Changes to U.S. travel rules
and regulations are at hand
By Bill Poling
Consumers will travel differently
in 2009 because of the economy.
They will travel differently because of changing marketing and
pricing strategies. And they will
travel differently because of government rules and regulations.
Largely because of new security requirements, domestic and international travelers — and travel companies — are going to have to adopt some new habits. The
learning curves for upcoming changes to U.S. passport
and border control practices are not particularly steep,
but they are curves.
As with any curves, we will be well advised to negotiate them carefully, at least the first time out.
• Secure Flight. The big news for this government
program in 2009 is for the Transportation Security
Administration to relieve the airlines of the chore of
checking passenger names against government watch
lists. It’s expected to speed things up behind the scenes
and reduce the number of false matches.
If only it were that simple.
To accomplish its task, and to deliver on its promise to do this more effectively than the airlines, the TSA
is going to require airlines to record passengers’ full
names, including middle name (if any), plus their gen-
der and birth date — items that are not normally part
of reservations records.
The system is to be phased in, beginning with a few
domestic airlines, as early as mid-January, but as of
this writing, the timing and other details had not been
What is clear is that travel companies will need to update their systems and procedures to obtain and record
the additional information, and passengers are going to
have to get used to forking it over, at the risk of being
A possible source of confusion with the program is
the 72-hour rule. Airlines (and presumably retailers)
will be permitted to accept bookings made more than
three days in advance without the full name, gender
and birth date, provided the information is obtained at
a later date. Within 72 hours, however, airlines are being told that they “must collect” the data “at the time of
• ESTA/Visa Waiver. In mid-November, the government expanded the Visa Waiver Program by adding
seven countries, bringing the total to 34.
This was widely praised as a good move for facilitating inbound and outbound travel because it permits
U.S. citizens to travel to those countries without a visa,
and it offers the reciprocal privilege to citizens of those
countries when visiting the U.S.
Beginning in January, however, there will be a new
wrinkle for inbound visitors, the Electronic System for
Travel Authorization. This system is already operating on a mandatory basis for the seven recently added
countries; it is voluntary for visitors from the other 27.
It becomes mandatory for all inbound Visa Waiver travelers on Jan. 12.
ESTA does not affect U.S. travelers, but U.S. travel
companies will need to know about it to the extent they
serve foreign visitors who will use it.
Here’s the short version of how it works: Prospective
visitors log onto a secure U.S. government website and
fill out an online application for an electronic travel
authorization. The application is similar to the paper
I-94W form that foreign visitors normally fill out upon
According to DHS, the system returns an electronic
authorization to travel, often within seconds. If authorization is denied, the traveler has to go to a U.S. consulate and apply for a visa.
Visitors can fill out ESTA applications anytime prior
to travel, and DHS is encouraging prospective visitors
to do so early in the trip planning process. The approval
is valid for multiple entries over a two-year period or
until the traveler’s passport expires, whichever occurs
For now, the ESTA process is free, but DHS may impose a cost recovery fee. The pending Travel Promotion
Act would authorize an additional fee that would be
used to finance marketing and advertising programs to
encourage inbound travel.
• Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. If all goes
according to plan, the next phase of this program will
go into effect in June, when all arriving foreign visitors and returning U.S. citizens must have a passport
or other acceptable travel document to enter the U.S.
by land or sea from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean or
Bermuda. (Passports are already required for cross-bor-der air travel.)
This is another rule that sounds simpler than it really is.
Because many U.S. travelers don’t have passports,
Congress stipulated that the passport requirement cannot be extended to ports and land borders until DHS
creates a less expensive passport alternative, the new
U.S. Passport Card.
These are now available and are particularly geared
for travelers in border states and cruise passengers. They
are not acceptable for air travel.
The passport card contains a radio frequency identification (RFID) chip, designed to be read quickly by
scanning equipment being installed at U.S. points of
For travelers who don’t want to deal with passports
or passport cards, several border states, including
Washington, New York, Vermont, Texas and Arizona,
are developing an enhanced drivers license containing
an RFID chip and other security features that make
them acceptable to DHS for entry at land borders and
Lines strive to fill ships as
economy teeters on brink
By Johanna Jainchill
Cruising will likely be a bargain in
2009, but whether that’s a bonus
or a bummer depends on whether you’re chatting up a client or
cashing a commission check.
Cruise fares have already plummeted to
levels travel agents haven’t seen since just after 9/11.
This fall, some Caribbean cruises on Norwegian Cruise
Line fell to $25 per person, per day.
Tim Conder, leisure equity analyst with Wachovia,
said that pricing for cruises departing in the first two
quarters of 2009 was down in almost every region.
As cruise prices drop, so do commissions. Travel
agents have become increasingly vocal about challenges
to their survival as cruise commissions fall.
Meanwhile, cruise lines are determined to fill their
ships while the economy remains on the brink. The
industry has typically operated at near or above 100%