Should there be a dress code when flying?

Written by admin on December 13, 2012 – 5:53 pm -

There’s been a recent outcry over airlines censoring people about what they may and may not wear when boarding commercial flights. Some think people should dress with a modicum of respect when flying. But most say, “Anything goes.”

Because airlines don’t publish specific dress codes, what’s appropriate is subjective. Not only is freedom of dress at stake, but First Amendment rights come into play. Should people be allowed to wear shirts emblazoned with four-letter “expletive deleted” words, which have different meanings for different people?

Who should have the final word as to what you (and others) wear?

Are T-shirts with political statements, e.g. “Terrists gonna kill us all,” be a reason someone is denied boarding? It was, for an Arizona State graduate student Arijit Guha, who was barred from a recent Delta flight. Guha says he wore the misspelled shirt to protest what he considers racial profiling on the part of federal security agents.

If restaurant owners can refuse to serve someone who isn’t appropriately dressed, why don’t airlines have the same rights? In reality, they do, since planes are private property and not public spaces. On the other hand, what is inappropriate to some, is OK for others.

This isn’t only a T&A (breasts and derrière) issue, but in this world of dressing down rather than dressing up, should people be permitted to board planes sporting short shorts and flip-flops? What if they’re not wearing shoes?

recent AP story included the vague dress codes for the four largest US airlines:

    1. • American Airlines: Bans passengers who “are clothed in a manner that would cause discomfort or offense to other passengers.”

• Delta Air Lines: Reserves the right to remove passengers “for the comfort or safety of other passengers or Delta employees” or to prevent property damage.

• Southwest Airlines: Forbids passengers “whose clothing is lewd, obscene, or patently offensive.”

• United Airlines: Bars anyone over 5 who is barefoot “or otherwise inappropriately clothed, unless required for medical reasons.”

Even though some people wax nostalgically about when people used to wear their Sunday best when flying, that era is history. Don’t even think that people, even in the front of the plane, are on the best-dressed list. Some “rich and famous” and rock stars excel in the grunge look.

A recent informal poll about flying attire elicited these answers from business travelers:

Charles Caro, Executive Director at Rebounders United, stated, “There used to be some decorum when flying, but those days are over. Today, if you show up with a paid ticket and something resembling clothing, you’re good to go. 

In fact, TSA rules have made “casual” the rule rather than the exception. I recently heard a story about a man having trouble getting through the TSA screening that was so frustrated with the metal detector he simply pulled off *all* of his clothes.”

Margaret Bennett, Managing Partner at Bennett’s At Your Service, wrote, “I sat next to a man who was very appropriately dressed, but who stunk to high heaven. Can the airlines regulate that he take a bath and wash his clothes before flying? To be honest, I’d rather sit next to a woman in a bikini (not really flying garb) than next to him, no matter how nice he looked from a healthy distance.”

Ms. Bennett continued, “

When I’m flying I just want the people I’m flying with to be mentally stable. I could care less about what they are wearing. I want to get where I’m going without a fighter jet escort or a hijacking.”

Michael Keane, Council member, appointed by the Governor of Vermont at Vermont Economic Progress Council, had an interesting perspective: “I dress neatly but casually for flying, whether on business trips or for holidays. I’d rather sit with people who dress and act the same way, but that doesn’t always happen. If someone has a paid ticket, there’s a level of contract so that the airline boards you, regardless of what you’re wearing. 

That being said, I believe that the airlines themselves are culpable for making air travel an uncivilized experience — treat passengers like necessary evils or like cattle and that’s what you may get.”

Do you agree that anything goes (when it comes to dress) when flying? If so, what can be done to make people WANT to dress a bit more when traveling? I’m not talking black-tie, but the idea of long pants and shoes does hold appeal — at least for me. What do you think, and more importantly, how and should it be monitored? Do post your thoughts.

Posted in Consumer Traveler |

What’s yours and what’s not? Confess to what you have taken from hotels and restaurants

Written by admin on December 13, 2012 – 5:52 pm -

There appears to be a special set of rules that dictates what’s right and wrong when it comes to taking items as mementos of a hotel stay or a restaurant visit.

Remember the days when people used to have matchbooks as souvenirs from hotels and restaurants? Perhaps, that is out of date because in this non-smoking era, it’s increasingly hard to do. So, what’s appropriate to take? And what’s not?

Soaps, shampoos, body lotions, etc. are pretty much accepted as items that are OK to take home as souvenirs. On the other hand, have you noticed how many housekeeping carts are now locked, in the event you want to avoid ever buying these products again, or at least for the near future?

In addition, unless you’re a guest at a grand luxe hotel and paying big bucks, little bottles and bars of this and that, tend be only be large enough to accommodate the duration of your stay. Plus, they probably aren’t replenished each time one is opened. It’s called watching the bottom line.

Clothes hangers:
You know, the ones from good hotels that have their names etched on them. Should they serve as a reminder of your visit? Not all of them; maybe, just one or two?

Ditto. Are they yours to help the thougthful property that provided them market their hotel or brand, or not?

Towels, robes, duvet covers, the duvets themselves and monogrammed pillowcases. There are even people who have extensive collections of bath mats.

Jean Marc, a general manager in one of Paris’s “palace” hotels confided that he thinks some guests enter the rooms and look around to see what they’re going to take home with them.

He ponders whether or not it’s an inborn gene. “These people certainly have enough money to buy whatever they want. We don’t mind people taking stationery and toiletries, but there should be a limit.” When queried about who helped themselves the most, Jean Marc was more than discreet and said, “ Clients are accorded privacy chez nous.”

You’ve undoubtedly noticed many items are for sale in the premise’s gift shop. In addition, many hotels now note that if things are missing, they’ll be added to your bill. Don’t help yourself and then act surprised if you see an additional charge on your credit card. (When you registered, you probably missed the clause giving the hotel that prerogative.)

I must confess I used to (occasionally) help myself to branded ashtrays if they were unusual. That was until I developed a conscience that assumed they weren’t necessarily free. If they were for sale, and I had to have one, cash or a credit card would do the trick.

Knives, forks and spoons:
As pretty as they are, don’t help yourselves. Hotel and restaurant owners complain that cutlery has been known to evaporate and they’ve stopped having theirs monogrammed.

People have amassed entire collections of flatware, and even though their stories may be terrific about what came from which property, the managements’ aren’t.

If you have a spoon craving, ask to buy one. Who knows, you may luck out and you’ll receive it as a gift.

But, you won’t be told it’s OK to take a doorknob from a palace hotel. One person stole one after a night of passion as a reminder of that evening. The story goes that the knob was returned to the hotel years later. It arrived in the hotel manager’s office in an unmarked box. Did the sender have a bout of conscious or was the passion over? It’s anyone’s guess.

Other thefts:
Room keys, when there used to be keys, often vanish. Hotel managers expect a few to disappear each year. But, have you noticed how many desk clerks insist you return a designer key before you leave the hotel even for an hour or two. Or, the fancier keys are so big and heavy that you’re delighted not to lug them around.

Do-not-disturb signs:
Don’t laugh, but these are collectors’ items. Realistically, they may be good mementos. One from every hotel you’ve stayed in might be interesting — although, when you’re staying at motels on the Interstate, they may lack super-duper snob appeal.

Pens and pencils:
One person said he has taken a set from every hotel he stayed in during his extensive travels. He framed each pair individually and lined his hallway at home with them. They’re wonderful souvenirs and most hotels don’t mind losing a few.

In jest (I hope) someone said he takes Gideon bibles and that you can’t have too many. Another source lamented that these days of a bible in the night stand might be coming to an end because of Kindles and other electronic readers.

It’s your turn to voice your opinions:
What’s the most outrageous thing you’ve heard of being removed from a hotel or a restaurant? It goes without saying these reports are simply hearsay. We know no Consumer Traveler reader would do anything that verges on being considered theft. At least we hope not. And, if you have, what should the penalty be?

Posted in Consumer Traveler |

How to avoid being mugged or robbed while traveling

Written by admin on December 13, 2012 – 5:49 pm -

You’re traveling and think you’ve taken all the precautions. But, what happens if you’re caught off guard, mugged or had your possessions disappear faster than you can say, “One, two, three?” Even the most savvy travelers may have been confronted by this situation.

Don’t be paranoid. But, as the Boy Scouts say, “Be prepared.” Take the offensive and use your big city smarts.

Don’t look like a tourist:

That’s easier said than done if you’re in a place where you clearly aren’t a native. The most important thing you can do is not to look tentative. Most people have been lost in cities they don’t know. But, if you’re out of your element, be sure you have your destination mapped out and keep on walking. If you’re lost at night, don’t stand on a corner. Rather, go into a hotel lobby or a well-lit restaurant.

If you’re in a car, don’t stop on the side of the road. Rather, keep driving until there’s a lighted area that’s under surveillance such a hotel drive way or a gas station that’s open.

Consumer Traveler readers know not to leave their worldly belongings hanging out of a back pack that’s an easy mark. On the other hand, people have been robbed in subways and crowded places without knowing it’s happened until it’s too late. Be on the look out for groups of kids crowding around you, trying to distract you and so on. Sorry to say, but this has been know to happen (even) in Paris.

Tips if you’re being targeted:

    . Stay calm: it’s hard to do but will help you survive the incident and unnerve your attackers.
    . Keep your cash in a safe as well as your credit cards.
    . Be sure to have photocopies of your essential documents, numbers of credit cards plus the contact phone numbers with you (in a safe place). Leave a copy of the information with someone at home who’d be willing to make those calls.
    . Do not bring jewelry or wear bling. Most robbers don’t have the time to discern what’s real or not.
    . Consider taking a self-defense class. But only apply it in the event of life threatening circumstances.

Men: Carry two wallets. Put one in your back pocket that has some money, papers and (hopefully) enough to satisfy the attackers. The second one should be in your front pocket, which is more difficult to access.

Women: Carry nothing in your handbag that you can’t afford to lose. Purses can be yanked off your body even with the sturdiest of straps, cut from behind and it’s not worth the risk. Carry only what you’ll need that day and leave the rest in the hotel’s safe.

People should stay with their group in well lit and well populated areas. This is a deterrent to muggers who would rather confront people who aren’t surrounded by others.

If you’re mugged:

    . Do what you’re told.
    . Hand over everything since a dead hero isn’t what anyone needs or wants to be.
    . Whatever you do, if someone is holding a gun or a knife, don’t become aggressive. It could be your undoing.
    . Some people take out travel insurance in case of such situations. Do you?

If you’ve been threatened, what did you do and how did you cope? Please add any advice you can. Hope it never again happens to you or for that matter, anyone. Wouldn’t that be nice.

Posted in Consumer Traveler |

Vietnam bound: Planning itineraries and redeeming points and miles for a trip to remember

Written by admin on December 13, 2012 – 5:49 pm -

Planning a vacation isn’t always easy unless you’re going around the corner to grandmother’s house (not always, even then). But this year, Vietnam was my destination of choice and my plans were to do and see all — as much as I could squeeze in. Asia presented me with a new set of problems both with planning and with moving around once I landed.
Mapping out a trip in France is easy for me as are most places in the E.U. However, Asia is a very different story. Not speaking the language is a huge barrier when it comes to getting around. Don’t make the mistake that everyone speaks English because unless they’re in the hospitality industry, they simply don’t.

Rather than looking for cheap fares, I decided it was time to cash in accumulated air miles because they’re less valuable than they used to be, seats are more difficult to come by and 200,000 miles I had on one carrier’s frequent flyer program simply disappeared.

Getting the frequent-flier tickets was a do or die affair and that included spending hours on the phone trying to redeem miles to travel between Washington, DC, and Vietnam. Rather than going west, the only available seats were via Paris, which added considerable hours to the trip. (Who’s complaining when free is free, or almost, after factoring in taxes and some other minimal charges.)

People who say you don’t need a travel agent are a great deal more adventuresome than I. Perhaps, they may want to cover substantially less territory or they aren’t on a tight time schedule. This trip had 13 days: That was it. I wanted a good travel agent.

The trip necessitated planning like a military operation. I figured that travel agencies have a network plus a lot more pull than an individual. Vendors want repeat business and because reputable agencies aren’t here today and gone tomorrow, you’ll more than likely score a better accommodations.

The trip was good to go with the air portion. My thought was, how much trouble could it be to book our itinerary within the country? I quickly learned after my first email to I received a response saying, “If all possible, don’t come during Tet,” which is the Chinese New Year. This is the time when the Vietnamese return to their families for the annual celebration and many attractions and tourist sights are closed. In addition, obtaining plane and train reservations would be difficult. Tet is also known as the Lunar New Year and 2012 is the Year of the Dragon.

I dismissed this request because after having snagged reward seats, there was no way the dates could change. After so many emails and itinerary changes (yes, we were being fussy) it was clear that the agent wasn’t kidding when she said it would hard to get some reservations. Some internal flights were full for days and days; even when we were planning the trip nearly two months in advance. I’ve always respected travel agents but this group went all out.

Clearly it was going to take a dragon to plan this trip, which included seeing nearly the entire country, taking three plane flights, spending two nights on a train, sleeping two nights on boats and no two consecutive nights spent in anyone place. Were we crazy? Perhaps? But, it was a trip we’ll always remember.

Initially, we wanted to steer clear of American-style hotels. On the other hand, WiFi was a necessity and the Vietnamese cater to tourism because that’s where the money is. The Vietnamese are very tech savvy — everyone with a computer seems to know how to circumvent the government’s ban on Facebook with a special IP address and many of the locals have iPhones.

Contrasted with my first visit more than 10 years ago, Vietnam is no longer cheaper than cheap unless you’re into backpacking. If you are, that part of Asia is still a bargain. But to be sure, there are less expensive destinations because that’s where the well-to-do Vietnamese go since they can get more for their money and want to do and see other things

Trying to save money and use up accumulated points, we opted to stay in a Starwood property in Ho Chi Minh City, or as you may remember it, Saigon. The city’s growth has mushroomed at such a lightening fast speed that charming guesthouses are few and far between. We stayed at the Sheraton Saigon and upgraded to one of the tower rooms. Because our flight arrived early in the morning, we were able to go to the hotel’s tower lounge, wait there comfortably until our room was ready and have breakfast as part of the cost. Many people opt to go to the spa to relax. The more energetic went to the gym while others jumped into the pool. I sat in a trance while my traveling companion attacked a few of the emails awaiting him.

Though, a room with access to the executive lounge might seem like an extravagance, for my dollars and cents, it really isn’t. Traveling (and yes, I’ll go anytime and nearly anywhere) can be tiring and most especially when you’re crossing 12 time zones. I simply wanted time to decompress from the marathon travels and steel myself for the journeys to come.

Our first day was relatively quiet. We left the hotel that afternoon for a long walk and a drink on the roof of the Rex Hotel, which was the lookout point for many correspondents during the Vietnam War.

Our real adventure began very early the next morning when we started our tour of Vietnam at (nearly) full gallop.

Posted in Around the World, Consumer Traveler |

8 suggestions for spending time while stuck in an airport

Written by admin on December 13, 2012 – 5:47 pm -

Who wants to be stuck in an airport for hour after hour? But, stuff happens. “How do you make the best of it?”

Whether in transit or dealing with a plane that has been delayed, what do you do if you’re forced to spend more than a few hours in an airport?

When waiting for a plane that’s sitting on the tarmac, which might be ready to go at a few minutes notice, you’re really at the mercy of the airline gods. That’s when you have to make the best of a bad situation, hope you have a good book, an I Pad or an equivalent. If you’re traveling with a computer, you can always catch up or get ahead on your work. Then, there are the projects you’ve been contemplating but haven’t had the time upon which to concentrate.

It goes without saying that these tips don’t work so well when traveling with young children. Then you’re forced to grin and bear it and think of ingenious ways to keep them amused. Plan on getting your exercise chasing after your charges. That’s when you give thanks for airports with playgrounds.

But, if you have a long layover between flights, here are some suggestions gathered from seasoned travelers. Some travelers even plan longer-than-normal layovers to take advantage of these options.

Head into town — Going into town can be chancy unless it’s a layover that’s very long or one you’ve planned so you can see a specific destination that’s been on your must-see list.

Shop — Some travelers use the airport as a shopping opportunity to buy gifts for their families. One person said he found a shop in the Seattle airport and bought a mug and serving plate made by a local potter. His purchases were shipped so he didn’t have to keep track of them for eight hours and the store made sure they arrived home in one piece.

Many international airports can be great shopping opportunities. Anyone who has been in the Dubai Airport knows that transit passengers can shop until they drop and absorb different cultures and sample foods from around the world.

Find a comfortable, quiet nest — Some head for the nearest bar or place of worship, while many frequent flyers recognize the advantage of an airline club – many of which you can access by buying a day pass.

Airport hotels — An airport hotel offers a change of pace and venue and perhaps a more relaxed meal. People who frequently fly on business will often arrange meetings while they’re waiting. When you see people on Skype, they may not be talking to their loved ones. They may be racking up billable hours.

Naps, art and chores — Large airports with day rooms where you can grab a nap can be godsends for the weary traveler. Some airports have excellent art installations, but you’ll have to look for them. An increasing number of large airports have places when you can get a massage, have you hair done and you get the drift.

Blame your travel planner? One person responded that if you have a six-hour layover, you should get a new travel agent. Then Bjorn Nilsen, a Procurement Representative who’s based in Kansas City admitted, “Actually, I’ve had a few of these. 
I had a 10-hour layover between flights and different airports in Amman, Jordan. I did some business with my travel agent there and following that, I was treated to a great tour of the city, local foods, and the best Arabic coffee I ever had! The time simply flew.”

In Dubai, an 8 hour lay-over resulted in a complimentary hotel room and a much needed nap!” 

Nilsen purposely booked a long layover in Frankfurt and was able to convince his cousin to come to the airport and spend the time with him. They had a wonderful meal together and used the time to catch up on too many years spent apart and out of touch.

Recharge yourself and your contraptions — One thing you should forget to do is factor in time for exercising, even if it’s only doing deep breathing and stretches. Don’t miss the opportunity to recharge laptop/portable DVD player batteries.

People watch — You’ll find no better place. Some passengers curl up on an empty chair and simply veg out and try not to become stressed.

Strike up a conversation — Though, this may feel strange to some, who knows, you may actually meet fellow travelers who will become friend. Stranger things have been known to happen.

Feel free to add your suggestions as to how to make the time fly by.

Posted in Around the World, Consumer Traveler |

Karen’s rules: How to fly around the world and not get sick

Written by admin on December 13, 2012 – 5:45 pm -

Flying around the world, especially on vacation may sound glamorous. But in reality, you’re taking your health in your hands. Should you break up the trip? Wear a face mask? What are some tricks and tips for not arriving home sick?

Frequent long haul flyers offer all types of advice. Pick and choose and from it and please add your feed back about what’s worked for you.

Try to be rested before taking off. If possible, take a late evening flight with the first leg of the trip being the longest, so you can hopefully sleep. When you arrive at your first stop, if the connection is more than two hours, being a member of an airline club can and often does make great and good sense. Many have rooms where you can take a shower and clean some off some of the grunge.

While en route, don’t drink liquor (Ok, perhaps a glass of wine) and drink lots of water. Get up and move around and whatever you do, wash your hands well and often. Many people carry their own wipes or a tiny bottle of hand sanitizer. Remember to clean your hands after leaving the lavatories because the handles are used by everyone on the plane, whether or not the passenger is healthy. Some travelers carry a face mask and use it if people are sneezing around them. Germs have a way of spreading when air isn’t being constantly recirculated.

Try to upgrade for a portion of the trip if possible. As temperatures vary from flight to flight, pack clothes to take aboard that keep your body temperature constant.

Travel aids:
Some people swear by Airborne and a multitude of other vitamins. Pack your own fruit, nuts, health bars and items you know and know your stomach. Skip the meal if you’re able to sleep before it’s presented or if you think you might not digest it well. Many frequent flyers say that setting your watch (and your psyche) on your destination’s time zone helps.

Breaking up the trip:
When the flight time is 24 hours or more, and that’s not counting the time spent waiting to board, in transit and getting out of the airport when you arrive at your destination, some claim spending an overnight to acclimate to the time difference is worth the time and money. Others simply push on; there’s no one answer.

Assume a Zen attitude:
Many say that retreating into their own cocoon is what makes the difference. Wear a pair of quality noise canceling ear phones, try not to engage in conversations with neighbors, become totally self-absorbed and retreat into their own world, accompanied by a fully charged IPad, a computer plus a do-not-disturb sign. I’ve found extra thick eye pads to be a godsend.

If there’s a less crowded area of the plane, go for it (providing it’s in your class of service). Don’t eat and drink everything that’s placed in front of you, try not to hear other passengers and avoid stress. Watch some downloaded movies or listen to your choice of music and catnap when possible.

David Christensen, an executive who lives in Singapore and spends a great deal of his time up in the air says, “I am sure the way I retreat into my own world and try to let things wash over me without getting too upset while I’m traveling has helped me cope psychologically at least. I am confident that this also has positive benefits in keeping me out of harm’s way as much as possible.”

At your destination:
When you’re on your trip, take care to eat and drink things you hope are safe. If you’re a place where’s there’s street food, some travelers say it’s verboten. Others will eat it if they watch it being prepared and can see how it’s cooked. Many drink only bottled water that’s clearly sealed, never drink anything out of a can unless they use a straw they’ve unwrapped, never have a drink with ice and refrain from eating nuts (or anything) out of a communal bowl.

People tend to use caution when they’re in strange and exotic places. The question comes down to how to fly around the world and not come down with a hell of a cold or something more.

Posted in Around the World, Consumer Traveler |

What do you mean you’re not married? Not even a blood relative?

Written by admin on October 22, 2011 – 1:22 pm -

Hello 2011 — Do insurance companies understand this is a whole new world and not everyone chooses to get married or legally can? Apparently not; at least in the case of Geico.

This is really not a complaint about customer service. The company has tried its hardest and has been more than responsive in communicating about my car that is somewhere in Maryland, three hours from Washington, DC.

The car and a deer collided on a lovely country road and the deer is no longer. My friend and I survived. But the car will cost nearly $6,000 to repair and it’s anticipated it will take 14 working days before the car is operational.

Geico tried its hardest to get us back to D.C., but most car rental companies in this part of the world, are closed on Sundays. The few that were open, didn’t have any cars for rent. If we could have found our way to an Amtrakstation, Mr. Murray, Geico’s damage adjuster, informed us all of the seats were reserved. Thank goodness, someone, who shall be nominated for sainthood, spent six hours (round trip) and drove us to D.C.

Our only alternative would have been taking a taxi to the Nation’s Capital and that didn’t appear to be an option. This company has insured my cars for more than six years and has never had to pay a dime.

This was not a day in the country nor a jog in the park; and when the thermometer hit 105 degrees F, everyone was cranky.

When I received an email advising me a rental car would be awaiting me the next day, I was delighted. However, when I went to pick up the car, I was given a car that’s too big to fit in the garage and was advised to keep calling back to check whether or not a smaller car had been turned in. So much for Enterprise’s customer service. The Enterprise rental agency’s personnel couldn’t call me and instructed me to continue calling since they couldn’t anticipate when/if cars would be returned to that office. The idea of transferring a car from another center or having me pick one up was beyond their comprehension. Hey – DC isn’t exactly the end of the world … but, so be it.

The issue that got me the most was I was not permitted to add an additional driver to the rental policy because Geico was paying for the rental car. After calling Geico more than a few times, the reality was that unless the person was a legal partner or a blood relative, there was no way the company was going to allow me to designate another person to be a second driver, even if I paid the premium.

Which caused me to think and think again. In spite of the fact that Geico’s headquarters are in Maryland, which doesn’t recognize same sex marriages, that was too bad. If a step-parent or step child wanted to drive the car, too darn bad. Only blood and marriage? Excuse me — but isn’t this a civil liberties violation? After repeated calls and being told no and no again as I went up the management ladder, I started seeing red, not green geckos. What is wrong with this picture?

Accidents happen and that’s life, in what happened to be the slow lane, since we were traveling less that 30 miles per hour when the deer jutted out of the woods. On the other hand, what gives an insurance company the right to stipulate a client can’t designate a secondary driver on a rental car? When a woman handling the claim said (ever so calmly) I should have read the small print of the policy, obscene thoughts entered my mind.

So — if you happen to live an “alternative” life-style, should you insure with companies that refuse to allow someone who’s not related to be placed on a rental policy even if you’re willing to buy additional insurance? That’s worth pondering since it includes step-children, step-parents and significant others (or even a friend) if your relationship hasn’t been sanctioned by a state.

Good news: I just call Enterprise with the saga that the SUV I had wasn’t safe (for me) to drive on congested streets. They had another much smaller car but they still refused to allow me to buy insurance for a second driver. Do other people’s hearts palpitate in situations such as this?

This is when I suffer extreme culture shock. The perception that everything is so easy in the U.S. is precisely that. If you think I would consider getting married if this were to (please not) occur again, think again. Are others outraged over what could be perceived as discrimination of so many types? Let’s hear your reactions.

Posted in Consumer Traveler |

It was bound to happen — passenger gropes a TSA agent

Written by admin on July 26, 2011 – 4:08 pm -

What comes around goes around and sooner than later a passenger was going to turn the tables and grope a TSA agent. Not that groping is ever funny, and now, 61-year-old Yukari Miyamae from Colorado, is facing felony charges.

Last Thursday, Miyamae was in Phoenix’s Sky Airport en route to Colorado when the incident occurred, KWGN reports.

According to the arrest report, Miyamae is accused of groping TSA agent Barbara O’Toole’s “left breast through her clothing and squeezing and twisting it with both hands without the victim’s permission.” Gee, what if she’d had permission?

Yukari Miyamae admits she groped the agent. Consequently, she faces felony charges of sexual abuse. Miyamae was released from a Phoenix-area jail on Friday.

This is a real turnaround when the TSA, and more notably TSA agents are accused of groping grandmothers, people in wheel chairs, babies and even celebrities. Perhaps, you had to be there to understand what happened and Miyamae’s motivation.

If you’ve been subjected to a severe pat down when going through security, have you ever been tempted to reciprocate? Thinking. As the world turns.

Posted in Consumer Traveler |

What foods are you allowed to bring into the U.S.? It can be a mystery

Written by admin on July 26, 2011 – 4:07 pm -

OK, we’re supposed to be experts on travel issues but there are times that rules and regulations can leave even pros baffled. Is it because it’s a changing playing field? What foods you can bring into the US from overseas?

There’s a lot of controversy over this issue. This is an interesting and informative site . But, I’m beginning to believe nothing is set in stone, except (possibly) a lot depends on which side of the bed the inspector got up.

One thing I’ve learned the hard way is, even if you buy cheese at a French airport, and tell the sale person you’re U.S. bound, and are guaranteed the package will make it through customs when property wrapped, don’t accept it as gospel. Ditto for caviar. Between the beagle brigade and the inspectors, I’ve seen some lovely food items left in the inspection area.

It’s hard to watch grown people cry over cans of foie Gras and vacuum packages of ham being confiscated. Are you allowed to bring croissants into the US? My guess would be yes based on this list provided by the CBC.

Travelers definitely must take precautions when returning from adventure travel or farm tours, etc. Contact your tour operator for information about possible exposure to diseases the U.S. may not have. Find out what needs to be done before leaving and returning.

I must plead guilty. I never considered the house we owned in Provence (surrounded by vineyards) to be farmland and noted nothing on my customs declarations. Was it? I’m still not sure.

If you’re subjected to a secondary scanning, Kenneth Larson, a retired aerospace contracts manager said, “Anything with aluminum foil wrapping around it that sets off a metal detector, won’t make it. The scanner does not have the time to open, examine and analyze it. So, it hits the garbage bin.”

Once you’ve stood in line and opened every suitcase and then had them go through the scanner (again), bringing in food becomes substantially less appetizing. I had this pleasure when I was traveling with my cat and brought a sealed foil package of food in her carrier.

If you don’t declare agricultural items and are found out, you’re liable for a $1,000 to $50,000 fine. Do you have to declare candy, etc. that are prepackaged in the original manufacturer’s wrapping? People have been told no but it’s not 100% clear.

After doing substantial research, my conclusion is that getting through customs with food products is a moving target since the rules seem to change frequently.

If you have any insights, please share them. If you’ve had items confiscated, what were they? Do you always fess up about the wedge of runny cheese you’re bringing home as a souvenir of your trip? It tastes so much better in the U.S.

Photo courtesy U.S. Customs Service, photographer James R. Tourtellotte

Posted in Consumer Traveler |

How to train house guests or be one

Written by admin on July 26, 2011 – 4:05 pm -

Summer is here, and more than a few people would like to come visit if you live in Paris, New York City or have a country house almost anywhere. Mention beach, and you may find yourself with new and dear friends.

Free is better:

There may be B&Bs galore or inexpensive hotels close to where you live, but free digs are cheaper yet. Besides, staying with friends feels better than a hotel. Whom would you trust to steer you to the right places—a friend or a concièrge? Friend only have your interests at heart when they recommend a restaurant (and possibly a desire to get you out of their hair for a couple of hours) while it is possible the concièrge gets a free meal or a referral fee from the resto for his efforts.

Be sensitive:

House guests can be wonderful when they know and really understand the rules. If you hear the least bit of hesitation in your host’s voice when asking whether or not you may stay, move right on—not right in—and try someone else. If you have enough friends, you’re sure to catch one in a weak moment or at least when they’re cracking open their second bottle of wine.

One of my friends loves having guests. I accuse Sally of running a hotel, but attribute her being the hostess with the mostest to the fact she was in the Foreign Service and was stationed in some hardship posts where she was delighted to have company and had hot and cold running staff to look after them.

She’s left the government, but has a large house and works in an office. When her working day is done, it’s done. She’s trained her guests to shop for and prepare dinner or, better yet, make reservations. It always seems right to me that the person who makes the reservation should ask for the check—and pay it.

Sally leaves for the office before people are up and the refrigerator is stocked with the essentials for breakfast. As I do, she takes the initial order for what they want before they arrive and stocks coffee, tea, milk (regular, low-fat, and the list goes on), juices, fruit, breads and expects them to restock their own special brand of organic Swiss muesli.

House guest etiquette:

Guests don’t need to feel that pots and pans and dishes will break if they look at them cross-eyed. No one likes to return home to a sink filled with dirty utensils. And please don’t use the excuse, “I wasn’t sure how you like to load the dishwasher.”  Load it carefully, run it when it’s full, and please (if you’re staying with me), unload it and put the dishes, glasses and silverware where they belong. If you leave two “mystery items” on the counter, that’s OK. They will be put away in the proper place.

Unless you’re in the boondocks without a car, find a grocery store, a place to buy wine and liquor and go all out and spoil your host(s) with flowers, unless there are so many in the garden they’d be redundant. It’s OK to deadhead the roses and cut some and put them in vases inside the house.

Bathroom manners:

If you’re staying in a Paris apartment, chances are pretty good that bathrooms are at a premium. A WC is not a library and please don’t plan on making it one unless you’re home alone. Do pick up your towels and please show others courtesy. To be blunt, the toilet brush is there to be used, and please don’t leave the toilet seat up.

Unless you can close the bedroom door:

I don’t want to get personal but unless your room is separated from the living quarters, please make your bed in the morning, pick up your clothes and try to keep the room in order.

Apartments and houses (and this is certainly more prevalent in countries outside of the U.S.) tend to be small so your mess becomes visible to others. If it’s me, color me cranky. Tripping over other people’s stuff makes me feel as if I’m camping.

Do not feel it’s offensive to strip the bed when you’re leaving. Place your sheets and used towels in a pillowcase. If there’s a spread, make up the bed (sans sheets) until there’s time for someone else to do it – usually in preparation for the next guest.

My son and daughter-in-law have shoes off rule in their house. I’ve adopted it and keep a basket by the front door since I hate seeing shoes strewn everywhere. Some adults may be taken aback, and if they’re coming to my once-a-year dressy dinner party, they may wear shoes. But the reality is that floors tend to creak when a building is more than 120 years old as is my Paris apartment. No one loves hearing footsteps above them or finding shoe polish on their upholstery.

A friend of mine asked me to compile a do’s and don’ts guide for people who rent her country home. Clearly it wasn’t the same you’d send to guests. But, come to think of it, I may just write one specifically to friends and (some very recent) acquaintances.


Yes, children are frequently part of the house guest package. But they should be their parents’ responsibility. Other adults should not be responsible for entertaining them, cooking for them or cleaning up after them. Parents should bring their off springs’ favorite toys (please nothing that squeaks or makes ungodly noise) and please no magic markers that are indelible and your hosts will never be able to forget them long after they’ve come and gone.

Another plea to parents: Take a look when you arrive at your destination and if you see things your children will find irresistible, quickly ask your hosts if you may remove them before something breaks. Not everyone’s house is child-proofed.

If your children has special food preferences, bring them with you. Fruit Loops cereal is not necessarily standard fare.

Being a guest:

Some people love staying with others. Unfortunately, I don’t happen to be one of them because I feel as if I have to wash the kitchen floor, paint the ceiling, and take out the trash before the wastebasket is full.

And since I’m the guest, I feel it’s my responsibility to pay for dinner. After one go-around as a house guest, I calculated it cost more to be a guest than if we’d stayed in the town’s hotel. Plus, I feel terribly embarrassed asking whether or not someone has Wi-Fi since running Bonjour Paris isn’t a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. job (especially when living in another timezone. If it were, I could take a real vacation! What a nice thought… er, fantasy.

Please add any tips or thoughts you might have for being a good host. Ditto for being the perfect house guest. It’s an acquired skill.

There are so many permutations my head is spinning. Having had 86 consecutive nights of guests when I first moved to Paris, I’m still suffering from shell shock. And that was 23 years ago.

Posted in Consumer Traveler |