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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Where to Get Information on International Travel Conditions

The spread of swine flu is the latest crisis to put travelers into panic mode. SARS, avian flu, terrorism, war, and tsunamis are among the events that have made the list in the past. If you are planning an international trip, there are several online resources that can help you determine if threats are serious enough to consider postponing your travel.

Your first stop for travel advice should be http://travel.state.gov (skip the www). Operated by the United States Department of State, this site contains a full list of Travel Alerts and Travel Warnings on a country-by-country basis. Travel Alerts are issued to disseminate information about short-term conditions, generally within a particular country, that pose imminent risks to the security of U.S. citizens. Natural disasters, terrorist attacks, coups, anniversaries of terrorist events, election-related demonstrations, and high-profile events such as international financial conferences are examples of conditions that might generate a Travel Alert. Swine flu is another such condition.

Travel Warnings are issued to describe long-term, protracted conditions that make a country dangerous or unstable. A Travel Warning is also issued when the U.S. Government's ability to assist American citizens is constrained due to the closure of an embassy or consulate. Among the countries currently on the list are Yemen, Pakistan, and Sudan, which are not exactly tourism hotspots.

Some have suggested that State's advice can be politically motivated. The criticism is that State sometimes cuts some slack when it comes to America's allies.

So, for a more complete picture, particularly when it comes to alerts that have political circumstances attached to them, you might want to check out a few "competing" sites. Canada's view of the world can be found at www.voyages.gc.ca/countries_pays/menu-eng-asp. The Australian government’s travel advisory service can be found at www.smarttraveller.gov.au. For more English language travel advice, the United Kingdom has www.fco.gov.uk/en/travelling-and-living-overseas.

However, do remember that at times there may be threats that apply specifically to Americans. Such potential perils may only be listed at http://travel.state.gov. So do the appropriate homework.

Specifically for international health information, both The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization are fine resources. At www.cdc.gov/travel, there is health information for more than 200 countries, including current outbreaks, necessary vaccines, suggested medications to bring along, and other health and safety tips. The World Health Organization also provides solid information for travelers at www.who.int/ith/en/.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Health Alerts

Let me start with a follow-up to yesterday’s post by saying I told you so. I mentioned with great certainty that there would be an outcry against the statement made by the European Union’s health commissioner against travel to the U.S. Well, everyone from the president to the head of the Centers for Disease Control to the chairmen of various travel industry associations have indeed expressed their displeasure with the comments.

In the meantime, Androulla Vassiliou, the health commissioner in question, did back-pedal a bit from her initial remarks. She pointed out that she was expressing her own opinion and that the European Union did not issue a formal travel advisory. Additionally, the EU health commissioner can only make recommendations to the 27 member countries. The countries themselves issue their own travel advisories and warnings. That said, Vassiliou noted, “Personally, I would try to avoid nonessential travel to the areas that are reported to be in the center of the cluster in order to minimize the personal risk and to reduce the potential risk to spread the infection to other people." Among the places on that list are Mexico City and those U.S. states where there have been outbreaks of swine flu.

Meanwhile, the following travel alert has been issued by the U.S. State Department:

The Department of State alerts U.S. citizens of the health risks of travel to Mexico at this time due to an outbreak of H1N1 “swine flu.” The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued an April 27 notice recommending that American citizens avoid all nonessential travel to Mexico at this time. CDC’s notice also suggests precautions that travelers and U.S. citizen residents in Mexico can take to reduce their risk of infection while in Mexico. CDC provides recommendations for those who must travel to an area that has reported cases of swine flu, and recommends measures to take following return from an area that has reported cases of swine flu. The complete CDC notice can be found at the following link: http://www.cdc.gov/travel. Please check this site frequently for updates. This Travel Alert expires on July 27, 2009.

Monday, April 27, 2009

EU Advises Against Travel to the US

In a case of what's good for the goose is good for the gander, the European Union has announced a travel advisory against visits to the United States.

Today, the EU health commissioner urged Europeans to postpone nonessential travel to the United States and to Mexico due to the swine flu outbreak. The move is sure to raise some hackles among those in the U.S. travel industry, one that is already suffering a huge decline from the European market thanks to unfavorable exchange rates and the worldwide economic crisis.

The United States State Department frequently issues travel advisories or warnings (at http://travel.state.gov) that are questioned by the countries affected. Sometimes the argument is that an advisory is political in nature, while at other times foreign governments argue the warnings are unneccessary, or are issued about matters that are confined to a small region. Methinks that the EU, by lumping the United States in with Mexico, is going to get a complaint or two from this side of the pond.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum XI

US Airways will begin charging an extra five dollars a bag for passengers who don’t go on-line to check-in and prepay for checked luggage. The fee will be in addition to the $15 for the first checked bag and $25 for the second that US Airways already charges. The extra per bag fee will be assessed to passengers who pay to check their bags at the airport beginning July 9.

Perhaps the new fee is being put into place to make up for the revenue lost from US Airways’ ill-advised foray into charging for non-alcoholic beverages. On March 1, the airline dropped its unpopular two dollar charge for soft drinks and one dollar charge for coffee and tea. As no other airline had copied the idea, US Airways realized that the fees had become a competitive disadvantage.

Not so incidentally, last week, the carrier posted a first-quarter net loss of $103 million, or 90 cents a share.