Boarding Pass

By David Tykol

Dear Globetrotter:

Welcome to the 367th issue of your monthly overseas travel magazine.

SAS Scandinavian Airlines System has introduced a “biometric security check” on domestic flights in Sweden. That’s tech talk for reading the fingerprints of people checking bags in and then, by taking new readings at the gate, making sure those bags belong to the passengers boarding the plane.

SAS claims that personal privacy will be maintained: the stored fingerprints will be deleted once they have been used.

New technology enables airline passengers to use their own cell phones in flight, and a third of all carriers are expected to allow it by 2007.

An International Airline Passengers Association survey of frequent business travelers found that, even though 90% of them carried cell phones, most were opposed to cell phone use on board because they would not be able to escape from the sound of phones ringing and the subsequent one-sided conversations.

Forty-five percent, in fact, ranked listening to someone talking on the phone as the second-most irritating thing they could imagine, worse than listening to a child crying or a passenger snoring. What came in at number one? Having someone kicking the back of their seat.

Speaking of “air pressure,” the world’s highest railway made its debut on July 1 (Dec.’05, pg. 21), carrying 900 passengers from Golmud, in central China’s Qinghai province, 710 miles south through Uli and Nagqu to Lhasa, Tibet, at its highest point reaching 16,640 feet (738 feet higher than a rail line in the Peruvian Andes).

The train’s windows have ultraviolet filters, and the carriages are sealed, with oxygen pumped in. Nevertheless, on that maiden voyage the change in air pressure caused some items to blow up such as packaged goods, ballpoint pen ink tubes and the “tiny airbags” in laptops and MP3 players that cushion the internal parts.

The railway connects to the existing network. A traveler now can travel from Beijing to Lhasa in 48 hours at a cost of $50-$160 one way.

Tibetan rights activists fear that a flood of Chinese immigrants will destroy the Tibetan identity; some are calling for a tourist boycott of the line. Environmentalists point out that the line passes through fragile ecosystems with endangered species.

There are plans to introduce luxury trains charging many times the price of an ordinary ticket. Each will carry 100 passengers and feature showers, onboard folk dance shows and. . . karaoke. (No word on how much you pay to not have karaoke.)

Jim Delmonte of Honolulu, Hawaii, wants to warn his fellow ITN readers not to be “taken,” as he was.

During a cruise aboard a Russian ship, he was “befriended” by a waitress on board with whom he entered a 50-50 partnership to purchase homes in Russia for resale.

He sent a sizable amount of money — and never saw a dime of it or the waitress again. He later heard of all the things she bought with his investment. He also read that her alleged partner in crime was arrested in Monaco, at the request of Russia, for suspicion of fraud.

Jim cautions, “Don’t be fooled. Even someone with a nice smile can take advantage of a kind-hearted tourist.”

Last month I advised that if you need to cancel a tour or cruise, you should do it in writing and not just over the phone. ITN Contributing Editor Philip Wagenaar adds, “You should send a certified letter, return receipt requested, to have proof that you sent the letter and the company received it.”

And Kent Shamblin of Beaver Bay, Minnesota, wrote, “I agree with your advice to cancel trips in writing, but I also believe that travelers could save themselves from many problems by using a travel agency that does a good deal of business with cruise lines and tour companies. The agents know the responsible companies and those of the other kind, and they are careful to get everything in e-mail or other written communications.”

In this issue we’re checking in on several travel clubs that ITN readers have started around the country. See the Bulletin Board on page 78. If there’s a travel club that you’d like ITN readers to know about, send us the info and we’ll post it.

One club that isn’t on the list but which we’ve mentioned before (Feb.’04, pg.85) is The Women’s Travel Club (36 W. 20th St., New York, NY 10011; 800/480-4448 or 646/723-2188 or

Its president, Phyllis Stoller, has compiled — for the impulsive buyer of travel or for those who are too busy to really do their homework before signing up for a tour — 10 Tips for Choosing a Tour in 10 Minutes:

    1. Make sure the people in the brochure look like you.

    2. Averse to small print? At least read the cancellation penalties and find the point at which the company can cancel on you.

    3. To find out the quality or general flavor of the hotels to be used on the itinerary, Google the hotel used in the capital city.

    4. Red flag the word “from”; it means you are looking at the lowest price.

    5. To gauge the pace of the tour, if breakfast, lunch and dinner all are included, you are on a slow-moving trip.

    6. Concerning financial security, pay only by credit card both the deposit and the balance. Regarding travel insurance, pay the insurance company for it, not the tour operator.

    7. Forget the number of days; most companies include travel days in that total. Only look at the number of nights.

    8. Check on the company by contacting trade association memberships like ASTA.

    9. Prompt responses from the company mean they are customer friendly. Prompt e-mail responses mean they cater to Internet-savvy travelers.

    10. Check that the company has a street address.

It is with sadness that I report to you the death on July 22 of Bill Bennett, who from 1980 to 2003 wrote the “Cruises” column for ITN. Bill and his wife, Louise — who co-wrote the column until her death in 1999 — enjoyed many years of leading groups on cruises. They lived here in Sacramento, and it was always a great pleasure to have them attend our office parties.

Bill was a close friend of Armond and Helen Noble, and even after his retirement they continued to meet frequently for dinner. He will be missed. — D.T.