Airlines' concerns with 5G cell phone frequencies. Cruise lines and COVID guidelines. Crystal suspends cruises.

By David Tykol
This item appears on page 4 of the March 2022 issue.
The 15th-century Tour de l’Horloge (Clock Tower) peeks above medieval buildings in the Old Town of Auxerre, France.

Dear Globetrotter:

Welcome to the 553rd issue of your monthly worldwide travel magazine — our 46th Anniversary issue, starting our 47th year of publication! ITN was the original monthly “meeting place” for hodophiles, where they could share discoveries, warnings and recommendations from their travels outside of the United States.

We’re still at it, dispensing news as well, such as the following….

US cell phone service providers AT&T and Verizon began operating most of their 5G antennas on Jan. 19 despite warnings from airlines and aircraft manufacturers that that service could cause disruptions to aircraft instruments.

Without getting too technical, the radio frequencies used by 5G in the US are very close to the frequencies used by aircraft for radio altimeters, the devices that measure an aircraft’s distance from the ground. It is particularly important that these are accurate during times of low visibility. Both Boeing and Airbus have told airlines using their aircraft (which account for the vast majority of commercial aircraft worldwide) that the 5G in the US will affect their instruments in some way. An automated system might mistakenly react to a phantom object, for example, or miss detecting an actual obstacle.

(Interestingly, the 5G rollout in Europe did not face the same problems because the range of 5G frequencies used there is a slightly lower bandwidth, though it does overlap on its high end with the bandwidth being used in the US. Similarly, T-Mobile’s 5G service in the US works on a “mid-band” frequency that is not near those used by aircraft systems.)

According to the FAA, newer altimeters made in the last few years will work without any risk of interference from 5G, but those account for only about 45% of all altimeters in use on planes of US-based airlines.

In a last-minute deal, AT&T and Verizon agreed to delay turning on 5G antennas within 2 miles of most US airports, but some international airlines had already decided to cancel flights to certain US airports.

The airline Emirates temporarily canceled some flights to Boston, Newark, Miami, Orlando, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Seattle and San Francisco. Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways also temporarily canceled some flights.

Even though the two phone companies agreed, for now, to limit 5G around airports, US airlines have said that 5G still may cause some flight delays, particularly on planes with older altimeters.

Attention, cruise aficionados! While the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) allowed the Conditional Sail Order in place since May 2021 to expire on Jan. 15, saying that they now trusted cruise companies to follow COVID-19 safety guidelines without oversight, in December the same CDC warned travelers against taking cruises, citing the highly contagious nature of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 and its ability to cause breakthrough cases of the disease.

The warning was prescient, as, since then, multiple cruises have experienced COVID outbreaks, despite cruise lines’ enacting stricter COVID testing and masking policies.

At least eight cruise lines are now requiring that passengers be boosted as well as vaccinated. In January, Azamara, Grand Circle Cruise Line, Hapag-Lloyd, Lindblad Expeditions, Silversea Cruises and UnCruise Adventures all announced that they would begin requiring vaccine boosters within a month, joining Cunard and P&O Cruises, who had already made that a requirement.

Some things to be aware of —

If there is an outbreak of COVID-19 on a cruise, the ship may be denied entry to some ports.

While a cruise line is obligated to reimburse you if a cruise is canceled due to a COVID outbreak, you may not be able to get any refund from the cruise line if you get infected during the cruise and it continues without you.

Also, the Federal Maritime Commission does not require cruise lines to reimburse passengers for the missed days of a cruise that is curtailed partway through.

Lastly, if you have purchased trip-cancellation/interruption coverage and become ill with COVID just before or during a cruise, your insurance will likely cover your losses. However, insurers do not include fear of getting COVID among the reasons they will cover you for canceling or interrupting your cruise. For that, you will need a Cancel For Any Reason (CFAR) insurance policy or a more rare Interruption For Any Reason (IFAR) policy.

On Jan. 19, luxury cruise line Crystal Cruises (Miami, FL; 888/722-0021, suspended all cruises aboard their ocean and expedition vessels — Crystal Serenity, Crystal Symphony and Crystal Endeavor — until at least April 29, 2022. This was due to the lack of funding of its parent company, Genting Hong Kong Limited.

Crystal stated that anyone booked on one of their canceled cruises will get a full refund in the same form in which they paid. (If it was paid for with cruise credit, the purchaser will receive only cruise credit in return.)

Crystal’s river cruises, which had been scheduled to resume in March, have been pushed back at least through the end of May.

Within a few days of Crystal’s announcing the cancellations, one of their ships, Symphony, which was returning to Miami at the end of a Caribbean cruise, instead docked in the Bahamas to avoid US Marshals. The marshals had a warrant to seize the ship due to an unpaid fuel bill of $1.5 million. Passengers were eventually able to return to Fort Lauderdale via ferry from Bimini, Bahamas.

Heading to France?

In the January issue, I described a change in how a foreign traveler to France could obtain a digital COVID vaccine certificate that allows entry to indoor venues (and which is accepted throughout the European Union and in other countries participating in the EU’s digital vaccine certificate program). A visitor could obtain the pass sanitaire at a pharmacy after arriving in France.

Well, I’ve got another update, though in name only.

On Jan. 24, France stopped issuing pass sanitaires and started issuing pass vaccinals. Everything about the two passes, including how to get one upon arrival, remains the same. The website I previously mentioned ( is still the place to go for details.

UPDATED contact — On our “Travelers’ Intercom USA” page, ITN subscriber Joanne Kuzma recommended a 5-day Civil War tour out of Washington, DC, with FFC Historical Tours of Baltimore, Maryland (Jan. ’22, pg. 26). The best place to check out that company’s offerings is now

• A CORRECTIONITN Subscribers Bucky Edgett and Dolores Maminski of Westminster, Maryland, wrote, “In the letter ‘Living Like Locals in Provence with Untours’ (Feb. ’22, pg. 15), the writer referred to ‘the government’s list of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France.’

“Actually, this is a commercial organization devoted to promoting tourism in small villages by preserving heritage. There are many requirements for paid membership on the part of town councils. Mostly situated in rural-ish locations, the villages are all clean and as cute as bugs.”

The end of this month is the deadline for entering our “Where Were You in 2021?” contest.

If you are an ITN subscriber, just make a list of all of the countries you visited outside of your own anytime in 2021 and email it to or mail it or a postcard to Where Were You in 2021?, c/o ITN, 2122 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818. Include your name and address.

We’ll tally the countries our subscribers visited, and I’ll share the results in my June column, along with naming the winners of the various prize drawings… in which every participant will be entered.

So send us your list, including any of you who have been to Southeast Asia. Surprisingly, we haven’t seen one SE Asian country mentioned yet, even though several countries have been open to visitors and we know ITN readers went there last year. Write in!