Boarding Pass

By David Tykol
This item appears on page 2 of the February 2009 issue.
Valley of the Kings — across the Nile from Luxor, Egypt.

Dear Globetrotter:

Welcome to the 396th issue of your monthly overseas travel magazine — 33 years in publication!

Though this magazine is all about world travelers looking out for each other, we also print news items that may affect travelers.

In Volgograd, Russia, an African-American exchange student survived a stabbing on Dec. 5, 2008, in what may have been either a robbery attempt or a racist attack.

Though attacks on Westerners are rare in Russia, in the last few years exchange students from Africa and dark-skinned immigrants from the Caucasus region and Central Asia, as well as Jews, Muslims and gay rights activists, often have been targeted by gangs of Neo-Nazi “skinheads.”

In 2007, 86 people were killed in 667 attacks, and from January to November 2008 at least 84 were killed in such hate crimes. Many attacks go unreported when the victims are migrant workers who, without proper documentation, risk deportation if they go to the police.

In Riga, Latvia, the US Embassy is forbidding its staff and their family members from patronizing certain bars, clubs and lounges that “have become notorious for credit card fraud extortion scams, prostitution rings and violence by organized criminals.”

There have been many instances where foreign tourists were charged ridiculously high prices for drinks, then forced to withdraw money from ATMs to pay their bills. Threats have been followed by assaults, in some cases. Some victims believe local police are complicit in the scams, as they have offered no assistance.

Many of the problem taverns are in Riga’s Old Town, including Nobu Sushi (Grecinieku 28), Roxy Club (Kalku 24, near the entrance to the Old Town), Puzzle (Kalku 22) and Zephyr Bar (by Galleria Center). Also watch out for Foxy Lounge (Terbatas 2 at Merkata St.), Mademoiselle Cigar Club (on Valnu St.) and Bar Fly (Vagnera 8, near Livu Sq.). Find still more listed at

With a declaration from the Minister of Agriculture on Dec. 1, 2008, Bali, Indonesia, officially lost its “rabies-free” status for the first time ever. Four rabies deaths occurred on the island from September to November, with 74 dog bites having been reported.

Authorities are aiming to have the rabies outbreak under control in three months. The governor has temporarily banned the import or export of all animals, and as of 4 Dec. 110 dogs had been vaccinated and 196 stray dogs had been eradicated. In addition, 400 doses of human vaccine were brought in to treat any further bite victims.

No further incidents have been reported, but it is suggested that travelers avoid direct contact with dogs, cats, monkeys and other animals on Bali. Monkeys are commonly found at temples and often reach in people’s pockets looking for food. To prevent possibly being bitten or scratched, do not display snacks around them.

It has been more than 10 years since 63 tourists were killed at the Temple of Hatshepsut in Luxor on Nov. 17, 1997, and there has not been another terrorist attack on the roads along the Nile, so on Dec. 1, 2008, Egyptian authorities lifted the requirement that tourist vehicles must travel in armed convoys, at least during daytime. Police-escorted convoys still are required for travel from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.

This will give tour operators more flexibility, and tourist sites may be less crowded since buses won’t need to arrive all at once. Travelers who prefer to have an armed escort may request one from their guide, travel agent or the Antiquities & Tourism Police.

After Alitalia went into bankruptcy, unable to find buyers (Nov. ’08, pg. 89), in November a group of private investors, Compagnia Aerea Italiana, received approval from the Italian government to acquire the airline.

No longer under government control, it was scheduled to relaunch on Jan. 13 still under the name Alitalia, though its assets will have been merged with those of Air One, Italy’s largest private airline, which was controlled by a partner of CAI. Forty-six of Alitalia’s aircraft have been put up for sale.

Malaysia Airlines has become the first Asian carrier to allow passengers to make and receive calls on their cell phones while in the air. They can send text messages too as well as e-mails on their PDAs. The airline employs a satellite for the mobile phone and data services, and passengers use their own equipment.

Currently, only a single Boeing 777-200 aircraft is offering the service, flying to cities in Europe, Australia, China and Japan, but if all goes smoothly, all of the airline’s wide-bodied aircraft will be fitted with the system.

Elizabeth Peotter of Sparks, Nevada, wonders if any of you, in flying in and out of airports around the world, have had an experience similar to hers traveling between Nevada and Mexico.

In April ’08 she flew out of Reno, where US Airways recorded the weight of her suitcase at 45 pounds. Two weeks later, at the airport in Puerto Vallarta, the airline said her bag weighed 60 pounds. She paid an overweight fee of $50 on the spot, using her American Express card.

She found the whole thing suspicious, though, because she had not added anything to her bag and, in fact, had left books behind.

She wrote to US Air and received a form letter simply listing the baggage weight limitations and corresponding fines.

The experience has left her with many questions.

Who monitors the baggage scales at airports? How often are they adjusted? Are records kept? Can scales be reset to ‘weigh heavy’ at the whim of personnel? Do the fees go to the airline or the airport or both?

ITN sent a copy of Elizabeth’s letter to the Puerto Vallarta airport authority but did not hear back. We also wrote to US Airways (4000 E. Sky Harbor Blvd., Phoenix, AZ 85034) and received the following reply: “The scales are calibrated by the Airport Authority of each city. The charge for the overweight bag was correct and there is not a refund that will be forthcoming.” — Elise Robinson, Executive Liaison, US Airways

In a follow-up letter, Elizabeth told ITN that she had asked her credit card company to contest the fee, and after several months the amount was credited back to her account, no reason provided.

An ITN staffer then came across an article by Barbara Grijalva ( about a recent inspection of scales at Tucson International by the Arizona Department of Weights & Measures. All seven of United Airlines’ scales were red-tagged because none had security seals, and all eight of Delta Air Lines’ scales were red-tagged because of inaccurate readings.

The inspector explained that a scale that is calibrated on a level concrete floor will give a different reading when its on, say, a carpet or, in this case, foam strips and wood planking.

It was pointed out that once a scale is red-tagged, it cannot be used until it’s adjusted by a certified repairman.

The inspection at the Tucson airport was routine, but an inspection will be scheduled whenever a consumer registers a complaint.

According to another article, in the New York Post, a recent check of luggage scales at JFK and LaGuardia airports found 102 of 810 of them to be inaccurate. Each then was tagged with a red sticker that said “condemned.” A couple of days later, American Airlines was fined $150 for continuing to use 10 of 28 scales of theirs tagged as miscalibrated. None of the other airlines had violated the orders.

If you see a scale being used that has the red sticker, inform the state’s Department of Consumer Affairs.

Roseann Snyder of Las Vegas, Nevada, wrote, “I love ITN. I’m like a lot of other readers who, as soon as they receive the magazine, read it from cover to cover.”

John Barnhart of Panama City Beach, Florida, seconded that: “We really enjoy each of our ITN issues, cover to cover! Keep up the outstanding job.”

One thing that sets ITN apart from all other travel publications is its variety of advertisers. You will see travel firms advertising in ITN that you won’t see anywhere else. They know where to find the best audience of frequent travelers who will appreciate what they offer.

Since they’re showing such good judgment and astute business sense, give them a try — and tell them where you found them. Along with your letters and articles and the ITN staff’s dedication, the advertisers, too, keep ITN producing issues month after month.