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What do the new rules on seat belt extenders mean for me?

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Feel like you should know more about the air quality of the destination you're traveling to? Ever wonder what the airline lingo "excess valuation" really means? Curious about the rules on seat belt extenders? Here's all you need to know about important travel questions you may not even think to ask. 

How Bad is Hong Kong's Air Quality?

Q: We are flying from Los Angeles to Hong Kong this December and have heard horror stories about air pollution. Is it really that bad? How does it compare to L.A.’s air quality?

A: Air pollution in Hong Kong is considered a serious problem.  Reuters reported in October that the air pollution index reached "very high" and "severe" levels multiple times in 2013.  And a recent study commissioned by Greenpeace found that pollution contributed to 3,600 deaths and 4,000 cases of child asthma in 2011 from pollution from nearby coal-fired power plants. A very useful website to monitor air quality around the world is aqicn.org. Just add /city/(name of city) at the end of the URL to find a real-time air quality index. For example, according to on November 1, Hong Kong’s air quality was an “unhealthy” 127 although Beijing was even worse at a “very unhealthy” 259 (300 and above is considered “hazardous”). In contrast, downtown Los Angeles on the same day was merely a “good” 42. If you have asthma or other health conditions when visiting Hong Kong, it’s wise to limit outdoor exercise and stay indoors as much as possible.

What is Airline "Excess Valuation"?

Q: If you purchase the excess valuation from your airline when you check bags, do you still have to produce receipts in the case of loss or damage? It seems unreasonable to have to keep receipts for every item that you pack.

A: Most likely you'd be asked to produce receipts when filing a claim and when you check in you'll need to describe the contents of your bag. It's always a good idea to save receipts for things you purchase for insurance purposes in case you need to make a claim with your home or renters insurance, your credit card company, your airline or whatever. For those who don't know what excess valuation is and why you might need it, this coverage costs very little (often just $1 per $100 of coverage) and it’s especially important when any portion of your trip from the U.S. includes international travel. This link tells the full story.

What Are The New Rules On Seat Belt Extenders?

Q: My husband and I will soon fly to my hometown for Christmas, as we do every year. He's a pretty big guy, and requires a seat belt extender when we fly. To save us from having to ask the flight crew, we ordered one of our own and it worked out fine for last year's trip. However my husband says he recently heard that these were banned. How can that be?

A: This is partly true, and it's due to safety concerns. The FAA didn't ban all seat belt extenders, just those that passengers bring from home. That includes extenders that claim to be FAA-approved. According to the rule, the seat belt extender must be provided to you by the airline.

George Hobica is a syndicated travel journalist and founder of the low-airfare listing site Airfarewatchdog.com.