Using Your iPhone Abroad

April 26, 2010 on 10:21 pm | In Europe travel,, international travel, phoning home, things travelers need to know | 1 Comment

We saw a great advertisement tonight for the iPhone. It featured a U.S.-based,college-aged student who was touring Europe and using iPhone applications to book rooms at hostels, buy tickets, make reservations, post photos to the Web and just about anything that you could think about related to travel. It looked inviting and it appeared like a hassle-free way to solve arranging travel on the road. However, our advice is not to try this with your iPhone! As a matter of fact, the best use of your iPhone during international travel is to leave it at home.

Why? Well there is the little issue of the expense of international data roaming. When you use your iPhone outside of your home country, in this case, outside of the U.S., Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands (for either voice or data) international roaming rates apply. So if your are in Canada, Mexico, Europe, Asia or anyplace other than the U.S., you could find out that opening an email with a 5 megapixel photo in it, or downloading a three-minute video on YouTube, each take about two megabytes of data. AT&T indicates that the cost for this harmless task could be $40, based on pay-per-use international data rates of $0.0195 per kilobyte of data. In fact, we know travelers who have forgotten this little tidbit and racked up charges over $2,000 on brief, international visits.

The poor man’s approach (and the one we practice if we absolutely need to take our iPhone) is to turn off the settings that are going to consume data. Your best bet is to go to the settings screen on your iPhone, look for the button labeled “general” and turn “data roaming” off. In addition, turn off 3G. Finally turn off “fetch new data” under the email setting. Note, that even if you take all of these precautions, it will not guarantee that some data might squeak through, as these actions do not block text or picture/video messages.

AT&T has a page that describes these issues in detail and we urge you to follow their advice, which can be found here.

In short, taking your iPhone abroad can be a real liability. If you forget to make the changes above, you can return home to a very big bill. In addition, even if you do turn off all the data functions, you never know when somebody is going to call and you will be paying international rates for the call, regardless of its point of origination.

AT& T does offer international data plans (described in the page referenced by the link above), but they are expensvie for relatively limited amounts of data. If interested, order one of these before you depart, measure your usage closely while abroad, and cancel the service on your return.

You can use Wi-Fi on the iPhone without charge and this is the low cost way to use your iPhone when traveling, since you can often find free Wi-Fi access points at airports, coffee shops and in some hotels. In addition, you can use Wi-Fi with Skype to call at reduced rates, but there is the problem that someone may call you and the price of that conversation could be more than you were going to spend on hotels for the next few days.

While it is not our intent to beat up the iPhone or AT&T, if you have one of those snazzy new iPads with 3G, turn off the 3G before you take it international or you will run into the same extraordinary data costs that plague the iPhone, although you won’t have to worry about anyone calling you on it.

We have several articles about alternatives for calling home in the ThereArePlaces section on Travel Tips.

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Volcano 1, Air Travelers 0

April 21, 2010 on 9:27 am | In, air travel, international travel, things travelers need to know, travel, travel news, travel restrictions | 1 Comment

The Eruption of the volcano in Iceland continues to make the news, but the emphasis seems to be on how much money the airlines lost, but not on the financial discomfort of the airline passengers!

While we are sensitive to the plight of the airlines and realize that their losses due to schedule disruption are staggering for an industry that has suffered during the recent economic downturn, the plight of passengers during this incident is equally important. We are not sure that all of the numbers we have seen for cancelled flights are correct. In addition, we cannot imagine that the airlines are losing as much money as stated in the press, since the loss numbers per day should equate with revenues on days when their planes are flying and the numbers just don’t seem to work out.

However, we have read that 95,000 flights were cancelled due to the danger of flying through clouds filled with ash from the erupting volcano. If we calculate that just 50 people were scheduled to fly on each of these flights, then we could safely assume that at least 4.75 million passengers had their travel plans changed by the eruptions. Let’s figure that half of these were starting their journey and could return to their homes disappointed that they were not able to start their travels. This means that over 2.375 million passengers were stranded away from home, waiting for a return flight to the airport from which they departed (or one nearby).

Certainly, some number of passengers might have been able to remedy this situation by taking alternative transport. However, there were other situations, where the only remedy was air transportation, for example for long-distance travelers returning to the United States, Australia or other countries. In addition, not all travelers have the financial resources to buy a train or a boat ticket after they have paid for an airline ticket and paid for hotels and meals during their travels. Instead, they simply have to wait until they can be accommodated by their airline on a future flight to the desired destination.

The problem here is that if you have purchased a ticket for air travel and the airline cancels your flight, you go to the back of the queue for the next flight to your destination. Yes, you read that right. Passengers who purchased tickets (have reservations) for the next flight out are given precedence over those who were ticketed for a previous flight that was cancelled.

In fact, many airlines were recommending that holders of tickets for cancelled flight book new reservations (buy new tickets) on another flight and submit their old tickets for reimbursment due to the cancellation. We don’t know about you, but we have never seen the reimbursement process take less than six weeks. It is likely that some travelers will spend several days, or perhaps longer, waiting to be rebooked on a flight, because they cannot afford to purchase another ticket.

Now you know why some news reports indicate that it may take weeks to clear up the travel problems generated by the volcano’s eruptions!

We understand the logic of the airlines decision, but suggest that the strategy was put in place to deal with momentary and minor changes in schedule due to weather or aircraft requiring service, not for major disruptions such as volcanic ash. Perhaps this incident will lead to a change in the rules. We certainly hope so. Of course, the airlines are not do be undone – this morning we noticed that some are considering suing the national air traffic control agencies for banning flights when it was not really necessary. Seems a dangerous plank to walk, but there is no shame when you are an airline.

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Europe Held Hostage by a…Volcano!

April 15, 2010 on 8:33 am | In Copenhagen travel, Denmark travel, Europe travel, France Travel, Germany travel, Ireland travel, London travel, Netherlands travel, Paris Travel, Scotland travel,, Travel Safety, air travel, england travel, international travel, things travelers need to know, travel news, travel warnings, travel weather warning | 1 Comment

The eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokul volcano (located near the island’s south coast, approximately 149 kilometers (92 miles) southeast of Reykjavik) has the potential to cause much damage to the country and the world’s climate. Today, however, the volcano’s cloud of steam and smoke, spread across Western Europe and the UK by prevailing winds, has become a major hazard to air travel.

Many of the airports in Europe, particularly those along the western coast zone of Europe, have closed in response to the threat that the volcanic cloud poses. Concentrations of volcanic ash and dust can decrease visibility during flights at higher altitudes and damage or cause engine shutdowns in jet-powered aircraft at any altitude.

For detailed information on the event and the response, see this article in the Wall Street Journal.

For some great photos of the volcano and detailed information on the eruption,see this excellent presentation from the Detroit Free Press.

The volcanic eruption in Iceland has created a major problem for all air travelers in Europe, as well as those planning on flying to Europe. The length of the eruption and the wind patterns can vary and there is no easy way to tell when air traffic will resume normal patterns. If you are planning on traveling to or in Europe in the next week, be sure to contact your airline, well in advance, to see what information they can offer. If you are in Europe and trying to return home, this will be a frustrating week, as volcanic eruptions are one of those situations beyond the control of the airlines or anyone else.

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Oversleeping – On A Flight?

April 12, 2010 on 9:14 am | In, air travel, air travel security, international travel, things travelers need to know | 3 Comments

Today we read an interesting article in the Telegraph about a passenger who fell asleep during an international flight and woke up to find himself and the plane in an…airport hangar. Apparently, the cabin crew did not notice that he was asleep on board the plane. The plane and sleeping passenger were ferried to a maintenance hangar where he was awakened by a mechanic an hour and half later! He was, then, taken back to the terminal, allowed to claim his luggage and bid goodbye.

This fellow doesn’t know how lucky he was. After all, recently one U.S. airline announced that it would be charging for carry-on luggage, up to $40 per item. RyanAir has once again been making moves that it would implement its “pee fee”, also known as the “bowel bond” to use the lavatories on its fleet of airplanes. Can it be very long until the airlines charge you to sleep on their fleets of “luxury” vehicles and for other related services?

Let’s see – not only did this guy fall asleep on the flight (let’s say that is worth $50) but he did not disembark at the appropriate time (let’s say that is worth another $50), he had to have someone awaken him (easily $25) and was personally ferried back to the terminal ($50) where he claimed his luggage late (another $25). If the carrier he flew (Air Canada) had charged for all of this personalized “service”, they could have gathered another $200.

On the other hand, how could the cabin crew have missed a sleeping passenger and transported him to a secure area of the airport? Hmm, I just received a message from Air Canada charging me $75 for asking that question.

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Earthquake Safety

April 12, 2010 on 8:47 am | In, Travel Safety, things travelers need to know, travel warnings | 1 Comment

We were in Southern California when the recent 7.2 magnitude earthquake hit Baja California. Although the quake was centered several hundred miles to the south of our location, we felt like grains of sand caught in a beach blanket toss.

We realized that the earthquake was not centered locally and that somewhere else was being trounced by it. The rolling motion was extreme and the house we were in was rolling back and forth like the waves on an oscilloscope. The chandeliers were swinging in wide arcs and continued to do so for several minutes after the earthquake ceased. Needless to say, our adrenalin level was at its peak and our heart was racing. It was not so much the shake itself, but the fact that it was extremely long. Everyone we spoke to about it said the same thing “We began to wonder if it was ever going to end.”

Although the Baja quake caused little damage in our area, the consequence were much more severe as one moved south towards the epicenter of this powerful earthquake. The episode reinforced our belief in “being prepared” for calamities that may happen to you while on the road.

While there is little you can do to avoid being in an earthquake, there is a lot you can do to help ensure your survival if you are traveling when an earthquake strikes your location. The preparations are not complicated and they could make a big difference.

First, be sure to read the evacuation notices and plans posted in your hotel room. Know where the exits are – yes, actually open your door and find the best path to the nearest two exits, noting how far they are, should you have to make the journey in the dark. Avoid planning to use elevators as exits, since power is often off in major disasters.

Next, Be sure to travel with a small flashlight for use in emergencies.

While many travelers empty their pockets and place keys, wallets and other stuff on a desk or a countertop so they are prepared to reload them the next morning. We have a different approach. Keep the flashlight and your room key in a pocket in your pants; along with your wallet and keep “yesterday’s clothes” including your shoes near your bed while sleeping (we usually layer these items on a desk chair near the bed). If you use a purse, keep the purse and the outfit you wore that day on the desk chair. If you need to (or are required to) evacuate during the night, just slip on your pants, shoes and a jacket and head out, knowing you have your money and identification, as well as something to illuminate your path, if there is no power.

Many travelers recommend keeping a bottle of water and a sealed granola bar or other snack in your other pocket, backpack or purse. While all of this may sound like too much organization for some of you, think of it this way. Just leave everything that was in the outfit you wore that day in the outfit and place it on a chair near your bed. All you have to do is add the flashlight and you will be ready to go if you need to evacuate your room. If not, you can empty your pockets in the morning – with the added benefit that everything is already in place.

From a practical perspective, the odds of being caught in a natural or man-made disaster while on vacation are extremely small. On the other hand, as Benjamin Franklin once said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

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New System To Guide Air Travel Security

April 2, 2010 on 8:15 am | In, air travel, air travel security, things travelers need to know, travel news, travel warnings | Comments Off

Today, April 2, 2010, the TSA made the following announcement about air travel security. Before you slap you head imagining the delays, the annnouncement did not reveal any specific, new security hoops that passengers would have to endure. However, it intimates that a lot will be going on in the background to help ensure the safety of the flying public. We will have to wait and see how or if this announcement has any influence on security checkpoint flow at airports.

WASHINGTON — Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano today announced that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will begin implementing new enhanced security measures for all air carriers with international flights to the United States to strengthen the safety and security of all passengers—superseding the emergency measures put in place immediately following the attempted terrorist attack on Dec. 25, 2009.

These new, more flexible security protocols—tailored to reflect the most current information available to the U.S. government—will apply to all passengers traveling to the United States.

“These new measures utilize real-time, threat-based intelligence along with multiple, random layers of security, both seen and unseen, to more effectively mitigate evolving terrorist threats,” said Secretary Napolitano. “The terrorist threat to global aviation is a shared challenge and ensuring aviation security is a shared responsibility. I commend our many partners around the world who have taken steps to increase their own security measures through deployment of new technology, enhanced information sharing and stronger standards to keep air travel safe.”

The remainder of the document can be found here.

In part, this announcement is part of the recently released Surface Transportation Surface Priority Assessment.

The crux of the new security strategy seems to be that the US will be using “intelligence services” to help identify potential threats, as well as employing (undefined) programs and procedures that allow for better identification and interdiction of threats prior to their arrival in the United States. Further, the improved security strategy will engage systems operators in intelligence sharing, security planning and operations. Finally, the goal is to reduce vulnerabilities by creating a more stringent, less opportunistic environment for terrorist attack planning.

As you can imagine, specifics of the program were not revealed in order to protect their efficacy as a deterrent.

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