Tag Archives: security

TSA Seeks New Devices To Cut Back On Pat-Downs – Really?

11 Jun

I am one of those people who is blessed — or cursed — with a long memory.  I can’t tell you what I ate for dinner last week, but I can probably tell you where we met and even what you were wearing when we met.  This blessing comes in really handy as a writer, because I do tend to remember most of my aviation stories.

So when I saw this headline — Handheld device sought to reduce frequency of controversial pat-down searches at airports — in Government Security News magazine, a little bell went off in my head.  Regular readers know that I covered airports and security for almost five years at Aviation Week.  I also created the now-defunct Towers and Tarmacs blog, which covered the same topics.

GSN reports that TSA has put out a proposal to potential vendors for the following in a handheld device: (a) the device should be able to be operated with only one hand during screening, (b) it should weigh less than five pounds, (c) it should not be “tethered” to a desktop computer, power supply or external detection unit, (d) it should be able to detect metal and explosives, (e) it should handle the sampling, scanning and analysis as a single step, (f) results should be obtained in less than 15 seconds, and (g) the device should be ready to screen the next passenger in less than one minute.

So as my brain scanned the phrases “TSA” and “hand-held devices,” several things popped up.  I remember all this new technology TSA was exploring to make the whole security process quicker but still help the agency meet its mission.  These include:

  • In August 2006, TSA started exploring a shoe x-ray that would have allowed us to keep our footwear on during the screening process;
  • In October, my former AvWeek colleague John Doyle wrote about a Canadian company that had created a device that attached to existing x-ray machines to scan liquids for explosives and weapons that was so sensitive it could tell the difference between Coke and Pepsi;
  • A month later, TSA announced it had purchased 600 bottle scanners and would start by deploying 200 of them at six airports; and
  • In January 2007, TSA was testing CastScope, a device that could scan passengers wearing casts

According to the New York Times, the Dept. of Homeland Security has spent almost $40 billion on rebuilding aviation security.  And despite that, we’re still subjected to basic pat-downs if technology fails. There’s got to be a better — and cheaper — way.

Rolling Aviation Thoughts

2 May

  • I am a big fan of art in airports.  I feel like it breaks up the monotony of the walls, plus I get to experience art I might not see in my everyday life.  So I was delighted to read this great story in USA Today Travel from my airport soul sister Harriet Baskas on the re-dedication of a multi-panel mural at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport saluting African-American achievements in aviation.
  • The New York Times Practical Traveler column recently covered ways that travelers can speed through security lines.  While the article did outline the options (Global Entry and Pre-Check) it made it so very clear how limited the options really are. Global Traveler is for those who travel overseas, while Pre-Check is only for frequent travelers flying on American and Delta. I sure wish there were more options for those of us who don’t fit into the above categories.
  • The Toledo Blade recently had an article about how Toledo Express Airport still hasn’t been able to attract commercial airline service seven months after receiving a $750,000 Small Community Air Service grant designed to bring in a carrier.  This is not a new problem for the airport, which  is about an hour’s drive away from Detroit Metro Airport.  And there’s the problem. You have a major hub airport that offers service around the glob, plus a healthy amount of flights from Southwest Airlines.  And flying out of Toledo to connect through another airport tends to cost more. The airport received a $400,000 grant back in 2006, but had to return the money after having no luck attracting an airport even then. The lesson? Just because you build it, doesn’t mean they will come.
  • Peter Shankman, founder of the Help A Reporter Out website and frequent traveler, recently did a Twitter Q&A on flights from Hong Kong to New York and Newark to Los Angeles International Airport.  Some of the questions — what is the meaning of life — are a little offbeat, but there are plenty of other travel-related questions that are worth a read.
  • Last week, a former flight student tried to steal a Cessna 152 from Compton Airport, reports the Los Angeles Times.  I found several things interesting about this. One, who knew there was an airport in Compton and that it’s been around since 1924? Two, please feel free to insert your favorite NWA jokes here.  And three, click here to read a conversation I had with my flight instructor about this story, on the AOPA Pilot blog.

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?

Top Five Interesting Stories Of The Week

30 Jan

It was another busy week in the aviation business, with airlines now required to show air fares that include all taxes and fees, US Airways confirming it is looking at a merger with American Airlines while Delta Air Lines is allegedly mulling a merger with US Airways.  But there were other things going on, so let’s get on with the news.

  1. I began covering the business aviation beat for Aviation Week in December 2008, a mere three weeks after the Big Three auto makers flew their private jets to Washington to beg Congress for bail-out funds.  I had a front-row seat to the collapse, which included almost 30,000 workers laid off, several aircraft programs shuttered, aircraft manufacturers sold, order books and backlogs vaporized and a president that bashed the industry at every turn.  So I read this AvWeek story by my former boss, William Garvey, entitled “Faint Signs Of Recovery In Biz Av, with great interest.  We now see a tiny light at the end of the tunnel.
  2. On the other end of the spectrum, we saw the demise of Spain’s Spanair after the carrier was unable to get the financing it needed to continue operating, reports BusinessWeek.  The immediate shut-down of the airline was not good news for the 23,000 passenger stranded because of it.  Spanish flag carrier Iberia, along with Spain’s Vueling Airlines and Air Europa, will offer special fares for those affected by Spanair’s shut-down.
  3. Being in the aviation business for almost 20 years, you get to meet some really great people.  One of my many favorites is George Hamlin.  Hamlin has been in the business for more than 40 years, working for two airlines and two aircraft manufacturers. He’s also a world-class aviation photographer.   He’s currently a consultant, and writes a column for Air Transport World magazine.  This month, Hamlin has a great article on the naming of aircraft fleets.  I’m partial to Pan Am’s former Clipper Queen of the Sky, for obvious reasons!
  4. I have to give a shout out to consumer travel columnist Christopher Elliott for using his blog to write the Transportation Security Administration a tongue-in-cheek memo on how to differentiate between medical devices and weapons of mass destruction.
  5. Chanel creative director Karl Lagerfeld co-opted a private jet theme for his Chanel Haute Couture show at the Grand Palais in Paris, reports MSN Her.  The “runway” featured numbered seats, floor lighting, emergency exits and a bar.

We’ll end this with a great infographic passed along by one of my readers.  The Frugal Dad blog gives us the visuals on why the airlines are bankrupt.  Enjoy!

Top Five Interesting Stories Of The Week

9 Jan

This is always the week I look forward to.  The holidays are completely over, and it’s back to work for everyone, including the airline/aviation industry.  So Happy New Year one last time, and let’s get to it.

  1. Normally, this pair of stories would have gone straight to Strange But True Aviation News on a Friday, but I thought it warranted being an interesting story.  California Assemblyman Tim Donnelly (R-Twin Peaks), a strong opponent of gun control, says he “forgot” he had a loaded .45 caliber pistol in his carry-on bag, which was discovered by Transportation Security Administration (TSA), reports NBC Los Angeles.  The TV station followed up with a blog post: The Guns of Tim: Five Lessons, including: Donnelly was allowed to board his flight while others were detained and even arrested.
  2. During my time as Aviation Daily’s airports and security editor, I wrote about — and saw — my fair share of airport scanning machines.  So I found this story from Pro Publica comparing millimeter and backscatter machines.
  3. Speaking of security, this story in Aviation International News talks about how TSA Administrator John Pistole is starting to respond to critics, including House Transportation Committee Chairman Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), over his agency’s policies and way of doing business.  “[To] those who say that we’re inefficient or bloated, I’d be glad to sit down and go through the books and say, ‘OK, how would you staff this differently?’” Pistole said in an interview with Bloomberg News last month.
  4. I’m one of those aviation geeks that could spend my life visiting aviation museums.  I didn’t know about the Carolinas Aviation Museum until I heard it was receiving US Airways’ “Miracle on the Hudson” Airbus A320 for its permanent display. Which is why I really enjoyed this blog post over at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer — complete with pictures — about the museum.
  5. I’m old enough to remember the mini controversy that ensued when United Airlines paid for the rights to use George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” in its branding and advertising campaigns.  But now the song has become so closely affiliated to United that my daughter knows it as the UAL theme song!  So I was happy to hear from our friends at the Chicago Tribune that the Chicago-based carrier will continue to use the song.

Let’s end this post with one of my personal favorite commercials United Airlines used with “Rhapsody in Blue.”  It’s called “Dragon,” and it was created for the Beijing Olympics.  Enjoy!

Rolling Aviation Thoughts

21 Dec
  • Me on O'Hare's new runway 9L/27R in July 2008.

    My friend Aileen Cho of Engineering News Record did a great story on Chicago’s $6.6-billion O’Hare International Airport modernization program.  Check out my Aviation Week Things With Wings blog post on the history of the project as of February.

  • On the one hand, I like the fact that I can buy into Delta Air Lines’ Sky Clubs (my favorite U.S. airline lounge) for $50.  And the airline did a deal on Groupon where it offered half-price day passes or five passes for $89.  On the other, if I were a Diamond Medallion member or someone who had paid $450 for a year of access, I’d be a bit cranky (like Brett Snyder) too, as outlined in the Star-Tribune.
  • @davesniadak of the HDHubby blog says: Gogo inflight Wi-Fi has absolutely revolutionized travel. I find I’m now extremely productive when I fly, even when I’m jammed in the middle seat between two other people (mind you, I’m 6’5″ and try my best to stay within my seat). Seeing as how I’ve never been good at sleeping on planes, airborne wi-fi helps the long legs go by faster.
  • Smarter Travel has released its list of 10 destinations to watch in 2012.  I’ve been to six of them, and most I’d return to in a heartbeat.  One I haven’t been to is Cuba, and that’s near the top of my list of places I really want to visit.  My frienemy Brett “Cranky Flier” Snyder has been. He let me sip the rum, which was divine! Also check out Budget Travel’s top budget travel destinations in 2012.
  • Back during the Christmas holidays in 1998, I went to Oberpfafenhofen, Germany, to work on a story about the now-defunct aircraft manufacturer Fairchild Dornier.  As part of that trip, we got to go to Munich and visit the Christmas market on the Marienplotz.  Some advice: when they ask if you want peppermint schnapps in your Glühwein, JUST SAY NO!! Lonely Planet offers five more great Christmas markets in Europe.
  • I love airports almost as much as the writer of this blog post in the Irish Times.  And my heart was warmed by one of my favorite travel writers, Christopher Elliott, who writes in the Washington Post about holiday travel kindnesses.
  • I’m proud – but also kind of sad – that my six-year-old daughter goes through the airport security checkpoint better than most adults.

Top Five Interesting Stories Of The Week

19 Dec

I always used to dread the holidays when I was still a full-time aviation journalist.  Why?  Because the hunt for news always came to a dead stop as folks were more focused on their shopping than the aviation/aerospace industry.  But there was plenty of news last week, so let’s get to it.

  1. Every December, Aerospace Industries of America holds its annual industry forecast luncheon at the iconic Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C.  It’s where all the players in aviation, aerospace and defense come together for cocktails, lunch and a forecast delivered by President and CEO Marion Blakey.  U.S. aerospace and defense sales continued to grow in 2011 and will see only a modest decline in 2012, according to the Aviation Week story on the forecast.
  2. When American Airlines filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Nov. 19, I did a blog post on it over at the Reynolds Center blog.  One of the things I mentioned was that we’d probably see layoffs and service cuts in the months ahead.  What I didn’t mention was the re-start of chatter over further airline consolidation.  In this Bloomberg story, Delta CEO Richard Anderson did mention the “C” word, becoming the second airline executive — after US Airways CFO Derek Kerr also mentioning consolidation in an interview in the Wall Street Journal.
  3. Speaking of American Airlines, there have been a lot of analysts and pundits offering their two cents on what the Chapter 11 filing means.  But none has done a better job of it than my friend Mike Boyd, founder of aviation consultancy Boyd Group International — and Terry Maxon of the Dallas Morning News’ Airline Biz blog agrees.  In the 11-page report, Boyd’s take on a possible merger is as follows: The potential for a merger with US Airways is no more or less likely (and no more attractive) than before the filing.
  4. Congress has been obsessed lately with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).  For example, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) has introduced H.R. 3608,  which would prohibit screeners from being called officers and stop them from wearing uniforms with badges.  This isn’t really a big deal to me in the general scheme of things.  But what IS a big deal is Rep. Chip Cravaack’s (R-Minn.) bill that gives expedited security checkpoint screening to military personnel traveling on orders has cleared the Senate and now goes to President Obama for his signature, according to Minnesota Public Radio.  I am the daughter and granddaughter of Air Force officers, and I always thought it was ridiculous that soldiers who were putting their lives on the line for America should have to unlace their boots and go through the same screening as civilians. Kudos to Congress for this rare show of both common sense and bipartisanship.
  5. Bill  Swelbar is a Research Engineer in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s International Center for Air Transportation.  He also writes the excellent Swelblog, and last week, he did a great post on the prospects for airlines and airports in 2012.

Be sure and go over to the Aviation Week website to see the winners of the magazine’s 20th annual photo contest.  You can see some amazing photos from the winners and finalists in the Commercial, General, Defense and Space categories.  And please help me with my new Wednesday column, Rolling Aviation Thoughts, which covers my crazy aviation/airline thoughts floating in my head or guides you, dear readers, to links to other random stuff that isn’t big enough for a full blog post, but is still worth pointing out.

We’ll end the week with a poll.  Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) is calling on TSA to create a passenger advocate position as reports of  “inappropriate screenings” by two elderly passengers (both of whom are from New York), reports The Hill’s Transportation blog.

Top Five Interesting Stories Of The Week

5 Dec

It was just another interesting but busy week in aviation, so let’s get right to it.

  1. I don’t think anyone was surprised with American Airlines’ Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection filing.   You can read my quick take on that over at the Business Journalism blog.  But every time there’s an airline bankruptcy filing, there’s the inevitable airline merger speculation.  And in my humble opinion, no one did it better last week than Brett “Cranky Flier” Snyder with his post — Why I Want US Airways to Buy American.
  2. Regular readers know that my idea of the first circle of hell is travelers being allowed to chat on their cell phones while on a flight.   But I do like to have my electronic toys — iPhone, iPod, iPad, Kindle and DVD player — available while flying.  And I always wonder why we’re told we have to power down our electronic devices at take-off and landing.  But the New York Times’ Bits blog says it’s not clear why we have to do this.
  3. After covering airport security for four years, I still have a strange fascination with all the speculation on what the future is for the Transportation Security Administration in general and the traveling public specifically.  This CNN story takes a look at what security checkpoints might look like in the future.  But this speculation has been going on for quite a while. Check out my Aviation Week blog posts from 2008 on this topic here and here (the program has since been dismantled).
  4. On the business/general aviation side of the house (which is now paying my mortgage), the industry won a major victory on maintaining the privacy of aircraft owners, reports AIN Online.  After Congress restored the Block Aircraft Registration Request (BARR) program, the Dept. of Transportation and FAA decided not to move ahead and respond to a lawsuit filed by organizations including the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (my employer), the National Business Aviation Association and the Experimental Aircraft Association. For those critical of aircraft owners wanting their tail numbers blocked, I ask you this — would you want the government or anyone with a laptop to be able to track you by your license plate number? I’m just asking…
  5. I’m one of those people who has a germ phobia.  I keep hand sanitizer, baby wipes and a portable can of Lysol in my purse.  And after reading this Budget Traveler article — 6 Places Germs Breed in a Plane — I want to encase myself in a hazmat suit on my next flight.  Hint — I’ll never look at those tray tables the same again!

I also had a few media appearances last week.  I was a guest on the Airplane Geeks podcast, talking about my new job at AOPA (if you join, tell them Aunt Benet sent you!).  And I was also interviewed by the fine folks at National Geographic on the seven most extreme airports (although I’m sorry St. Maartin wasn’t included on the list).

We’ll end the week with two last items.  First, my former Aviation Week colleague Madhu Unnikrishnan had an item about how the Air Transport Association’s name change — to Airlines 4 America — yielded some “interesting” results on a Google search.   And last, the folks over at Taiwan’s NMA.tv have me on their mailing list, and sent this YouTube video on American Air’s Ch. 11 filing.  Enjoy!

TSA Works To Speed Security Checkpoint Lines

23 Nov

TSA security checkpoint at BWI Airport Photo by Benet J. Wilson

Regular readers know I covered the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) as a beat for about four years.  I learned the good, the bad and the ugly about an agency that is about as popular as the IRS.  I think we all understand the need for airport security.

But what frustrates me, and many others, is the inconsistency in implementing its policies.  For example, my daughter has been flying since she was 10 days old, but until recently, she still had to take her shoes off.  And a big pet peeve with me, as the daughter and granddaughter of Air Force officers, is why military personnel in uniform have to go through the same screening as the rest of us. I’d hate to have to take off those boots all the time!

So I’m happy to see that TSA is trying to ease the process, just in time for the holidays.  First, TSA is testing expedited screening for military members at California’s Monterey Regional Airport, reports CNN.  Under the pilot, soldiers still have to go through screening, but it would be expedited, similar to the PreCheck program currently being tested with frequent travelers on Delta Air Lines in Atlanta and Detroit and on American Airlines at Miami and Dallas/Fort Worth.

Back in 2008, TSA introduced airport self-select lanes at Denver International and Salt Lake City International airports.  These lanes allowed travelers to choose from 3 lanes — Families & Special Assistance, Casual Traveler and Expert Traveler.  When the lanes worked, they worked very well.  Business travelers well versed in security weren’t stuck behind families with lots of stuff to unload.  And TSA screeners were there to guide travelers to their correct lanes.  But it seemed like a year or so later, the lines seemed to have petered off — until now.

The Hill wrote about a Nov. 15 post on the TSA Blog that is encouraging holiday travelers to use the lanes again.  But it looks like they are only bringing back the family lane, which I guess is better than nothing.  I do hope that they’ll have TSA screeners to guide travelers like they did when the program was first launched.  Have a great Thanksgiving!

Top Five Interesting Stories – Oct. 17-21

24 Oct

Welcome to what used to be the Friday news roundup.  Even though I was busy finishing my last week on the job, I still managed to find some interesting aviation stories for your reading pleasure.

  1. My first story is one from my former employer, Aviation Week, entitled “Airbus CEO Bemoans Slow Pace of Change.” In the article, London Bureau Chief Robert Wall quotes Airbus CEO Tom Enders: “Somewhere in the last 40 years we learned to save fuel and forgot how to take risks and manage them properly. We forgot how to turn our ideas into reality before they were out of date.”
  2. Republican presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul (Texas) says that the Transportation Security Administration is one of the agencies he’d eliminate if he won the election, reports The Hill’s Transportation blog.  He also accused the agency of humiliating women, molesting children and abusing disabled people in a radio address this summer, the publication adds.
  3.  I never got to fly on Concorde, but I did get to sit inside one operated by Air France.  I know the ongoing fascination that people have with supersonic flight, so I read this story in Budget Traveler Chicago to Tokyo in Two Hours? — with great interest and some trepidation.  I’ve read stories for years on commercial and business aviation efforts to build Concorde’s successor, and the quest continues, as KLM  announces it is investing in a new technology for supersonic flight, Space Tourism Curacao.
  4. I was chatting with Brett “Cranky Flier” Snyder last week as he was driving to speak on a panel about the air travel experience at the annual Airports Council International-North America conference.  We got into a conversation on what airports are doing to keep passengers in their facilities longer, and Brett then did a blog post on what travelers REALLY want from airports.
  5. Capitol Hill was feeling Hollywood when actor, pilot and general aviation advocate Harrison Ford spoke before the Senate General Aviation Caucus on how aviation has enriched his life, reports Politico.

I finally caught up with all my Airplane Geeks podcast episodes, and highly recommend listening to episode 169, with Martin Rottler.  And don’t forget — Random Aviation Photo is now on Thursdays.  Enjoy!

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