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Summer Air Travel: What’s Changing?

Summer Air Travel: What’s Changing?
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BY KITT WALSH

When it comes to travel this summer, it may seem you need a daily index to keep up with what is allowed and what is disallowed. For example, as this is posted, there are still unresolved rumors that books may be the next thing on the TSA hit list, and, though I can’t give you the final word on that one, here is the latest on new travel policies that may affect your summer travel:

  • Headed for the United Kingdom? Brexit could affect your travel. While the new government is still working on whether Northern Ireland will once again have working border crossings (like during “The Troubles” but minus the armed soldiers), at the moment, Brexit is having a good effect on tourism. Visitors are up 15 percent and are spending at least 5% more, according to the Office for National Statistics adding more than 5 billion to the local economy. Britons need it too. The pound is at a 31-year low making what was once one of the most expensive places for Americans to visit, a veritable bargain this year. British Air is offering some great incentives, too, like free flights for kids under 12 all summer long.
  • Are you going to need a Visa for Europe? The European Parliament did vote to end the visa waiver program for us Yanks in response to Trump’s immigration restrictions, but it was recently confirmed that visas aren’t (yet) needed for travel to the EU.
  • Can you bring along your laptop? This is a tricky one. During a recent business trip to China, I was reminded by my very smart son, that it would be wise to either back up every single thing on my laptop to both an external source and the cloud, (as it was certainly possible my computer would be taken by security either overseas or in my own country and lost or damaged), or to put my presentation on a thumb drive, borrow a laptop at my destination and leave my laptop at home. I was also reminded that TSA stateside has been demanding cell phones (yes, even from some American citizens) and that I should either wipe mine of information and phone numbers (unless I wanted them shared with the TSA and God-knows what intelligence service) or else take a burner phone only. Originally Trump’s ban on electronics only affected travelers from Muslim-majority countries across Africa and the Middle East. Homeland Security is, however, considering expanding the ban to planes arriving from Europe, even those on American carriers. That means all cameras, electronic games, tablets, kindles and laptops would have to be packed in your checked luggage. (After seeing what they do to my shampoo, I hate to think what the baggage handlers will do to my MacBook.) This ban has not happened yet, but encouraged by the Supreme Court’s upholding of Trump’s travel ban, these restrictions could be put in place any moment. Consider how much you need your laptop before packing and consider buying a paperback for that long flight.
  • Is travel to Europe getting less safe? Sorry, but the answer is yes, according to the US State Department. Due to attacks in London and Paris, a travel alert has been issued for Europe (between May 1-September 1). Travel alerts are less scary than a Travel Warning (which is what is issued immediately after a terrorist event). What the State Department is telling you is that you should watch your back at crowded attractions and shopping areas, don’t linger in transportation hubs like main train or bus stations, and be aware of where you are and how to get quickly back to your hotel (or if you are truly nervous, the American Embassy.)
  • Should you be worried about getting bumped (or thrown) off your flight? Airlines are overbooking flights and you may, in fact, lose your seat. Unless you want to duke it out with the airport security officers, discretion might be the better part of valor. Get off the plane or give up your seat, but don’t give up your rights. Also know that if you get where you are going between 1-2 hours of your original arrival time (domestic flight) and between 1-4 hours of our original arrival time (international flight), the airline owes you 200 percent of the one way fare (up to $675 (and if you are more than 4 hours later that planned, it’s 400 percent of the ticket, up to $1350) according to the Department of Transportation. And, speaking of money, always ask for cash, not vouchers—which have blackout dates.

With all this uncertainty, this might be the perfect year to take a staycation. However, I am going to China, Iceland, Scotland, England and Florida in the next month, so I am on the side of “Keep on traveling and do all you can while you can.” Happy trails.

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