United rolls out Travel Options promo with giveaways at three US airports

Travelers at the Denver, Washington Dulles and San Francisco Airports got a special surprise today. United Airlines opened its Travel Options by United Spin the Wheel booths at the three hubs, offering flyers the chance to win some pretty cool prizes.

Those who spin the wheel receive freebies for use on future flights, like an upgrade to Economy Plus, Premier Line access at the security checkpoint and at the boarding gate, or a Red Carpet Club pass. After a closer look at the wheel, it seems like spinners have the best odds of landing on “Economy Plus”, which, depending on the flight, can cost anywhere from $9 to over $100. Those who aren’t so lucky don’t walk away empty-handed though. Other prizes include water bottles, puzzle books, or decks of cards.

If you missed the booths today, you’ll still get your chance to spin the prize wheel. The booths will be at the Denver, Washington Dulles and San Francisco airports until October 5th, when they’ll be moved to a few yet-to-be-announced airports around the country. The booths made their debut earlier this summer at the Chicago O’Hare and Los Angeles International Airports.

A week at the Dulles customs area – cocaine, porn and $35,000

Traveling often sucks – but a sure way to make the end of your trip even worse, is to get one of those cryptic red messages scribbled all over your customs form when you pass through the immigration line.

I’ve been selected for a closer look at my belongings about 20 times, and it can be a massive pain in the backside.

Customs officials usually go through every single item in my bags, going so far as to turn on my laptop and take it to a small room where I’m guessing a forensics specialist is looking for dirty photos.

Still, I’ve never had anything to hide, so other than a major inconvenience, it isn’t really the end of the world.

That said – after reading a Customs and Border Protection press release about “a week in the life of Dulles Airport”, I’ve got a lot more understanding and respect for what the CBP does.
Here are some of the highlights of just one week:

  • Dagoberto Giraldo Perez was arrested on an outstanding DEA warrant for importing 11 pounds (or more) of cocaine into the US.
  • A Japanese traveler tried to enter the US with child porn DVDs, and another passenger arriving from Peru was carrying an insane 66 bestiality DVDs
  • A lady arriving on a flight from London landed at Dulles with $35,000 in US currency, but refused to declare it, despite repeated requests. She left the airport with $300 and will have to plead her case in a petition to claim the rest of it. There is nothing inherently wrong with carrying that much cash, but you do need to declare anything over $10,000.
  • 8 passengers were turned over to the local police on outstanding arrest warrants, mainly involving charges of theft, fraud and insufficient funds.
  • The “dumbest passenger of the week” at the customs desk was a passenger from Vietnam who failed to declare 6 pork sausages. The CBP agriculture specialists gave the man numerous opportunities to amend his customs declaration form, but he decided it would be more fun to just keep lying. He was fined $175.

Then of course, there are the usual passengers who lied on their customs forms and tried to hide items like sausages, Absinthe and Cuban cigars in their luggage. Customs agents even seized 2 bottles of vodka from a minor arriving from Germany

So there you have it – the results from just one airport, during one week.

What surprised me most, was how many passengers simply fail to understand what they are up against. It takes a very special kind of stupid to prefer lying about the items right in front of you and and being fined, than simply amending your declaration.

The US Customs and Border Protection agency has a site dedicated to educating you about the various rules and regulations regarding items you can (and can not) bring back to the country. Many of those rules are pretty straightforward, but the most important thing to remember is to not be an ass at the customs desk and to remember that lying to the agent is probably not in your best interests.

Check out these other stories from the airport checkpoint!

Interested in Air Traffic Control? Watch this.

There are roughly 15,000 air-traffic controllers orchestrating over 55,000 commercial flights per day in the U.S. alone. It’s no wonder the position is called “the most stressful job in the world,” where “one mistake — one slip of the tongue — can lead to disaster.” Check out the short documentary above, which interviews air traffic controllers in Washington Dulles International Airport, “the second busiest trans-Atlantic gateway on the Eastern Seaboard,” scheduling roughly one take-off or landing per minute.

Interested in becoming an air traffic controller? Read this. [via]