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Maybe you guys were feeling good about the new FAA numbers on unruly passengers, which show that less of you were assholes in 2014 than any time since at least 1995. (Conrad Hilton obviously is not included in this stat.)
If the figures are to be believed, there were "only" 121 times when passengers tried to "assault, threaten, intimidate, or interfere with a crewmember in the performance of the crewmember's duties aboard an aircraft being operated."
Except those numbers are bunk. As the New York Times explained earlier this week, the entire reporting system seems designed to prevent the FAA from getting a complete list of how many passengers get out of hand.
Just for starters, the reports have to come from flight attendants, whose job it is... to prevent passengers from getting out of hand. Asking them to file a report about an incident is asking them to file a report about how they failed to do their jobs. That doesn't seem very smart, and so the NYT is probably right in reminding readers that you guys are still assholes.
Airline Safety / Airport Safety / Travel Safety / FAA / TSA / Travel News / → All Tags
There is some scary stuff going on in American airports right now. The terrorist attacks in France understandably put airport security officials on edge, and then Al Qaeda published a bomb recipe for the creation of detection-proof explosives.
That one-two had TSA personnel scrambling to boost security. Most visibly, travelers began to see heightened random inspections. But Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson brushed off complaints by tersely stating that "the reasons for these measures should be self-evident."
In a situation like that, you want to allocate resources as efficiently as possible. There are things that look important but are trivial, and things that look trivial but are important. One of the concrete goals is to avoid unnecessary searches.
So everybody was super-thrilled to learn that the FAA was suspending a long-running program under which their safety inspectors were allowed to skip TSA checkpoints. Apparently the system was used by at least one person to bring guns on board airplanes. Oops.
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Update: 12pm EST Flights into and out of Chicago are resuming at a "reduced rate." It has been stated that the fire which caused today's interruption was deliberately set, but was not an act of terrorism. It was set by a man found with self-inflicted wounds, in the basement of the facility.
Early this morning, smoke began billowing out of an FAA facility in Aurora, IL. The fire, whose cause remains suspicious, nonetheless made an impact on US air travel as all flights set to travel into or out of Chicago's O'Hare and Midway Airports were delayed or cancelled, along with many others simply set to fly through the Chicago control area. As of 10am EST, FlightStats.com was reporting upwards of 400 cancelled and 300 delayed flights for the airports.
As expected, lines within the airports stretched along with phone wait times for further information. One gate at O'Hare was reported to quote "30 minutes or 3 hours" for the delay, which demonstrates the uncertainties at the time.
If you're scheduled to fly anywhere in the United States today, please check with your airline (we'd recommend via their official Twitter account or website, with posted alerts) before heading to the airport. As always, be sure to embark on travels today with fully-charged electronics, packed snacks, and some flexibility and patience for the tens of thousands of other stuck in a similar position or worse.
Hundreds of people in line at American Airlines check in at O'Hare. Passengers say the 800 # has a 2-hour wait also. pic.twitter.com/IZyRsTSPoC— Tony Briscoe (@_TonyBriscoe) September 26, 2014
Travel Politics / Cell Phones / Electronics Travel / Politics Travel / Travel Technology / FAA / FCC / → All Tags
Less than a year ago, the FCC floated the idea of allowing cell phone use in-flight, a movement that most, including us, think would be a terrible, terrible decision. This week, the Association of Flight Attendants, an organization that represents about 60,000 flight attendants working across 19 carriers, confirmed that it too thinks allowing passengers to use cell phones in midair would be absolutely insane.
Here's an update on the situation: This week, a bipartisan group of 77 House Representatives sent a letter to the Department of Transportation, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, and the Federal Communications Commission that expressed their concerns over the safety and security issues in-flight cell phone use would bring up.
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Sorry. We know that we're beating this thing into the ground, but it's one of those travel news things that begins as an off-beat story and evolves into a bona fide airplane security firestorm. Of course we're seeing more and more of those stories, but this one is kind of special. Without giving away any details, the most recent Reuters expose includes the phrase "the same vulnerability could have been used by an attacker in a deliberate shut-down," where the thing getting "shut down" was a part of America's air traffic control system. There's a reason people are still talking about this incident.
Just to catch folks up. Two weeks ago something caused the FAA to issue a ground stop across four airports across the greater Los Angeles area, including at LAX, for about an hour. Reporters asked the agency to explain the order, and got more or less nowhere. Another way of describing that move: the FAA shut down most of Southern California's airspace and declined to explain why. Later journalists found out that the military was flying a U-2 spy plane in the area, and that its flight plan caused the FAA's flight tracking server to crash. Cue the batshit crazy conspiracy theorists, who declared that alien signals from the U-2 had beamed autism-filled vaccines into their kids (or something; we didn't read very closely).
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When last we left off, the FAA had just gotten over imposing a ground stop on four Southern California airports - LAX, Burbank, Ontario, and John Wayne - because of unnamed "technical issues." Or maybe it was because of mysterious "computer issues." Or maybe because of "the system" that managed the airspace for a particular air traffic control center. The agency wasn't exactly being helpful or clear on why they decided to ground, delay, or divert hundreds of flights. That frustrated at least one local outlet to the point where they kind of snarked that the FAA was sending journalists to functionally useless websites.
We'll remind you that a ground stop is a big deal. It's not just that planes get frozen on the runway at whatever airport gets slapped with the stop. It's that any plane anywhere in the country bound for the ground-stopped airport also gets grounded. These things cascade very, very quickly.
Travel News / TSA / FAA / LAX / BUR / SNA / ONT / Travel Politics / Politics Travel / Airport Safety / → All Tags
What is it about the various government agencies charged with overseeing American travel, do you think, and how they're gratingly bad at what they do? We assume there are parts of the federal government where bureaucrats get things done roughly as well (or not) as they would if they were working anywhere else. But hot damn, do the FAA and TSA screw things up occasionally.
The FAA is an agency that is - literally and metaphorically - standing in the way of the future. It's not just that it took them two years to even draft a policy on in-flight electronics, to the point where the FCC had to initiate a formal procedure to ask them what the hell was taking so long. These are people who are so incompetent that they might end up delaying futuristic private spaceflight just because, hey, they're not sure what they think about all that yet. But at least they keep the planes in the air, right?
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TGIF. In honor of it being Friday evening, we're throwing some credit over to the fine folks at The Onion, America's finest satirical periodical. The paper may have discontinued many of its city print editions, but the web version surges on unabated. In fact, in the last week or so, they've posted two fabulously hilarious articles on airlines and, though both are (of course) fake, they make for an excellent read:
And now for some oldie-but-goodies:
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Fearless prediction: this is going to get solved before it becomes a problem. There are too many famous people involved, there is too much money at stake, and the optics would be catastrophic. Can you imagine how this would play out in the media? "Washington DC has become so inefficient that it's blocking actual real life we're-living-in-the-future space tourism."
Federal agencies can be cumbersome and individual bureacrats can be petty. But if the FAA actually jams up the launch of a Virgin Galactic space jet - which people say might actually happen - we can finally and safely assume that literally nobody is in charge of anything any more. Seriously. It would look so horrible that we don't understand how anyone is even allowed to go on the record saying it's a possibility.
Travel Tech / Travel Gadgets / Airline News / London Travel / British Airways / Britain Travel / Travel News / Airlines / FAA / → All Tags
Nearly two months after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a directive allowing air travelers to use personal electronic devices (PEDs) from gate-to-gate, the rest of the world is finally beginning to follow along.
British Airways yesterday became the first international airline to declare gadgets safe for use throughout entire flights, even during take-off and landings, and without the wait for the airplane to reach 10,000 feet.
This is not something the airline has just up and done on its own; BA secured clearance for the change from the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) after passing safety tests. Expect more such news from European airlines in 2014, as the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) is next to relax gadget rules on flights.
Virgin America testing for FAA gadget approval
"PED" is quickly becoming the acronym of the year. It was only the beginning of this month that the Federal Aviation Administration began approving the use of personal electronic devices at all stages of a flight (yes, even under 10,000'), and already almost all the big US airlines are green for go.
As a quick reminder, the airlines already approved to tell their passengers to keep the PEDs on are: JetBlue, American, American Eagle, Delta, United, US Airways, and Alaska Airlines.
Now there's two more to add the growing list:
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America's Founding Fathers, in their wisdom, created a system of government with multiple checks and balances. The idea was to prevent populist excesses and to slow down change, just in case lawmakers got carried away with a seemingly good idea and accidentally - in their own zeal - made the world a worse place to live. This is what they were talking about.
It took literally two years for the FAA to move from thinking about letting travelers use electronics gate-to-gate, to writing a proposal letting travelers use electronics gate-to-gate, to actually letting travelers use electronics gate-to-gate. This was not exactly a rush across the finish line, in other words.
But now that there's some momentum, apparently the federal government - this time the FCC - thinks that everything involving flying and electronics should be up for grabs. Yesterday the agency floated the idea of letting passengers use cell phones above 10,000 feet.