Paris Métro fine. Conscientious consumers and tortoiseshell. A drop in bumping by airlines

By: David Tykol
This item appears on page 2 of the May 2018 issue.

A hawksbill turtle can weigh up to 150 pounds, with a shell 45 inches long. Photo: ©Andrey Armyagov/123rf.com
Dear Globetrotter:Welcome to the 507th issue of your monthly foreign-travel magazine.

What kind of travel do you do? Are you independent all the way, nothing more than a backpack? Or do you enjoy going on group tours, the more, the merrier? Perhaps you and your travel partner want the assurance of having a guide but prefer the flexibility of a private, customized tour. Others love all that cruising has to offer.

Whatever it was that you did on your last trip, there are other people reading this magazine who would benefit from something you could tell them.

“Don’t go to this place at this time of day.” “You can save 6 bucks by ordering this online.” “You wouldn’t believe the view you get if you just walk another hundred yards down the road.”

You don’t have to write pages and pages about everything you did (unless you want to), but there’s going to be one thing that you saw or felt or learned that made you think “I wish I’d known that” or “I’m lucky that happened.” Jot that one thing down and email it to editor@intltravelnews.com or write ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818. 

The littlest tip could make someone else’s trip go better.

(Be sure to include your mailing address, as ITN prints letters and articles from its subscribers only. And if you’re writing about a destination, note that ITN covers places outside of the US.)

As for sharing information, let me get the ball rolling.

Did you know you can be fined up to €60 (near $74) just for walking the wrong direction in a Paris Métro station?

On Feb. 27, 2018, a pregnant Parisian entered a one-way corridor at Concorde station heading the wrong way, as it was the shortest route out of the station, and was given a ticket. 

After the ticket was shared on social media, other Parisians shared their own stories about having received fines, including at least one person who claimed she was fined even though she was the only passenger in the station.

Another person pointed out that €60 was more than the penalty for riding the subway without a ticket.

In response, the Métro department asserted that the one-way corridors are there to facilitate the easy flow of passengers and to prevent incidents and that enforcement is at the discretion of the officer posted at the station.

Sometimes, simply being informed about an issue can help lead to a solution for it.

One privilege that travelers currently enjoy is spotting interesting types of wildlife. Unfortunately, the numbers of many species are declining. 

Of course, there are moral (and legal) reasons to never buy products made of elephant ivory or of rhino horn or of any part of an endangered animal, but there are some products commonly for sale that you may not realize come from endangered species. Specifically, tortoiseshell products — made from the shells of the critically endangered hawksbill sea turtle, known for its beautiful black-and-brown carapace — can be found for sale in Caribbean and Southeast Asian markets. 

Hawksbill turtles are on the “red list” of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), meaning they are considered near extinction. It is estimated that there are about 15,000 “nesting females” left in the wild, and the IUCN believes that number is dropping.

In 1975, the hawksbill turtle was added to the list of animals whose products were banned in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). However, despite the sea turtle’s being placed on the list, some of the signers of the convention, including Japan, Seychelles and Cuba, continued to trade tortoiseshell until at least 1992.

Technically, all of the signers of the convention have now ceased trade, but some countries have requested that the hawksbill be placed in “Appendix II” of the convention, which would not allow any harvesting of hawksbill but would allow the trading of stockpiles of shells, a situation that many conservationists say would encourage poaching, especially considering that a black market for turtle shell already exists.

A turtle-conservation group, Too Rare to Wear (www.tooraretowear.org), conducted a survey of Caribbean countries from December 2016 to February 2017, having local conservation groups visit tourist cities to see how much tortoiseshell was available for purchase at souvenir shops, to catalog the prices the tortoiseshell items were being sold for and to note who was buying those items. The countries where the study was performed were Belize, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, El Salvador, Grenada, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama.

Across all of those countries, the survey team found that 32% of the stores visited sold tortoiseshell items, and the more than 11,000 items for sale had an estimated total value of nearly $52,000. (The “value” was calculated from the selling prices of the items for sale, not appraised values.)

The country with the largest volume of tortoiseshell items was Nicaragua, where 69% of the stores visited carried them (the inventory adding up to nearly 63% of the total items found during the study).

Shops in Colombia had the second-largest stock of tortoiseshell (nearly 24% of the items), followed by Costa Rica (nearly 9%), El Salvador, Cuba, Grenada and Panama. Of the countries surveyed, only in Belize were absolutely no tortoiseshell items found.

After counting the number of items for sale at each shop, surveyors asked the vendor who the largest purchasers of tortoiseshell items were. Merchants in three countries — Costa Rica, Granada and Nicaragua — stated that cruise passengers accounted for the bulk of their tortoiseshell sales. In all other countries, merchants said that native tourists had made the bulk of the purchases.

It’s important to note that in each of these countries, with the exception of Grenada, harvesting hawksbill or selling items made from hawksbill tortoiseshell is illegal, and yet each item counted was openly displayed.

Considering the wide availability and low cost of tortoiseshell items in the Caribbean, it’s possible that many cruise passengers purchasing those items are simply unaware that they are buying goods that are actually made from the endangered species. In the US, many tortoiseshell products, such as combs, jewelry and cosmetics boxes, are made from fake, plastic “tortoiseshell,” so most people would not have the expertise to identify the real thing. 

Even if buyers know that they are buying a real animal product, they might assume it’s made from a more common land turtle as opposed to a critically endangered sea turtle, especially considering how cheaply some of the products are priced. (A hawksbill-shell bracelet found for sale in Nicaragua cost only 34¢.)

When you’re out shopping, keep in mind that some items may be made from parts of endangered animals, and consider NOT purchasing them. If locals learn that there is more money to be made from taking visitors to see LIVE animals than from selling animal parts, all may benefit.

Heading to Cape Town soon?

In February, I printed Alan Ramsay’s warning that the reservoirs in Cape Town, South Africa, his hometown, were projected to run dry by May. On March 12, Cape Town officials announced that, thanks to water-conservation efforts by the city’s two million people, the store of potable water is expected to last until at least 2019.

The drought is likely to continue through the winter of 2018 (June-September), however, so citizens and visitors are still being asked to keep water use to a minimum.

When was the last time you were bumped by an airline?

Due to the frequency of no-show passengers, most airlines around the world oversell flights so that they don’t end up with empty seats on a plane. However, if all of an overbooked flight’s passengers show up on time, and not enough people willingly (for rewards) relinquish their seats, the airline is forced to deny boarding to, or “bump,” some of the ticketed passengers. (Bumped passengers, too, are usually offered some kind of compensation. With a US-based airline, the amount of the reward depends on the length of the delay caused by the bumping and can be as much as $1,350 in cash.)

Well, there’s good news. Namely, among US airlines, for all of 2017, the rate of passengers being involuntarily denied boarding on flights was the lowest since rates of denied boarding first began to be recorded in 1995.

According to the US Department of Transportation, for every 10,000 passengers boarded on any commercial flight on a US airline in 2017, 0.34 passengers were bumped. (Those who willingly gave up their seats were not included in this statistic.)

The previous low, almost twice that number, was 0.62 passengers bumped per 10,000, just the year before. The highest rate occurred in 1996, when 1.2 passengers per 10,000 were bumped. That number still may seem low, but it worked out to almost 58,000 people.

The airline with the lowest rate of passengers denied boarding last year was Delta Air Lines, with 0.05 passengers per 10,000 bumped. It was followed by United Airlines (0.23) and American Airlines (0.38).

Two airlines that claim, in their literature, to never oversell their planes, JetBlue and Southwest Airlines, had some of the higher rates of bumping, at 0.41 and 0.53, respectively. 

The issue of denied boarding became a hot topic in 2017 when, in April of that year, a passenger on a United plane was “bumped” after he had already taken his seat. 

The incident began when the crew was unsuccessful in getting volunteers to give up their seats for four United employees en route to their next assignment. They then randomly chose four passengers to be removed from the plane, one of whom refused to leave. Airport security was called, and the man was physically dragged from the plane, leaving him bloodied. 

After the bad press generated from that incident, United changed its rules so that no one would be removed once seated on the plane.

Setting the record straight —

• Upon ITN’s printing the Travel Brief “Lisbon’s African Roots” (April ’18, pg. 46), which stated that the price of that 3-hour walking tour in the Portuguese capital included a meal, a Foodiebookings.com representative informed us that the meal costs extra (€10), and only snacks are included.

ITN pointed out that, on the website, the phrase “African delicacies are included” could lead others to the same wrong conclusion, and the company immediately added a paragraph clarifying what is and is not included.

• David Collins of Newbury Park, California, wrote, “I read, with interest, the article ‘Norway from A to Z’ by James Hansen (April ’18, pg. 42). Part of the article touched on Scotland, which was a stop on the cruise described. Having lived in Edinburgh off and on over five years, I was taken aback by Mr. Hansen’s calling the Standing Stones of Stenness ‘a poor man’s Stonehenge.’ 

“The Standing Stones date back to 3100 BC and were brought back to their current upright positions from archaeological excavation. The archaeological sites in the Orkney Islands are amazing and include sheltered communities dating back thousands of years BC.

“It’s interesting how fellow travelers absorb their surroundings.”

In this issue, we’re wrapping up a series in which some of our most-traveled subscribers each provided two lists of Top 10 destinations (excluding places in Europe and the US).

When this series began, in the October 2017 issue, I reported how many times each country had been listed. Just to refresh your memory, I’ll name the 10 countries that came up most often in each set of lists.

In the lists of destinations recommended for beginning international travelers, the 10 countries chosen most often were Australia (at number one), New Zealand, China, Peru, Costa Rica, South Africa, Canada, Ecuador (including the Galápagos Islands), Thailand and Japan.

As for personal favorites, those named most often were China (at number one), India, Egypt, New Zealand, Bhutan, Brazil, Chile (including Easter Island), Indonesia, Peru and Thailand.

Thank you, listers!

This magazine prints the experiences, observations and opinions of its subscribers, people who enjoy foreign travel. In addition, we’re currently soliciting information on the following subjects:

• When you’re away from home for more than 30 days on travel outside of the US, how do you handle your mail, and what arrangements do you make to pay bills, watch the house, etc.? Bill Hutchinson of Signal Hill, California, is among the ITN readers who would like to hear from you on that.

Email or write to Managing Things at Home During an Extended Trip, c/o ITN (see the addresses I gave earlier). Include your mailing address.

• If you were not allowed to rent a vehicle somewhere in Europe because you were over a certain age limit, Linda Beuret of Santa Barbara, California, would like to know the particulars. 

Which country was it and which rental company? In what year did this take place? What were you told by the agent? Did you find an alternative?

Pen us a letter to Senior Drivers of Rental Cars, c/o ITN. (Include your address.)

Responses will be printed in ITN.

Share whatever travel info you can. There are people who will benefit from hearing about things you know or experienced, even stuff you consider minor or common knowledge. Shoot us an email or postcard. Your casual recollection could be the gem in someone else’s future trip.