Tag: TSA

You’re Surfing Gravity Waves, Dude

gravity waveAccording to a new study, gravity waves, mysterious waves that ripple unseen throughout the atmosphere, may be a major source of airplane turbulence.  Yep, gravity, the source of all my weight and aging problems, is now found to be hitting airplanes in waves (like water).  Gravity waves in the atmosphere can amplify and break , and it’s been determined that’s it’s a major contributor to turbulence in the atmosphere that affects aircraft.

Gravity waves form when air traveling up and down in the atmosphere meets resistance.  For instance, clouds rising in the troposphere, the lower level of the atmosphere where air mixes freely, will bump up against the boundary of the much more stable stratosphere, forming ripples in the process.  Big mountains like the Colorado Rockies often form gravity waves as air flows over the mountains and then overshoots as it reaches the other side.

Gravity waves in the atmosphere can amplify and break, and we’re finding now that’s a major contributor to turbulence in the atmosphere that affects aircGravity waves in the atmosphere can amplify and break, and we’re finding now that’s a major contributor to turbulence in the atmosphere that affects aircraft.

If you think about it, the theory behind gravity waves make a lot of sense.  For example, have you every asked yourself why it’s harder to get out of bed in the morning on some days than others.  Or why your weight fluctuates 5-10 pounds?  It’s not the extra piece of holiday cake.  It’s because you’re being hit with a gravity wave.

Here’s some more travel news you can use:

  • US Airways has become one of the world’s first airlines to accept MasterCard PayPass-enabled cards and devices to make contactless payments for in-flight purchases. Passengers can tap their PayPass-enabled MasterCard or device on a US Airways’ PayPass-accepting reader to complete a transaction without use of a PIN or signature because of the low-value transactions.
  • Those who want to see the TSA go away may have their day.  The agency has been so widely criticized for its procedures that it didn’t even bother to show up for a House aviation subcommittee hearing last week, as officials seemed fearful of having to answer hard questions and wanted to avoid getting publicly lambasted (again).  But the TSA’s absence may have spoke louder than words.
  • YouTube has reached a new agreement with commercial airline Virgin America that brings web video content to passengers during flights. Beginning Dec. 15, passengers can watch videos from five YouTube channel partners on the small screen that’s in the back of each seat’s head rest. The content includes Warner Brothers’ H+ The Digital Series, WIGS’ Blue, Geek & Sundry’s Written By a Kid, Crash Course, and Barely Political’s The Key of Awesome.

Airport Body-Scanners Now More “Gumby-like”

gumbyDue to privacy concerns and heavy scrutiny from travelers regarding the use of body scanning technology at airport security checkpoints, the TSA has unveiled new machines that will project an identical “Gumby-like” image for each person, detecting weapons and other non-metallic materials – without actually showing the passenger’s body, TSA officials said.  Both TSA screeners and passengers will be able to see the images at checkpoints.

The new image is rudimentary, gender-neutral figure with mitten hands, a halo of hair, and no nose – a marked contrast to the photo-negative-like pictures that are so explicit that they are viewed in private rooms by TSA officers.  (Insert smutty thoughts here.)  The new machines also produce no radiation – which was a concern for a number of travelers.

The machines are already being installed at Logan Airport in Boston, but they will likely be coming to an airport near you sometime soon.

Here’s some more travel news you can use:

  • Think your stuff is secure once it’s safely locked in your hotel room?  Think again.  Hackers have created a device that fits into a dry-erase pen that can be used to instantly open hundreds of thousands of hotel door locks worldwide.  The pen exploits a flaw in lock-maker Onity’s system.  It relies on the fact that the locks have very little security on their memory systems, allowing any device that knows the Onity lock “language” to unlock it.
  • American Airlines grounded 48 of its Boeing 757s for a second time after determining more repairs were needed to keep passenger seats from coming loose.  Earlier this week AA grounded 48 planes after seats had come loose on two of them during three separate flights in the last several days.  Two flights had to make emergency landings.  The airline said the repairs will be completed by Saturday – but some flights will be delayed and others will need to be canceled until the repairs are done correctly.
  • Flying for the holidays this year?  Well, it’s gonna run you a little more than last year.  (What?  Did you actually think holiday travel would get cheaper?)  The average domestic airfare for travel during the upcoming holiday season has risen about 3% over last year.  I wasn’t a math major, but that’s an increase of about $10 on a $300 ticket.  Probably not enough to keep you home, but enough boost airline revenue.  It’s how the game is played.

tsachildpatdownA video of a Transportation Security Administration worker patting down a 6-year-old girl at Armstrong International Airport in April has prompted changes to the TSA’s policy for screening children.  While no specific changes have been detailed by the TSA yet, here’s what we do know:  The changes will apply to kids 12 and younger are intended to ultimately reduce  - though not eliminate – pat-downs of children.  We’ll keep you posted as the new policy changes become a little clearer.

Here’s some more travel news you can use:

  • Jews and Israelis, or passengers carrying any non-Islamic article of faith, will not be able allowed to fly Delta Air Lines flights from the U.S. to Saudi Arabia under Delta’s new partnership with Saudi Arabian Airlines.  Although Delta announced in January that the Saudi airline would join its SkyTeam network next year, the implications of the deal only came to light recently.  (Nice due diligence folks!)  Saudi Arabia bans anyone with an Israeli stamp in their passport from entering the country, even in transit.  Religious items such as Bibles that are not related to Islam may be confiscated at the airport.
  • The International Air Transport Association recently unveiled a prototype for the “Airport Checkpoint of the Future” at a conference in Singapore.  After arriving at the airport, passengers would enter one of three security lanes and be checked according to risk.  Advances in screening technology could eliminate the need for passengers to remove clothes or unpack their belongings.
  • Spirit Airlines says it will begin charging customers $5 to have their boarding pass printed by an airport agent.  Customers can avoid a fee by checking in online or – for a few months – by using a self-service airport kiosk.  Similar to other fee announcements the carrier has made in the past, Spirit justified the new fee by claiming it would lower its fares by the same amount to offset the charge.

The TSA Wants to Get Personal


Ever feel like you’re being watched?  Well, you are.  According to reports, the TSA plans to use your personal information and patterns of behavior to determine the level of screening you receive at airports.  (How “Arizona” is that?)  Experts note, however, that whether this system is successful depends on the ability to collect your relevant information from governments and airlines.  (Insert maniacal laughter and hand-wringing here.)  To date, the European community has made a big issue of releasing any personal data to the U.S., even from that collected from the airline passenger data.

The “inevitable” screening process will not focus on your race or religion.  Instead, the information will be coupled with characteristics that arise from patterns of behavior, such as your travel history and the manner in which you acquire your travel, particularly anything egregious that would “make for more careful scrutiny.”

Here’s some more travel news you can use:

  • Developers are being sought for plans that would turn the vacant TWA terminal at New York’s Kennedy Airport into the centerpiece of a boutique hotel.  The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey envisions a 150-room hotel in the space between the old TWA terminal and the new JetBlue building.  Bet that will offer a good night’s sleep.
  • A man who abandoned his dog on an airport curb in Texas has been arrested and charged with cruelty to animals.  A man was boarding a flight to Michigan from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport on Friday when he found out he did not have the proper documentation to fly with his dog – so he called a friend to come get the dog, but did not wait for the friend to show up and left the animal crated outside the airport in 21-degree temperatures.  Not a good idea.  He boarded his flight on Frontier Airlines, but was arrested before the plane took off.

How the Travel Shopping Cookie Crumbles


According to a number of recent reports, simply erasing your cookies (the text that Web servers store on your computer, identifying you as a repeat visitor) before shopping for travel can lead to some big savings.

It may seem counterintuitive, but in the online shopping business, loyalty isn’t rewarded.  The best discounts are typically reserved for new customers.  And one of the easiest ways to make Web retailers think you’re a new customer is to delete the cookies they leave on your computer.

Don’t believe it?  Well, a blog from PC Magazine recently posted an item about a woman who was able to save at least $19 a night on a room at Bally’s casino in Las Vegas simply by deleting her cookies and hitting the site again to check for rooms.

Give this strategy a try the next time you’re shopping for travel and you could save some cookie dough.

Here’s some more travel news you can use:

  • Wanna know how to fly 35,000 miles, visit 4 continents, 9 countries, and 15 cities for $418?  Read this interesting article to find out.  (Caution, you may be venturing into travel nerd territory here.)
  • At a special forum on child safety in Washington today, the federal government, flight attendants, and airlines all urged parents to buckle up their babies on airplanes – instead of holding them in their laps, even if it means shelling out money for an extra ticket.
  • Ever wonder what the TSA does with the stuff they confiscate at security checkpoints?  This article from the Atlanta Journal Constitution offers a brief explanation.

Your Guide to Travel Gift Guides

airplane bow

Tis’ the season for travel gift guides.  Every year around this time, there’s a flood of them.  So many in fact, that we thought you might need a guide for all the travel gift guides.  So here you go – our top 10 travel gift guides for frequent flyers:

The AOL Travel News Holiday Gift Guide

The San Jose Mercury News Travel Gift Guide

FOXNews.com Travel Gift Guide

TimeOut Chicago Travel Gift Guide

Budget Travel Gift Guide

Portfolio.com Business Travel Gift Guide

WorldHum Travel Technology Gift Guide

The New York Times Frugal Traveler Gift Guide

The Columbus Dispatch Travel Gift Guide

New England Cable Network Travel Gift Guide

Here’s some more travel news you can use:

  • Former Bay Watch star Donna D’Errico is calling foul on the TSA for pulling her aside at the airport for “extra” screening – simply because she’s attractive.  When she asked the agent why she was picked to go through the body scan, he only responded with, “because you caught my eye.”  She said that after the search, she noticed the male TSA agent who had pulled her out of line was smiling and whispering with two other TSA agents and glancing at her.  ”I was outraged,” she said.
  • Earlier today the folks at hotels.com issued some unique tips for families that are traveling this holiday season.  They explain how to take the entire yuletide season on the road, props included.  If you’re traveling with kids, you’ll want to give this one a read.
  • A US Airways flight from Newark to Phoenix was diverted to Pittsburgh this morning after a passenger’s small dog got loose and bit a flight attendant and another passenger.  Flight 522 from Newark, an Airbus carrying 122 passengers, landed at Pittsburgh International Airport, where medical personnel treated the two people who were bitten.  US Airways said the passenger with the dog was supposed to keep it in its cage under her seat, which is the airline’s policy.  But she took it out and the animal ran loose.

There’s Drama in Online Travel


In a press release  issued early today, Expedia, Kayak and Travelocity announced that they have formed FairSearch.org, a coalition of large online travel sites and travel technology companies, banded together in an effort to urge the Justice Department to challenge Google’s proposed $700 million purchase of ITA Software.

ITA powers some of the Web’s most popular airline-ticket search and booking sites, including Kayak.com and Hotwire.com.  Expedia (owner of Hotwire and Expedia.com) as well as Kayak and Microsoft, whose Bing search engine relies on ITA for airfare searches, argued to Justice Department antitrust lawyers that with ITA’s data and technology Google could gain an unfair competitive advantage because it would, “enable Google to manipulate and dominate the online air travel marketplace.  The end result could be higher travel prices, fewer travel choices for consumers and businesses, and less innovation in online travel search.”

It didn’t take Google long to respond from it’s blog, stating that the deal would not result in higher travel prices or fewer choices for consumers because ITA and Google aren’t competitors, and that ITA doesn’t set ticket prices for sell tickets and Google doesn’t plan to either.  Google also noted that the three most popular travel websites in the U.S. – Expedia, Priceline and Travelocity – all use data provided by ITAs competitors. (Doh!)

Google said that it won’t be “choosing winners and losers in online travel” because its goal is to build tools that drive more traffic to airline and online travel agency sites and that those tools will create more overall online sales for those sites.   And by combining ITA’s ability to analyze data on seat availability and pricing with Google’s search engine could end the “frustrating experience” today’s airfare search, where a “simple two-city itinerary involves literally thousands of different options.”

Sounds a lot like the plot to the popular TV mini-series “V”.  The one where aliens move in and say they come in peace, but actually have sinister motives.  They claim to only need a small amount of Earth’s resources, in exchange for which they will share their advanced technological and medical knowledge.  As a small number of humans begin to doubt the sincerity of the seemingly benevolent aliens, it’s discovered that the aliens have spent decades infiltrating human governments and businesses and are threatening to take over the Earth.

Awesome.  Can’t wait to see how the real-life version plays out.

Here’s some more travel news you can use:

  • Earlier today Southwest Airlines announced a winter airfare sale with some one-way tickets as low as $30.   The sale lasts until Thursday, and like any fare sale, there are restrictions.  With this sale, customers can buy one-way tickets for $30, $60, $90 or $120 based on length of travel.  Travel dates are good between December 1 and December 15 and January 4, 2011 and February 16, 2011.  Sundays are not included in this fare sale.
  • Virgin America also announced a “No Tricks, Just Treats” fare sale today. Virgin America is now offering low one-day advance purchase fares to all of its destinations for travel between Oct. 26 through Oct. 31, 2010.  Tickets are on sale today and can be purchased via Virgin America’s Web site (www.virginamerica.com) and at 1.877.FLY.VIRGIN (1.877.359.8474). Restrictions, taxes and fees apply. Tickets must be purchased by Oct 30, 2010, and travel must occur between Oct. 26 and Oct. 31, 2010.
  • Starting next month, federal regulators will start cracking down on a new rule that requires air passengers to submit personal identification data when booking for flights and show a recognized government ID at the airport that matches the information. The rule was introduced last year, but the Transportation Security Administration imposed a year-long grace period that ends at the end of the month.

6 Tips for kids taking solo flights

05_Flatbed_1 - JUNE

Do you need to send a child alone on a trip by commercial airline? The Houston Chronicle recently published the following tips for sending your child solo on a flight:

1.) The airlines have procedures that must be followed, and most airlines have similar policies, but you should check with the specific airline you are using.

2.) An unaccompanied minor may range from 5 to 17 years old. There usually is an additional fee. If the child is flying alone, let the airline know when making the reservation.

3.) The TSA will provide an escort pass, which will allow you to take your child right to the gate of the airline. You must stay at the gate until the plane takes off .

4.) A person you designate will be allowed to pick up the child upon arrival. When making the reservation, provide the name, address and phone number of the person who is picking up your child. Be sure that person has a government-issued identification and a current photo ID.

5.) Check the weather before heading out to the airport. The airlines book unaccompanied minors on early flights, in case there are weather-related or other delays.

6.) Before booking a flight, check the airline’s and airport’s websites, or call with any questions

Here’s some more travel news you can use:

  • The TSA at Boston’s Logan Airport is using a “new enhanced patdown,’’ for random screenings and on travelers who decline to go through a metal detector or full-body scanner.  The Boston Globe describes the patdown as, “palms-forward, over-the-clothing contact.” Any patdown is done by a TSA official of the same sex, and travelers can request that it be done in a separate area, and with an attendant present.
  • The Associated Press reports that a baggage-handler at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport was arrested yesterday on suspicion that he stole hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of items from the luggage of passengers in a case that could include hundreds of victims from around the world.  This is just another example of why you should always keep valuables in your carry-on luggage rather than in checked baggage.
  • The Associated Press reports that an air passenger transporting a bag of 95 boa constrictor snakes burst open on a luggage conveyor belt at an airport in Malaysia.  The passenger, who also had some other types of snakes and a turtle in his luggage, was charged with wildlife smuggling.  And you thought the movie “Snakes on a Plane” was based on pure fiction.

It’s a Summer of Airfare Surcharges

airfare surchargeNearly every major airline – with the exception of JetBlue, Alaska Airlines, Southwest Airlines and Frontier Airlines – is treating each day this summer as a peak travel day, which means additional fees on the price of every ticket.  According to a report, the airlines will charge $10 on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, $20 on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Mondays and $30 on Sundays.  And these charges apply only to one-way tickets, so if you’re flying round trip, the surcharge is double.

Unlike baggage fees, which are charged separately, peak travel surcharges are added to the base airfare price and a 7.5% sales tax is applied.  It’s very similar to how fuel surcharges are added to the price of your ticket.  Essentially, they are a hidden cost.

The peak travel surcharges will drop off in the last week of August as the busy summer travel season winds down.  So, if you’re looking to take a trip but don’t want to pay top dollar, perhaps it’s better to travel late, than never.

Here’s some more travel news you can use:

  • According to a recent report, in the not-too-distant future, travelers will have “digital personalities” that will identify them before an air fare search begins.  Carriers will be able to “see” shoppers and deliver their search results, intelligently and in real time.  For instance, let’s say you are executive platinum on American Airlines and you’re looking to book a flight at AA.com.  American’s site would know to waive your baggage fees.  Or maybe you’re not executive platinum, but the carrier has lost your bag twice in the last few months, so it would know to waive the bag fee for your next flight.
  • Although the threat of a potential flight attendant strike is still months away, American Airlines is actively making its contingency plan for staffing flights.  The airline has sent letters to area managers asking for volunteers to complete flight attendant training, in case a resolution with the Association of Professional Flight Attendants is not finalized in time to prevent a strike.
  • According to the USA Today, airline passengers who get frustrated and kick a wall, throw a suitcase or make a pithy comment to a screener could find themselves in a little-known Homeland Security database.  The TSA says it is keeping records of people who make its screeners feel threatened as part of an effort to prevent workplace violence.

It’s Gonna be an Ugly Summer at JFK Airport

JFK AirportThe New York Post reports that over the next several months, air travelers can expect to wait longer — and pay more — to fly to and from JFK Airport after its main runway is shut down for extensive repairs.

The Queens air-traffic hub — already near the bottom of the barrel for on-time performance — is expected to face delays of what critics warn will be “multiple hours,” as planes are diverted to three smaller runways at the Queens facility.  And passengers will have to dig deeper to afford the higher ticket prices that the airlines will likely charge to make up for temporarily cutting about 10 percent of their flights into and out of JFK.  Adding insult to injury, the carriers are building in time to their schedules so that longer-than-normal trips won’t technically arrive “late.”

The shutdown will allow workers to tear up the 14,572-foot Bay Runway and replace its asphalt surface with more-durable concrete.  The runway — which normally handles a third of JFK’s traffic and half of all departures — will also be widened to accommodate new, extra-jumbo jets as part of the $376 million project.

Year-over-year fare increases can already be seen on some of the airport’s most popular routes, including flights to Los Angeles, San Francisco and Las Vegas.

Here’s some more travel news you can use:

  • Speaking of JFK Airport, the AP reports that in February, a child apparently directed pilots from the air traffic control center. Audio clips from mid-February — during a week-long winter break for many New York schoolchildren — were posted online recently where a child can be heard on the tape making five transmissions to pilots preparing for takeoff.  In one exchange, the child can be heard saying, “JetBlue 171 contact departure.”  The pilot responds: “Over to departure JetBlue 171, awesome job.”  The child appears to be under an adult’s supervision, because a male voice then comes on and says with a laugh, “That’s what you get, guys, when the kids are out of school.”  In another exchange, the youngster clears another plane for takeoff, and says, “Adios, amigo.”  The pilot responds in kind.
  • Capt. “Sully” Sullenberger, the pilot who deftly landed a US Airways plane in the Hudson River last year, retired today after 30 years with the airline.  His last flight was scheduled to arrive in Charlotte, N.C., from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., shortly after 3 p.m. ET today.  Meanwhile, Doreen Welsh, a flight attendant on Capt. Sully’s historic splash-landing, also retired today from US Airways after four decades of service.  Congrats to both Capt. Sully and Doreen.
  • The TSA is re-evaluating a technology that aims to take one of the biggest hassles out of airport security: removing your shoes at a checkpoint.  The USA Today reports that a dozen companies have designed shoe scanning machines, and the TSA says it plans to buy 100 of the devices by next year.  The machines, which find metal weapons and explosives in shoes, didn’t pass muster in tests three years ago.  The developers of the latest generation of the machines promise better results, and the TSA says the technology will improve security.

Shoes… er, hats off to this new technology!