Biometric scans introduced in US airports. Also, countries with highest homicide rates

By David Tykol
This item appears on page 2 of the August 2018 issue.
On Tonatapu island in Tonga, the Hufangalupe Archway, a land bridge over the crashing waves of the Pacific, formed when the roof of a sea cave collapsed. Photo ©donyanedomam/

Dear Globetrotter:

Welcome to the 510th issue of your monthly foreign-travel magazine. Yes, in this day and age, an actual magazine! And we have a lot of longtime supporters, Barb Hartwell of St. Petersburg, Florida, among them.

Barb wrote, “International Travel News was responsible for propelling my husband and me toward one of the most wonderful trips we ever took and for leading me to a very special friendship.  

“The very first sample copy I received (and I don’t know who was kind enough to have it sent to me) prompted my husband and me to call the company Travel Downunder (Bellevue, WA; 866/258-1629, and tell the agent, Wendy Schatz, that we wanted to take the identical trip to Tonga that was put together for Penny and Dan Strohl of Oakland, California, and that was described in such beautiful detail by Penny in the article ‘Tonga — a South Pacific Paradise’ in the August 2005 issue of ITN.

“In the ensuing preparations for that trip, we were put in contact with the Strohls, who became very good friends of ours, although we lived in Florida, far from their home. Since my first email contact with Penny, she and I have emailed each other two or three times a week. (Yes, that’s for the last 13 years!) My husband and I visited twice with the Strohls in Oakland, and I took a little trip to New England with the Strohls after my husband died in 2009.

ITN is special!”

If you know anyone, anywhere, who has an interest in travel, ITN will send them a free sample copy of the next-printed issue. Just send in their address. (We do not sell or trade people’s names and addresses; we respect everyone’s privacy.)

We’re in the travel news business, and here’s one such item.

Orlando International Airport (MCO), the busiest airport in Florida, will be the first airport in the US to introduce biometric facial scanning of passengers on all of its international flights as it expands a program that began earlier this year at British Airways gates at MCO. As of press time, the expansion was expected to take until the end of summer to complete.

Biometric scanning has been used experimentally at some airports in the US, but Orlando will be the first airport to implement it across an entire class of flights.

During the security check in the airport, a digital picture of each person will be taken, and certain features of his or her face (for example, the distance between the eyes) will be compared to those in a picture already on file. The US Department of Homeland Security will maintain the database of passport photos (and, for foreigners, visa photos) of passengers who are supposed to be on each flight.

According to US Customs & Border Patrol (CBP), the scans each take two seconds. They will be done both for departing and arriving international passengers.

Where biometric scans are in use, travelers will not have to show their boarding passes or passports upon departure or arrival (but they each still will need to carry a passport, of course).

US citizens are allowed to opt out of the scans and board their flights in a more traditional way. However, signs at the airport indicate that a photo might still be required if Homeland Security requests it.

According to the CBP, in testing, the scans have had a 99% matching rate. However, there have been criticisms of the testing process because most of the subjects have been white males. The scanners are known to have problems matching the faces of women, children and people with darker skin tones.

The CBP announcement did not specify what would happen if a biometric scan, in error, did not make a match with someone’s photo on file. A more traditional, human inspection of a passport would likely be the next step.

As of press time, exit scans were being tested in 12 additional airports in the US (Boston Logan, New York’s JFK, Washington-Dulles, Chicago O’Hare, Miami, Atlanta, Houston Intercontinental, Houston Hobby, Las Vegas, San Diego, San Francisco and Seattle), and entry scans were being tested in four (Miami, JFK, Atlanta and Houston Intercontinental) as well as in four Preclearance airports outside of the US (Aruba, Abu Dhabi and, in Ireland, Shannon and Dublin).

This next topic covers a harsh subject, but it’s something that international travelers may want to be aware of.

On March 6, the nongovernmental organization Citizens’ Council for Public Security & Criminal Justice, based in Mexico, released its annual list of the 50 most dangerous cities in the world, ranking cities by their 2017 homicide rates, specifically, the number of murders per 100,000 citizens. (Keep in mind that cities with larger populations may have higher numbers of murders, total, but lower murder rates.)

According to the council’s latest ranking, 42 of the 50 cities with the highest murder rates were in Latin America. Of the remaining eight cities, six were in the US and two were in South Africa.

In 2017, the most dangerous city in the world was Los Cabos, on the southern tip of Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula, with a homicide rate of 111.33 per 100,000 residents. The rest of the top five, each with a homicide rate of more than 100 per 100,000, were Caracas, Venezuela (111.19); Acapulco, Mexico (106.63); Natal, Brazil (102.56), and Tijuana, Mexico (100.77).

Some popular destinations that also made the list were, at number 6, La Paz, Bolivia (84.97), and, not in the top 10, Cape Town, South Africa (62.25); San Salvador, El Salvador (59.06); Guatemala City, Guatemala (53.49); Manaus, Brazil (48.07), and, at number 43, Mazatlán, Mexico (39.32).

To derive the homicide rate, the council relied on governmental statistics. However, not every country’s government releases statistics or the statistics that are released may be unreliable, so for some cities, particularly in Venezuela, homicide rates were estimated.

A PDF copy of that survey (in Spanish only) can be downloaded at (click on “Descargar”).

• One city that did not make the top-50 list but which is seeing an increase in violent crime is London. In February and March 2018, the actual number of murders in London surpassed the number in New York City.

In the following months, New York did eventually overtake London; as of June 14, 74 murder investigations had been launched in London, while the number in New York had reached 123. That total of 74 was a sharp increase compared to the total in the same period the year before, however. In the first half of 2018, as of press time, the rate of murders in London was on pace to beat the year’s total in 2017: 116.

On a more positive note…

In the April issue, I reported on a law passed in Poland in February that made it a criminal offense to accuse Poland or Polish people of having played any part in the Holocaust or war crimes during WWII. Anyone prosecuted for violating the law faced up to three years in jail and a hefty fine.

After widespread condemnation from the US, Israel and the EU, on June 26 Poland’s prime minister penned an amendment to that law, making any such infraction a civil offense rather than a criminal one, and it was quickly passed by Poland’s parliament.

Now, anyone breaking the law will not face any jail time.


• David Lundblad of Lewiston, New York, caught a blunder in ITN. A Travel Brief item about a dam bursting in Nigeria was mistakenly titled “Kenya Dam Breaks” (July ’18, pg. 55). (Just keeping you on your toes, folks!)

• Steven Cole of Lowell, Michigan, who had a Feature Article on Grenada in our November 2016 issue, noted that the name of that country was misspelled on the page-36 map of Caribbean islands in our July 2018 issue.

• Lorenz Rychner of Denver, Colorado, wrote, “Having lived in Australia for 14 years and visited dozens of times since coming to live in the US, I always take great pleasure in reading anything about Australia. In one of the winning essays on the subject ‘My Trail is Australia’ (July ’18, pg. 32), the author, Elsa Dixon, referred to ‘noisy, cosmopolitan Chinatown near the Manly ferry at Wolloomooloo.’

“Actually, no public ferries go to Woolloomooloo, which is nowhere close to Chinatown. Also, the traditional, public-service Manly ferry links Manly (in northeastern Sydney, where the harbor meets the open ocean) with Circular Quay (the Opera House ferry stop) but goes nowhere near Chinatown, which is about a 1½-mile walk away. To reach Chinatown by ‘regular’ Sydney ferry, one would take the Cross Harbour ferry to the nearest Chinatown stop, Barangaroo.

“A ferry that gets a bit closer to Chinatown and which runs all the way from Manly is the private-enterprise express-service ‘Manly Fast Ferry,’ which requires separate tickets and costs a lot more. It makes a stop at Darling Harbour, which is, indeed, a short walk from Chinatown.”

Upon reading the above, Elsa wrote, “The line should have read, as I reminisced about my tour, ‘Sydney Opera House illuminating the harbor; noisy, cosmopolitan Chinatown; the Manly ferry; Woolloomooloo… ’.”

To those readers still waiting for a ferry at Woolloomooloo, we apologize.

• Harry Conwell of Topeka, Kansas, informed us that the “pair of upland geese” pictured in the “South Georgia and Falkland Islands” Feature Article (July ’18, pg. 10) are actually kelp geese. Good eye, Harry!

• Lastly, a Geografile in the April 2018 issue (page 51), stated, “The British Commonwealth of Nations is an association of 52 sovereign states, formerly British colonies.”

William Smith of Allentown, Pennsylvania, noted that, these days, it’s officially called just The Commonwealth, most of its members are former British colonies and, including the UK, itself, the total is 53.

Thanks for writing in to keep us honest, William.

Recently, a couple of subscribers, when submitting letters for our Travelers’ Intercom section, mentioned that they sent quite-lengthy write-ups because they thought that’s what we preferred.

Actually, aside from Feature Articles (which can run 1,500 words or so), the shorter the letter or note, the better. Even a single line is welcome. If you have a lot to tell other travelers about, try to break the write-up into two or more letters covering different subjects or with different points of focus, each a couple paragraphs or a couple hundred words long.

Short and sweet. Not only will a short letter find its way into the magazine more quickly, it makes for better reading overall — a greater variety of topics. (If what you’re sharing takes more than a couple hundred words, that’s fine too; the point is it doesn’t have to be lengthy.)

What’s one lesson you learned on your last trip, one place you found that others might enjoy visiting or one business that you can recommend? Offer a packing tip or some time-saving advice.

You could inform others of a custom that visitors should be aware of in a particular country. A special festival. A great gift item to pick up someplace.

Basically, write about anything that will help someone have a more successful or rewarding trip. You have a couple of these secrets inside you. Write them down, like you’re telling an interested friend.

Email or write to ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818. Include your subscription address (where you receive ITN). Travel advice wanted!