Seating unaccompanied children on flights, plus Jordan River is going dry

By David Tykol
This item appears on page 2 of the November 2010 issue.
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Dear Globetrotter:

Welcome to the 417th issue of your monthly overseas travel magazine.

Jay Brunhouse wrote ITN’s “All Aboard!” column.

As we reported (June ’10, pg. 16), airlines based in European Union countries must reimburse passengers for losses and expenses due to delayed or canceled flights. Tons of claims were filed when ash from the volcano in Iceland stranded passengers in Europe in April.

In August, the High Court in London ruled that any pending, ash-cloud-related court claims with UK-based airlines will have to wait for a final ruling from the European Court of Justice. This could take up to two years.

Compensation claims that have been filed with individual airlines in the UK may still be considered and paid; if an airline chooses to settle a claim, it can do so. And UK residents who flew on airlines based in countries outside of the UK can still file claims with those airlines.

Airline compensation rules for delayed or canceled flights vary from country to country and airline to airline. Airlines based in the United States are not governed by the European Union’s rules on compensation.

A passenger who is not satisfied with an air carrier’s response to a claim should contact the “National Enforcement Body” (NEB) for the country in which the airline is based. In the United States, that’s the DOT (http://airconsumer.dot.gov/problems.htm). For EU countries, the European Union Transport Commission lists NEBs by country at (http://ec.europa.eu/transport/passengers/air/doc/national_enforcement_bo...). For airlines of other nations, check with the embassy or consulate.

For more than a decade, British Airways (BA) has had an unwritten policy of not seating lone male travelers beside unaccompanied children ages five to eleven. Following a recent court case, this has changed.

Now, unaccompanied minors must register with BA’s Skyflyer Solo service, and they will be “hosted” by airline staff within the airport and in flight. When a large number of unaccompanied children are on the same flight, BA will provide an in-flight escort. Whenever possible, the children will be seated in a special area of the aircraft, near the cabin crew’s galley.

In April 2009, a man and his pregnant wife were flying from London to Luxembourg. She asked to swap seats with him, giving her the window seat and putting him in the middle, next to a boy the couple did not know. Flight attendants, thinking the man was traveling solo, asked him to take his original seat.

He sued the airline, saying the attendants had treated him as if he were a potential child molester, humiliating him in front of other passengers. BA admitted that this case was one of sex discrimination but denied that their policy was discriminatory. They agreed to pay the man £2,161 (about $3,400) in costs plus £750 in damages. The man donated the damages award plus £2,250 to two child-protection charities.

Registering a child with BA’s Skyflyer Solo service for a flight costs $50 to $75 each way and cannot be done on www.ba.com.

Airlines everywhere choose their own policies regarding unaccompanied minors, but every carrier requires special prebooking notification, with set procedures upon the child’s arrival at the airport plus photo ID required of anyone picking him or her up at the destination.

Many airlines charge a fee for the booking and service of an unaccompanied minor, and it may be charged for each leg of an international trip, particularly when the flight involves changing carriers.

Authorities in Bangkok, Thailand, in an effort to put an end to the practice of bringing elephants in from the countryside to beg for food from tourists, passed an ordinance in June banning elephants from the city, where their life expectancy is significantly shorter.

Tourists had been urged not to pay to feed fruit to elephants, and now anyone caught feeding one will be fined up to 10,000 baht (about $327).

Mahouts found with elephants begging for food in the city can be jailed for six months and also fined up to 10,000 baht. Elephants seized by police are taken to elephant conservation centers. There are about 2,400 domestic elephants in Thailand.

A report released in May by Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian environmental scientists warned that long stretches of the Jordan River may be completely dry by 2011.

The river is tapped for drinking water as well as agricultural uses as it flows from the Syria/Lebanon border and through the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea. Heavy usage and the dumping of raw sewage into the river has led to health problems.

For info on the status of the river, contact Friends of the Earth - Middle East (Amman, Jordan; phone 962 6 5866602/3, www.foeme.org).

Pilgrims seeking to be baptized in the Jordan River use two spots more than others.

The traditional site of Bethany-beyond-the-Jordan (phone 962 5 3590360, www.baptismsite.com), believed to be the area where the Bible says Jesus was baptized, is located within Jordan about 45 miles south of the Sea of Galilee and east of Amman. There, the river is struggling with pollution and may be in danger of drying up. There are visitor facilities open 8 a.m.-4 p.m., and admission costs JOD7 ($10).

The official Israeli site is the Yardenit Baptismal Site (Kibbutz Kinneret, Jordan Valley 15118, Israel; phone 972 [0] 4 675 9111, www.yardenit.com), in the Jordan Valley just south of the Sea of Galilee, and it seems likely to continue to have adequate, relatively clean water. Open 8-4 or 8-5 (ceremonies till 3 or 4). Free admission.

Both exciting and troubling — the cruise ships Bremen and Hanseatic, of the Hapag-Lloyd line (based in Hamburg, Germany, but with offices EVERYWHERE, including Long Beach, CA; 888/513-2180, www.hl-cruises.com), each successfully navigated the Northwest Passage again in 2010, cruising between Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, and Nome, Alaska.

They are among the few ships that can make this seasonal crossing, something that wasn’t even possible before the sea ice began melting at record levels in recent years. The Bremen first traversed the passage in 2006, and it’s scheduled to do so again Aug. 12-Sept. 8, 2011, from Nome to Reykjavík, Iceland (€14,035-€31,235, or about $19,070-$42,440, per person, double).

Having cruised to Antarctica aboard the Hanseatic many years ago, I’m still raving about the meals the Austrian chef produced. As a carnivore, I was in heaven! And I’m seldom impressed with potato salad, but every variety I tried was great. The pancakes each morning were addictive.

Oh, yeah, the scenery down at the South Pole was among the most spectacular I’ve ever seen. Who knew that a bunch of rocks, ice and water — no green at all — could be so beautiful?! In the Lemaire Channel, I shot twice as many rolls of film in one day than I have ever taken on a single day before or since.

Here’s something we’ve all been waiting for.

The website www.compare

airlinefees.com lists the constantly changing and newly added fees charged by 15 United States-based airlines.

For each airline, it shows fees charged for phone reservations, select seats, baggage (number of bags plus weight), meals/snacks, TV/music, Internet, ticket changes, standby upgrades, etc.

The website also names airfare-finding websites and displays the seating charts of the different airplane types of a couple dozen airlines.

ITN subscriber Jerry Mendel of Buenos Aires, Argentina, went onto American Airlines’ website and purchased a ticket from Buenos Aires to Shanghai, China, for Sept. 24, 2010, then changed his mind and decided to, instead, visit Spain and Portugal.

Before booking the alternate ticket to Europe, he telephoned AA regarding ticket-cancellation rules. Along with other information, the agent told him about the 250-dollar cancellation/change fee charged to holders of nonrefundable tickets.

Back on AA’s website, he found he wasn’t able to book the flight to Madrid (costing $1,674) because he was ticketed for the flight to Shanghai that same day. He canceled the ticket to China and bought one for Spain, and when his credit card statement arrived he saw that the airline had billed him for both flights.

He called the airline and was told that his original ticket was “nonrefundable,” which he was not aware of. He could apply that amount ($2,150) minus the cancellation fee toward another flight taking place before Aug. 11, 2011, and the trip would have to start in Buenos Aires.

Jerry had incorrectly assumed that he could replace one booked flight with another on the same day and be refunded for the first ticket. Feeling that the very concept of a ticket’s being nonrefundable was unfair, he wrote to ITN, “Why can’t a person change his mind? What if I move? What if they go out of business?”

He continued: “The AA agent never mentioned anything about my not getting money credited to my credit card. Checking their website, I could find nothing at all about these rules.”

To see what AA’s website says about tickets and refunds, ITN went through the motions of booking a flight similar to Jerry’s. On the page that shows the fare choices (Economy Super Saver, First Flexible, etc.), there is no conspicuous mention of nonrefundability. However, a click on any of those headings brings up all of the rules and terms, including those on refundability.

In contrast, we found that on Southwest Airlines’ webpage showing fare types, it clearly states over one column of airfares that they are “nonrefundable.”

In booking a flight, if a customer decides to not use a travel agent and to not phone the airline but to go online and book directly, he or she accepts all responsibility for knowing the regulations. Booking a flight is signing a contract, and no deal should be sealed until all the rules are revealed. Before making a purchase, search for and read all of the fine print.

Susan Jerrick of Portland, Oregon, wrote, “There were a lot of excellent suggestions in your September column about how to protect an onboard carry-on from theft. However, you missed one very important though simple one: lock your carry-on!

“I always keep mine locked. I use a combination lock because it’s easier than getting out a key.”

Barbara McIntosh of Roseville, California, wrote, “In addition to your good advice about how to store a carry-on in the overhead of an airplane, I offer this: store your bag in the overhead opposite of where you are seated so you can keep an eye on it (while awake, of course).

“A man told me he started doing this after his carry-on was taken by another passenger. He didn’t notice that his bag was missing until the thief was away from the plane.”

I must break some sad news. It is with a heavy heart that I tell you that in mid-September, Jay Brunhouse died in his sleep at his apartment in San Francisco. He was 75. The writer of “All Aboard!,” ITN’s longest-running column, since 1981, he was a decades-long friend to half of the staff here.

Jay authored the guidebooks “Traveling the Eurail Express” and “The Maverick Guide to Berlin” and was most proud to have been awarded the Lowell Thomas Gold Medal for Best Land Travel Article, one publicizing the Al Andalus Expreso in Spain.

Take it from me, someone who worked with him on a nuts-and-bolts basis and almost never found anything penned by him that needed further editing, he was the epitome of a professional writer. It was amazing how, as we spoke on the phone, he could completely rewrite a short passage on the spot and still have the copy come out sounding fresh and vibrant. A remarkable talent, not to mention a really nice guy!

I always looked forward to our conversations because it was so easy to get him to chuckle. We all will miss him. — DT

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

Dear Globetrotter:

Welcome to the 417th issue of your monthly overseas travel magazine.

Jay Brunhouse wrote ITN’s “All Aboard!” column.

As we reported (June ’10, pg. 16), airlines based in European Union countries must reimburse passengers for losses and expenses due to delayed or canceled flights. Tons of claims were filed when ash from the volcano in Iceland stranded passengers in Europe in April.

In August, the High Court in London ruled that any pending, ash-cloud-related court claims with UK-based airlines will have to wait for a final ruling from the European Court of Justice. This could take up to two years.

Compensation claims that have been filed with individual airlines in the UK may still be considered and paid; if an airline chooses to settle a claim, it can do so. And UK residents who flew on airlines based in countries outside of the UK can still file claims with those airlines.

Airline compensation rules for delayed or canceled flights vary from country to country and airline to airline. Airlines based in the United States are not governed by the European Union’s rules on compensation.

A passenger who is not satisfied with an air carrier’s response to a claim should contact the “National Enforcement Body” (NEB) for the country in which the airline is based. In the United States, that’s the DOT (http://airconsumer.dot.gov/problems.htm). For EU countries, the European Union Transport Commission lists NEBs by country at (http://ec.europa.eu/transport/passengers/air/doc/national_enforcement_bo...). For airlines of other nations, check with the embassy or consulate.

For more than a decade, British Airways (BA) has had an unwritten policy of not seating lone male travelers beside unaccompanied children ages five to eleven. Following a recent court case, this has changed.

Now, unaccompanied minors must register with BA’s Skyflyer Solo service, and they will be “hosted” by airline staff within the airport and in flight. When a large number of unaccompanied children are on the same flight, BA will provide an in-flight escort. Whenever possible, the children will be seated in a special area of the aircraft, near the cabin crew’s galley.

In April 2009, a man and his pregnant wife were flying from London to Luxembourg. She asked to swap seats with him, giving her the window seat and putting him in the middle, next to a boy the couple did not know. Flight attendants, thinking the man was traveling solo, asked him to take his original seat.

He sued the airline, saying the attendants had treated him as if he were a potential child molester, humiliating him in front of other passengers. BA admitted that this case was one of sex discrimination but denied that their policy was discriminatory. They agreed to pay the man £2,161 (about $3,400) in costs plus £750 in damages. The man donated the damages award plus £2,250 to two child-protection charities.

Registering a child with BA’s Skyflyer Solo service for a flight costs $50 to $75 each way and cannot be done on www.ba.com.

Airlines everywhere choose their own policies regarding unaccompanied minors, but every carrier requires special prebooking notification, with set procedures upon the child’s arrival at the airport plus photo ID required of anyone picking him or her up at the destination.

Many airlines charge a fee for the booking and service of an unaccompanied minor, and it may be charged for each leg of an international trip, particularly when the flight involves changing carriers.

Authorities in Bangkok, Thailand, in an effort to put an end to the practice of bringing elephants in from the countryside to beg for food from tourists, passed an ordinance in June banning elephants from the city, where their life expectancy is significantly shorter.

Tourists had been urged not to pay to feed fruit to elephants, and now anyone caught feeding one will be fined up to 10,000 baht (about $327).

Mahouts found with elephants begging for food in the city can be jailed for six months and also fined up to 10,000 baht. Elephants seized by police are taken to elephant conservation centers. There are about 2,400 domestic elephants in Thailand.

A report released in May by Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian environmental scientists warned that long stretches of the Jordan River may be completely dry by 2011.

The river is tapped for drinking water as well as agricultural uses as it flows from the Syria/Lebanon border and through the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea. Heavy usage and the dumping of raw sewage into the river has led to health problems.

For info on the status of the river, contact Friends of the Earth - Middle East (Amman, Jordan; phone 962 6 5866602/3, www.foeme.org).

Pilgrims seeking to be baptized in the Jordan River use two spots more than others.

The traditional site of Bethany-beyond-the-Jordan (phone 962 5 3590360, www.baptismsite.com), believed to be the area where the Bible says Jesus was baptized, is located within Jordan about 45 miles south of the Sea of Galilee and east of Amman. There, the river is struggling with pollution and may be in danger of drying up. There are visitor facilities open 8 a.m.-4 p.m., and admission costs JOD7 ($10).

The official Israeli site is the Yardenit Baptismal Site (Kibbutz Kinneret, Jordan Valley 15118, Israel; phone 972 [0] 4 675 9111, www.yardenit.com), in the Jordan Valley just south of the Sea of Galilee, and it seems likely to continue to have adequate, relatively clean water. Open 8-4 or 8-5 (ceremonies till 3 or 4). Free admission.

Both exciting and troubling — the cruise ships Bremen and Hanseatic, of the Hapag-Lloyd line (based in Hamburg, Germany, but with offices EVERYWHERE, including Long Beach, CA; 888/513-2180, www.hl-cruises.com), each successfully navigated the Northwest Passage again in 2010, cruising between Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, and Nome, Alaska.

They are among the few ships that can make this seasonal crossing, something that wasn’t even possible before the sea ice began melting at record levels in recent years. The Bremen first traversed the passage in 2006, and it’s scheduled to do so again Aug. 12-Sept. 8, 2011, from Nome to Reykjavík, Iceland (€14,035-€31,235, or about $19,070-$42,440, per person, double).

Having cruised to Antarctica aboard the Hanseatic many years ago, I’m still raving about the meals the Austrian chef produced. As a carnivore, I was in heaven! And I’m seldom impressed with potato salad, but every variety I tried was great. The pancakes each morning were addictive.

Oh, yeah, the scenery down at the South Pole was among the most spectacular I’ve ever seen. Who knew that a bunch of rocks, ice and water — no green at all — could be so beautiful?! In the Lemaire Channel, I shot twice as many rolls of film in one day than I have ever taken on a single day before or since.

Here’s something we’ve all been waiting for.

The website www.compare

airlinefees.com lists the constantly changing and newly added fees charged by 15 United States-based airlines.

For each airline, it shows fees charged for phone reservations, select seats, baggage (number of bags plus weight), meals/snacks, TV/music, Internet, ticket changes, standby upgrades, etc.

The website also names airfare-finding websites and displays the seating charts of the different airplane types of a couple dozen airlines.

ITN subscriber Jerry Mendel of Buenos Aires, Argentina, went onto American Airlines’ website and purchased a ticket from Buenos Aires to Shanghai, China, for Sept. 24, 2010, then changed his mind and decided to, instead, visit Spain and Portugal.

Before booking the alternate ticket to Europe, he telephoned AA regarding ticket-cancellation rules. Along with other information, the agent told him about the 250-dollar cancellation/change fee charged to holders of nonrefundable tickets.

Back on AA’s website, he found he wasn’t able to book the flight to Madrid (costing $1,674) because he was ticketed for the flight to Shanghai that same day. He canceled the ticket to China and bought one for Spain, and when his credit card statement arrived he saw that the airline had billed him for both flights.

He called the airline and was told that his original ticket was “nonrefundable,” which he was not aware of. He could apply that amount ($2,150) minus the cancellation fee toward another flight taking place before Aug. 11, 2011, and the trip would have to start in Buenos Aires.

Jerry had incorrectly assumed that he could replace one booked flight with another on the same day and be refunded for the first ticket. Feeling that the very concept of a ticket’s being nonrefundable was unfair, he wrote to ITN, “Why can’t a person change his mind? What if I move? What if they go out of business?”

He continued: “The AA agent never mentioned anything about my not getting money credited to my credit card. Checking their website, I could find nothing at all about these rules.”

To see what AA’s website says about tickets and refunds, ITN went through the motions of booking a flight similar to Jerry’s. On the page that shows the fare choices (Economy Super Saver, First Flexible, etc.), there is no conspicuous mention of nonrefundability. However, a click on any of those headings brings up all of the rules and terms, including those on refundability.

In contrast, we found that on Southwest Airlines’ webpage showing fare types, it clearly states over one column of airfares that they are “nonrefundable.”

In booking a flight, if a customer decides to not use a travel agent and to not phone the airline but to go online and book directly, he or she accepts all responsibility for knowing the regulations. Booking a flight is signing a contract, and no deal should be sealed until all the rules are revealed. Before making a purchase, search for and read all of the fine print.

Susan Jerrick of Portland, Oregon, wrote, “There were a lot of excellent suggestions in your September column about how to protect an onboard carry-on from theft. However, you missed one very important though simple one: lock your carry-on!

“I always keep mine locked. I use a combination lock because it’s easier than getting out a key.”

Barbara McIntosh of Roseville, California, wrote, “In addition to your good advice about how to store a carry-on in the overhead of an airplane, I offer this: store your bag in the overhead opposite of where you are seated so you can keep an eye on it (while awake, of course).

“A man told me he started doing this after his carry-on was taken by another passenger. He didn’t notice that his bag was missing until the thief was away from the plane.”

I must break some sad news. It is with a heavy heart that I tell you that in mid-September, Jay Brunhouse died in his sleep at his apartment in San Francisco. He was 75. The writer of “All Aboard!,” ITN’s longest-running column, since 1981, he was a decades-long friend to half of the staff here.

Jay authored the guidebooks “Traveling the Eurail Express” and “The Maverick Guide to Berlin” and was most proud to have been awarded the Lowell Thomas Gold Medal for Best Land Travel Article, one publicizing the Al Andalus Expreso in Spain.

Take it from me, someone who worked with him on a nuts-and-bolts basis and almost never found anything penned by him that needed further editing, he was the epitome of a professional writer. It was amazing how, as we spoke on the phone, he could completely rewrite a short passage on the spot and still have the copy come out sounding fresh and vibrant. A remarkable talent, not to mention a really nice guy!

I always looked forward to our conversations because it was so easy to get him to chuckle. We all will miss him. — DT