Tag Archives: Transportation Security Administration

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

20 Feb

It was a busy week, catching all the news from the Singapore Air Show and Heli-Expo.  We also saw President Obama release his FY 2013 budget and FINALLY sign the $63 billion Federal Aviation Administration authorization bill, which keeps the agency funded through 2015. So here’s what else went on.

  1. As American Airlines parent AMR Corp. continues its stay in Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, its labor unions, which have a seat at the creditors table, are doing what they can to keep as many jobs as possible, despite the airline’s recent announcement of 13,000 job cuts.  As an alternative to those cuts, two of the carrier’s largest unions — the Transport Workers Union and the Association of Professional Flight Attendants — has said the company should consider offering lump sum buy-outs, reports Aviation Week.  TWU is proposing $75,000, with health insurance and other benefits retained for 9,000 employees facing the chopping blog. APFA is asking for a year’s salary and current health, travel and pension rights for members with more than 15 years’ seniority.
  2. Anyone who’s a regular reader of this blog or who follows me on Twitter (@AvQueenBenet) knows that I think allowing cell phones during flight is another circle of hell. Do you hear the chatter that starts as soon as a plane lands? Can you imagine hearing that on a DC-San Francisco flight? One provision under the newly passed FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 is that Congress is requiring the FAA to study the impact of cell phones for voice communications on aircraft where such service is currently permitted by foreign governments, reports Mary Kirby (@APEXMary) in her APEX Editor’s Blog. Here’s hoping that the study will continue to uphold the inflight ban on cell phones.
  3. Back when I was in college in the 1980s, I was always trying to find the cheapest way to fly from D.C. home to San Francisco. My savior was PeoplExpress, also fondly known as People’s Distress. They had $99 fares, you paid to check bags and for food/drinks onboard. You even paid your air fare onboard. It wasn’t a luxury ride, but it got you from point A to point B at a pretty reasonable price.  The airline shut down in February 1987 and it was folded into Continental Airlines. Fast forward 25 years later, and it may be coming back. Some of the folks from the original airline are proposing to bring back the low-cost carrier and headquarter it at Newport News-Williamsburg International Airport in Virginia, reports the Washington Post.  The carrier plans to initially serve destinations in Florida, New England, the Great Lakes, and Mid-Atlantic regions, then expand to other cities, such as Pittsburgh, Providence, West Palm Beach and Newark, where airline consolidation over the past few years has led to a reduction of non-stop air service.
  4. Like most frequent travelers, I’ve been watching with interest as the Transportation Security Administration continues to expand its PreCheck trusted traveler program. I covered the airport security beat for four years, which gave me a front-row seat to the private sector operated registered traveler program.  You can read my post on the APEX Editor’s Blog about how we got from a private RT program to an effort overseen and blessed by TSA.
  5. It’s Black History Month, and I’ve always had a particular fondness for those who were pioneers in the aviation/airline industry.  My brother from another mother — Greg Gross from the I’m Black and I Travel blog — shared the amazing story of Norma Merrick Sklarek, who died this year at the age of 85. Ms. Sklarek’s claim to fame was that she was the first black woman in America to be licensed as an architect. But her place in aviation history was secured as the leader of the team that designed Terminal 1 at LAX, which received the millions of visitors for the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.  She also designed the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo. Not bad for a woman who began her career designing bathrooms for the New York City building department.

I was a busy bee last week, with an APEX Editor’s Blog post about JetBlue’s food choices at its flagship Terminal 5 at JFK Airport, two stories in Aviation International News’ Singapore Air Show publication (on Enterprise Florida and Canada’s Manitoba Department of Entrepreneurship, Training and Trade) and a stint as guest host on episode 185 of the Airplane Geeks podcast. And last — but certainly not least — I got to be a judge, along with Henry Harteveldt and Brett “Cranky Flier” Snyder in a 12th anniversary cake contest to celebrate JetBlue’s 12th anniversary, as retold on the carrier’s Blue Tales blog.

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!

The ORIGINAL Strange But True Aviation News

27 Jan

That’s some heavy baggage. U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport found a checked bag filled with 35 lbs of methamphetamine arriving from Mexico, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. No arrests were made because the owners never picked up the suitcases.

Ooops! My bad on that strip search.  The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has admitted that screeners at JFK Airport did not follow procedure when they asked two elderly women to show them medical devices  under their clothing, reports USA Today. TSA Administrator John Pistole, in a letter to U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and state Sen. Michael Gianaris (D), wrote that officers would receive refresher training on how to handle travelers with special medical conditions.

Here, kitty kitty!  An Air Canada flight from rom Halifax to Toronto was delayed for several hours after a cat escaped from its kennel and hid in the cockpit, reports The Star.  The cat was eventually caught, but the cockpit wiring had to be checked to make sure there was no damage.

Somehow, this seems to be a bad idea.  Airline pilots want to have the authority to carry a weapon at all times, not just when they’re in the cockpit, reports the Sun-Sentinel.  “That would put us in line with standard law enforcement,” said Marcus Flagg, president of the Federal Flight Deck Officer Association, which represents thousands of armed pilots.

Aviation Thoughts…

25 Jan
  • Back in 1994, I had to fly from Washington, D.C. to Singapore. I decided to take the east coast route: DCA-JFK-FRA-SIN.  I thought that was the longest flight ever, despite how comfortable it was because I was on Singapore Airlines.  But it looks like Qantas’ Sydney-Dallas/Fort Worth flight is even longer, according to the Wall Street Journal.
  • I admit it — I’m one of those people who does mileage runs to keep my elite status.  One year, I made a 24-hour trip from Washington Dulles to San Jose, Calif.  I rented a donut-wheel rental car and drove up to Oakland to have lunch with my cousins. On the way up, I was mesmerized when I saw Hangar One at Moffett Field.  So check out this post on CheapFlightsFinder.com covering 7 Awe Inspiring Aircraft Hangars.
  • I’m a regular listener of NPR’s Planet Money podcast.  On Jan. 9, they took a look at how airlines manage to stay in business despite losing hundreds of billions of dollars.  And they brought in none other than retired American Airlines Chairman and CEO Bob Crandall to explain it to us.  Nice to see that Mr. Crandall is as charming as ever!
  • Normally this story of a Transportation Security Administration officer being caught stealing two iPads from a passengers’ checked luggage, from a story reported by WMC-TV, would have been included in Strange But True Aviation News.  But I included it here because of the obvious question — WHY would anyone put an iPad in their checked luggage?
  • San Francisco International Airport is one of my most favorite on the planet, not to mention my original hometown airport.  One of the things that makes it so great is the world-class museum that just happens to reside on the premises.  Check out this profile of the airport’s museum in the San Francisco Chronicle.
  • The View From The Wing blog waxes poetic about the benefits of having an American Express platinum card.  It does look nice, but not everyone can spring for the $450 yearly fee.  I get treated very well with my Amex Zync card, at only $25 a year.  Read about my treatment, here.
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