Boarding Pass

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

Dear Globetrotter:

Welcome to the 411th issue of your monthly overseas travel magazine, the original travelers’ forum.

Before ITN came around, over 34 years ago, travel magazines and newspaper travel sections were rather one-sided, never printing a discouraging word. The subscribers, themselves, contribute the bulk of the words comprising this magazine, and they’re allowed to speak freely about matters they feel other travelers should know about, no matter whose toes are stepped on.

Unlike what may be found on many websites, this isn’t an amassing of potshots. If a subscriber has a complaint about a travel firm, that company is given a fair chance to provide a response, enumerating the steps it took, pointing out any misunderstandings and, hopefully, if necessary, making helpful changes for the better.

Too, the ITN staff has a number of editors who spend a great percentage of their time fact-checking.

The last sentry is you, the reader. If we get something wrong, we’re counting on you to let us know so we can set the record straight. In dispensing useful travel info, this is a group project, ongoing…

A “heads up” to our overseas readers in the 36 countries in the Visa Waiver Program. (That’s the program, begun a year ago, in which foreign nationals who don’t need a regular visa to enter the US must fill out a form electronically for authorization within 72 hours of heading here.)

On March 20, a grace period ended and the US Department of Homeland Security now will actually enforce the program. Airlines now may be fined for each passenger of theirs who arrives in the US without authorization.

With fines of up to $3,300 per passenger, the airlines may deny boarding to anyone who does not have either a visa or approval through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). In fact, a fine can be levied against anyone responsible for transporting, by air, sea or land, an unapproved person into the US.

It is still possible for a passenger to get the ESTA form at the airport if access to the Internet can be found. Rush approval can take from 15 minutes to two hours.

Be aware, too, that the ESTA application and approval is free (and valid for two years) but that some “unauthorized third parties” online are charging people to submit applications on their behalf.

In fact, to all our readers, watch out for scams when applying for any visa. Google recently removed some advertisers who were fraudulently charging for visas that were actually free.

Yes, you can expect to pay a fee to a company that processes a visa for you, but in the breakdown showing the itemized costs, the amount shown for the visa itself should not be higher than what is shown on the embassy’s website.

In my February column, I skeptically announced a new entry fee being collected from Americans entering Argentina but only at Ezeiza International Airport (EZE) near Buenos Aires. Argentina previously had announced that such a fee would be imposed as of Jan. 1, 2009, but didn’t carry through with it.

So I asked those of you recently back from Argentina to let me know whether or not you had been charged an entry fee. I got a dozen responses, and it appears the fee IS being collected and only at Ezeiza airport. Here’s the breakdown.

• Four readers flew into Ezeiza airport in December ’09 and were NOT charged entry fees.

• Five singles or couples flew into Ezeiza in January and February 2010 and WERE charged entry fees of $131 per person.

• Those who entered Argentina in 2010 at points other than Ezeiza airport were NOT charged entry fees, including Harry Conwell of Topeka, KS, who took a bus from Chile across the Andes pass into Argentina on Jan. 21; Bruce Berger of Palo Alto, CA, who flew into Mendoza on Jan. 28, and Rosemary McDaniel of Trenton, FL, who flew into Cordoba Airport on March 14.

When Phil Wilkerson of Lincoln, Kansas, flew into Ezeiza airport on Jan. 9 and paid the $131 fee, he noticed that Canadians and Australians were also being assessed a fee (as was announced).

Mark and Linda Young of Bozeman, MT, paid their entry fees on Jan. 11 with their credit card and saw that US dollars and pesos also were being accepted.

Cathy Sullivan of San Diego, California, lamented that she was charged the $131 entry fee upon arriving at Ezeiza airport on Feb. 11 even though, en route to board her cruise ship, she was in Buenos Aires for only five hours.

Cathy added, “Returning to Atlanta on Delta on Feb. 23, in the Santiago, Chile, airport I waited until we cleared ‘agricultural inspection’ and went through security before purchasing a bottle of water for the 9½-hour flight. As we were boarding the plane, they had another checkpoint, searched our carry-ons and confiscated my water. Then, AFTER our boarding passes had been taken, we all were “patted down” — an unnecessary extra procedure, I felt.”

Thank you, all of you who wrote in.

Grim statistics — the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention keep track of Norovirus (calicivirus) outbreaks throughout the world. In the US, the virus causes 23 million illnesses a year (the illness usually resolves in two days), and it may be the cause of up to 50 percent of all food-borne outbreaks.

Cruise ships take virus outbreaks seriously and follow a strict sanitation process. Celebrity Cruises’ Mercury returned to Charleston, South Carolina, in February instead of proceeding to the Caribbean after nearly a quarter of its 1,838 passengers came down with the gastrointestinal illness.

In 2010, as of March 19, there had been nine Norovirus outbreaks on major liners: four aboard the Mercury, two aboard Cunard’s Queen Victoria and one each on Royal Caribbean International’s Jewel of the Sea, Holland America Line’s Maasdam and Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines’ Balmoral.

The number of norovirus outbreaks on cruise ships has decreased in recent years to 15 incidents in 2009, down from a high of 40 in 2006. The CDC website lists ship-inspection scores.

Heading home from a trip to Asia, an ITN subscriber couple learned, the hard way, that their travel agent was poorly informed.

Gary Iverson and Linda Tanner of Bonita Springs, Florida, arrived in Delhi, India, from Kathmandu, Nepal, on a Jet Airways (India) flight on May 16, 2009, landing at International Terminal 2. Their next flight, a domestic segment on Air India to Mumbai (from which they would continue on Delta Air Lines to Atlanta and Ft. Myers), was out of Domestic Terminal 1.

They quickly found out from Jet Airways (India) personnel that in order to transfer from Terminal 2 to Terminal 1, they each had to have a visa, as all international arrival guests into India must clear Immigration at the first port of entry and be in possession of valid visas before continuing to any domestic flights or destinations.

The couple was told that if they did not purchase new tickets to the United States on a flight which continued from Terminal 2, they would be deported back to Kathmandu.

After spending seven hours unsuccessfully trying to rectify the predicament with their tickets by cell phone, during which time they were detained in a secure area, they decided to purchase new tickets ($1,757) using their phone, as they were not allowed to walk to the ticket counter. An airport staff person served as a runner, bringing them the tickets for a flight leaving a couple of hours later.

Back home, the couple attempted to get reimbursement. Unfortunately, the travel agency through which the couple had purchased their tickets — and which was the party bearing responsibility for the circumstances — had filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy in November 2008. The couple’s trip had taken place only because they found another travel agent who would honor their original deposit and organize their trip.

Jet Airways (India) replied to ITN, “The airline bears no responsibility for incomplete or lack of required governmental documentation or consequences thereof.”

Despite the airline’s hands being tied in this situation, in an inexplicable development Mr. Iverson had the following news for ITN: “On Feb. 3, American Express credited our account $1,141.98… from… Jet Airways. We’re not sure how the amount was calculated.”

The upshot — if you’re airport-hopping through any country for which you do not have a required visa and one of the legs is a domestic flight, be sure to verify whether or not you will need a visa so you can consider all options before firming up your flight schedule.

After reading a reader’s travel tip in my column last month, Jane B. Holt of Hinesburg, Vermont, wrote, “Here’s another sink stopper trick.

“When traveling, I wash clothes nightly in the hotel room sink. I used to run into difficulty because sink stoppers are a rarity overseas, then my husband, Clyde, crafted a universal sink stopper for me.

“He got a dead inner tube for free from a local service station, washed it thoroughly and cut it into circles of many different diameters. Originally, I packed all the varying-size inner tube circles, but I soon learned that the largest one (27⁄8 inches, or 72mm) was all I needed. This would work in Judy Hippner’s hotel bathtubs as well.”

From the whimsical to the gripping — with a world of people writing to ITN, the range of subject matter can make reading each issue (not to mention the mail that we receive) like a roller coaster ride.

Here’s a note from Marvin Rogers of Columbia, Missouri, commenting on the letter titled “Working to Change a Life” in our April ’10 issue, page 36: “Ralph McCuen’s story about helping a small girl in Guatemala is, alone, worth the cost of our Lifetime subscription. What a moving story! Thank you for printing it.”

Share one of YOUR experiences. We’re always open.