Chapter 4 of
HOW TO EUROPE
The Complete Travelers Handbook
By John Bermont. Internet edition.
A page from
with photographer and author
Stephanie at ten years old ready for solo take-off to Italy. She flew internationally as an unaccompanied
minor, UM, for many years. For more about UM see unaccompanied minor.
[StephanieOnBoard-0410. Photo by the flight attendant.]
To travel agent or not to travel agent is your first question.
Unless you're going the old fashioned way by steam ship, you need an airline
ticket to get to Europe. There are a number of ways to buy one. You can use a travel
agency convenient and close to your home, call an airline, or call a flight consolidator,
a.k.a. "bucket shop." You can also shop the internet, either through a discount travel
services vendor or directly on an airline's web site.
The myriad of fares and conditions, varying from airline to airline and day to
day, is a bizarre bazaar. Searching for the lowest cost fare is a tedious job, but can
save you hundreds of dollars.
When shopping for the lowest fares for international travel here are the best strategies:
—> fly Monday through Thursday,
—> stay no more than 30 days, and
—> purchase at least 14 days prior to departure.
fares during late winter and early spring are normally the lowest of the year. Travel in
July can cost three times as much as in April and five times as much as in February and March. The
airlines are almost begging people to fly to Europe in late winter.
Then again, if you have enough miles in a frequent flyer program you don't
need to buy a ticket — you can fly for free.
The cheapest fares between North America and Europe often require a
connection unless you are in a major "gateway city," e.g. New York, Miami, Chicago, Houston,
Los Angeles, San Francisco. A connection
is a change of planes in a city between your home and your
destination. There are standard minimum times allowed for connections, depending on
the connection city, to allow you and your luggage to make the connection. If your
first flight is delayed, you, and more likely your checked luggage, may miss the next
flight. Bad weather is the most frequent culprit. Airlines are not responsible for bad weather
or the delays. You are on your own if you miss the connection.
I rarely fly within Europe, preferring the trains and ferries. Besides crossing waters in a
hurry, there may be other times when you want to
use a plane. For example, going from Geneva to Amsterdam by train is a 12
hour ordeal with at least two changes. After some diligent searching I found a 90
minute direct flight on KLM for the same price as the train.
Europe is starting to relax
air price controls so that it won't cost more to fly from Frankfurt to Berlin than it costs
to go from Frankfurt to New York. Probably the smart way to
fly within Europe is to use one of the new budget airlines. There
are now dozens of these small carriers due to liberalization of flight rules within Europe.
The leaders are Ryanair, easyJet, Air Berlin, German Wings, and Condor. The fares are cheap,
as low as $15 in some cases, but the restrictions and cost of extras is severe. You can easily
pay more for luggage than for your ticket. Read all the small print twice before buying a
ticket from one of these airlines. Some of these budget airlines are zero on frills and
fly to secondary airports in metropolitan areas. So pack a lunch and be prepared to buy a bus or
train ticket to actually reach the city you are aiming for.
What is a Travel Agent?
Travel agents make reservations and sell tickets for air travel, package tours,
auto rental, hotels, rail passes, and related services. The travel agent normally receives
a commission from the airline or tour operator so the cost to you is the same as if you
purchased the ticket direct. Travel agents are a very convenient source for tickets,
saving you the time and anxiety that you would otherwise spend standing in line at the
airport, browsing the internet, or scouring through big city newspapers. If you know
what you want, usually one call is all it takes.
Finding a really good travel agent is a really big challenge. All of them make
mistakes once in a while, and a few are incompetent. I have heard of some atrocious
blunders. Remember, it's your time, your money, and your dream trip so select an
agent with care. Ask friends who have traveled overseas for recommendations.
Discuss your plans with agents to see if they seem to know what they are talking
about. See if they will take time to offer advice and if they will shop around for you for
the lowest cost tickets. Unfortunately most agents are overworked and can't volunteer
much time for anything.
Travel agents are not required to be experienced travelers and few have the
ability or time to provide you with personal trip planning. If an agent has been where
you are going, he/she probably traveled at the partial or full expense of a tour
operator. The agents I have met in my travels who were on one of these "fam trips"
(familiarization trips) were more interested in enjoying the entertainment than in
scrounging around for ideas and information that would help their customers. Lucky
you if your travel agent is one of the exceptions.
Travel agents do not receive a salary from the airlines. Travel agents make
their living from commissions on the services and products they sell. However some
airlines have eliminated travel agent commissions. Commissions are typically 10%, but
some tours offer 20% or more, plus bonuses and freebees for the agent. So, when you
go into a travel agency asking for the cheapest ticket, don't expect jet speed service.
But if you get it, tell your friends.
DO IT YOURSELF
If you are in or near a major gateway city there are many airlines to chose from. The competition
is good, helping to get a good price.
Airline Web Sites
All airlines have web sites providing schedules and ticket purchase capabilities.
See the category Airlines
for Travel to Europe in the
TRAVELERS YELLOW PAGES
section of enjoy-europe.com.
Special deals are always popping up in your email inbox if
you put yourself on their email alert lists. Many airlines send out a weekly newsletter
by email touting their bargains, new routes, and special offers for earning frequent
flyer miles, many of which do not require a flight.
When you search on line use the +/- 1, 2, or 3 day option if you can manage that. Fares on adjacent
days can be strikingly different.
Call the Airlines
I still use the phone now and then. Websites can be overbearing and airline
personnel can reduce the time it takes to find a flight and make a reservation. The reservation agents
have immediate information on fares and routes and know where to find it. Of course,
you must call up several airlines to see which has the best schedule and fares to suit
your plans. This can be a very worthwhile endeavor, though time consuming.
You may find that slight changes in your plans can give you more direct flights or save
you money. You can save hundreds of dollars by phoning around.
On Line Do-Alls
There are several internet services which offer sort of a "universal" reservation
and ticketing service. Major companies in this bargain air fare business are linked in
the category Discount Air Travel, Europe
TRAVELERS YELLOW PAGES
are very good, but none is totally complete. Try several and you'll see the differences.
Before purchasing, check with the airline or your travel agent to see if a better deal is
Flight consolidators are a unique business. They probably offer the cheapest tickets available,
and the seats are on major airlines. They can do this by buying seats in bulk from the airlines
at steep discouonts and then reselling them. This sounds a bit crazy. Why would the airlines
sell their product at a steep discount to let others resell it in competition? The answer,
according to websites of the consolidators, is that the airlines feel that they cannot sell these
seats at regular prices and they are not allowed to, or do not want to, sell at a deep discount
to the public. They would all be going nuts in a losing price war.
We saved a lot on Stephanie's 2002 trip to Italy by buying through a consolidator shop
in Los Angeles. They and others quoted us prices on regular
flights of major European carriers like KLM, Lufthansa, and Swiss at prices 1/3 less
than the carriers themselves. These shops have different deals with different
Some consolidator shops place tiny adverts in the Sunday travel sections of major metropolitan
newspapers, e.g. the Los Angeles Times and the New York Time. I have listed three of them in
TRAVELERS YELLOW PAGES page at
Discount Air Travel, Europe.
Flight consolidators within Europe also offer very good prices on scheduled
flights. My favorite travel agency had been NBBS in Holland, until they closed
shop, another casualty of 9/11. My Christmas 1999 round trip from Amsterdam to Los
Angeles and Chicago was only $350 plus tax. On top of that United Airlines bumped
me up to business class for free, and allowed me into the Red Carpet Lounge at Dulles
Washington Airport where I find myself writing this in the comfort of plush chairs and
carpeting with free espresso, juices, and cookies, plus magazines, a football game on
TV, and a bar. You don't mind a long connection in these surroundings. It sure beats
the chrome and plastic corral where I usually find myself.
FREQUENT FLYER PROGRAMS
Fly for Free
Many people can by-pass the travel agent and the need for opening up their
checkbook altogether. The airlines' frequent flyer programs have put zillions of free
miles at the disposal of the public over the years. This must be a good deal for the air
carriers also because the foreign airlines have followed suit.
If you travel on business,
you're probably already enrolled in half a dozen of these programs, and you're always
trying to maximize your credits with one particular airline. It doesn't do you any good
to have 10,000 miles with each of five different airlines. You need 50,000 miles with
only one airline to be awarded a free ticket to Europe. Award levels vary and depend
on the airline, time of year, and class of service. People with these miles seldom have
time to use them, but can let family members do so. I've flown my wife, daughter, and
father-in-law many times overseas but have only used the miles personally a couple
of times. If you have a relative who flies a lot, call him/her and see if you can borrow
some mileage, maybe repayable in picture postcards from Istanbul?
In using your miles you will normally find a few inconveniences. Many airlines
have blackout dates during which they will not allow you to fly with the FF miles, or will
demand more miles during these periods.
Airlines without blackout dates require you to use more of your frequent
flyer miles to get a ticket during high season. High season is usually the entire summer
plus the Christmas holidays, and maybe other busy periods.
Availability of Frequent Flyer Seats
Most airlines have a fixed maximum number of seats for free flyers. When
these seats are taken they will not accept you. If you fall into this predicament and
can't get a confirmation on the day you want to go, call up your reserve of patience
and persistence. Just keep calling, like every week or twice a week and, as the day
approaches, every day. It is likely that someone will cancel or change their reservation.
It's also likely that the airline will open up more seats for frequent flyers. At the
moment of writing this I am on a KLM flight from Detroit to Amsterdam. It has been
an ordeal getting this flight. Northwest WorldPerks offers flights to Europe for 50,000
miles. Until the summer of 2002 it was 40,000 miles. After spending hours on
Northwest's web site trying different possibilities for a flight I gave up and phoned the
office. It was a snap to get a seat, but it cost me another 5,000 miles. The only seats
available on line were at a mileage requirement of 60,000 to 100,000 miles. Northwest
is playing a game with customers trying to get them to use 100,000 miles for what
Northwest advertises for 50,000 miles. There will probably be a lawsuit. Northwest is now
A very nice feature of using frequent flyer miles to go to Europe is that flights
can be changed without penalty on some airlines. If you buy a super discount ticket and want to change
your return date it will cost $100 to $150 on most carriers. With FF miles, call the
reservation center and see if a flight is available for the day you wish to change to. If
you change return flights after you have a ticket you may be required to get your ticket
reissued. Allow time for that.
If you don't regularly fly or belong to a frequent flyer plan, sign up for one
anyway. On your flight to Europe, make sure the miles are logged into your account.
For the number of miles logged on four round trips between Europe and North
America, most airlines' programs will award you a free flight.
And you don't even need to fly to gather up frequent flyer miles. Our daughter
Stephanie flew to Italy using miles accumulated on Elizabeth's British Airways VISA
card. True, she had to fly on British Air which meant changing planes in London, but it
a was a free flight. I met a woman who charges her new cars to her VISA card so she
can rack up more miles.
I use my American Express card at every instance when I buy anything from
groceries to telephone service to airline tickets because I'm enrolled in their frequent
flyer plan. For a nominal annual charge (getting to be not-so-nominal), every dollar I
spend with the Amex card counts as a "mile," and can be transferred to several
different frequent flyer programs. This company and others offer double miles and
even quintuple miles during special promotions. Amex also has Delta Airlines branded
credit cards. These are even a better deal. Just for accepting a Delta Platinum SkyMiles
credit card, at an annual fee of $150, I was given 50,000 miles, and double miles any purchase at
The long distance telephone companies give out miles, rental car companies
donate, some grocery stores, and even some cereal boxes give them away. I picked up
5,000 miles from cereal box coupons a few years ago. Do not pass up opportunities for free
travel. It is beautiful!
Which one should you do business with? Commercial air carriers all provide
certain minimum standards of safety and service as dictated by law. If you are afraid of
flying, have faith. The pilot wants to get home and watch his favorite TV show just
like you. For US domestic carriers, statistics indicate that there are about three times
as many who die on the planes during normal flight as who die in crashes. A heart
attack on board is more likely to end your days than an airplane uh-oh. You probably
have a better chance of having an auto accident on the way to the airport than of
having your plane go down.
Actually, there are differences in the caliber of in-flight service, food, and
on-time arrival between airlines. These differences are variable since they depend on
the weather, the size of the plane, length of flight, and other factors.
For links to most of the airlines flying to Europe see my
TRAVELERS YELLOW PAGES section at
Airlines for Travel to Europe.
Charter Air Lines
Charter air carriers normally offer the lowest published fares. Tickets for these
flights are available through travel agents, and the charter carrier itself, e.g. Martinair,
LTU, Condor, and others. There are conditions that you must suffer if you are going to take a
charter, especially rules about refunds in case you cancel. These charter carriers
normally fly only during the summer season, and only to a very select group of cities.
New routes by new carriers usually mean good cheap fares. Some junior
European airlines are trying to start up international service and offer very good rates.
Some major American carriers are also trying for a foothold in certain European cities,
probably the reason that I had that beautiful round-trip on United from Amsterdam to
Los Angeles for less than you would pay for a flight from Chicago to Detroit..
Official Airline Guide, OAG
Which airline is flying from Yourville to your destination, or nearby? In the good old
days, any travel agent with his Official Airline Guide, Worldwide Edition, could thumb
up the right page and read off any schedule on the planet. The OAG monthly could
also be found in most American business offices in the custody of the secretary of the
highest ranking person, or lying among the phone books. Many business travelers
would rather spend an hour or two figuring out their itinerary with this book than
leave it in the hands of a travel agent.
The OAG has gone modern. It now offers a subscription print edition as in the good old
days, but also has a web site, CD, and mobile service. If you travel often on business
one of these subscriptions can probably save you time, money, and trouble. Contact
OAG for more information.
Multi City Reservations
If you have a business trip to Europe ask about stuffing in a
pleasure stop at one end of your business affairs. Sit by a pool somewhere and write your trip
report and fill out your expense report before heading back to the turmoil of the home office.
Most airline internet sites allow you to make multi city reservations. A layover like this is
usually no extra cost when flying at full fare.
Airlines used to publish full system schedule booklets. These schedules also
described food services, stops and connections, seating plans, equipment, and include
airport site plans. When you are the airline web site look for the system timetable and download it
to your net book. It will come in handy if you need to change reservations during your trip.
Getting there on time with all your wits and belongings in tact depends on a lot
of people and things working together. Sometimes they don't.
Every once in a while the TV evening news features a story about a bunch of
whiners who had to wait an hour or so for their flight. So what? Bring a book. Have a
beer. Meet somebody new. But sometimes it gets excessive. Recent news reports of
passengers sitting in a plane on the tarmack for 12 hours and not being allowed to get off
have received attention in Congress. A new law establishes potential fines of $27,500
per passenger for any flight stuck on the tarmack for more than three hours. The airline
pays this to the govenment, not to the poor folks sitting in the plane.
A key part of the flying equation is the pilot. There is probably no other cause
of delay and frustration more profound and/or devastating than pilot strikes. However
most delays are due to weather and the pilot has no control over that.
Connection times on international flights are set to allow you to change
planes and possibly clear Customs and Passport Control in your connecting city.
Meanwhile the airline is finding your luggage and shooting it out to the carousel.
For flights returning to the USA you have to claim your luggage, clear customs,
and then recheck it on your connecting flight. Nice theory.
I advocate packing light and not checking any
luggage. Nevertheless, I have been in the check luggage situation on several of my
extended business trips. For those few flights where I made an overseas
connection, my bags usually do not make it. Air France left my bags in Paris on one
occasion even though I had an overnight layover. I had time to take the R.E.R train to
the city, have a beautiful dinner in Montparnasse, take a long stroll through the Left
Bank, and return to my airport hotel for a good night of sleep before continuing the
next day. My luggage which had been checked through to my final destination missed
the flight. In another case, British Air didn't have time to transfer my bags at Heathrow
due to a late start from Amsterdam. When I arrived in Detroit my luggage didn't. BA
gave me an allowance of up to $75.00 per bag to spend as I needed. My bags showed
up at the house two days later, but the money I spent for clothes and other necessities
was repaid by the airline. New rags for free — I should have spent the whole
allotment. Northwest missed my connection in Detroit on my last return from
Amsterdam. If you ask they will give you a shave kit which includes a T-shirt.
Most airports have short term and long term parking. Short term is closer to
the terminal, and is more expensive.
Entering the parking lot may be your first encounter with airport security.
There may be armed National Guard troops or police on duty to check the trunk of
your car and give you a cursory look-over. More about security below.
Many airlines allow you to check in from your home or office using the airline's web site.
Print out your boarding pass and save time at the airport.
If you don't check in from your computer you do it at the airport. Airport check-in is normally
done at a machine located a few feet from the departure counter. Locate your airline and
swipe your credit card,
FF card, or key in your confirmation number. The machine's screen will take you through the process
and eventually print out your boarding pass with seat assignment.
If you have baggage to check you go next to the departure counter and find the line
for your class of service — tourist, business, or
first class. The agent will print out your baggage ID strip and put it on the handle.
Then the agent will print the claim tags for your checked bag(s) and stick them on the back of
your boarding pass.
The gate number for your flight will be on your boarding pass and the
check-in agent will probably circle it so you can find it amongst the other stuff written there,
then wave his/her arm in the general direction. The boarding gate is
somewhere back in the caverns of the airport. You will get there, eventually.
On your way to the gate you will encounter the security metal detector and the
x-ray belt for your carry-on items. There will probably be a lot of people waiting there
so it is a good idea to get moving toward your gate without delay. If you are boarding your
international flight you will also need to stand in line for passport control.
The gate closes 10 to 30 minutes before scheduled flight time. After that you are left behind.
I have been left behind a few times. It is the worst experience in travel to see your plane
standing at the gate for 20 minutes but they have already locked the door. One time my flight
was three hours late and the door of my connecting flight was locked when I finally got
there. I saw the plane
at the gate with the pilot's window open. He was talking to the gate attendant. I jumped and
waved where they could see me. After about ten minutes they finished their chat and the gate
attendent opened the doors for me. The flight safety drill had already been given so the
steward gave me a personalized version, per FAA regulations.
Airlines typically overbook their flights, if they can. If they have 200 seats on a
plane they sell maybe 220. They do this because some people will not arrive for the
flight and the airlines want to fly as full as possible. This can create opportunity if the
number of people who show up exceeds the number of seats. Volunteers are sought
out who will give up their seat and take the next flight in exchange for discounts or
free flight vouchers. If you are involuntarily denied passage you are considered "bumped."
Airlines are obligated to get you on the next available flight to your destination, even if that
means flying on another carrier. But they won't tell you that. Instead they'll offer you
compensation in the form of a reduced fare voucher or a free flight. This is negotiable.
Due to an error at Northwest Airlines there was no information in the
computer about me when I showed up to fly to Detroit from Amsterdam one fine day at
Schiphol Airport. They finally found my record and told me that I was supposed to have been on
the flight yesterday. Today's flight was 40 seats overbooked with not a fat chance of
getting on board. But I went through all the security stuff anyway - it took over an
hour. At the gate the NW folks gave me a seat right off even though there were still
dozens of people behind me. My seat was at one of the doors, where they like to put
big people. These seats have advantages of plenty of leg room, but have no seat in
front of you under which to stash any carry on items like this computer I'm working on
at the moment. It has to go in the overhead bin for take-off and landing.
The airline web sites allow you to select your seat. This is really handy. You can see which seats are available, and which are the preferred seats. These are the ones in the exit rwo with an extra 5" of knee room and are normally reserved for frequent fliers. The web site won't let you sit there without having special status but if you call the reservations desk you might be able to talk your way into one of these seats. I have.
Sometimes at check-in you are given the rude surprise that your reserved seat has
been reassigned and there is no seat available. Or you might be told to wait a
little bit, which could turn out to be 15 to 30 minutes. Several airlines have put me "on
hold" at the counter in the last few years. While I waited the airline agent was poking
around on his computer terminal, or would disappear for a while through one of those
doors behind the baggage belt. I can wait here or at the gate I figure, so I wait here.
Apparently what the agent does in each of these instances is find a seat for me in
business class or first class. I've been bumped up a few times flying trans-Atlantic, on
United, Air France, and KLM, and within Europe on Lufthansa. On one of my KLM
round trips Los Angeles - Amsterdam I was bumped up to business class each way,
and with a ticket that only cost me $400! That's flying. Besides being treated like a
prince on the plane you also have privileges to the airline's VIP lounge at both airports.
If you think that I was given privileges because I wrote a travel book, it can't
be. The author of this book, "John Bermont," is just a pen name. I travel under my real
Even after boarding a British Airlines flight in London with an assigned seat on
one flight I was told by the stewardess that someone else had the same seat. I didn't
want that window seat anyway, and after some diplomacy with another stewardess I
was given an aisle seat with nobody in the seat next to it. This transpired after having
been told three times that the plane was completely full without a single seat available.
So, be polite but resolute. It can help to ask other flight attendants or the purser. Once
anyone in charge of anything digs in his/her heels there is no turning back or mind
changing allowed in this life, especially with Europeans.
Food and beverages are free on all international flights that I am aware of.
This has been airline industry standard practice since they started flying over
the ocean. Domestically the airlines have always charged for alcoholic
beverages but provided a free lunch in coach class. Everything has been *free*
in first class, but you really paid through the nose for that ticket.
The airlines have started charging for food on domestic flights, and have
raised the price for drinks to what you would pay at the Waldorf Astoria.
You may be on a domestic flight unless you live near a gateway city.
Then you pay for your own groceries, and you should expect good quality
with those prices. Recently I did not get what I expected. The brie was
hard and dry. I complained to the flight attendant when they came around
to pick up. The FA offered to refund my $7.00. As I was passing my empty
vodka bottle to her I suggested that she just give me another shot. She
happened to be working in the first class cabin where they pour it from
the big bottle. She came back with a glass full of my poison.
The New War
Thanks to deviates who try to hijack or bomb planes, everybody and
everything going on the plane is subject to several checks. This is nothing to fool
around with so just follow instructions and do as you are told. Your life and the lives
of many others depends on it. Fooling around with security can be a Federal felony
with prison time plus 5 figure fines.
It has become war since September 11, 2001. The attack on the United States
and on civilization has brought mass murder to a monstrous new level. While hundreds
of innocent people were killed on the planes, thousands more were killed at their desks
on that unbelievable morning. My personal experience with terrorist murder is in the
dedication to this book, with additional notes in chapter 1,
What's It All About?. The security
measures are designed to prevent another event, and so far millions of passengers have
flown without another successful attack. But there are plenty of devils still out there,
hiding and planning their next move. Be vigilant and call authority when you see
something out of the ordinary. There may not be time to call authority and the people
on the "shoe bomber" and the "underpants bomber" flights learned. Quick action by
passengers saved the lives of hundreds of people.
As you read this section you should realize that security checks take time.
There are hundreds of people on your plane and perhaps a dozen planes taking off
within a short period of time. Expect a line at each check point. Do not arrive at the
last minute. For international flights, airlines recommend that you arrive 2 to 3 hours
before flight time. Bring a book, a sandwich, and a beverage.
Your first security check happens when you walk up to the counter with your
ticket or boarding pass. You must show a photo ID. Your
checked luggage is subject to x-ray examination and/or hand search, either in your
presence or behind the wall. The x-ray equipment is very strong and will damage
undeveloped photo film, if you still use a film camera. In some airports and with some airlines you must wait near
the check-in counter until your bags are x-rayed or searched. Swabs and quick analysis
machines are used to detect the presence of bomb making chemicals.
For many years the check-in attendant would also ask you if you packed your
own bags and if you are carrying anything for anybody. This procedure was
discontinued in 2002. I think that this procedure should
have been retained. It is virtually innocuous and may trigger a reaction in one person
which one day will save a flight full of people. The questions make you think and cost
nothing compared to the massive security which is in every airport.
After leaving the check-in counter you proceed to your gate and encounter the
security check point on the way. The usual practice at security check is to place all of your carry-on items
in plastic bins on a belt which runs everything through an x-ray machine. The drill is:
--> Take your laptop out and put it in one of the plastic bins you see stacked at the beginning
of the belt.
--> Remove your one quart sack of liquids from your luggage and put it in a bin.
--> Take off your coat, shoes, and belt and put them in a plastic bin. Sometimes there is a
shoe horn and a chair available to help you get your shoes back on.
--> Empty your pockets, including your wallet, and put the contents in a plastic bin. I suggest
that you temporarily put your wallet and valuables in your cabin baggage while you are going
through security. Otherwise this small stuff can be exposed to everybody within eyesight and
you might be distracted or delayed by TSA just long enough for someone to make a heist
at the other end of the security belt. It happens.
--> On signal from the guard walk through the metal detector and/or body scanner. Follow orders
because the TSA people can do just about whatever they like. The United States
Constitution seems to be invalid at airport security.
Experts look at everything
on their screen. If there is something they don't recognize you are then requested to
open your bags for a hand search. There will be a small poster there
advising you what cannot be brought on board the plane, either in your carry-on
luggage or in your pockets. In my chapter 6,
Your Packing List for Europe,
is a complete run down on carry-on baggage and the carry-on rules.
Meanwhile, as your goods are going through the x-ray machine, you walk
through an open door device which checks you for metallic objects. This is not an
x-ray machine so don't worry about being zapped. Before you go through, you should
have emptied your pockets of coins, keys, and anything else made of steel, copper,
silver, etc. Some of these metal detector door devices are so sensitive that they will buzz for a dime.
I have been asked to go through as many as three times before passing without
sounding the alarm.
In 2011 I was drawn out of line and "requested" to hold my hands out palm up. Thereupon the TSA
guy swabbed my palms and put the swabs in a little machine. The first time this happened the machine
started flashing a message in red — "explosive material." Then they did a SEARCH. My bag was emptied and
all my electronic gizmos were removed and brought to another room. I was patted down real good and
all my pockets were searched. The process took about half an hour before they returned my gizmos and
let me board. I had the swab treatment again a few months later. This time the machine didn't flash
the "explosive material" message, but the process did take about 10 minutes on top of the 40 minutes
that I had to wait in the regular line.
Major airports are now equipped with special "x-ray" body scanner machines which can see through your clothes.
No further comment.
Even after going through without setting off the alarm, I have been searched a
number of times with a hand-held metal detector. More than that, I am usually given a police-type
frisking in Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport — arms up and a complete pat down. They
started doing that with me years before 9/11, and it has happened again again since then.
After passing through the metal detector and/or body scanner, you retrieve your pocket change,
eyeglasses, calculator, and other stuff you may have given to the attendant. Then you
retrieve your belongings which went on the belt under the x-ray eye. If you passed a
camera through the belt, you may be asked to open it and let the security guard look
through it. If you passed a laptop computer through, the security guard may wipe
parts of it and put the wipe cloth in a device which can detect certain substances.
With all the activity around the x-ray belt there is a danger of losing or forgetting
something. You've got those TSA blue shirt idiots giving commands, people in front of you
gathering up their stuff and putting their belts and shoes back on, and another row of gray
plastic boxes coming down the conveyor behind you. Your wallet and all of your ID,
boarding passes, credit cards, and cash are in one of your gray boxes. This is madness. Your home and
car keys are in there also along with your camera and laptop computer. Make sure you gather up
all your stuff before leaving the conveyor.
At the gate during boarding there is another check. Randomly selected people
are called aside and requested to go through a personal search of their carry-on bag
and their pockets. Some are asked to remove their shoes for further inspection.
Special Checks and TSA Insanity
At times of national emergencies, other measures may be enforced. During the
1991 Gulf War we had to take all the batteries out of our cameras, video recorders,
computers, and other devices and pack the batteries separately.
Amsterdam has always had tight security, with a possible final check at the boarding
gate. At one time, just before you board the plane, they had an additional procedure. There
were a dozen security officers in front of the gate. They interviewed everyone for about 5
minutes with plenty of questions and redundant questions to trip up the liars. They would
jump on anything out of the ordinary, like my changed ticket.
Recently I flew out of Houston and the TSA did something I've never experienced or seen before,
or even heard of. I was selected out of the line at security. Then they swabbed both sides
of both of my hands and put the swab in a machine. The machine reported back in red, "explosive material."
Thereupon I was padded up and down all the way and all of my carry-on stuff was examined.
They took all of my electronics into another room for further investigation. Should I be looking
for a bug in my cell phone? After a half hour of this crap I became an American again. Their explosive material machine
needs to go back to the drawing boards. It is a comic/tragic flop. Fortunately I had plenty of time before my flight.
Besides a bacon and egg sandwich that morning, the only thing I had handled was a freshly washed T-shirt
which I later discovered still had the aroma of the junk perfumes that P&G puts in their
detergents. I suggest that you wash your hands thoroughly before approaching the checkpoint of the TSA,
a.k.a. Too Stupid and Arrogant.
But I guess I don't have much to complain about compared to an incident in Florida a week after my event.
The TSA encountered a 95 year old wheelchair bound woman suffering terminal cancer. TSA was not satisfied until
they gave her the full pat down and removed her adult diaper. The official TSA spokesperson issued a
statement saying that everything was done according to
proper procedures. I think we are witnessing the birth of the American gestapo.
Another victory for TSA -- they opened and inspected my checked bag at Orange County, California
and broke the zipper. I had locked it with a wire tie but they did not re-lock the bag. They just put
a card in the bag saying they had to open it by law and blah, blah, blah.
Overall there seems to be more blue shirt TSAers than passengers in the airports, and half
of the TSAers are walking from point X to point Y with their coffee and donuts instead of checking the citizens
getting on the planes. If there was ever an organization that hired from the bottom of the
barrel TSA is it. If the TSA ever gets unionized God help us. President Reagan is not available.
The horror of TSA seems to never stop. In the last week of June 2011, another story hitting the news has it that
a Nigerian guy passed TSA security and even got on board a plane in New York using a day old boarding pass,
a five year old expired university ID, and a police report stating that his passport had been stolen.
The name on the boarding pass was different than the name on his university ID. Heck, university
ID is not even recognized as a valid identification for passing security. He was discovered
half way to Los Angeles when a flight attendant noticed that he was sitting in a seat that was supposed to be empty.
He was reported to Los Angeles FBI but released. After sleeping in the airport this crud attempted to board
another flight the next day and once again passed through TSA security with a day old boarding pass,
his university ID, and police report. At the gate he was prevented from boarding the plane. The FBI dug a little
deeper this time and found that he was carrying 10 fraudulent boarding passes.
In February 2013 the TSA made the national news again with an incident involving a 3 year old
wheelchair bound girl and her teddy bear. Allegations that the girl and her parents were
detained were denied by the TSA. The TSA further denied that a pat-down of the child had
taken place, though TSA admitted that the so-called officer at the gate "did initially mention a pat-down." The
TSA blog on their screw-up
further states "Incidents like this can trigger a lot of emotions, but please keep the TSA's mission in mind."
It would be well if the TSA could lead by example and know it's own mission.
By the way, videos of part of this incident were shown on national news programs. There is an urban myth that
it is illegal to take photos inside airports or at security points. In fact the TSA officer in the incident of the
three year old girl made a statement to that effect. The TSA has debunked that in their blog
Can I Take Photos at the
Checkpoint and Airport? So bring your camera or video recorder and be ready to shoot if you wish. But
if you see a sign banning photography along with a reference to a munincipal or state law, don't shoot. If
it ain't posted it ain't a law, unless the judge says otherwise.
For personal security, always seal your checked bags. I use a black wire tie to
secure the zipper to another zipper or strap ring. This prevents free-lance shopping by
airport personnel. A wire tie works better than any suitcase lock I've seen, and it is
inconspicuous. You have to cut it to get it off. Nail clippers work well, and are
allowed on the aircraft in your pocket.
Your airline may or may not give you a card before you board on which you
can write the name, address, and phone number of someone to contact in case of an
emergency or accident.Many airlines allow you to do this on their website before you go to the airport.
You have the option of declining.
ON THE PLANE
Seating on the plane is by assignment only. Your seat number is shown on your boarding pass. If,
after takeoff, you want to move to
another seat just get up and do it. If you see a seat that you particularly like, make
your move as soon as the doors are closed. I made the mistake of asking the
stewardess for an OK to move to another seat on a KLM flight. The hard headed Dutch flight attendant told
me to wait until the doors were locked, and later told me to wait until the fasten seat
belt sign was turned off. On other flights I just got up and changed seats with no
problem. On this KLM flight someone else did the same before the control freak
stewardess came back to me. Never again mister nice guy for me. Get up and change
seats and don't budge unless you are asked by the flight attendant.
Seats are numbered starting with row 1 in the very front of the plane. That is in
either first or business class. Across the plane, seats are lettered starting with A at the
port side (left side) window. If there are 8 seats across, as on many 747s, seat H is at the
starboard side window. If there are 10 across then K would be the window seat because
they normally don't use the letter I.
You can normally get a seat assignment when you buy your ticket on line rather
than waiting until you check-in. Since I suffer from acrophobia, I prefer the aisle. If
you want to look out the window, and control the window shade, request a window
seat. With a window seat you have to ask the person on the aisle to let you out when
you need to use the toilet. Conversely, on the aisle you are likely to have an occasional
nudge and an "excuse me" from your row mate. Teenagers sitting by the window like
to pole vault out to the aisle and are less likely to disturb you than if an older person
was sitting over there.
If you are a big person and want extra leg room, request a bulkhead seat or a
seat at an emergency exit door. Then you won't have a person in front of you leaning
his seat back and crushing your kneecaps. You won't have any problems getting out
for the pottie, or being disturbed by someone else wishing to go. I am 6'0" and can even cross my legs in the *preferred* exit row seats.
Seats in the emergency exit rows are only allowed to be used by people who can assist
the flight crew in an emergency. The flight attendant will ask if you are capable and willing
Seats in the emergency exit row are the best because there is extra leg room. The airlines have
begun charging extra for these seats. They are also above the wing, a quiter and smoother flying
place to be rather than in the back of the plane.
After getting to the departure gate, you will have to wait for your section to be
called before boarding. Planes are normally boarded in a standard order -- disabled
people, people with toddlers, first class, business class, and then tourist class. Tourist
class is boarded by rows, starting with the highest numbers which are in the back of
the plane. When the batch of rows including yours is called, snap to and get right up to
the attendant who is taking boarding passes and allowing people on the plane.
It's a good idea to be early on the plane. If you are first on for your row you
can put your carry-on luggage in the overhead bin. If others get there first and fill
it up with their stuff you will have to hunt around for a place to put your bag. You
might even be asked to check it in the luggage hold.
After everybody is seated and the doors are closed the flight attendants begin
the safety instruction. They show you how to buckle and unbuckle your seat belt. They
demonstrate the use of the emergency oxygen masks. They demonstrate the manner of
putting on, strapping down, and inflating the emergency flotation vest. They point out
the emergency exits. Sometimes the safety instruction is given over the video screens.
Most people seemingly have something more important to do than pay attention to the
safety lesson. Sad.
Most flights provide meals, anything from a mini baggie of sugared peanuts to a full
dinner and a breakfast depending on flight duration, time of day, and class of service. Chances are
that your eastbound trans-Atlantic flight will include dinner and/or lunch and/or breakfast. Meals on
international flights are not as bad as those on domestic flights,
except that I've never had a breakfast worth eating on any flight. Just before writing
this paragraph I had a nice lasagna for dinner, courtesy of KLM. Food and soft drinks
are free. Alcoholic beverages are free on trans-Atlantic flights, with seemingly no limit most
of the time. A stew on a 2008 KLM flight poured half of the 50 ml bottle for me and kept
the rest! I had never seen that. Later that year I flew Northwest (now Delta) to Paris. The
French guy next to me was ordering drinks two at a time. So did I. Five days later on my return
flight I had the same steward. He remembered me and just automatically gave me doubles
on every order. I should have tipped him. It is reported that some American carriers are now charging for beer,
wine, and spirits on international flights.
Flights within Europe are short and there is little time for regular service.
Sometimes there is a bin of bagged food in the gate area. It's self service. On a
morning flight from London to Amsterdam the flight attendants zipped through the
plane literally throwing a covered styrofoam plate in everybody's lap. Who wants
British food anyway?
European business class is a necessary sop for upper level employees, and a
joke. I have enjoyed it but for the short flights under two hours it is of dubious value.
During dinner on a flight from Brussels to Edinburgh, I turned around and
noticed that the tourist class was also sitting in six-across seats and appeared to be
enjoying a nice meal like us in business class. I asked the stewardess what the
difference was between business class and tourist class. She was taken aback for a
moment, then replied that we had a hot meal and theirs was cold. I asked if that was it
and she said that we also got champagne! That was a surprise because no champagne
When making airline reservations, inquire about the availability of special
meals. There is no extra charge for this service. For medical and religious reasons, all
airlines will provide special meals to passengers. They also offer a selection of plates
besides the normal chicken and beef. Children's meals are also available. I sat next to a
fellow from India who requested a Hindu meal. The stewardess should have had his
seat number on a list of special meals, but didn't mention it. So if it doesn't come out,
ask. The flight attendant probably has it but it may have the wrong seat number on it.
On one flight to Europe the only meats on-board were ham and pork. Several
people sitting near me asked for something different, but the flight attendant had
nothing else to offer. So, if there is something you'd rather not eat, let them know
before the plane is up above the clouds.
You must reserve special meals at the time you buy your ticket. It's too late
when you see the passenger next to you dive into a chilled seafood plate. He has the
only one on the plane.
Fortunately, most airlines are flying smoke free these days. But there is a
chance that you'll be on a flight with smoking allowed if you fly somewhere outside
Europe or the USA. If you are sensitive to smoke, request a seat in the middle of the no smoking
section. On one overseas flight I was in the
first no smoking row and the smoke wafted back for eleven hours. I and everybody
around me suffered from coughs and sneezes for the last half of the flight.
If you want to listen to the recorded music or the sound track of the on-board
movie, use a headset provided by the airline. Headsets are normally free on
trans-Atlantic flights and you are invited to take it with you when you get off. The darn
things are virtually worthless so I won't be doing that again. I'll let the airline throw it
During take-off and landing all electronic devices must be turned off. In the air,
laptop computers and game devices may be operated. Using mobile phones and other
communications devices is prohibited during flight. On a recent domestic flight the fellow sitting
next to me had a GPS. It was interesting watching that and looking out the window
to see where we were.
Tourist class passengers are treated to a recent release from Hollywood. I just
watched an old Christmas episode from "Cheers" with Sam Malone and his merry
gang where everybody knows your name. You might also see a rebroadcast of the BBC or CNN news, plane route maps
and information, and a video clip describing the country you are about to land in.
Games and music are also available. The
absolute worst video clip I ever saw was on a KLM flight from Amsterdam to
Manama, Bahrain. The flight was on New Years Eve and the video showed
celebrations around the world. While the video was showing all that champagne
bubbling down the gullets of happy folks everywhere on the planet, our plane was
sitting on the tarmac in Kuwait. We were dry because Kuwait is a "dry" country. It
was a New Years Eve not to be forgotten, like my last bug in the eye. Another thing I
didn't like about that flight was the part where we flew along the southern border of
Iraq, very low and very slow on the Saudi Arabian side of the line in the sand. That
was between the two Gulf Wars.
Business and First Class passengers are normally provided with an individual
video screen on their arm rest. You can watch any of several movies or rock concerts
or whatever else, and switch channels just as if you were at home.
Climate on Board
International flights pass through air that is about 60 below zero and extremely
dry. Sometimes the inside air can feel almost as cold. Bring a sweater on board if you
have thin blood. Ask for an extra blanket if you need it.
To avoid dehydration drink plenty of your favorite beverage. I don't go along
with those people who say drink juices and water and avoid alcoholic drinks. I don't
drink fruit juices unless they have been fermented first. Fruit juices are full of fructose
and I'm sweet enough already. Alcoholic beverages, especially red wine, help warm you
up, are excellent relaxants, and have been found to benefit your heart.
In the pocket attached to the back of the seat in front of you is the current
issue of the airline's on-board magazine. These magazines normally have a few good
articles, schedules of movies on-board, maps of the carrier's system, a duty free
shopping catalog, crossword puzzles, beaucoup plenty of advertisements, and a coupon
for joining the airline's frequent flyer program. Join. It's free and you can get free
What's Down Below
If you want to know what is down below on the ground check out the maps in the
on-board magazine. You might be able to figure it out. These maps show big arcs from
city to city, not straight lines. To understand why, use a globe and a piece of string to
locate the shortest route between your departure and arrival cities. You'll see that a
flight from Los Angeles to Amsterdam flies further north than one from New York to
Amsterdam. You could also bring a GPS but it probably won't do much for you when you
get out over the Atlantic.
On the plane, keep a note of the expected landing time. If you have an alarm
watch (see chapter 6,
Your Packing List for Europe), set it for about one hour before
arrival. When the alarm rings, get in line at the toilets for a pit stop. Toilets get awfully
busy just before landing, and the bumps start as the plane descends through the clouds.
Sometimes people get injured as they are standing in line if the plane goes through rough
Please see chapter 24,
Shipping Your Treasures Home from Europe and chapter 6
Your Packing List for Europe
, for regulations about checked
and carry-on baggage. One potentially important point is that baggage allowances
within Europe are less than they are for trans-Atlantic flights. Check with your airlines.
Take Off Time
When you make your reservations keep in mind that you are normally required to check in about
three hours in advance of flight time for international flights. Add to this the time it
takes to get to the airport. When flying from the USA to Europe this can be managed easily,
especially if you have taken my advice to fly on an evening flight to help avoid jet lag.
When coming home many people opt for a mid-morning flight, say 10 AM. This requires you to
be at the airport by 7 AM and probably to leave your hotel by 6 AM. Your options for transportation
will be limited and you may need to take an expensive taxi. Choose a mid-afternoon flight if
one is available.
Regardless of which airline you choose, check your ticket or boarding pass immediately and
thoroughly on receipt. Everything on it means something, and if you do not understand
it, ASK! It's YOUR trip and mistakes are against YOUR good times for which you
cannot be refunded, even if you do get all of your money back, which you probably
won't. Consider yourself fallible and the one you are dealing with as fallible and get
slightly, temporarily, paranoid. Mistakes are especially likely when you are making
changes. Make sure that not less and not more than you intended was changed. Check
and recheck. And when dealing overseas with someone who does not speak American
English or speaks it with an accent, write down your intentions. This will reduce the
chance of an error, but it will not eliminate it.
If you decide to go by way of a package tour, know what you are buying. Read
all the terms and conditions to make sure that you and the tour are in harmony.
Compare what you are getting with what you will need to spend. See chapter 2,
On Budget in Europe for
a list and descriptions of expense items. Ask for clarification in writing for all
generalizations, maybes, and obfuscations. Good luck.
Airport Code Letters
Every airport in the world has a three character alpha code. For example, Los Angeles is LAX and Amsterdam
Every "flight" is assigned a flight number by the airline. This includes two
letters designating the name of the airline company and 2 to 4 numbers for their flight
number, for example, XY1234.
A flight may be non-stop or it may stop along the way in various cities. For
best use of your time select a non-stop flight. Multiple stop itineraries usually offer
more economical travel, and more frequent flyer miles. You may have more than one flight number and ticket. This
would normally mean that you get off and board another flight in a city along the way.
Sometimes a single flight can have two flight numbers when it is on a route
served by partner airlines. For example, over the years one of my favorite flights to
Europe was on KL602, non-stop Los Angeles to Amsterdam on KLM Royal Dutch
Airlines. This was also flight NW8602 in the Northwest Airlines schedule. Same plane,
The most unusual code sharing I have seen is with American Airlines and the
Thalys. American Airlines does not fly to Brussels, but has a code share with the
Thalys between Paris and Brussels. Thus, if you book an AA flight to Brussels you'll
be flying into Paris and then taking the high speed train to Brussels, designated as
AA7395 with aircraft type TGV. TGV is the French designation for high speed train.
The Brussels airport city code is a strange one, ZYR for the Brussels Midi train
station. You probably want to go to the Brussels Central station so hop on the next
local train to the center of the city.
"Equipment" is airline jargon for the type of airplane. Most international
airlines fly "jumbo jets" — the Boeing 747 or 767, DC-10, or Airbus 300 series.
Formerly they also used the Lockheed TriStar L-1011, which is, in my judgment, the
nicest riding plane ever built. But it is a gas guzzler so you don't see this one very
often, unless you are flying in Saudi Arabia. If I ever become a billionaire I'll buy a
TriStar and learn to drive it. The big birds are definitely more comfortable than the
smaller planes on those long overseas flights.
Some carriers put more seats on a plane than others. I have been on budget
domestic flights with five rows of seats jammed in where there were just four
windows. There was virtually no room for my knees. It is reported that this is also
done on some international charter flights. So if you're a big person you might want to
check on this before buying a low cost ticket for a ten hour flight.
This probably applies to only a few large city airports. In Los Angeles, for
example, there is a separate international terminal, yet not all international flights arrive
at or depart from the Bradley International Terminal. There is a similar situation in
Detroit. Paris, London, and other large European airports have more than one terminal.
Check with your travel agent to determine which terminal your flight departs
from and returns to before you head for the airport. Getting lost in a big airport
minutes before your flight time is just no fun.
INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT FACILITIES
More Than at Home
International airports offer a number of facilities not normally seen in US
domestic airports. Of course, you will nearly always find bars, restaurants, car rentals, gift
shops, ATM machines, and newsstands.
Duty Free Shopping
After obtaining a boarding pass you can browse through the "duty free shops."
Items featured are usually luxury goods, alcohol, and tobacco. You cannot use the
duty free shops when you land. They are only for departing passengers.
Many airlines also offer duty free shopping while you are on board. There will
probably be a catalog of items in your seat pocket or there will be a duty free section
in the in-flight magazine. If you don't want to buy and don't want to be disturbed ask
the flight attendant to skip you before you fall asleep.
Before there were ATM machines there were banks. Remember those? Most
international airports have a bank which primarily serves as a money exchange office.
When you land get enough local currency to get you to a bank in town where you will
probably receive a better exchange rate for your dollars. If you have an ATM card use
it in a machine at the airport and extract the cash you will need for the next few days.
Some airports offer baggage check rooms and/or luggage lockers. For
example, Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport has short term lockers and long term attended
luggage storage on the lowest level of the terminal. It's very convenient. This is on the
"land side" of security. Schiphol also has luggage lockers in the secure area.
If you like to watch the planes taking off and landing, most airports have an
outdoor deck or restaurant area to accommodate you.
Major airlines have exclusive lounges at many airports. You must join at a ridiculous
annual price or be invited. The facilities usually include free WiFi, free drinks,
munchies, and sometimes more substantial food. Because I am one of Delta Airlines'
frequent flyers with a lot of miles Delta has given me several free passes to the
Delta Sky Clubs over the past few years. That is nice of them. On one flight to
Detroit I got into a conversation with the fellow getting off in front of me. He
was a member and invited me to the club where we had a good time and met a bunch
of other frequent flyers. That was nice of him.
Note that the WiFi hotspot range sometimes extends beyond the door of the club.
If you want to grab some free internet time sit near a club and see if you can log
on. I've done this while waiting for a delayed flight.
Many European airports are connected to the city center by local or
international trains. If you have a Eurailpass you can start using it to get to town right
from the airport. If you are staying there for a few days you might want to pay for a
ticket to extend the validity of your Eurailpass and not waste a day on a short hop.
Other Ground Transportation
In addition to direct train service in many cities, European airports are served
by taxis, metro lines, city buses, hotel buses, and/or airline buses. There is always a
way to get to your hotel. Options are not as plentiful early in the morning or late at
night. Keep this in mind when you make your reservations.
DEEP VEIN THROMBOSIS, DVT
The information in this section is paraphrased from the web site of the Alaska
Department of Health. This is not meant to be medical advice, and is surely not
complete. Studies continue on DVT. For more information see your doctor. Do not
What is DVT?
DVT is clotting in the veins of the legs. It has been known for decades that this
condition can happen when taking long haul air flights like those you will make in
crossing the Atlantic. However, there is no proof that flying per se is a cause of DVT
because DVT is fairly common in the general population, affecting approximately one
in 2,000 people. DVT is associated primarily with sitting in one position for many
hours. Wheelchair bound patients are susceptible. There are a
number of other contributory factors having to do with advanced
age, family history, pregnancy, recent hip or knee operations, and your personal health
history regarding blood clotting.
DVT is a life threatening condition. The clots can break loose in the leg veins and float along
to lodge in the lungs, This causes pulmonary embolus, PE. This can cause the lungs to
collapse followed by heart failure. If the floating clot lodges in your heart it can be
heart failure pretty quick as your pump muscles quit.
The first symptom of DVT is a sharp pain in one leg. You may have swelling,
tenderness, or redness, especially in the upper calf. The condition frequently occurs
after the flight, sometimes days later. The symptoms of subsequent PE are
breathlessness and chest pain.
The obvious and easiest way of reducing the risk of DVT is to get some
exercise on the plane. In-your-chair isometrics, deep breathing, bending, and foot
massage every hour or so would be good. Many frequent travelers, including me, take
a hike around the plane every once in a while. You never know who you will see on
Diet and medication can also be considered. Some people advocate aspirin for
its reported anti-thrombotic properties. This is held in dispute by others. Some people
advocate one or more of the aspirin substitutes. Avoiding excessive alcohol
consumption and drinking plenty of water are also suggested. Wearing elastic
stockings is reportedly helpful.
There are some public advocacy groups which blame the close seating in
tourist class for DVT. There is no room to move around in the seat — you can't even
cross your legs unless you are under 10 years of age. A few airlines show in-flight
videos discussing DVT and how to prevent it. Most airlines do not mention it.
You may have heard of jet lag as one of those late-night "comedians" interviewed a well-traveled "starlet" on
his program. However, it is real.
Jet lag is a discomfort caused by your body's attempts to move all of its daily functions ahead or behind in
accordance with the number of time zones you have crossed. For example, at 5 PM in Los Angeles, it is 8 PM in
New York, and 1 AM in London. A nonstop flight departing Los Angeles at noon arrives in London at 11 PM Los
Angeles time, just about bed time. But it will be 7 AM in London. Your body wants to sleep. It's certainly not ready
for breakfast, much less a British breakfast, and a day at the Tower followed by a night on the town.
For flights to Europe it is a big help if you are able to sleep on the eastbound
flight. Sleep will be difficult if you are crammed into an undersized seat with oversized
persons jammed in on both sides and pigging the armrests. It can be getting
uncomfortable in six hours, but you may have four more to go. And when you can't
get your mind off your discomfort, you can't relax and sleep.
In going to Europe I have found it helpful to get on a plane after having had
only a couple hours of sleep the night before. I am a procrastinator and a last-minute man.
I am usually up very late the night before a flight to Europe packing my bag.
It is also helpful, especially when flying from the eastern time zone, to fly as
late in the evening as possible. Flying from Detroit, for example, you can depart at about
4 PM and arrive in Amsterdam at 6 AM the next morning. That corresponds to midnight in Detroit where
your body clock is still residing. You are past your bedtime but the world around you
is just waking up. Instead, you can take a later flight at about 11 PM from Detroit
which arrives in Amsterdam at about 1 PM the next afternoon. You are pretty sure of
getting at least a few hours of good sleep on the late plane because it is flying during
your normal sleep time. You'll arrive much more refreshed than if you take the
I think that this prevention is far and away the best cure. I haven't had jet lag
since I started using the late night flights to Europe about ten years ago.
Adding to your discomfort when arriving early morning in Europe is the
probability that you will not be able to check into your hotel until noon. One way to
shake off the initial effects of jet lag is to take a good hot shower and change your
clothes. If you are scheduling an early arrival then also schedule an early check-in.
No quick fix has yet been found. The only cure for jet lag is time. The common
rule of thumb is that it takes approximately one day to cure each time zone traversed. I
would say that this is for a complete cure. You will be almost normal in one third of
this time, depending on how you behave and on the direction in which you are
There is some dispute among sufferers whether it is easier to recuperate when
going east or when going west. I find the adjustment easier when traveling from
Europe to America. The entire flight westbound is during daylight and you arrive only
a few hours later than you departed, by local clock time, even though the actual flight
time can be half a day. It is equivalent to staying up way past your normal bedtime
though you have a whole night to catch up on your sleep. But it sometimes hits me a
couple of days later.
There is a "drug" which reportedly can reduce the effects of jet lag. It is widely
available on the internet. Please consult your doctor before using this substance.
Surviving Jet Lag
On arrival after a six to ten hour flight, you can expect to be a bit edgy and
hypersensitive, but not necessarily tired. You'll be just blah blah and feeling like you
have a mild flu. Struggle through the day to stay awake until the right local sleeping
time. This forces your body to begin getting in step with local time. You will awaken
often during the first night, and probably won't sleep at all if you dozed off during the
first day. Falling asleep during your first day will prolong your jet lag by at least a day.
One of my worst episodes left me feeling hung over for several days. That's not a good way
to spend your Paris vacation time. Don't sleep and don't even nap on your first day.
On the second day, you will feel OK in the morning, but become extremely
drowsy in the middle of the afternoon. You will be sleepy that evening, but get only a
restless sleep, probably waking several times. Have a big pasta dinner to help you sleep
through the night.
After your first two brutal days in Europe, the third day will feature a marked
increase in your comfort. Tiredness will set in during the afternoon. Stay up until at
least 10 PM so that you won't wake up before 4 AM.
By the fourth day you will have forgotten that you had jet lag. Keep moving
and have a wild night. That's all.
If you want to refer back to this topic, bookmark it, or send a link to your friends use
this Jet Lag Link to
get back here in a click.
UNACCOMPANIED MINOR, UM
What is UM?
Children from about 5 years and up can travel alone. The minimum age
depends on the airline. It's called Unaccompanied Minor status, UM for short. We
have flown Stephanie unaccompanied to Italy almost every year since she was 7. She
has made over 15 trans-Atlantic flights on her own, plus a number of additional legs within
Europe and the USA. Initially we flew her on non-stop flights from Los Angeles to
Milan where her aunt lives. Starting when she was 10 she began making connections
with the assistance of airline personnel. Alitalia has discontinued its non-stop
LAX-MXP service forcing her to make connections for the future. But Stephanie is 25 now
and is an accomplished international traveler. In addition to her annual Italian getaway she
has recently spent 6 weeks studying Spanish in Salamanca, Spain. While she was there she
thought it would be fun to get in a bull ring with a
Then she lived in Paris for a month while attending the Alliance Française.
Hmmm, that's where Mommy met Daddy. Find Stephanie's blog
of her trip at O hey Europe.
Stephanie was so eager for her first solo UM trip to Italy that she ran down the ramp before we
knew it. We had to get the gate assistant to bring her back so I could take her photo, and so we could
give her a good-bye hug and kiss. Here she is
at seven years old wearing her Alitalia UM red-striped badge and satchel for her passport,
ticket, and other important documents.
Back to UM. The procedures are rather simple. The airline needs to know certain
information about the identity of the person who is bringing the child to the airport and
the person who is picking him/her up. Names, address, relationships, and telephone
numbers are needed. A chain of custody is made so that at the end of the trip you will
know who was responsible for your child at all times.
To pick up the child, the receiving adult must present a passport
or other official identification.
Airline personnel help with boarding at airports. Non-passengers are prohibited
beyond the first control point which is still a mile from the security and passport check
points. The boarding area makes up most of the airport. Therefore you have to leave
your kid in the hands of the airline for over an hour before flight time. Amsterdam's
Schiphol Airport has a kid play zone so they won't get bored. I've flown Stephanie
from Schiphol to Malpensa in Milan and to Heathrow in London, each time signing her
away long before flight time.
Though non-stop service is certainly better, faster, and safer, you can not tell
the airline where to land. The child may need to make a connection. Stephanie has
connected in Chicago with United Airlines, London with British Air, in Paris with Air
France, and in Frankfurt with Lufthansa. Everything normally went OK, except she
mentioned that the fellow from Air France was not too well informed or prepared for
his assignment. He left Stephanie and three other kids waiting alone while he returned
somewhere to get a key for a locked door, whereupon a couple of stewardesses
started asking the kids some questions, in French. Duh? The fellow came back and all
went OK for her continuing flight to Geneva where I was living at the time. On
another connection, Lufthansa lost her bag in Frankfurt but got it to her in Milan
the next day. Nothing unusual about that. But she was very upset that the stewardess
did not wake her up for breakfast on the leg to Milan. Even though Stephanie woke up
during the food service she was not given any breakfast. In my experience, Lufthansa
crew are the second least helpful of any airline except Iberia.
Unaccompanied minors wear an envelope on a string around their neck. This has their
passport and flight documents. Air France also put a small tag on her dress.
No Last Flight
Scheduling a child for UM status is slightly
more difficult than for making adult reservations.
Generally, airlines will not allow a child to make a
connection if the flight they are connecting to is the
last flight of the day from a connecting city. Some
airlines will allow this if the child is at least 12, or 15,
or some other minimum age and flying UM. Some
airlines with only one flight a day from an American gateway city will allow a UM to
make the connection to Europe because international flights are rarely canceled.
Make sure you order the "kids meal" for the UM flight. If not you will discover
that Air France does not serve French fries and that kids don't necessarily like French
food. But, Stephanie says, the deserts are superb.
The international airlines charge extra for UM status if a connection is required. This is to offset
the cost of extra staff who are guiding your little angel to the next flight. It
is generally priced per flight leg. Making a connection means two legs.
Besides what is required by the rules and regs of the airlines you want to provide your kid with
enough documentation that he or she will not be stranded in the hands of a foreigner who "no speeka
da ingrish," just in case. I always provided Stephanie with a one page sheet containing copies of
her passport and air ticket. I also included complete contact information for her in Europe and back home,
our insurance policy name and number, and assurances that we would pay whatever wasn't covered by
the policy in case she had an accident or got sick. I had this notarized and signed it. Stephanie carried
a copy with her at all times. She never needed this as far as I know, but that is OK by me.
Things change in the travel business, especially airline things. Also, every airline does things their
own way. If you are considering using UM services for your child contact your airline ASAP to get
clued in on their procedures. Follow thier instructions to the letter. Stephanie had many succesful trips
as a UM on many airlines and there is no reason why your child can't enjoy the same.
If you want to refer back to this topic, bookmark it, or send a link to your friends use
this unaccompanied minor link to
get back here in a click.
NOTE TO READERS
I welcome questions and comments. If you have any concerns about your trip to
Europe that have not been covered well enough in this chapter do not hesitate to write and ask.
My email address is
When you write please include as much detail as possible. There are about 50 countries in Europe.
It will help me answer if you mention the countries and/or cities you plan to visit.
I will reply in a day or two.
Don't forget to scroll through the Table of Contents below. The other 29 chapters of
HOW TO EUROPE
are also available, free to read on line. In addition, the Google search box below can locate specific subjects
in any chapter or page on site.
For a check-off punchlist of everything go to The Finale,
Packing List and Last Call: For Travel in Europe.
If you know of someone else who would appreciate reading this web page please send
the URL link to him or her. To easily do that, click your "File" tab in the tool bar and scroll down to
"Send" or "Send Link." Your friend will thank you, and I thank you.
To bookmark this page type Ctrl D.
To support this site, please buy your goods at:
The Amazon Store
Shop in your shorts!
links in this green field take you directly to a page at Amazon.com.
That page details the item, and in some cases includes candid and critical comments
from others who have bought the item.
pays my site a
small commission when you click and order an item, if you put it in your shopping
cart within 24 hours based on the cookie they set on your computer. If you don't
want to make a quick decision just put it in your shopping cart, think it over,
and come back later. You benefit when buying here because Amazon.com
has a 20% to 30% discount on many items plus a free shipping
deal. The third bonus is that there is no sales tax on internet purchases in
most states. Delivery is fast
even when it is free, and returns are easy if you are not happy with the product.
You win we win. Thanks for your support!!
Have a good trip in life,
Note: Italicized notations by the author.
It rains. Be prepared.
Totes Titanium Auto-Open/Close Umbrella
Weather protection is important. This is a great lightweight water repellent windbreaker.
Turfer Women's Featherweight Jacket
Look sharp and be comfortable.
Hot Chillys Women's Peach Skins Solid T-Neck Shirt
London Fog Women's Double Breasted Trench Coat
Clarks Women's Wave.Run Slip-On
Tilley Endurables TH9 Women's Hemp Hat
Wear a scarf for comfort and style. Nobody will ever suspect that you are an American.
Very soft houndstooth neck scarf, Kanye West style, different colors available
I wore one similar to this on my early spring trip to London and Dublin.
Leather Bomber Jacket
My "standard" shirt for off-season travel in Europe.
Kingsize Big & Tall Turtleneck Long-Sleeve Cotton Shirt
My favorite T-shirt/undershirt has a pocket for securely carrying passport, cash, and credit cards.
Hanes Heavyweight Tagless Pocket Tee
Weather protection and extra pockets.
SCOTTEVEST Travel Vest for Men
SCOTTEVEST Travel Vest for Women
New Casual Grey Herringbone Wool Cap
Walk on cork for all day comfort.
Birkenstock Bali Sandal
Birkenstock Arizona Sandal
Just as comfortable as tennies but look great. I've gone through several pairs over the years.
For leg comfort on the plane.
Arriva Travel-Tec Travel Legwear with Smart Compression Technology
To relax and sleep on the plane.
Organic Valerian Root 515mg - 100 - Capsule
Rolling luggage sure beats lugging a pack on your back.
Delsey Luggage Helium Fusion Light 21 Inches Expandable Carryon
Day luggage for your walkabout.
Travelpro Luggage WalkAbout LITE 4 Deluxe Tote
Here is a convenient travel purse.
Rothco Venturer Travel Portfolio Bag
Keep your stuff organized.
Luggage Packing Cubes
eBags 3pc Set
eBags Small Packing Cubes - 3pc Set
Wear a money belt under your shirt to protect your passport and valuables, especially if you are
staying in hostels or dorms.
Victorinox Deluxe Concealed Security Belt
An RFID blocking wallet protects your passport and credit cards from identity theft in public places.
Travelon RFID Blocking Passport Case
This portable combo door stopper and alarm will give you additional security in your hotel room.
GE 50246 Smart Home
Door Stop Alarm
The two gallon size is excellent for packing your clothes, but it is hard to find in Europe.
Two gallon plastic bags
ZipLoc by SC Johnson
This carry-on liquids kit meets TSA airline rules.
Eagle Creek Travel Gear Pack-It Custom Travel Bottle Set
Make sure that your electrical appliances are 110-220 dual voltage so they will work in Europe.
These appliances require a plug adapter(s), NOT a converter, for the countries you are visiting.
Vagabond Compact Styler
Conair's Dual-Voltage Ionic Hair Dryer
Conair Flat Iron 2" Ceramic Straightener
Travel Hair Setter
SteamFast SF-717 Home-and-Away Mini Steam Iron (dual voltage)
Braun Series 1 150 Men's Shaver with Automatic Worldwide Voltage Adjustment
For light sleepers here is an international "white noise" machine. Includes a Continental
Marsona TSCi-330 White Noise Travel Sound Conditioner For both USA and International Use
For coffee or tea in your room, without waiting or paying for room service.
Lewis N. Clark Immersion Heater 120/240V
Starbucks makes the best instant coffee I have found, and these little packets cost only 58¢ each
in the 50 unit box. That's a bargain in the USA and an absolute steal anyplace in Europe.
Starbucks VIA Ready Brew Coffee, available in House Blend, Colombia, Italian, and Italian Decaf roasts.
Be on time. Trains and planes don't wait.
Casio Men's G-Shock Ana-Digi Chronograph Sport Watch
Casio Women's BLX100-1 Baby-G Multi-Function Digital Black Resin Sport Watch
To help find your way on the winding and poorly posted roads of Europe.
Lensatic Military Marching Compass
You will need one or more of these plug adapters for your appliances and chargers.
For details on electricity in Europe see chapter 11,
Electricity in Europe: Travel Voltage Fundamentals
Plug Adapter (doubler)
Universal to Continental Europe "Europlug."
4.0 mm prongs
SIMRAN PLUG ADAPTER
Adapts grounded USA plugs to European "Shucko" plug.
4.8 mm prongs
This is a universal plug adapter for the UK and Ireland.
Grounded Adaptor Plug for Britain and Ireland
This series of "3-Pack" Ceptics brand grounded universal plug adapters is handy if you are carrying multiple
gizmos or if you have travel companions who also need a charge.
Britain and Ireland
This 110-250 volt power surge strip has three universal outlets and an American grounded plug
so it needs a plug adapter for the countries you are visiting.
Make sure your gizmos are rated for 110-240 volts.
SM-60 Universal 3 Outlet Power Strip Surge Protector for Worldwide Travel. 110V-250V with Overload Protection.
For charging up to six gizmos at a time use this 250 volt universal
power strip. It comes with a grounded Continental plug.
6 Universal Outlets
220/240 Volt 50/60Hz
This transformer rated for 200 watts will power many of your appliances if they are only rated for 120 volts.
Transformer - 200 Watt Non Grounded Heavy Duty
OK, this is the elephant. If you are moving over and taking your electric saw, planer, drill, etc. I recommend it.
Transformer - 1000 Watt Non Grounded Heavy Duty
Absolutely the best battery for digital cameras which use AA batteries.
AA Lithium Batteries
Rechargeable batteries are expensive but pay for themselves over and over.
This charger is good for worldwide voltage and comes with 4 pre-charged batteries.
It requires a plug adapter for the countries you are visiting.
Sanyo SEC-MQN064 Eneloop 4 Pack AA NiMH Pre-Charged Rechargable Batteries
with Worldwide 110-240 volt charger
This kit includes a pair of rechargeable batteries with a USB powered charger.
SANYO NEW 1500 eneloop 2-AA Ni-MH Pre-Charged Rechargeable Batteries
w/ USB Charger
Wash in your room basin and save time, trouble, and money.
Woolite Laundry Soap
20 packs, ¼ oz. each
Inflatable clothes hangars help with drip dry clothes washed in your room.
Inflatable Travel Laundry Hangers Set Of 4 by Whitney Design
The two gallon size is excellent for packing your clothes, but it is hard to find in Europe.
2 gal. clear plastic bags
ZipLoc by SC Johnson
Much stronger than duct tape and doesn't leave that gummy residue.
1" x 60 yards
3M Company #8957-1
The essential timetable and handbook for rail travelers.
European Rail Timetable
A comprehensive guide to 3,000 hotels and restaurants in 44 major cities throughout Europe, in English.
Separate books in the Michelin Red series cover individual countries in greater detail. This is a must have
for frequent travelers.
Main Cities of Europe 2013
This will come in very handy very often.
Bring home the memories.
Olympus FE360 8MP Digital Camera with 3x Optical Dual Zoom (Silver)
I just bought one of these. What a dandy of a camera! It includes a GPS that automatically sets
the internal clock depending on which time zone you are in. You'll
always know where and when you took the shot.
Panasonic Lumix ZS20 14.1 MP High Sensitivity MOS Digital Camera with 20x Optical Zoom
A camera case protects your LCD screen.
Case Logic ECB-1 EVA Compact Camera Case (Black/Red)
This is the camera that I use,
Nikon D60 10.2MP Digital SLR Camera (Body Only)
with this amazing lens,
Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 G ED-IF AF-S VR [Vibration Reduction] DX Lens
and this filter.
HOYA 72mm Circularizing Polarizing Filter
Adorama SMALL 4001
Sony DCR-DVD610 DVD Handycam Camcorder with 40x Optical Zoom
Block the light and noise while flying.
Bucky Shades Sleep Mask
Certainly a better pillow than the corporate issue on the plane.
Bucky Fuzzy Wuzzy U Pillow With Snap & Go
Who wrote this?
Home and general index.