UK to leave the EU. Northwest Passage cruises. Airline interlining limits

By David Tykol
This item appears on page 2 of the August 2016 issue.
A walkway in Windsor Castle, the world’s oldest and largest occupied castle. A residence of England’s Royal Family, the castle is located about 22 miles west of central London. Photo: ©Phillip Minnis/

Dear Globetrotter:

Welcome to the 486th issue of your monthly foreign travel magazine.

Just a couple of days before this month’s issue was “going to press,” terrorists carried out a terrible attack at the airport in Istanbul, killing dozens of people, as we’re reporting on page 15.

It also so happened that we had planned for this issue a Feature Article in which a subscriber describes her experiences in Turkey, including Istanbul. 

At first, ITN staff felt that we could not, in good conscience, proceed with printing the article. But then we focused on what it was that the writer actually wrote, and we realized that — rather than its being an average “went there, saw that” travel article and inappropriate to print in the wake of such an attack — the particular messages expressed by the writer were exactly what we should be printing at this time.

We felt that the best decision was to include the article. We hope that you agree.

There was at least one other event that grabbed major headlines recently, as Anglophiles are well aware. I’ll give a brief rundown of what happened.

The European Union (EU) was founded in 1967 as the European Communities, an incorporation of trade and energy organizations that had begun in 1951. The first six members were France, West Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. Currently, there are 28 members, including the United Kingdom, which joined in 1973. 

Among other things, membership in the EU allows member countries to import and export goods between each other duty-free, gives them access to the European Central Bank as a hedge against bankruptcy, and grants each country’s citizens free movement across member states’ borders. 

On June 23, the people of the United Kingdom (UK) voted on whether or not to leave the EU, a move referred to as the British exit, or Brexit. In the final tally, a slight majority of people had voted to leave, 51.9% to 48.1%, a difference of less than 1.3 million votes out of 33.55 million cast.

As reasons to leave, pro-Brexit voters cited the annual fees that the UK has to pay into EU programs (amounting to tens of billions of pounds), having to abide by EU policies and regulations, and the UK’s inability to control its own borders.

Immediately following the vote, the value of the British pound decreased 20% against the dollar, its lowest value since 1985, though by the end of the next day it had rebounded to a loss of just over 11%. For UK citizens, the EU and travelers to the UK, however, most effects of the Brexit won’t be felt for some time, as it will take at least two years just to negotiate the UK’s withdrawal.

Given that time frame, it’s unclear what, exactly, this means for the UK. Will citizens of the UK and EU countries still have free movement across each others’ borders? Will the countries retain free trade with each other? These matters will be hashed out in the coming years. 

Issues that now move to the forefront include the future status of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Gibraltar, all of whose electorates overwhelmingly voted to remain in the EU (Northern Ireland, 55.8%-44.2% in favor; Scotland, 62%-38%, and Gibraltar, 95.9%-4.1%). 

Scottish politicians have already said that another independence referendum is certain. (In 2014, Scotland’s citizens voted to remain in the UK, some voting that way partly out of concerns that, if Scotland became independent, it might have to reapply for EU membership.)

And in Northern Ireland, politicians have implied that the Brexit may encourage them to seek unification with the nation of Ireland. 

As for Gibraltar, Spain is pushing its claim of sovereignty over the peninsula with increased vigor.

We’ll keep you informed.

Plying three oceans in the process — the Pacific, Arctic and Atlantic — travelers today can traverse in comfort a route that, not so long ago, pioneers risked their lives to complete.

Set to become the largest cruise ship (68,870 tonnes) to transit the Northwest Passage, Crystal Cruises’ 1,070-passenger Crystal Serenity is scheduled to leave Seward, Alaska, on Aug. 16 and sail east across Canada, arriving in New York City — if all goes well — on Sept. 16 (Sept. ’14, pg. 49)

Another Crystal ship, the Crystal Endeavor, currently under construction, will make Northwest Passage cruises after it is completed in 2018.

Once the province only of icebreakers, cruise lines are being attracted to the passage as it becomes more accessible due to the ice in the Arctic waters becoming increasingly thin and sparse each summer. When Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ Seven Seas Navigator sails the route in 2017 (no date set yet), that line will become the newest member of the Northwest Passage club, joining the passenger lines Adventure Canada, Compagnie du Ponant, Crystal Cruises, Lindblad Expeditions, One Ocean Expeditions and Silversea Expeditions.  

For the most part, only one cruise ship attempts the complete transit each year. In 2012, two cruise ships from the same line, Hapag-Lloyd, simultaneously sailed the passage from opposite directions, rendezvousing at Victoria Island in the territory of Nunavut. 

The Northwest Passage is not an easy route to complete. The Crystal Serenity, Crystal Endeavor and Seven Seas Navigator all have strengthened hulls along with special equipment, such as ice-detecting radar to help pilots avoid dangerous sea ice. Also, the ships are escorted by icebreakers. 

Even with these precautions, there is no guarantee that a cruise will be completed, as thick ice in the path, sometimes present even in summer, can cause a captain to turn back.

Since Roald Amundsen first crossed the Northwest Passage in a converted fishing sloop, a journey that took him more than three years (June 1903-October 1906), as of May 2016 a total of 162 known ships and yachts have completed the crossing, some of them numerous times. Most of the crossings have been made by research vessels, with very few having been done by cargo or passenger ships.

The first crossing of the passage by a passenger ship was in 1984, when the Lindblad Explorer sailed west from St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada, to the Pacific and on to Yokohama, Japan. Other cruise ships soon followed.

The Crystal Serenity greatly surpasses it in size, but until now the largest passenger ship to traverse the passage is the ms The World (43,524 tonnes), the private residential ship that continuously sails around the globe. With a complement of 165 residences, it was carrying about 200 passengers when it made its voyage in September 2012. 

And, in case you were wondering, the largest ship ever to complete the route was a cargo ship, the 75,603-tonne ms Nordic Orion of Denmark, which carried a hull full of coal from Vancouver, Canada to Pori, Finland, in 2013.

Companies that operate polar trips, such as Adventure Canada and Quark Expeditions, often run cruises to the Northwest Passage on expedition ships or icebreakers, but they usually don’t make the complete transit. As of press time, Crystal Cruises and Regent Seven Seas were the only major passenger ship lines with — up to 2018 — full-transit Northwest Passage cruises scheduled.

ITN subscriber Jim Delmonte of Honolulu, Hawaii, doesn’t want to get stuck lugging his albatross-like luggage again.

After Jim and his daughter traveled in Japan, they went to Komatsu Airport, near Kanazawa, on Oct. 15, 2015, to fly home, Jim to Honolulu and his daughter to Dallas/Fort Worth.

His daughter flew out first, at 2:30 p.m., and Jim wouldn’t fly out until about 8 p.m., heading first to Tokyo’s Haneda Airport on Japan Airlines (JAL) and from there, at about midnight, to Honolulu on Hawaiian Airlines.

Jim decided that, rather than wait in the small Komatsu Airport, he would prefer to get to the larger Haneda Airport several hours sooner in order to relax and snack in one of the airport lounges (his business-class ticket on Hawaiian allowing him entry), so he purchased a stand-alone ticket to Haneda on JAL, departing at 2:35.

In his plan to spend his time more comfortably, a wrinkle developed when he found that the two airlines would not interline his bag (automatically transfer his checked bag from airline to airline) all the way to Hawaii. Jim was lugging a huge, 60-pound bag, and he would have to pick it up upon his arrival at Haneda and recheck it onto the Hawaiian Air flight.

Further, after arriving at Haneda Airport and collecting his bag, he found that Hawaiian Airlines’ check-in counter wouldn’t open until three hours before his midnight flight. He couldn’t check his bag, and he couldn’t take it through the security line to get to the area where the lounge was.

After dragging his bag around for a while, it dawned on him that he could rent a locker and leave his bag there temporarily, which he did, giving him more mobility.

Jim wrote to ITN upset that he was not able to interline his bag on the two legs of the flight to Honolulu.

In fact, the two airlines do have an interline agreement. So what was the problem?

As explained to ITN by Ann Botticelli, Senior Vice President of Corporate Communications & Public Affairs at Hawaiian Airlines, “If everything is booked on the same ticket, bags can be ticketed [interlined] to the final destination… without issue.”

Since Jim had separately purchased a point-to-point ticket independent of his subsequent flight to Honolulu on Hawaiian Airlines, JAL was not able to interline his bag to his Hawaiian Airlines flight.

Ms. Botticelli also explained the following regarding flights all booked on one ticket.

When going from an international flight to another international flight, if all flight legs are booked on the same ticket, and as long as the traveler is only transiting through an international airport and not officially entering the country, bags can be ticketed [interlined] to the final destination.

When going from an international flight to a domestic flight, if all flight legs are booked on the same ticket, bags can be tagged to the final destination. However, the bags still will have to be picked up at the first domestic airport the traveler arrives at in order to go through Customs. Once Customs is cleared, the bags can be rechecked onto the onward flight(s).

I would add that when rechecking the bags, they can usually be rechecked through a baggage-transfer desk operated by the airline and located near Customs.

We’re still soliciting subscribers’ responses to Fred Kissell’s information request, mentioned here last month. 

Fred lives in Pittsburgh and would like to know where to spend a month or two in the winter (January and February). He wrote, “In my mind, the ideal winter getaway would be a warm, pretty, uncrowded, low-cost town with plenty to do in the vicinity. It also would have a low crime rate.”

If you know of such a place outside of the US, email editor@intltravel or write to Winter Getaway, c/o ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818. Include your mailing address (plus any photos). Responses will be shared with Fred and printed in ITN.

We print in this magazine what our subscribers send in to share — their experiences, thoughts and dreams. Travel accounts can range from the humorous to the profound. Whether it’s a destination idea, a mere money-saving tip or a moment of comfort, may something you read in these pages be of benefit to you.