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Electronic Explorer

Rx for Trips Gone Awry

September 08, 1996|LAURA BLY

A glut of electronic puffery notwithstanding, the World Wide Web offers travelers a growing array of consumer advice designed to prevent and resolve on-the-road snafus.

One of the most savvy sources is Global Network Navigator's new Trip Doctor (http://tripdoc.com/), a free online advocacy service that investigates readers' travel complaints and, when appropriate, seeks compensation for botched journeys. Under the direction of Morris Dye, travel editor for GNN, Trip Doctor tackles problems that range from flying with pets to landing a refund when a cruise line goes under. Updated reports appear each Monday along with tip sheets on such topics as trip cancellation insurance and the pros and cons of buying airline tickets through consolidators. An added benefit for Internet travelers: Trip Doctor responses frequently include links to other travel resources on the Web.

Dye says readers' travel-related questions are "all over the map," with car rentals generating the most interest. But the Trip Doctor has logged just one complaint about a travel company soliciting business via the Internet. The doc's prescription: Use "the same level of caution you'd apply to any transaction, whether in person or over the telephone . . . check up on the company's background, ask about any rules and restrictions that apply and get the details in writing."

Another valuable source for travel advice is the online incarnation of Conde Nast Traveler's popular Ombudsman column (http://travel.epicurious.com/travel/g_cnt/04_ombudsman/intro.html). Web readers can browse an archive of past Ombudsman disputes and outcomes, sorted by category, or solicit tips from fellow travelers in a No Way Out discussion forum.

The Web site run by the American Society of Travel Agents (http://www.astanet.com) is directed more to agents than their clients. But the consumer affairs department of the world's largest travel trade organization does provide general travel tips, information on how to lodge a complaint against an ASTA member and a link to a listing of Better Business Bureau members.

It's too soon to tell, meanwhile, whether the just-launched Vacation Travel News (http://www.ttgweb.com) will succeed in its mission to provide "personal interaction" among consumers, travel agents and the editors of Tour and Travel News, a respected trade publication.

One of its most promising features: Travel Doctor, an online discussion forum for questions, tips and complaints about trips gone awry.

Small bytes: This month marks the debut of Microsoft's Mungo Park (http://www.mungopark.com), an Internet adventure magazine that represents the software giant's second foray into online journalism. (Michael Kinsley's Slate came out this summer.) Named after a Scottish explorer who disappeared 200 years ago after charting and exploring the Niger River, Mungo Park is edited by Richard Bangs, founder of Mountain Travel-Sobek. First expedition: a trek to Ethiopia's Takeze River. . . . "Saturday night, Coconut Grove. It was the usual scene: Thousands of people, not one of whom a normal person would call normal." So begins "Naked Came the Manatee," a serial mystery novel penned by such Florida luminaries as Dave Barry (who wrote the first chapter), Edna Buchanan, Elmore Leonard and Carl Hiassen. It's online via Destination Florida (http://www.goflorida on the Web; keyword: Florida on America Online), a top-notch interactive magazine devoted to Florida travel. . . . Check out Burbank/Gendale/Pasadena Airport's new Web site (http://www.bur.com) for airline schedules, airport transportation information and more.

Electronic Explorer appears monthly. Comments and questions are welcome at Laura.Bly@latimes.com.

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