Body scanners wouldn’t have caught Northwest bomber

Here’s another hit for airline security. Not only have we discovered pat-downs aren’t effective, now it turns out that full-body scanners wouldn’t have detected the Christmas bomber on Northwest Flight 253.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was overpowered by passengers and flight crew after trying to detonate nearly 3oz of the chemical powder PETN (pentaerythritol tetranitrate) hidden in his underwear with a syringe containing a liquid accelerant to set it off. Neither of these items would have been detected by the scanners because they use a millimeter-wave technology that´s only good for detecting dense objects such as metal, plastic explosives such as C4, and thick plastic. Powders and small amounts of liquids can’t be detected.

Conservative Minister of Parliament Ben Wallace, former adviser at the defense firm Qinetiq, which developed the scanners for airport use, said that in test trails the millimeter waves passed through not only clothing, rendering it invisible, but also liquids, powders, and thin plastics. The very things Abdulmutallab hid in his nether regions to avoid detection in case he got patted down, which he didn’t.

Wallace said that x-ray scanners probably wouldn’t have worked either.

The machines’ limitations were confirmed by Kevin Murphy, product manager for physical security at Qinetiq. The company is developing an improved version.

Last week the Transportation Security Administration ordered $165 million worth of millimeter-wave and x-ray scanners at about $150,000 a pop.

Annoyed passenger goes head first in the X-Ray machine

Here is one you don’t see every day. Apparently, this passenger was not in the mood to empty his pockets and remove all his metal objects, so he jumped head first into the X-Ray machine.

Sadly, as with many of these video clips I can’t help feel that it’s a hoax. Why else would there be someone standing at the other end of the checkpoint with a camera? Plus, it’s not like they grabbed the footage off a security camera, as you can clearly tell its someone with a handheld camera.

Either way, the clip made me chuckle, and it certainly is a creative way to get around the annoying beep from the metal detector. Of course, just in case any of you are considering doing this next time you pass through the airport – don’t. The X-Ray machine delivers a pretty hefty dose of radiation, and is designed for luggage, not bored passengers.

(Via Liveleak, thanks Robert!)

Looking back at ’08 – 5 things we gained this year

Welcome to part 2 of my “looking back at ’08” segment. In part 1, I listed 5 things we lost in 2008, and in this article I will list 5 things we gained. While you reminisce about 2008, why not check out my list of 10 New Years resolutions that could help make 2009 a much better travel year!

There is no denying that 2008 will take up a pretty decent chunk of history books in years to come. Between the Chinese Olympics and the total destruction of our economic civilization, I’d say it’s been a pretty interesting year. Oh, and we also elected our first African American president. Awesome stuff. Of course, not much of this means much to us travelers, so here are 5 things we gained in ’08:

Internet in the air

I’m a geek, so I have listed this one first. Needless to say this is also the one that excited me the most in 2008.

Internet in the skies has long been a something airline passengers have wished for. The first glimpse of its potential came from Boeing back in 2004, but like many new technologies, this one failed pretty quickly.

In 2006, United Airlines tried to breathe new life into the seatback Verizon Airfone handsets, by offering some very basic online access. Needless to say, that one did not last long either. For some reason, people were not willing to pay $10 for instant messaging and 5 pages of news clippings.

Then, out of the ashes of the Verizon Airfone infrastructure came Aircell. This company purchased the rights to some of the airwaves used by the old Verizon system, and began offering high speed Internet access on American Airlines.

The first flight to take to the skies with the Aircell Gogo inflight Internet service was an American Airlines plane on August 20th 2008. But before passengers were able to download their emails in the air, a lot of other milestones had to be reached. I’ll take a closer look at what went on behind the scenes in a separate article.


Relaxed TSA rules for laptop computers at the checkpoint

Things just kept getting better for us in 2008 at the security checkpoint. After years of harassing us, removing our bottles of water, and treating us like terrorists for carrying a nail clipper, the TSA decided it could put a smile on our faces by allowing certain kinds of laptop bags to pass through the security checkpoint without having to remove our laptops from the bag.

In all, it probably saves no more than 20 seconds, but every second counts at the airport, especially when it involves doing what you can to get as far away from the checkpoint as possible.

We entered 2008 with zero TSA friendly laptop bags, and we’ll be bidding it farewell with over 30 different designs, many of which are listed here.


More fees and surcharges

Honestly, I wish this list could contain only happy things. Sadly the year has been pretty rough on the airlines, and when things get rough, they take it out on us.

Fees are what the airlines use to make money, because ticket sales alone apparently don’t work. Clearly someone took a close look at the movie theater business and decided that the expensive popcorn trick would work just fine in the aviation industry.

The worst offender this year was US Airways, but almost every major airline introduced at least one or two new ways to make some money.


New runways

While some airports are still stuck with just a single runway, others can’t get enough of them to keep things flowing.

New tarmac was opened this year at Dulles, Seattle and Chicago. The Dulles runway was their first new one since 1946, and is expected to handle over 100,000 flights a year.

Of course, Chicago’s O’Hare airport was probably the one most in need of a new runway, as they had been operating under special flow control restrictions for several years due to congestion.

The new runway in Chicago is part of a much larger “masterplan” to expand the airport, which includes a new ATC tower and terminal renovations.

In other good news, those awful people movers at Dulles are scheduled to be scrapped later next year!


New airlines, new routes and new mergers

It sucks to be a legacy carrier. You are doing everything you can to keep your fleet in the sky, and newcomers like Virgin America and OpenSkies pop up, acting like they own the place.

The thing is, many people are so fed up with the state of air travel, that these new carriers are a very welcome addition. Why fly the “friendly skies”, when you can fly an airline that actually is friendly?

In 2008, JetBlue started flying Chicago to Boston, Virgin America added 6 new routes, including New York to Vegas and OpenSkies (a British Airways subsidiary) started flights from New York to Paris and Amsterdam.

And finally, in the “if you can’t beat em, buy em” department; Delta airlines purchased Northwest airlines bringing 2 of the more decent airlines in the skies together as one. One thing is for sure; 2009 is going to be a bumpy ride for many airlines.

Israeli Airport Security Makes American Performer Dance to Prove his Identity

When the famed American dance company Alvin Ailey arrived in Israel, one of the troupe was singled out by airport security because of his Muslim name. That’s nothing new in a place where security concerns trump political correctness.

But this particular situation didn’t stop with the usual searches and passport verification. The dancer, Abdur-Rahim Jackson, was asked to perform a dance in order to prove his identity. After being held in a holding room for a few minutes, a different security official asked him to dance again. Jackson claimed that another security official told him it might be wise if he changed his name.

Jackson received his name when his father converted to Islam. He is not religious and is engaged to a Jewish woman whose family he intended to visit while in Israel. Despite being taken aback by the treatment, Jackson said that he did not plan to pursue any sort of official complaint. However, the story has been picked up by the Israeli press and commentators have complained about the negative image the story has caused for their country. Source.

Is that a police badge or just TSA?

If you want to look official,–like you shouldn’t be pushed around, you need an important looking badge that looks like a police officer’s. That’s the latest idea of TSA. Soon screeners at major national airport checkpoints will have them.

Evidently, without a badge that looks official, some passengers haven’t been minding their manners while going through screening. A badge that looks like a police officer’s says, “I’m an important person. Trifle with me, and you’re toast.”

Well, maybe not that extreme, but at least quit arguing with us or hitting us–whatever it is that drives TSA employees nuts when people are making their way through a screening line.

TSA employees are pleased as punch with their shiny new badges, but police officers are put off by them. The worry is that if TSA officers looks like police officers, people may think TSA employees can do more than screen people and luggage. People may start shouting out, “Arrest that man,” when displeased.

Also, if TSA folks get to wear badges too, than what makes a police badge all that special? There’s one thing I thought of. It says, “Police.”

But perhaps the police do have a point, and the TSA badge does lessen the clout and status of police officers. I’m on the fence. The badge in the picture, by the way, is just a toy.