Boarding Pass

By David Tykol
Christ the Redeemer statue — Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Dear Globetrotter:

Welcome to the 378th issue of your monthly overseas travel magazine.

If this is the first copy you’ve seen, all you need to know is that articles and letters from travelers like you make up most of each issue. Subscribers traveling overseas or just back from a trip send in reports on interesting destinations they’ve found plus advice on making a trip there go smoother.

They recommend hotels, restaurants or reliable local guides and even warn each other about unfair policies of travel firms. ITN readers are among the most frequent travelers, and they watch out for each other.

If you have something to share, send it in. YOU write ITN.

In addition, the ITN staff keeps an eye on travel news for you.

For example, the Ministry of the Interior in Chile reported that muggings in that country were up almost 20% in the first four months of this year compared to the same interval last year. There were fewer muggings in some areas of the country, but they were way up in Santiago. Some authorities surmise this is because at the end of last year, in order to reduce overcrowding in the prisons, the crime was reclassified from a felony to a misdemeanor.

The European Commission is cracking down on “holiday club” scams in which people pay large fees to join clubs promising discounted vacations but end up with no guarantees about the dates they can travel or the quality of the accommodations. All they really get is access to a questionable website.

The victims are snared by “winning” a scratch-card game and/or being invited to a high-pressure presentation from which they may walk away having to pay an annual subscription whether they take a trip or not.

The commission is writing regulations to ban up-front payments and to allow a 2-week cooling-off period for purchasers. They advise never signing up during a presentation, never spending any money or charging anything until you’ve had time to think about it, and not falling for it when you’re told it’s a “never-to-be-repeated offer.”

If your mobile phone can send text messages (SMS) or browse the Internet, FlightStats Mobile offers two options that allow you to check the real-time status of essentially any commercial flight or airport departure/arrival anywhere.

With your Internet-enabled phone or PDA, visit the website to find a flight’s current location (even in flight) or check on departures, arrivals, airport delays or security wait times, not to mention airplane seat maps and the weather.

For phones with text messaging, Google has a tool that allows you to check a flight’s status in real time, also. Just send a text message to the number “466453” (“Google” on most hand sets) along with the airline name and flight number in the message (for example, “United flight 90”), and Google will send you back an up-to-the-minute report on the flight.

Wouldn’t you like to be notified if the price dropped on an airline ticket you just bought? You can make that happen by downloading a free program at the website There are websites that keep track of fares between cities, but Yapta keeps an eye on specific flights, e-mailing you when there’s a decrease in price.

With a refundable ticket, you can claim the difference from the airline.

With a nonrefundable ticket, most airlines will allow you to change your ticket so long as you pay a change fee (usually $35-$100 on a domestic ticket), assuming the savings is sufficient. However, inquire if making the change will cause you to lose your previous seat assignment as well as, with a different (cheaper) ticket classification, frequent-flyer miles.

In addition, when you go shopping for a ticket at Orbitz, Expedia, Travelocity or many U.S. airline websites, Yapta will keep track of any flights you mark and send you an e-mail if the price goes down.

Read the fine print, ask questions, and never assume, even when something seems like common sense — familiar lessons exampled in this experience of a couple of ITN readers.

Emilee Cantieri and her husband, Frederick, of Hendersonville, North Carolina, booked a tour to Brazil and the Amazon for January ’07 through a travel agent. In addition to the tour company’s reputation, among the things they took into consideration when choosing the tour was the fact the flights from Miami to Rio de Janeiro and from São Paulo back to Miami would be via Atlanta. They live near Asheville, a short flight from Atlanta.

After they paid their deposit, they received a tentative schedule indicating that the tour was priced “from Miami” and that Atlanta was an “add-on,” despite its being the gateway city. They were booked to fly Asheville-Atlanta-Miami-Atlanta- Rio and, on return, São Paulo-Atlanta-Miami-Atlanta-Asheville, all on the same airline.

As Emilee wrote, “These flights would have added hours of flying to an already long trip and would have afforded more opportunities for missed flights and/or lost luggage. We protested the absurdity of this schedule and were told we didn’t actually have to fly the extra legs but still had to pay $385 each even if we didn’t fly.”

It was too late to book another tour and still get visas, so they paid, but they did not fly and were never ticketed for the extra Atlanta-Miami-Atlanta legs prior to and following their tour departure.

Emilee wrote to the tour company, asking, “Who gets the extra $385 each: the airline or the tour company? If it’s the airline, then we feel we are due an upgrade on the international flight or vouchers for future travel. After all, the airline can sell the seats on our Atlanta-Miami-Atlanta flights to other passengers. At this point, we are getting nothing for our extra money, not even frequent-flyer miles.”

The tour company wrote back, “(Our company) possesses multiple contracts with various vendors around the world, ensuring our business and quality of service for each tour departure and passenger. In our contracts for our South American tours and for the airlines that we use to fly our passengers to their destinations, we specify that all of our price quotes are given to us by constantly having the departure city as Miami. Should our passengers not live in Miami, they will need to pay what is called an ‘Add-On’ for the additional flight from their city to Miami, Florida, in order to continue on to their tour to South America.

“We apologize if this was not further explained to you; however, this money does go to the airline, as it is their services you are paying for. It is just that, per our contracts, we are unable to offer set prices from every major airport across America. Because of this, we just ensure that all of our air quotes have a constant and that is ‘a departure from Miami’.”

“In our South American tour brochure, you will find a detailed explanation of what our ‘Add-Ons’ are and why they are in effect. Also, on the pages dedicated to your specific tour, it states under the tour cost chart that all of our Land + Air quotes are based on departure from Miami. The $385 per person includes the air add-on from Atlanta and the air taxes, which are imposed upon us by the airline in question.”

ITN wrote to the airline and was sent the reply, “Any fare changes should have been directed to the travel agency from which they were obtained and prior to purchase. Any changes after purchase should still be forwarded to the travel agency where the package/tickets was/were originally purchased. Several airlines have their own vacation packages that offer specific combinations of packages based directly on origin of travel.”

Emilee persisted with the airline and, in the end, was sent two “transportation credits” worth $385 each. She told ITN she considered the situation “resolved.”

Lew Mathews of Alamo, California, wrote, “I’d like to pass along a story that was told to me by my daughter, Kelly.

“She was taking a flight from Phoenix, Arizona, to San Jose, California, on March 23, 2007. As always, the first-class passengers were boarded, then the rear section of coach. As Kelly passed through first class headed for her exit-row seat, she waited while someone ahead of her very slowly put his carry-on away. As she stood there, another gentleman seated in first class called out to the steward. The steward came over and he asked her if she might go to the back and ask the young man who was in full military attire to switch places with him.

“My daughter, who was now standing next to his seat, simply leaned over and said, ‘Sir, that’s what I call class.’

“Later on, while on her way to the rest room, my daughter passed by the gentleman, who now was seated in the second-to-last row in a middle seat, yes, with a smile on his face. I can only imagine the look and feeling that the young soldier must have had.”

Remember, YOU write this magazine. — D.T.