In this month’s edition of our travel advice column Check Your Baggage, we discuss dangerous drinks, pies in the sky, the Global Entry renewal backlog, and more.
How to Spot Counterfeit Alcohol
Q. “Even though the recent tourist deaths in the Dominican Republic were found not to be caused by tainted alcohol, I’m still worried about it. How can I protect myself from getting a dangerous drink abroad?”—CT
A. Tainted alcohol is a real problem. According to the World Health Organization, around 25 percent of the alcohol in the world is illegal (meaning that it’s not monitored for quality or taxed). Unscrupulous businesses will try to save some money by stocking counterfeit alcohol that has been made illegally and with no oversight; this liquor can be tainted with methanol or other deadly add-ins.
Protect yourself by learning how to spot counterfeit alcohol. The United Kingdom’s Trading Standards Institute advises checking the four Ps: place, price, packaging, and product. Try to buy your alcohol from reputable shops and bars, don’t fall for deals that seem too good to be true, avoid bottles with labels that seem slightly off (look for misspellings of brand names or peeling labels) or don’t have properly sealed caps, and check the smell and appearance of the liquor before drinking it.
Can I Bring My Famous Pecan Pie on the Plane?
Q. “I’m traveling for Thanksgiving and want to bring my famous pecan pie on the plane with me. It’s not really a jiggly pie in the way that pumpkin is, so will the TSA be cool with it?”—TJ
A. If you have to ask yourself, “will the TSA be cool with it,” the answer is usually no. However, as a Thanksgiving miracle, I’m happy to report that the TSA is in fact onboard with letting your pie … onboard—even if it’s a “jiggly” pumpkin. According to the TSA’s handy “Can I Bring” tool, pie is allowed in carry-ons and checked bags. Just be warned that it will still have to go through the X-ray machine.
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Global Entry Backlog
Q. “I submitted my Global Entry renewal application and was called in for an interview. When I try to schedule one, the site doesn’t show any availability at an airport near me for a year! What do I do?”—KT
A. According to the Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Trusted Traveler programs like Global Entry and TSA PreCheck are still catching up from the partial government shutdown almost a year ago. If you can’t find an open interview slot near you, the CBP advises that you keep checking the website, as cancellations might free up spots. Anecdotally, we’ve seen success with this approach. Editor Christine Sarkis checked twice a week for four weeks without finding a single appointment at her closest airport. But on the fifth week, suddenly more than half a dozen appointments opened up.
You can also try an “Enrollment on Arrival” interview if, after an international flight, you’re arriving at an airport that offers Global Entry. Depending on availability, you may be allowed to combine your arrival screening with your renewal interview.
The good news is that if you have applied for renewal before your current membership has expired, you can still use your Global Entry until your renewal is finalized (for up to six months after your expiration date).
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How Often Should the Window Seat Get Up on a Flight?
Q. “I was recently stuck in a middle seat on a long flight, and the person in the window seat asked me to move at least four times so that he could get up. Isn’t that too many times?” —CC
A. Until the airlines come to their senses and design coach seats that allow passengers to get out of their seats without disturbing others, unfortunately my answer will have to be: no amount of times is too many (if there’s a legitimate reason).
If your seatmate was experiencing some medical distress, you’d probably rather have him or her get up and use the facilities than the airsickness bag next to you, wouldn’t you? Of course, people sitting in the window and middle seats should try to be considerate and not get up unless they really need to (or try to time their seat breaks for when someone else in the row is also getting up), but that can’t always be helped. Try to keep your seatmates’ needs in mind and not get up while they’re sleeping if you can wait. If you find yourself in that situation again and you’re comfortable with the idea, you could also suggest that you swap seats with the passenger who needs to get up often.
The only thing I think we can all agree on? People should never violently grab the back of the seat in front of them when getting up.
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Buying Locals Tickets: Travel Hack or Unethical Move
Q. “On a recent trip to Belize, we took a ferry that was charging locals one price and tourists another for a ticket. My friend (a tourist) thought this was unfair and so paid a local to buy tickets for us at the local price, but I felt a little uncomfortable. Is this a legit travel hack that people do?” —CC
A. I’ve seen travelers boast about this trick, but it’s an unethical move for sure. Many local ferries and other forms of domestic transportation depend on tourist revenue to stay in business. The locals use these boats as part of their everyday life and livelihood, so it wouldn’t be fair to expect someone earning a local wage to pay the same price as a higher-earning tourist on vacation. If you can afford to travel, you can afford to be honest and pay the tourist price.
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A Tight Connection
Q. “I have a super tight connection (45 minutes) on an upcoming flight and I’m nervous about missing my plane. How can I make sure I make it?” —MT
A. A connection time that short is a gamble, but there are a few things you can do to maximize your chance of making your onward flight. Try to pick a seat in the front of the plane so you can be one of the first people off. If you get stuck in the back of the plane, flag down a friendly flight attendant during your journey and let them know about your situation—they may make an announcement asking people to remain in their seats upon landing so that you can get off first. (This works better if your flight is delayed and a few others are in the same situation.) Sign up for flight notifications through your airline so you’ll be alerted to what gate you’re arriving at and which gate you need to get to, and then study the airport map on the plane (this may require you to have already downloaded the connection airport’s app so you have easy access to terminal maps).
If all else fails, be prepared to run! There’s no shame in an airport sprint when a missed flight is on the line.
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Got a burning travel question you want to see answered in next month’s column? Do you vehemently disagree with my answers to this month’s questions? Comment below or send me an e-mail at email@example.com with the subject line: Check Your Baggage.
Editor’s Note: Submitted questions have been edited for clarity and length.
More from SmarterTravel:
- Do You Have to Switch Seats If Someone Asks?
- Are These Flyers Abusing the Southwest Seating Policy?
- What Are the Rules Around Airline Flight Changes?
Caroline Morse Teel is a Senior Editor at SmarterTravel. Follow her on Instagram @TravelWithCaroline for photos from around the world.