Someone approaches you on a sidewalk in Paris to ask if you’ve just dropped the gold ring he has in his hand. No, you say, and the con man says, “Well, we don’t know who lost it. I have no need for it. Would you like to buy it for, oh, 50 Euros?” If you do, you’ll be stuck with a worthless piece of metal.
Or: You’re driving your rental car along a road in Italy when a helpful passenger in another car points to your tire with a concerned look. When you pull over to check to see if something is wrong, he’ll pull over to help. In fact, he’ll help himself to your valuables.
This is an unusual one: A boy on a beach in Rio de Janeiro offers to shine your shoes and won’t take “no” for an answer. When he’s finished, he asks for $40. You react in shock, but he has a knife to help convince you it’s a fair price.
I’ll share another few scams that are sometimes perpetrated on travelers tomorrow.
My friend Dan speaks a lot around the world and receives a considerable fee to do so. So there was no reason to suspect anything when a church group from South Africa called his Midwest office to ask if he’d travel to Cape Town to give a speech. But that turned out to be a travel scam that was new to me.
While the organization couldn’t meet Dan’s normal fee, they did agree to cover the cost of two, first-class tickets so Dan could bring his girlfriend along for a bit of sightseeing.
Then, ten days before Dan’s speech, his office received a call from South Africa saying Dan would need a business visa on an expedited basis, and if he’d wire the fee of $1,000, the folks in South Africa would obtain visas for both Dan and his girlfriend.
That raised the suspicion of Dan’s right-hand assistant who found the speech venue on line but saw no mention of his boss speaking there. Then he found Internet postings that labeled the woman he’d been dealing with as a con artist. Bottom line: Send in money for a visa, and you’ll never see that money—or a visa–again.
Tomorrow: I’ve got a few more travel scams to tell you about.
Richard Branson’s worldwide business empire is reported to include about 400 companies, some license the Virgin name, some that a partnerships such as Virgin Atlantic, the international airline; Virgin America (he owns 25% of that one); Virgin Money, Virgin Media, Virgin Trains and the company that started it all, Virgin Records.
Now comes Virgin Cruises.
Branson thinks the cruise industry needs shaking up, and he says he’s just the man to do it. He recently announced he’d have two, ocean-going ships in service in about two years.
I couldn’t agree more that Branson often enters an established industry and offers a hipper, shinier product; just compare Virgin Atlantic to the staid and predictable competition such as American Airlines and British Airways.
Branson wouldn’t say what would distinguish his cruise line, but the first of what he says will be a chain of Virgin Hotels opened three weeks ago in Chicago. Its rooms are geared to attract women, with better lighting, drawer space, and privacy.
Branson always has an angle. Not all of his companies have succeeded, but enough have that we can look forward to a new generation of ships.
Last month’s loosening of restrictions on the right of Americans to travel to Cuba opens the door to more visitors—maybe even you. Now, you only have to vouch that you want to visit for any of a number reasons.
There are 12 categories of permissible travel. Going to see a sporting event? You’re in. Want to attend a public performance or catch an art exhibition? You’re in, too. You just self-select your purpose for going—no one is going to check up on you.
But keep in mind there are only 34,000 hotel rooms in the entire country, so don’t just show up. Most hotels need a two days’ notice for a booking, and given the few number of rooms, you may have a problem securing accommodations. You’ll want to use a travel agency that’s been working with Cuba for years, such as Nash Travel.
Several major US airlines are gearing up to run scheduled service to Cuba, joining the dozen or so charter flights that serve the island nation everyday now. Today you can fly into Cuba easily from Mexico, the Caymans, or the Bahamas. But remember to take cash or have your travel agency prepay your expenses—credit cards aren’t usable quite yet.
Last year, a United Airlines co-pilot did a traditional walk around his aircraft before taking off from San Francisco to Hong Kong. Pilots like to make sure there’s nothing obviously amiss before a flight. But this pilot wasn’t happy about something he saw.
Written in an oil slick on the plane’s tail cone were what were described as “threatening words.” The words, “Bye bye,” accompanied one smiley face, but another face was devilish. Since only someone with a security pass and a lift could have accessed that part of the plane, the co-pilot shared his concern with his colleagues.
Thirteen flight attendants refused to work the flight unless the plane underwent a thorough security check. The pilot argued otherwise, saying he thought the plane was ready to go. The flight attendants refused, the flight was scrapped, the plane was grounded for two days, and United fired the 13 flight attendants.
Those flight attendants filed a whistle-blower complaint against United, asking for their jobs back and back pay. Now it will be up to a court to decide.
If you’d known what the crew knew, would you have flown that plane? I wouldn’t have. We’ll watch this case.