Ban the Burqa? Religious Freedom Battles Airport Security

Charles Roffey

Should Muslim women be allowed to wear a full-face veil through airport security? At least one prominent British politician believes the answer is no.

During a larger debate about the appropriateness of the burqa, U.K. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg admitted that while he was uneasy about banning full-face veils throughout society, “it is perfectly reasonable for us to say the full veil is clearly not appropriate” going through airport security.A quick Google search didn’t reveal an estimated number of women who wear the face-covering headdress, but most experts believe it to be just a fraction of the world’s female Muslim population.

Despite published guidelines to the contrary, many people believe that Muslim women are allowed to simply bypass security checkpoints, blaming the political correctness movement. This rumor gained steam in 2010, when two Muslim women were seemingly allowed to pass through customs without lifting their veils.

However, the incident appears to have been a one-time mistake, albeit one that the Canadian transport minister called at the time “deeply disturbing.” In the U.S., Muslim women can keep their head coverings on while going through security, although Homeland Security reserves the right to do “additional screening,” according to the TSA’s website.

If needed, the women will be taken to a private screening area, where a female TSA agent will remove the veil. The agent can then search it for contraband, if warranted. However, most women opt to uncover their face at the security checkpoint rather than going to a screening area, and immediately cover it again afterward.

Should full-face burqas be banned in airports or is the furor much ado about nothing?

Airlines Can’t Keep Up With Customers’ Social Media Complaints

Flickr user Patcard

Days after the son of an irate passenger bought a promoted tweet to shame British Airways, a second European airline is feeling the sting of a social media barrage aimed at its alleged ineptitude.

Air Berlin flight 8109 took off on August 9 without a single piece of checked baggage for the 200 passengers on board. Making matters even worse, it couldn’t locate any of the bags for weeks, causing a storm of Twitter complaints and a Facebook page devoted to the debacle.

That one incident would be bad enough, but according to Slate.com, Air Berlin also lost the musical instruments of two high-profile touring bands, one from Sweden and the other from Canada. The Toronto-based Metz vented their frustrations on Twitter, first to announce their gear was lost and again, two weeks later, to announce they’d finally recovered their instruments.

Scrolling down the airline’s Twitter page, visitors are met with apology after apology by the airline for missing baggage. Compliments on great service are hard to find.

How much of an impact are the angry Facebook posts and tweets really having? It’s obvious from the most recent complaints that Air Berlin hasn’t fixed the problems. Despite Hasan Syed’s tweet which received more than 25,000 impressions, British Airways has yet to respond publicly. Doctor Who and Torchwood fan favorite actor John Barrowman let his 217,000 followers know when he had an issue with a late departure and faulty seat on his Delta Airlines flight, but didn’t provide a promised update of a potential resolution.

From personal experience, I can say angry tweets aimed at Delta Airlines for a disastrous overseas flight in June never received a response. (Although to be fair, they did respond later after my wife logged an official complaint. More than 30 days after the initial complaint, but hey, Delta is rarely on time for anything.)

Have you used social media to lodge a complaint against an airline? What’s been the end result? Does social media shaming work or are old-fashioned complaint calls still the best way to vent your frustration?

Avoiding Scams And Thieves While Traveling Abroad

Flickr user Modenadude

My wife and I had just left the Musee D’Orsay when a young woman came running up to us clutching a ring.

The pretty brunette spoke in halting English, saying she saw it drop to the ground as we walked by. After a quick scan of our fingers, we told her we weren’t missing any rings, but she placed the ring in my hand and insisted we take it for friendship. Before my heart could swell with the joy of international love and brotherhood, she then asked for money for a cup of coffee. At that point, I realized it was a scam and handed her back the ring, which she no doubt tried to foist onto another hapless tourist couple.

While our stay in Paris was overall a wonderful experience, criminals threatened to put a damper on our trip. Before our flight out of Charles de Gaulle Airport, we would be accosted by other scam artists several more times, and my wife was pick-pocketed on the Paris Metro. Luckily the hipster shorts I bought in a Parisian boutique were so tight, I could barely get my fingers into my pockets, let alone a common thief do the same.

Unfortunately, theft and scams are all too prevalent in most major metropolitan areas. Staff members at the Louvre actually went on strike for a day earlier this year, protesting the unsafe working conditions caused by thieves and scam artists. Bob Arno, co-author of Travel Advisory: How to Avoid Thefts, Cons, and Street Crime While Traveling, estimates about 70 percent of Barcelona tourists will be approached by a street criminal; of those incidents, about 33 percent result in the loss of valuables.

According to the US government, Paris, Barcelona, London, Rome, Amsterdam and Naples have the highest number of scam artists looking to take advantage of naïve or distracted tourists.

Travel expert Rick Steves recently noted some of the most common international travel scams and ways tourists can avoid them. Other advice to consider:

  • Forgo purses or strapped bags in favor of body wallets or buttoned pockets.
  • Leave fancy jewelry or expensive watches at home. Don’t flash expensive electronic equipment –- particularly iPhones, thieves love them –- around. Have the number for the local police department saved in your phone.
  • Keep your passport and other important documents in the hotel safe, after you’ve scanned or photographed them and saved them in a file-sharing app or program like Evernote or Dropbox.
  • Stay alert. While you might be tempted to buy that second bottle of wine after dinner, realize drunk tourists are easy targets.

What are your tips for staying safe abroad?

Air Nannies To Make Flights Bearable For Kids, Parents And The Travelers Around Them

Flickr user JPMatth

Parents — and easily annoyed travelers — know just how difficult flying with kids can be. One airline offers a free nanny service to help keep the little ones entertained and quiet, while a second is planning to roll out their program by the end of the year.

There’s only one caveat: you’ve got to be flying to or from the Middle East to take advantage of the program.

United Arab Emirates’ Etihad Airways plans to roll out the nanny program by the end of December, according to NBC’s Today show. More than 300 crew members have gone through training at Norland College, a prestigious U.K. nanny training school, with 200 more slated to undergo training by the end of December.

Bahrain’s Gulf Air offers a similar program, according to its website.Ethiad’s nannies will “offer an extra pair of hands to help settle kids, age-appropriate games and activities, or advice and support for frazzled parents,” according to Today. Each plane will have an assortment of toys and craft projects that will hopefully keep the children distracted from the fact they’re trapped in a pressurized metal tube while flying 40,000 feet in the air in defiance of God’s will.

If you’re looking to snag some in-flight childcare, but don’t want to drop several thousand dollars for a ticket to the Middle East, Nanny in the Clouds allows you to find your own personal Marry Poppins who happens to be traveling to your destination. The usual fee is $20 an hour for a cross-country flight, but if your kids are particularly rambunctious, you can be sure that your fellow travelers will take up a collection to help you pay the costs.

Does Your Credit Card Include Hidden Travel Perks?

Flickr user 410(K) 2013

Millions of travelers are holding discounts to thousands of museums, concerts and airline rewards in their pocket without realizing it.

Credit-card companies offer hundreds of perks that most holders never use. How good are some of these perks? It depends on the card.

The great
The American Express Platinum cardholders can receive unlimited access to several airport lounges, including those run by the Delta, US Airways and American. According to MSN Money, those memberships would cost well over $1,000 if purchased individually.

Airline credit cards carry perks beyond earned miles. Some airlines, including American and Delta, allow cardholders to check their bags for free.

The pretty good
Bank of America credit cards entitle users to one free general admission to select museums, including the Art Institute of Chicago and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, on the first full weekend of every month. A great way to save an easy $10 or more, but not worth getting a card solely for that reason.

Many cards include a small amount of travel insurance when you purchase your trip, although it’s likely only to accentuate the travel insurance you purchase. A much better perk is the free crash insurance for rental cars that comes standard with many cards.

The so-so
Citi’s Easy Deals allows you to cash in earned points for travel perks, including slightly discounted gift cards for cruises, rental cards and hotels. The hotel and rental car deals featured on the site aren’t much better than offers you can find on Travelocity or Expedia. You can also book tickets to popular attractions, but again, the discounts are virtually nil. Tickets to the Kennedy Space Center are $50 on its website, while Citi offers the same ticket for $48 and five of your earned points.

My wife had her iPhone stolen in the Paris Metro earlier this year. Had we used a Wells Fargo credit card, we may have been eligible for $600 replacement coverage. But, of course, there are caveats. First, we would have had to pay our monthly cellular bill with the card. Also, after the phone was stolen, we would have first had to file a claim against our homeowners insurance before Wells Fargo would have paid the difference.

Before making any travel plans, check your monthly credit card bill for any potential offers, visit your bank’s website or call the toll-free number on the back of the card to find out what perks are available to you.

*This post was updated from its original version to remove reference to a credit card offered by Continental.