Selling Fake Bomb Detectors Lands UK Businessman In Jail

fake bomb detectors
What Bolton and McCormick really deserve. (Image courtesy Wikipedia)

Back in April we brought you the story of James McCormick, who was found guilty in a British court of selling fake bomb detectors to several nations, including Iraq. When I was traveling in Iraq I saw his useless products, based on a novelty golf ball detector, being used at checkpoints everywhere. McCormick endangered the lives of countless people, including myself, and I’m glad to report that he’s now serving ten years in jail.

Well, not totally glad. A life sentence would be far more appropriate, but corrupt businessmen so rarely end up behind bars I’ll take what I can get.

Now another UK businessman has been sent to jail for peddling fake bomb detectors.

Gary Bolton, 47, of Chatham, Kent, has been sentenced to seven years in prison for selling what he claimed were sophisticated electronic devices. In fact, they were simply little plastic boxes with handles and antennae. The prosecution proved that Bolton knew they didn’t work yet his company Global Technical Ltd. sold them for thousands of dollars apiece to numerous security and law enforcement agencies in half a dozen countries, including Mexico and Thailand. Bolton also claimed they could detect drugs, cash, tobacco and ivory.

It appears Bolton may have been inspired by the success of McCormick’s bogus device, as one of them was found in Bolton’s home.

Who’s up for a good, old-fashioned tarring and feathering?

Are Hassle Free Airlines Truly Possible?

airplane interior
jerdlngr, Flickr

A new airline in Memphis is looking to take the frustration out of flying, letting travelers skip airport security and show up at the airport just minutes before their flight takes off.

Southern Airways Express has been operational for four months and the carrier’s CEO believes it’s the answer to many passengers’ woes.

“You’re going to be able to walk from your car less than 50 yards in most cases to the aircraft without having to go through any TSA security hassles. You only have to get here 20 minutes before the plane departs,” CEO Stan Little told a local TV station.

Right now, the airline serves 10 regional domestic routes, but it’s planning to expand and may even add an international flight later this year.For passengers fed up with the nightmare that air travel has become, it all sounds too good to be true. Just the other day we told you about the disgraceful report card the TSA received following a government audit which found that a number of security screeners were sleeping, stealing and taking bribes on the job. The story prompted many readers to share their own tales of humiliation, frustration, or anger at having to deal with airport security.

The desire for a hassle-free airline is clearly strong, but can such a carrier truly take off in this day and age of global threats and terrorism fears? Southern Airways has managed to bypass TSA checks by flying in and out of smaller regional airports that don’t yet have strict security protocols, and any route expansions would likely involve destinations with similar secondary airports. Still, flying out of alternate hubs might be a small price to pay for travelers who have had enough of body scanners, bag searches and liquid restrictions.

What do you think? Can an airline like this be made to work?

Heathrow Is Now Tracking How Late You Are

eGuide Travel, Flickr

Is your flight in 30 minutes or 45? You don’t have time to look at your boarding pass, so you hustle as fast as you can, awkwardly managing your oversized carry-on which you know that you are going to get scolded for. When you get to security, instead of being waved through you are turned right back around and sent off to the check-in gate. You won’t be making your plane, and the pilot of your flight knows it.

Creepy or helpful?

While it might feel Big Brotherish, Heathrow Airport’s new “positive boarding” initiative is intended to help not only keep flights on time, but also ensure that passengers have up to date information to know how much they need to hustle or not.

When a passenger passes through a security checkpoint now, individual information about that passenger will pop up on the screen, showing which flight they are on and whether or not they are going to be able to make it. Passengers who are too late will be turned around, and the information will be passed along to the airline so that they can immediately begin removing the passenger’s bag.Although Heathrow claims it’s the first technology of its kind, tracking passengers is nothing new. In Italy, a couple of airports track Bluetooth signals, and SITA is a known service that provides real-time tracking software and line management.

This all might sound like an excessive use of technology, but Heathrow claims that in the first week of using its new service, 35,000 passengers used the positive boarding technology as part of their trip. Data shows that of the airlines using the technology, 44% of the flights had passengers who could have delayed the final departure. 10 passengers who were running very late were turned around and told they didn’t have the time to make it through security. Those 10 passengers probably weren’t too happy, but I’m sure that the passengers on the flights that departed promptly were satisfied. All the more reason to give yourself ample time to get to the airport and board your plane.

Heathrow Or Frankfurt: Two Of The World’s Worst Airports?

frankfurt airportAir travel can be a tribulation anywhere but traveling through the world’s mega-airports is never high on my list of fun things to do. Last week, I spent some time at Heathrow (in London) and at Frankfurt International airport – two of the world’s dozen busiest, and some would say best-avoided, airports. These temples of transit require travelers to demonstrate the patience of Job, the endurance of an ultra-marathon runner and a good sense of humor to roll with the inevitable hassles. But which airport is best avoided if you are transiting through Europe and have options – Heathrow or Frankfurt Airport?

I lived in the Balkans for a spell several years ago when I was in the Foreign Service, and the government would frequently route us through Frankfurt, which was rated the 11th busiest airport in the world last year, with just over 57 million passengers transiting it in 2012. Our usual rule of thumb was that if the layover time was less than two hours, we knew the chances of making the onward flight was about 50-50 if it was in the 60- to 90-minute range. Less than an hour? No chance, particularly if you checked bags and hoped to see them again.I do not enjoy flying. My preferred modes of transport are, in this order: train, boat, bike, car, plane and bus. And so, when my plane touches down on a runway after a long flight, I can’t wait to get off the plane. In Frankfurt, though, one can taxi for so long that it seems as though the pilot might be planning to drop you off in Salzburg. Planes taxi for what seems like forever and then you often have to schlep your things onto a bus and then shuttle into the terminal.

But I like to people watch at airports and on this score, Frankfurt is awfully good. There are mysterious looking women in niqabs and burkas; flashy-tracksuit wearing Russian mafiosos and their showy girlfriends, weighed down in gaudy jewelry and shopping bags; Africans in colorful robes carrying enormous plastic bags and suitcases sealed tight in cellophane wrapping; beer guzzling Germans and their worldly dogs; and plenty of backpackers about to wash back up on their parent’s doorsteps after spending their last rupees on a bag of mushrooms and Tibetan prayer flags in Katmandu.

I had a full two-hour layover in Frankfurt last week, en route from Chicago to London, but I just barely made my connection. (This was the only way I could redeem miles to get to London during Wimbledon.) In fairness, the flight touched down 15 minutes late and we taxied for an eternity, so I wasn’t in the terminal for two hours, but I felt like I walked about 5 miles and stood in I don’t know how many lines before I got to my gate just after boarding had begun for my connecting flight. I was soaked in sweat from hauling all my gear and suffering from that putrid, exhausted feeling you have after a sleepless night on a transatlantic flight.

Frankfurt has good rail links and some reasonably appealing shopping and dining options but it’s the kind of place where you want to allow a huge amount of time. And think twice about hauling a lot of carry-on baggage there.


I’ve traveled in and out of Heathrow, the world’s third busiest airport in 2012 with some 70 million passengers, many times over the years and I have just two nice things to say about it: you can access it via London’s tube and there are plenty of bookstores and newsstands. I wasn’t sure what terminal my flight was in and there are three tube stops – one for terminal 1, 2 and 3; and one each for terminals 4; and 5. I played the odds and got out at the 1/2/3 stop at 1:15 p.m. for a 3:30 p.m. flight.

I booked the flight with United and it had a UA flight number, so I followed the signs to terminal 1. It was about a 15-minute walk, made unpleasant for me only because I was hauling too much stuff, but alas, it turned out that I was on an Air Canada codeshare, and the Canucks are based in terminal 3. After another 15-minute walk, I was thrilled to walk right up to the counter and secure my boarding pass with no wait.

But my luck ran out going through security. I’ve been in longer lines before – much longer ones, in fact – but perhaps never a slower one. I can’t tell you precisely how long I was in line, because I wasn’t wearing a watch and was carrying a broken iPhone, but I think it took a good hour. My backpack was singled out for a search but there were three other bags to be inspected by one laconic young South Asian woman who moved as fast as one might walk down a gang-plank toward some waiting crocodiles.

Once I was deemed not to be a militant jihadist or suicidal crackpot, there was another long walk in store and then another line to, get this, approach the gate area. After showing our passports and boarding passes, we rounded the corner and joined another line to do the exact same thing again. And then I was stuck in the gate waiting area with no access to shops or restaurants. A fellow passenger told me it was 3:10, very nearly two hours after I’d stepped off the tube, and the business class passengers had already boarded our flight to Montreal. It was a 60-degree day but my shirt was soaked with perspiration. Travel can be an ordeal at times, and little did I know at that point that I still had a two-hour delay in Montreal in store, plus a nearly hour-long line to get a cab in Chicago.

The verdict? CNN rated Heathrow the third most hated airport in the world, behind just Paris-Charles de Gaulle and LAX on their list of 10 most hated airports, but left Frankfurt off the top 10. I’m with them; I’ll take Frankfurt over Heathrow but it’s close. Let’s say I would avoid Heathrow like the plague, whereas I’d only avoid Frankfurt like a curable venereal disease.

Study Finds Slow Airport Security Has An Upside

TSA agent
Mobile Edge Laptop Cases, Flickr

Going through airport security is a lesson in patience for even the most Zen traveler, but the good news is that those frustratingly slow security screenings might actually be more effective. According to a new study, TSA screeners who take their time are more successful at identifying targets like weapons or restricted items.

The study pitted TSA agents against Ivy League college students to test how well each group conducted a visual search. The experiment was simple and tested natural search skills (searching for a particular shape on a computer screen) – so the TSA screeners had no advantage over the students. The results showed that the college students were faster at completing the tasks but the TSA agents were more accurate.Stephen Mitroff, the psychologist heading up the research, told NBC news that the TSA screeners were slower because they were more methodical, which is ultimately what led to better results. “Our interpretation is those who are most experienced have found their strategy and use it the same way over and over – whether you spiral through the bag or are zig-zagging left and right. If you’re always doing the strategy and always doing it consistently, you’re freeing up your cognitive resources – your other abilities to try to identify targets,” he said.

The research is part of a larger study being conducted by the Department of Homeland Security.