Brexit outlook. Delay-compensation claims against Ryanair. Ryanair and seat selection.

By David Tykol
This item appears on page 2 of the February 2019 issue.

Interior of the Cathedral & Collegiate Church of St Saviour & St Mary Overie, since 1905 known as Southwark Cathedral, whose construction began in 1839 — London.
Dear Globetrotter:

Welcome to the 516th issue of your monthly foreign-travel magazine. With this issue, we have been publishing for 43 full years!

Covering destinations outside of the US and its territories, ITN is a participatory publication. We print articles, letters and photos sent in by our subscribers, people who enjoy traveling. That provides most of the content in each issue.

Your subscribing and encouraging other travelers to give ITN a try makes it possible for us to continue to publish, as does your using any of the services and products advertised in this magazine and letting those companies know you saw their ads here. ITN is nearly equally supported by subscriptions and advertising.

We also value your suggestions for topics travelers can write in about, ideas for making the magazine or our website more useful to travelers or just your comments on what you think of the magazine.

Here's something simple and fun that you can all help out with. Tell us which countries you visited in 2018. That's all. Email your list to editor@intltravelnews.com or address a postcard or letter to Where Were You in 2018?, c/o ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818. Include your mailing address. (ITN does not provide anyone's address to any other firm.)

The statistics we collect will be used to attract potential advertisers and inform editorial decisions on what to print. Once the deadline has passed, March 31, 2019, we're even going to gather all the email printouts and letters and hold random drawings for prizes. I'll announce the prize winners — and the country-count results — in the June 2019 issue.

It's an easy way to dip your toe in the water. Perhaps after your next trip, you'll be inclined to write in about an experience or a travel find.

Meanwhile, here are some news items that may be of interest to you and other travelers.

This year, two years after the British-exit, or "Brexit," referendum was passed by popular vote, on March 29 the United Kingdom will leave the European Union (EU), whether a secession deal is in place or not.

At press time, the last Brexit deal proposed by UK Prime Minister Theresa May had not passed in the Parliament and seemed unlikely to do so before March 29. Due to the uncertainty of any deal being in place by the deadline, the EU had begun planning how to manage a no-deal Brexit.

Considering how contentious the Brexit has been, the EU's no-deal plan is very generous to the UK. Flights from the UK to the continent would remain unimpeded for at least 12 months, and freight drivers would be allowed to transport goods without applying for permits for at least nine months. In addition, the EU has asked its member states to allow UK citizens living on the continent to remain (as long as the UK reciprocates).

However, starting on March 29, there would be some difficulties. Under the EU's proposed plan, anyone traveling from the UK to the EU would need to go through a Customs inspection, increasing travel times and possibly incurring taxes and fees.

Also, UK citizens would need visas if they wished to travel in the EU for more than 90 days, and any Brit traveling in the EU for fewer than 90 days would need to apply for a travel permit, paying £7 (near $9) to do so.

One of the biggest issues that the UK faces involves its border with the Republic of Ireland. At press time, that border was expected to remain open. However, without a deal in place, Ireland would be within its rights to impose border controls at any time.

There still is hope that a deal can be hashed out in time, but, failing another referendum (and having another is unlikely), Europe will look very different to Brits in a very short time.

More Europe news —

During the summer of 2018, the Irish airline Ryanair (www.ryanair.com) experienced lengthy staff strikes, causing delays and cancellations of hundreds of its flights. As a result, thousands of passengers filed claims against Ryanair to be compensated for their delayed or canceled flights, based on the EU's air passenger rights laws.

So far, Ryanair has refused to pay a single claim, leading the UK's Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to take the airline to court to force it to pay the compensation requests of those passengers who had been on Ryanair flights to or from the UK. Proceedings began on Dec. 5.

Though (according to Flight Compensation Regulation EC261/2004) passengers may cite flight delays or cancellations caused by workers' strikes as a reason for requesting compensation, Ryanair describes the strikes as "exceptional circumstances," one of the justifications by which airlines are allowed to deny compensation claims. The CAA contends that the strikes were not exceptional at all but were expected.

However, in Ryanair's favor, courts in Germany, Italy and Spain have already ruled that the strikes were exceptional in THOSE countries, meaning that passengers making claims from those countries will not receive compensation. However, if you had a ticket for a Ryanair flight to or from the UK during a labor strike and your flight was delayed or canceled, the lawsuit filed by the CAA, depending on the ruling, may lead to your being eligible for compensation.

I hate to pick on Ryanair (also see Jan. '19, pgs. 53-54), but we're not done with them yet.

These days, airlines are always looking for more ways to get a few extra dollars from each passenger. An increasingly common tactic among many airlines is to charge customers for choosing their seats.

For anyone who decides to not select his seat ahead of time, his seat will be randomly assigned at check-in. You might believe that if you and your companion(s) check in to your flight at the same time, especially if you do so with the assistance of an airline employee at the airport, you likely would be seated together, and usually you would be.

In a survey of 4,296 flyers who chose to NOT pay to select their seats, one conducted by (who else?) the CAA, only 18% reported that they had been assigned seats that separated them from their family members or travel companions. However, among those who had flown on Ryanair, that percentage was almost double, 35%. On the lower end of the percentages, only 12% of companions were split up on flights of the budget airlines Flybe and TUI Airways.

The CAA suspects that Ryanair is using a secret algorithm to pinpoint people traveling together — perhaps one using last names to spot family members — and is making sure they get separate seats so that the travelers will be encouraged to pay to sit together. If true, it is an act that the CAA describes as "exploitative."

Being split from a family member is not just annoying, it can be dangerous. In February 2018, the Royal Aeronautical Society Flight Operations Group issued a report with 17 recommendations to improve aircraft evacuations, and it listed "passenger seat allocation" as one of the areas needing improvement, stating, ". . . the seating of family groups should be such that family members are not seated remotely from each other, since group members who are separated might seek each other out in an emergency evacuation, which might have a serious impact on passenger flow to emergency exits."

Ryanair insists that its seat distributions are purely random. The matter is currently under investigation by the CAA to determine whether Ryanair's seating process is in any way deceptive.

CORRECTIONS to note —

• In a write-up (Jan. '19, pg. 37) about a customized tour of Bangladesh arranged by Nijhoom Tours (nijhoom.com), Deborah Blenkarn wrote, "At dusk, we sailed from Dhaka on a Rocket paddle steamer. We had a first-class cabin with twin beds and meals, while second-class passengers spread their blankets on a lower deck and supplied their own food. Our cabin had no washroom, but it was comfortable, and the meals were quite acceptable."

Nijhoom Tours owner Raw Hasan noted, "The writing of 'second-class passengers spread their blankets on a lower deck' should be actually 'third-class.'

"Located in the front of the boat along with a dining space, a sitting area and a toilet area, first-class cabins each have air-conditioning and a wash basin. Located in the back, second-class cabins on the Rockets do have a small dining area and their own toilet area, but they do not have air-conditioning or private wash basins. Third class, on the lower deck, has its own area of toilets.

"The first- and second-class cabins are all the same size, with two single beds in each, and passengers must book a whole cabin — no sharing with strangers."

• In the Travel Brief titled "Ireland Wildlife Tours" (Jan. '19, pg. 56), about walking tours in County Cork, the correct name of the tour operator is Ireland's Wildlife (www.irelandswildlife.com).

• In the Travel Brief "Whale Encounters" (Jan. '19, pg. 56), about multiday tours on which people can swim with whales in Australia, Tonga, Tahiti, Norway or Canada, the correct name of the tour operator is Majestic Whale Encounters (www.majesticwhaleencounters.com.au).

• Lastly, on the back cover of your January 2019 issue, scratch out "2018" and write "2019." And, yes, for these last few errors, the appropriate employees have been flogged.

An ITN subscriber in Colorado was interested in arranging a customized tour of Australia until the tour operator mentioned that, due to time considerations, a credit-card form with a signature (required by the bank for payments over a certain amount) needed to be sent by email or fax, not by surface mail. The traveler did not know how to send or receive emails and did not want to seek out a fax machine, so she found another company to travel with, one with which she could do everything by phone or mail.

Along the same line, a subscriber in Washington state wrote, "In the past, I traveled with just a wheeled carry-on, a round-trip airline ticket and a bus or train pass. I had no problems then, but I do doubt I could repeat such a trip in 2019. If a flight problem or crisis arose, I might be in deep trouble without a functional smartphone, computer system, etc.

"Yes, I have a computer at home and a cell phone that I use minimally, but I'm ultra-low tech. Is it even possible to travel independently anymore without your own personal IT [information technology] system?"

We're welcoming comment on this subject.

If you are not tech savvy, what tech problems or hurdles have you faced recently when traveling or even when making travel arrangements, and what solutions did you find? If you manage to get to wherever you want or to book arrangements without using any of the new personal electronics, what is it that you do to succeed? What are some of the drawbacks you have experienced or just live with? Are there types of travel or facets of travel that you now avoid because some sort of IT is required?

Send a letter to No-tech Travelers' Tips, c/o ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818, or (if possible) email editor@intltravelnews.com. Include the address at which you receive ITN.

OK, here's one more fun way you can participate in this community project called International Travel News.

In October 2010, back when ITN's original publisher, the late Armond Noble, had a column called "Departure Lounge," he wrote, "I recently had my annual physical (from the esteemed Dr. Bayard Chang). I noticed some new pictures on his wall. He said, 'I love London.' A bell went off. So that's our new essay contest: 'I Love London.' In 300 words or less. Prizes!"

Thus was born ITN's ongoing essay contest.

Armond was inspired. By the time he wrote the following month's column, he had come up with more than two dozen additional essay topics, including "Zeal for New Zealand," "I'm Singing about Singapore" and "Greece is Great."

Well, the current topic (with a deadline of April 30, 2019) is "I Sigh Over Dubai," and it's the last on Armond's list. So we need suggestions for new essay topics, preferably something with alliteration, a rhyme or a pun.

To avoid duplications, here are the OTHER destinations that we already have had essay contests about: Paris, Norway, Israel, Tasmania, Stockholm, China, Romania, Italy, Kenya, Prague, the Amazon, Crete, Brazil, Bulgaria, Nice, Togo, Peru, Warsaw, Sweden, Australia, Ghana and Koblenz.

If we use your topic for an essay contest, we'll give you credit for coming up with it (but it's the essay winner who will get a prize).

I know you've got a couple of titles in you. When you send in your New Essay Topics suggestions (don't forget to include your mailing address), follow up with your answers to "Where Were You in 2018?"

Send us your lists!