Speed Through Airport Security Checkpoints, One Way Or Another

airport security

As airport security checkpoints get more crowded and lines get longer, travelers are arriving earlier than ever to make that flight on time. Arrive late; miss the flight. Once at the gate, passengers may wait longer than normal as airlines juggle the start of boarding with actual anticipated takeoff time. Keeping passengers in the aircraft or on the ground too long may result in a hefty fine. While the aircraft may be ready and the flight crew willing, passengers may face delays beyond their control caused by budget cutbacks.

Frequently flying out of Orlando International Airport (MCO), I see crowds on most days at just about any time as vacationers come in town to visit Walt Disney World, Universal Studios or any one of a number of central Florida attractions. Frankly, the thought of the process being slowed down by budget cuts is terrifying to those who work out of that airport.

How terrifying? Enough to make frequent fliers re-think their game plans and look for new ways to expedite the boarding process.

Take The Express Lane
airport securityI recently re-joined CLEAR, the biometric fast pass through security at MCO. I had been a member in 2005 when the service had over 200,000 members. But shortly after a laptop with the names and detailed information of 33,000 CLEAR customers was reported stolen in 2008, the service shut down. Starting back up in 2010, I had thought about joining again but was a bit apprehensive about the whole program and lines seemed to move along pretty well at MCO anyway.

Then came talk of sequestering, budget cuts and TSA downsizing, which quickly reminded me just how much I hate lines, slow people and inefficiency. Example: On a rolling sidewalk at the Minneapolis/St Paul airport, clearly marked stand to the right, walk to the left, I made a point of educating our children that “there is no ‘mosey’ lane kids.”

Primed to take the bait of a LivingSocial CLEAR trial offer ($18 for three months, spouse included), we stopped by the CLEAR kiosk not long ago to complete registration. I answered a variety of security questions and gave prints of fingers and thumbs, along with a retina scan and a copy of my passport and driver’s license. The process took about five minutes. From what I could see, that was far longer than those observed going through the CLEAR security checkpoint.

Stopping briefly to verify their identity then right on through the normal x-ray scan without any wait has the potential to save passengers time. One TSA officer told me, without hesitation, that amount of time could be “hours if staffing is reduced.”

The main drawback with CLEAR is that it is only offered in a few airports. Besides Orlando International Airport (MCO), CLEAR service is available at Denver International Airport (DEN), San Francisco International Airport (SFO), Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) and Westchester NY Airport (HPN).

Will I keep CLEAR after the three-month trial? Hard to say; at an annual rate of $179 per person, frequent fliers working out of a CLEAR-enabled airport will probably have no trouble justifying the price. As reports of actual government cutbacks cause longer lines, even less-than-frequent fliers could suddenly become interested, as I was.

For travelers not based by a CLEAR-enabled airport, there are other options though. To get there, we need to start by thinking outside of the United States.

Global Entry Program
airport securityInternational arrivals can speed up the process of entering the United States by using automated kiosks at most major U.S. airports via the Global Entry Program. I signed up for this one too because I have several international flights coming up in the next few months. The $100 fee is good for five years.

One of several Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Trusted Traveler Programs, including SENTRI (expedites crossing between the U.S. and Mexico), and NEXUS (expedites processing between the U.S. and Canada), Global Entry requires a fairly detailed online application to begin.

You’ll need your valid passport, driver’s license and a clean criminal record to get conditionally approved. A face-to-face appointment at an airport processing center completes the application.

TSA Pre
airport securityThe TSA Pre✓ program allows some frequent fliers, invited by their participating host airline (Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines or US Airways), along with those enrolled in a Trusted Traveler Program, to speed through the airport screening process for domestic flights.

Odds are that if you qualify for the program through an airline, you already know about it. Those who don’t make it via airline invitation can back up to the Global Entry Program, pay the $100 for five years and enjoy the benefits.

Once enrolled in one of CBP’s eligible Trusted Traveler Programs, like the Global Entry Program mentioned above, air travelers are automatically qualified to participate in TSA Pre when flying a participating airline at a participating airport.

To make that work, once signed up for a Trusted Traveler Program, travelers provide their Trusted Traveler account number in the “Known Traveler Number” field when booking travel.

That number, along with reservation information goes into TSA’s Secure Flight system and enables access to the TSA Pre✓ line at participating airports by embedding a secret code in boarding passes.

In addition to a faster lane, TSA Pre✓-approved travelers can leave their shoes, light outerwear and belts on and keep their 311 liquids packed away. Laptops and small electronics no longer have to be removed either. The program is no guarantee of expedited processing, as TSA will continue random checks, but it sure can’t hurt.

Orlando International Airport where I am trying the CLEAR membership is one of those airports.
Observing both the CLEAR line and the TSA Pre ✓ line, CLEAR seems to be the winner for speed. We’ll find out as we test both over the next few months.

Travelers React to Big Changes on Airport Security

[Photo Credits- Flickr user alist - tsa.gov - Chris Owen]

Budget Guide 2013: Orlando

The notion that “Orlando” and “Budget” don’t go well together has its basis in fact; theme parks are not a cheap day’s outing. Admission alone can cost $100 per person without spending a dime on parking, food or souvenirs. Still, without trying all that hard, a good time can be had on a budget in and around Orlando – a time that captures every bit of the magic and wonder.

In the past, budget travelers and Orlando had a hard time connecting. 2013 looks to see average room rates hovering around $100 per night with popular International Drive and luxury hotels running several times that amount. Stay on property at a major resort like Disney World and expect to pay over $250 each night with the sky being the limit. Orlando’s hotel business has been hit hard by the economy in recent years. Now a recovering work in progress, there are plenty of budget hotels in the market.

Theme park admission, hotel rates and dining aside, there are a variety of activities to do and places to see in Orlando that are free. The Downtown Disney area of Orlando is a good example and has free admission and entertainment. Every chain restaurant in the world, it seems, has a version of what they do here from TGI Fridays to The Capital Grille and everything in-between. You’ll also find friendly locals eager to help with directions, though odds are they’ll be dining at a local place as simple as a grocery store meat counter.

Hotels

Orlando hotel developers have returned to building hotels after suffering during the economic depression. In what seems to be a new sense of purpose, hoteliers in Orlando are now paying better attention to the details of their work. It’s kind of like a ride, watching them handle things so efficiently. It’s refreshing.

New this year, big resorts have individual special offers worth up to 50% off the price, reduced rates for children and other promotions. Expensive luxury hotels aside, here are some reliable, nicely priced places to stay.

Best Western Plus Orlando Gateway is a full-service hotel with an outdoor pool, two restaurants and a fitness facility. Located within easy access to Wet ‘n Wild and Universal Studios Orlando, and not far from Disney World and other attractions, this hotel has free Wi-Fi, free parking and a free shuttle to area parks.
From $70. 7299 Universal Blvd – bworlando.com

Travelodge Maingate Suites is in Kissimmee, not far from parks and other attractions, and has a free shuttle to theme parks. Unique to this hotel are cooking facilities in each room including a microwave oven and refrigerator. Free Wi-Fi, parking and a continental breakfast along with a picnic area make this one a good choice for budget-minded families. The average year-round price of $30 is a bargain at twice the price.
From $30. 4649 W Irlo Bronson Freeway – travelodge.com/hotels/florida/kissimmee

Days Inn Orlando Midtown is also not far from the theme park action as well as downtown places of interest like Arnold Palmer Children’s Hospital, the revitalized downtown area and more. Days Inn Orlando Midtown, like other Orlando hotels, is more expensive on the weekends. From $48.
3300 S Orange Blossom Trail – daysinn.com/hotels/florida/orlando/

Eat and Drink

Like hotels, a good way to eat and drink at a reasonable cost in Orlando is to steer clear of International Drive, the hub of all things Orlando, and the attractions … although, the world’s largest McDonalds is probably a must-see for fast food lovers and it sits not far from Disney World.

Mama B’s Giant Subs is located downtown and is open for lunch only. A local favorite, there is a choice of 30 different sandwiches, all customizable and all huge. They have a $6 lunch special that includes any half sub with chips and small drink. For a big group, a 3-foot feeds 10-15 people ($36.96), 4-foot ($49.38), 5-foot ($61.00), 6-foot ($72.68) Note that they only take cash – no credit or debit cards accepted.
692 N Orange Ave - Mama B’s Giant Subs

Bubbalou’s Bodacious BBQ is a favorite of local residents looking for a whole lot of good food for little money. This is where local barbecue fans that know what they’re talking about eat. Absolutely nothing fancy to it, this place has Floridians driving from as far away as Jacksonville. Unique menu items here include Fried Pickles ($2.99), Fried Okra ($3.49) and Sweet Potato Tots ($3.99). Beef, pork, chicken and seafood are prepared fresh daily as sandwiches ($5.99) or dinners ($11.99).
12100 Challenger Parkway – bubbalous.com

Fish and Chips is actually the name of a restaurant in the Orlando suburban city of Apopka that started as a hole-in-the-wall place in a strip mall in 2006. Fish and Chips has such a big local following that it was expanded and moved to a larger location at the end of 2012 and looks poised to be even better in 2013. Based on a simple premise of providing hearty portions of quality seafood at reasonable prices ($5-$7), the fish served at lunch today “was swimming last night,” the owners are fond of saying.
1146 West S R 436 – fishchipsorlando.com

Budget Activities

Splitsville Luxury Lanes and Dinner Lounge is a 30-lane bowling alley ($15 per person per hour, all-you-can-bowl) in Downtown Disney that’s a hip, retro venue and also features pool tables (free) and a balcony bar that overlooks Downtown Disney. Budget watchers will like that at Splitsville they don’t need to bowl to enjoy the bars and food offerings. In addition, Splitsville has live music (free) on some nights, with a variety of theme nights on others.
1494 East Buena Vista Drive – splitsvillelanes.com

Pleasure Island, is a free entertainment area in Downtown Disney that can be a cheap, if not free night out. Parking is free and so is non-stop entertainment at various venues. Try a candy apple from the Candy Cauldron, watch singers and musicians for a few hours or ride the free water taxi around to see the area. On the marketplace side, visitors can always get a free chocolate sample at the Ghirardelli Chocolate shop.
1590 Buena Vista Drive – wdwinfo.com/downtown/pi/

Universal City Walk is similar to Downtown Disney and a fun area of restaurants, shops and entertainment that requires no admission. You’ll pay for parking here ($20) but buy something in a store and they will credit your purchase towards the fee. Travelers who enjoy a Caribbean cruise for a trip to Margaritaville can stop by Jimmy Buffet’s place for a Cheeseburger In Paradise fix and a LandShark beer.
6000 Universal Blvd – universalorlando.com

Get Around

By Bus: Orlando’s citywide bus system is called the LYNX public transportation system. The extensive system that runs until midnight is worth learning over other transportation methods. A one-way fare in a single direction anywhere on the system is $4, and transit directions can be pulled from Google Maps on your smartphone. To or from Orlando International Airport (MCO) and the suburbs via cab or private car will run around $100 each way.

By Car: Rental cars in Orlando are usually very competitive because of the high volume of tourists. Cars are almost always available and everyday prices for compacts start at just $25 per day with unlimited mileage. Start your search at kayak.com for a good aggregate of fares.

By Train: While a train is not a good way to get around once in Orlando, using one to get there is another matter altogether. The Orlando area has three Amtrak passenger train stations. The Orlando station is close to the attractions but the Kissimmee station is the closest to Walt Disney World. The Winter Park station delivers passengers to a quaint suburb with frequent street markets and old-fashioned charm.

Budget Tips

Watch Disney World Fireworks For Free by going to Disney’s Polynesian Resort (no admission fee required) for a cheap dinner at Captain Cook’s quick-service restaurant, then go sit on the beach attached to the resort for the show.
1600 7 Seas Drive – disneyworld.disney.go.com/resorts/polynesian-resort/

Driving? Bring a roll of quarters, as many roads frequently traveled by visitors are toll roads. Better yet, if you’re going to be in town for the good part of a week, buy a SunPass transponder to save on what a car rental company might charge. Save time driving too by paying attention to road congestion via your favorite up-to-date GPS-based app; major highway projects in 2013 and beyond will make driving an activity all of its own.

Pick a suburban hotel if visiting during peak times when hotel availability may be tight. Pick something close to I-4 if visiting attractions. It will be about a 30 minute drive to Disney World, Universal Studios and others but well-worth the savings. It is almost always less costly paying for the rental car and expenses vs. staying at a pricey hotel or resort on-site.


Hostel-Finding Travel App Shows Who Else Is Staying There Too

travel appBrowse, Book and Start Making Friends are the three steps needed to use WeHostels, a new iPhone travel app that is about as easy as it gets to book a no-frills place to sleep for the night. Like a HotelTonight for hostels, WeHostels has some unique features worth a look.

Testing the app for my hometown of Orlando produced four good results based on my current location. At one property, close to Orlando International Airport (MCO), a basic tent with shared bathroom came in at $15 per night. Typical of other listings, additional choices included a standard four-bed male dorm, standard four-bed female dorm or a deluxe six-bed female dorm suite for $25 per night.

Looking down the road, WeHostels users can enter their next destination to line up a hostel for the next place they may be going in advance too. Once found, booking is easy via the app for regular hostel guests who don’t need to know more and just want to tie down a place to sleep for the night. Contact information for the property is also included for those who want to know more.

So what’s different about WeHostels over finding a hostel from another hostel source, say Hostels.com or HostelWorld.com?

In addition to the handy travel app, WeHostels boasts a social element where we can check out who might also be staying at a chosen location before we get there.Like the crowd-sourcing element of other apps, the quality of that information will depend on who has and uses the WeHostels app. Still, on the hostel choices I had for Orlando, someone had checked in to three out of the four property choices. In advance of arrival I would have the name, a photo, the hometown and some other information about others I would spend the night with.

Available right now for iPhone, WeHostel plans for the launch of a general mobile site soon to enable Android users. Save more at WeHostel now; enter the code “GADLING” for $10 off.

Want to know more about WeHostels? Last June, the WeHostels product team moved together into a house in the mountains of Colombia. The team isolated from society with the goal of hacking full-time and developing the WeHostels first mobile app.


Vintage Aircraft Come Home

vintage aircraftVintage aircraft fascinate those who travel by air. Pilots and aviation fans, along with frequent fliers, enjoy visiting air displays and museums to get up close and personal with aircraft that are often older than they are. As time goes on, efforts are being made to bring rare aircraft from World War II back to American facilities where they can be viewed and some even flown.

Central Florida’s Fantasy of Flight, home to the world’s largest private collection of rare and vintage planes, also became home to a World War II C-47 Dakota, also known as the SkyTrain, over the weekend.

Fantasy of Flight
creator and founder Kermit Weeks purchased the plane last year from a private owner in the U.K. and began a seven-leg journey last July to fly the plane back to the United States across the Atlantic.

“We are thrilled to finally bring home the C-47 to our permanent collection,” said Weeks. “Flying her across the Atlantic was an incredible opportunity to relive the days when World War II pilots first brought them to Europe to fight for the Allies, but now, to be able to bring her home to Florida for our guests to enjoy will be even more momentous.”The C-47 is the military version of the Douglas DC-3 airliner, with a cargo door versus passenger door and a reinforced floor to hold heavy cargo and as many as 27 soldiers.

More than 10,000 C-47s were produced, but fewer than 1,000 remain and fewer than 300 are still flying. The C-47 (N1944A) acquired by Fantasy of Flight was used by the Allies during World War II to transport troops and cargo and was instrumental in the D-Day Invasion, Operation Market Garden, the Battle of the Bulge, the Crossing of the Rhine and in the repatriation of POWs at the end of the war.

Fantasy of Flight is located in Polk City, Florida and about a 45-minute drive from Orlando International Airport (MCO). Hours are 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. daily. Fantasy of Flight also has themed immersion experiences; interactive exhibits; a tram tour of aircraft maintenance areas; Restoration and Backlot tours; Fun with Flight center for families and the country’s only Aerial Demonstration of the Day (weather permitting) featuring a vintage plane.

Learn about Aircraft Flight



Photo: Fantasy of Flight

TSA PreCheck program to be expanded, details sketchy

TSA PreCheckThe TSA PreCheck program being piloted by The Transportation Security Administration is expanding and will allow some passengers to go through pre-screening then make it through security checkpoints faster at many more airports in 2012. The exact benefits of the program, however, are difficult to define.

“We are pleased to expand this important effort, in collaboration with our airline and airport partners, as we move away from a one-size-fits-all approach to a more intelligence-driven, risk-based transportation security system,” TSA Administrator John S. Pistole told the Los Angeles Times saying the PreCheck program and a similar effort for international travelers, called Global Entry, will help make the TSA screening process more efficient.

Designed to help TSA focus resources on higher-risk and unknown passengers while expediting the process for lower-risk and known passengers whenever possible, more than 336,000 passengers been screened to date through TSA PreCheck lanes.

Some passengers could qualify for expedited screening through U.S. airport security checkpoints via designated screening lanes. The TSA doesn’t say exactly how the screening differs, citing security reasons but potential benefits may include keeping shoes, belts and light jackets on and keeping a 3-1-1 compliant bag in carry-on luggage. The TSA is quick to point out though that “at no point, however, is this program an entitlement. Passengers are always subject to random, unpredictable screening measures,” on their web site.

Not everyone is eligible for the PreCheck program though. It applies only to members of airline frequent-flier programs who also must first apply with the TSA. If approved, they get a boarding pass with a special barcode signaling TSA workers to let them go through the fast lane.


Read more here: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2012/02/09/2995938/airport-will-offer-tsas-precheck.html#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2012/02/09/2995938/airport-will-offer-tsas-precheck.html#storylink=cpy

TSA PreCheck is currently operating with American Airlines at airports in Dallas, Miami, Las Vegas, Minneapolis and Los Angeles, and with Delta Air Lines at airports in Atlanta, Detroit, Las Vegas and Minneapolis. Later this year, US Airways, United Airlines and Alaska Airlines will begin operations.

TSA PreCheck is scheduled to be implemented at the following airports this year:

  • Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI)
  • Boston Logan International Airport (BOS)
  • Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT)
  • Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG)
  • Denver International Airport (DEN)
  • Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL)
  • George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH)
  • Honolulu International Airport (HNL)
  • Indianapolis International Airport (IND)
  • John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK)
  • LaGuardia Airport (LGA)
  • Lambert-St. Louis International Airport (STL)
  • Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY)
  • Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport (SJU)
  • Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR)
  • O’Hare International Airport (ORD)
  • Orlando International Airport (MCO)
  • Philadelphia International Airport (PHL)
  • Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX)
  • Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT)
  • Portland International Airport (PDX)
  • Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA)
  • Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC)
  • San Francisco International Airport (SFO)
  • Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA)
  • Tampa International Airport (TPA)
  • Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport (ANC) and
  • Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD).



TSA Launches PreCheck Security Program



Flickr photo by Inha Leex Hale
Graphic via TSA