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Does a woman with stage IV breast cancer hoping to die in her Korean homeland belong on the no-fly list? Earlier this week, Seattle-based Northwest Cable News reported that Korean Air had barred Crystal Kim from flying out of Seattle’s Sea-Tac Airport over the weekend — even though Kim presented clearance from doctors and was traveling with her daughter. Ms. Kim has rebooked with Delta and is hoping to make the flight today.

Editor’s Note, May 13, 2011, 11:35 a.m.: MSNBC reports that the Kims did indeed fly yesterday, and that Delta upgraded them to first class.

Korean Air technically has the right, as do all air carriers, to deny passengers if they’re determined to be too sick to fly. The airline said it feared Crystal could die onboard and traumatize other passengers.

Here’s the video report from Northwest Cable News:



While Ms. Kim’s sad story may have something of a positive outcome, you may or may not be surprised at who — and what — else has issues getting airborne:

- Bulldogs: Delta announced in February that it would no longer carry American, English and French bulldogs. As the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported, it seems that a disproportionate number of these flat-snouted, respiratory-issue-prone canines were dying in flight.

- Pregnant Women: Not all policies are the same, but most airlines restrict women in late-stage pregnancy from flying without a note from a doctor, a special examination from an obstetrician, clearance from an airline’s special assistance team or all of the above. There’s often a distinction between flying on domestic and international flights, so check individual policies.

- The Contagious or Comatose: While Ms. Kim’s disease was obviously not contagious, there are other ill passengers airlines can bar from flying. Those carrying a contagious disease or other infections — flashing back to 2009, H1N1, for instance — should always check carrier rules before boarding. Not surprisingly, an airline can also bar a passenger from boarding if he or she is comatose; passengers must be able to follow emergency procedures.



– written by Dan Askin

american flag usa stars and stripesBy now, most travelers are aware of the global travel alert released by the U.S. State Department in the wake of Osama bin Laden’s death on Sunday. The alert, which expires August 1, 2011, advises U.S. citizens “in areas where recent events could cause anti-American violence … to limit their travel outside of their homes and hotels and avoid mass gatherings and demonstrations.” The State Department also recommends that travelers keep their eye on local news, stay in touch with family and friends at home, and enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), which allows travelers to receive the latest updates and information from the government.

But just how worried should travelers be? Earlier today we checked in with Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor of our sister site CruiseCritic.com, to get a sense of whether anything has changed for travelers abroad. (Brown is currently traveling in the United Kingdom.)

“Certainly, people are talking about it, but at this point there’s no concrete confirmation of any [security] changes, and I don’t expect there to be quite yet,” Brown told us in an e-mail. “A lot depends on what [the U.S. government finds] in the intelligence, and there’s a feeling that there will be a backlash that could impact travel but it’s just too early to tell (by backlash I mean an attack somewhere in retaliation).”

It’s difficult, if not impossible, for ordinary travelers to predict where a potential terrorist attack might occur — and the State Department seems to be reinforcing that uncertainty by making its recent alert “worldwide.” But that doesn’t mean travelers are canceling their trips to huddle up under the bed at home.

IndependentTraveler.com’s managing editor, John Deiner, who’s cruising the Med this week aboard Carnival Magic, reported this morning that so far everything there is business as usual: “No one has said a thing about security on the ship! We were in Croatia yesterday, and it might as well been Miami … no one advised us to do anything differently.”

And @AnjaniLadki told us on Twitter that she’s not planning to make any changes to how she travels: “Being cautious, alert and applying common sense ought to do it. [The] rest is up to fate! Not doing anything different than I would’ve a week ago.”

Facebook user Lora W.M. summed it up most succinctly: “[Terrorists] will never scare me enough to stop doing what I love.”

We advise readers planning overseas trips to take a look at any government warnings or alerts that apply specifically to the destination they’re visiting, and to enroll in the State Department’s STEP program to stay abreast of current news. For more useful tips on staying safe abroad, as well as links to travel alerts from other governments besides the U.S., see our story on Travel Warnings and Advisories.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

dog cat suitcase pet travelThe screaming baby, the armrest hog, the big sweaty guy who forgot to put on deodorant — these top many travelers’ lists of undesired airplane seatmates. But one reader recently wrote in to complain about a fellow passenger of the furry, four-legged variety:

“On an Alaska flight, a cat was placed behind me. I was not asked if it was all right with me. I have medical problems with cats and do not want to travel with cats or dogs. … I should have been told at the time of reservation that animals were going to be onboard, so I could have made a decision not to travel on that flight. … Let animals stay in the cargo area where they belong. They leave behind scents and hair.”

It’s true that the rights of traveling pet owners currently trump the rights of passengers who start sneezing as soon as they even look at a cat or dog. Part of that, of course, has to do with money; airlines rake in anywhere from $75 (Southwest) to $125 (Delta and American Airlines) every time someone brings his or her pet into the cabin. But it can also be a matter of safety. While thousands of people ship their pets in the cargo hold every year, there are plenty of horror stories about animals dying during the process — often due to extreme hot or cold temperatures while the plane is sitting on the ground. (Cargo hold climate controls kick in only when the plane is actually in flight.)

So what’s an allergic traveler to do? First off, when you check in for your flight, ask an airline staffer whether there will be any animals onboard. If so, the agent may be able to help you find an alternate flight. Of course, change fees or other penalties may apply.

If you’re on the plane before you realize you’ve been seated next to someone’s furry friend, speak with the flight attendant — he or she may be able to find someone else willing to switch seats with you, especially if you have a pressing health concern.

Do you think it’s fair for pets to be allowed on planes? Vote in our poll or leave a comment below!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

Hampton Inn CommercialSometimes you don’t want to know if something is clean or not (in my case, it’s just about anything I order in a restaurant). Other times, it’s all you can think about.

That’s the contention of a new Hampton Inn ad questioning the cleanliness of sheets in other hotel chains. Let’s take a look.

Effective, right? Perhaps, but according to an interesting piece by consumer advocate Christopher Elliott, it’s a little over the top. Writes Elliott, “Sheets are usually changed between guests, and sometimes state law requires it, but there’s no guarantee that they will be.” He does contend, however, that “it’s probably safe to say that all major hotel chains, including Hampton, instruct their housekeepers to change sheets between guests.”

Elliott indicates a few gray areas to keep us on our toes — for instance, what happens if a housekeeper sees a made-up bed but assumes incorrectly that no one slept in it the night before, then doesn’t swap out the linens? What-if’s aside, his overall conclusion is reassuring: “It’s possible for you to end up sleeping on someone else’s sheets. But if you’re staying at a major hotel chain, it’s highly unlikely.”

That’s the sort of thing I like to hear, though truth be told, I wonder about a lot of other things when it comes to hotel cleanliness. For instance, when’s the last time the bathroom was really scrubbed — and why is there hair in the drain? What’s that weird stain on the duvet? Actually, inasmuch as most hotels don’t wash bedspreads between guests, I try not to think about who — or what — was on top of that duvet before me.

Were those drinking glasses sanitized before they were placed in the room? Or were they left over from the last guest, simply rinsed out and deemed “ready to use”? Depends on where you’re staying. According to our guide on finding a clean hotel room, “It’s the law in both Missouri and Kansas that hotel room glasses and cups must be sanitized. Kansas’ law goes even further to state that washing of glassware must take place outside of the room.”

I have a friend who won’t go barefoot in a hotel room, for fear of what may be lurking in the carpet. I’m not that bad, but … well, now I’m thinking about that duvet.

– written by John Deiner

southwest airlinesAfter canceling roughly 600 flights over the weekend, Southwest Airlines grounded an additional 70 flights today. Reuters reports that Southwest continues to cancel flights for the purpose of inspecting its Boeing 737 planes, one of which was forced to land prematurely on Friday due to loss of cabin pressurization caused by a hole in the plane.

According to the Southwest Airlines Web site, ongoing testing has resulted in the detection of “small cracks” in two planes in addition to the damaged Boeing 737 that was grounded on Friday. Such cracks are formed by repeated pressurization and depressurization over time, which causes stress on the body of the plane — and they’ve been known to bring down a flight, writes Salon.com. The infamous 1985 Japan Airlines 747 crash that killed 520 people was caused by a tear in the plane’s bulkhead.

This time, no one was hurt, with the exception of one flight attendant who sustained minor injuries when Southwest Airlines Flight 812 descended to its emergency landing. But hundreds of Southwest travelers have, without a doubt, been inconvenienced in the past few days. Fortunately, they’ll get their money back. In accordance with its policy on delays and cancellations, Southwest is offering passengers booked on delayed or canceled flights the option of rebooking travel at no charge or receiving a refund for the unused portion of the fare.

Southwest’s iron-clad customer service policy notwithstanding, the thought of flying in a plane with a hole or a crack is terrifying — and hard to forget. Regardless of whether these faulty planes are the airline’s fault, Southwest doesn’t look good.

This news comes on the heels of a succession of further problems plaguing the airline, including a fizzled launch of Southwest’s new Rapid Rewards program. (Several apologies for the debacle, during which a command center outage on top of a barely functional Web site caused headaches aplenty for Southwest customers, have been posted on the airline’s blog.) Southwest’s stock, reports The Wall Street Journal, plummeted by 3 percent today.

Can Southwest repair its reputation? Will you continue to fly with the airline?

– written by Caroline Costello

cell phone airplane plane man businessmanI knew the guy would be trouble the moment I spotted him ambling up to the Miami International Airport gate from which my Continental flight was leaving. I was on my way back to Philadelphia last week from a convention, and I just had a feeling that the unkempt loudmouth yakking on a cell phone and clutching a plastic cup of red wine would be sitting uncomfortably close to me.

I was wrong, of course. He was next to me. The last one on the plane, he stumbled down the aisle, looked at me huddled in the window seat, muttered an obscenity and squeezed himself into the middle. He immediately took out his phone and continued the argument he’d evidently left behind on the concourse.

Truth be told, I’m not a good flier, forever fearing every little bump and groan the aircraft makes. So I tend to take “rules” seriously, never questioning whether to put my seat back in the full and upright position or to turn off small electronics. My seatmate was a different breed — after the flight attendants made the announcement to stow away anything with a battery, he hung up the phone and started to text instead.

This went on for 10 minutes. No flight attendants caught onto the fact that his phone was still on, though I couldn’t get my mind off of it. Uncharacteristically, I nudged him as we began to roar down the runway and said, “Tell me you’re going to turn that thing off before takeoff.”

He muttered another obscenity and turned it off.

So what sort of danger were we in? Very little, most likely. I checked the Web site of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which prohibits the use of cell phones on flights. In 2007, the agency considered lifting the ban, but didn’t. Here’s why: “The FCC determined that the technical information provided by interested parties in response to the proposal was insufficient to determine whether in-flight use of wireless devices on aircraft could cause harmful interference to wireless networks on the ground. … In addition to the FCC’s rules, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) prohibits in-flight use of wireless devices because of potential interference to the aircraft’s navigation and communication systems.”

The Discovery Channel’s “MythBusters” program put the interference theory to the test and came out with a reassuring result: It found there was a “one in a million chance that some new cell phone could interfere with those instruments.” Slim chance perhaps, but still not worth the risk. Check out a two-minute abbreviation of the show here.

So what happened during our landing? Naturally, the guy couldn’t keep his phone off. Minutes into our descent, he pulled out his cell and started texting again. Once again, no flight attendant reprimand came. But this time, I just stared out the window and wondered why so many people think the rules don’t apply to them.

How do you feel about the use of cell phones in flight? Leave a comment or vote in our poll.

– written by John Deiner

tired man suitcase traveler travel airport sleep waitEvery Wednesday, we’ll feature one practical travel tip here, on our blog. Get our clever weekly tips and other travel resources in your inbox by subscribing to our blog (top right) or signing up for our newsletter.

One hour, one day: That’s the ratio many experts use to explain how quickly your body recovers from jet lag. If you cross two time zones, allow yourself two days to adjust to your new schedule. If you’re headed from the West Coast to Europe, you could be dealing with the lingering effects of jet lag for a week or more.

Of course, no one wants to feel sleepy and disoriented for their whole vacation — so we asked our readers to share their best strategies for adjusting quickly to a new time zone. In Fighting Jet Lag: Tips from Our Readers, Host Bonjour offers one suggestion:

“When I got to Australia after nearly 24 hours in the air plus almost a day at LAX, it was 8 a.m. on a Monday morning, and I was all set to go to sleep. My innkeeper, a lovely woman, told me I wasn’t going to take a nap. I was going to have a shower and get changed, and she’d map out a fine walk for me that she knew would keep me out long enough — to try to get me on local time. Oh, how I wanted that nap, though it couldn’t match the feeling I had when the vista came up before my eyes — the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House, sites I’d only ever seen in pictures.”

Other long-haul travelers swear by sleeping pills or homeopathic remedies containing melatonin (the naturally occurring chemical that helps your body regulate its sleep cycles). Get more information in our story on Jet Lag.

What’s your top tip for fighting jet lag?

– written by Sarah Schlichter

airplane sick ill illness cough coldEvery Wednesday, we’ll feature one practical travel tip here, on our blog. Get our clever weekly tips and other travel resources in your inbox by subscribing to our blog (top right) or signing up for our newsletter.

Winter’s not over yet — and cold season’s still running strong. According to a well-known study, travelers are more likely to catch a cold on an airplane than during their day-to-day routine, a fact that won’t surprise anyone who’s ever been stuck next to a sneezing, sniffling seatmate at 33,000 feet.

In Avoiding the Airplane Cold, travel expert Ed Hewitt shares some helpful tips on keeping healthy in the air. One important thing to remember, writes Hewitt, is to stay hydrated: “It turns out that drinking plenty of water will not only counter the overall dehydrating effects of air travel, which can lead to headaches, stomach problems, cramps, fatigue and more, but can actually fortify your preemptive natural immune mechanisms to function considerably better.”

To stay hydrated in the air, of course, drink water — and lots of it. Carry a water bottle or some juice (buy this after you’ve been through airport security). Avoid alcohol and caffeine. Fliers may also want to purchase nasal mists to keep their mucous membranes moist.

Keeping hydrated while traveling by plane certainly isn’t a cure-all for the cold. But it’s one simple, easy way to keep your immune system strong.

What do you do to avoid colds while traveling?

– written by Caroline Costello

Thanks, Jack.

I’m talking about Jack LaLanne, the fitness pioneer who died Sunday at age 96. I have a few years to go before I hit that milestone (well, five decades), but you have to hand it to the guy: he knew how to keep it healthy. And he was an “exercise guru” before anyone really knew what that term meant.

I remember watching Jack on TV as a kid, doing jumping jacks in sync with the chiseled marvel. Today, I struggle to touch my toes. But adventure travelers should look to Jack for inspiration, because nothing can be more ruinous on a vacation than not being prepared for the rigors of a particular destination.

I’m thinking back to a trip I took eight years ago to the Galapagos. I still feel badly for the older travelers among the 29 explorers on our boat — by the end of a strenuous seven-day sail among the islands, three were so worn out they refused to leave the vessel. While the rest of us were looking at blue-footed boobies, they sat on deck chairs staring out to sea. I remember the wildlife expert assigned to the ship bemoaning the fact that they’d blown a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Fast-forward a few years to the Grand Canyon. For months, I’d been preparing for a rim-to-rim trek, working out five days a week, going for miles-long hikes around Washington D.C. and walking seven miles to work with a fully loaded backpack. It wasn’t enough. By the time I reached Phantom Ranch in the bowels of the canyon, my left knee was throbbing, my back aching. The 105-degree temperatures didn’t help. I can’t remember much about getting out of the canyon the next day, except that it was excruciating.

grand canyon


Two years later, I did it again, this time preparing twice as long and arriving with better hiking poles, knee braces and a more realistic attitude. Ok, I battled a stomach bug the night before, but I still made it down in good time — and pain-free.

Now I’m preparing to do it again. I just joined a gym, I’m hiking on the riverside trail that edges my backyard and I’ve taken those knee braces out of storage. All I have to do now is get reservations at Phantom Ranch, which is easier said than done, alas, but well worth the effort.

And Jack? Something tells me that at my age, Mr. LaLanne could have made the hike blindfolded and shoeless — and he sure could do a mean jumping jack.

– written by John Deiner

tsa disability notification card airport security“I have two titanium plates in my foot. How can I ease the process of going through security?” wondered an IndependentTraveler.com reader in a recent e-mail. These days, she’s not the only traveler who’s concerned. Since the highly publicized incident in which a bladder cancer survivor’s urostomy bag was ruptured during a TSA pat-down, leaving him covered in his own urine, travelers with various medical conditions have been worrying about how they can prevent their own nightmarish encounters at airport security.

The TSA has come up with one idea that should help (or so we hope!): new disability notification cards (PDF) that travelers can print, fill out and bring with them to the security checkpoint. The cards have a space to enter information about any relevant health conditions or medical devices, though they also include the following caveat: “Presenting this card does not exempt you from screening.”

I’ve long advised travelers with disabilities or medical devices to bring a doctor’s note (preferably on letterhead) explaining their condition — so I’m glad that the TSA has now introduced an official and discreet way for travelers to educate and inform security screeners. But will this truly put an end to the health-related horror stories we’ve been hearing for the past few months? We’ll have to wait and see.

– written by Sarah Schlichter