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Despite the recent terrorist plot, Italians are still traveling to their heart's content – but they're taking precautions and tolerating the inevitable inconveniences
This is the second in a series of stories about travel to Italy and how it is being affected by the latest terrorist plot. You can participate in the reporting of these stories by responding to a relevant poll located to the right. You can also write to me at email@example.com to share your recent travel experiences to Italy. I'd like to know what security was like, if and how you prepared differently for your trip, what the airport was like, etc.
AUGUST 20, 2006 - In light of the latest terrorist threat to the skies, Italy is already taking action. Almost immediately, the country arrested and deported those who might have terrorist links, and Italians, who read "Our Paesani," are reporting that security at Italian airports - like most places these days - has gotten tighter. But travelers, especially Italians living abroad, are not letting fear get in the way of their dolce vita fix. "Even the most fearful flyer will go to great lengths to see the people they most care about," says Lucia Corvelli, in Rome, where her fiancé lives. "We can't stop our lives."
Indeed, Corvelli has a point. I myself just booked my next trip to Ischia for October, and I can hardly wait - despite the butterflies in my stomach that will undoubtedly have me keeping a close eye on my fellow passengers and their belongings. And I'm not alone. In a recent, completely unscientific poll of visitors to my Web site, francescadimeglio.com, more than 60 percent of respondents said that the news of the latest threats would not cause them to change their travel plans. (You can respond to the same poll here on ItaliansRus, which shows that more than 70 percent of respondents would not change their travel plans.)
We should all be resting easier. After all, those plotting to blow up American airliners flying from the United Kingdom to the United States never got the chance to put the plan into play. Instead of tragically losing thousands of lives, we simply have to put up with some inconveniences at the world's airports. Anyone who has been to an Italian airport knows that inconveniences have long been part of the game.
Italian airports are notorious for chaos, delays, and ridiculousness. I once took an Alitalia connection from Roma to Napoli at Easter time and had to wait four and half hours because "the plane is broken and not working for some reason." I swear that is actually what they told us. Now, with all the security measures, things are just going to get worse.
In defense of Italian airlines, I can say that they have taken the right steps. Rather than be alarmists, they have just been proactive about getting information to passengers and even potential passengers. If you head to Eurofly.it, the Italian version of the discount airline's Web site, you'll immediately see a pop-up message for anyone going to New York. The note assures customers that NY-Italy flights were never threatened and that Eurofly is complying - and asks its passengers to do the same - with the new regulations issued by the Department of Homeland Security. You'll find a similar notice on the homepage of Eurofly's American site, www.euroflyusa.com.
Alitalia, probably the most famous Italian airline, issued a press release on the day the authorities shared their knowledge about the plot with the public. The embattled airline assured passengers, whose flights from London were canceled, that they'd be able to get another ticket at no extra charge if they booked before August 13.
A reader, Filippa, who recently traveled from Roma says that she took more precautions by carrying less stuff with her and paying attention to her surroundings. She adds that security, especially in Roma, was beefed up. Still, for her, the new state of airports is somewhat sad. "For sure, it was not as pleasant or exciting as before," Filippa says. "It seemed that freedom and the well being of just a few years ago had gone by the way of the wind."
Yet, we all still have the desire to get up and go. Italian airports are doing their best to help us make our travel dreams a reality despite the terror threats. Besides getting security in top shape for already existing flights, Italian airports are learning to expect the unexpected. A bomb threat scrawled on a sick bag forced a British plane from London to Egypt to land in southern Italy on August 18, according to MSNBC.com. It turned out to be a false alarm, but everyone seemed to know just what to do. Airport security is at least somewhat more prepared than it was pre 9/11.
So, what do you - a mere traveler - need to know? For starters, those traveling from the United States, at least for now, can no longer bring liquids or gels of any kind in carry-on baggage. There are only a few exceptions - life-saving medicine prescribed by a doctor, such as insulin, and baby formula. But there are rules for babies and the ill as well.
For instance, reader Susanna hasn't been back to Italy since the spring, but she did travel within the United States since the terrorist plot was uncovered. She had to practically jump through hoops - and feed her baby son in full view of security guards - to get special permission to carry on board more than the four-ounce limit of baby food or one jar. Her son usually eats about 5 jars. Security let her carry all the jars in the end but it was a frustrating experience. "Let me tell you there is nothing more upsetting to an Italian American mamma than to be told that her baby will go hungry," she says.
Every travel expert worth his or her salt is advising folks to pack light and check in as much luggage as possible. But what about those cell phones, laptops and other electronic devices? My suggestion is to call the airport and the airline before lugging these items with you. You may find out that you can't take them on the plane, depending on your destination. And you wouldn't want to check them because they are delicate and might not survive the usually bumpy journey your luggage tolerates. If you know ahead of time, you can make arrangements to have necessities like a computer or cell phone (especially if you're going to Italy on business like I am) shipped to your final destination.
Whatever you do, don't let the terrorist threats keep you from having adventures, seeing the important people in your life, and traveling. I couldn't imagine never being able to go back to Italy - and I want all of you to get the chance to travel there, too. Buon viaggio!
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