Go with the flow

The world of travel - post Sept. 11 - is full of surprises. Some are pleasant - bargains abound in cruise fares. Some aren't - because of airline layoffs, you may have to wait longer at the baggage carousel for your luggage to arrive.

Many cruise lines have revamped their itineraries in the past six weeks. You'll find fewer European cruises and more ships now plying the waters of the Western Hemisphere.

Even the European cruises that remain may not be the same as last year. Often, ports that are perceived as "less safe" are being bypassed. This year, for instance, the Golden Princess stopped at Istanbul and Kusadasi, Turkey (see story on page 12), but next summer, Princess has substituted stops in Civitavecchia (for Rome) and Malta.

And don't think that increased security is just for airports anymore. Crystal Cruises has issued a new set of enhanced safety rules. Only ticketed guests will be allowed on board - no visitors. Photo IDs will be checked not only at initial boarding, but also at all ports of call. There will be no visits to the ship's bridge or the engine room. And all luggage - belonging to both crew and passengers - will be X-rayed.

To navigate today's travel scene, common sense, knowledge, and flexibility are the traveler's best friends. Always pay for your travel arrangements with a credit card. Debit cards and cash cards don't offer the same protection if the airline, cruise company, or travel agency should unexpectedly fold.

If you plan to fly, keep up with the security rules, which have been changing frequently. Those with access to the Internet will want to check one of the large all-encompassing travel websites, such as Expedia (www.expedia.com), before departure. Or call your airline.

But be aware that personnel at each airport may interpret the rules differently. While nail clippers and tweezers have been removed from the official list of carry-on no-nos, some passengers have still had them confiscated. Better to pack anything questionable in your checked luggage.

At some airports, delays have been reported because every passenger's laptop computer is opened and turned on. At others, laptops are allowed to sail through the X-ray machine without personal inspection.

At Boston's Logan Airport, men and women are asked to remove their suit jackets and place them on the conveyor belt with their carry-on bags. The machines are set to a higher sensitivity in many cases. In all my years of flying, I've never set off the metal detector before, but on a recent jaunt, I got stopped because of tiny cotton-covered metal-backed buttons on my blouse.

Keep your official ID - driver's license or passport - in an easily accessible place until after you've boarded the plane. You never know when you'll be asked to show it. On recent trips, I've been asked to show my ID as I approached the security checkpoint, as well as upon checking in and boarding the plane. Each airport is different.

The same is true of how long it will take you to check in. The official recommendation is to get to the airport two hours before your domestic flight is scheduled to leave. But a frequent-flying friend says that following that advice has meant, on a couple of occasions, cooling his heels 90 minutes waiting to board a flight, while another time he missed the plane.

What about the first plane out in the morning? Are you prepared to get to the airport at 4 a.m.? Faced with that choice, I decided to take a flight the night before. One colleague showed up just before 5 for a 6 a.m. flight to find a huge line.

Because it will be necessary to spend more time in airports, you'll want to add several extra paperback books to what you usually take, not to mention an additional bottle of water and a snack, since most airlines are dropping meal service except on very long flights.

Among the more appealing changes you may find in the brave new world of travel: Some tour operators (among them, Far & Wide, www. farandwide.com; Bombard Society, www.bombardsociety.com) have instituted no-penalty cancellations or free trip insurance.

But be sure to read the fine print. You may be able to cancel your trip for any reason, but that doesn't always mean you'll get your money back. Sometimes it's only applied to a future trip.

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