What’s the deal with duty-free?

Take an international flight, and the signs are seductive. “Duty-free” beckons you into endless rows of stores with some sense of tax savings and bargain shopping. In the United States, this trims the cost of local import taxes, but in Europe, you also bypass the value added tax (VAT), which can cut the cost by up to 25 percent.

But, it’s not that easy … it’s never that easy.

On your next jaunt to Europe, dropping more than $800 on these discounted goods can result in your having to pay import taxes when you hit your home turf. Generally, you’ll be charged 3 percent on the first $1,000 you spend over the $800 threshold. As the amount purchased increases, so does the tax.

According to an article on CNN, the best deals are on cigarettes and liquor. When it comes to luxury goods, it pays to comparison shop and keep an eye on currency swings.

[Via CNN]

Smoking hurts on Saudi airline

For a smoker, nothing is more miserable than staring down a long flight without being able to light up. As if air travel isn’t enough of a chore, various regulations and health nuts have taken away our preferred coping mechanism. A Sudanese man fought back … and paid dearly.

According to the Daily Mail, the passenger lit a cigarette on a Saudi Arabian Airlines flight from Qurayyat to Jeddah. The cabin crew repeatedly asked that he put out the coffin nail, and he refused. So, when the plane touched down, he was arrested.

Saying sorry wasn’t enough.

Though he apologized in court and presented evidence that he was in a smoking cessation program, the perp was sentenced to 30 lashes. Hey, the judge wanted to prove a point. And, it could have been worse. Last April, another in-flight smoker was sentenced to 50.

Not only does smoking kill … it hurts like hell.

Though many human rights organizations condemn this form of punishment, it is quite common for a number of offenses, from adultery to being alone with a non-relative of the opposite sex. Some crimes can lead to thousands of lashes, but they are meted out in batches of 50 over a period of months.

What gets you 1,000 lashes? I don’t know, but I suspect a post-coital cig after joining the mile-high club would put you in the running.

[Via Daily Mail]

What strange things have been found on planes?

He apparently really needed that smoke

Everyone knows that smoking is not allowed on Delta flights — including passenger Henry McDowell, Jr., who lit up in the bathroom and then started a fight so brutal the FBI got involved.

Here is the sequence of events. Backwards:
12. The plane lands, and McDowell is charged with interfering with a flight crew.
11. McDowell apologizes to the flight attendant he smacked twice.
10. McDowell is moved to the front of the plane, away from the people he was fighting.
9. McDowell smacks a flight attendant twice.
8. McDowell goes postal on a passenger, the passenger’s girlfriend, and the passenger’s girlfriend’s brother.
7. A different passenger expresses his displeasure in a comment to McDowell.
6. The crew decides to land the plane and get rid of Henry McDowell in Raleigh, North Carolina (because it wouldn’t be fair to take him to his destination after he broke the rules? WTF, Delta? If I’d been a passenger on that plane who needed to catch a connecting flight or had an appointment I’d have been irate. Irate.).
5. Henry McDowell is caught smoking.
4. Henry McDowell lights a smoke.
3. The airplane takes off.
2. Henry McDowell says that the “airplane sucks.”
1. Henry McDowell is a loud, aggressive douche at the gate.
0. Henry McDowell’s life sucks. (We figure).

You can read the whole FBI account here (.pdf).

I really disagree with Delta’s call here. The flight was only going to Savannah, Georgia, and the fact that they made an emergency landing for this dude probably just added to his inflated sense of himself.

[via Wired]

New state laws that affect travelers in 2009

There are slew of new state laws that have gone into effect with the change to 2009. Here are some of the ones that I’ve culled from this CBS News/AP article that could impact travelers depending upon which state you head to for a vacation this year.

In California, do not read-or-write text messages while you drive. It’s now illegal. Heavens! Can you imagine someone texting on a freeway in L.A.?

If you are in Illinois and are having a heart attack at an outdoor fitness facility, look for a defibrillator. All such facilities are now required to have one.

Don’t even think about urinating or defecating in public in New Hampshire. If you decide to let go, it could cost you a $1,000 fine. Did people in New Hampshire have a problem holding it until they found a toilet? That was my initial thinking. Turns out, the law is to prevent people who pee in public from being labeled as sex offenders.

For smokers in Oklahoma, only fire-safe cigarettes are being sold. If you’re a smoker in Oregon, don’t light up in a bar. Smoking is now banned in bars. Trans-fat is also banned in Oregon. From the finest restaurants to fast food, not a speck of trans fat is to be used.

Top 10 stupidest laws you could encounter abroad

Europe struggles to stub out smoking

All across Europe, increasingly health-conscious governments have been banning smoking in public places like hospitals, train stations, bars and restaurants. Austria, one of the few remaining countries in Western Europe to not yet institute a ban, will be tightening their anti-smoking rules beginning in 2009.

The halcyon days of carefree European smoking look to be a thing of the past, right? Apparently not. As the Wall Street Journal reports today, European businesses and citizens are fighting back against the bans, lobbying desperately to hold on to their precious fire sticks.

Instead of creating across-the-board smoking bans as originally hoped, countries like France, Italy and Germany have allowed a variety of exceptions to the new rules. Federal lawsuits in Germany have allowed many restaurants to stay cig-friendly, while in Italy the Health Ministry reports there are nearly as many smokers now as when the country-wide bans went into place in 2005. It’s hard to blame them when the Italian model of sanctity himself, Pope Benedict XVI, has been known to light up on occasion.

So what’s really going on here? Is it that smoking is truly an inextricable component of European identity, as iconic as that Parisian cafe and a cup of coffee? Or is this something more political, a fight for personal rights in the face of governments that want to penalize us for our indulgences? Whatever the outcome, expect European rules surrounding public smoking to be clouded in a choking haze of indecision for the foreseeable future.