Welcome to the September 2007 issue of "Smart Traveler". The newsletter with tips and information to help make your traveling smoother.

Machine aims to identify liquids at airport

Image generated by SENSIT airport baggage screening machine that can sense dozens of types of liquids — separating explosives from shampoos — and may eliminate the liquids ban currently in effect for commercial air passengers.

The Homeland Security Department and top government scientists are testing a new baggage-screening machine capable of identifying liquid explosives, a technology that could put an end to unpopular rules affecting carry-on luggage.

The machine would allow a screener to watch on a computer screen as bags pass through a scanner; suspicious liquids would be flagged with a red dot. The technology is being developed at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and will be tested next summer at Albuquerque's Sunport airport.

If scientists and engineers can make the technology work well in airports, the Homeland Security Department says it may eliminate the requirement that passengers restrict their carry-on liquids to bottles up to 3 ounces that fit in one, quart-size clear plastic bag.

The department acknowledges that the requirement, put in place last September after authorities in London uncovered a plot to blow up U.S.-bound airliners with liquid explosives, is a hassle for passengers and screeners alike.

"We would like to make it a thing of the past," says Brian Tait of the department's science and technology division, which has given Los Alamos $3.3 million to research the technology. "We're going to make the liquids tell on themselves."

Open Boarding Is Here To Stay

Southwest Airlines has announced that you will continue to be able to choose your favorite seat once onboard the aircraft. And it doesn’t stop there! They have figured out how to make our open seating method even better by doing away with the so called “cattle call” and eliminating the need to “camp out” in the boarding line.

Beginning in early November, you will be assigned not only a boarding group (A, B, or C) but also a number within that boarding group based on the time you check in for a flight (for example: A32). This unique combination represents your reserved spot in your boarding group. Next, listen for one of the gate agents to announce your group. When your group is called, simply take a position next to the column that represents your boarding number and proceed onto the airplane to find your favorite seat. Boarding columns will be divided into groups of five.

Head off to "Boarding School" for a complete tutorial of the new way to board

International business etiquette 101

In Spain, a business dinner will last well into the early morning hours -- many restaurants don't even open until 9 p.m. and don't get busy until 10 or 11 p.m.

Australians aren't impressed by a title or status -- they expect your work to speak for itself.

The Japanese aren't afraid to ask how much money you earn or how large your home is.

These are only three out of thousands of different customs, business protocols and social mores throughout the world. International business can be tricky; if you aren't prepared, your business deal can go down in flames.

Before you go
1. Prepare. Do plenty of research on the business and personal etiquette of the particular country you are planning to visit. Purchase a travel book for the country you are going to visit and remember: The Internet is your friend.

2. Learn key phrases. It's always a smart move to learn several key phrases in the language of the country you'll visit. It's a nice way to bridge the gap between cultures -- and natives will appreciate the attempt.

3. Leave the attitude at home. Americans sometimes assume superior attitudes when interacting with foreign cultures -- for them it is "our way is the best way." Ditch this stance quickly -- you could be ignored or met with disapproval.

4. Blend in. In general, Americans dress differently, speak loudly and have distinct accents -- so it's best to try not to stand out more than you already will.

Different countries, different customs
It's common knowledge that etiquettes differ from person to city to country to continent; keeping all the customs straight can be a headache.

Here are a few tips to deal with various traditions:

Gender roles
Gender etiquette plays a significant role not only in business, but overall in foreign travel. In some countries, where gender is rooted in the tenets of a particular religion, faux pas are often considered unforgivable.

For example, in the Arab world shaking hands is mandatory in a business setting; but touching women is forbidden. In India, men and women shouldn't make physical contact in public other than handshaking. In Japan, older generations may not be comfortable shaking hands with Westerners and it's important that you don't get too close to them. In Argentina, women should initiate handshakes with men.

Talking business
If you're on business in Germany, leave the trade talk at the boardroom door. Business matters are usually discussed before or after the meal; never during.

Conversely, in China, it's OK to discuss business as long as it's not the main topic of conversation. Personal exchanges about children, spouses or other personal information are encouraged and welcomed.

Business cards
The business card exchange is extremely important in Japan -- almost ceremonial. Always give business cards with two hands and make a point to admire and examine the their card. The more time you spend looking at it indicates the more respect you have for the person. In Italy, do not exchange business cards at social occasions; it is the norm at business functions and meetings.

Alcohol at meals
In Australia, alcohol is discouraged at business luncheons. Drinking moderately at business meals is acceptable in Germany; in Russia, you are expected to drink to establish closer relationships -- though again, in moderation. In France, avoid drinking hard liquor before meals or smoking cigars between courses -- the French feel it compromises the taste of the meal.

A standard to keep in mind for any gift you select is quality. If you give gifts with your company logo, it's better if the logo is discreet. Never give company logo gifts in Greece, Spain or Portugal. In general, be safe rather sorry and choose non-logo gifts. In China, it's considered rude to open a gift in front of the person who gave it. In Africa, gifts are opened immediately upon receipt.


You Just Got Bumped, Now What?
What you should know about how to avoid it and what to do if you are

Surely you've seen them before. Surrounded by grease-blotted boxes and empty soda cans, these unfortunate folks have been booted from their overbooked flight and left with no choice but to make camp on the airport floor and wait.

Think it can't happen to you? Don't be so certain. Overbooking flights has become standard practice these days for most airlines, and your chances of being booted are higher than ever. But before you resign yourself to a spot on the floor, we have some advice to offer.

For starters, if you're involuntarily bumped off your flight and the airline can't get you to your destination within an hour of the original arrival time, federal law requires that you be paid the equivalent of your one-way fare up to $200 or $400, depending on the length of the delay. Passengers should insist on a check instead of a travel voucher since they come with restrictions and can be difficult to redeem.

Instead of waiting in line with other disgruntled bumpees for a gate agent, try sneaking off to call the airline 800 number directly (or call while you're waiting in line). Speaking immediately to an agent on the phone can help you skirt any airport computer systems that give priority to frequent fliers or those who paid top dollar for their fare. So it's a good idea to call in for first crack at seats.

One way to avoid getting bumped altogether is to fly JetBlue Airways, which refuses to overbook and consequently has the best track bumping record among all major US carriers, followed by AirTran. And flying to or within the Hawaiian Islands should be a breeze, since both Hawaiian and Aloha Airlines always score in the top five carriers for the fewest involuntary denied boardings.

If you really can't afford to take any chances, you should know that Atlantic Southeast Airlines, Comair, and Delta Air Lines consistently score the worst. You can find these and other rankings on the Department of Transportation's Aviation Consumer Protection Web site at http://airconsumer.ost.dot.gov.

You should also know that the folks in the cheap seats have lower priority on some airlines than the people who paid full fare. If you're a very frequent flyer at the highest tier of your airline's program and/or paid a full fare (or are a business- or first-class passenger) you're more likely to get on board than the poor chap who paid next to nothing for his coach ticket.

Of course, the easiest thing you can do to prevent getting bumped is to arrive early. On overbooked flights, the last passengers to check in are among the first to get kicked off. For those days when time is most definitely not on your side, call the airline in advance to let them know you'll be late and reserve a seat on the next flight.

There are, however, a few exceptions to the bumping rule, in which case you may find yourself out of luck. For example, if the airline must substitute a smaller plane for the one it originally planned to use, the carrier isn't required to compensate people who are bumped as a result.

Compensation also does not apply to charter flights, or scheduled flights with 60 or fewer passengers. Also remember that these rules vary for international flights, even if they're on US-based carriers.

Not sure where you stand with your airline? Check its contract of carriage. In fact, it's a good idea to print this out and have it with you for reference in case of such an emergency. It may sound unnecessarily nerdy now, but, hey, it just may save you from sleeping on a row of chairs next to Gate 43A.

Remember: Without a travel agent you're on your own

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