✉ My wife and I are planning a holiday in Cuba in January and to visit America in March. The UK government website states that it’s possible to travel to the USA after you’ve been to Cuba, but we might want to take supporting documents about the purpose of our trip to Cuba in case we’re questioned by immigration officials. The official Esta (visa waiver) website, however, states that if a traveller is found to have visited a country designated as a state sponsor of terrorism, the traveller is no longer eligible to participate in the visa waiver programme and must apply for a visa to enter America. Cuba is on the US list of state sponsors of terrorism and we’re concerned that if we travel relying on Estas we may be denied entry. We want to avoid the complications of applying for a US visa if possible. Can you clarify the position?
Anyone relying on this online advice from the Foreign Office and trying to enter the US with an Esta could get a nasty shock if one of America’s famously jolly immigration officials chooses to look at their travel history. Cuba was placed on that state sponsors of terrorism list in January 2021 (joining Iran, North Korea and Syria) and if you’ve visited the island in the last 11 years you’ll have to apply for a visa, which will entail a visit to the US embassy in London and costs £141pp. The situation could change at any time (President Biden pledged to re-establish relations with Cuba during his election campaign) but you do have plenty of time before the trip, so erring on the safe side seems to be the sensible option.
✉ My wife and I are keen to explore the Highlands and possibly islands of Scotland in a camper van and are thinking of travelling, with our two dogs, some time between mid-May and mid-June to capitalise on daylight. Are there companies that hire out camper vans and can provide routes and guidance on camping sites?
Pick up Rooftop Campers’ automatic Ford Transit camper van Macdui from Moray, near Inverness airport, and you will have a full-size double bed (plus a pop-up roof tent), a small kitchen with a gas hob and fridge, and heating to keep you toasty on chilly nights. Two small dogs are allowed, and the owners — a Highland couple who set up the business during lockdown — are happy to advise on routes and camping. In May next year hire would cost £100 a day (minimum five nights; service fees apply), plus £20 for bedding and towels. Transfers are available from Inverness airport (rooftopcampers.co.uk). If you’d prefer something slightly larger, five nights in a Select 122 two-berth manual van with a rear lounge, kitchen and wash room would cost £1,050, plus £50 for bedding and towels and £105 for collision damage waiver cover (pets go free) and can be picked up from Heathrow, Manchester or Edinburgh (swiftgo.co.uk). The Camping and Caravanning Club has details of eight Scottish road trips with campsites en route but you might want to avoid the North Coast 500, Scotland’s answer to Route 66, which can get uncomfortably busy in May and June (campingandcaravanningclub.co.uk).
Corpach and Ben Nevis, Scotland
✉ I’ve always wanted to travel to Iraq to see Babylon and the spiral minaret in Samarra. Having seen Channel 5’s Michael Palin travelogue, I’d like to go there on an organised tour. Is that possible? As it would be against Foreign Office advice I presume I’d need specialist insurance.
Untamed Borders, which specialises in travel to less accessible places, organised Michael Palin’s epic trip and it has a Cradle of Civilisation tour to Iraq on several dates this winter (it says it added an extra departure in December because of increased demand). Starting in Baghdad and ending in Basra on the Gulf coast, the eight-night tour includes visits to ancient Sumerian and Babylonian sites, as well as medieval souks, Samarra’s minaret, Shia Islam’s two holiest sites, and a boat trip on the Shatt al-Arab waterway. It costs £3,250pp B&B, including guiding, transport and visa support (untamedborders.com). Flights are extra, via Istanbul with Turkish Airlines or via the Gulf with Emirates or Qatar Airways. For insurance try Battleface (battleface.com) or High Risk Voyager (highriskvoyager.com).
The Malwiya Minaret at the Great Mosque of Samarra, Iraq
✉ We are due to fly to Venice in January. This is the third time I have “rolled over” these flights, at some extra cost. I have now received an email from BA saying our 7pm return flight, four months away, has been cancelled. As a replacement BA is offering a flight at 8.40am. As well as forcing us to leave Venice at some unearthly hour to check in, it has also basically cancelled the last day of our holiday. Do I have options given the impracticality of BA’s offering?
I’ve had a flurry of complaints from readers about BA’s method of reallocating flights after cancellations. The airline insists that passengers on affected flights are spread randomly across other services but if the timing doesn’t suit you, you can go into “manage my booking” online and pick a flight that does. If, however, you accept the alternative flight BA offers in its email informing you about the cancellation but then change your mind, any further change would usually be subject to its standard T&Cs, which could mean extra charges.
Old Havana, Cuba
✉ We are going round in circles trying to understand whether we are able to claim compensation for a Kos-Gatwick flight cancelled by Tui on July 7 last year. We received an email nine days before departure cancelling the flight for four of us and saying we would be refunded. There was no offer of an alternative flight, assistance to book with an alternative airline, or information about our rights to compensation. We were already in Greece and had to completely reroute our trip, forfeiting our last night in Patmos and returning on a BA flight from Athens. All of this cost an extra £700. Tui initially stated we weren’t entitled to compensation because we had only booked flights, not a package holiday. We were then told that we couldn’t be compensated because our flight didn’t appear on the list of flights delayed by three or more hours (we explained again our flight had been cancelled, not delayed). The final communication last month stated that flight cancellations in 2021 aren’t entitled to compensation. Can you help?
If there were no “extraordinary circumstances” relating to the cancellation of your flight less than two weeks before departure, you were entitled to compensation under EU regulation 261/2004, and Tui’s excuses for denying your claim were ridiculous. It has now agreed to pay £1,400 because you were entitled to £350 each for a medium-distance flight, and your extra expenses will be refunded too. It said assistance with rebooking was available from its “24/7 helpline team” or its duty office.
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