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There’s A (Profiling) App For That: FlyRights

30 Apr

Back in August 2006, a controversy ensued when FOX-TV conservative radio talk show host Mike Gallagher suggested that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) create separate screening lines for Muslims.

“It’s time to have a Muslims check-point line in America’s airports and have Muslims be scrutinized. You better believe it, it’s time,” Gallagher said, garnering tepid audience applause.  You can read my original Aviation Daily on Airports blog post on this here.  This proposed action, to me, smacked of racial profiling.  I have found that the people who tend to be most in favor of racial profiling are the ones least likely to be profiled.

So we fast forward six years later, where today the FlyRights mobile app (on the iPhone and Android platforms), which offers an avenue of redress for those who suspect they have been profiled, reports NPR.  After downloading the app, those who feel they were profiled can answer 12 questions then submit their complaint directly to TSA.

The new app is the brainchild of the Sikh Coalition, whose members in the Silicon Valley felt they were being profiled for wearing the turbans required by their faith.  Back in 2007, TSA responded to the leaders of the Sikh community, expressing understanding about the sensitivity a nd importance of their head-dress screening. The agency began offering screeners more cultural awareness training and promised to continue a dialogue with Sikhs and other groups.

TSA says there is no racial profiling, just an emphasis on security.  But that’s cold comfort to folks like the Sikhs, or Muslims who wear head dresses, along with others who wear head wraps or loose/bulky clothing.

But the bigger point is — racial profiling doesn’t work, according to William Press, a professor of computer science and integrative biology at the University of Texas at Austin.  In the December 2010 issue of Significance magazine, he writes that no matter what you do, the math doesn’t work.

“[A Middle Easterner] is not on any do-not-fly list, and it occurred to me it was exactly this phenomenon,” Press told the Pacific Standard blog. “Either explicitly or implicitly, there was some kind of profiling going on, and the same innocent individual was being screened over and over again. That draws resources away from the screening that  would find the bad guy. I realized those were basically the same problems.”

So I applaud the Sikh Coalition for creating this app.  Maybe TSA will get enough submissions, do their own numbers and train their screeners accordingly.  So now you weigh in — do you think this app is needed? Do you believe TSA screeners are involved in racial profiling? Have you been subjected to racial profiling?

I’m In Terminal Command Mode

9 Aug

So everyone knows I’m a big aviation geek.  So 2 weeks ago, I was in Oshkosh, Wisc., for the Experimental Aircraft Association’s EAA AirVenture, the world’s largest air show.  You can see my July 29 post on that show here.

While I was there, I had the chance to visit the folks over at GE Aviation, which is making a push into the business aviation side of the house.  You can see my Aviation Week blog post on that here.  And that’s when it happened.

GE Aviation had a game — Terminal Command — at its booth.  Basically, you start by handling airport operations at a municipal terminal.  You do tasks including handling passengers, handling luggage, refueling jets, catering and maintenance.

It goes at a nice pace.  But then you get responsibility for a domestic terminal, then an international terminal.  You try juggling operations at three different terminals — it’s exhilarating and fun.  At the end, GE Aviation had a big scoreboard to show off the champs.  I was able to hang in there for a while, but there were far too many people who were more organized than me.

So when you have a few spare minutes, or just need to clear your mind, go over to Terminal  Command and tap into your inner Joe Patroni!

Best of Aviation Queen: I LOVE Sitting in 1st/Biz Class! Don’t We All?

2 Aug

Editor’s note: I’m in Philadelphia this week attending the National Association of Black Journalists annual convention. I won’t fool myself into thinking I’ll actually post this week since I’m presenting and hosting several other side events. The post below first appeared on my blog on Dec. 15, 2010.  Enjoy!!


The Aviation Queen in Emirates

As an aviation journalist and former airline employee, I have been fortunate enough to have been able to sit in some pretty sweet first and business class cabins, both foreign and domestic. We all have our favorites (mine are Singapore Airlines foreign, Continental Airlines domestic).

From March 2006 to December 2008, I covered the airports beat. Through that beat, I had the chance to meet some really great people whose job it is to fly the world to bring new and expanded service to their airports. One evening after a social gathering, we started talking about the joys of sitting up front. We started comparing our experiences on the world’s airlines, laughing about our favorite saying: “turn left or turn around.”

Some of the officers of 1st/Biz Class

As a joke, I proposed that we create a Facebook group to share our experiences. So I created “I Love Sitting In 1st/Biz Class.” I told the original group of five people about the page — Kevin Schorr (Vice President, seats); Brian Pratte (Vice President, inflight amenities); Justin Meyer (Vice President, non-obtainable upgrades); Kristin VanderHey Shaw (secretary-treasurer); and Vicki Jaramillo.

But it turned into that old Faberge organic shampoo commercial from the 1970s: …and they told two friends, and they told two friends. And we have some really interesting people in the group, including former New York Times auto/travel reporter Micki Maynard; Ben Mutzabaugh, USA Today’s Today In The Sky columnist; and Wendy Perrin of Conde Nast Traveler (one of my favorite magazines).

So here we are, two years later, with 306 members, several interesting chat threads and almost 500 photos and some videos from people who have been kind enough to share. So I hope you’ll join us in the group. The more the merrier!!

Best Of Aviation Queen: How To Find Those Elusive Airport Power Outlets

31 May

Editor’s Note: I have a bunch of family obligations going on this week, so for today, tomorrow and Thursday, I’ll be re-posting some of my more popular topics.  The post below on power outlets in airports was first published on Jan. 27.  It’s all about the Air Power Wiki, which tells you exactly where to find those elusive outlets in hundreds of airports worldwide.  I’ve made submissions to this wiki, and I encourage you to do the same.  Enjoy!

We’ve all been there — our laptop/smartphone/iPad is running on fumes after a flight or a long delay and we’re desperate to find that power outlet.  Many a time I’ve seen people wandering an airport like the lost tribes of Israel, looking for that plug.  I’ve even seen people almost come to blows over outlets.

Airports and airlines are getting better at providing more plugs.  Several, including Minneapolis-St. Paul, Newark Liberty, Los Angeles International, have power outlet poles sponsored by Samsung.  DFW Airport has a Samsung Lounge with power outlets and work stations, and Delta announced in December that it was adding recharging stations at 19 airports that will have 6 110 volt outlets as well as two USB ports.  Southwest Airlines also provides outlets and USB ports at many of its larger cities.

But there is a great resource that can help you find outlets in hundreds of airports worldwide – the Air Power Wiki.  This wiki was created by Jeff Sandquist, a team leader at Microsoft who became  frustrated when trying to find power plugs in airports.   It even has a companion Flickr group with actual pictures of some outlets and includes available free and paid wi-fi access at some airports.

So let’s say you’re stuck waiting in Phoenix/Sky Harbor International Airport (one of my personal favorites) and you need a plug.  Here’s what that entry looks like:

  • Sky Harbor plugs, Terminal 4 behind the elevators near security Photo by Benet J. Wilson

    Gate 10: to the right when facing the gate (2 outlets, chairs, good WiFi signal)

  • Gate A-17: on the pole near the bank of payphones (2 outlets)
  • Gate A 18: on the pole near the women’s restroom (2 outlets) – chair close by!
  • Gate A 18: on the wall about half way up (2 outlets) – above bank of chairs!
  • Gate A-19: under the arrival/departure televisions (2 outlets)
  • Gate A-20: on the pole near the Gate A20 sign (2 outlets)
  • Gate B-25: on the pole beside the seating near the gate desks (2 outlets)
  • Gate D-1: on granite pillar
  • Gate D-5: also on pillar facing terminal hall. Most outlets in D are covered!
  • Wireless internet service is now available free of charge to Sky Harbor visitors. It is available on both sides of security, in retail areas and near the gates at the airport. If a passenger’s laptop computer or wireless electronic device is configured to operate in a wireless mode, it will automatically connect to the internet when powered up near the shops and gates at Sky Harbor.

And yes, I’ve contributed power outlets to the wiki and pictures to the Flickr group.  Now that you know about this wiki, I hope you do the same!


Product Review: Window Seat iPhone App

4 May

An interesting thing has happened since I started this blog.  I’m starting to get regular emails from companies that want me to review their travel-related products.  So you lucky dogs now get my second product review.  My first one, on Lo & Sons’ Travel Tote Bag, is here.

Regular readers know how much I love my iPhone 4 (thanks, Dad).  I especially love my travel apps.  I could easily have 100+ travel apps downloaded on my phone if I had no restraint (and you can see my review of some of them here).

As a certified aviation geek, I’m always happy to fly on an airline that has a flight map. I enjoy seeing the route of my journey.  I’m a regular flyer on Southwest Airlines, which doesn’t have IFE; therefore, no flight map.  But I still get to see where I’m going, thanks to the Window Seat app ($2.99).

This thing rocks — and it works even if you’re not on a wifi-enabled flight (I happened to be on one when I wrote this review on April 27).  You click on your home airport (mine is BWI) and a list of all the flights within the hour of your take-off come up.

I clicked on Southwest Airlines Flight 353 to Boston-Logan and hit the start flight button.  A map comes up that shows a map of the U.S. and a little airplane icon that shows your route. You also see a series of dots on the map, and when you click them, you see what city or attraction you’re flying over, complete with a paragraph or two of information about said city or attraction.  It also tells you how much time you have left on your flight.  Now, I am on a Southwest Airlines wifi-enabled flight, which includes a flight map — but it only focuses on cities and doesn’t have the city information.

I’m one of those who are loath to pay for iPhone apps unless absolutely necessary.  The aviation geek in me would pay for this one because of the great information offered.

When The Airport Becomes An Emergency Hotel

27 Apr

I have a bookmark folder full of links to stories I plan on blogging about in the future.  On April 12, CNN did a story entitled “Hotel of last resort: The airport.”  While I have spent more than my fair share of time in airports, thankfully, I’ve never had to sleep in one.

But if I did, my airport of choice would be Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.  DFW has been a leader in advocating for stranded passengers and has a great plan in place to help out those who may be spending more time than they planned at the airport.  First, the airport has hundreds of cots and blankets available.  Second, it requires certain vendors to stay open late to accommodate stranded passengers.

And third, they have Shop24, a giant 3 feet by 10 feet vending machine that dispenses everything from diapers to soda to beauty products to Caesar Salad.  The store is located in DFW’s Terminal A across from Gate 29.  You can read my Towers and Tarmacs blog post on DFW’s efforts during a series of storms that hit the region back in April 2008.

For more reviews on the best — and worst — airports for sleeping, I highly recommend The Guide To Sleeping In Airports website.  And if you want to have your own hotel with you at all times, check out my Towers and Tarmacs blog post on the Mini Motel!

Sofitel London Heathrow Hotel

But if you have the cash (or the expense account) to stay in an airport hotel, you’ll find that the World Airport Awards 2011  recently named its top airport hotels:

1.  Regal Airport Hotel Hong Kong (HKG)

2.  Crowne Plaza Changi Airport (SIN)

3.  Sofitel London Heathrow (LHR)

4.  Kempinski Hotel Airport Munich (MUC)

5.  Fairmont Vancouver Airport (YVR)

6.  Langham Place Beijing Capital Airport (PEK)

7.  Pan Pacific Kuala Lumpur Airport (KUL)

8.  Hyatt Regency Incheon (ICN)

9.  Stamford Plaza Sydney Airport Hotel (SYD)

10.  Novotel Suvarnabhumi Airport Bangkok (BKK)

I’m pleased to say that I’ve stayed in three of them — Sofitel, Kempinski and the Hyatt Regency — and all of them were worthy of selection.  The only North American hotel to make the cut was Vancouver.  I’ve never stayed there, but I hear the amenities are great, and that airline passengers can buy a day pass to use their facilities.  And i was thrilled to see that three of my favorite U.S. airport hotels — the Grand Hyatt Dallas/Fort Worth, the Westin Detroit Metropolitan and Hilton Chicago O’Hare Airport  — made the cut for North America.

My Top 5 Interesting Aviation Stories Of The Week

22 Apr

Let’s just hop to this week’s stories, shall we?  And I lied — I actually have six to share with you kids this week.

  1. We’ve all heard about the sleeping air traffic controllers, but did you hear about the one who was suspended — because he was watching a movie? My Aviation Week colleague Darren Shannon writes about it here.
  2. The Consumer Traveler website offers us “Ned’s top 10 airplane luggage myths.”  Number one made me laugh out loud.
  3. Speaking of luggage, Cranky Flier has a cool post on how Delta Air Lines can now track your bags in real time.  It looks like the screen you use to track your FedEx packages.
  4. Gary Stoller of USA Today asks the question that many of us have known for a long time: “Are frequent-flier programs losing their luster?”
  5. The Up Up and a Gay blog tapped into one of my secret fears — airline lavatories.  I would rather hold it until it’s leaking from my ears (sorry for the graphic description) before I use an airline lav — and that includes international flights.  It was always a general thing with me and public restrooms, but a visit to American Airlines’ maintenance facility where, among other things, they clean lavs, was just too much for me. Ewwww!!!
  6. And here’s your bonus!  The Runway Girl blog has an interesting post about new technology from GuestLogix and Pokeware where “if you see something you like in a piece of video content, you can poke it to learn more about the product, and if you still like it you can buy it.”

I would be remiss if I didn’t point you to this week’s Airplane Geeks podcast, which featured a great interview with Igor Sikorsky III.  I knew that his grandfather was a helicopter pioneer, but had no idea of his impact on commercial aviation.  Did you know he designed the Flying Boats used by Pan Am back in the day?  And I make it into the listener mail segment toward the end of the show, talking about my views on car seats for children on airplanes (I’m 100% for it).

Of course, it would NOT be Friday without the amusement park I like to call Strange But True Aviation News.  And remember–I can’t make this stuff up!!

And here’s your video this week — it’s a time-lapse video of Turkey’s Istanbul Atatürk Airport.  Enjoy!


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