Boarding Pass

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

Dear Globetrotter:

Welcome to the 393rd issue of your monthly overseas travel magazine, the ORIGINAL forum for overseas travelers.

In ITN, most of the feature articles and essentially all of the letters are written by travelers who paid their own way and are sharing what they’ve learned not for profit but to help others better enjoy their trips.

Whether it’s a full-blown description of an interesting place you’ve found plus photographs (as on page 6) or a simple travel tip (page 67), send it in to be printed here. See the masthead on this page or the box on page 66 for the address or e-mail address.

Meanwhile, there’s lots going on that you may want to know about.

Portugal has seen a huge increase in violent crime in the past year. While there were 108 bank holdups in all of 2007, there were 100 in just the first six months of 2008 (at 13 banks, half in Lisbon). Carjackings are up 50% from last year.

Increasing poverty is named as a factor. Portugal is the poorest of the first 15 EU member countries, with unemployment at 7.3%.

Government officials plan to add 2,000 officers to the police force through next year and to double expenditures on the security infrastructure by 2012.

In India, about 100,000 people were killed in traffic accidents last year. That’s 274 per day, one of the highest traffic death rates in the world. And it is only expected to climb as the number of vehicles grows.

According to the World Bank, the accident mortality rate in India is 14 per 10,000 vehicles, compared to fewer than two per 10,000 in many developed countries. Aside from there being so many vehicles on narrow, potholed roads, many of the drivers lack basic skills, there is a lax attitude regarding drunk or underage driving, and safety regulations are inadequate (overloaded buses, no seat belts, etc.).

Expect the problem to be repeated in other countries where the economy is booming and car ownership is increasing.

Visitors to South Africa are being asked by the Department of Environmental Affairs & Tourism to employ only registered tour guides. They each can be identified by a colorful “Tourist Guide” badge that includes their name and an ID number.

In a project launched in September, there will be site inspections of businesses that employ guides and fines for guides whose licenses have expired.

In order to avoid Tropical Storm Fay, Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Sky departed from Miami two hours early on Sept. 15 for its Bahamas cruise — and at least a dozen passengers missed the boat.

The ship sailed at 3 p.m. instead of 5. The line had posted the new time on its website the day before and had called all of the passengers it could. Those who arrived late had arranged their own travel.

None of those left behind took the option of meeting up with the ship two days later. All received full refunds plus cab fare and a reduced rate at a Miami hotel.

The approaching storm, one of many this hurricane season, had been in the news for several days.

This summer in France, inspectors did a sweep of nearly 10,000 establishments that serve food — from food stalls to 3-star restaurants — and found that 27% failed to meet quality and hygiene requirements. Thirty-seven establishments were closed.

Poor refrigeration was the most common problem, affecting food products such as ready-made salads. Also, some products imported from outside the European Union were substandard, including “off” beef from Brazil and adulterated oil from Ukraine.

Chip, kebab and pizza vendors plus “roadside restaurants” comprised the highest percentage of offenders.

Sometimes the customer wins.

Almost as soon as it started it, United Airlines yanked the trial program in which they charged for meals in coach on overseas flights out of Washington, DC, which I reported on here last month. Faced with an overwhelming negative response, the airline decided to reinstate complimentary hot meals on those flights.

Know what you’re getting into.

A couple of ITN subscribers took a trip with a well-known cruise line last fall. The line has a policy that prohibits smoking in its ships’ dining areas, common areas and corridors but which permits guests to smoke cigarettes in designated areas of lounges, on outside decks and inside staterooms.

The couple wrote to ITN, “The air in the corridor outside our cabin was thick with smoke almost all of the time and smelled of acrid stale tobacco. When we opened our door, smoke would pour in. Other cabins were occupied by smokers who chose to leave their doors open and exhaust their smoke into the corridor.

“We complained orally and sent a written complaint to the ship’s safety officer. The crew put cleansing deodorant powder on the floor of our cabin and vacuumed it on several occasions, and the hall was spray-deodorized. This masked the problem until the next doors were opened.

“It appears that published smoking policies are inconsistently or ineffectively enforced. We both returned from the cruise with persistent coughs. . . . The risks involved with inhaling secondhand smoke have been extensively documented.”

In a written reply, the cruise line apologized to the couple and said that they have attempted to move with current trends and that as the attitudes toward smoking change, they will continue to revisit the policy.

The bottom line, as the couple discovered, is that a cabin on a ship that allows smoking in the cabins may well not be smoke-free, let alone the hallways. Be aware of that when inquiring about a ship’s smoking policies.

Here’s a hopeful perspective.

The insurance company AIG has been in the news recently as one of the large companies facing financial difficulties. AIG is the parent company of Travel Guard, one of the world’s largest travel insurance firms.

Inquiring about the stability of Travel Guard’s insurance policies, Contributing Editor Wayne Wirtanen, ITN’s expert on travel insurance, on Sept. 15 received the following response from Tom Zavadsky, Executive Vice President of Sales & Marketing, AIG Travel Guard:

“The underlying strengths of AIG’s fundamental insurance operations, including AIG Travel Guard, are sound and poised for growth.”

Wayne told ITN, “Mr. Zavadsky’s response included assurances from the New York State Department of Insurance and from the financial rating company Standard & Poor’s.

“In my opinion, these assurances and the federal ‘bailout’ program are adequate to make Travel Guard’s travel insurance policies safe and reliable.”

Emily Moore of Greenville, Illinois, wrote, “I took a copy of ITN on a Greek islands cruise recently. Fellow travelers were very impressed and each wanted a free sample copy; enclosed are their names and addresses. We subscribe to several travel magazines, but ITN is the only one I read cover to cover, usually the day it arrives.”

Thanks, Emily, for mentioning our offer to send anyone a sample copy upon request. You might add that they’ve got nothing to lose; ITN has a 100% money-back guarantee (unheard of!), and travelers’ addresses will not be passed along to any other firm.

May Gibbs of Edmonds, Washington, wrote, “My husband and I thank you for many years of travel news, advice and the input of traveling friends. Yes, they are friends, part of a circle of people who enjoy our world and the people in it. Our moccasins have trod many trails with the help of ITN. God bless and keep up the good work.”

It’s good to hear nice comments from readers like Emily and May. It’s even better when you write in about your travels and how the trip can go more smoothly for the next person.

While you’re at it, tell us where you were this August (page 34). This is no idle request. For those who participated last time (June ’08, pg. 92), we held a drawing and gave away a Lifetime Subscription to ITN, a 3-year subscription, etc. — David Tykol, Editor