In response to the earthquake that rocked northwestern Turkey last week, the U.S. State Department has issued a public announcement suggesting that Americans headed there "monitor local media for further developments regarding the earthquake." The country's Mediterranean and Aegean coastlines and Cappadocia were not affected. "Old" Istanbul suffered no visible damage, and all tourist sites in the city remain fully functional, although telephone service has been sporadic.
Cruise lines with ships scheduled to call at Istanbul, such as Renaissance, Seabourn and Orient Lines, are not re-routing itineraries at this time. "We have cruisers there as we speak and they are carrying on with sightseeing as usual,"Orient Lines president Deborah Natansohn said Wednesday.
Details: U.S. State Department, 202-647-5225, http://travel.state.gov; Turkish Tourism Office, 202-612-6740, www.turkey.org; American Embassy in Ankara Web site, www.usis-ankara.org.tr.
Travelers' Rights 101
One Passenger's Saga: The Internet as Weapon
Course Description: Battling Air Rage Via the Internet.
Synopsis: Patty Lyons, a Chicago theatrical stage manager, flew Air France round trip to Rome in June. On the return flight, which connected through Paris, she clocked 35 mistakes by the airline that she says resulted in missed connections, lost luggage, erroneous information and disrupted schedules.
Upon returning to Chicago, a day late, she filed a complaint with the airline, requesting a full refund of the $1,778 she spent for two tickets. Lyons also asked for compensation for her companion's missed workday and reimbursement for long-distance calls to the airline's offices. When numerous follow-up attempts failed to garner swift action from the airline, she turned to the Internet.
Tactics: Lyons posted her correspondence with Air France on America Online's travel message board, urging other dissatisfied fliers to contact the airline. She contacted travel newsgroups on the Internet and Web sites that traffic in traveler complaints, such as www.airtravelcomplaints.com and www.ticked.com. She e-mailed her litany of problems to 84 news organizations, including The Washington Post. Through www.passengerrights.com, she filed her complaint not only with Air France but also with the Federal Aviation Administration, the American Society of Travel Agents and Sen. John McCain's committee on transportation.
Lyons faxed responses she got -- as of this week, she says she's received more than 350 e-mails -- to Air France executives on a near-daily basis.
Results: Lyons received from Air France two $500 and two $150 nonrefundable flight coupons, plus $105 for cab fare and the missed workday. The airline agreed to pay $16 toward her long-distance calls.
But Lyons is measuring success in more ways than her refund. "I wanted not only my money back, but to try to effect some little change in an industry that seems routinely to run roughshod over its passengers."
Air France spokesman Dean Breest says the airline will not capitulate to Lyons's demand for a full refund, no matter how many people she influences through her Internet campaign. "We responded to her and apologized," he said.
Bottom Line: Does the Internet as a vehicle of communication persuade companies to act in a different way? "We always take customer comments seriously," maintains Breest. "At the end of the day, if we don't provide the right service at the right price, the customer will choose another airline." But ignoring the power wielded by Internet users could be costly, if Lyons's calculations are accurate. "Of the 350 e-mails I got, I pulled out 37 travelers who used the words `I will never fly Air France.' "
For details on Lyons's Internet campaign, go to www.airtravelcomplaints.com; click on "view complaints," then search Air France. Lyons's complaint is numbered atc7219001.
Rental Car Blues: Cities Get Richer as Your Rates Get Higher
We had to get from Boston to Concord, Mass. First stop: the Internet, which turned up a respectable car rental rate of $34 from Budget. But when we called a live person to confirm, our trip-planning pleasure turned to annoyance: Boston's mandatory $10 "convention center fee" and various other taxes and surcharges upped our $34 one-day rental to a whopping $50.
When you rent a car in most major U.S. cities, you pay surcharges -- above advertised rates -- that fund municipal projects. Coupled with taxes, these fees can boost your bill by as much as 40 percent for a three-day rental, according to a Consumer Reports Travel Letter study to be published next month. And that cost spike omits optional charges, like the insurance that typically costs $17 per day.
Among the worst offenders:
Boston. You forfeit $10 per rental for a convention center (not yet built), plus a 10 percent "airport concession recovery fee" (for space leased by the firm), 5 percent sales tax and about 3 percent vehicle licensing fee. Total three-day cost: 40 percent above the base rate.
Houston. Surcharges include 5 percent for the Harris County Sports Authority (some firms lump this into "local taxes"), $1.52 per day title/registration fee, 8 percent "concession recovery charge" and 10 percent tax, for a 34 percent jump from the base rate.
Denver. Expect a $2.98 per day "facility usage surcharge" to help build rental car space at the new airport, a 10 percent concession recovery fee and an 11.3 percent tax, topping out at 29 percent above the base rate.
The major cities with the lowest percent-above-base rates? Surprisingly, New York (13 percent), Los Angeles (15.1 percent) and San Francisco (14.3 percent), according to the Travel Letter study. Note that percentage differences fluctuate with rate changes, and fees such as title/registration vary based on car value.
Moral: Because most firms don't fully reveal surcharges until you're at the counter, ask about mandatory add-ons when making your reservation.
Oh, and our trip to Concord? Disgusted with all the extra charges, we spurned the car rental firms entirely and took public transportation. Revenge is sweet.
Travel Tip 110
Bookmarked by the Pyramids
"Don't throw away those venue admissions tickets from your travels around the world," admonishes tipster Chris Wikman of Germantown. "And don't stick them away in a scrapbook, either, rarely to be seen again. Instead, use them for bookmarks! You'll be regularly reminded of the places you've visited. It's a fun surprise to open up to a bookmarked page and be reminded of that rainy spring walk through Le Jardin d'Acclimation in Paris, or the long climb to the top of London's St. Paul's Cathedral."
What a practical way to evoke memories of past travels. Wikman wins an "I'm a Great Tipper" T-shirt for sending us this clever tip. Got a helpful hint of your own to share? Bookmark the fine print below.
Travel tips (100 words or less) may be sent by e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org); postcard (Travel Tips, Washington Post Travel Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071); or fax (202-334-1069). Include your name, address and phone number. One tip per postcard or e-mail. Winners receive a Washington Post Travel section T-shirt. No purchase necessary. Tips submitted become property of The Washington Post, which may edit, publish, distribute and republish the information in any form, including paper and electronic media. Weekly winners are chosen on the basis of utility and novelty; decisions are made by the editors of The Washington Post Travel section and are final.
It's a Small Queue After All
Walt Disney World is taking a serious stab at fixing the one thing about the theme park that's almost universally complained about -- standing in line. The park's solution: Fastpass, a ticketing service it hopes will shorten the wait -- or at least change the venue while you wait.
Fastpass, free with a day ticket or annual pass, "reserves" a time for visitors to ride one of six designated attractions scattered among three of its parks, and it is as easy to use as taking a number at the deli counter. The pass is inserted into a turnstile, which is separate from the regular queue. (Clocks display the wait times for both lines.) A slip of paper pops out, telling the ticketholder when to return -- often no more than 45 minutes later.
Frequent Disney visitor Jeff Spencer of Alabama tried Fastpass last month with his wife and two children. The Spencers said they boarded Kali River Rapids in three minutes (plus 45 minutes of interim time), and Kilimanjaro Safaris in less than five (vs. a 30-minute wait in the regular queue). At Countdown to Extinction, however, they bypassed Fastpass because the regular line was moving apace.
The downside? Spencer said some people in the regular line heckled those in the Fastpass line, accusing them of cutting. And some visitors say they will miss the thematic videos and other entertaining distractions that help pass the time in line.
Writes one Disneyphile on a fan-club Web site: "I will NEVER use this fastpass! I love the Queue! It's almost always better than the ride."