TSA security pat-downs. Squaremouth checks denied insurance claims. Where you were in 2016.

By David Tykol
This item appears on page 2 of the June 2017 issue.

Dear Globetrotter:

Welcome to the 496th issue of your monthly foreign-travel magazine. (Approaching 500! We must be doing something right.)

I’ve got a lot to cover this month, so I’ll get right to it.

Starting sometime in late February, the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) quietly changed the way its agents perform pat-downs in airport security lines. 

Previously, screeners had the option to decide how rigorously to pat down each traveler, based on their own assessment of the passenger’s threat level. However, after a 2015 test conducted by the Department of Homeland Security showed that, at an alarming rate, weapons were not detected during screenings, the TSA decided that its agents could no longer be given that much leeway. It now requires that all pat-downs be performed at the highest procedural level. 

What this means is that for travelers who are chosen for pat-downs — either randomly or because they have set off the body scanner — or who opt for pat-downs in place of going through the body scanner, they can expect to be touched in more intimate places and more firmly by screeners, regardless of any variables like age, gender or race. 

Also, TSA agents can use the palms of their hands during the process, as opposed to only the backs of their hands as the former guidelines instructed.

Pat-downs are always performed by agents of the same gender as the passengers being searched. A traveler still may ask that the pat-down be done in private, and he or she is also allowed to have a companion of his or her choice witness the procedure. 

Note that agents can refuse to pat down a passenger in clothing that is wet. A passenger with wet clothes may be required to change into dry clothes and will not have the option of going through the body scanner instead. (I reported on one traveler’s experience with wet clothes and a body-scanning machine in my June 2016 column.)

Airline pilots and flight attendants, too, are subject to body-scanner screenings, random checks and the more thorough pat-downs.

This change does not require that more passengers get pat-downs, and it is not expected to increase security wait-times at airports, but those who are subjected to pat-downs will find that the procedure takes slightly longer.

I am happy to report a very helpful addition to our website. ITN subscribers now can take advantage of a special offer from the online travel insurance broker Squaremouth (www.squaremouth.com).

Even if you didn’t purchase your travel insurance through the Squaremouth website, using one of the companies listed there, if you are an ITN subscriber and had a travel insurance claim denied, you can apply to have Squaremouth investigate your claim to see if there is any way to get the denial reversed. 

Be aware that Squaremouth representatives can investigate only a certain number of claims per month, and there is no guarantee that your case will be selected for follow-up. Nor can Squaremouth guarantee a reversal in the denial of your claim.

However, if you feel that your claim may have been improperly denied, Squaremouth’s assistance could be valuable to your appeal, or you may, at least, better understand why your claim was denied.

If your case is chosen for investigation, a Squaremouth claims adjuster will explain to you what documentation is needed and, having collected that from you, will mediate on your behalf. 

To take advantage of this offer, visit ITN’s website, www.intltravel news.com, and scroll to the bottom of the homepage, where, on the right-hand side, you will see the question “Was Your Travel Insurance Claim Denied?” By clicking on the “GET HELP NOW” box, you will be taken to a webpage on Squaremouth’s site. Though the link is on the ITN site, ITN has no involvement in the investigation or what transpires.

In the form on the Squaremouth webpage, fill out the information requested, including your name, email address and phone number plus the name of the travel insurance company whose policy you bought. Provide a summary of the incident about which you filed a claim, then tell why you think your claim should not have been denied. To assist Squaremouth’s investigators, put as much detail into your description as possible (with dates, any names, etc.).

For the record, Squaremouth will not be sharing any of your information or the results of your case with ITN, although they may later post something about it on their website.

In addition, if Squaremouth helps you resolve an issue or you learn something that others might find useful to know, please write to ITN so that we may share the information with your fellow subscribers. Aside from this new resource being a valuable aid for travelers, we hope it will generate informative letters for all to read in this magazine.

And now for the news that some of you have been waiting for.

In a tradition started by ITN’s founding publisher, the late Armond Noble, at the beginning of each year we ask all of our subscribers to tell us — by email, postcard, pony express or whatever — the countries they traveled to (outside of the US) in the previous calendar year, and we reward a lucky few for doing so (read “prizes”!).

Having collected our subscribers’ lists of nations visited in 2016 and tallying the numbers, we’re ready to share with you the results, i.e., the travel trends among your fellow readers (plus the winners in this year’s drawings).

I’ll start with geographical regions, the most popular of which was, again, Europe, home to 45% of all the countries visited by respondents last year. In second place — and far behind — was Asia & the Middle East, where countries amassed only 16% of the visits in 2016. 

The third-most-visited region was North & Middle America & the Caribbean, at 14%, followed by Africa, at 7%, South America, 6%, and Oceania, 6%. Nonsovereign territories across the globe (including Antarctica) accounted for the remaining 6% of places visited.

On average, ITN readers visited nearly six destinations apiece last year — one less apiece than in 2015. 

The percentage of respondents who each visited 1 to 4 destinations was 45.7, while 35.9% went to 5 to 9 destinations, 16.4% went to 10 to 19 destinations and 2% went to 20 or more destinations. (All of you sure get around!)

So what country/destination was visited by the most ITN subscribers last year? It was the United Kingdom, listed by 22.4% of respondents. In the previous year, 2015, the UK and France actually tied for most-visited destination, but in 2016’s tally, France ended up in second place, at 20%.

Also in the top 10 were Mexico (17.3%), Italy, (16.1%), Spain (15%), Canada (13.8%), Germany (13.3%), Croatia (11.8%), Australia (9.4%) and Portugal (9.1%).

Based on ITN’s Official List of Nations (visit www.intltravelnews.com and click on “Resources”), here are the rankings of the rest of the countries reported, in descending order.

In spot number 11 were both the Netherlands and Hungary, 13. Austria and Iceland, 15. Denmark, 16. Japan, 17. Serbia, 18. Albania, China, Cuba, Czechia, Slovakia and South Africa, 24. Argentina, Bulgaria, Chile, Greece, India, Montenegro, New Zealand, Norway, Russia and Slovenia, 34. Bosnia & Herzegovina, Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Sweden and Thailand, 40. Costa Rica, Estonia, Indonesia and Ireland, 44. Finland, Myanmar, Nicaragua, Panama, Poland, Romania, South Korea, Switzerland and Turkey, 53. Fiji, Macedonia, Peru and Singapore, 57. Belgium, Belize, Egypt, Honduras, Latvia, Lithuania, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates, 65. Botswana, Cambodia, Ecuador, Uruguay, Vietnam and Zimbabwe, 71. Antigua & Barbuda, Azerbaijan, Kosovo, Uzbekistan and Zambia, 76. Bolivia, Israel/Palestinian Territories, Jamaica, Laos, Luxembourg, Samoa, Sri Lanka, Tanzania and Vanuatu, 85. Armenia, Bahamas, El Salvador, Grenada, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Namibia, and Oman, 93. Barbados, Bhutan, Dominica, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Madagascar, Malta, Mozambique, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Philippines, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, 106. Cyprus, Ethiopia, Lesotho, Malaysia, Marshall Islands, Monaco, Mongolia, Nepal, Palau, Saint Kitts & Nevis, St. Lucia, Timor-Leste, Trinidad & Tobago and Tuvalu, 120. Andorra, Bahrain, Dominican Republic, Guyana, Haiti, Iran, Kiribati, Kuwait, Malawi, Maldives, Mauritius, Nauru, North Korea, Qatar, Rwanda, Seychelles, Suriname, Swaziland, Taiwan, Tonga, Uganda, Vatican City and Venezuela, 143. Angola, Benin, Brunei, Burundi, Cape Verde, Comoros, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Liechtenstein, Micronesia, Pakistan, San Marino, São Tomé & Principe, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Solomon Islands, Somalia, South Sudan, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Sudan, Togo and, finally, Ukraine.

In addition to the nations listed above, ITN readers also reported traveling to a number of nonsovereign territories. Unlike places such as Tibet and Palestine, which may be more or less self-governing but are each physically within the borders of another country, each of these places controls its own borders but is self-governing only at the behest of its administering (often distant) nation, and its citizens are considered citizens of the administering nation.

The most-visited nonsovereign territory was French Polynesia (administered by France), listed by 2.8% of respondents.

In descending order, the rest of the nonsovereign territories visited by ITN subscribers in 2016 were 2. Gibraltar (United Kingdom), 3. Sint Maarten (Netherlands), 4. Bermuda (UK), Bonaire (Netherlands), Guadeloupe (France), Madeira (Portugal), Martinique (France) and New Caledonia (UK), 10. Aruba (Netherlands), Azores (Portugal), British Virgin Islands (UK), Canary Islands (Spain), Cayman Islands (UK), Curaçao (Netherlands), Falkland Islands (UK), Faroe Islands (Denmark), Guernsey (UK) and Jersey (UK), 20. Anguilla (UK), Cook Islands (New Zealand), Greenland (Denmark), Montserrat (UK), Saint-Martin (France) and Svalbard (Norway), 26. Niue (New Zealand), Réunion (France), Saba (Netherlands), South Georgia Islands (UK), Tristan da Cunha (UK) and Turks & Caicos Islands (UK).

One destination that, by international treaty, does not belong to any country at all is Antarctica, and only one ITN reader reported having visited it in 2016… but I know more of you went there. Next year, be sure to report in!

Overall, ITN subscribers visited more countries in 2016 than they did in 2015. Specifically, while there were 31 countries that had no visits reported in 2015, there were only 27 on the “didn’t get there” list in 2016. They were Afghanistan, Algeria, Bangladesh, Belarus, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Eritrea, Gabon, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Iraq, Lebanon, Liberia, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Moldova, Niger, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen.

The country with the biggest jump in mentions was Iceland, listed by 4% of respondents in 2015 and by 8% in 2016. The place that saw the biggest drop in visits was Greece, which went from a respectable 12.1% in 2015 to 5.5%.

Countries that were skipped in 2015 but visited in 2016 were Benin, Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kuwait, Lesotho, North Korea, Pakistan, Paraguay, South Sudan and Timor-Leste.

Countries visited in 2015 that were not visited by readers in 2016 were Belarus, Côte d’Ivoire, The Gambia, Mauritania and Moldova.

And now to the prizes! We’re giving out eight this year, with the winners having been picked randomly in drawings. 

In first place, winning a 3-year extension to his subscription to ITN, is Greg Mannion of Fountain Hills, AZ. In second place and winning a 2-year extension is Diane Powell Ferguson of Scottsdale, AZ, while a one-year extension is going to Fran White of Lincoln, CA. 

Five subscribers each won an ITN mug, perfect for sipping your coffee while dreaming of distant lands. They are Wanda Ross of Tucson, AZ; Robert & DeLores Franklin of Salinas, CA; Diane Thomson of St. Charles, MO; Gary & Lajetta Atwood of Las Vegas, NV, and Tim Huber of Pebble Beach, CA.

Congratulations, all, and thank you for participating. Aside from the curiosity factor, knowing where our subscribers are traveling is helpful to our editorial staff when selecting items to print, and it’s very important to the potential advertisers we are wooing. (It’s great to be able to impress travel companies with the fact that our readers each visited an average of six countries last year.)

Seeing where others went may inspire you to visit someplace new, and it has made us aware of something else.

As you know, the whole basis of this magazine is we print the candid travel reports of our subscribers. Well, we see that we had subscribers who visited Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde and Djibouti, but it’s been years since anyone has written in about those places. Or about Monaco!

Even a letter stating “All went well and here’s what we did” would be of value to people contemplating visits to those places. Don’t be shy. If you’re just back, tell us what you did and saw in Cyprus. Or Seychelles. Or Micronesia. 

Email editor@intltravelnews.com or write to ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818. Your opinions and observations will be appreciated by those who look to ITN for practical travel info.