Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

August 18, 2017
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10 ways to make travel bearable

How to get the best deals and avoid the pitfalls when you travel

1. Remember that some airports are fun
Skytrax, a UK-based consultancy, surveyed more than nine million customers for its 2010 Airport Awards. According to those nine million travellers, the world’s best airport in 2010 was Changi in Singapore — a designer airport whose boutique row counts Asia’s first Ferrari shop and the first FIFA Official Store in its ranks. If browsing upscale boutiques isn’t your idea of relaxing (and who can blame you), you can take a nap in an inviting rest area, shower, or visit a spa, gym or swimming pool. Other top scorers: Seoul, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Beijing, Auckland and Bangkok from Asia Pacific, and Munich, Zurich and Amsterdam in Europe. Vancouver was one of only two North American airports in the top 25: it came in 11th with San Francisco taking 20th.

2. Go for the stars, even in economy
On May 20, Skytrax will announce the results of its Airline Awards survey. In the meantime, you may not mind the long security lineups when you fly one of these: Asiana Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Kingfisher Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, Qatar Airways and Singapore Airlines — the only six airlines awarded Skytrax’s five-star rating.

3. Buy travel insurance
A typical travel insurance policy is sold as a bundle, which might include lost bags and some of the costs related to cancellation or interruption of a trip for some unforeseen reason, such as volcanic ash. Besides acts of nature, other unforeseen reasons usually include injury, terrorism or bankruptcy of the travel provider. That said, Iceland’s current volcanic activity is — for the moment anyway — no longer unforeseen. Ask questions and expect to pay four to six percent of the cost of your ticket for a decent package. If you are stranded, confirm with the insurance company before dropping $900 on that one-way ticket to get home.

4. Fine print always matters
Don’t get caught in a consolidator confusion. If you bought your Air France or British Airways ticket through a consolidator at a lower rater, don’t necessarily expect the same terms had you bought the ticket directly from the airline. The cost to change flights can be higher and refunds a major headache.

5. Travellers with disabilities can expect improvements
According to census data, nearly a quarter of the US is expected to have some disability by 2030. Add that to the fact that Americans with disabilities spend about US$15 billion annually on travel, and you’ve got a reason for businesses to take note. Rental car companies around US airports are the first to truly seize the opportunity by increasing the number of wheelchair-accessible cars and vans in their fleet. What was near-impossible a couple of years ago, may become easier.

6. Mangia, mangia!
Unforeseen layovers and delays are part of travel. They just feel worse right now because of airline cutbacks, security-related restrictions and, of course, the relentless price-gouging on water, weight and leg room. Why not make the experience somewhat more civilized? While the airlines are clambering to offer menus of overpriced food (should we really be excited that Air Canada now sells a vegetarian sandwich and yogurt parfaits?), nothing beats digging into a meal from home while those around you are biting into plastic-encased dried hotdogs that cost $7 each. If you’re flying outside Canada, remember to check your destination country’s regulations on bringing in fruit, dairy and meat. Then eat or share the leftovers (plastic hotdogs can’t be very satisfying) before going through customs.

7. Free strollers in Paris’s airport
Charles de Gaulle Airport is fairly sprawling. Forty free strollers are now available at Terminal 2E, used mainly by Air France. (Air Canada flies out of 2A.) The strollers are located at two loan stations just past security and can be wheeled right up to your gate. Plans are in the works to add them to other terminals as well as to Orly airport.

8. The US Bureau of Transportation is your friend
If you fly in and out of the US a lot, bookmark the US Bureau of Transportation statistics site — it gives you at-a-glance percentages of delayed and cancelled flights in every US airport for the past decade. It’s useful if you fly down for American Thanksgiving or for winter holidays: you pretty much can see which airports can’t keep up with the holiday traffic. bts.gov/programs.


9. Whatever an airline employee tells you, confirm it
If it doesn’t make sense, or the airline’s website quoted a lower price, ask for a manager and demand a viable explanation. They may all wear the same uniform, but they notoriously give different answers.

10. Right or wrong, carry-on fees may be next
Spirit Airlines intends to charge up to US$45 per carry-on bag as of August. Now the US senate has gotten involved with possible legislation to tax airlines if they impose a carry-on bag fee. Yet, in what’s hopefully not just a bid for publicity, American, Delta, United, US Airways and JetBlue have vowed to not follow Spirits’ example. We certainly won’t be surprised if those five airlines look to the likes of Ryanair for money-making ideas and start changing passengers to use the toilets.

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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