A TSA Agent Answers Questions From The Community

tsa agent security checkpointIf you are flying this week, you are probably anticipating long security lines, many tiny bottles of liquids, and a lot of time shuffling through a metal detector in your socks. Last night on Reddit, a TSA agent participated in a Q & A (known as an “I Am A…” or “Ask Me Anything” on the site), and the community asked some great questions on security, stereotypes and weird encounters. See below for some of his answers.

On speeding through security checkpoints:

Be nice to officers. Don’t lay it on thick, but being rude or confrontational will get you nowhere. The most often used tactic for officers looking to “win” or “beat” passengers is to slow down.

Pay attention. Especially at bigger checkpoints, look around. Many times there are lanes that have few or no passengers in them, and will not get a lot of business because people assume they are closed. Watch passengers that look like they know what they’re doing and emulate them. We have officers whose job it is to stand around and advise passengers on what they need to do to get through the checkpoint quickly. Pay attention to what they’re saying, they really are just there to help you.

On securing your checked bags:

They’re rollerbags with a hardcase and a lock built in to the side. That is hands down your best option. Anyone with a ballpoint pen can get into a locked piece of luggage and zip it up again without you ever knowing. YouTube it and you’ll see. But still, I’d put a lock on any checked bag. People besides TSA officers handle your luggage, people far less scrupulous than us, and I mean … you don’t want to just invite them to go through your stuff.

On TSA officers stealing:

Officers do steal stuff. Officers are, unfortunately, people, too. Not every person in the world is honest and scrupulous. I know of half a dozen officers who were caught stealing, and it’s usually stupid because it’s a fire-able offense. You get caught and they pull your badge on the spot.

So personally, I don’t get it. Even part timers are making like 400 a paycheck…you try to grab an ipod, or even 40 bucks out of someone’s bin…one paycheck later you’re out way more money than you would have gotten from it. Morality aside…it’s just bad math.

On behind-the-scenes “shenanigans”:

I wouldn’t say there’s really a ‘behind the scenes’ on a passenger checkpoint, but a lot of officers screw around right under passengers noses, and whether or not we get away with it, we believe we do. The sad truth is that in order to maintain staffing to be responsive to rushes there are often times when too many of us around with nothing to do.

We know people say TSA stands for Thousands Standing Around.

At one of my…less professional moments, it was slow and I took a pair of rubber gloves, rolled them into a tight ball and was playing catch with another officer across two lanes. I threw him the ball, and he missed the catch, it bounced off his fingertips and hit an old lady in the head. No one got caught, but that’s what I’m talking about.

Something about Idleness and the devil…

On the stereotypes that agents are useless or have no other career options:

Honestly 99.9% (or more) of the people we interact with on any given day don’t mind or understand that we’re a ‘necessary evil.’ Regular business travelers tolerate us and appreciate when we’re not jerkbags. If you go online and read the complaints about TSA, understand that they really are a vocal minority.
I don’t mind. In fact I went to school for Civil Engineering but once I got into the real world I realized it wasn’t what I wanted to do. Rather than going back to school (and spending a lot more money) I did this. The fact is the pay really is good (I make about 40k a year), with good benefits, and requires little previous experience.

On missing weapons or dangerous items in security checks:

Take a razorblade. Or a long, thin sawblade like what got through security in that Mythbusters. Turn it on end so you’re looking down at the edger of the blade.

Not a lot there to look at.

I hope that helps you imagine how such a thing could be missed..in fact we often catch small pocket knives and the passenger tells us that it has been through half a dozen or more airports without being caught.

On the weirdest items he’s confiscated:

I was around for the liquid scare in 2006. That was pretty crazy. We had these huge garbage bins out by the queues before you even got to the checkpoint, and officers up on the mezzanine with bullhorns just repeating the same things over and over again.

Those bins got filled and emptied countless times during the day…EVERY liquid was thrown in them: expensive perfumes, eye contacts in their little foil packs, baby food. The passengers did it willingly before we even looked in their bags. And very few people complained. Everyone was scared…the threat was real and close.

Other than that…I dunno, there are a ton of things. Some old guy, probably in his 80s, had a sword cane. Said he had it for years, never realized there was a sword in it. He was shocked.

On celebrity pat-downs:

So I don’t get to pat down attractive women. I’ve never woken up in the morning hoping I get to pat down some Abercrombie model. However from a technical standpoint, it is easier to pat down someone who is physically fit rather than someone who is overweight or obese.

On my third day of work, I was brand new, wide eyed stupid, I had to pat down Will Ferrell. It was weird for me…he didn’t seem to mind. I’ve also had to pat down a number of NFL players, because of their size they often wear baggy clothing.

Generally celebrities do their best to remain inconspicuous and when I recognize a passenger as a celebrity, I do my best to remain professional treat them the same as everyone else. In the situation I believe that’s what they prefer.

I did meet Alan Tudyk…and I’m a huge fan. I told him so.

Read the full Q&A here.

[Photo credit: Flickr user TSA Public Affairs]

Family travel: chatting with Poshbrood’s Elizabeth Thorp

luxury family travel poshbroodChildhood vacations have a way of becoming an adult’s fondest memories – stories re-hashed time and again at the dinner table, destinations revisited during adulthood to see if they’ve changed. Of course, these trips become slightly less magical when you, as an adult, manage the wrangling of the entire family onto a plane, train or automobile and attempt the feat of herding the family towards a vacation destination.

Of course, the planning begins long before the trip – between setting budgets and deciding on a location, limited information is often available about higher-end destinations that make a great escape for kids. Enter Poshbrood, a family travel website and blog that focuses on luxury family travel.

We stat down with founder Elizabeth Thorp to seek her advice. Check out the Q&A, below:

Why did you start Poshbrood?
I’m a mom of three young girls and a nationally-published writer. Along the way, I had amassed a ginormous folder of fantastic family hotels, resorts and villas. Some savvy girlfriends suggested corralling the family travel findings in one since a lot of the really good places are found through personal recommendations or by word of “mom.” So I put online password protected for a small group of friends. I kept getting requests so we decided to make it a public site. It’s a huge amount of work but I just adore it! My husband has to close my computer at night or I’d be editing reviews, contacting hotels, coordinating bloggers and uploading blog posts 24/7.

What makes Poshbrood different from other family travel sites?
I like to say that “Poshbrood puts out.” All of the properties in our curated catalog, our blog and other information on the site can be accessed for free. All of the Posh Picks are personally experienced and reviewed by myself or one of our Poshbrood parent bloggers. The reviews are in our bloggers’ real voices and capture the nuances of traveling with kids. If our kids are throwing up on the way to our destination or throw at tantrum in the lobby of the Peninsula, you’re going to read about it. We also don’t have any ads or pop ups, moms are busy enough and I wanted a very clean, chic site with no distractions.What has been your favorite part about getting to travel the world with your family?
I’ve loved meeting other families during our travels and we still keep in touch with some friends we’ve met at different spots. It’s always fun when the parents AND the kids of a family both connect. Also, I’ve been taking some shorter jaunts with one child at a time. It’s so nice to really be with just one child, so you can focus on them and get to know them better. Recently, I went to Beverly Hills with the four year old and took seven year old Lucy to London. It was a trip of a lifetime for her and she was so glad to have me all to herself. I’ll take our eight year old to the Hamptons in early August.

What’s the worst part about traveling with kids? Do you ever want to just get away without them?
The worst part is probably the extra planning, extra packing, anticipating needs of each child while en route. And God forbid you experience a plane cancellation or pile up on I-95 (it’s happened and it’s not pretty…there are only so many princess movies young girls can watch!) Yes, we do want to get away without them and we do.

One of the rare times I am able to “sleep in” on vacation! We also try to do close by adult weekend jaunts –we’ve stayed at The Inn at Little Washington, The Borgata (what, no baby gambling?) and The Mercer Hotel NYC.

Obviously – you’re “posh”. But what budget-friendly family planning tips would you suggest?

Posh doesn’t always have to mean five-star or expensive. For example, there is a Quality Inn in Chincoteague, VA in our catalog. I would have NEVER thought to stay there but a friend suggested it for these reasons: 1.) Adjoining rooms 2.) Free breakfast 3.) pool 4.) pet-friendly (we were bringing our dogs) 5.)Two doors from the famous Island Creamery Ice Cream Parlor and the kicker for us was 6.) An on site Chincoteague pony — our girls were BEYOND. The hotel was immaculate, the price was amazing and the rooms were cool wood paneling, Mad Men retro. We’d definitely go back! As far as tips to saving money, we prefer cottages, villas or suites with a kitchen or kitchenette.

You can save loads and loads of money by not having to each every meal in a hotel or resort restaurant. At upscale resorts, a lunch at the pool grill can set you back $100 or more for a family of four, so having the option to make your meals in your accommodations is a great way to save. We also tend to bring our own juice boxes, snacks, wine, etc. The hotel and minibar markup is extraordinary! Finally, seek out the off-season deals. We always go to Round Hill in May because after the busy Spring Break season, the rates are drastically reduced April 15th. This is typical of most tropical hotels. Try St. Barth’s in August when occupancy is low and the most amazing hotels in the world on the most “champagne dreams and caviar wishes” island are offering incredible deals.


Where are you dying to visit?
The GREEK Islands! I’ve got my eye on the Blue Palace Resort & Spa in Crete and Vedema Resort in Santorini. I would also love to rent a villa or farmhouse in the Dordogne region of France. I’m dying to see the prehistoric caves and brush up on my French.

Any family travel trends you think are important to note?
I do see an increase in boutique hotels and upscale hotels and resorts catering to families. For example, we stayed at The Goring and they were incredibly kid-friendly with kids’ menus, adjoining rooms, free breakfast, discounts to families who need a second room. Trump Hotels has an amazing Trump Kids program and The Peninsula’s Kids’ Academy program is very special. Who doesn’t want to learn how to make pastries with the Peninsula chef?
I also think that many families are now into exploratory travel, choosing destinations that have offer some culture and history to learn about while visiting instead of automatically choosing Disney.

What are your favorite places for family travel?

Round Hill, Jamaica: Round Hill is one flight away from most major airports. No one wants a layover with the littles. The resort is a quick 25-minute drive from the Montego Bay Airport. The beach is shallow, soft white sand and turquoise blue Caribbean water, perfect for families. The accommodations, designed by Ralph Lauren, are tropical chic but not so upscale and fancy that you’re nervous that the brood might break something.

Snowmass, CO:
Snowmass is just a 15-minute drive from Aspen airport and 25 from Aspen’s town. It is a lower-key atmosphere and a better mountain for families and kids. Snowmass Mountain boasts a two-story 25,000 square foot Treehouse Kids’ Adventure Center located at the base of Fanny Hill.The Treehouse is the hub of ski school and summer camp programs and features a family-friendly climbing gym, teen activities, kids’ retail and a host of themed rooms for ages eight weeks and older. Our poshkids have all done the ski school and cried when we came to pick them up at the end of the afternoon.

The Tides Inn, Irvington, VA

We’ve recently fallen in love with this Leading Hotel of the World. It’s three hours max from our home in Washington DC and feels a world away. The resort is charming but not too fancy or stiff — and feels like you’re staying in a wealthy family friend’s compound. It is an excellent value for the location and amenities offered. The property is enclosed and very navigable for younger children. We love that once you’re there, all activities are free.

Southern California
Traveling with kids got a whole lot easier for us with Virgin America. The whole culture of the airline is family friendly from the competitive fare, pre-boarding for small children, kids meals and inseat entertainment and games. Our girls sometimes don’t leave their seats for five hours. I can even take a nap or watch a chick flick. In Los Angeles, we like to stay at Montage Beverly Hills. You can walk to everything, there is a park (green space) next door and a playground a short drive away. Once you’re in Southern California, there are so many wonderful family attractions including: Santa Monica Pier, (I got engaged on top of the ferris wheel!) Knott’s Berry Farm (much more manageable than Disney), The Long Beach Aquarium, and Legoland. The Resort at Pelican Hill and the St. Regis Monarch Beach are two Orange county resorts who offer amazing family amenities and experiences for the perfect SoCal beach vacation for parents and the kids.

London, England
London is a great family destination. Why? No language barrier, ease of access and finding a deal on flights is easy because of how many airports and carriers service the London area. Also, there are so many parks and green spaces (no cost, obviously) in London. We spent hours at St. James Park feeding the ducks, playing at the playground and doing cartwheels on the expansive lawns. Same at the Princess Diana playground at Hyde’s Park. Also, there are so many attractions perfect for families with kids of all ages including: Changing of Guard (again, no cost), Double Decker Bus Tour, Thames Cruise, The London Eye, The Tower of London (our favorite), The Wobbly Bridge (Millennium Bridge), The Shakespeare Theatre tour, The Royal Mews (seeing the Royal horses and “princess carriages” was a dream come true for a seven year old girl), The British Museum among others. It’s also very easy to find inexpensive family food at local pubs and tucked away in cobblestone mews.

We stayed at The Goring Hotel, the family-owned luxury hotel where Kate Middleton stayed before her wedding to Prince William. It is a beautiful, intimate hotel but very family friendly offering adjoining rooms at a discount and often children eat free. The hotel is centrally located right across from Buckingham Palace and 100 yards from the Victoria tube station.

Gadling Q & A with Daniel Edward Craig, author and hotel consultant

Daniel Edward Craig shares a name with the current James Bond, and like 007, he’s a world traveler and a man of many hats. He’s taken a career in hotel management and a keen ear for storytelling and parlayed it into a murder mystery book series, an engaging industry blog, and a hotel and social media consultancy. Here he tells Gadling about his history in the travel world, who’s providing the best social media content for travelers, and what’s next in hotel trends.

Tell me about your history in the hotel and travel business.

I’ve worked in hotels off and on for about twenty years. I started on the front desk at the Delta Chelsea Inn in Toronto and went on to work for a range of hotels, from big-box to boutique, in positions ranging from duty manager to vice president. Most recently, I was vice president and general manager of Opus Hotels in Vancouver and Montreal.

What title do you think best captures your profession these days
?

These days I work as an author and hotel consultant. I left Opus at the end of 2007, shortly after my first novel was published, to complete the second and third novels in the Five-Star Mystery series. Now I am working on a fourth book as well as various consulting projects for the hotel industry, ranging from social media strategy to executive coaching. I also continue to write my blog and articles about the hotel industry. It’s been a rough few years for hotels, and I think we could all use some levity, so in my writing I try to take a lighthearted look at issues.

Do you think you’ll ever go back to managing a hotel?

I hope so. Hotels are my first love; writing is secondary. As a hotel manager, I feel fully engaged and at my best, whereas as a writer all my neurotic tendencies come out. Writing is a solitary profession, and I’m better as part of a team. Once I finish my current book at the end of this year, I’ll decide what’s next, and that could very well involve a return to hotels full-time. I’ll always write, but after a year of 4:00 AM mornings and late nights, I promised myself never to write books and manage a hotel at the same time.

What are you most critical of as a hotel guest?

I’m extremely service oriented. I’ll cut a property a lot of slack if it isn’t my style or if facilities are limited, but bad service can ruin my trip. In particular, I dislike overly scripted, apathetic service. I love a hotel with originality and a lot of life in the lobby. And I look for soul, a combination of design, culture, clientele and spirit, that intangible feeling that I’m in the right place. That’s why I prefer independent boutique hotels – it’s easier for them to do these things well.

What’s your favorite hotel?

Don’t make me choose! It depends on my mood and the nature of travel. I was just in Chicago and was blown away by the new Elysian Hotel. If I’m relaxing or working, I like the Four Seasons. I can’t always afford to stay in them, but I will splurge on a drink in the lounge and will hang around until I’m asked to leave. My favorite is the Four Seasons Georges V in Paris. But I also love contemporary boutique hotels. I’m a city boy, and when I feel like socializing I want to stay in a hotel with a scene, like the Gramercy Park Hotel in New York, the Mondrian in Los Angeles, and the Clift in San Francisco. XV Beacon in Boston is also one of my faves.

Given the many social media experts today, how do you stand apart?

I’d never call myself a social media expert. Who can keep up? I’m a hotelier first, who happens to know a lot about social media and reputation management. Social media allows me to combine my two professions as a hotelier and an author, because essentially it’s about storytelling. Social media touches every department in a hotel, and as a former general manager I understand the interplay and interdependence involved, and to rise above individual departmental interests to develop a strategy that benefits the hotel as a whole.

What hotels/travel companies do you think are doing social media “well”?

I think there are a number of hotel companies that do certain aspects of social media well, but nobody is doing anything particularly innovative. HKHotels in New York are doing a great job of reputation management. Best Western runs a good Facebook page. InterContinental Hotel Group makes great concierge videos. The Iron Horse Hotel in Milwaukee manages Twitter well. Red Carnation Hotels in London and Pan Pacific Hotel in Vancouver have good blogs. Joie de Vivre Hotels does great contests.

Hoteliers are great storytellers, and with all the comings and goings of guests we have a rich resource of content to draw from, and yet this isn’t translating to social media. A lot of hotel content is trite and uninspiring, and most of the voices sound the same: perky and vaguely annoying. Hotels can learn a lot from online reviewers, who spin the best stories, with strong points of view, hooks, humor, trivia and facts. I think there are huge opportunities for the hotel industry, and I’d love to help a hotel become the social media hotel in a given destination.

What made you start writing murder mysteries?

I always wanted to write, and naively thought that writing a mystery would be fun and easy. They say write what you know, and at the time I was working as a duty manager, so I set it in a hotel. Ten years later, Murder at the Universe was published. For me it was a one-off, but my publisher liked the idea of a hotel manager who writes mysteries set in hotels, so they contracted me to develop it into a series. Since then I’ve published Murder at Hotel Cinema and Murder at Graverly Manor.

After three novels, I started to get bored with my protagonist, the hapless hotelier Trevor Lambert, and all that whining. And there could only be so many murders in his hotels before people started suspecting him. The book I’m finishing up now is non-fiction, an irreverent insider’s look at hotels, written for travelers.

What do you see as the next big trends in hotels?

Mobile is huge. Increasingly, people are researching, booking and recommending travel via smart phones. Social media will grow as people continue to bypass travel journalists and hotels for travel information in favor of travelers, friends and social networks, all from the palm of the hand. When it comes down to it, however, above all hotel guests still want comfort, convenience and value. They just have much larger audiences to air their grievances to when they don’t get what they want.

What’s next for you?

After I finish the book, I’ll put book writing on hold for now and will continue to work on hotel projects, to blog, and to write articles. I’m starting to book quite a few speaking engagements in 2011. My platform as an author and hotelier is quite unique, and social media reputation management are hot topics. If I find a good job with a progressive hotel company, great, but until then I have no shortage of things to keep me occupied.

Read all about Daniel Edward Craig, his books, and his blog at his website, www.danieledwardcraig.com

Tripatini launches new “Ask a Travel Expert” features, contest

Gadling first reported on Tripatini, a new social networking website for travelers back in January. The site has earned a devoted following thanks to its large and growing community of passionate travelers, journalists and industry professionals. Recently Tripatini unveiled a new feature to tap into the collective experience and expertise of its members called “Ask a Travel Expert.”

For all the information that’s floating on the Internet, one of the most frustrating aspects of travel is finding reliable, up-to-date information. Tripatini’s Ask a Travel Expert fills that gap, creating a dedicated Q&A forum where information seekers can ask the site’s savvy travelers and travel experts specific questions about their trips. Right now there’s ongoing discussions about New York food trucks, shark cage diving in South Africa and tips for the Hawaiian isle of Kauai. Tripatini has also built their Ask a Travel Expert function around an embeddable widget which can be added to websites anywhere on the web.

Best of all, to help promote their new Ask a Travel Expert feature, Tripatini is giving away a trip for two to London now through June 30th. All you have to do to participate is simply ask or answer a question during the contest period and you’re entered for a chance to win. A forum to get answers to your most pressing travel questions and a chance to win a free trip? Sounds like good deal to me. Head on over to Tripatini’s Ask a Travel Expert page and complete the easy sign up for an account if you’d like to give it a try.