It's Still the Same Old Story

By Cindy Loose
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 4, 2007

Lucky thing the Coming and Going desk is sturdy, or it would collapse from the accumulated weight of readers' travel problems. But after seven years of sifting through complaints and accounts of disasters, I rarely find a problem that's surprising and unique. Instead, they're mostly variations on recurring themes. Here are 10 common problems CoGo keeps hearing about from frustrated travelers, and tips on how to keep them from happening to you.

1. Trying to get a refund on a prepaid trip.

Example: I'm scheduled to leave tomorrow for a biking trip through Asia, but I broke my leg and can't go. Can you help me get back the $10,000 I paid the tour operator?

Cancellation policies for prepaid travel products such as tours, cruises and hotels are virtually unassailable, no matter how sad or tragic your circumstances. If you can't bear to lose the money, you need travel insurance.

A good travel agent can help you wade through the nuances and contingencies of different policies, and sites such as ( and ( have comparison charts. Either way, personally review the fine print.Tip: If you're worried your travel provider could go out of business, don't buy your bankruptcy coverage through them.

A fairly broad insurance policy will cost between 5 and 7.5 percent of your trip cost, although the older you are, the more it will cost. There are rare "cancel for any reason" policies available; they typically cost about twice as much as policies that cover specific contingencies.

2. Having perfectly innocent items confiscated in the airport security line.

Example: The security agents at the airport confiscated the pumpkin pie in my carry-on. I read the rules at the Transportation Security Administration Web site about bringing liquids, gels and aerosols on board, and they mentioned nothing about pies.

Transportation Security Administration officials can't list everything, says spokeswoman Amy Kudwa, so here's the rule of thumb: "If you can pour it, pump it, spray it, squeeze it, spread it, smear it or spill it," then you probably can't take it on board unless it fits in a three-ounce container and is placed in one quart-size plastic bag with a zip top. She adds, "If in doubt, leave it out." For further details, and to learn about exceptions for such things as baby food and contact lens solution, go to

You can, by the way, bring on board liquids and gels, including bottles of water or containers of yogurt, bought inside the secure area of a U.S. airport.

3. Not being allowed to bring duty-free liquor through airport security.

Example: I bought a $100 bottle of Scotch from a duty-free shop at the London airport, and they let me take it on board. But when I changed planes in Dallas, they seized it.

CONTINUED     1                 >

© 2007 The Washington Post Company