bangkok airport chanel Upgrades and Downgrades    Duty free and other scams, OpenSkies, scorpions, fees, more

Downgraded: Bangkok airport duty-free
If you’re in Bangkok, you might want to skip the duty-free shop. Customers have been falsely accused (better: framed) of shoplifting. And thanks to an apparently collusive agreement between the police, the duty free operator (King Power), and individual “translators,” all working in cahoots, travelers have been forced to pay up thousands of dollars in order to leave the country. “The British Embassy has also warned passengers at Bangkok Airport to take care not to move items around in the duty free shopping area before paying for them, as this could result in arrest and imprisonment.” Absurd! Read the whole convoluted story of the “zig zag scam” here.

Downgraded: OpenSkies
British Airways is looking to sell its all-business class OpenSkies subsidiary, only a year after buying L’Avion and merging the two operations. The airline-in-an-airline is still operating, though, and there are some pretty sweet deals for premium class travel. If you’re flying between New York and Amsterdam or Paris anytime soon and looking for a relatively inexpensive upgrade, this could be the ticket. (~$1230 all-in roundtrip for a 140° cradle seat, or ~$2100 for a 180° flat bed.) But I wouldn’t book more than a month or two out.

Upgraded: Inflight internet overseas
Lufthansa is reportedly exploring ways of restarting the now-defunct Boeing Connexion satellite-powered inflight internet service. The receivers are already installed on many of their planes (a process which was undertaken at a hefty cost. Panasonic is the most likely provider of the services to the airline.

Downgraded: The St. Regis Monarch Beach
Upgraded: Irony

You may recall the St. Regis Monarch Beach in California as the site of controversy — Weeks after accepting a huge federal bailout, AIG executives spent nearly half a million smackers to host a swank affair at the resort. Now the resort itself has gone into receivership: Creditor Citigroup has foreclosed on the property, taking possession from the franchisees, Makar Properties. (Perhaps not surprising if reports of 15% occupancy rates are true.) But foreclosure doesn’t mean closure. The property remains open, albeit under new ownership.

Upgraded: Exotic inflight vermin
Paging Samuel L. Jackson! A passenger on a Southwest Airlines flight departing Phoenix was stung by a scorpion in flight. The creature fell out of luggage in the overhead bin, where numerous other scorpions were residing.

Downgraded: Budget Rent-a-Car’s ethics
Budget Rent-a-Car is still working with Trilegiant, the shady operators who send out “checks” you shouldn’t endorse. Signing the back commits you to an expensive membership in a “consumer club” with minimal benefits — all billed to the credit card you used when you rented a car from Budget. I reported on this back in January. I just received a similar solicitation this week, offering me a $10 check in exchange for a $219.98/year membership in “HealthSaver.” Shame on you, Budget, for pimping out the credit card data that your customers trusted you with.

Downgraded: Airline fees
Another week, another hike of airline fees. Continental, as part of its earnings report, is raising the cost of checked luggage by $5, bringing it to $20 for the first bag and $30 for the second. Also: Delta is adding a $5 in-person luggage fee for bags not checked in in advance online.


Downgraded: Bali’s public health strategy
While a vigorous attempt to contain the spread of the H1N1 flu virus is understandable and sensible, Bali is taking the notion to a new level:

Upon landing at Bali’s airport planes will be taken to a remote aircraft parking area where the plane and its passengers will be sprayed with disinfectant. Passengers will then be disembarked and subjected to thermal scanners.

However, the Jakarta Globe is reporting that Bali’s Ngurah Rai International Airport is now requiring all arriving international air passengers to undergo a blood test. Nyoman Murtiyasa, the head of the airport’s health office, quoted in the Jakarta Globe said that all passengers arriving from overseas would be required to take a blood test at the airport.

Thermal scanners? Sure. Blood tests for everyone? Extreme. They make United States passport control seem downright lovable.

Downgraded: Airline uniforms
The airport administrators at Nepal’s Kathmandu Airport are taking an unusual step in an effort to reduce bribery: They are banning pockets in airline personnel uniforms. In a few months, expect reports of secret back-room sewing operations and black market tailoring.

Upgraded: Onboard duty-free, online check-in
Remember when airlines gave you extra miles for online check-in? It’s not coming back, alas. But Virgin Atlantic will give you a coupon for £6 off onboard duty free shopping when spending £30 or more. Whoo?

Downgraded: Jamaican sand wars
500 truckloads of white sand were stolen from a Jamaican resort development site in July 2008. Now, it’s going to trial, and other resort owners are among the accused. (hat tip to Veronica Stoddart)

Upgraded: Overview of disparate carry-on luggage rules
Steven Frischling at Flying with Fish has compiled a great list of 65 airlines’ carry-on baggage restrictions. Be sure to check the rules before your next flight.

Upgraded: Cruises with a theme
Downgraded: Pirates; Conscience

Finally, a cruise concept for the bloodthirsty: A Russian company is sponsoring pirate-hunting cruises. $5000 gets you on board, and you can rent AK-47s and buy ammo. The money quote: “They are worse than the pirates. At least the pirates have the decency to take hostages; these people are just paying to commit murder.”

Upgraded: Eclipse travel
THIS is a concept trip I could do: Special flights to view the upcoming solar eclipse. (Thanks, Kim!)

eclipse flight Upgrades and Downgrades    blood tests, airline uniforms, pirate cruises, sand wars, and more

motorcade Does your booze need Secret Service protection?  Why duty free shopping is still a risk

Last week, TSA Director Kip Hawley briefed a group of travel journalists, and friend-of-the-blog Benet Wilson of AviationWeek asked the Kipster about that pet peeve of mine, restrictions on transporting duty free liquor.

My long-standing take: If it’s deemed safe for purchase behind security lines in one airport, it should be considered safe for transportation to — and through — other airports.

But that’s not the way it works in reality. You might buy booze (or perfume, or anything liquid) in one airport, fly from one city to the next, and have the liquids confiscated when trying to board your next flight. Idiotic. (Though not nearly as idiotic as the limits within the same airport, a la Munich…)

If you think that there’s a solution at hand, you’re wrong.

Hawley said that everyone is looking for a private sector solution where there is an assured supply chain, one way or the other. “If they can find an appropriate supply chain bringing the duty-free goods to the airport and protecting it along the way, we’re open to it,” he said. “But as of today, there’s not a bag that is commonly agreed to that meets all of our standards.”

This is essentially a private sector opportunity to adjust their business model to meet security requirements, said Hawley. “But we won’t spend taxpayer dollars on finding ways to make it easier to buy duty-free liquids,” he warned.

Protecting the duty free goods along the way? Like a Secret Service motorcade? Or an armored car?

Something tells me that the food and drink served up at airport restaurants isn’t subjected to the same demands for protection. But the (hopefully non-explosive) sandwich you buy after security is safe to carry between airports. Double standard.

Sigh. So buyer beware. If you’re changing planes on an international itinerary, you might have trouble bringing duty free liquids into the United States.

Once again, we’re dealing with security theater, not real security. Makes me want to pour a stiff (duty-free) drink.

- Duty free liquids allowed on board, except when they’re not
- Update: Munich Airport responds to questions about its duty free policy
- Traveling with booze: Policy clarifications and changes
- Duty free liquids soon to be liberated?


5th st liquor store Traveling with booze: Policy clarifications and changes

Regular readers know how frustrated I have been with inconsistent liquid-ban enforcement and the subsequent confusion over duty free purchases that ensues, like the finger-pointing contradiction-fest I experienced in Munich a while back. Travelers changing planes on multi-leg international flights (say, flying from New York to Frankfurt and on to Johannesburg) were especially hard-hit, with several different layers of regulation hitting them and their liquid cargo.

For the traveler with liquids in tow, two items may be of interest.

First, the European Commission adopted new rules for travelers changing planes in the EU member states, plus Switzerland, Norway, or Iceland. If the airport where you purchased your duty-free liquor adheres to “the two ICAO state letters (1 December 2006 and 30 March 2007), which set standards for tamper evident bags and security levels for supply chains to airport retailing,” then your precious cargo will not be confiscated by European airport personnel or law enforcement authorities. This effectively means that the European Commission now recognizes the security procedures of other airports as acceptable and adequate.

Of course, the problem is, how do you know that your departure airport fits the bill? And it may take some time before the new rules filter down to the people who enforce these rules on the ground. Still: A step forward for common sense.

Second, a reminder from Upgrade: Travel Better contributor Tyler Colman on the rules regarding duty-free limits on wine (or other alcohol, for that matter.) Very often, airport and airline staff unfortunately tell passengers about the “limits” on liquor, when in fact they’re referring only to the duty-free limits. As if the duty free limit is all you’re allowed to carry into the country. Not so!

If you’re flying back to the United States, you can carry in several cases of wine if you like, assuming 1) that you check it as baggage, packed nicely in a padded wine box, 2) that you have receipts indicating the purchase price of the wine, and 3) that you declare the wine to the customs agents when you arrive, and on your declaration form. You can bring plenty back from your travels, if you are willing to pay the taxes, but you only get very limited amounts duty-free. And how much are those taxes? 3%. THREE! That’s nothing! And travelers report that customs agents can’t be bothered to fill out the paperwork on such small amounts, so you might get off with a duty-free case or two.

Of course, carrying that much back means you’re dragging boxes through airports and possibly paying the airline an excess baggage charge. But don’t let anyone tell you you can’t take it with you.


Reader Steve writes in to point out that I glossed over an important point in Dr. Vino’s post: The rules on how much alcohol you can bring into the country are also set by the state where you land. A snippet from Steve’s e-mail, with a story of zealous liquor enforcement, below:

Your posting on booze coming back into the US is true, but incomplete.

While it is true that the Feds place no restriction on the amount of alcohol you can bring in some states do (or at least used to). So if your first port of entry is NY and NY State only allows two bottle (which used to be the case) then you can be forced to throw everything out beyond that.

That is exactly what happened to me, however it was almost 20 years ago and it is likely (though not certain) that the rules have changed. But since states are still firmly in control of these laws if you intend on bringing in more than the federal limit it would be prudent to call the ABC of the state you will be clearing customs in and ask what the regulations are.

Thanks, Steve!



carnival cruise Carnival Cruise Lines bans liquids, extorts passengers

See update below

Those crazy spring breakers, bringing their cases of mineral water and Coca-Cola on board the cruise ships! They’ve simply gone too far! …huh?

Carnival Cruise Lines is clamping down on passengers who bring beverages on board. Their new policy prohibits passengers from bringing beverages onto the ship. That means alcoholic AND non-alcoholic beverages.

Is it because of the seemingly monthly reports of passengers who fall off a ship in an apparently drunken stupor? No.

Is it terrorism fears, the 3-ounce bottle-makers’ lobby, and the TSA-ification of the seas? Nope.

The reason is economics, pure and simple. The cruise ships weren’t selling as many drinks on board as they wanted.

Carnival spokesman Vance Gulliksen said guests had been bringing on too many nonalcoholic beverages. “There had been some abuse of the previous policy which is why the new policy is more restrictive,” he said.

Nonalcoholic beverages? I’m sure people are bringing in cases and cases of Evian.

Maybe they’re trying to play down the fact that their margins on umbrella drinks are astronomical. And by banning non-alcoholic beverages, they can be sure to milk some more money from alcohol-free cruises too, like the Christian cruises they book wholesale.

Rum runners will undoubtedly be upset: Duty free purchases of liquor from dockside shops will be taken and held by the cruise line until you leave the ship. Other beverages brought on board “will be confiscated and discarded without compensation.”

One sole exception remains: “guests (21 years and older only) may bring one bottle of wine or champagne per person on board only during embarkation at the beginning of the cruise. A $10 corkage fee per bottle will be charged should you wish to consume this wine in the dining room or a $14 corkage fee per bottle in the Supper Club.” How generous.

Extortion, thy name is Carnival!

Update: After taking heat, Carnival has backed off their non-alcoholic beverage ban, but the ban on alcohol stays. Here’s the revised policy on beverages:

Guests are prohibited from bringing alcoholic beverages onboard. However, guests (21 years and older only) may bring one bottle of wine or champagne per person on board only during embarkation at the beginning of the cruise. A $10 corkage fee per bottle will be charged should you wish to consume this wine in the dining room or a $14 corkage fee per bottle in the Supper Club. Guests may bring a small quantity of non-alcoholic beverages.

All alcohol, additional quantities of wine/champagne or excessive quantities of non-alcoholic beverages will be confiscated and discarded without compensation. Guests may purchase a variety of beverages on board the ship. Alcoholic beverages will not be sold or served to anyone under the age of 21. We reserve the right to refuse the sale of alcoholic beverages to anyone. Alcoholic beverages purchased in the ship’s gift shops or in ports of call will be retained by Carnival until the end of the voyage.


Categorized in: booze, cruises, duty free, liquids

duty free Duty free liquids soon to be liberated?

News for travelers who like to pick up a bottle of hooch or perfume at the duty-free shop:

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is trying to standardize airport rules around the world, making it universally legal for people who buy liquids after security. Benet Wilson reports:

ICAO recommends that member countries allow duty-free liquids that have been packed in a sealed plastic bag that is tamper-proof and shows proof of purchase at an airport shop or aboard an aircraft on the day of departure. And best of all? ICAO wants the new recommendations to cover departing and transferring passengers.

A good start, indeed. Anything that lets you buy things at an airport and then actually carry them on a plane is good in my book.

- Duty free liquids allowed on board, except when they’re not
- Update: Munich Airport responds to questions about its duty free policy

Categorized in: airports, duty free, regulation, travel