Archive | April, 2012

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?

The ORIGINAL Strange But True Aviation News

27 Apr

A new high in the chronicles of the mile high club.  A Qantas pilot has is facing the loss of his job after allegedly “getting jiggy” with a female passenger in the first class section of an Airbus A380 going from London to Sydney via Singapore, reports Aero-News Network.  Several passengers complained about the shenanigans of the off-duty pilot and his lady friend, and he was warned twice about his behavior by the crew.

No texting while driving. What about when you’re flying the plane?  A pilot for Jetstar on final approach to Singapore was forced to do a turnaround a mere 392 feet from the ground after he forgot to put down the landing gear because he was texting from his cell phone, reports Gizmodo. Whoops!

Venus does look like a 747 — if you squint really hard. A sleepy Air Canada pilot thought the planet Venus was an oncoming plane and reacted accordingly, reports ABC News.  He put the plane into a steep dive “that bounced passengers off the ceiling, injuring 16, and nearly caused a collision with a real plane flying 1,000 feet lower,” it adds.

Oh, those TSA screeners! In this week’s episode of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) security blotter, Four current and screeners were arrested at Los Angeles International Airport after they were accused of taking bribes and looking the other way while suitcases filled with cocaine, methamphetamine or marijuana passed through X-ray machines, reports the Los Angeles Times.  They allegedly took $2,400 in bribes over six months, according to federal agents.

TSA (doesn’t) Cares! It looks like someone forgot to read the manual on the TSA Cares program, designed to male screeners more sensitive to the needs of passengers with disabilities.  The Frank family was traveling out of JFK Airport on a flight to Florida when TSA screeners removed 7-year-old Dina, who has cerebral palsy, walks with crutches and leg braces, and a dispute ensued over how she was screened, reports the Daily.  The family claims agents were aggressive and forced the child to be screened twice, causing the family to miss their flight.

Hugging your grandma is a crime, TSA?  The Consumerist reports on an incident where a simple hug for grandma at a checkpoint at a Kansas airport turned into an event that evolved into three TSA screeners and a manager patting down the grandmother and a screaming 4-year-old.  TSA defended their actions, saying “that our officers followed proper current screening procedures in conducting a modified pat-down on the child.”

OK, here’s a nice TSA story! Carlos Palma is eternally grateful to a TSA screener at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, reports NBCDFW. Palma dropped an envelope with $9,500 inside and didn’t realize it until arriving in Iowa.

The only thing missing was torches and pitchforks.  Passengers on what was supposed to be a five-hour Shenzhen Airlines flight turned into a 15-hour nightmare that ended with 30 passengers storming a Shanghai Pudong International Airport taxiway, reports Bloomberg BusinessWeek.  The airline paid the passengers 1,000 yuan ($150) for their inconvenience, blaming thunderstorms for the delays.

Someone needs sensitivity lessons. 18-year-old cancer patient Marina Barlukova was leaving Moscow after chemotherapy and a leg amputation when a gate agent Vladivostok Avia refusing to allow her board the plane home unless she provided a doctor’s permission certifying that she was healthy enough to fly and wouldn’t die during the flight, reports RT.  She was forced to fly home on another carrier.

Uh, pilots – no fighting in the cockpit! UK carrier FlyBe fired two of its pilots after they got into a heated argument on a flight from Exeter to Malaga, reports Aero-News Network.  A tribunal ruled a “massive breakdown” happened in the cockpit, causing potential safety risk to the passengers and other crew.

We’ll end the week with this YouTube video showing what happens when a jet tries to land at Bilbao airport in a very strong wind. Enjoy!

Randy Peterson To Airports: My Observations (Part 3)

26 Apr

So here we are at Part 3 of frequent-flyer Randy Peterson‘s thoughts on the good and bad in airports. Part 1 is here, and Part 2 is here.  I have been to more than my fair share of the world’s airports, and as I listened to Peterson, I found myself nodding in agreement with some of his observations and disagreeing with others.  So below, I offer my thoughts on five of the good and bad things about airports.

Don’t Change a Thing…What your Customers Like

I agree with Peterson on Number 10, Top Chef.  I love different concepts and local/regional brands that have popped up in airports.  One of my favorites is Vino Volo, which offers premium wines by the bottle and the glass. They also offer flights of wine with tasting notes.  Interestingly enough, I ate Torta Frontera food at Chicago O’Hare with Peterson and I’d gladly fly through O’Hare to eat it again.

I’m an iPhone freak who loves her apps. In Number 5, Peterson mentioned one of my favorite apps — GateGuru.  This s my go-to app when I need to find a retail outlet, restaurant or service. I paid $2.99 for the app, but it’s now free. You not only get directions to what you’re looking for, but you get folks like me (AviationQueen) who give reviews on the listed services.

Not only do I travel, but I’m always picking someone up from the airport, so I’m with Peterson on the convenience of cell phone lots, Number 4. My favorite is at Phoenix-Sky Harbor Airport. There’s plenty of space, you can do great plane spotting and the airport has billboards with phone numbers of all the airports so you can check on flight status.

I am a BIG fan of art in airports just like Peterson, so Number 3 appeals to me.  San Francisco (my original hometown airport) has the best art I’ve seen in airports.  I’m also a big fan of what I’ve seen in Phoenix, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Hartsfield-Jackson and Pittsburgh.

Shopping is fun — and a sport — for me. Back when I worked for Mesa Air Group in Phoenix, I used to fly through Pittsburgh regularly just for the shopping, as outlined in Number 1.  I love how airports have really stepped up their game in the shopping arena. Some of my favorites are Hartsfield-Jackson, Orlando, JetBlue’s JFK Airport Terminal 5 and Seattle-Tacoma.

Time to Rethink…This is When Customers Gripe

Now we get to the not-so-fun part — what airports need to work on.

In Number 10, Peterson bemoaned slow WiFi and pay WiFi (yes, that means you, BWI and Hartsfield-Jackson), and I agree with him 100%. We all like to surf the web, check email and upload/download content.  I appreciate the free WiFi, but it does me no good if it takes too long to download the latest picture of my beautiful child or open an attachment on my email.

I have the TSA app on my iPhone. One function on it is security checkpoint line wait times.  Good idea in concept, but when people don’t update it for days, it does no good, although I post my wait times faithfully. So like Peterson I’d love to see an app (Number 8) that gives more accurate wait times to cut anxiety.

Ah…airport floors. My behind has seen more of my fair share of airport floors (Number 7), and frankly, kids, I’m getting too old for it. I, like Peterson, would like to see more chairs in gate holding areas.

When I worked at Delta Air Lines, I got to be part of the team that opened the new Terminal A at Boston-Logan International Airport. One of my favorite parts was mentioned in Number 6 — the bathrooms.  The bathrooms in Terminal A were wide a spacious, and the stalls had more than enough room to bring in a purse and a rollerboard. Unfortunately, there are still too many facilities that can’t — or won’t — adjust accordingly.

And our Number 1 is the same — Power To The People. I’m usually the most popular girl in the airport. Why? I carry the Belkin Mini Surge Protector with three plugs and two USB ports. It is amazing how many friends I’ve made sharing my surge protector with people whose phone were mere bars away from death. Airports are doing better (thanks DFW and Boston Logan), but we need more plugs!!

Random Aviation Photo

26 Apr

BWI Airport is my hometown airport, and I love it.  I spend a lot of time in Concourse A, home to Southwest Airlines.  When the airport built this concourse, they put in lots big windows to bring in lots of light.  Below is a shot of one of those windows, decorated. Enjoy!

Randy Peterson To Airports: Give The Travelers What They Want (Part 2)

25 Apr

In yesterday’s episode, frequent-flyer guru Randy Petersen used a webinar hosted by New York-based Clear, which offers a shorter airport security checkpoint experience for travelers, to discuss the good and bad in airports.  The shorter version of this post appeared Monday on the APEX Editor’s blog.

Peterson took a page from David Letterman and did a top 10 list about airports,  “Don’t Change a Thing…What your Customers Like.”  As promised, we have part two of his top 10 list, “Time to Rethink…This is When Customers Gripe.”

Number 10 is Why Sigh.  “Airports have slow WiFi speeds. These systems need to be modernized so we can upload photos quickly. We already feel like we’ve paid for WiFi with all the airport fees.  So modernize and stop charging and we’ll love you for improving our experience,” he said.  “It also makes you look good.”

Number 9 is the 80/20 rule.  In airport security, travelers spend 80% of their time waiting for someone to check their drivers’ license and 20 percent is going through security, said Peterson.  “Something is wrong with that.  In some it’s the airport and some is the Transportation Security Administration,” he said. “The lines are the lines, so airports need to work with the government and the infrastructure to stop long lines just to check IDs.”

Number 8 is Til It’s Time To Go. There’s a lot of anxiety for road warriors, said Peterson.  “We’re waiting for things like buses to the terminal. There’s a lot of anxiety on whether will I make my flight,” he said.  “Of the 73 apps on my iPhone, 42 will tell me airport security checkpoint wait times, but they don’t tell me my personal wait times. It would be good to know how long a wait is at given points.”

TSA says anxiety is a sign of a terrorist, said Peterson. “No. It’s anxiety to get on your flight.  Just et us know if we will make our flight.”

Number 7 is Sitting Not So Pretty. “Its uncivilized to sit on the floor waiting for your flight. I won’t sit on a floor,” said Peterson. “Airports need more chairs to match the size of an average aircraft.  We don’t sit on the floor at a restaurant or in the doctor’s office. It doesn’t look good when half of your people sitting on floor at a gate.”

Number 6 is Two-Lane Highway Versus The Interstate. Peterson uttered two words: narrow bathrooms.  “I have crashed into other folks with rollerboards because bathroom entrances are abysmal and badly designed,” he said.

Number 5 is Drag And Drop. There’s always a conga line at Immigration, standing in line having to kick their luggage, said Peterson. “Sometimes I have to hold it for 45 minutes, then put it on the floor, move three feet – it’s kick the can,” he said.  “I’m getting too old to pick up my belongings.  There must be some way for those lines to be structured. Can we invent better way do to this?”

Number 4 is Do You Know Who I Am? “I’m an important guy. I have a titanium card and I have access to an airline premium line,” said Peterson. “I’m in different cities like Boise, and I don’t know where airports have these designated security lines.  I’m in a long line, and I see a small sign that says premium passenger line here.  So get better signage.  We have egos, so show us where to go to get the premium lines.”

Number 3 is Beware What You Wish For.  Congress wants to get rid of premium lines and have airports do their own security, said Peterson.  “I don’t think it will work. Security is not just guys with a black light checking licenses.  Where will you find the money to do biometrics?” he asked.

The folks from Clear got my attention in Denver and I like what I see, said Peterson.  “I see there’s less manual processes in security.  Can DIA do this without Clear? Can TSA?” he asked.  “Security is not like the old days.  Where will the money come from? I’d prefer to let Clear take my money.”

Number 2 is No I Can’t Hear You Now.  “When a flight is delayed, I can’t always hear what’s going on.  Plus I move to another area because they have more seats (see Number 7),” said Peterson.  “Airports and airlines need a better way, like social media or apps, to get information out to passengers.”

Number 1 is Power To The People.  We all can see the huddled masses on the cold floor near the trash cans plugged in, said Peterson.  Programs and apps suck the life out of travelers’ devices, he added.  “I see some airports have power poles, but it’s not enough.  Smart road warriors bring their own power strips and extension cords, but that’s an accident waiting to happen. We need more and we need it to be accessible.”

Tomorrow: my own observations on some of Randy Peterson’s comments.

Randy Peterson To Airports: Give The Travelers What They Want (Part 1)

24 Apr

Me with frequent-flyer guru Randy Peterson in July 2011 at United Airlines' Red Carpet Club at Chicago O'Hare.

On Friday, I got to attend a “virtual cocktail party” (the virtual lychee Martinis were divine) online webinar with frequent-flyer guru Randy Petersen.  The event, entitled “The Airport Experience:  Insight from Customers,” was hosted by New York-based Clear, which offers a shorter airport security checkpoint experience for travelers.  The shorter version of this post appeared yesterday on the APEX Editor’s blog.

Peterson took a page from David Letterman and did two top 10 lists:  “Don’t Change a Thing…What your Customers Like” and “Time to Rethink…This is When Customers Gripe.”  So part one of this post covers the good things airports are doing.  Come back tomorrow to see some of the not-so-good things airports are doing, according to Peterson. And on Thursday, I’ll offer my own thoughts on Peterson’s observations.

Number 10 is Top Chef.  Peterson praised airports for bringing a “Top Chef” mentality to concessions by bringing in restaurants like celebrity chef Rick Bayless’ Tortas Frontera at Chicago O’Hare.  “I love name brands and local flavors in airports. I never look at the price tag at Frontera. Frequent flyers like quality and are willing to pay for it,” he said. “I just learned that Blanco Tacos + Tequila is coming to Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, and I will try and route through Phoenix more to get this food. Local brands catch my attention.”

Number 9 is Fill ‘er Up.  “I’m a busy road warrior who loves expediency and things that save me time, like Clear,” said Peterson.  “I love the fact that some airports have valet parking.  I may be running late and don’t want to catch a bus from the parking lot.  They also have extra services, like car washes and oil changes.”

“Chores like this take me away from the fun things I can do. I go on a trip, and when I return, my car is clean and oiled,” said Peterson.  “We love airports as entrepreneurs. It make it easier for us, and shows that they are looking at lives of frequent flyers.”

Number 8 is Check It Out. Peterson said he is a big fan of people watching at airports. “Many airports are making it easier to do, with better seating.  I love to sit in the rocking chairs at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport and watch the world go by,” he said. “I sit and guess what people are doing.  He’s wearing flip flops – is he going to the Caribbean? There’s a little People magazine in all of us. “

Number 7 is Couch Potatoes.  “When there’s a delay, we like comfortable chairs and couches. Seeing that in an airport blows me away,” said Peterson.  “I can sink back in a chair with my iPad. That’s comfy and I feel more at home like that.”

Number 6 is Chicken Or Beef.  Airlines gave us that choice, said Peterson.  “It’s not much of a choice, but it is a choice.  If you look at ways to get through the airport, like Clear, it  lets you get though pressure points quicker.  We like having a choice.  I don’t mind paying a fee if there’s a faster way through. Faster is good.”

Number 5 is Like You? Peterson has 73 apps on his iPhone that he barely uses, and airports want to give him another one. Instead of building separate smartphone apps, Peterson urged airports to work with existing offerings including TripIt and GateGuru (my personal favorite).  Give them the information so we can have it all in one place. I know you want your own app, but support the leaders and know that your information is included.”

Number 4 is It’s Not All About Me. “I have a lot of people in my life who are involved in my travel, even at the airport.  I love airports that have cell phone waiting lots,” said Peterson.  “It was aggravating to pay for parking and wait.  Now we have a secure zone where we can wait.”

Number 3 is Public Displays of Affection. Peterson noted that he doesn’t go to art museums, but loves public art. “So it’s fun and interesting to have them in airports.  I love San Francisco Airport,” he said. “I never take the moving sidewalks there. I like to see the displays of interesting and educational things, like the sewing machine display.  I thank airports for enriching my life and making me feel smarter when I get home.”

Number 2 is Kids Fly Free.  Airport play areas are great for kids, said Peterson. “Kids are road warriors too, so they’re part of the experience, so they need a playground where they can yell and have fun,” he said.  Minneapolis-St. Paul and other airports are doing a great job of building kid zones, he added.

And Number 1 is The Real Mall of America.  “I love see `coming soon’ banners at the airport like you see at shopping malls.  Travelers are no longer just looking for souvenirs. I’m now shopping for myself and m family,” said Peterson.  “When I bring a Coach purse from Minneapolis-St. Paul for my wife, it’s not a souvenir. It makes me the guy who brought that purse home.”  Peterson admits that when he’s on a business trip, he has no time to shop downtown.  “But I can do that at the airport, which has become the real Mall of America.”

Tomorrow: Time to Rethink…This is When Customers Gripe.

GUEST POST: Top 10 Reasons Why I Avoid Spirit Airlines

23 Apr

Editor’s note: today, we have a guest post from one of my favorite travel peeps: Meena Thiruvengadam. I met Meena in September 2010 when we both took a week-long multimedia storytelling course at the Poynter Institute. We found we had many things in common, the big one being a love of travel.

You all know how I feel about Spirit Airlines (see my Jan. 3, 2011, post here). I’m not a fan but I understand how they appeal to a certain type of traveler.  But Meena has her own opinion. Enjoy!

A Spirit Airlines Airbus A319 at Washington National Airport. Photo by Adam Fagen via Flickr

I have flown a lot of airlines in my life, but Spirit Airlines is one I will go to great lengths
to avoid. Here are 10 reasons why:

10) Other airlines might charge you to check a bag, but Spirit will charge you to carry
anything larger than a laptop bag on board.

9) Want a soda or a sip of water onboard? You’ll have to pay $3 for it. Coffee and tea are
cheaper but will still set you back $2.

8) You weren’t expecting free peanuts, pretzels or cookies, were you? You’ll pay at least
$2 for a snack.

7) Unless you a pay a fee – yes another fee – don’t expect to pick where you’ll sit or
whom you’ll sit with.

6) There are no pillows, blankets or entertainment systems on board.

5) Looking for an in-flight magazine to entertain you? You’re not going to find one in
your seat back pocket.

4) Running late? Better not when you’re flying Spirit. Spirit Airlines requires customers
to check-in at least one hour before flight time. Most airlines won’t cut customers off
until a half-hour before departure.

3) Toward the end of your flight, a flight attendant will ask you to pull up your seat back.
This is just a tease. Spirit seats don’t lean back.

2) As if sitting upright through an entire flight isn’t bad enough, most passenger seats are
attached to one another, and legroom is especially tight.

1) By the time you’ve paid for your bag, a bottle of water and to sit next to your
sweetheart, you may find you could have flown a far more comfortable airline for around
the same price.

Random Aviation Photo

19 Apr

Back in October 2009, I was in Orlando to cover the National Business Aviation Association show, one of my favorites.  It was a great show, but I was beyond ready to go home. As I took the monorail to my terminal, I had the chance to snap this picture of the airport’s tower.  Enjoy!

Rolling Aviation Thoughts

18 Apr
  • Have you seen the April issue of Airline Passenger Experience magazine?  Editor Mary Kirby has been hitting it out of the park with great content, with stories on the science of aircraft boarding, the fun of onboard retail therapy and the ongoing debate on paid versus free WiFi.  Full disclosure — I have a ball writing a regular column for the magazine (this month, I review the food offerings in JetBlue’s Terminal 5 at JFK Airport).
  • Former FlightGlobal reporter Jon Ostrower hit the ground running in his new gig as the aerospace beat reporter for the Wall Street Journal a day early, writing about how tornadoes in Wichita affected aircraft and aerospace manufacturers.
  • My flight instructor, Alyssa Miller, has a great job.  She spent this week writing for the AOPA Pilot Blog about a major photo shoot of the timed departure of 20 B-25 World War II bombers.
  • Was everyone else geeking out over the last “flight” of the space orbiter Discovery as it made its way to the Udvar-Hazy Air & Space museum yesterday?  I saw a lot of great photos, but the one shot by Steve Trimble of FlightGlobal (from his office in Old Town Alexandria, Va.) was by far the best I saw.
  • I know we all have to get paid, but one has to question the timing of Memphis-based Pinnacle Airlines.  Weeks before the carrier filed for Ch. 11 bankruptcy protection on April 2, its board gave two top executives healthy pay raises even as it was asking for employee paycuts, reports USA Today.  Maybe the raises were justified, but the timing was not good.
  • I had to take a flight out of my hometown BWI Airport on Saturday at the crack of dawn.  I was surprised at how crowded both security checkpoints were in Concourse A.  But I saw a small sign posting about a new security line on the baggage claim level.  I scooted down, and the line was practically empty.  I had a good laugh with four other folks who saw me leave and followed me downstairs.  So check and see if your airport has lower level security lines!

I’ll end this rant with the video clip, below.  Mary “Runway Girl” Kirby left FlightGlobal in December and Jon “Flightblogger” Ostrower left last week.  But I always enjoyed their videos from the major air shows.  So enjoy their last one, from the Paris Air Show in 2011.

My Pinterest Board: Art Deco Travel Posters – Cool!

16 Apr

As a travel buff since almost birth, I’m old enough to remember when airlines did destination posters that I thought were works of art.  When I was old enough to start buying my own art, I went straight for the art deco travel posters.

Back on Feb. 21, I did a post on how I’m using Pinterest to show off all my travel obsessions.  A funny thing has happened since then.  My board, “Art Deco Travel Posters – Cool!” has caught on like wildfire.  As of today, I have 93 posters and a whopping 239 followers of said board. I only have 118 total followers.

It seems I’ve struck a nerve with a lot of folks who are like me, nostalgic for a time long since past, or lovers of travel art.  And I’m just delighted by the folks following me and repinning my pins, including: Chris McGinnis, Johnny Jet, Chris Elliott, Meena Thiruvengadam, Sebastian White, Mira Lowe and Debbie Swiatek, to name a few.

Still not on Pinterest? Email me at benet AT aviationqueen DOT COM and I’ll send you an invite!!

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