Long security lines in US airports. Also, threats to Natural UNESCO World Heritage Sites

By David Tykol
This item appears on page 2 of the July 2016 issue.
Arabian oryxes at a water hole —  Al Maha Resort, Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve. Photo ©Rob Hill/123rf

Dear Globetrotter:

Welcome to the 485th issue of your monthly foreign travel magazine.

Thanks to subscribers’ sending in the names and addresses of friends and acquaintances interested in travel, a lot of people are introduced to this magazine every month, each having received a free sample copy. (ITN does not sell or trade people’s addresses to any other firm.)

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Here’s an item making headlines recently.

Since early May of this year, at security checkpoints in several of the busier airports in the US, excessive wait times — some more than three hours — have caused thousands of travelers to miss their flights, leaving ticket holders with no recourse but to try to book later flights, sometimes waiting until the next day. The airports affected included those in Atlanta (ATL), Seattle-Tacoma (SEA), Chicago O’Hare (ORD) and New York City (JFK). 

Much of the suddenly excessive wait time has been blamed on the summer season, which brings a large uptick in plane travel, and on flyers’ increasingly taking larger carry-ons in order to avoid checked-bag fees, resulting in more time being required for the bags to be inspected.

Part of the problem is that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), which provides the personnel who staff the security checkpoints in US airports, has laid off more than 4,500 screeners since 2013 due to cuts in funding. 

It is the US Congress that controls the TSA’s budget, and in mid-May Congress agreed to increase the TSA’s budget in order to hire 768 new screeners for the most congested airports. However, representatives of airports and airlines have already stated that that won’t be enough.

The Port of Seattle Commission decided to take matters into its own hands, hiring temporary private workers to assist in nonsecurity duties at the checkpoints, including line management and empty-bin collection, allowing TSA agents to concentrate on the screening of passengers. 

Other port authorities, including those of New Jersey/New York and Atlanta, have threatened to go one step further and completely replace the TSA with a private security force. Since airports are not legally obligated to use the TSA, this plan is within their rights.

In the meantime, there are steps that travelers can take to decrease the chance of missing a flight.

During high-travel seasons (including major holidays), the TSA suggests that, in addition to flying at off-peak times, flyers should get to the airport an hour earlier than normal, that is, three hours ahead of a domestic flight or four hours early for an international flight. 

In the security-screening line, as travelers approach the front, they should be prepared to take their shoes off and empty their pockets.

Many travelers stuck in long security lines reported that there were almost no people standing in the Pre√® (Pre-check) lines, so something that could make a big difference is enrolling in the TSA Pre√® program (www.tsa.gov/tsa-precheck), at a cost of $85, or in the “Global Entry” Global Online Enrollment System (GOES) program (www.cbp.gov/travel/trusted-traveler-
), costing $100.

Both programs provide faster and easier security checks because members have had background checks and thus are prescreened, allowing them to stand in separate, usually shorter lines and to not have to remove their shoes and belts or take electronics or containers of liquids out of their carry-ons. Additionally, GOES members are allowed expedited reentry into the US at Customs. 

In fact, one reason Congress reduced the TSA’s budget, causing the agency to lay off so many workers, is they anticipated that a large number of travelers would enroll in the Pre√ program. Since the program was introduced in 2011, however, only 9.3 million Americans have signed up. (For perspective, 702 million passengers boarded flights in the US from February 2015 through February 2016, an average of almost two million people per day.) 

If you’re planning to become a Pre√ or GOES member, be aware that not every airport has Pre√ lines (160 do, as of press time), although all of the airports I’ve listed as having struggled with security lines do have them.

Also, not all US airlines are approved to offer Pre√, although the major ones are, and not every foreign airline that flies to US destinations is participating. (Note that even if a passenger is a member of the Pre√ program, if he is flying with a nonparticipating airline, then the necessary Pre√ indicator will not appear on his boarding pass and he will not be allowed in a Pre√ line.) Lastly, some Pre√ members still may be randomly selected for further screening.

Currently, the airlines that are participating in the Pre√ program are Aeromexico, Air Canada, Alaska Airlines, Allegiant Air, American Airlines, Cape Air, Delta Air Lines, Etihad Airways, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Seaborne Airlines, Southwest Airlines, Sun Country Airlines, United Airlines, Virgin America and WestJet. 

If there is any light at the end of the tunnel, it is that once the summer vacation rush is over, the lengths of security lines will likely shrink back to normal levels.

As a traveler, you might expedite some of your trip plans after reading the following.

An in-depth study conducted by the World Wildlife Federation (WWF), the results of which were released on April 6, found that nearly half of all Natural UNESCO World Heritage Sites — 114 of the 229 Natural or Natural & Cultural sites worldwide — are threatened by industry.

Predominantly, the WWF looked at threats from mining and oil exploration and extraction, but it also took into account the effects of water management (damming, redirecting rivers for agriculture, etc.), logging, overfishing and overhunting as well as the introduction of or increased use of infrastructure, such as roads, railways, power lines and shipping lanes. 

The effects of tourism, itself, on Natural World Heritage Sites was not considered, but the construction of additional infrastructure to accommodate travelers and the locals who cater to travelers cannot be ignored as contributing to the ecological damage caused at some sites.

The area with the greatest percentage of threatened sites, according to the WWF, is sub-Saharan Africa, with 71.4% of its sites (30 sites out of 42, total) considered threatened. 

That is followed by South Asia, at 58.3% (7 of 12); East Asia & the Pacific, at 54.5% (30 of 55); Latin America & the Caribbean, at 53.7% (22 of 41); the Middle East & North Africa, 40% (2 of 5); North America, 35% (7 of 20), and Europe & Central Asia, 29.6% (16 of 54).

The United Nations adds to its World Heritage List natural sites that, among other criteria, are determined “to contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty…; to be outstanding examples representing major stages of Earth’s history…; to be outstanding examples representing significant ongoing ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of… communities of plants and animals, [or] to contain the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity….”

In order to be considered for the World Heritage List, a site must first be nominated by its home country. Ironically, companies that run mining and oil-drilling businesses — activities that can threaten both the natural beauty of a place and its ecosystem — have been granted rights to operate in 82 Natural World Heritage Sites by the same countries that nominated those sites for recognition in the first place. 

Among the natural sites that the WWF cited as being threatened by oil and/or mining practices are the Danube Delta (in Romania), Lake Baikal (Russia), the Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuaries (China), Te Wahipounamu (New Zealand), Gondwana Rainforests (Australia), Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park (Uganda) and Lake Malawi National Park (Malawi).

Significantly, it was oil exploration that, to date, caused the only delisting of World Heritage Site status for a natural site. That site was the Arabian Oryx Sanctuary in Oman.

The Arabian oryx was declared extinct in the wild in 1972 but was reintroduced into the Omani sanctuary in 1982 from stock bred in America. (In subsequent years, the animal was also reintroduced into Israel, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain, where wild populations still exist. In fact, the species is no longer considered endangered by the International Union of Conservation of Nature.)

In Oman, the Arabian Oryx Sanctuary was named a World Heritage Site in 1994 due to its being the only protected region left in the Arabian Peninsula that had a population of wild Arabian oryxes.

However, the presence of oil reserves in the sanctuary led the Omani government to reduce the protected area by more than 90% to accommodate exploration and extraction. In the end, due to loss of habitat, environmental damage and poaching, the oryx population there dropped by more than 80%. In 2007, UNESCO delisted the Arabian Oryx Sanctuary.

The WWF report listed sites threatened due to water management issues as well, including the Plitvice Lakes National Park (Croatia), Chitwan National Park (Nepal), Shiretoko National Park (Japan), Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe) and Iguaçu/Iguazú National Park (Brazil/Argentina).

Logging threatens, among other sites, the Sinharaja Forest Reserve (Sri Lanka), Mount Taishan (China), the Tasmanian Wilderness (Australia), the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve (Mexico), the Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve (Honduras) and Machu Picchu (Peru).

Roads and/or railways are threatening places such as the Laurisilva of Madeira (Madeira, Portugal), the ecosystems of the Volcanoes of Kamchatka (Russia), the Socotra Archipelago (Yemen), the Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra site (Indonesia) and Sangay National Park (Ecuador).

The use of shipping lanes is having negative effects at, mainly, the Wadden Sea (Netherlands, Germany and Denmark), Komodo National Park (Indonesia) and (also influenced by other environmental issues, such as ocean temperatures and pH values) the barrier reefs of Australia and Belize. 

The key point of this study is that action needs to be taken if these Natural UNESCO Sites are to be preserved. Unfortunately, neither UNESCO nor the WWF have any say over how any country treats its heritage sites. Since these places may be permanently changed due to human activity, if you wanted to see any of them, it would be best to visit sooner rather than later. 

If there is good news, it’s that slightly more than half of the Natural UNESCO World Heritage Sites were found by the WWF to not be threatened by industry. Among these pristine locations are Lena Pillars Nature Park (Russia), Göreme National Park and the Rock Sites of Cappadocia (Turkey), Wadi Rum (Jordan), Nanda Devi and Valley of Flowers national parks (India), Huanglong Scenic and Historic Interest Area (China), Ha Long Bay (Vietnam), Mount Kenya National Park (Kenya) and the Galápagos Islands (Ecuador).

The United Kingdom may be the best at protecting its Natural World Heritage Sites, with all five of its sites free of industry. And three of Tanzania’s four natural sites are considered to be unthreatened by industry: Kilimanjaro National Park, Serengeti National Park and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.

The complete report, with a list of sites and the threats they face, can be downloaded at www.worldwildlife.org/publications/protecting-people-through-nature.


Karin Weiser of Carlsbad, California, wrote to say that she was a bit confused about the route the writer took as described in the letter “Black Sea to Rhine Valley with Vantage” (May ’16, pg. 24)

In Philip Shart’s letter about back-to-back cruises that he took with Vantage Deluxe World Travel, he stated that, from the Black Sea, he “cruised up the Danube, across the Main-Danube Canal, down the Main and up the Rhine” and that he flew home from Frankfurt on the day the cruise ended.

She wondered if he had forgotten to mention another leg of the cruise, the leg where they came back down the Rhine, since Frankfurt lies on the Main River.

ITN asked Mr. Shart about it, and he wrote, “From Frankfurt, we continued sailing to and up the Rhine River past Rudesheim all the way to Cologne, then backtracked to Bonn. They bused us from Bonn back to Frankfurt to catch the flight home.”

Many of you may have traveled in India with the tour company Spirit of India and enjoyed the company of the guide Sanjay Verman, perhaps even being invited to his home in New Delhi to meet his wife and two daughters. Company owner Barbara Sansone has informed us that, sadly, Mr. Verman died on April 14 from respiratory complications that developed following surgery to remove a brain tumor.

Barbara noted that, in addition to Sanjay’s being a trusted partner and friend, he possessed an in-depth knowledge of the Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh religions and spoke Hindi, Punjabi, English and German fluently as well as several other local dialects.

If you have photos of yourself with Sanjay or stories to share, send them to inquire@spirit-of-india.com to be posted on the blog (originalworldtravel.com; click on “Journals”). A fund is being established in Sanjay’s name to donate to the Serkong School in Tabo, one of the monasteries he loved in the Spiti Valley, located in the remote Indian Himalayas in northern India.

Pennsylvanian Fred Kissell wrote, “I would like to have ITN readers write in about where to spend a month or two in the winter. I live in Pittsburgh, and it would be really nice to go somewhere else in January and February.

“In my mind, the ideal winter getaway would be a warm, pretty, uncrowded, low-cost town with plenty to do in the vicinity. It also would have a low crime rate so I would be comfortable wandering around by myself. Does it exist?”

If you have someplace in mind outside of the US, email editor@intltravelnews.com or write to Winter Getaway, c/o ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818. Responses will be shared with Fred and printed in ITN.

To those same addresses, consider sending in a few photos to be used on our “Where in the World?” mystery-photo page in ITN (inside back cover). Have a clever close-up of a famous landmark? A shot of someplace interesting? Include a caption saying what we are looking at, approximately where the picture was taken and about when, plus who shot the photo.

To any of you who have been trying to log onto the ITN website lately to read current issues or use the Search bar for travel-planning research, I apologize for the difficulty and technical glitches. We are working on making repairs and ask your patience.