SUNDAY, DECEMBER 10, 2023 --
I've traveled more internationally this year than domestically and I have a notebook full of news, facts, details and pithy commentary.
Today, however, let me offer up just seven observations from the other side.
1. HOW TO SURVIVE THE SCOURGE OF EURONET
I've warned you about Euronet before
, but the not-a-bank ATM network has spread far beyond airports. I now see them all over central-city districts and tourist centers of big European cities. It's an inevitable response to the traditional banks closing so many bricks-and-mortar branches, especially in high-rent areas. But Euronet machines remain rip-offs of epic proportions. One example: Desperate for cash and with no bank ATMs just steps from the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, I had no choice but to use a Euronet machine. For a 250-euro withdrawal, Euronet was pitching a total charge of $308 including its hateful dynamic currency conversion (DCC)
scam. At least by saying no to the DCC, I got the charge down to 269 euros. Not a great total conversion rate, but decent enough. The lesson: If you must use Euronet, be sure to decline the DCC and ignore the ATM's warnings of impending doom. Just aim for the cheapest withdrawal possible.
2. A FREE VPN THAT SEEMS TO WORK
I have mixed feelings about using a Virtual Private Network (VPN), the system that obscures online identity. But I must say that I've had only good luck with Hide.me
. Even more astonishing, the free version works swimmingly. For free, you get a choice of U.S. IP addresses as well as IP options in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Singapore, Spain and the United Kingdom. If you need more, subscription prices start as low as $5 a month. But I've been totally happy with the free version.
3. A GOOD SHIPPING OPTION
The Mail Boxes Etc. chain has largely disappeared from the United States and Canada, most locations being converted into branches of the UPS Store. But MBE, as it now stylizes itself, remains a vibrant in Europe
and other parts of the world. The chain charges about 10 euros a kilo to ship packages back to the United States. That buys five-business-day service. I availed myself of shipping on a recent trip and got both the expected (an urgent E-mail explaining that my FedEx-handled package was delayed) and unexpected (the package arrived a day earlier than the five-day promise) service. Needless to say, it was worth it not to schlep 22 pounds of stuff from airport to airport.
4. ESCAPING THE WORST AIRLINE IN THE WORLD
It's almost a cliché to make fun of Pakistan International Airlines. Dubbing it the world's worst airline is something of an understatement. Still, this item in Dawn
, an English-language Pakistani newspaper, is quite shocking. At least four PIA flight attendants have "disappeared" this year after crewing flights to Canada. That matches the number of PIA employees who disappeared in Canada last year.
5. THANKS, BREXIT ...
Brexit is having exactly the disastrous effects that "remain" campaigners warned of before the United Kingdom voted in 2016 to leave the European Union. Britain's economy is a mess, with high inflation and low growth. Boris Johnson, the disingenuous face of Brexit, crashed and burned as British Prime Minister. And British expats are having a miserable time in Europe, learning that everything from their driving licenses to their residency permits may no longer be valid. Brexit is now having a nasty effect on travel, too. A major overhaul is planned next spring for Amsterdam Centraal Station
and one of the victims is direct Eurostar trains between Amsterdam and London. While London-to-Amsterdam trains will continue on a direct route that takes about four hours, there won't be room in Amsterdam Centraal for all the security checks and customs niceties that the Brits now require. So passengers who board in Amsterdam will have to change trains--and clear formalities--in Brussels before reaching London. That will add upwards of an hour to the Amsterdam-London run.
6. THE PANDEMIC IS WELL AND TRULY OVER
Business travel remains hobbled by post-pandemic travel patterns and, frankly, may never recover. But that is the topic of what we journalists call a "thumb sucker" in a future column. Right now, I'm intrigued by the recovery in total flying traffic. Some examples: The number of foreign visitors to Japan exceeded pre-pandemic totals in October for the first time, says Japan's National Tourism Organization. Around Asia, the slowest region to recover from Covid, flying is at 80.5% of 2019 levels, adds the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines. Europe airline traffic reached 98.3% of pre-pandemic levels in October, according to statistics from the Airports Council International. Globally, air traffic is at 94.4% of 2019 levels, says IATA, the airline trade group.
7. THE SKYGODS WERE SMILING ON ME
The dodgy practice of requiring you to gate-check properly sized carry-on bags for the convenience of an airline or a flight attendant is thankfully getting some mass-media publicity
. That said, the strangest thing happened to me on a recent trip. A gate agent on an Air France itinerary haughtily forced me to gate-check my (perfectly sized) carry-on bag even though we were flying a spacious new Airbus A220 into Paris/CDG. As you might guess, a mix-up at Roissy meant I missed my connection back to New York/Kennedy. I was then delayed by three hours. Much to my shock, however, my carry-on bag rolled off the baggage carousel promptly on arrival at JFK. I consider it the Christmas miracle of my 2023 life on the road.