anyone traveling to any of the nations that experienced polio outbreaks in 2014 be inoculated for polio beforehand. Though no nations require proof of vaccination for entry, Cameroon and Pakistan may ask for proof of vaccination from anyone staying four weeks or longer.

• Got a trip coming up? How long are the airport layovers?

The results of the 2015 “Best Airports in the World” online survey were released on Oct. 17 by the website In regard to “sleepability,” the website offers information on airport facilities, lounges and airport hotels and posts travelers’ comments. The survey data was collected from October 2014 to October 2015.

Travelers ranked international airports that they used based on comfort, including the availability of amenities such as showers, quiet rooms for napping or, at the least, bench-style seats with no armrests (making it possible to lie down). They also ranked airports on cleanliness, services offered (such as 24-hour food service, entertainment options or the presence of an on-site hotel with day rooms) and overall experience. Everyone was encouraged to go into detail about what each airport offered.

The website did not indicate how many people, overall, responded to the survey, let alone about each airport. Nevertheless, here are the results.

At the top of the list is Singapore Changi International Airport (SIN), which boasts napping rooms, rest zones, shower facilities, a spa and 24-hour food options, along with free movies, gardens and WiFi.

Number 2 is Seoul Incheon International (ICN), offering a transit hotel, free shower facilities and 24-hour food options.

Third is Haneda Airport, or Tokyo International (HND), with services similar to those at Seoul Incheon but with the additions of a napping area and a pet hotel.

The list of airports that sleepy travelers appreciate most for their comfort, cleanliness and services continues with [4] Taiwan Taoyuan International (TPE), which provides rest zones, free showers, a library and a museum; [5] Hong Kong International (HKG), with 24-hour food options plus showers; [6] Munich Airport (MUC), with sleep pods, rest zones and showers; [7] Helsinki Airport (HEL), free sleep pods, rest zones and 24-hour food options; [8] Vancouver International (YVR), rest zones, showers and 24-hour food options; [9] Kuala Lumpur International (KUL), napping rooms, transit hotel, showers and spa, and [10] Zürich (Kloten) Airport (ZRH), with a transit hotel and showers.

The survey also listed the “10 WORST Airports in the World” for comfort, according to responses received.

Port Harcourt International Airport (PHC), in Nigeria, was voted the worst, with travelers noting that the arrivals building is just a large tent and that there is virtually no seating anywhere.

The other nine worst airports were [2] King Abdulaziz International (JED) in Saudi Arabia; [3] Kathmandu Tribhuvan International (KTM) in Nepal; [4] Tashkent International (TAS) in Uzbekistan; [5] Simón Bolívar International (CCS) in Venezuela; [6] Tossaint Louventure International (PAP) in Haiti; [7] Hamid Karzai International (KBL) in Afghanistan; [8] Tân Son Nhâ´t International (SGN) in Vietnam; [9] Benazir Bhutto International (ISB) in Pakistan and [10] Paris-Beauvais-Tillé Airport (BVA) in France.

During any layover, may you be worry-free and most comfortable!

• CORRECTIONS to note in previous issues —

• In Steve Chan’s letter “Bhutan through Third Eye Travel” (Oct. ’15, pg. 30), ITN printed the trip cost incorrectly.

After reading the letter and doing the math, Jane B. Holt of Hinesburg, Vermont, wrote, “Remember that there is a minimum daily fee for visiting Bhutan.” 

She directed us to a webpage of the Tourism Council of Bhutan,, where it states, “The minimum daily package for tourists travelling in a group of 3 persons or more is as follows: $200 per person per night for the months of January, February, June, July, August and December. $250 per person per night for the months of March, April, May, September, October and November.”

Jane continued, “I am gobsmacked that Mr. Chan’s group of four paid a total of $3,900 for their 11-day trip. Surely it must have been $3,900 per person.”

ITN contacted Mr. Chan for more details, and he wrote, “For my share of the private tour, which four of us took in April 2014, I paid about $3,900, which included Bhutan Airlines flights from Bangkok to Paro and from Paro to Kathmandu (something around $700), hotels, single supplements ($350), taxes and service charges, all meals, a driver, a private guide, site entry fees and the visa fee.”

• In printing Albert Podell’s contribution on the subject “Visiting Travel Warnings List Countries” (Oct. ’15, pg. 41), ITN misattributed one sentence about his 2012 Somalia trip to his 2014 Yemen trip. 

It was about Somalia that he wrote, “I have kept in touch with the owner of the high-walled guest house where I stayed, and in January 2015 he told me you still cannot leave your hotel in safety for even a minute without an armed escort and a bullet-proof vehicle.”

When I replied to Mr. Podell’s email alerting us to our mistake, he wrote, “There is no need to apologize, David. As a former editor of many magazines, I know all too well how those gremlins can creep into the composing room and wreak havoc. Besides, I know you are a perfectionist, and I am sure you are far more upset than I am.”

He’s got that right!

Al added, “By the way, I email the head of the security agency I used in Somalia regularly about the situation in Mogadishu because I would like to go back, and in September he told me that the current rate for a security chief and six armed guards (as I had there for $770 a day) has risen to $1,350 a day!

“There may be less expensive services, but I am a former Army guy, so I know a bit about this, and I liked their professionalism and attention to details and complete perimeter protection.”

• More gremlins —

In Doris Neilson’s letter about Travel Warnings List Countries” (Oct. ’15, pg. 42), she mentioned having traveled to Sudan with Explore!, a company based in the UK, and ITN included the phone number of that office. 

Ms. Neilson wrote, “I should have said that I booked with the US office, Explore! – North America (Oakland, CA; 800/715-1746, 510/227-8224 or, from Canada, 888/216-3401,

“Explore! has been my favorite tour company for 20 years. I have been on 25 trips with them and have always booked in the US. Maz Livingston and other agents have given me much help with bookings. Explore! is for all ages, not just the young.”

• My apologies to Georgia McAninch of Sunny Valley, Oregon, whose touching note at the end of my October 2015 column I attributed to George McAninch! Georgia’s name was embossed on some nice stationery and I just didn’t look carefully enough at the spelling.

• Lastly, in Philip Wagenaar’s column in last month’s issue, he started a 3-part series on Italy’s UNESCO sites. To make the article easier to find when referring back to the issue, you might want to mark that on both the front wrap and the Contents page, where we neglected to include mention of it.

• Gene Dougher of Peoria, Arizona, has an information request for ITN subscribers. He wrote, “Over the years, I’ve seen stories in ITN about tipping service workers overseas, but what about travel agents? I bring back gifts, etc., but is that enough? How do you reward an agent for time she has spent preparing your trip?”

If you have guidelines, suggestions or examples to share with Gene, write to or to Tipping Your Travel Agent, c/o ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818. We’ll forward responses to Gene and print them in ITN for all to see.

Enjoy the magazine.