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Beware of Tourist Scams When Traveling Abroad

by Lux Joseph 22. July 2015

Summer is the season for our medical escorts to be traveling to/from Europe on a weekly basis. Although Commercial Medical Escorts moves patients in and out of Europe throughout the year, summer is the most favorable time of year for travelers to see the Amalfi Coast of Italy, the heart of Paris, and the other magnificent destinations throughout Europe. Pictures and stories depict Europe as a great place to visit, but as a tourist CME reminds you to be cognizant of your surroundings and stay away from “tourist traps”.

U.S News reports the top ten European cities as:

  1. Rome
  2. Paris
  3. London
  4. Florence
  5. Barcelona
  6. Amsterdam
  7. Prague
  8. Berlin
  9. Venice
  10. Vienna

Of these top ten destinations, three of the cities are in countries where tourist scams are most prevalent. Spain is the number one ranking country in Europe known for tourist and holiday scams. Italy and France follow close behind. Every day travelers to these areas have a high chance that they could become a victim of one of these scams. Some of the most common scams include pickpockets, over-charging taxi drivers, charging a hidden tourist tax at hotels, street vendor tactics, and street crime.

In an article written by Hugh Morris from The Daily Telegraph, he provides statistics from a study which travelers were scammed:

Rank

Country

Percentage of Individuals scammed

1

Spain

21.5

2

France

14.8

3

Italy

10.2

4

Turkey

8.4

5

Austria

8.1

6

Greece

7.5

7

Belgium

7

8

UK

5.4

9

Armenia

4.4

10

Cyprus

4.4

 CME strongly encourages our nurses and physicians to take necessary safety precautions when traveling abroad. Our operations team does a full safety review of each destination to ensure our escorts are aware of the safety protocols and current social environment at each location.

 The USTIA provides the following tips to prevent common scams when traveling:

Once you have arrived, here are some top travel scams you want to be on the lookout for:


1. Credit Card Confusion – You’re relaxing late at night in your hotel room after a long day. The phone rings, and the clerk at the desk explains there has been a mix-up on your paperwork and credit card number information.  They would like to read the credit card number to you to verify that it’s correct.  They provide you with the last 4 digits of your card number and ask you to verify that it’s correct (it won’t be).  After you explain the number is incorrect, they sound confused and ask you to read back the entire number. Once you read the entire card number they claim to have found the form and all is well. You’ve just been scammed!

What to Do When The Phone Rings:

  • Never give your credit card information over the phone from your hotel room. 
  • Go downstairs to the hotel registration desk in person should any “questions” arise in regards to your reservations or payment details. 

 

2. Taxi Cab Scam – You’re standing in the hotel’s official taxi line waiting. Suddenly you hear “taxi?” and turn to see a nicely dressed person motioning for you to leave the line. You notice the 15 people waiting in front of you and think bypassing the line might be a good idea; after all, you’re in a hurry!

Do not take the offer! Scam artists are known for posing as taxi drivers. Accepting a ride risks more than your wallet, and you might become a victim.  Once you are in the car, these con artists may take you to a deserted area and then assault and/or rob you of your luggage, money and other valuables.

What to Do If Approached:

  • All official taxis should have the car number and company plainly visible on the outside. Check for it – if you don’t see it, don’t accept a ride.
  • Visibly examine the rate “sheet” and/or the meter when you get into the car. This may keep the driver from getting any ideas about hiking up the per mile rate after you’ve started toward your destination. 
  • If you’re unsure about where and how to catch a proper taxi, check with your hotel concierge for a recommendation.

3. Helping Hand – Walking in a crowded tourist attraction, you suddenly find you’ve been bumped and food or drink spilled on your clothes. The kind stranger who jostled you offers to lend you a helping hand to clean up. While helping you, the stranger also helps him or herself to your wallet. 

What to Do:

  • Stay alert in a crowd! Any attempt to divert your attention or jostle you should be treated as a pick pocketing attempt.
  • Divide up any money that you are carrying between your pockets, socks, shirt, wallet and any other areas you can think of. It is unlikely that a thief will be able to reach all the different areas where your money is stored should you be targeted. 

4. The Deal of a Lifetime – This one may happen prior to departure!  These scam artists will offer you hotel or other accommodations in a travel hot spot for a ridiculously low price. The goal is to relieve you of your money as quickly as possible. To do this, they might offer you a “bonus” or a “prize” for purchasing. Typically the prizes sound great, but are not as advertised.  


What to Listen For:

  • Time sensitive Offer – “only good for next few minutes…”
  • Warnings - “you can’t tell anyone about this!” or “only one package is available...”
  • Verbal pauses - “ahs” and “ums”

If you are approached, do not agree to purchase without first verifying that the company is legitimate. In the U.S., you can do this by inquiring about the company’s liability Insurance. Any legitimate company should have liability insurance. If not, it should be a red flag that things aren’t on the up and up. Remember, if a trip seems too good to be true, offers too many prizes or bonuses or is below market cost, then it probably isn’t a legitimate offer.

If possible, use a credit card when paying for your tickets, hotel, car rental and attraction fares. This ensures you can dispute any charges if you do get scammed without actually being out money from your bank account.

Be smart when you travel. Make sure you purchase travel insurance and always know your surroundings. Commercial Medical Escorts believes safety and security is the number one priority and so should you!

Travel Outlook for 2015 from ASTA

by Lux Joseph 11. January 2015

Our in-house travel department has shared with CME some outlook on travel this upcoming year, 2015. CME works closely with our travel department to ensure we are providing on the best travel arrangements for our clients. Our travel department has extensive knowledge on the medical assistance industry as well as travel. As our travel department is partnered with the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA), he has advised us that ASATA has set an aggressive agenda for 2015 in its mission to be the lead advocate for travel agents who, in turn, are the strongest allies of the traveling public. The agenda includes action at both the federal and state levels, continues work begun in 2014 and adds new initiatives that support free and unfettered world travel.


“ASTA is the only industry organization with the know-how, the staff, the resources and the alliances to effectively defend the interests of travel agencies across the country,” said Sky Cap Corp President and CEO Joseph McNamara. “This was reflected in our work in 2014, a banner year for ASTA advocacy that saw us leverage our unique strength as an association before the U.S. Congress, the White House, federal agencies and all 50 state legislatures in the fight to keep the retail distribution channel strong and thriving for years to come.”

The Association’s advocacy priorities for 2015 include:

  • Ensuring Transparency in the Cost of Air Travel: ASTA will work to ensure that the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) landmark rulemaking on airline ancillary fees provides agents and consumers full access to airline ancillary fees and the ability to purchase the complete air transportation product; and will fight airline efforts to insert the so-called Transparent Airfares Act overturning DOT’s full-fare advertising rule into “must-pass” Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization legislation in Congress.
  • Reducing the Regulatory Burden on Travel Agents: ASTA will fight against proposals in Congress and at the DOT that will require agents to make new and unwarranted disclosures to consumers during airline ticketing, such as one in a 2012 law requiring notification that the aircraft their client is flying on may be sprayed with insecticides.
  • Fighting Oppressive Taxation: ASTA will continue to oppose any state proposals to apply new taxes to agency fees and other income, including proposals to subject service industries such as travel agencies to state sales taxes, and to apply state and local hotel taxes to hotel “intermediaries” such as agents. At the same time, ASTA will work with its car rental partners to enact federal legislation to preempt state and local governments from imposing discriminatory taxes on car rentals.
  • Cuba Travel: Building on the recent agreement reached between the U.S. and Cuban governments to ease long-standing restrictions on trade and other interactions between the two countries – including those preventing American citizens from travelling to Cuba – ASTA will work with President Obama, Administration officials and the U.S. Congress to ensure that Americans are free to travel to Cuba without constraint from their own government. While working toward a full repeal of the travel ban, the Association will petition the Administration to expressly permit any travel agent to book travel for Americans lawfully entitled to travel to Cuba under the new regulations called for by the President in late 2014.
  • Travel Facilitation: ASTA will support the expansion of “Trusted Traveler” aviation security programs, such as TSA’s PreCheck and CBP’s Global Entry, and will ensure that agents have a voice and active role in their implementation. On the international side, the Association will support the Jobs Originated through Launching Travel (JOLT) Act, which will streamline visa processes for “inbound” travelers and help the U.S. recapture its historic share of worldwide overseas travel. 

The highlights of ASTA’s advocacy work during 2014 include:

  • White House Meeting: In March, ASTA secured a first-ever meeting in the White House to brief President Obama’s advisors face to face on the value of the travel agency channel to both consumers and to the small business-driven national economy.
  • IATA NDC: The association worked collaboratively with the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the Department of Transportation (DOT) and other aviation stakeholders to ensure that the DOT’s August approval of IATA’s New Distribution Capability (NDC) initiative was subject to a number of consumer protection conditions designed to protect competition and consumer privacy. Going forward, ASTA will work to ensure that agents’ views and business needs are taken into account as NDC is further developed – as a member of several IATA advisory committees as well as a recently-announced initiative to develop understanding of the impact (e.g., from a business, technology and commercial perspective) of NDC for travel agents.
  • Hazmat Notification Regulations: ASTA was successful in its efforts to rework a burdensome DOT regulation that would have required agents to secure their client’s acknowledgement of complex federal hazardous materials restrictions before issuing an airline ticket. Instead, starting in 2016 the disclosure requirement can now be fulfilled any time prior to check-in, such as by automatically providing it on the passenger’s itinerary. This is a big win for agents, as the original requirements would have added to existing passenger notification requirements travel agents have to comply with regarding code-share flights, insecticide spraying and others issues. These requirements would have saddled the industry with more than $58 million in initial training and programming costs and $26 million per year in ongoing compliance costs. 
  • Travel Insurance Reform: Working with a coalition led by the U.S. Travel Insurance Association, ASTA and its members have helped reform costly and complex travel insurance licensing in 31 states. Members’ grassroots efforts – including committee testimony in Colorado (Rich Sattizahn), Hawaii (Rachel Shimamoto, Wendy Goodenow) and Maryland (Larry Swerdlin, Jay Ellenby) – were instrumental in moving this initiative forward. Once in place nationwide, these standards will save agencies thousands of dollars in annual licensing costs while reducing the risk of state fines for non-compliance. Counting only the 31 states that have adopted the standards, ASTA estimates the collective savings for the travel agency industry to be $7.5 million per year thanks to this reform.

As one can see, having a travel department that has a strong relationship established with the travel industry demonstrates progressive growth and outlook for CME’s operations. CME’s business relies heavily on the travel industry and people traveling around the world. If there is a declining trend in travelers that is something that CME wants to know because it can impact our business significantly. While we do not want people to become ill or injured, we are proactive in demonstrating the importance of travel insurance to travelers around the world.

Travel Tips for Elderly and those Requiring Special Assistance

by Lux Joseph 25. April 2014

Traveling for most people is one of the most rewarding experiences, whether it is visiting family and friends or exploring the world.  However, it is important to know that when traveling with individuals who are elderly or may have a particular disability there are some things that need to be considered. If you are not familiar with the resources and guidance available, you may face challenges that you didn’t anticipate. The tips we are about to share with you are important things to remember and will alleviate a lot of unnecessary stress and anxiety.

1.     Consult with the passenger’s primary care physician for travel approval and recommendations

One of the first steps you can do before travel is to make sure the passenger is cleared for travel by his or her primary care physician. A 22 year old healthy individual does not need to do this, but many individuals who are elderly or may have a disability should speak with their physician especially if the passenger is accommodating a current health condition such as dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, COPD, etc. You will want to make sure to ask the doctor about any necessary vaccinations or additional medication that may be needed for travel.

2.     Choosing the flight

If you go to Expedia, Orbitz, or Travelocity and plug in your destination hundreds of potential flights will come up. When traveling with the elderly and those individuals with disabilities you should choose the most direct flights possible. If there are no direct flights to the destination, keep in mind that you will need additional time for connections. Our rule of thumb is at least one (1) hour to two (2) hour connection time for domestic flights. Passengers traveling in a wheelchair may be the first to board the airplane, but typically they are the last to get off. Having a tight connection will add additional unnecessary stress to the traveler.

3.     Arranging special services 

Once the flights have been selected, contact your travel agent to add special services that you may need. If you booked your tickets on a travel website or directly with the airline, you can contact the airline directly. Each airline typically has a special number dedicated for passengers that require special assistance. If not, you can always request these requirements through the main reservation number. There are three different types of wheelchair requests. It is important that you let the agent know the

Wheel-chair for Ramp (WCHR) offers passenger who can ascend/descend steps and make own way to/from cabin seat, but requires wheelchair for distance to/from aircraft across ramp.

Wheelchair for Steps (WCHS) offers passengers who cannot ascend/descend steps, but is able to make own way to/from cabin seat, requires wheelchair for distance to/from aircraft and must be carried up/down steps.

Wheelchair for Cabin (WCHC) offers to passenger who is completely immobile. He requires wheelchair to/from aircraft and must be carried up/down steps and to/from cabin seat. (This device is accompanied to individual aircraft).

Today a lot of airlines have “paid seats” that include seats with extra leg room. After calling the special assistance desk, kindly ask them to assign seats for the passenger. Usually they will also accommodate one guest of the passenger with disability free of charge. Don’t pay for the seats until after you call the special service desk.

4.     Purchase travel insurance 

In an upcoming blog we will go into detail on the importance of purchasing travel insurance. All travelers should have travel insurance if they are traveling anywhere throughout the United States and worldwide. Make sure that the policy you get includes medical evacuation and medical services. A medical escort can cost up to $50,000 depending on where the patient is. An air ambulance will be even more expensive. This is not an expense you want to be paying out of pocket. Contact your travel agent to find the best policy for you. Many individuals think that nothing will happen to them, but if something does it is critical that you have insurance. Commercial Medical Escorts is a member of the US Travel Insurance Association. We encourage you to visit this link for FAQs on travel insurance: http://www.ustia.org/faqs.html.

5.      Useful tips for discomfort on the plane

Takeoff and landing of airplanes can sometimes cause uncomfortable sinus and ear pressure. It may also cause nausea. This can be problematic for elders with sinus problems, allergies or even a bad cold. Things like eating chewing gum, candy or a decongestant can help.

Dehydration can also be a concern when flying and can pose problems for seniors, especially those suffering from diabetes. Make sure that your elderly travelers drink plenty of fluids, especially water during the flight.

6.     Pack essential items in a carry-on back that is easily accessible.  

Pack any essential items in a light carry on that is easily accessible. Important things that you should include is medications, important documents and phone numbers, a travel pillow, boarding passes, your photo identification, a light sweater, and a few snacks. This should be in an easily accessible bag that is readily available instead of a roller suitcase.

7.     Choose the right type of transportation 

Keep in mind that every destination has a variety of transportation options for passengers with disabilities. You want to make sure the passenger is comfortable and so a taxi may not always be most appropriate. For example, a passenger may be able to get in/out of a taxi in New York City, but the traffic and how they drive could provide an uncomfortable ride for the passenger. There are wheelchair vans, town cars, limos, and SUVs in most locations. Limos are usually a good choice if the passenger may need to have a leg extended or elevated.

8.     Preventing DVT 

Sitting still for extended periods of time is a known risk factors for the development of blood clots in the veins of the legs. This condition is known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Some researchers believe that long-haul flights can be a risk factor in susceptible people.

Suggestions on how to reduce the small risk of DVT while flying include:

·         Consult with your doctor before flying. They may recommend that you take half an aspirin (150mg) on the day of the flight, and you may be advised to use elasticised stockings for the flight. Sometimes a self-administered injection of heparin is required.

·         Wear loose clothing.

·         Don't smoke.

·         Avoid alcoholic drinks and drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration.

·         Take strolls up and down the aisles when possible.

·         Avoid sitting with your legs crossed.

·         Perform leg and foot stretches and exercises while seated.

9.     Use A Travel Agent 

Booking your ticket on Expedia or Orbitz may seem easy and just a couple clicks away, but when something goes wrong with your flight, the fast efficient service comes to a halt. You may be forced to stand in long lines to rebook your travel and the agent on the phone or at the counter may not know all of your needs. Using a travel agent for elderly and those with special needs is very important. It gives the passenger a direct contact with someone who is knowledgeable about the passenger’s special needs. If a flight is canceled, they will look for the next best option for the passenger keeping in mind special requirements.

10.  Understand your rights and what is required at TSA 

Most travelers who are elderly or require special assistance can request a wheelchair at check-in. Even if they are traveling with another adult most likely they will be pushed through the airport by a “porter”. In a recent incident an elderly gentlemen was being taken through TSA at Fort Lauderdale Airport and the porter had him taking off his shoes and jacket. It is important for you to know what rules and policies are in place to assist the elderly. TSA has modified their screening procedures so that passengers 75 and older can:

·         Leave on shoes and light jackets through security checkpoints.

·         Undergo an additional pass through Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) to clear any anomalies detected during screening.

TSA also has a help line to assist those travelers in need. Travelers may call TSA Cares toll free at 1-855-787-2227 prior to traveling with questions about screening policies, procedures and what to expect at the security checkpoint.


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