Government Drops Plan To Allow Small Knives On Planes

pocketknife
Flickr via Trevor Manternach

The TSA today announced that they are dropping the plan that would have permitted passengers to carry small knives and other previously banned items, like bats and golf clubs, on planes. These items have been banned since the attacks of September 11, 2001, when terrorists famously hijacked planes using items like box cutters as weapons.

TSA Administrator John Pistole formerly announced the plan to allow small knives (those under 2.36 inches long) and certain club-like sporting equipment back into carry-on luggage on March 5. Pistole had argued that relaxing the ban would allow security screeners to focus on items that posed a greater risk to air safety, such as explosives.

See TSA To Permit Pocket Knives And Golf Clubs On Planes (But Still Not Liquids

Back in April, CNN reported that the TSA was hearing additional testimony about the proposed ban reversal, and, as of today, the plan has officially been dropped.

The TSA had faced strong opposition to the ban reversal from airline CEOs, lawmakers, and relatives, friends and victims of terrorist attacks, among others. In total, nine groups petitioned legally against TSA and the Department of Homeland Security, USA Today reported.

Congressional representatives Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) also proposed legislation to ban the TSA from allowing knives and clubs back onto planes. At present, the TSA finds about 2,000 small knives per day during routine security searches.

“We will continue to take steps to improve our ever-evolving security posture while also improving the experience of the traveling public,” Pistole said. “Risk-based security enhances the travel experience while allowing TSA to continue to keep passengers safe by focusing on those we know less about.

Are some groups still unhappy? Sure they are. The knife industry, for example, tried to fight back. But what do you think? Should the ban have been lifted? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Scammer Found Selling Fake Bomb Detectors To Airports

bomb detectorsA British court has found a man guilty of selling fake bomb detectors to Iraq and Georgia, the BBC reports. James McCormick, 56, of Langport, Somerset, was found guilty of fraud after making a fortune from detectors he knew didn’t work.

He’s estimated to have made some $76 million from the worthless devices, which were modeled after a novelty golf ball finder. In his sales pitches he claimed they could be set to find anything from bombs to money to drugs. Researchers found no scientific basis for his claims.

Both nations that bought the devices have serious problems with terrorism, and adventure travelers that venture to these places were put in danger by McCormick’s greed. In Georgia last year, someone put a bomb under the car of an Israeli embassy staffer, and bombings in Iraq are a frequent occurrence.

The BBC says the devices are still at use at “some” checkpoints. When I was traveling in Iraq in October 2012, I saw them in use at every checkpoint I passed through, including the checkpoints to Baghdad airport. Many people already knew they didn’t work; yet they were still used to “scan” every vehicle. Senior Iraqi officials were bribed to use government funds (i.e. U.S. taxpayer dollars) to buy the devices. Three of these officials are now serving prison terms.

McCormick lulled the Iraqi police and army into a false sense of security and endangered the lives of everyone in Iraq, including myself. To say this makes me angry doesn’t even come close to what I feel towards this scumbag, and it makes me wonder about the other “security devices” we rely on. Last year the TSA removed backscatter x-ray body scanners from some airports for fear of cancer risks and replaced them with less harmful millimeter-wave scanners. The effectiveness of x-ray scanners has also been questioned.

I’m glad to see McCormick is finally facing justice, but I think he’s been found guilty of the wrong thing. He didn’t perpetrate fraud; he aided and abetted terrorism. He should spend the rest of his life in solitary confinement, kept company only by graphic photos of Iraq’s bombing victims.

[Photo courtesy Avon and Somerset Police]

Staying Safe On The Road: Tips For Traveling

travel warningAs the tragedy in Boston earlier this week has taught us, travel to any location can involve unexpected danger. The incident served to illustrate that travelers visiting any location should be sure that their trip planning involves basic travel precautions both standard and new.

Warren Chang, Vice President and General Manager of Fly.com, has helped us develop this list of travel precautions.

Pre-Travel

  • Read State Department travel alerts and warnings. Remember that alerts relate to short-term events and warnings are more long-term concerns. While warnings and alerts are issued countrywide, it may not necessarily mean that an entire area is unsafe for travel.
  • Inform the State Department of your travel itinerary via the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program when you are traveling internationally.
  • Consider planning your trip with a travel agency or tour company if you are visiting a foreign country where you do not speak the language or if your travel has many destinations.
  • Remember to refill your prescriptions and other medical necessities pre-trip.
  • Activate your phone for international calling and data, or purchase a pre-paid phone for travel.
  • Consider travel or medical insurance for overseas visits, if necessary.
  • Make a copy of your passport and travel documents, leaving them in your hotel room or a reliable party back home.

During Your Trip:

  • Keep one ATM and one credit card in the hotel safe in case robbery occurs while out and about.
  • Avoid wearing flashy jewels or designer clothing, or clothing that overtly brands you as an American traveling overseas.
  • Keep money in a safe place – back pockets and dangling purses are easy targets for pickpockets.
  • Abide by all local customs and traditions, as appropriate.
  • Know where the local consulate or embassy is, and have a plan for a meeting place in case of an emergency.
  • Arrange tours and activities through the hotel concierge. These vendors are vetted for guaranteed pricing and can at times be more reliable than on-the-street finds.
  • Chang suggests avoiding use of the “do not disturb” light on your hotel room door in dangerous areas. “This may sound a bit paranoid (if not neurotic), but I chose not to use the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign at night so that in the event that terrorists are looking to capture hostages, I would not have an LED light or big sign on the doorknob indicating that the room was occupied.”

Have any tips of your own? Leave them in the comments below.

[Image Credit: Foreign and Commonwealth Office]

Louvre Shut Due To Violent Gang Of Pickpockets

Louvre
The Louvre temporarily closed on Wednesday due to a strike protesting trouble with violent pickpockets.

The Guardian reports more than a hundred staff walked out on Wednesday in protest over “increasingly aggressive” gangs of pickpockets that harass both visitors and staff. Staff members who have tried to stop the criminals have been kicked and spat at. The strikers are demanding extra security.

The popular art museum in Paris is now open again, according to the Louvre’s website, but the problem isn’t solved. With the influx of art aficionados, there will be an understratum of the criminal element.

Pickpocketing is a serious problem in many parts of Europe. While I’ve lived in Europe for more than a decade, I’ve never been a victim. Perhaps it’s because I used to live in New York City and learned to pay attention. I’m a frequent passenger on both the Madrid Metro and the London Underground, both notorious hotspots for pickpocketing. I always keep my wallet in my front pocket with my thumb hooked into that pocket and my fingers resting on the outside of my pants touching my wallet. Sure, that signals where my wallet is, but good luck trying to get it.

Pickpockets often target families with small children because the parents are distracted. When I’m in the Metro with my wife and little boy, my wife watches the kid while I watch them, with my hand on my wallet the entire time. Nobody has ever managed to rob us.

So if you’re planning a trip to the Louvre, or to Europe, or to New York City, pack your street smarts along with your guidebook.

Do you have any other tricks to foil pickpockets? Share them in the comments section!

[Photo courtesy Benh Lieu Song]

Carnival Cruise Line Shake Down Begins, And That’s A Good Thing

carnival cruise

Carnival Cruise Lines fleet of FunShips have plied the oceans of the world for over 40 years, enabling travelers to sample a variety of destinations and cultures. Many of those travelers might not have ventured out of their own back yards without the affordable, normally safe and secure travel option largely pioneered by Carnival. Reporting this week from Cruise Shipping Miami, the South By Southwest of the cruise industry, Gadling was on the scene when the story broke: another Carnival ship in trouble.

Just days before reports of Carnival Dream, her passengers and crew stuck at the dock in St Maarten, Carnival’s President and CEO Gerry Cahill participated with other cruise industry leaders in a keynote panel discussion.

Addressing February’s Carnival Triumph incident, when an engine room fire knocked out the ship’s propulsion, Cahill updated the crowd on hand for the annual State of the Industry discussion. A signature event of Cruise Shipping Miami, last year’s event was dominated by the aftermath of the Costa Concordia grounding. Costa Cruises, like Carnival Cruise Lines, are sister brands along with others that fall under the Carnival Corporation umbrella.

“I can assure you since this fire has occurred it has been the number one priority for both Carnival Cruise Lines and Carnival Corporation,” said Cahill of a comprehensive safety review in-progress on the entire Carnival fleet.

Bringing in experts in fire safety, naval architects, marine engineers, electrical engineers, experts from shipyards and more, Carnival seemed committed to raising the bar on safety as never before. The U.S. Coast Guard determined the cause of Carnival Triumph’s fire to be a failed fuel return line, one that had been properly maintained at correctly scheduled intervals.

“This review is very comprehensive, it will take us a little bit of time to complete it,” said Cahill “but you can rest assured that it is our highest priority throughout the entire organization.”

Doubling down on safety protocols while the detailed fleet review continues, Carnival is taking nothing for granted.

carnival cruiseCarnival Dream‘s six massive diesel-electric engines offered over 84,000 in horsepower and were functioning properly. But before going to sea, all systems on the ship are tested and one of those is backup power.

Carnival Dream’s backup system did not pass the test. So with the Carnival Triumph incident fresh in their minds, the failed generator became a “no sail” issue. That’s the good part of the story. Carnival could have allowed the Dream to sail the over 1,100 nautical miles back to Port Canaveral; the ships propulsion system worked.

But taking a page from recent history, a mechanical issue that might not have caused concern before came under the microscope, much like Carnival Cruise Lines, if not the entire cruise industry.

What if some other unknown, unanticipated mechanical breakdown occurred half way between St Maarten and Florida’s Port Canaveral? Carnival has clearly adopted a laser-focused concentration on safety, looking for any issue that could disrupt what should be a fabulous FunShip cruise.

Dream Event Incomplete, Here Comes Another One
Just a day after Carnival Dream was held at the dock (the cruise line equivalent of being grounded, much like the Boeing Dreamliner recently), Carnival Legend was recalled to the port of Tampa, citing propulsion problems. The engines were working; the ship just did not have the ability to go fast enough.

This issue might sound a bit more familiar to frequent cruise travelers. Reduced propulsion issues happen with a bit more frequency on cruise ships from multiple lines and for a variety of reasons.

Design flaws aside, moving parts wear out and these engines and the propulsion systems they provide power for are moving all the time, every day of the year.

carnival cruiseEven docked, ships engines are running, albeit at a reduced speed or with a different fuel, for environmental impact reasons. A handful of ships can “plug in” to a shore side power grid but the amount of reduction in emissions is debatable (the power still comes from somewhere) and plugging in only reduces emissions while in port (there are no extension cords).

In the case of Carnival Legend’s recall to port, that move too might not have happened pre-Triumph. Ships with limited (but reliable) propulsion issues commonly run modified itineraries that do not require the drive system to be quite as vibrant.

Carnival Cruise Lines and its sister cruise lines are not taking any chances. They have brought in experts to look for issues not thought of before and are taking quick action when safety concerns come up.

“It is the thing we are most focused on and we will come up with solutions we will implement across our fleet,” added an obviously committed, apologetic and humble Cahill.

The Big Question
But the ugly elephant question in the room is, fairly: “OK, so maybe these things are freak accidents or an abundance of caution. Why are they all happening to Carnival Cruise Lines?”

Results from third-party sources indicate that Carnival Cruise Lines is operating at a level that meets or exceeds that of regulatory organizations world wide, including the very picky U.S. Coast Guard. Believe that, and the negligence hat does not fit.

Maybe the other cruise lines have higher standards. That dog won’t hunt either. Carnival Cruise Line is just one of the Carnival Corporation family of brands that also includes Princess Cruises, Holland America Line, Seabourn and Cunard Line, none of which have Triumph-like events in their history.

Still, bad things happen to good travel options and cruise travel is no exception. Like the hotel fires that occurred with some frequency in the first half of the last century, right now is a time when cruise lines are addressing safety concerns as never before.

Cruise expert Stewart Chiron, CEO CruiseGuy.com put it well in a recent Huffington Post article:

“One of the many lessons I’ve learned in the industry over the past 24 years is that policies and procedures are constantly evolving. Nothing is etched in stone and improvements will always be made, especially when safety is concerned.”

When thinking of the post-Truimph era of cruise travel, who better to pioneer raising the bar, creating new protocols regarding the issue of safety than the organization that created the industry in the first place?

While shoddy journalism by a whole bunch of news organizations clearly focus on sensationalizing the story, I’d hate to forget the contribution to the world of travel that cruises have made. Carnival Cruise Line is shaking down their ships, looking for and trying to anticipate anything that can go wrong. We hope their efforts keep that door to the world of travel open to those who might not otherwise have seen it.


[Photo credit – Chris Owen]