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Remember TSA's VIPR program? This is the one that allows TSA agents to go beyond airportsand into places like bus and train stationsand do the same thing to travelers there that they do in airports. That means, very explicitly, that they're allowed to engage in so-called "suspicionless searches" of travelers just because those travelers are... well... traveling.
The objection to the VIPR program is that it sounds very much illegal. Cops can't search citizens just because those citizens are standing close to where a train might soon be. And yet not only are federal agents doing exactly that, butand this is why the program is back in the newsthey're adding new locations for VIPR teams to monitor.
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It's August. We're traditionally supposed to be talking about baby animals and the zoos where you can visit them, perhaps during "brew at the zoo" events. Instead there's this global terror alert that the United States issued last week, and one scenario is that Al Qaeda has figured out an "ingenious" new way to attack passenger airliners.
Let's run through this terrifying (and, for TSA critics, frustrating) scenario. ABC News outlined it yesterday.
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We've now reached the point in the Asiana Airlines Flight 214 tragedy where coverage shifts from being about the story itself, to coverage being about the coverage of the story. Before we continue we want to emphasize that there are some actual angles being covered, from the substantive updates to the actual investigation to the reported heroics of members of the crew.
We occasionally do posts where we overview whether travel to hotspots of global unrest is worth it or not. Today's destination under scrutiny? Egypt where months of discontent and a week of protests have culminated with the country's president being ousted by its military.
Official US language still refers to what's happening in Egypt as "political and social unrest" and not a coup. (It's a tricky political situation because the US has laws about cutting off aid after coups and the US isn't really eager to cut off aid so lots of people are treading very carefully right now on rhetorical eggshells.)
The US issued an updated travel advisory today. The UK updated theirs yesterday. There is a bit of nuance in the US statement (though still urging "“U.S. citizens living in Egypt to depart at this time") while the British statement "advise[s] against all travel to parts of the country." Travelers have also been warned about violence against tourists and an ongoing rape epidemic.
We're not necessarily experts in PR, let alone in the specific dynamics of airline industry public affairs, so maybe one of you guys can unpack this for us: all things being equal, if you're a company and your name appears in a story about Chinese slave labor camps where "inmates are regularly beaten and held in solitary confinement for failing to meet production targets," is that a good thing or a bad thing?
Where to begin with this colossal clusterfark? China's notorious Dongguan Prison was built in 1988. Back then it was called Xinzhou Prison, and the Chinese used it to house foreign prisoners from Asia and Africa. Fast forward until today, and the prison has become known for mindblowing corruption, widespread beatings, systematic rape, and so on. It's considered bad even by Chinese standards.
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With his US passport revoked and an entire country's top intelligence attempting to locate and nab him, Edward Snowden must not be having the smoothest travel week.
Snowden, the source behind one of the biggest security leaks in history, successfully made it from Hong Kong to Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport on SU213, where he met with representatives from the Ecuadorian embassy this weekend. What set reporters to licking their chops, however, was Aeroflot's confirming that Snowden was booked to fly on their nonstop route from Moscow to Havana, Cuba before heading on to Caracas, Venezuela and Ecuador.
Some media actually booked themselves onto SU150, hoping for any exclusives that'd come from being stuck in a plane together for the long-haul flight, while others simply booked tickets to anywhere in order to camp out at the flight's boarding gate at SVO.
Last Sunday, the source behind one of the biggest security leaks in history showed his face for the first time in an interview with Guardian reporters from a hotel suite somewhere in Hong Kong. Edward Snowden had flown to HK from his home in Hawaii, leaving behind his girlfriend, his family, and his six-figure salary as an employee with Top Secret clearance at defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton.
In the last week, there's been almost as much speculation over the next steps for Snowden, as for his leaks of NSA's massive surveillance program. There are a few established facts regarding Snowden's travels; that he flew to Hong Kong, was living in The Mira Hotel in Kowloon up until recently, visited the Guardian reporters at the W Hotel also in Kowloon, and that he hopes to eventually seek asylum in Iceland.
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It's the season of airport strikes, during which unions - maybe justifiably, maybe not - burn whatever sympathy the public has for them by grinding airports to a halt. Every single time some group of airport or airline workers tries something like this, travelers followed by huge swaths of the public turn against the strikers. And yet here we are, all together, again.
This time it's a strike by French air traffic controllers. First the walkout resulted in the cancellation of more than 2,000 flights in France60 percent of the country's flightsand then it began cascading across Europe.
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Sigh. Under pressure from flight attendants, victims' families, airlines, and outrageously outraged members of Congress, TSA is reversing a decision first announced in March under which the agency would allow small pocket knives and sports equipment as carry ons.
In retrospect this was kind of inevitable. It took less than a week for the objections to start. The decision became increasingly expensive for TSA to push through, and there was really no incentive for the agency to deal with the headache. All they wanted to do was speed up security lines a bit to make it easier for fliers to travel. If fliers weren't going to stand up for themselves in the face of political objections, the agency heads weren't going to take the hits.
Which brings us to what has frustrated us about this debate since the beginning.
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2013 really seemed like it would be the year for Istanbul tourism. International flights from the US to Istanbul have been extra cheap ($500-700 roundtrip!), andperhaps most importantlythe majority of our friends either have just returned or are preparing to leave for a quick visit to the city, so a cloud of Istanbul chatter on social media is influencing vacation decisions. Or was.
Protests, rioting and the threat of a "Turkish Spring" are quickly chipping away at the tourist desire to visit Istanbul in 2013. To be clear, the protests, which began with the aim of opposing development of the beloved Gezi Park but quickly developed a broader focus against the current Turkish government, are dangerous; this is no Occupy Wall Street situation with drum circles and damp sleeping bags.
Washington, D.C. is rife with scandals over how various branches of the government have been violating people's privacy and security. Whether it's the IRS targeting conservative groups or the Department of Justice monitoring journalists, it appears that federal agencies have been given vast powers to collect information and they're not very good at holding on to that information.
So naturally, Congress has chosen this week to add a provision to the new immigration bill that requires all non-U.S. citizens to be fingerprinted when flying out of the U.S.'s 30 busiest airports.
Because if there's anything that American politicians are good at generating, it's irony.
Sigh.This happened two weeks ago, broke earlier this week, and is now winding its way through the usual blogs and forums run by the usual mix of well-meaning libertarians and conspiracy theory nutjobs.
An Italian woman was making her way through Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson airport and was standing in the baggage claim area. The airport's bomb-sniffing dog apparently decided that the woman needed to be bitten, so it bit her.
How hard the dog actually bit her has been a subject of open debate. EMS personnel on the scene said it "looked like a scratch." She says that there was bleeding and the bruise afterward was the size of her hand. You can judge for yourself who's telling the truth by looking at the picture here. Try not to be eating food when you look at it though, because it's actually kind of horrific.