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Lots of TSA news floating around today. There's a sequester impact story from Miami that someone successfully pitched to a local reporter. More lawmakers have piled on in criticizing the agency for lifting its ban on pocketknives. And of course, there's the Marine humiliated in a wheelchair story that everyone's talking about, because outraged outrage is fun to talk about.
But those stories (a) suck and (b) are ones we've discussed to death (for real: recent examples here and here and here). So instead let's talk about how this woman tried to smuggle a sword through Dulles airport security in her cane. The Associated Press says that it's just like a James Bond film, because the Associated Press doesn't know the difference between cane guns and cane swords. But still, it's a sword stashed in a cane that someone tried to get through security in the nation's capital. We're going with it.
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That was a close call. A week ago the administration seemed to be suggesting that White House tours might reopen, which might have been nice for schoolchildren but would have been a disaster for us. Of all the interminable travel news that has come out of the sequestration debate, the administrations's cancellation of White House tours was a delightfully bitchy (read: actually interesting) bright spot.
The tours are scheduled through individual Congressional offices, and so it was the staffers from those offices who had to call back to their districts and explain to little Timmy's mom that his tour was cancelled. Since the White House blames Congress for the entire sequester fiasco, no matter what side you are in the debate, you had to admit that was objectively pretty funny. Losing it would have been tragic. Luckily White House tours are still not happening.
It's difficult to talk about sequesteration, even and especially as it impacts travel, in a non-partisan way. Both sides have their talking points, and collectively the debate is so grating that last week we got reduced to talking about vending machines instead.
Nonetheless you can kind of tell which way the political winds are blowing, because as of this morning the left is trying to criticize the right for celebrating too soon. As an apocalypse, at least from the outside, sequester is turning into the biggest letdown since Y2K. Sure the White House cancelled its tours, which was a delightfully bitchy inside-the-Beltway move (those tours are scheduled through individual Congressional offices so Congressional staffers were the ones who had to call constituents and explain that little Timmy couldn't go to the White House any more). But other than that, meh. Right?
There's a huge Beltway debate afoot - Washingtonians like to think that people outside of DC care, but that's uncertain - regarding the probable effects of the increasingly likely sequester budget cuts. The left has been going issue by issue and insisting that cuts will be devestating. The right has been doing the same thing except concluding the exact opposite. CBS News describes this as the "will sequestration really be that bad?" debate.
Now each side has gotten around to TSA. White House officials say that the sequester will negatively impact the airport security agency. Their political opponents are saying not so much. The truth is undoubtedly somewhere in the middle, none of which is what we find so strange about the back-and-forth.
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We hate getting involved in travel politics labor issues. We say things like 'hey, if your company or your country is in financial or economic trouble, maybe you should go to work,' which seems reasonable to us. You guys respond by yelling at us for - actual quote - "undermin[ing] the intrinsic and sacramental right for unions to strike or engage in collective bargaining." That's no fun for anyone.
That said, we'd be remiss if we didn't at least suggest the possibility that the 24 hour strike currently crippling Greecewhich is specifically designed in part to disrupt travel and includes that country's civil aviation authorityis probably not going to help Greece's troubled economy.
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For some reason there are a lot of travel politics stories floating around today, not a few of them about the tourism industry. But as much as we'd like to spend a few paragraphs unpacking the recent industry-related discoveries made in Yemen and India and Bangkokthat persistent crime and open violence tend to dampen tourism revenuewe've got to talk about this moron who allegedly slapped a crying toddler as the Delta plane they were aboard was descending into Atlanta. Not his toddler, incidentally.
The facts as reported are pretty straightforward. Joe Rickey Hundley was on a Delta flight from Minneapolis to Atlanta. He was sharing a row with Jessica Bennett and her 2-year-old toddler. As the plane dropped altitude Bennett's toddler started crying and wouldn't stop. Heated words were exchangedBennett claims Hundley used a racial slur, a charge he denies but that a witness confirmsand eventually Hundley slapped the kid.
In 2008 we were all like "can you believe security officers are allowed to search your hard drive just because you're crossing the border?" And then in 2009 we were all like "can you believe security officers are allowed to search your hard drive just because you're crossing the border? And also your digital camera? And also your mp3 player? And also your flash drive?" Which is to say, we've been less than enthusiastic about this particular airport security policy for a while.
So imagine our excitement when we learned that the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties at the Department of Homeland Security would be investigating and then producing a report on the policy. This is a division within DHS charged with protecting the civil liberties of Americans. It says so right there in the name. Meanwhile we're pretty sure thatunder some theories we've heard of, at leastforcing U.S. citizens to hand over their data to the U.S. government in the absence not just of a warrant but of any suspicion is a violation of their civil liberties. Done and done, right?
You guys know how we feel about tales of TSA woe that are just too perfect: the conspiracy theorist who says he was personally targeted by government agents, the deaf rights activist who says he was subject to anti-handicap abuse, the model who says she was just so hot that TSA officials simply had to grope her, and so on. It's cliched but it's true.
Things that are too good to be true, by definition, never are.
Except maybe this case in which an Ohio woman is suing just about everybody related to airport securitythe TSA, the FBI, the ICE, Frontier Airlines, a bunch of federal agencies, various airports and airport officialsover what sounds like a batshit crazy abuse of power on September 11, 2011.
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You're a non-union employee responsible for some security at an airport, and you're trying to win public support on a controversy involving, first, your immediate working conditions and, second, your broad campaign to unionize. You need to walk the fine political line between asserting your rights and showing that you can be responsible. So what do you do?
If you're about 100 workers at JFK Terminal 3, apparently you vote to strike over the holidays starting December 20. You do this while your union supporters proudly retweet stories about disrupting family holiday plans. We're not experts in the travel industry or in public campaigning or anything, but it doesn't seem like they've thought their brilliant plan all the way through.
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We were going to spin an entire post out of a throwaway line published in The Hill last week, where the journalist dropped in a half-sentence about how "most passengers" want to use cell phones in the air. Polls have over and over again shown the exact opposite, with almost the only exception being a Fly.com poll that seemed more about publishing a press release than figuring out what people believe. But we're not sure it's fair to inflict our travel-journalist-nerd-bravado on you guys just because we can.
So instead we're going to point out what is true in that Hill story, which is that the FCC is pushing the FAA to permit more in-flight electronics use.
We don't really like to delve into travel politics too much. We'll post news for you when it's suitably important or suitably weird or suitably an opportunity to score good hotel deals by taking advantage of regional unrest. But on the whole we prefer to give you travel advice on, and pictures of, very cute baby leopards.
In this case the story involves taking the deadly serious situation with Iran and adding an element of south Florida craziness. South Florida, of course, is the part of the United States where the newest very sad fad is to rent tiny alligators to miserably swim around the pool during children's birthday pool parties. Now take that kind of sensibility and combine it with one of the most unstable geopolitical situations on earth. The results aren't technically entertaining, but they're at least worth flagging as things that actually exists.
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We've been following TSA unionization for you since it became a thing in the summer of 2010, when we and everyone else expressed trepidation at the possibility that these guys would now be allowed to collectively bargain over pay and performance. To deal with concerns like ours, TSA officials did what they often and aggravatingly do whenever they make a boneheaded mistake or want to implement a moronic policy: they kind of sort of lied.
A few hours ago airport security screeners approved a contract that according to the Washington Post "among other things overhauls their pay for performance system to emphasize actual on the job performance over certification tests." Keep those elements in mind: pay, performance, and testing. We're going to ask you for some patience, because this news is kind of infuriating and we want to make sure that you see just how much.