Boarding Pass

By David Tykol
This item appears on page 2 of the February 2010 issue.

Dear Globetrotter:

Welcome to the 408th issue of your monthly overseas travel magazine, the one that depends on its continent-hopping subscribers for much of what is printed.

While waiting to take off on a domestic flight aboard a US airline, passengers no longer may be kept aboard the airplane sitting on the tarmac for more than three hours, unless it’s necessary for safety or security or if returning to the terminal would disrupt airport operations. That’s one of the new “passengers’ rights” rules that were announced by US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on Dec. 21 and which will go into effect 120 days later.

After just two hours of waiting on the tarmac, the bathrooms must still be operable and the carrier must provide passengers with adequate food and drinking water and, where necessary, medical attention.

In addition, airlines will be prohibited “from scheduling chronically delayed flights” and “from retroactively applying material changes to their contracts of carriage that could have a negative impact on consumers who already have purchased tickets.”

Also, they must “respond in a timely and substantive fashion to customer complaints and provide information to consumers on where to file complaints.”

It is argued that the tarmac delay rules will lead to more canceled flights, as airlines will not want to be fined for their planes’ not taking off or returning to the gate within three hours.

As of Dec. 15, US citizens with five- or 10-year India visas may not reenter India within two months of leaving if their last stay was longer than 90 days or if they spent more than 180 days in India in the past year. Travelers may appeal for exceptions on a case-by-case basis in advance, but only one request for reentry may be made during a two-month interval.

This is in response to the arrest — in Chicago on Oct. 18, 2009 — of a US citizen for allegedly helping to plot the terrorist attacks that took place in Mumbai, India, in November 2008. The man, born in Pakistan as Daood Gilani, changed his name to David Headley and became a US citizen about four years ago, then traveled several times to India on a business visa.

As of January, the Mexican government has added gates, cameras (to record license plates), vehicle x-ray scanners and vehicle-weighing scales at the US border, initially at Tijuana, to more fully screen cars for weapons and cash that may be supplying violent drug cartels. Drivers entering Mexico may expect lengthier border crossings.

Those of you heading to Argentina, let ITN know if that country is now collecting an entry fee: $131 from Americans and US$100 from Australians (good for multiple entries over the life of the passport) and US$70 from Canadians.

A year ago, an Argentine consulate told ITN the fee would start on Jan. 1, 2009 (in reciprocity for what Argentineans are charged to enter), then postponed it indefinitely (May ’09, pg. 23).

One source says the fee is being charged only at Buenos Aires’ Ezeiza International Airport, but ITN cannot confirm that. Those of you writing in, let us know the date you entered Argentina and your entry point, please. Write to Argentina Entry Fee, c/o ITN (see “Editorial Only” address on cover).

Residents of the USA, Canada and Australia visiting Argentina as tourists or on business do not require a visa.

Some good news — scaffolding no longer covers the gateway at the entrance to the Acropolis in Athens. A nine-year project has been completed, removing metal pins that were destructively oxidizing the marble structure. Also, copies of Ionic capitals have been installed on two of the columns at the entrance.

Work on the Parthenon’s north colonnade will be completed soon, with rebuilding of the Temple of Athena scheduled to be finished by this summer. These buildings were erected in the fifth century BC.

Alas, visitors to Rio de Janeiro beaches no longer are able to sip drinks from coconuts, as beach vendors now are prohibited from selling coconuts.

Thirty tons of husks had to be picked up and disposed of DAILY there to keep them from attracting rats.

If beachgoers begin cleaning up their trash, themselves, the mayor may retract the ban.

An ITN subscriber with a lung disorder visited her travel agent and had her call a cruise-tour company about a river cruise overseas, asking how many flights of stairs there were between the main deck and the cabin that she was considering booking on the ship. She was told “one flight,” which the subscriber felt she could handle. She knew the ship had no elevator.

When the subscriber stepped on board, however, she found that the company rep had misinformed her travel agent and that her cabin was two flights up. She managed to make the climb once, resting halfway up, then asked for and was granted a cabin a deck lower.

Unfortunately, she also discovered too late that the informational and entertainment activities all took place on the top (fifth) deck, so she missed all those.

The company rep also had assured the subscriber that on shore excursions the guide would remain with her if she had to walk slower than the rest of the group. When, on the first excursion, she yelled for the guide to “Hold up,” the guide said that the woman could walk at her own pace and meet the group later at the buses, which were “down there.”

ITN felt the company, both during and after the cruise, made very generous offers in amends to the passenger, but the question remains: what can a mobility-impaired traveler do to avoid ending up in such a predicament?

The subscriber, herself, wondered, “How can potential purchasers of cruise-tours be sure that what they are told is truthful?” While I think we must assume that a rep’s statements will be truthful but not necessarily accurate, the question remains. Perhaps the solution is asking the right questions to begin with.

Surely, a mobility-impaired traveler would need to have answers to a number of questions before deciding on a particular cruise. For instance, in addition to asking how many flights of stairs there are between the main deck and the passenger’s cabin, wouldn’t the passenger need to know how many steps there are in each flight as well as how deep/high each step is? Are there handrails? What about safety issues on board? And the possibilities on shore excursions?

Those of you who are mobility impaired and go on river or ocean cruises or who deal with such, please send in a list of the questions you feel might need to be asked before a cruise is booked. Write to Mobility-Impaired Cruisers, c/o ITN (see “Editorial Only” address on cover). ITN will print the results.

Don Jacobson of Armonk, New York, e-mailed in November, “I enjoy ITN very much, especially readers’ warnings and advice following problems encountered.”

Paula Hebard of Roseburg, Oregon, wrote, “Several years ago someone sent my name in and I have enjoyed ITN ever since. There is a lot of helpful information on all phases of travel.”

Readers, ITN will mail a free sample copy to any traveling friends of yours upon request. Just let us know their names and addresses (see “Subscriptions Only” address on cover).

Ginny Arndt of Solomons, Maryland, e-mailed in November, “My husband, Gunter, and I started on a ‘round-the-world voyage on the break-bulk cargo freighter Rickmers Seoul on July 3, 2009, from Houston, Texas. Before we headed east around the globe, our last mail for the next five months arrived, forwarded to our final US port, Philadelphia. What a wonderful surprise to find the latest copy of ITN in the mail package!

“Normally, we read ITN cover to cover with great interest. Now it really got scrutinized as our most-read piece of literature on the long trip. We shared it with the ship’s officers and the other three passengers on board, one from England and a couple from New Zealand. Once it was read and reread, we placed it in the lounge for oncoming passengers to enjoy.

“This fascinating voyage will return us to Houston in mid-December 2009, so reading material as interesting as the excellent ITN magazine was definitely appreciated.”

ITN also makes a great in-flight magazine, but don’t leave it on the plane; it’ll get tossed! Perhaps share it with other travelers you meet during your trip. — DT