In-flight fights over reclining seats. Also, be aware of visa service charges

By David Tykol
This item appears on page 2 of the November 2014 issue.

Dear Globetrotter:

Welcome to the 465th issue of your monthly foreign-travel magazine! You’re invited to subscribe, and subscribers are encouraged to submit trip reports telling both the positive and negative aspects of tours, hotels, museums, shops and whatever else they discovered and experienced outside of the US. 

Your letters and articles make up the bulk of the magazine, and we fill in the spaces with other travel-related information, all wrapped around travel-related advertisements, many that you won’t see in other publications. 

Considering a trip somewhere? Give one of our advertisers a shout. They help support this project too.

I’ll start things off with an item in the news.


Three flights were diverted in the US during one week recently due to disagreements between passengers about reclining seats. 

In the first incident, on a United Airlines flight from Newark to Denver on Aug. 26, a conflict developed when a man used a device called a Knee Defender ($21.95 at This is a small plastic clip that a passenger can place behind his tray table to prevent the seat in front of him from being lowered back into a more reclined position.

In this case, a woman in the economy section did not appreciate being prevented from tilting her seat back. An argument ensued, and she ended up standing up and throwing a glass of water on the man sitting behind her. Flight attendants intervened, and the plane was forced to land in Chicago to remove the two passengers.

For creating the disturbance, the passengers, both 48, could have been fined under US law, but police decided they were not a security threat. Nevertheless, the two were not allowed to continue on the flight to Denver.

Hand of the 26-foot-tall seated Buddha statue near the Inle Lake village of Nanthe in Myanmar. Photo: ©taolmor/123rf

The Knee Defender, which has been available for purchase since 2003, is legal, according to the FAA, but airlines are allowed to ban its use, as, technically, it interferes with one of the normal functions of an airplane. Most US airlines have banned it, including United. 

The inventor of the Knee Defender, Ira Goldman, encourages its users to be courteous to other passengers. In fact, printed right on the device is the advice, “Be Courteous. Do not hog space. Listen to the flight crew.” 

On the United flight, the man using the Knee Defender was asked to remove it by a flight attendant and refused.

In an incident that did not involve a Knee Defender, air marshals on an American Airlines flight from Miami to Paris on Aug. 29 had to break up an argument between a 61-year-old man and a woman who had reclined her seat. The plane was forced to land in Boston, where the man was arrested and charged with interfering with the flight crew. He had grabbed the arm of a male flight attendant who had attempted to defuse the situation.

The third incident, on Sept. 2, caused a Delta Air Lines flight from New York to Palm Beach, Florida, to be diverted to Jacksonville, Florida. A woman who was knitting reclined her seat, and the 32-year-old woman behind her, who was trying to sleep with her head on the tray table, raised a ruckus. 

When a flight attendant came over, the irate woman demanded that the plane land. She later explained to Jacksonville police that she was distraught over the recent death of two of her dogs. She was allowed to take another flight home.

Here’s another slant on the subject. The results of a survey on the topic “passengers who make your flight hell” were released on Sept. 15 by Out of more than 1,550 flyers who responded, 35.4% said that people who reclined their seats were the worst passengers. (No results were given for the number of people who felt that those objecting to reclined seats were the worst passengers.)

Other passengers who were considered annoying included “smelly” passengers (according to 25.5% of the respondents), parents with unruly children (20.1%), armrest hogs (13.5%) and nonstop talkers (5.5%). Complete results of the survey can be found at


For a group tour to Myanmar starting Oct. 16, 2013, ITN subscriber Stephen J. Cummings of Seattle, Washington, enlisted the help of a visa service to secure his tourist visa.

After initially being quoted a charge of $119 over the phone, a price that included a service fee of $99 and a consular (tourist visa) fee of $20 but excluded the passport-shipping charges, he agreed to allow the visa service to manage the visa application, so he sent his passport to the company via UPS ($36.23).

After reviewing his passport, a company representative telephoned Mr. Cummings on June 10 to advise him that he needed more pages added to his passport. Mr. Cummings agreed to have the service get the pages added. 

In the letter he later wrote to ITN, he referred to “the whopping bill” he received, which amounted to $492.49.

The company’s phone rep had not mentioned any extra costs, but (except for two extra UPS charges that were involved) all of the costs were listed on the company’s website and in a PDF packet that the company says it emailed to Mr. Cummings but which he did not recall receiving.

The name of the visa service is being withheld because, in ITN’s investigation, it became apparent that the fees had, indeed, been disclosed but were overlooked and because the visa service, in a goodwill gesture, refunded most of Mr. Cummings money.

Here’s the take-away from all this. If you consent to having a visa service get extra pages added to your passport — or having any company do any particular extra service — be sure to ask how much it will cost (including any extra fees) before agreeing. It could be more than you expect.

Alternatively, if you want to save money, you can, if possible, submit the application, yourself.


In our September issue, we printed a letter on page 25 titled “Apartment Rental Scam,” in which Steven Cole of Lowell, Michigan, described booking a Hong Kong apartment that he found on He sent the presumed apartment owner (at a US address) a check for the deposit of $1,000 and, later, a cashier’s check for the balance of $650, after which his emails to the owner ceased to be answered. 

As was described, Steven and his wife lucked out. The man claiming to own the apartment was under investigation, postal authorities intercepted Steven’s second letter to the man — who turned out not to own an apartment in Hong Kong — and in June the man ended up in court for defrauding the Coles out of $1,000. He was fined $250 plus court costs, was put on six months’ probation and was ordered to reimburse the Coles.

Steven supplied a coda on Sept. 10: “I thought you’d be interested to know that we have now received all of the money we lost from the apartment scammer. That was a relief, as we never thought we’d see a penny of it. Still, we remain incredulous that you can pull a scam like that and only get a slap on the wrist when caught!”


A few corrections to note —

• Elke Austin-Foote of Rochester, Minnesota, “a faithful ITN reader,” found a spelling error back in the April issue that got past ITN’s and Rick Steves’ proofreaders. She wrote, “On page 57, the Luther city is ‘Eisenach,’ not ‘Eisenacht.’ It’s where Martin Luther was in hiding at Wartburg Castle in 1521-1522.”

• Please note that in the item “BioMuseo in Panama” (Oct. ’14, pg. 43), about the new Frank Gehry-designed museum in Panama City, a hyphen sneaked into the URL given. It should have read “”

• And we’re revisiting the item about rental cabins on rafts in the Netherlands and Belgium (Aug. ’14, pg. 61 & Oct. ’14, pg. 68). Bigger than we reported, the rafts each actually measure 269 square feet and the cabins, 134 square feet. So you can take that card table after all, so long as it can fit in the canoe.

We thank Chuck Bingley of Richmond, Virginia, for catching that error.


Carol Horner of Lacey, Washington, read the subscribers’ letters in the piece “Rating Foreign Tour Companies That Customize Tours” (Sept. ’14, pg. 42), then wrote, “I hope that some people send in ratings for guides and companies that customize tours in England, Scotland and Ireland.”

We’re running more of those letters in this issue, and they continue to arrive.

Carol has a second request. She wrote, “I have traveled many places, gone on many tours and lived in Paris, Istanbul and Tokyo. I no longer want to tour castles, cathedrals, mosques, museums, parks and ‘wonders of the world.’ What I’m looking for are tours that take travelers to nations for immersion in their politics and economics, including information about, say, their major exports and imports and their agricultural and natural resources. 

“I would enjoy an in-depth study of a country’s education systems, class structures and current issues and problems as well as of their foreign policies and what they really think of the United States. And what about their newest artists and writers?

“Perhaps particular tours have field trips that illustrate some of this. I would like to see ITN readers’ recommendations of such in-depth tours.”

If you have a suggestion for Carol, email or write to In-Depth Tours, c/o ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818.


Regretfully, this is the last issue in which Lew Toulmin’s column “The Cruising World” will appear. Lew has been living in Vanuatu, in the South Pacific, for a couple of years, where he works in the office of the Prime Minister. Unfortunately, his duties there do not allow enough time for him to meet the demands of writing a column for ITN.

Lew has been contributing letters and articles to ITN since 1995, and his column first ran in the September 2004 issue. That’s a lot of tips and observations he’s provided and we thank him for everything. We hope to be able to print trip reports of his in the future.


Emily Moore of Greenville, Illinois, wrote, “I enjoy ITN so much. Read it almost cover to cover the day it arrives. So many useful tips and so much information.”

Ian Ross of Santa Barbara, California, wrote, “My wife, Muriel, and I both enjoy reading ITN and have gotten several good ideas that we’ve filed away to follow up on when we have the chance.”

Bill Reed of Denton, Texas, wrote, “My wife, Betty, touts ITN to just about everybody on any of our trips. She reads every word. I, on the other hand, don’t have to because she repeats about 75% of them to me!”

Keep your trip reports coming, everyone. And check out the latest offerings of our advertisers. There’s a lot to see out there.    — DT