Tag: Politics TravelView All Tags
As the first full week of the new kicks off, let's all take a moment and assess what kind of year 2014 is shaping up to be. For those of us on the Jaunted staff, we have our New Year's resolutions, and so we have our little markers and goals already set up. For you guys, we've given you some assignments as well. And as for the United States federal government, we expect they're going to try to fuck up air travel. Just like they always fucking do every fucking year. Seriously. Anything even tangentially related to travel politics is an opportunity for Congress to break travel, and, without exception, they do.
Keep in mind that none of the links up there - which go to stories from 2010, 2012, and 2013 - touch on anything related to the government shutdown or to the sequester. Both of those colossal meltdowns negatively affected tourism, because how could they not, but lawmakers weren't even trying to directly tinker with the travel world. It's when folks from the House, the Senate, and White House get together to try to make the travel industry better that the magic really starts.
It's that time of the year again, the time when the year just plain ends. Alas, we can't just let 2013 go that easily, especially since travelers spent it both up in the air and up in arms over a crazy range of topics. Needless to say, we're ready to get going into 2014, but first we're taking a brief look back at the best of 2013 with the Jaunted Travel Awards,or as we fondly refer to themThe Jauntys.
TSA has always been kind of a tragicomic clusterfuck - let's all recall this unbelievable idiocy which was followed by this shameless denial - but things have really picked up in even the last month and a half. Between confiscating the guns of sock puppets and trying to use cartoon dogs to explain why mommy and daddy are getting bad touched, it's almost like the agency is trying to confirm skeptics' worst stereotypes. The fact that we just learned that TSA's security theater may be extra-useless because the post-screening area has materials for weapons isn't helping.
And yet none of those qualify as the wackiest TSA tale of 2013. They're excellent examples of where TSA agents decided to either overthink or underthink regulations, but they don't really get at why the agency is so special or what role it plays in travel politics. To understand that, you have to go back to the fiasco over trying to allow pocket knives on places.
We know that some of you will ignore our advice and spend today and tomorrow traveling long distances. You'll go to airports, wait in security, and get filmed by news crews with grumpy looks on your faces. There's not much we can do about that.
If it makes you feel any better though, you should know that a lot of the security that's holding you up is totally useless. So at least there's that. Last week we covered how and why the TSA's behavior screening program - which brings security to you in line, rather than waiting for you to come to security - is statistically useless. This week comes news that all of the x-rays and scans people go through might be kind of silly, since it's possible to build an array of deadly weapons with products you buy past the terminal.
FAA / FCC / Cell Phones / Electronics Tavel / Politics Travel / Travel Politics / Technology / → All Tags
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 pohnes above 10,000 feet.
TSA / Airline Security / Airport Security / Travel Journalism / Politics Travel / Travel Politics / → All Tags
Stories in travel journalism - in any kind of journalism, really - begin as news, then migrate over to commentary, and then eventually become meta-commentary. Sufficiently vicious and prominent meta-commentary gets treated as news, and thus does the circle of life turn.
So for instance, coverage of the recently published report on TSA's behavior profiling program began as news. More specifically, it began as news that the program spectacularly sucks. You'll remember this as the system that sought to supplement pat-downs with "chat-downs" in which screeners would ask you really specific questions and then guess - based on your reactions - if you were doing something suspicious. TSA called it Screening Passengers by Observation Techniques - SPOT - and they spent roughly one billion dollars on it. A recent report by the Government Accountability Office indicated that it works only "slightly better than chance." Opps.
Airline Mergers / American Airlines / US Airways / Politics Travel / Airline News / Airlines / Oneworld / New American / → All Tags
An early Christmas present arrived at the hearth of American Airlines and US Airways this morning, as the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division reached a settlement with the airlines towards the completion of their desired merger.
Although this does not yet mean the two airlines are one, it does mean they can continue on the path to become so and, perhaps even by the end of 2013, reach this goal. Here's what you need to know about the settlement:
Liquids Ban / TSA / LHR / Travel Politics / Politics Travel / Airport Security / Airline Security / → All Tags
In 2010, the TSA was actually putting up signs at security checkpoints promising that "future advances" in x-ray technology would let them play around with the restrictions on the amount of liquid travelers can carry on board planes.
Fast forward to 2013 and we still have liquids restrictions on U.S. flights. Meanwhile the EU regulations which were set to expire in 2013 are - wait for it - actually expiring. We don't know if the decision is deliberate or the result of laziness, but either way European airports will now let you carry shampoos onboard airplanes. Small victories, ladies and gentlemen, small victories.
It's becoming a very complicated end of the week for travel politics surrounding TSA. Today's shooting at LAX is going to trigger a bunch of investigations and questions, and we're probably going to have to revisit the old debate over whether long security lines make travelers safer or more vulnerable.
While all that's going on, the airline security agency is also facing questions over corruption and efficiency. The Washington Times yesterday published the results of a Homeland Security inspector general report on how TSA employees managed to secure "premium pay and other costly benefits" without being entitled to those perks. Apparently the trick wasn't particularly complicated: they just promoted themselves, except without doing anything else. The final extra cost to taxpayers was estimated at $17.5 million.
Long-time Jaunted readers will remember a somewhat contentious comment thread from a year and a half ago, in which we wrote about a video made by anti-TSA blogger Jonathan Corbett showing how to defeat an old kind of full-body scanner. It started off as a more or less routine post: we criticize both TSA security theater and full-body scanners when they need criticizing, and that was one of the times they needed criticizing.
Except there were many people - not a few of them from the conspiracy fringe where people imagine that TSA is a United Nations plot to bad touch grandma until she gets PTSD and starts drinking fluoride - who got grumpy because we noted that Corbett's trick probably wouldn't work on TSA's new gingerbread man scanners. Those people wanted to believe that a blogger had just defeated all of TSA's scanners, because that would absolutely prove that the government was screening people for no reason, and so that's what they believed. Never mind that it simply wasn't true.
TSA / Drugs / Drug Travel / Politics Travel / Travel Politics / → All Tags
Let's go back to this incident from 2011. Rapper Freddie "Gangsta" Gibbs, in a move that we described as evidence of "mind-bending idiocy," got caught by TSA transporting weed in his checked luggage. The size of the baggies made it obvious that he was transporting the drug for recreational purposes - you may not have heard, but rappers are rumored to smoke pot occasionally - and the TSA agent left him an exasperated, pitch-perfect note reading "C'MON SON."
Since then, of course, several states have liberalized their marijuana laws. The federal government, in sharp contrast, has not. This sets up a nice little legal problem: if you're flying within a state where you're allowed to carry weed, or between two states where you're allowed to carry weed, are you allowed to transport your marijuana? Remember that airports are subject to federal jurisdiction, which is why this issue is even a question.
Travel Snapshot / Los Angeles Travel / Grand Canyon Travel / Government Shutdown / Politics Travel / American Airlines / → All Tags
While the Government Shutdown is majorly pissing off travelers by closing national monuments and restricting access to everything from National Parks to major museums, there are some tricks to see what you want to see regardless. Take for example the Grand Canyon. The official visitor access trails and viewpoints are closed, so many have been risking the "unofficial" routes in, even encroaching on private property.
We do not advocate this at all, so for right now the easiest way to view the Grand Canyon is from above, while on board a flight to or from southern California.
Last month we were able to trace much of the Colorado River's carving into the Canyon while traveling at 35,000' on American Airlines Flight 1 from JFK to LAX.
Politics Travel / Travel Politics / Travel News / TSA / Washington DC / Washington DC Travel / → All Tags
The United States federal government has shut down precisely 17 times since 1976, as various elements of the Legislative and Executive branches - which the Founding Fathers, in their wisdom, set in opposition to each other - failed to agree on various measures necessary to keep the government operating. This time around, our elected representatives are fighting over Obamacare. If they don't hammer out something in the next few hours, the government will shut down and only so-called "essential" personnel will be allowed to continue working.
Before you ask why the federal government uses taxpayer money to pay employees who aren't essential, please know that (1) the joke has been made dozens of times in the last few hours on Twitter and (2) if there's a shutdown, they're going to close the gates at the DC Zoo and turn off the pandacam. Not so libertarian now, are we?