How Might A Government Shutdown Affect Travel?

Flickr user Nick Papakyriazis

With the House Republicans and virtually everyone else in government refusing to play nice, it appears the U.S. might be headed toward another costly shutdown. How might this affect the travel industry?

First, if you’re planning to visit Yosemite or any other national park, start making other vacation plans. A government shutdown means all national parks, government-owned museums like the Smithsonian and other attractions will be closed. All employees considered non-essential –- which, if you’ve ever spent any time with a Park Ranger, you know that’s a complete lie -– will be furloughed and not paid during any shutdown.

This is a massive blow to not only travelers, but the folks whose livelihoods depend on those travelers, like the diner waitresses near the National Zoo or the hotel owners throughout Acadia National Park. According to the Christian Science Monitor, during the 26-day government shutdown in 1995 and 1996, the closure of those sites meant a net loss of 9 million visitors and untold millions in lost revenue to the surrounding communities.

While passport workers will likely remain on duty, expect rampant delays. During the last shutdown, more than 200,000 passport applications went unprocessed. Tens of thousands of entry visas for foreign travel also went unprocessed each day.

Air-traffic controllers and Homeland Security personnel should remain on the job, but it’s not known if a potential shutdown will affect their jobs in other ways.

Man Steals Bus, Drives Around Airport Tarmac

Flickr user caribb

Perhaps wanting to relive one of the most climatic moments from the movie “Speed,” a Texas man allegedly stole an airport bus and drove it around the tarmac this weekend.

Police say David Cooper Thurmond snuck onto the Easterwood Airport runway early Saturday morning, stole the 22-person passenger transport and drove it around for an undisclosed amount of time before he was confronted by airport staff. Homeland Security probably won’t be relieved to know Thurmond was apparently able to enter the airport through an unlocked pedestrian gate on the south side of the general aviation terminal.
Thurmond may have been attempting another sort of joyride; after police arrived, it was determined the seal on an American Eagle passenger plane had been broken, causing a three-hour delay later that day.

After his arrest, Thurmond was charged with assault, criminal trespassing and theft greater than $20,000 but less than $100,000.

News reports have yet to disclose if the 54-year-old Texan was intoxicated or otherwise under the influence at the time. Anyone willing to place a wager on this?

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?

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.

TSA As Fashion Police, Agent Criticizes 15-Year-Old Girl’s Clothing Choices

Boing Boing

Not content to save airline passengers from bottles of hand lotion larger than an ounce and Chewbacca’s light-saber walking stick, one TSA agent reportedly took it upon himself to criticize a 15-year-old girl for an outfit he deemed too revealing.

The teen girl was traveling with a group of other high school students on a college tour when she came up to the Homeland Security agent checking IDs and boarding passes. The agent reportedly glared at the girl, telling her moments later, “You’re only 15, cover yourself!” in a “hostile tone.”

That might have been the end of the story if not for two things. First, the shaken girl immediately texted her parents about the embarrassing situation. Second, one of those parents happens to be Boing Boing founder Mark Frauenfelder.

So what was the teen girl wearing that was so scandalous? A pair of black pants topped by a camisole and a long-sleeve flannel shirt, according to a cellphone photo later tweeted by the elder Frauenfelder.

Although the girl’s outfit doesn’t appear to be revealing at all, Frauenfelder wrote in a subsequent blog post that, “it doesn’t matter what she was wearing, though, because it’s none of (the TSA agent’s) business to tell girls what they should or should not wear. His creepy thoughts are his own problem, and he shouldn’t use his position of authority as an excuse to humiliate a girl and blame her for his sick attitude.”

As the sartorial controversy began to sweep across the web – A is For’s Maureen Herman and Jezebel’s Madeleine Davies jumped on the story as well – the TSA released a statement saying it was “thoroughly reviewing the circumstances behind” the younger Frauenfelder’s “unpleasant experience.”