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Posts Tagged ‘Airport security’

Flying to the 2012 London Olympic Games? Tips for maneuvering airline mayhem

The opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympic Games kicks off in a few hours and that means London is bracing itself with an influx of millions of spectators. If you’re one of the lucky tourists flying in for the games, be aware that you’re not the only one. London airports are shuttling in loads of tourists and the crowds are sure to cause some airline mishaps.

That is why I wanted to lend some tips to all of the Americans traveling to London about how to manage the inevitable airline mayhem.

How to speed through security

U.S. airport security is sure to be backed up due to the increased number of people flying abroad. If you want to help keep the security line moving, here are my suggestions.

  • Have your passport and boarding pass out and ready to give to security officers.
  • Pre-pack your liquids in a quart sized bag and have them ready for inspection.
  • Don’t wear metal to reduce your chances of being patted down.
  • Wear easy-off and easy-on shoes.
  • Place your electronic devices in the bins for easy scanning.
  • Take your items away from the security line before putting them back on, in order to keep the line moving.

For more information on maneuvering airport security, flip to my blog post on how to navigate TSA security.

What to do if your flight is canceled

Cancellations are common, especially when there is a high volume of traffic going to one location. Know that this is a possibility, and be prepared to act if necessary. Here’s my advice for what to do if your flight is canceled.

  • Immediately attempt to book a seat on another airline, either online or through the airline’s toll free numbers.
  • Check in at the new airline’s counter with your new reservation number to ensure you’ll make it on the flight.
  • If the new airline attempts to charge you extreme fees, try to negotiate with them and know that the associates behind the counter have more wiggle-room than they let on.
  • If you can’t book a flight for that day, immediately book a hotel room and then start looking for flights leaving the next day.
  • Remember to stay calm and be pleasant towards the airline employees who are trying to help you. They’re far more likely to help if you’re easy to work with.

For more information on how to handle a canceled flight, hop over to my blog post on what to do if you’re stranded in the airport.

How to fly through customs

With the influx of people in the country, assume passing through customs will not be easy. Here are my tips for maneuvering a customs traffic jam.

  • Make sure to follow the green exit channel designated for non-E.U. citizens. The blue channel, although typically shorter, is designated for E.U. citizens only.
  • Bring a good book or some other form of entertainment to keep you occupied while waiting in the customs line.
  • Fill out your customs card before meeting with border control.
  • Have your passport out and ready for inspection. Also, make sure to take off sunglasses or hats, so that border control can easily verify your passport picture.
  • Know the name and address of the place you’re staying, how long you will be in London, and what you plan on doing while you’re there. Most of the time, the border staff will ask you these questions before letting you into the country.

By following these easy tips, you’ll be sure to make it through Olympic air traffic as quickly as possible. Although the mayhem might be frustrating, just remember to keep calm and carry on — you’ll be sure to have a fantastic Olympic experience.

Some Friendly advice for flying the not-so-friendly skies

You know that Liberty Mutual commercial where a random act of kindness inspires another random act of kindness? The message of that ad popped into my head after reading Chris Elliott’s article about the attitude of our modern day flight attendants.

In the article, Chris shares stories he’s heard of passengers who’ve had less than sparkling experiences with flight attendants while in the air. Could we improve our relationships at 30,000 feet if everyone was just a little bit nicer to each other?

As the President of a national tour operator, I’m passionate about delivering the best travel experiences at the best value to my customers. But there are certain things that are unfortunately beyond my control — airlines, for example. Grr. Anytime you bring an airline into the mix, there’s a chance that quality customer service could go by the wayside.

There’s been a lot of talk about how the travel industry has changed in the past 20 years. Invasive security measures, less accountability from the airlines, never-ending fees, cramped cabin space, and the constant battle with those overhead compartments, just to name a few.

But what about the flight attendants that Chris calls out in his story? Many say that they’ve become less interested in attending to their frazzled passengers and more concerned with simply keeping rears in seats until the plane lands. Chris asks readers, do flight attendants hate their passengers?

Personally, I don’t think this is the case. It’s no secret that airlines are cutting costs everywhere, and this likely includes the compensation for their overworked staff. These hard working men and women are probably stuck with longer shifts for less money. Their days are plagued with the same changing schedules, flight delays and cancellations, and disgruntled customers as every passenger waiting in the terminal or crammed in a too-small seat. You know how you feel when your flight is delayed or you’re stuck on the tarmac for an hour. What if that defined every day of your week?

While this is no excuse to be rude to the paying customer, it gives us some insight to the mindset of flight attendants. It’s possible that what we’ve been reading as rudeness or disinterest isn’t directed at the passengers at all, but is merely a byproduct of the attendants’ unforgiving job.

Travelling to fantastic, exotic destinations wouldn’t be possible without the work of airline staff whose number one job is to keep us safe. But in my opinion, passengers and airline staff could do a better job of working together to make everyone’s lives easier. The simplest things, such as those random acts of kindness I mentioned, spread virally and can improve the experience of everyone around us when we travel.

Help a fellow passenger with a heavy carry-on. Clean up after yourself. Be flexible with a family that wants to switch seats to sit together. Respect each other’s space. And understand that a flight attendant can’t get the plane off the ground any faster.

Doing our part to help flight attendants will likely result in their reciprocation, making our time in the sky more pleasant for everyone. 
What do you think? Am I defending the indefensible? Would making an effort to be a kinder passenger make a difference? Is this a simple issue of human accountability where everyone shares some blame? Or do flight attendants simply hate their passengers?
Anyone who knows me knows how frustrated I often get with the airlines. But I personally do not believe that flight attendants deserve all the blame for our bad experiences. Rather, I would look a little closer at their employers.  

We meet Budget Travel’s Kate Appleton in the Big Apple

If there’s an extraordinary travel destination at an ordinary price, Kate Appleton knows about it. She has to. That’s because it’s her job as Senior Editor of Budget Travel. She’s been telling travelers how to “budget wisely to travel widely” since the website launched in 2005.

So I was thrilled when Kate was able to swing by Friendly Planet Travel’s booth at the recent New York Times Travel Show. While she was there, we cornered her for a quick one-on-one interview with Friendly Planet Travel’s blogger, Melissa.

Kate told Melissa about how she got her start in travel journalism, her thoughts on whether you should choose the better deal over the better value when booking a trip, the state of airport security, her favorite exotic destination, and much more. Watch the interview to get all of Kate’s travel know-how and advice.

Kate, it was wonderful to meet you! Thanks again for stopping by our booth.

How much are you willing to pay for better airport security? The New York Times looks at proposed airport security methods

It appears that the backlash against the TSA’s new airport security measures was heard. So much so that proposals of tiered airport security screening procedures were covered in The New York Times article, “Support Grows for Tiered Risk System at Airports.” Although the idea is only percolating, I think it’s promising for travelers.

The New York Times points out rightly that every passenger who checks in for a flight is treated by the TSA like a potential terrorist. This is actually a huge inconvenience to the travelers who are just trying to get on a flight and a huge expense for the government (and to us, the taxpayers) that is trying to keep us safe in the sky. The article talks about the goal of making airport security more efficient by having an information-based screening method, instead of one that is purely random.

The proposals include giving passengers the option to pay a certain amount to get screened before traveling by air. Then they will be categorized in one of three groups: trusted, regular, or risky. The group in which they’re categorized in will determine the level of screening used at the airport.

The New York Times breaks down all of the different options being proposed right now, so I won’t repeat the details here. But I will say that this would make getting through airport security easier and friendlier.

By removing random interrogations of innocent air travel passengers, which include children and the elderly, and basing airport security screenings on facts and background checks, U.S. airports might be back on track toward being friendlier places.

Kudos to the TSA for considering these proposals! Even if we, as travelers, have to pay a little more to be pre-screened, it’s well worth the cost. I look forward to seeing how these proposals develop and hopefully are put into action sooner rather than later.

What do you think about these proposed airport screening procedures? Would you be willing to pay an extra fee for this security convenience? Take our survey below.

Navigating the TSA’s new airport security measures this Thanksgiving

The cranberry sauce and turkey feast is upon us. In a few days, 24 million travelers are expected to take to the skies to get to their Thanksgiving holiday destination, a 3.5 percent increase over 2009. Travelers can expect crowded airports, long lines, and enhanced security measures from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

You might have heard some of the backlash the TSA’s new full-body scans and pat downs are getting. Most of the backlash stems from travelers’ concerns that the scans are an invasion of privacy.

One grassroots movement is even asking travelers to opt-out of the full-body scan for a pat down on Nov. 24. On the other hand, there are travelers protesting the pat downs. They’re just as invasive as a full-body scan, except your face is not obscured, as it is with the scanner.

At the San Diego airport, passenger John Tyner made headlines when he threatened a TSA agent with arrest if he touched him inappropriately. Even TSA Administrator John Pistole got a pat down and admitted that it was clearly more invasive, but the procedures are necessary to detect devices not seen before.

Either way you look at it, people are going to be unhappy. But the TSA is defending its security measures by saying it will help them “stay ahead of the [terrorist] threat and keep you safe.”

If you’re wondering why there’s a need for such invasive photo-imaging, just remember the failed Christmas Day terrorist attack in 2009. The people on the plane with him were lucky, because the bomb he hid in his underwear was a dud. Today, thanks to devices like the full-body scanner, he would not be able to get on a flight at all.

So in light of the TSA’s new airport security measures, let me tell you what you should expect at the airport this holiday. With this knowledge, you’ll find it easier to get through the check-in process while doing your part to ensure safety as you travel.

New TSA regulations require all travelers to submit their legal names (as they appear on your passport or other photo identification), date of birth, and gender to book a flight. Your ticket cannot be written without this information, and a boarding pass will not be issued if this information is not in your flight record. Be fastidious when filling out this information, as you don’t want it to differ from what’s on your form of identification which might cause you to be denied boarding.

After you get your boarding pass, go to the security check point, and be ready to pull out your quart-sized plastic bag that contains your 3-ounce containers of liquid to place in a security bin. The 3-1-1 rule is still in effect. If you don’t already have your quart-sized bag prepared, you’ll hold up the line. However, if you’re checking luggage, you can put all of your liquids in your checked luggage and avoid this step completely.

But if you need to take some personal items with you on board, put them in the quart-size plastic bag. Some items you might not realize belong in the plastic bag are lipstick, mouthwash, perfume, chap stick, and mascara.

Next, you’ll need to remove your shoes and belts (whether the buckle is metallic or not). You’ll also need to put your smart phone, keys, and laptop or netbook in a security bin. Keep your passport and boarding pass in hand to pass through the metal detector or body scanner quickly.

As of today, 68 airports are scanning travelers with a body scanner. Understand that the person looking at your image cannot see your face and doesn’t know it’s you whose body is in the image. If you’re opposed to the full body scan, you can opt for a pat down.

A pat-down involves a person running her hands thoroughly around all the places on your body where a bomb could be hidden. Or, you could opt for a pat down in private with a witness, to be sure you aren’t touched inappropriately. This takes much longer to conduct. If you go that route, you’ll probably hold up the line and might delay travelers getting to their gate.

I don’t want to down play the inconvenience these security measures have on travelers just to board an airplane. But in today’s world, some of our choices have simply become limited. I do need to fly from place to place. And whatever it takes to make my flight safe, well, it’s OK by me.

Let me leave you with one final note when you’re traveling this holiday: keep your cool. Everyone is harried. Security agents, flight attendants, ticket and gate agents, and all the other support staff who you’ll encounter during your travels are equally harried. If 30 years of constant travel has taught me anything, it’s that a kind word, a friendly smile, and a polite request typically produces the best results.

Happy travels!

Holiday travel: Is it safe to fly?

It hasn’t been a good month for the air travel industry. Every few days brought with it bad news that should make even the most seasoned traveler think twice before boarding a plane. Reports of air cargo bombs, fuselages ripping apart, and engine failures should make Amtrak and the family van much more appealing.

You would think. But the data shows that air travelers are a surprisingly resilient bunch. In fact, the Air Transport Association reports that bookings around the Thanksgiving holiday are expected to be up 3.5 percent over 2009. Do air travelers have their heads in the clouds or are they seeing clear skies? Consider these statistics:

Despite the headlines, the data shows that air travel is still the safest way to get from point A to point B. Sure, the airline industry does has its problems. It’s a little ridiculous when a senior citizen with a walker has to stop and take their shoes off to be inspected. We need to deal with these issues.

But on the principle issue of airline safety, traveling by air has never been safer despite the determined efforts of terrorists and the inevitability of Murphy’s Law.

(click to enlarge)

What do you think? Do you feel safe traveling the skies? Tell me about it in a comment on this post.

Three new travel gadgets to get you going to your destination

Whether airport security is getting tighter is still up for debate. I told you about my recent experience flying to Israel, and what has (or has not) changed. One thing is certain. Getting through airport security is still a necessary hassle.

That’s not to say it can’t be less of a hassle, or that traveling from point A to point B can’t get easier. Here are some new gadgets that do just that, by helping you speed you through check-in and security.

The Scanner Bag: In most airports, you’ll have to put liquids and gels into a quart-sized plastic bag for easy inspection. The Scanner Bag is a handy accessory that makes that task easier. It works like a luggage tag, but unfolds to reveal mesh pockets that hold your items. It attaches to your carry-on luggage and rolls along with it through the scanner. Now you can forget the plastic bins and bags, and stop worrying about collecting them up in a hurry after your belonging emerge from the scanner. Everything stays together, neat and tidy.

Portable scales: Most travelers collect souvenirs and other momentous, and think nothing about carrying them back in their luggage. But if your items increase their weight of your luggage over the airline’s prescribed limit, you’ll be hit with a surcharge. Certainly you could mail the items back home. But that’s not always practical. A better solution would be to bring a digital portable luggage scale with you. They’re inexpensive, easy to use, and tell you exactly what your luggage weighs before you arrive at the airport. That way you can rejigger your luggage to remain under the airline’s threshold, and know exactly what you need to include in your carry ons.

Space Bags to Go: For short trips, some people like to cram everything they need into a single carry-on bag, so they can skip the baggage check and pickup. If that describes you, you know how hard to can be to actually get everything you need into a single bag. It’s almost like a Three Stooges skit. Just as you think you have the bag filled, it pops open and your stuff flies out. Sound familiar? Then you need the Space Bag to Go. Simply put your items into the Space Bags, and roll up or push down on the bag to compress the items inside. Once compressed, you seal the bag and everything stays put. You can significantly reduce the bulk of clothing, towels, and other items. Carry more stuff while carrying less luggage! Who wouldn’t like that? The manufacturer claims you can carry 300 percent more. That sounds optimistic to me. But I do know the Space Bag does help scrunch more items into a duffel bag or traditional suitcase.

Have any suggestions for other helpful travel gadgets? Let me know! I’ll share them here.

Airport security: A world of difference between the U.S. and Israel

It all sounds good. But I fear it’s also empty promises. I just returned from Tel Aviv, Israel. I kept a keen eye on security procedures throughout my trip. I saw some changes to security. But I was also again reminded of the differences between the U.S. approach and the rules and procedures Israel has in place.

On January 6th, I checked in at Philadelphia International Airport to fly to Tel Aviv, Israel. One noticeable change at the airport was increased presence of Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers. I counted 10 plus a dog in the area (many more than usual). About an hour from landing, the captain asked us to take our seats. We were then required to remain seated when we were 30 minutes from landing.

Other than that, it seemed to me to be business as usual. That’s not to say security was lax. Certainly U.S. airport security has become much tighter since 9/11. But other than more TSA officers and being asked to remain seated, additional security precautions were not apparent to me.

Now let’s compare the current state of U.S. airport security to Israel’s approach. In Tel Aviv, security is in place long before you arrive at the airport. On the highway, you have to pass through a checkpoint manned by Israeli border police. Officers look into your car and assess the occupants before letting the car pass through to the airport access road.

You’re screened again upon arrival at the terminal. The men and women who perform the security checks are highly trained in evaluating travelers. They look for telltale signs, check stories, ask questions, and stare you in the eye as you answer their questions.

They are skilled at noticing subconscious body language (“tells“) that can reveal when someone is lying. And they will pull you aside for deeper questioning or other actions if they have the slightest concern. You can’t check in for your flight until these officers are satisfied that you don’t pose a risk. In fact, you can easily be interviewed multiple times by various agents if any one of them doubts about your motives.

Your checked luggage is also screened before you check in for your flight. Nothing gets to the counter — much less the airplane itself — without quiet, comprehensive, repetitive scrutiny.

Ben Gurion International Airport has not had a terrorist incident nearly 40 years, despite being surrounded by legions of Jihadists who would gladly sacrifice themselves. And guess what? They maintain this successful level of security for travelers without asking any to remove their shoes.

I’m not saying international travel isn’t safe. What I am saying is that the world should take a hard look at how Israel protects travelers, and ask what we can learn from their impeccable track record. It’s especially impressive when you consider, again, that Israel is probably the radicals number one target for destruction.

It’s a shame that, since the incident with the so-called underwear bomber, some folks have been inconvenienced more than is probably necessary. I’m sure you’ve heard the stories about “the new airport security,” where delays and lines are longer and more tedious. While this is true in some U.S. airports, I didn’t experience this in Tel Aviv. It’s an interesting contrast. Ben Gurion International has tighter security, yet it is easier for travelers to deal with.

Despite the failed underwear bomber attempt, the TSA’s measures are clearly working most of the time. Otherwise, we would have experienced more incidents like the near-miss on Christmas Day, or worse. That said, we don’t want and can’t afford any more near misses or successful attacks.

We should learn from the best. And right now, the best airport security operation is in Israel. Let’s hope the TSA is paying attention.

About Peggy

Peggy Goldman is a specialty tour operator and travel expert, who owns and operates Friendly Planet Travel, a full-service company that specializes in tour packages to exotic worldwide destinations at affordable prices.   More about Peggy

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