Countries the unvaccinated can visit. Mobile Passport Control app. Collecting a canceled-flight-reservation refund

By David Tykol
This item appears on page 4 of the April 2022 issue.
The Dominican Republic’s Spanish-colonial city of Santo Domingo is a cultural UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Dear Globetrotter:

Welcome to the 554th issue of your monthly worldwide travel magazine, about which Jennifer Gifford of Redlands, California, wrote (upon extending her subscription another year), “Keep up the excellent job. I’m a big fan of ITN and a longtime and loyal subscriber. God Bless You!”

ITN has been printing travelers’ trip reports and musings since 1976 and continues to work to keep readers informed about destinations outside of the US.

Tell your adventurous friends about ITN. Better yet, have a free sample copy of the next-printed issue sent to a couple of them. Just email their names and mailing addresses to or send them to ITN’s Subscription Department, 8300 Fair Oaks Blvd., Ste. 405, Carmichael, CA 95608. (ITN does not share addresses with any other firm.)

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A cabin-fever-beset Jill Melkonian wrote to ITN, “Surely, I am not the only traveler who, for medical reasons or otherwise, has not been vaccinated against COVID-19. Our world has certainly changed. Can you give some hope to those of us who have not had the shots?”

Yes, we can.

While there are still quite a few limits on people traveling who are unvaccinated (for example, most of the European Union still requires travelers to be vaccinated or recently recovered from COVID in order to enter) and while noncitizens and non-permanent residents must be vaccinated to enter the US, there are a number of destinations that do allow entry to unvaccinated travelers, with varying requirements.

Mexico, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic and Norway all not only allow unvaccinated travelers to enter but don’t even require a negative COVID test to do so. Essentially, all four countries are as easy to travel to today as they were in 2019. (Be warned that if your journey to one of these countries includes a layover in a country that DOES require proof of vaccination and/or a test, those still might be necessary for the layover.)

Other countries are a bit more strict. Ireland, Turkey (now Türkiye), the United Arab Emirates, Tanzania, Jamaica and some others require that unvaccinated travelers show proof of a negative test taken no more than a couple of days prior to travel and sometimes administer tests at random to visitors upon arrival. Several more, including the United Kingdom, Georgia, Israel and the Bahamas, require both pre- and post-arrival COVID tests.

Australia, which only just reopened to foreign travelers on Feb. 21, allows unvaccinated visitors to enter who can present a medical exemption and a negative COVID test taken before arrival. However, each unvaccinated traveler also must quarantine in an approved hotel for 14 days.

So, for you unvaccinated readers who, like Ms. Melkonian, are wondering if there are foreign countries you can visit NOW, the answer is most decidedly ‘Yes.’ In all, at press time, there were more than 20 countries that allowed unvaccinated travelers to enter, and that list is sure to increase as the weeks go on.

The US State Department provides details on each country’s (and some territories’) COVID-19 policies on their travel website; visit advisories/COVID-19-Country-Specific-Information.html.

In the letter “Prefers Mobile Passport app to Global Entry” (Feb. ’22, pg. 12), an ITN subscriber praised the Mobile Passport phone app produced by Airside, which facilitates entry into the US. However, shortly after the February issue was published, the Mobile Passport app was replaced by the Mobile Passport Control app, provided by the US Customs & Border Patrol (CBP).

The replacement app works much the same as the previous one. On your phone, you fill out the declaration form before arriving, taking a picture of the photo page in your passport. Then, when your phone has a data connection again upon landing or docking in the US, you submit the form via the app.

If your Customs declaration is approved, you can bypass the lines of people at kiosk screens (who are filling out that same declaration form) and head straight to a Customs agent, where you show that approval on your phone. If your declaration is not approved, then the app will direct you to meet with an agent to work out any issues.

The only difference is, unlike the Mobile Passport app recommended by the above-mentioned subscriber, the CBP’s app does not have any premium version available at additional cost. There is only one version, which is free.

While anyone who has already paid for a year of Mobile Passport will continue to get full functionality for the remainder of their subscription, potential new subscribers wanting to save time by submitting their declaration digitally will now be required to use the CBP app instead.

Another ITN subscriber, Don Mielke of Littleton, Colorado, in seeking a refund from an airline, employed a strategy that he’d like to share with his fellow readers.

For his wife, Susan, and himself on United Airlines’ website, Mr. Mielke had booked a round-trip code-share flight on Lufthansa, nonstop from Denver, Colorado, to Munich, Germany, leaving on Sept. 1, 2021. On July 1, United sent him an email saying their reservation had been canceled, with no explanation.

(ITN found that the flight itself was not canceled by Lufthansa but left the next day and was described by Lufthansa as “delayed.” As for at what point, in the US, a flight is technically considered canceled rather than just “delayed,” the DOT requires passengers be refunded only for flights it considers to have had a “significant delay,” though it has not defined that term and makes that determination on a case-by-case basis.)

United notified the Mielkes that they had a credit of $6,453.30, the cost of their two business-class seats, and that it would expire on Dec. 31, 2022. However, instead of a credit, they wanted a refund.

Mr. Mielke tried to make a refund request on the airline’s website, but he was met by error messages. He told ITN he then phoned United to request a refund but that the representative was not able to start the process and would not stay on the phone to help him with their website, nor did the rep send a requested confirmation saying that Mr. Mielke had called to request a refund.

He also attempted to file a trip-cancellation claim with their trip insurer, but it was denied because it was the airline, not the Mielkes, who canceled the reservation and therefore, by law, the Mielkes were entitled to a refund by the airline if they chose not to reschedule.

Mr. Mielke told ITN that, with their reservation canceled and no immediate refund, and considering COVID and health reasons, they never did take their planned trip to Europe.

After weeks of frustration trying to get a refund, he turned to other sources for advice. As he wrote in an email to ITN in September, “I emailed the Wall Street Journal’s ‘Middle Seat’ column’s author, who suggested that we make a complaint to the US Department of Transportation (DOT) online at, which I did on Aug. 2.”

(Quick aside — the Wall Street Journal’s Scott McCartney announced in December that he was retiring after 20 years of writing the “Middle Seat” column.)

Mr. Mielke continued: “Due to a high volume of complaints, the DOT did not respond until Sept. 7, when they wrote, ‘We will forward your complaint to the airline and will ask the company to respond directly to you. Airlines are required to acknowledge receipt of a consumer complaint [forwarded by the DOT — Editor] within 30 days and provide a substantive response to the complainant within 60 days.’

“United responded to the DOT about the complaint on Sept. 14, and, that same day, I received an email from the airline saying they had authorized a full refund.”

ITN emailed a copy of the above account to United Airlines and received the following reply on Feb. 28: “We do not see that a Refund Request for Mr. Mielke was ever submitted to United previous to his outreach to the DOT.

“In his letter, Mr. Mielke outlines that he spoke to an agent when the online refunds system was down. We sincerely apologize for any miscommunication on our end…. We are glad to hear that the issue was resolved and Mr. Mielke received his refund, and we regret the frustration this process caused. — Kathleen Giblin, Specialist, Global Response, United Airlines”

In addition to the federal law requiring airlines to fully refund passengers on flights or reservations that are canceled by the airline, the DOT also enforces many other rules in favor of flyers. This includes rules on bumping, denied boarding, lost or delayed luggage and lack of or failure to provide services for passengers with disabilities.

Though the DOT will forward most complaints to airlines, they will not act on behalf of travelers who canceled their own flights or who were denied boarding for legal reasons, such as the passenger’s not having a proper visa or, during the COVID-19 pandemic, not wearing a mask.

I should also note that, unlike European airlines, US airlines do not have to pay compensation to passengers for a delayed flight unless that flight is to or from a European Union member country. If that is the case, the proper office to send complaints of noncompliance to is the European Union’s air authority; visit

It’s important to allow an airline to respond to a request for a refund first, but if they do not follow through, as what happened with Mr. Mielke, lodging a complaint with the DOT would be the next logical option, though a positive result is still not guaranteed.

The elephant in the room —

In light of current events, ITN is changing the topic of its current essay contest from “Rushin’ to Russia” to “Captivating Cairo.” (See the contest rules in the box on this page.) To allow the usual amount of time for writing, the new deadline by which your essay must be submitted is July 31, 2022.

Those of you who have already written essays, thank you for your submissions. We appreciate your participating and hope you enjoyed the creative writing.

For your travel-loving friends, send requests for sample copies to ITN’s Subscription Department at the addresses I gave at the beginning. Send your own trip write-ups, “Captivating Cairo” essay and any comments and questions to our Editorial Department at or to ITN, 2122 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818.

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