Tag Archives: Transportation Security Administration

Throw Pilots A Frickin’ (Security) Bone

11 Aug

I am a regular reader of Wired magazine online and a big fan of their aviation/airline coverage.  But an article — Airline Pilots Allowed to Dodge Security Screening — published yesterday had me shaking my head.  I know that as journalists, we tend to write headlines we think will capture those all-important eyeballs that help pay the mortgage (see my headline for this post, for example).

crewPASS in operation at BWI Airport (Photo by Benet J. Wilson)

But from the headline to the basis of the story, I have to take issue with Wired.  It seems to be taking issue with a new Transportation Security Administration pilot program – Known Crewmember – that lets pilots bypass screening and just show their credentials.

I don’t have a problem with this.  I actually wrote about a similar program — crewPASS — in my old Aviation Week Towers and Tarmacs blog that was tested (and is still in effect) at BWI Airport.

CrewPASS is actually good for the traveling public, John Prater, president of ALPA, told me back in July 2008. “Airline pilots have already been vetted, with an FBI background check, fingerprints and are given an ID. We’re now entered into a database where we can be verified by TSA,” he said.

None of us was brought up to be rude, said Prater. “None of us likes to cut in front of passengers who may have been standing in line for five minutes or 35 minutes, but the fact is, we’re on very tight time schedules,” he explained. “Many have crew duty limits, so TSA had allowed crew members to go to head of passenger security lines. This new system will take that frustration away, improve the security and will actually help passengers get through the screening line quicker. It’s a win-win for everyone.”

I agree.  I always let crew members go ahead of me at airport security checkpoints, but I’m still amazed at how rude some travelers are when these folks who help keep our flights safe and running on time cut in front of them.  So why can’t we throw them a frickin’ bone and allow them to use a system that is proven secure, helps cut pilot line-cutting and helps all of us get through security faster.

Top Five Most Interesting Aviation Stories Of The Week

1 Jul

I thought this would be a nice, relaxing week after the craziness of the Paris Air Show last week, but NOOOOOOOO!  We have to deal with a potential threat to GPS, American Air mulling a 200+ aircraft order and President Obama bashing corporate jets to name a few of the stories dominating the aviation news this week.  But the show must go on, so let’s get to it.

  1. I wish the Transportation Security Administration would make up its mind.  First, it allowed airports to hire private screeners under the Screening Partnership Program.  Then TSA Chief John Pistole put the kibosh on the program, saying he didn’t see an advantage to having the program, reports MSNBC’s Overhead Bin column. And now, writes Harriet Baskas, the agency is reversing itself again, asking airports to show “a clear and substantial advantage to TSA’s security operations.”
  2. You all know about my fascination (OK-obsession) with airports.  Which is why I enjoyed this article from our friends at AirFareWatchDog on the world’s most thrilling airports.  I’ve actually flown into two of them — Princess Juliana International Airport,  St. Maarten and LaGuardia Airport, New York. I also loved flying into the old Kai Tak Airport in Hong Kong.
  3. A shout out to my friend @FieldSix for this Wall Street Journal guest column from Chef David Chang of Momofuku restaurant fame.  Chang reveals what every one of us who have ever had the chance to fly in first class internationally — he’s become a travel snob.
  4. And my friend Michelle Fitzhugh-Craig’s magazine shades features a profile of  Ayesha Durrani is a Canadian-born woman of Pakistani descent who travels regularly to Central and South America.
  5. I grew up as an Air Force brat, and one of my biggest thrills was attending military air shows, especially the one at Andrews AFB outside of DC.  So I loved this Tchnologist blog post on the The Top Five Airshow Fly Overs.  And it’s video!!

And of course, it wouldn’t be Friday without Aviation Week’s Strange But True Aviation News.  We have passengers with bladder problems, turtles on the tarmac, scorpions on a plane and the usual “I didn’t know I had a gun!” Enjoy!!

Top Five Most Interesting Aviation Stories Of The Week

24 Jun

It was lucky I was even able to write here this week, with all the excitement from the Paris Air Show.  I have to give a shout out to my colleagues at Aviation Week who covered the show like white on rice.  You can see our complete package of stories, blog posts (including my contributions), videos and photos from the show here.  So let’s get started, shall we?

  1. I’m not a fan of the trend that has young black men wearing their pants so low that their underwear shows. On June 16, University of New Mexico football player Deshon Marman was arrested at San Francisco International Airport after refusing a US Airways crew request to pull up his pants led to a scuffle, reports ABC7. But six days earlier, the airline had no problem allowing an older caucasian man to take a flight from Ft. Lauderdale to Phoenix wearing nothing but women’s undergarments despite complaints from his fellow passengers, reports SFGate.com. So my question to my friends at US Airways is why are baggy pants unacceptable, but women’s undergarments are OK?
  2.  Aviation Week International Editor Robert Wall’s Things With Wings blog post gives the inside scoop on exactly how Air Asia’s record-breaking order for 200 Airbus A320NEOs.  Let’s just say Airbus COO for customers John Leahy boogied down to make the deal happen.
  3. The Gothamist (and several other news/blog outlets) are unhappy with Spirit Airlines’ decision to charge passengers $5 if they decide to print their boarding pass at the airport.  I hate to do this, but I have to side with Spirit Airlines on this one, even though I’d never fly them. Spirit makes it clear that they charge ultra-low fares and charge fees for just about everything else. If you can’t print your boarding pass out at home, then you need to pay the fee, kids.
  4. As the mother of a 5-year-old who travels regularly, I was happy to see this ABC News story,  “Change Made to Airport Screenings for Young Kids.” My daughter has been flying since she was 10 days old, and is an old pro when it comes to preparing herself at the airport security checkpoint.  She’s never had to endure an enhanced pat-down, and thanks to some common sense from the Transportation Security Administration, she’s much less likely to be chosen for one.  Instead, screeners will do repeated attempts to screen children before resorting to pat-downs.
  5. I’m a bit late, but I loved this profile of Delta Air Lines’ Social Media Lab by Tnooz writer Dennis Schaal.  I got my own tour of the lab back in April (they have a genuine DC-3 propeller as a decoration their space!), and I’m a big fan of my former employer’s social media efforts.

And we have some real gems in this week’s Strange But True Aviation News, including a baggage tale that went horribly wrong, TSA screeners missing some large chef knives in a carry-on bag and  more tales of TSA screener thefts. And check out the Airplane Geeks’ podcast episode 152, where the boys recorded live from the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center for the seventh annual Become a Pilot Family Day and Fly-In.  My daughter and I actually made the cut and appear briefly on the show.

I’m feeling a bit nostalgic today, so enjoy this classic Pan Am video from 1958 on the introduction of Boeing 707 jet service.  Passengers  lighting up cigarettes, four galleys cooking rolling carts of food (which my friend @fieldsix just loves) and happy flight attendants — ah…those were the days!

Top 5 Interesting Stories Of The Week

10 Jun

Despite all the sweltering heat, the work still must go on, and we had another fun — and busy week in aviation.  So let’s get started, shall we?

  1. This is a classic case where social media forced an airline to change a bag fee policy.  Delta Air Lines was left with egg on its face after two soldiers coming home from Afghanistan posted video on YouTube of 36 reservists being charged $2,800 in bag fees at BWI Airport.  There were almost 1,000 stories came up on a Google search of the incident.  Delta used its blog to apologize and change the policy, effectively immediately. As the daughter and granddaughter of Air Force officers, stories like this always hit close to home, and I’m glad that Delta has done the right thing. I also commend American Airlines, Continental Airlines and United Airlines for following suit.
  2. When I travel, I’m always amazed at two things: one, why pilots and flight attendants on duty still have to go through security like the rest of us; and two, how I see passengers who get aggressive when crew members cut to the top of the line.  Back in July 2008, the Transportation Security Administration started a pilot program called CrewPASS, a system to take properly credentialed pilots out of the regular line and into an expedited queue, via an airport’s exit lane.  Three years later, my Aviation Week colleague Jim Ott blogs about how TSA is still “dithering” over easing security for flight crews.  You can see my original Towers and Tarmacs blog post on the topic here.
  3. As a student of the aviation industry, I enjoy reading articles and columns on the financial status of airlines.  Good friend Bill Swelbar of Swelblog, has written an interesting post on the topic: In The Airline Business We Just Do Not Talk About Balance Sheets Enough. Before deregulation, it was all so easy.  The Civil Aeronautics Board handled airline routes, fares and schedules, ensuring everyone could make a comfortable living.  But now some 34 years after deregulation, airlines are still fighting over their balance sheets.
  4. As airports continue to search for ways to bring in more non-airline revenue, several have looked to bringing slot machines into their facilities to bring in more cash.  New Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is proposing just that for O’Hare and Midway airports, according to Jaunted.  Back in February, I wrote a blog post over at Things With Wings on how my hometown airport — BWI — was considering a similar measure.  Don’t laugh — slots brought in $25.7 million in FY 2009-10 at Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport.
  5. I have many dear friends who happen to be gay.  I have been following columnist Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” campaign, created to help gay teens considering suicide after being bullied over their sexual orientation.  No matter what a teen’s orientation, none of them should feel so desperate that they see suicide as their only option.  So I was happy to see that American Airlines has become the first carrier to make a video contribution to the project via its GLEAM employee resource group.

We have a bumper crop of crazy in today’s Strange But True Aviation News, with rats on a plane, issues with Virgin Atlantic employees and more problems with TSA screeners.  Enjoy!!

My Top 5 Aviation Stories Of The Week

18 Mar

So we all managed to survive yet another week in the wild and wonderful world of aviation.  Below are this week’s top story picks.  I’m also testing a new feature, which you can read about after the picks.  Enjoy!

  1. I’m one of those aviation geeks that loves stories about dominant airlines trying to drive low-cost carriers out of key markets (Lord, how I miss you, Northwest Airlines, the undisputed champ of this!).  CrankyFlier.com feeds this need with his March 15 post entitled “Delta Comes out Swinging at Frontier Over Minneapolis Move.”
  2. My Aviation Week colleague Jim Ott wrote an interesting blog post at Things With Wings on what happens when an airport loses its hub status. He takes a closer look at what’s happening at Delta Air Lines’ Cincinnati hub.
  3. When the Transportation Security Administration unveiled its Checkpoint of the Future at BWI Airport back in March 2008 (my Towers and Tarmacs blog post on it is here), one of the goals was to put a human face on the screeners. So as you went through the line, you’d see profiles of the officers and what they did outside TSA, including artist and firefighter.  Our good friend, Stuck At The Airport blogger Harriet Baskas, did a similar piece for USA Today on March 16, but expanded it to include all airport personnel.
  4. The Wall Street Journal’s Middle Seat column reviews proper airline etiquette on who gets armrests on a full flight.  He gets opinions ranging from Anna Post, etiquette expert at the Emily Post Institute to former Continental Airlines CEO Gordon Bethune, not known for being a shrinking violet.  I happen to agree with responder Kirk Hanson, Santa Clara University ethics professor, who says the middle seat traveler should get both armrests.
  5. As someone who has covered or worked in aviation for going on 20 years, I’m always bemused by articles like this one that appeared in Huffington Post bemoaning airline fees.  Yes, Mr. Fleetwood, it is what you call a “fee frenzy.” Not to be a defender of the airlines, but they are publicly owned companies that need to offer a return to shareholders. You passengers keep refusing to pay higher fares, so the airlines get that money through things like bag fees, check-in fees and inflight food.

Brett Snyder

As usual, I’ve written my “Strange But True Aviation News” column over at AvWeek’s Things With Wings blog.  But this week, I thought I’d offer AviationQueen readers a bonus — “Strange But True-The Podcast.”  Brett “Cranky Flier” Snyder and I offer our take on four of the stories in this week’s columns.  We also offer our NCAA picks.  The podcast — HERE – lasts about 13 minutes.  I’d love to hear what you think, and if it’s something I should continue to do.

TSA Touching=Sexual Assault? Uh, No

15 Mar

A big shout out to my regular reader Rob Riggen, owner of Vermont-based Flying High Coffee (a profile of him is coming, I promise).  I try to keep up with all the airport security news, but since it’s not my primary beat anymore, stories do fall through the cracks, like this one from WMUR-TV in New Hampshire, which reports that the state legislature is debating a bill that would make enhanced pat-downs by Transportation Security Administration screeners a crime, charging them with sexual assault.

 

TSA screeners at Boston Logan Airport Photo by Benet J. Wilson

One representative called for putting TSA screeners who violate the law on a sex offender registry, while another said screeners should be charged every time they do an enhanced pat-down.  The chances of actually enforcing the bill if it’s passed are slim and none, but it does show how tighter security has touched a raw nerve across the country.

 

We all understand the frustration of the traveling public (especially those who travel regularly) with a system that seems to not care about the privacy and search issues passengers may have.  But it seems like this bill shoots the messenger (the TSA screeners) instead of looking to Washington, where policies are made.

TSA has made it clear that it will stick with its “layers of security” approach, and shows no sign of letting up on body scanner machines and the enhanced pat-downs they can bring with them.  But in recent remarks before the American Bar Association’s homeland security conference, covered by Air Transport World, TSA Administrator John Pistole says his agency is developing airport “checkpoint of the future concepts” that will place a greater emphasis on “cutting-edge technology” and intelligence to differentiate passengers based on threat levels.

The “checkpoint of the future” made a little bell in my head go off.  Ding! Almost three years ago, TSA unveiled this concept with great fanfare on its blog.  I didn’t make the event that showed the concept in action at my hometown Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, but I did my own tour a few weeks later, which you can read — and hear — at Aviation Week’s now-defunct Towers and Tarmacs blog.

Here’s hoping that TSA will find that right balance between travelers’ need for privacy with the agency’s need to ensure security.  That way, bills like the one being considered in New Hampshire, won’t be needed in the future.

Why Banning TSA Screeners From Your Business Is A Bad Idea

23 Feb

I read with interest a Feb. 19 article by consumer travel advocate and journalist Chris Elliott about how a cafe at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport were banning Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screeners.

Elliott quotes an employee who says the ban was put into place after the agency began installing more of its controversial body scanners at Sea-Tac.  The gist of the ban is screeners will not be let in until the cafe feels passengers are being treated with respect.

I felt very uneasy when I read about the ban.  I am a black woman who is only one generation away from a time when businesses could ban my father from entering their establishment based only on the color of his skin.

While I can understand the general frustration with TSA, but taking it out on those who are the nearest — like screeners — it just seems wrong.  These are folks who are trying to make a living or feed their families.  The screeners don’t set the policy — they have the unfortunate job of having to enforce it.  So why shoot the messenger?

A TSA screener at BWI Airport Photo by Benet J. Wilson

Back in April 2007, TSA let me spend an afternoon with transportation security officers at Concourse A, the Southwest Airlines terminal at Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.  You can see my blog post on my time with the TSOs at BWI at my old Towers and Tarmacs blog.

I’ve also traveled regularly across the country and 90+% of the time, I have had nothing but courteous and efficient TSOs.  I was so impressed with the service at Jacksonville International Airport I filled out comment cards and sent a letter to TSA headquarters.

But I digress.  My point is I think it’s wrong to ban screeners who are doing a thankless job from buying a meal during their break time because someone has a problem with a policy created in Washington, D.C.  TSA Chief John Pistole has made it clear that body scanners are the future, and woe to those who oppose them.  But why should a screener be punished and have to hunt for a place to eat because of a policy they had no part in creating?

What do you think? Are you as uncomfortable as I am with the stance this Sea-Tac cafe is taking with screeners? Or do you think I’m crazy and way too soft when it comes to screeners? Or somewhere in between?

Why We’re Not Going To See A Domestic Registered Traveler Anytime Soon

22 Feb

Last week, USA Today offered an editorial asking “Would you depend on ‘trusted traveler’?” In a perfect world, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) would oversee a true  registered traveler program that would have travelers pay and submit biometric information in exchange for a much quicker airport security checkpoint experience.

 

Photo courtesy of Josh Hallett, via Flickr

There was a small pilot that was tested in the aftermath of 9/11, but not much came of it.  I began covering the second iteration of this program about a year after a pilot program was introduced at Orlando International Airport in 2005.  At its peak, the domestic program had three providers, with Clear being the largest by far.

 

The problem was that original Clear was never able to deliver what it promised — a separate line with scanners that would allow travelers to keep their shoes and coats on and their laptops in their bags.  Toward the end, TSA insisted that RT members show government-approved identification, rendering their biometric cards pretty much useless.

 

Clear scanners at Orlando International Airport Photo by Benet J. Wilson

Why couldn’t Clear and the other providers offer a true experience?  Because despite Congressional support for RT, the program has never been a priority for TSA.  The agency ended a two-year, 19-airport pilot program back in July 2008.  It also stopped doing the background checks on potential new RT members, referring all questions to the private companies operating the program.

 

TSA has said repeatedly that RT is not a priority.  Instead, it wants to focus on technology and training that offers layers of security.  And as the USA Today editorial noted:  “Quick database checks, which cost about $50, are not enough to guarantee security. Recall the Times Square bomber: a naturalized U.S. citizen who had a job and lived in suburban Connecticut. It’s very unlikely that a background check would have picked him out.”

The original Clear shutdown abruptly in June 2009 after investors pulled the plug. That, in turn, caused the other two RT providers to suspend their programs.  We have seen a new company — Alclear — buy the assets of Clear and restart the program.  We’ve also seen iQueue jump into the fray.  But at this point, both programs are more VIP customer lines rather than a true trusted traveler program.  So don’t hold your breath waiting for a real RT program to come along anytime soon.

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