Ask Airfarewatchdog: Hong Kong Air Quality, Airplane Seat Belts

11/02/2013 07:21 am ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Hong Kong 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 LA's air quality?

A: According to Wikipedia, "Air pollution in Hong Kong is considered a serious problem. Visibility is less than eight kilometers for 30% of the year. Cases of asthma and bronchial infections have soared in recent years... The pollution comes largely from coal-fired power stations and traffic, although a significant contribution comes from the tens of thousands of factories in China." A very useful website to monitor air quality around the world is Just add /city/(name of city) at the end of the URL (e.g., to find a real-time air quality index. 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 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 tells the full story.

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.