Internet Travel With Context
January 23-February 6, 2020
Read all about it! Everything you need to know about the Coronavirus, the city where it started and how airlines and airports are reacting. Three creeps (and $82,000 in cash) on a plane. The best passport to carry, the best place to retire and the healthiest capital cities in Europe. From our archives: airport agonistes and awful Amtrak, then and now. And much more.

Tracking the Coronavirus Worldwide

Let's be honest. You know nothing about the Coronavirus. You have little or no idea about Wuhan, the central Chinese city where the disease seems to have originated. You're concerned about traveling because this sounds suspiciously like the SARS pandemic of 2003-2004. And fast-moving stories like this seem much harder than ever to follow. Fear not. Here are some basic details and important links. I'll continue updating this section as needed in the days ahead.
        Here is the Centers for Disease Control backgrounder on the Coronavirus. It offers advice for protecting yourself at home and on the road.
        Here is what you need to know about Wuhan, capital of Hubei province, a London-sized city with a population of more than 11 million.
        Here's a BBC story on the decision to essentially quarantine Wuhan and ban most travel to, from, through and around the city. That is especially onerous given that this weekend is the Lunar New Year, the busiest travel period of the year in China. And the South China Morning Post reports three other cities in Hubei Province also have been locked down.
        Many hotel chains are now waiving change and cancellation fees for China bookings.
        Here is a constantly updating piece from Bloomberg about how airlines and airports are dealing with the Coronavirus.
        Here is the constantly updating CNN page on global Coronavirus news.

Three Creeps (and $82,000 in Cash) on a Plane

It never seems to be a great time to travel anymore, but it's been crazier than ever lately. To wit:
      A flyer on a United Express run to Newark from Washington/Dulles was arrested after storming the plane's cockpit door. He then apparently attacked a flight attendant.
      A passenger on an American Airlines flight from Los Angeles to Chicago/O'Hare forced an emergency landing in Albuquerque. He kicked the seats, hit a flight attendant and removed his pants. An empty bottle of Jack Daniels was found at his seat after he was forcibly removed from the aircraft.
      A Pittsburgh retiree is suing the federal government to regain more than $80,000 taken from his daughter at an airport security checkpoint. No government agency has charged anyone with a crime and it is not illegal to travel domestically with large amounts of cash, but the feds refuse to return the money. The Institute for Justice, which is providing legal assistance to the family (above), says it's the third time it is suing the government for the return of cash taken from innocent passengers.
      An American Airlines passenger was tracked and repeatedly harassed and stalked by a (now former) American employee who got her phone number from her bag tag. She's suing.

Archives: Airport Agonistes and Awful Amtrak

The federal Bureau of Transportation Statistics estimates that 925.5 million passengers flew on U.S. carriers in 2019, a record and an impressive 4.1 percent increase over 2018. But here's the thing: Back in 1998, I wrote about claims by the AAA that 900 million people would be flying by 2007. We could talk forever about how airline traffic hasn't grown at the speed that "experts" predicted in those heady days before 9/11. Let's not do this here. But here is the other thing: My 1998 column fretted about our frail airport infrastructure. Yet even with 20+ years of breathing room, our airport infrastructure still stinks. In fact, while I railed about the snail's pace of new airport construction in the 1990s, things today have worsened and our pace of building new airports slowed even more. Go ahead, name the commercial airports built in the 21st century so far.
      The railroads are little better, of course. The president of the NAACP's Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Sherrilyn Ifill, last week was asked to leave her unassigned seat on an Amtrak train headed from Washington to Baltimore. She and other media outlets were shocked--shocked!--to learn Amtrak would do it--and strongly suggested racial motives were at play. But they aren't. A 2004 column about the Amtrak Cardinal detailed how it happened to me, an old, bald white guy. Amtrak moves you from unassigned seats for convenience--its convenience--not for racial motives. Doesn't make it any better, of course, but bureaucracies are gonna bureaucracy.

Tight Connections ... Quick Hits on the News

        The best passport  If painless global access and acceptability are what you mean by "best," a passport-services firm says Japan has the world's best passport. Singapore is second on the 2020 list, followed by South Korea, Germany, Italy and Finland. Once the gold standard, a Swiss passport now ranks a still-respectable seventh.
        The best place to retire  Based on a number of lifestyle and financial factors, an overseas-investment site says Portugal is the best place in the world to retire. Mexico comes in second and is followed by Belize, Colombia and Italy.
        Europe's healthiest capital  If the stats geeks at Treated, an online British pharmacy, are to be believed, Copenhagen is Europe's healthiest capital city. Vienna, Bern, Helsinki and Berlin round out the continent's top-five list.