Trump bans seven countries' citizens. Tarmac Delay Rule enforced. Extreme winter weather

By David Tykol
This item appears on page 2 of the March 2017 issue.

A small, snow-covered wooden chapel located near the sacred springs on the grounds of Savva-Storozhevsky Monastery in Sergiev Posad, Moscow. Photo: ©Viktor Sagaydashin/123rf.com

Dear Globetrotter:

Welcome to the 493rd issue of your monthly foreign-travel magazine, where you and your fellow subscribers provide the bulk of the information simply by telling us where you’ve been and what you did and saw.

With this issue, we begin our 42nd year of publishing ITN. All of us thank all of you for subscribing, sending in trip reports/articles/photos, patronizing any of our advertisers or just spreading the word about this magazine. While many other travel publications have come and gone in the decades since our first issue, ITN is still getting mailed out every month.

Of course, these days, the articles, letters and news items printed in ITN also get posted on our website, where our new Web Developer continues to make improvements. We know that many travelers access our website for their trip planning, using the Search bar to find past articles and letters on particular tour companies and destinations.

Let us know what else we can do to make the website work better or be more useful for you.

Our yearly subscription rate has remained $24 (for 12 issues) since September 2007, when a postal-rate increase forced us to raise it. In January, we actually LOWERED the price of our online-only annual subscription to $15 (see page 9). No one can say we’re not customer-friendly!

In addition to featuring travelers’ stories, recommendations and warnings, we work to stay true to this magazine’s name by reporting pertinent headlines.

On Jan. 27, President Trump signed an executive order banning all citizens from seven predominantly Muslim countries — Libya, Sudan, Somalia, Syria, Iraq, Iran and Yemen — from entering the US for 90 days. It was immediately enforced, but, having been issued without clear instructions, there was confusion as to which travelers would be denied entry.

Initially, citizens of any of the seven countries who were (1) US residents with permanent-resident cards [Green Cards], (2) dual nationals or (3) travelers with valid visas were detained at ports of entry or denied boarding when trying to fly back to the US. 

Soon after the ban began to be enforced, a federal judge suspended some aspects of the order, allowing some visa holders to enter the US. A second federal judge then suspended the order entirely pending a challenge from two states.

However, as of press time, there were differing reports on whether or not people falling within these categories would be allowed to enter the US or what types of enforcement they would be subject to. The White House clarified that permanent residents were not included in the ban but added that they could be held for further vetting before being allowed to enter the country. 

During the period of the ban, it is recommended that US residents who are citizens or dual nationals of any of the seven named countries refrain from traveling outside of the US so as not to risk being denied reentry or detained upon arrival.

In retaliation for the order, Iran threatened to deny entry to US citizens, but, as of press time, no such ban had been enacted.

In a step toward increasing the comfort of airline passengers in the US, on Jan. 12 the Department of Transportation (DOT) fined American Airlines $1.6 million for multiple breaches of the Tarmac Delay Rule.

This federal law, which has been in place since April 2010, states that any commercial airplane that holds at least 30 passengers may not remain delayed on the tarmac for more than three hours without the passengers being given the opportunity to deplane. 

The carrier also must provide adequate food and water to passengers during the delay and must ensure that toilets are working and are available for use during that time.

Exceptions to the rule can be made when delays are the result of safety or security concerns or air-traffic-control issues.

In American Airlines’ case, the fine was levied due to incidents on three dates. On Feb. 16, 2013, 20 flights (some of which were operated by US Airways, which, since, has merged with American) were delayed beyond three hours at North Carolina’s Charlotte Douglas International Airport; on Feb. 27, 2015, six flights were delayed beyond three hours at Dallas/Fort Worth International, and on Oct. 22, 2015, one flight was delayed at Louisiana’s Shreveport Regional Airport.

In the Charlotte and Dallas/Fort Worth cases, the delays were caused by inclement weather, with the DOT finding that the airline had failed to take measures to avoid the long waiting times on the tarmac. In Shreveport, the delay was caused by personnel issues. 

American was credited a hefty portion of the $1.6 million because of reimbursements it had made to passengers on those flights. However, it should be noted that US-based airlines, while they ultimately must get passengers to their destinations, are not required by any law to compensate passengers for delays, whether on the tarmac or not.

This is not the case in the European Union (EU), where airlines are required to compensate passengers for lengthy delays. If a flight of 1,500 to 3,500 kilometers (932 to 2,175 miles) is delayed for three or more hours, passengers each can claim 400 (near $430) in compensation. For a flight of more than 3,500 kilometers delayed four hours or more, passengers each can claim 600. Claims are made through the airline.

But there is a caveat. Compensation will be awarded to passengers only in certain cases. It will be awarded to passengers on EU-registered airlines on flights anywhere. It also will be awarded to passengers on non-EU-registered airlines that are either departing from or traveling within the EU. However, passengers on non-EU-registered airlines flying to the EU will not be able to claim compensation for delayed flights. (So someone using a US-based airline to fly from the US to the EU will not be able to claim compensation for the delay or cancellation of his flight.)

In our January issue, we printed subscribers’ suggestions for “Getting Away from Winter” destinations, including Marsha Warren Mittman’s suggestions of Sicily, Croatia and Greece (page 42). Of all the coincidences, as that issue went to press, it was snowing in all three of those places. And not just snowing; the temperature in the city of Athens never even made it above freezing on Jan. 7 and 8.

In fact, temperatures unexpectedly dropped throughout the normally temperate Mediterranean. Ice closed airports across southern Italy, and freezing temperatures and snow closed the Bosphorus Strait in Turkey to ship traffic.

Large swathes of other parts of Europe were also greatly affected by the cold snap. In Moscow, locals experienced the coldest Orthodox Christmas (held on Jan. 7, 2017, according to the Gregorian calendar) — minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit — in 120 years. Airports, roads and shops were closed because of the ice and extreme weather conditions.

Europe was not alone in experiencing abnormal winter weather. In mid-December, Africa’s northern Sahara got a flurry of snow, its first in almost 40 years. But that was nothing compared to the storm on the horizon.

On Jan. 20 of this year, a blizzard dropped more than a meter of snow on some parts of the northern Sahara. It was the heaviest snow ever recorded there, a place where any precipitation at all, let alone snow, is a rarity. 

One of the desert areas where snow depth reached more than a meter was the Algerian town of Aïn Séfra (roughly on the same latitude as New Orleans), a place known more for sand dunes than snow drifts.

This strange weather is almost certainly an anomaly, but there is no way to predict whether or not snow will return next January.

We printed in last month’s issue subscribers’ letters about the debit and credit cards that they prefer to use when traveling, especially cards that can be used abroad to make a purchase or withdraw money at an ATM without incurring fees.

Those responses were instigated by Jane B. Holt of Hinesburg, Vermont, who mentioned, originally, that she and her husband use a Charles Schwab Bank Visa®Platinum Debit Card linked to their Schwab One® brokerage account and Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking® account. That card can be used without a foreign transaction fee (FTF) or an ATM fee being charged.

Jane has followed up with this comment: “I’d like to reiterate that we use this debit card ONLY for ATM withdrawals. For all other card transactions, we use our Chase United Explorer Visa credit card, which charges no FTF and which earns United Airlines miles.”

CORRECTION to note —

Referring to the letter “‘Pleased’ with Trip Mate,” in which a subscriber mentioned taking a river cruise out of Moscow (Feb. ’17, pg. 46), George Byam of Grand Rapids, Michigan, wrote, “If the writer is reporting that he ‘floated down the Volga to St. Petersburg,’ he must have had too much vodka.”

George is correct that the Volga does not run all the way from Moscow to St. Petersburg. However, one can complete that journey from the Volga through a series of interconnected canals and lakes. The subscriber’s letter should have read, “Then we cruised on the Volga-Baltic Waterway to St. Petersburg.”

ITN subscribers who receive the magazine in the mail may have noticed numbers in front of their names on the address labels on recent copies. A few of you asked what the numbers meant and why they were there.

The answer? The numbers were added inadvertently and were the result of a computer error involving new postal software.

As you can see on the copy of the magazine you’re currently holding, those pesky numbers have disappeared.

The deadline for getting in your entries for our “Where Were You in 2016?” drawing for prizes is the end of this month, March 31st.

If you are an ITN subscriber, just make a list of all of the nations you visited in 2016 and email it to editor@intltravelnews.com or mail it to Where Were You in 2016?, c/o ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818. Include the mailing address where you receive ITN.

It’s helpful for us to know the latest travel trends, which places are popular with our readers, and I’ll share the results with you — and name the winners of the random drawings — in my June 2017 column.

(When compiling your list, remember that Tibet, Hong Kong and Macau all are officially part of China and would not count as separate nations.)

Only a few more weeks left!

While you’re at it, look through your recent photos from travels outside of the US and send us any that we could use on our “Where in the World?” page, where readers guess the locations of places and things pictured. We’re looking for photos of recognizable vistas, unique structures or, as a creative twist, extreme close-ups of iconic landmarks.

With each shot, include a caption telling us what we’re looking at, approximately where the picture was taken, approximately when it was taken (year or month/year) and who took the picture.

Let’s see what you’ve got.