Boarding Pass

By David Tykol
This item appears on page 2 of the April 2008 issue.

Dear Globetrotter:

Welcome to the 386th issue of your monthly overseas travel magazine, the magazine that depends on its subscribers, international travelers like YOU, to fill its pages.

Just back from someplace beautiful or interesting? Get ripped off by the cab drivers in a city overseas? Have a packing tip? This is the place to share what you’ve learned with people who will appreciate it and can benefit from it.

We print news items, too, for travelers. While I cover some of those, be thinking about what experiences you can tell others about.

There were a number of thefts of items from the luggage compartments of buses in Sweden recently. In January police announced that they believed small people or children were being hidden inside duffel bags to emerge mid-journey to rifle through other people’s bags in the compartments. Conspirators would (literally) pick them up at journey’s end.

It is thought a criminal network is behind the nationwide thefts of thousands of dollars worth of cash, jewelry and merchandise. Police recommend travelers not place valuables in luggage.

If you’re planning to travel to certain countries in Africa or the Western Hemisphere, don’t put off until the last minute getting vaccinated for yellow fever. The vaccine is currently in short supply.

Some clinics have doses for only five people, and once the vials are prepared they must be used within one hour, thus the administering period is scheduled in advance.

If your local travel health clinic has none of the vaccine, check private clinics listed online at (International Society of Travel Medicine) and (American Society of Tropical Medicine). For info on countries requiring proof of the vaccination, visit

An industry trend? As of May 5, 2008, United Airlines will charge $25 for a second checked bag and $100 for a third or fourth checked bag on all domestic flights.

This applies to any passenger who buys a nonrefundable economy ticket and is not a member of the Mileage Plus or Star Alliance plan, and even those members will only be allowed two bags free unless their member status is Premier/Silver or higher.

If you have a gripe or a suggestion about airport security procedures, now there’s a place online where your comments will be read by the federal government — and others.

The Transportation Security Administration has introduced the Evolution of Security blog and promises to incorporate ideas posted on the site into their “checkpoint process evolution,” according to TSA Administrator Kip Hawley.

Hawley adds, “Our postings from the public will be reviewed to remove the destructive but not touch the critical or cranky.”

Skyrocketing fuel prices can mean unpleasant surprises for travelers.

ITN subscriber Naomi Sobo and her husband booked and paid for a 16-day cruise-tour to West Africa for January 2008. Two months before the trip, they received notice from the tour company that an additional $662 each was needed for fuel surcharges and taxes. They felt that the amount was excessive but they had no choice but to pay.

Beginning in November 2007, cruise passengers everywhere were hit with fuel surcharge increases, many retroactively. Passengers of most cruise lines had to pay an additional $5 to $12 each per day. The Sobos’ fuel surcharge, however, worked out to more than $40 per person per day, so I called the tour company owner and asked about it.

The owner first pointed out that his company added nothing to and made nothing from the fuel surcharges.

He then explained that his customers are promised, in writing, that the cruise fuel surcharge will never be more than $180. As it turns out, the airline fuel surcharge and ticket taxes are much more than that, however.

At the time the Sobos booked their trip, in March 2007, the airline surcharge and taxes might have been estimated at $345 for the West Africa trip. Of course, fuel prices went up dramatically in 2007, and by November the airline surcharge and taxes together amounted to $482 per person for the Sobos’ cruise-tour.

The company’s tour literature states that the fuel surcharges and taxes will be billed shortly before the departure date, but — here’s what you need to remember — unless a customer asks how much the air fuel surcharge is, he might not realize that it will be a very large amount, and that’s in addition to the cruise fuel surcharge and ticket taxes.

Never take for granted any innocuous wordings about additional taxes or surcharges. Ask for specific amounts or estimates.

By the way, the major cruise lines are now defending themselves in a class-action suit accusing them of a price-fixing conspiracy, according to the maritime industry newspaper Lloyd’s List. Filed on behalf of customers, the suit states that the lines added the surcharges to advertised prices after having already hedged against international fuel price increases.

In addition, Florida’s attorney general is reviewing the situation.

Claire Hoyer of Longmeadow, Massachusetts, wrote, “In his ‘Discerning Traveler’ column in the September 2007 issue, Philip Wagenaar wrote about international bereavement fares — possible discounts on tickets bought to visit a gravely ill or dying family member or to attend a funeral.

“We had to make the trip from Newark to Brussels, Belgium, in August and had only three days to get the tickets. As you well know, they are not inexpensive. After reading Dr. Wagenaar’s article, in January we applied to Continental Airlines for a bereavement discount and received it on our credit card.

“We are gratified that at least part of the trip was refunded. We realize that not all airlines are so kind, so, for this, we recommend Continental.

“Thanks, ITN, for being such an informative magazine. We read the issues faithfully.”

In the February issue I asked for couples’ secrets to traveling compatibly. John Putman of Sun City, California, came through with the following:

“My wife of almost 57 years, Elaine, and I have been traveling abroad for 29 of those years. We have visited over 80 countries on six continents and might have done more were it not for spending time visiting all 50 States plus nine provinces and territories in Canada and 15 states in Mexico, mostly by RV. By the way, I think we have been ITN subscribers for more than 25 of those 29 years.

“Obviously we love to travel, both of us, and this makes for easier planning. When there is disagreement, compromise is the key.

“For instance, she likes the cooler climes and I do not. She wanted to go to Antarctica. I suggested she pick, instead, a different cool destination but one of more temperate climate; we are off to Iceland and Greenland in July. She goes with me on my train tours. I join her on her bird-watching forays. We try to rotate the choices, and do not resort to flipping a coin.

“Once we decide on a destination, I take over the logistics. She is responsible for seeing to it that we make the most of the sights and sounds of the location. I believe we have an entire bookcase of travel books on the various countries.

“Mistakes of others? Not enjoying another country for all it has to offer rather than comparing it to the U.S. and finding fault. And, oh, yes, marrying a nontraveler! Happy traveling!”

You have something to share with other travelers, too; I’m sure of it. When you’re done reading this issue, write in to the editorial offices. See our editorial office address or e-mail address on the front wrap, page 2, page 9 or page 66.

And if you haven’t answered the question “Where were you in October 2007?” (see the boxes on pages 2 and 40), take a minute and a half to send that e-mail. The results will benefit all of us. — David Tykol, Editor