The next victim in the war on terrorism — the duty free store?

Not content with merely harassing passengers at the security checkpoint, German police and pilot unions are calling for a ban on the sale of all flammable products at airport stores.

The ban would include most perfumes and beverages with a high alcohol content. The ban would even extend to disposable razors and metal cutlery at airport restaurants. Of course, a ban like this would most likely be the end of airport duty free stores, who depend on alcohol sales to pay the bills.

A spokesman for the police union had this to say: “The security interests of citizens need to have priority over economic interests”.

Sadly, when we start going down this slope, anything and everything that could potentially be used to start a fire should be banned. Say goodbye to toilet paper, plastic luggage and many sun tan lotions. The concept of naked passengers suddenly seems less insane.

The demand to cease selling these products reminds me of the in-flight entertainment ban that lasted just two days after the Christmas day bomb attempt. Any time there is a (botched) terror attack, people are always quick to point out what they think could be the best way to prevent a repeat.

Is Duty Free still a deal?

Duty FreeDuty Free shopping used to be an amazing way to get all your luxury items for cheap — from electronics to booze — but with the internet, the relaxing of import duties, and the weakening of the dollar, is it really a deal anymore?

Yesterday, the Sydney Morning Herald published some pointers for savvy Duty Free shopping. We condensed them for you:

1. Don’t even bother unless you’re somewhere where the exchange rate is favorable.

2. If you’re looking for a bargain on something specific or will be hitting several airports, you can compare Duty Free prices in different countries online at thedutyfreepriceguide.com.

3. If you’re getting something electronic, “try before you buy” at another retailer, because Duty Free goods from other countries are pretty tricky to return.

4. Don’t buy liquids unless you’re on the way out of the airport — they may be confiscated when you board even thought you bought them at the airport!

So, don’t be lured into thinking you’re getting the best deal just because you’re in a random country and there’s no tax. Do your research!

Fill your bottles before going to UK … because you can

The British government is planning to ease its ban on the amount of liquid you can take into and out of the country. Currently, passengers are only allowed to carry 100 ml bottles. Improved airport X-ray machines are expected to render that limit unnecessary. If all goes well – based on secret technology being tested by German scientists – the ban could be lifted by the end of the year.

Originally, the prohibition on fluids was enacted as a response to summer 2006 terror attacks. This new technology would improve the ability of security personnel to identify nefarious liquids. So, if all goes well, it will have taken us 3 ½ years to get back to the 2006 norm. Finally, a return to the days of easy duty free liquor!

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]

10 travel related things you just don’t see any more

Feeling nostalgic? I’ve compiled ten travel related things that are no longer around, including a couple of things that really brought back some memories of trips from the past.

Read through the 10 things I could think of, and leave a comment with anything you no longer see when you travel.

Smoking or Non Smoking?

With the possible exception of a few smaller airlines, you won’t find an airline in the world that still asks whether you want a smoking or non smoking seat on your flight.

I’m not that old, but I can still remember sitting in the back of the plane with all the smokers so my dad could light up.

Smoking is banned on any flight in, or destined to the United States, and an overview of the rules on worldwide airlines can be found here. In 2006, a German entrepreneur announced he was starting an airline where anyone would be free to smoke, but the concept never took off.


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Travel agents

In ancient times, booking a flight involved making a trip to your local travel agent. You’d often pop in for a stack of brochures, then you’d head back in a couple of days to make the actual reservation.

The booking involved filling in forms, and an agent calling the airline to check for availability, or if they sold enough trips, they’d use their green screen computer to check for availability. You’d then pay, and 2 weeks later your travel documents would be ready to pick up. Usually neatly stacked in a nice vinyl pouch.

There are still some travel agents around, but most of them have disappeared. The local travel agent is just another victim of Internet booking sites and airline cost cutting measures. Those still around tend to cater towards specialty trips, package deals or cruise vacations, where they can still make a few bucks in commission.

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Color TV! Phones!
Cable!

Sure, some less luxurious places may still have the old sign out front, but “color TV” is not the big selling point it used to be. Nowadays guests want 100 channels of HD, as well as a nice variety of pay per view flicks.

Access to your own in-room phone is also no longer a perk worth advertising, even though the phone has now become a major money maker for many hotels.

I haven’t been around long enough to know when “color TV” actually became something worth advertising, nor have I ever been to a hotel where the TV was not in color.

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Payphones

Let me admit right away that this one hasn’t completely vanished – but the payphone is most certainly not as common as it used to be, nor do that many people want to use them.

In a way, I kind of miss the hassle they offered, because they meant people had to stop and drop some coins into the slot in order to make a phone call. Nowadays it seems like everyone is on their phone, and the worst offenders seem to have their Bluetooth headset glued to their skulls 24/7.

The last time I made a call from a payphone was in 1998, when I arrived at Dulles with a dead phone battery. Nowadays I can use my cellular phone in almost any corner of the globe.

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Real room keys

We can put a computer inside your phone, and develop a car that runs off battery power – but for some reason we seem unable to make a magnetic room key that always works when you need it.

I remember when the room key hung on a big board behind the front desk, and you’d hand it in when you left the hotel for the day. The large weight on the key would usually remind you not to go out without leaving it behind.

The best part about the real key is that it always worked. You never arrived at your room at 2am to discover it was encoded incorrectly by a clueless night desk clerk, nor would you be able to receive a key for a room already occupied.

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Carbon copy ticket stock

This one is closely related to the travel agent – remember when airline tickets did not roll out of your home printer? You’d get them on airline ticket stock, in a cool red carbon print.

The carbon copy ticket still exists for a couple of airlines, or for trips too complicated for online ticketing (usually round the world tickets with over 10 segments).

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Affordable duty free shopping

To many, a trip to the airport never took place without first passing through the duty free shops. The stores themselves are still around, but they are not the deal heavens they used to be. In the past, the duty free shop was where you’d pick up a bottle of the “good stuff” for about 30% less than the liquor store in your town. You could always tell who traveled a lot, by the size and quality of the booze in their cabinet.

Nowadays duty free is just another overpriced way the airport tries to squeeze some more cash out of you before you fly. In Europe, duty free shopping between EU members was abolished in 1999, and most duty free stores in European airports sell only regular priced (luxury) items. Airports like Amsterdam Schiphol and London Heathrow have 100’s of stores, but only a handful of true “duty free” options.

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Film roll kiosks

It didn’t matter where you were – if it was something tourists enjoyed looking at, there would be some poor guy selling rolls of film in his little kiosk. If you were part of the new revolution, you’d buy your Kodak Disc cartridges from him. If you were really hardcore, you’d carry your Polaroid 600 with you, and get instant gratification!

Once you got back home, you’d have to drop all the film rolls off at the local photo store, and wait a week to get them back. That then changed to same day processing, then one hour processing, and nowadays we just stick a memory card in our computer and make our own prints.

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The VHS video camera

I still remember hauling a large bag with us on our trips. It contained a JVC video camera and VHS recorder.

By the time we had loaded the padded bag with batteries, a charger and a stack of tapes, the thing weighed about 60lbs, but at the time it was a marvel of technology.

It went everywhere we did – to the zoo, to the bar and even to the beach. After years of vacations, we ended up with 100’s of hours of video we never once watched again.

Nowadays the video camera inside many mobile phones is able to make better quality video than this thing did, which is probably why you don’t see anyone dragging one around any longer.

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Cheap plastic luggage

Nowadays, the big unknown by the baggage carousel is to see whether your baggage actually made it to your destination, but I still remember the days when the big surprise was whether your cheap luggage made it in one piece, and how many of the handles were still attached.

These crappy bags were often made of vinyl glued onto cardboard, and you were lucky if they survived the trip to the airport, let along a long haul flight abroad.

Perhaps it’s just me, but I suspect luggage quality has improved in recent years, and very few people actually still travel with the old fashioned suitcase.