TSA your holiday … or, “What Santa Claus looks like under the scanner”

TSA Your HolidayEver wonder what Santa Claus is really hiding under that big red suit, or what he “sees” in Mrs. Claus? Thanks to new website TSA Your Holiday, now you can. Mr. & Mrs. Claus, Frosty, Scrooge, and even Ruldolph take to the scanners (no opt-outs here!) for their big reveals.

Says the site:

In a scoop of WikiLeak-ian proportions, Curley & Pynn has secured highly confidential images of holiday icons (sorry, Santa and Mrs. Claus), which we are releasing for public consumption.

If nothing else, the site provides a bit of much needed levity from a nation already wary of TSA policies.

Thanks to top tweeter @BrooklynNomad for the tip.

TSA to impede travel market recovery? Not buyin’ it

TSA airport security

When I finally crawled out of bed and caffeinated Saturday morning, I made the rounds on Twitter and found a bold statement by travel journalist Christopher Elliott: “Thanks to TSA, 2011 could be a flat year for travel”. Despite the digging he did, I’m just not buying it. Passenger inconvenience, especially when it comes to leisure trips, isn’t likely to have a major effect on the travel industry in 2011.

You’ve read it from me on Gadling before: it isn’t the leisure traveler that defines the travel market; it’s the business traveler. These are people who have no choice but to hit the road, whether because they are instructed by their bosses or because they recognize business opportunities that they need for growth or simply to keep their companies alive. As business conditions continue to improve in the broader economy, demand for flights is likely to increase, and those buying tickets will have relatively little choice in the matter.

We’re looking back on what’s shaping up to be a positive year for the travel industry, particularly the airlines. And, according to Elliott, on his blog, “2011 was shaping up to be the best year for travel since the recession began.” He cites expectations of higher prices, even if only slightly, but pent up demand by travelers for “long-postponed vacation[s].”

Thanks to TSA, 2011 could be a flat year for travel http://bit.ly/gsbOfTless than a minute ago via web

The next year of the recovery could be imperiled, however, by new measures implemented by the Transportation Security Administration, specifically body scanners. In fact, Elliott writes:

But now that the Transportation Security Administration has introduced full-body scanners at many American airports, and subjected those who opt out of the machines to an “enhanced” pat-down, the 2011 outlook has changed, say travelers.

To support this claim, he talks to Jeff Cohen, an Austin, Texas-based securities trader, who claims to be “torn about whether I’ll travel more next year or not.” Cohen tells Elliott he goes on “a couple of large trips a year” and had a big one in mind for the first half of next year, “to somewhere exotic.” Now, Cohen tells Elliott, “[T] he recent TSA crackdown has me rethinking that.”

Further, the Consumer Travel Alliance sees the traveling public as generally unlikely to increase its travel activity. Elliott continues:

A majority (46 percent) say they will travel “about the same” as they did this year. Slightly less than a third (30 percent) will travel more, while just less than a quarter (23 percent) will travel less. This contradicts several earlier surveys, which had predicted a significant upswing in travel next year.

The key word here is consumer. The focus, here, is on leisure travel. The needs of business travelers are again overlooked.

Let’s consider Cohen’s case for example. So, he’s rethinking his leisure travel plans for next year. If he has to hop on a plane to close a deal or bring in a new client, is he going to do that? Would he sacrifice a two-hour flight for a 10-hour drive do so? I don’t know the guy, but drawing on my white-collar experiences, I think I know how he’d react to a major business opportunity a few states away … and it wouldn’t involve turning the key to the ignition.

The business traveler really has little choice in whether to hit the road. Could he skip a business opportunity or pass on a project in favor of something local – or to wait for a gig nearby to arise? Of course. But, that would mean turning down the very fees that put food on the table. Sales professionals need to travel to bring in business, fulfillment teams (e.g., the folks who provide the good or service sold) may have to take to the friendly skies and support sometimes needs to be provided on site. This is just how the nature of commerce has evolved. If conditions continue to improve, more of these people will be buying plane tickets.

And, they’ll pay more for them.

The nature of business travel, given that it occurs in order to support subsistence or the accumulation of wealth (both important), is that it is inelastic, at least relative to leisure travel. There is effectively no choice but to get on a plane, unless extreme measures are brought into the equation. Since business travel relatively inelastic, these travelers will pay more, which supports a continued travel industry recovery.

The fact that business travelers tend to be willing to pay more for their tickets also means that they have less choice in whether to fly. Sure, there are tools out there such as videoconferencing and online collaboration software that can provide a substitute, but a recovering market means that there’s more capital available, which facilitates investment in face-to-face meetings. When your boss tells you to travel, you travel.

As a result, the decision to travel is itself relatively inelastic for the business traveler.

So, if the business traveler is the backbone of the travel industry recovery, the TSA is unlikely to get in the way in 2011, even if every passenger listens to the snap of a rubber glove before an invasive pat-down begins.

Now, let’s take a closer look at the leisure traveler. The impact of the TSA security measures may involve a bit of hype there, too.

Even before Thanksgiving, the close to two thirds of consumers thought the body scans weren’t a big deal, with 70 percent stating they didn’t expect the enhanced security measures to slow travel down during the busiest travel season of the year.

Further, economic growth, if it occurs, will provide consumers with more disposable income. Those who have an interest in travel are likely to become more ambitious, taking the trips they’ve always wanted to. Elliott finds many who disagree with this assessment, but there’s nothing like having a freshly filled checking account to alter your perspective.

We all love to hate the TSA, and I’ll admit that I’m among the many in that camp. There’s nothing worse than waiting in a long security line at a crowded airport. The notion of having to devise and carry out strategies for getting through the checkpoints faster indicates the absurdity of what goes on in airports today. Efficiency is as low as customer service, and there’s little we can do about it.

That said, will body scans and pat-downs impede a travel market recovery next year? It doesn’t seem likely. General global economic trends will determine how many people get on planes next year, not the policies crafted and implemented by government employees.

[photo by oddharmonic via Flickr]

Five reasons why you’ll be miserable during Thanksgiving travel

snow stormWe’ve all heard that the day before Thanksgiving is the busiest of the year for air travel. And, the roads tend to get clogged up with people going to visit friends and family – not to mention stuff their faces with turkey, potatoes and other traditional holiday fare. Travel isn’t going to be fun tomorrow, but you already know that.

But, do you know why?

Personally, of course, I have no doubt you do. Like me … like everyone … you have your own collection of Thanksgiving travel horror stories (and we’d love to read them, so leave a comment!). There’s also a big picture though, which provides a bit of context as to why this travel day can be unbearable.

Let’s take a look at five reasons why Thanksgiving travel is going to suck this year:


TA’s Thanksgiving travel trends survey found 28% say Turkey Day traveling stresses them out, especially heavy traffic.less than a minute ago via HootSuite

1. You won’t be alone: AAA estimates that more than 42 million people will be traveling at least 50 miles from home for the Thanksgiving holiday. Whether you’re in an airport or on the road, you won’t be alone. Be ready to share – you won’t have a choice.

2. It gets more crowded than airports: I’ve flown my share of Thanksgiving Eves, and it is miserable. But, the roads will probably be tougher (as I cope with childhood memories that fall short of fond). AAA notes that 94 percent of these travelers – 39.7 million people – will reach their holiday destinations by car. Traffic mean’s a whole lot of “Alice’s Restaurant” while you wait to merge.

3. The weather won’t help: according to CNN, there are “[w]inter storm warnings, watches and advisories” starting in California, Utah and Nevada and going all the way up to the Canadian border. Blizzards are on the list for most of Utah, western Colorado and southern Idaho.

Have the sense to stay off the roads when driving would be colossally stupid.

4. The media won’t help: doubtless you’ve seen a few stories about body scanners and “National Opt-Out Day.” If you think this won’t lead to longer lines at airport security checkpoints (if a mass protest actually happens), you’re out of your mind. Indignation means longer waits, so if National Opt-Out Day happens, I hope for your sake you’re a supporter. There’s a good chance you aren’t, though, as 64 percent of Americans say they support the scans, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll.

There’s also a good chance you’re living in a dream world, since 70 percent of respondents to that poll believe the new TSA procedures won’t affect their flying plans.

5. It always does: right?

So, what’s your worst Thanksgiving travel experience? Leave a comment below to let us know!

[photo by atlih via Flickr]

Ron Paul proposes the “American Traveler Dignity Act”

Yesterday, Texas Representative Ron Paul introduced H.R. 6416, the American Traveler Dignity Act.

Said Paul in a speech on the floor of the House of Representatives yesterday:

“My legislation is simple. It establishes that airport security screeners are not immune from any US law regarding physical contact with another person, making images of another person, or causing physical harm through the use of radiation-emitting machinery on another person. It means they are subject to the same laws as the rest of us.”

Despite security risks referenced by Paul – like last Christmas’ underwear bomber – the Representative speaks out against the Advanced Imaging Technology machines, calling them a violation of personal privacy, questioning the harmful effects of radiation and referring to recent press reports that question the efficacy of the machines.

He also rails against the TSA itself, calling it an organization created “in a simple-minded and unprincipled attempt to appease public passion in the wake of 9-11.”

“The TSA version of our rights looks more like the ‘rights’ granted in the old Soviet Constitutions, where freedoms were granted to Soviet citizens — right up to the moment the state decided to remove those freedoms,” said Paul.

Paul has also expressed his support for National Opt Ot Day, taking place this coming Wednesday, which is encouraging travelers to “opt out” of enhanced security screenings from Advanced Imaging Technology machines.

Click below to see a video of Paul discussing the American Traveler Dignity Act:

Full-body scanner / pat-down controversy gets the cartoon treatment

Taiwan’s Next Media Animation has turned the spreading controversy over airport full-body scanners and pat-downs into a cartoon.

full-body scanner pat-downThe animation house releases news videos each day on YouTube and provides English translations for some of the videos.

The animation summarizes – and mocks – the recent incidents in the United States when air passengers have refused full-body scans and pat-downs – the Travel Security Administration’s recently released enhanced security measures.

Among the scenes in the video:

  • A cross-dressing male passenger fights off a TSA agent’s advances and reveals undergarments with explosives and a tag reading “Osama’s Secret”
  • Protestors wave signs that read “Don’t Touch My Junk”
  • The name of the full-body scanner manufacturer is “RapeScan Systems.”
  • Naked passengers take over a plane on Nov. 24, which protestors have deemed National Opt-Out Day.
  • A female passenger requests that her pat-down be done in private, and is taken to a room with a king-size bed and a seductively dancing TSA agent.