Airlines to fill middle seats. Study on COVID transmission on planes. New ITN Travel Awards

By David Tykol
This item appears on page 2 of the December 2020 issue.

Dear Globetrotter:

Welcome to the 537th issue of your monthly worldwide travel magazine. Though featuring fewer pages than in previous years, and despite all that’s happened since the coronavirus showed up, ITN is still in production. We appreciate the continuing support of those who have felt moved to respond to Evenyl Roemmich’s “Travel Resource Challenge” (July ’20, pg. 26). It truly helps. Thank you.

This magazine is largely subscriber-written, and letters have started coming in with recommendations for travel in the United States. It feels odd to write that, after four decades of saying “ITN does not cover destinations in the US,” but I announced the publisher’s policy change in last month’s issue. Until Americans can travel freely internationally as before the pandemic-imposed shutdown of borders, and feel safe doing so, ITN will also include some coverage of domestic travel.

For now, US coverage will be no more than one page per issue, with only very short items. No long letters. We’ll start next month.

Aside from any intriguing US items, do continue to submit foreign-travel reports or musings. With no one currently traveling, feel free to write about any of your last trips, even going back a few years — a special evening, an encounter with an interesting character, a lesson learned… .

When you’re with friends who travel, either out to dinner or gathered in your living room, what is the story you like to tell? Write that down and send it in ( I’m sure other ITN readers will appreciate it.

Some news to report —

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, one early step that airlines took to protect passengers was to leave middle seats empty, giving people a modicum of distance between each other on flights. However, airlines will soon begin to sell those seats once again.

Delta Air Lines and Alaska Airlines have promised to continue leaving the seats empty until at least Jan. 6, 2021, but that is the latest that any US airline has guaranteed that middle seats will go unsold. At press time, the two other major international carriers in the US — American and United — had been selling middle seats for months. Southwest was to begin selling middle seats in December.

Southwest, at least, will notify ticketed passengers when their flight becomes more than 65% full, giving them a chance to switch to a less-full flight (without a change fee). No refunds promised, though.

As for whether or not it’s safe to fly, some people may be encouraged by certain findings.

Though a number of cases of COVID-19 infections have been traced back to travel on airplanes, many of those occurred during the early days of the pandemic, before airlines required passengers and crew to wear masks.

At the University of Alabama at Birmingham, a study that used data collected by health officials in Hong Kong looked at three months of Emirates flights. The university used numbers from Hong Kong because the health officials have tested every incoming passenger since March, with each passenger having to quarantine in Hong Kong for 14 days, then be retested, and it chose Emirates because it was one of the first airlines to require the wearing of masks and has strictly enforced it.

What the university found was that there was almost no transmission of the virus on those flights.

In one nearly 3-week interval within the study, from June 16 to July 5, 58 passengers on five of the many flights from Dubai, UAE, to Hong Kong were found — upon landing after eight hours — to have been infected before boarding. Despite there having been seven or more infected people on each of the five flights, after quarantine, not a single one of the 1,500 to 2,000 other passengers on those flights had contracted the disease.

In one particularly alarming case on another date, it was found that 27 individuals who had flown from Dubai to Hong Kong were infected, yet, of all the other passengers on that flight, only two were later found to have become infected.

What this study seems to show is that having everyone wear masks is particularly effective at reducing the transmission of COVID-19, even in a confined space so long as it is well ventilated, as commercial airliners are designed to be (Sept. ’20, pg. 30).


• Cheri Stock of Hagåtña, Guam, pointed out an error in the October 2020 issue. The caption on the first page of the feature “Exploring the Legends of the Pacific by Ship” should have read “Guam’s Plaza de España,” not “Saipan’s.”

Thank you, Cheri.

• And I misattributed a quote to someone in my last column. In culling comments to print from the hundreds of emails we received on whether or not ITN should also cover the US, I left the name off of one line and connected it to someone else’s (Nov. ’20, pg. 27). Here’s how it should have read:

“I agree with Helen Noble that Disney should be avoided, but, then, I can’t recall reading much about Disneyland in Europe or Asia in ITN anyway!” — Jim Stefan, Sarasota, FL

“I say ‘go ahead’ with select US destinations and happenings. I trust the ITN editorial staff to make decisions about content and not let US destinations ‘take over’!” — Lynn Boreson, Madison, WI

My apologies, Jim and Lynn.

How about something fun!

• Robyn Rishe of Monterey Park, California, pointed out that of the official travel awards that ITN offers, an obvious omission is an ITN Half of Europe Award, to accompany the Visited All of Europe Award. She’s right, so we now offer both.

There are 45 European countries on The ITN Official List of Independent Sovereign Nations: Albania, Andorra, Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Kosovo, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, Netherlands, North Macedonia, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, San Marino, Serbia, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine, United Kingdom and Vatican City.

If you have visited 23 of those, you qualify to obtain the Half of Europe Award.

• Another subscriber, Roger L. Payne of Williamsburg, Virginia, suggested a Microstates of Europe Award, and we’re offering that one now too.

You need to have set foot in the following half dozen independent — and relatively tiny — states to apply for this award: Andorra, Malta, Liechtenstein, San Marino, Monaco and Vatican City.

• And just for good measure, we’re introducing a third new award, the All of France Award, but it’s probably not what you’re thinking.

France is unique among all colonial powers in that each of its overseas possessions is considered fully a part of the country itself. Citizens in all of its possessions are French citizens; they can even vote in EU parliamentary elections. The territories have representation in the French assemblies, and the euro is the official currency.

To qualify for the All of France Award, you need to have been to all of the following places that are part of France: on the continent of Europe, metropolitan France; in the Indian Ocean, Mayotte and Réunion; in the Pacific, French Polynesia, New Caledonia and Wallis & Fortuna; in the Caribbean, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Saint Barthélemy and Saint-Martin; in South America, French Guiana, and, in the Atlantic, Saint-Pierre & Miquelon. (Not included are uninhabited islands or France’s claims in Antarctica.) Difficile, non?

• To find all of the ITN Travel Awards, visit and click on “Resources” and “Awards.”

To apply for one, write up your list of countries visited (or click on the chosen award, print out its countries list and check off the ones you’ve been to), then send that to Travel Awards, c/o ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818. There is a separate processing/handling fee of $7 for each award; you may enclose a check payable to ITN or use a credit card (Visa, M/C or AmEx; include card number, expiration date and signature).

You will be sent a personalized, 8½"x11" certificate suitable for framing, and your name will be printed in ITN.

In advance, congratulations!

In regard to next month’s issue (January 2021), I regret to announce that it will be online only, posted on our website after the holidays; it will not come to you in the mail. Until a sufficient number of tour operators are up and advertising again, this is the only feasible way for the magazine to continue to be published.

We know this will be disappointing for many of our readers. Unfortunately, this is the situation we’re in.

But there is some good news, especially for any of you with smartphones: ITN now is much easier to view on your mobile device.

As our Web Designer, Demian LeClair, put it, “ITN has been updated to a responsive web design. Responsive sites automatically adjust their layouts to look great on all devices and screen sizes. 

“On wider screens and devices, like tablets, you won’t notice any changes. You’ll still see the familiar 3-column ITN design. However, on smaller devices held vertically, you’ll find that the three columns collapse into a single column, making articles easy to read.”

If you are using a larger-screen device, remember that subscribers can always open an exact-copy PDF version of the magazine (but with pictures in color and live links to travel firms mentioned, including our advertisers, who help support ITN). Look for the “CLICK HERE to access the (month/year) issue!” link on the home page and follow that to the “CLICK HERE to Access the pages of the print magazine as part of the ITN Online Edition” link.

Again, take a moment to send us a travel memory of one of your last foreign trips. Or send a few cool pictures (with a caption for each, please). Tell us what we’re looking at, approximately where and about when (month/year) the picture was taken and by whom. What about that screen saver shot? Let us see it! Lots of you have pictures to share.