TSA talks travel security in advance holidays

travel securityThis coming weekend marks the beginning of the holiday travel season and travel security is in the spotlight. With more than 23 million passengers expected at the nation’s airports, the federal Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is showcasing some major changes to airline security.

“TSA has implemented risk-based procedures to further strengthen security while improving the passenger experience whenever possible,” said TSA Administrator John S. Pistole in a statement. “We are prepared this holiday season to keep passengers safe as they travel to see their loved ones.”

Bringing Baby On Board gets easier
Already in place, kids 12 and younger won’t need to take off their shoes at the screening check points.

“Children themselves, of course, are not terrorists. But we also know that they can be used by terrorists to do bad things, which we’ve seen overseas,” TSA chief John Pistole told Fox News.

Should there be a problem scanning a child, they will be allowed to pass through several times or be checked with trace detection methods, all in consultation with a parent or guardian.

“This is all about risk mitigation, risk management. It’s not risk elimination,” Pistole emphasized, noting that kids are low risk compared adults like the shoe bomber who tried to bring down a jet over the Atlantic a decade ago.

No more peeping TSA officers
Also in place now, in anticipation of the holiday season and in response to complaints, half of the full body scanners are now using new software that replaces the detailed outline of the body with a generic image. Called Advance Imaging Technology (AIT), the technology increases the efficiency of the screening process, is safe for all travelers, and passengers see the same image TSA officers see.

Be careful who you complain to though
In a pilot program at Boston Logan International and Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County airports, Behavior Detection Officers have casual conversations with travelers to determine if the traveler should be referred for additional screening at the checkpoint.

Nothing to hide? You might pass through security quicker
Another pilot program prescreens travelers who volunteer information about themselves prior to flying in order to potentially expedite the screening experience. Currently being tested in Atlanta, Detroit, Miami and Dallas/Fort Worth, TSA plans to expand this program to McCarran International, Minneapolis St. Paul International and Los Angeles International airports in the coming months.

Along the same lines but a bit more intense, TSA has designed a new program to expedite screening for airline pilots through positive identification verification, which is currently being tested at Seattle-Tacoma International, Minneapolis-St. Paul International, Chicago O’Hare International, Miami International and Washington Dulles International airports.

“If You See Something, Say Something.”
Not a change but important, TSA reminds travelers to be on guard during the holiday travel season by reporting suspicious activity.

Flickr photo by Inha Leex Hale

How to Minimize Airport Security Hassles

Talking Travel with Step Back from the Baggage Claim, Jason Barger

Jason Barger already knew a fair amount about people before he headed off his 7-day, 7-airport travel spree to do nothing but watch them interact. He’d spent many a spring break leading adolescents and adults on house-building ventures in Mexico, a trip that took him through various airports with a band of travelers of all ages, for example.

Wanting more fodder to further develop his ideas about airport behavior and what it says about humanity, he decided to airport hop logging thousands of miles and observations as he zig zagged across the U.S. While he watched people either shine with behavior that would make Mom proud –or in such a way that if they were a piece of luggage no one would claim them, Barger honed his ideas about how the airport is a perfect metaphor for modern day life.

The result was Step Back from the Baggage Claim, a book that Barger hopes people will leave on a bench somewhere for someone else to pick up once they’re done reading it. The result of passing the book along will be that people will think about how they interact as they move through their day.

Ever since I read Barger’s book, I’ve made my own observations about airport interactions. It does seem he’s onto something. Over the past months since his book came out, gaining steam through venues like the Washington Post and ABC News, I’ve kept up with Barger’s efforts. Yesterday, there was a post on his new video.

Today is a Talking Travel interview with questions Barger answered through e-mail in between a trip to the Dominican Republic to help with a house-building effort there. If you are looking for a tasty bite to eat that’s not expensive while passing through an airport, Barger has a suggestion.

With Thanksgiving travel rapidly approaching, listening to Barger’s advice to step back from the baggage claim is not a bad idea.

Now that people know that you’ve written a book about airplane and airport behavior, do you feel like the “Dear Abby” of travel? Does everyone have a story to tell you and want advice?

It has been fascinating to see that “everyone has a story”. Also, because the airport metaphor has been so highly relatable, people are connecting with it in profound ways.

2. What surprised you the most about your airport hopping experience? Something you didn’t expect to find out?

That we’re on ‘Autopilot’. I had the perception that people were either experiencing a real ‘high’ and excited about where they were headed or a real ‘low’ and miserable about their travels. However, what I observed was that the majority of us look like we’re walking around on ‘Autopilot’ – we’re going through the motions, almost as if we’re in a trance. This was a powerful image for our everyday lives – are we truly alive as we move through our routines? How can we be more awake as we travel from point A to B in life?

3. Have you noticed any connection between how people dress and the airport/airplane experience? Does dress for success work?

Hard to make generalizations on this one, but certainly an indicator of how a person is ‘entering’ the airport environment. Some are laid back and comfortable and some you can tell are all business.

4 Do you think it’s possible that very nice, sane, considerate people actually turn into jerks at the airport? If so, why? Is it catching?

Yes, for some reason it appears that the airport is a space in the world where some people alter their normal behaviors. I choose to believe that people are good and want to be kind to others, but it appears that the stresses and uncertainty of the airport environment often brings out the worst in people.

5. Have you ever seen Improv Everywhere’s stunt “Welcome Back?” where In case you haven’t. Here’s the link. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hjej2V_yh5k (In this video, actors meet people at the airport with signs, flowers, balloons and applause to welcome them home. They find people to welcome based on the names scrawled on signs that drivers hold–those who are at the airport to pick someone specific up.)

Wonderful. It is amazing what positive ripples it sends to everyone in the area when others feel ‘welcomed’. It reminds me of a time years ago when I went to the airport with some friends of mine to pick up another friend coming home. We dressed in suits as if we were secret service and ushered the person off the plane. It got a great response from all!

Okay, here are some quick airport questions. They can be about ANY airport, not just the ones you chose for the book.

6. Which airport has the coolest feature and what is it?

Detroit’s ‘cosmic tunnel’. It is a great deviation from the norm. see this blog entry for specifics http://www.tripso.com/today/wow-that-was-cool-a-trip-through-detroits-cosmic-airport-tunnel/

7. Which one is the most comfortable for hanging out?

Seattle. I love the Seattle airport. Beautiful high glass windows looking out on Mount Rainer, thoughtful seating arrangements, variety of creative eating options, and just a well thought out design contribute in positive ways to the atmosphere.

8. Which airport has the best personality, if airports have different personalities?

Seattle for the laid back pacific northwest charm and Minneapolis for it’s classy Midwest warmth.

9 . Which airport seemed to foster anxiety?

Miami. Lots of construction, limited seating and food options, and clusters of people add to the normal airport tensions.

10. What airport has the best food find. What is it?

The Quiznos’ pre-made Italian sub that you can find at a Quiznos ‘to go’ kiosk in many airports is one of the better pre-made sandwiches I’ve ever had.

11. Name three airports you have not been to that you would like to if you had the chance?

Johannesburg, South Africa. Albuquerque, New Mexico. Tokyo, Japan.

12. And one more– Based on what you’ve observed from airport and airplane behavior, is there any hope for humanity? Any hope at all? Any?

Absolutely. We all share in the creation of today. We all contribute to each moment based on the spirit we choose to put out into the world. We can begin to ‘Change the World’ by bringing more gratitude and compassion to life in the seemingly insignificant daily moments – such as at the airport. Step Back from the Baggage Claim: Change the world, start at the Airport!

United States makes a fool of itself – arrests UK comedian for “sounding Cuban”

You can’t make this crap up – British comedian Paul O’Grady was arrested at Miami international airport because he sounded “Cuban”.

The award winning comedian has his own TV show, and became famous thanks to his hilarious Lily Savage drag queen character.

Apparently, the fools at Miami airport thought his accent was a tad funny, and accused him of being an illegal Cuban alien.

It took officials two hours to verify his identity and confirm that he is indeed, a British comedian, and not a Cuban immigrant.

I’m not entirely sure why they couldn’t just take a close look at him, and come to the conclusion that he doesn’t even look Cuban. But that would obviously prevent Miami airport from keeping its title as one of the worst International airports in the country.

With so many tourists visiting the United States entering through Miami, the airport may want to review its policies, and ask their immigration officials to re-read the manual on how to spot an illegal immigrant. The first step is to just read the damn passport.

Mr. O’Grady spoke about the incident on his radio show, and said “I’ve been to hell, folks – it’s called Miami airport.”.

Are slot machines at Miami airport a winning idea?

As someone who routinely gets to the airport incredibly early, I can attest that they are boring, uncomfortable places. It’s rare to find free wi-fi, sufficient power sources or quality food. Basically, you sit there, read a book and tolerate the chaos. But, if you’re traveling out of Miami International Airport, you may soon have a new activity while you’re waiting for your flight: slot machines.

USA Today is reporting that the Miami-Dade County commissioners voted 8-3 yesterday to allow slot machines at the airport. The devices would be located beyond security checkpoints and would potentially allow the county to recoup some of the money that the airport is hemorrhaging. At present, the operating cost of the airport is $600 million and could more than double in the next six years. The slots could provide a much-needed revenue stream.

Sure, more money will come into the airport and some gambling addicts will be able to pass the time while waiting for their flights (and you’ll often be waiting for your delayed flight at Miami International), but do you really want to hear that racket? Between the PA announcements, screaming children and people yelling into their phones, the last thing any airport needs is more noise. But money talks and Miami-Dade County needs the help.

So, do slot machines belong in airports? Would you pass the time waiting for a flight by pulling the handle and letting it ride? Or would you rather listen to your iPod, read a book and try to tune out all that chaos? Let us know in the comments.

Photo from flickr user Jeff Kubina.

Galley Gossip: There’s more to Miami than La Carreta

“There’s more to Miami than La Carreta,” said the well dressed passenger seated in 9D, the seat directly in front of my jump seat, as we slowly climbed to our cruising altitude.

“Oh I don’t know about that!” I laughed, as I loosened my seat belt so I could lean into the aisle and see why the woman three rows back kept waving her hands at me.

“The seat belt sign is on,” I told the woman as I pointed to the ceiling, at the illuminated seat belt sign, after she had asked if she could go to the restroom. “I’ll let you know when it’s safe to get up.”

NOTE: If the flight attendant is still sitting in the jump seat, you should certainly be seated in your seat. It’s not safe to get up yet.

The passenger wearing the nice suit seated directly in front of me just shook his head. Then he looked at the handsome guy with the longish hair from Chile sitting beside him and said, “tell Heather there’s more to Miami than La Carreta!”

The Chilean just smiled at me sweetly, so I smiled back. I don’t think he even knew what we were talking about. But the father and son team from the Dominican Republic wearing matching New York Yankee ball caps across the aisle from the Chilean knew exactly what the stylish one and I were talking about, because in unison they cried, “there’s more to Miami!”

Now this conversation began right after the passenger, the well dressed one, had asked “Do you fly to Miami often?”

“No. Not really,” I said. “Not if I can help it. I can’t even remember the last time I had a layover in Miami.” Then I went on to explain why I’m not a fan of the New York – Miami trips, which had more to do with the Miami International Airport than Miami itself.

“I think you need to give Miami another shot. It’s a fantastic city!” he interrupted.

I’m sure it is. But how would I know? Long gone are the days when I can actually do something on my layover other than shower, eat, and sleep. You see my Miami is not his Miami – the sexy exciting international Miami. Oh no. My Miami is a four hour sit at the airport between flights. My Miami is wearing a navy blue polyester dress and sweating my you know what off as my hair begins to frizz because of the heat and humidity inside the airport terminal. My Miami is swarms of passengers carrying too much heavy luggage wrapped in plastic. My Miami is a plane full of scantily dressed passengers who get angry as soon as they realize we don’t have blankets on board. My Miami originates from New York. Enough said?

I explained this to the well dressed passenger after the flight attendant working in first class made the announcement that it was safe to use electronic devices. Of course the woman three rows back who had waved her hands at me earlier began waving the hands again.

“Not yet. Soon,” I told her as I pointed to the seat belt sign again.

The woman began to crawl over her seatmate anyway.

I shook my head and yanked on my own harness straps for emphasis. “I’ll come get you when it’s safe.”

She sat back down.

Turning my attention back to the well dressed one, I added that even though the New York – Miami route isn’t my favorite trip, I do get excited, probably a little too excited, about one thing – La Caretta.

La Caretta is a popular Cuban restaurant located in concourse D outside of security. Apparently, according to the well dressed one, La Carreta has several locations in the city of Miami, but, as you know, I only have time to go to the one located at the airport. Trust me, it’s worth leaving the secured area for the food at La Caretta, no matter how long the lines.

White rice and black beans with a sprinkling of onions and cilantro and a side of beef picadillo and plantains, that’s what I order each and every time I pass through town. The best part about La Carreta, besides the good food, are the reasonable prices. The large portions aren’t bad, either. Don’t you know I can eat it all – it’s that good!

Of course, after La Carreta it’s off to Versailles for a cafe con leche.

La Carreta is as close to the city of Miami as I get these days. And I imagine it will be a very long time before flight crews see long layovers again. So when someone tells me there’s more to Miami than La Carreta, I am forced to disagree. For me, and other flight attendants, La Carreta is the light at the end of the tunnel, especially when you’re working the New York – Miami route.