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We've been keeping you up to date on the Department of Transportation's battle with the airline industry over the Transparent Airfares Act of 2014, most recently explaining why we are backing the DOT and calling for the rejection of the Act.
On Monday, Congress voted to pass the Act, which would allow airlines to advertise rates online and in print with asterisks that do not include taxes and extra fees.
Travel Politics / Politics Travel / Travel News / TSA / Airline Fees / Airline Security / → All Tags
There's no shortage of domestic and international travel politics stories floating around. There's the potential for a new Cold War because of the MH17 downing. There's the 24 hour FAA ban on flights into Tel Aviv. There's even the ongoing nonsense about how airport security officials are threatening to confiscate electronics that run out of battery power during trans-Atlantic flights, which is something that happens literally all the time.
But this story about hiking airline security fees is - rightly - driving people absolutely out of their minds. We flagged this for you last month as a heads up, but we've actually been tracking these legislative efforts since 2010. The Obama administration has tried to raise the fees that travelers pay for security through the normal budget process, outside the normal budget process, and probably at least once via occult wizardry. Every time it was justified as a way to make people travel more, which is not a very good argument because it's not how supply and demand works.
We like to think of ourselves as fair-minded, in the sense that we are equally likely to publish facepalms about TSA agents and about the passengers that they have to deal with. Last week we gave a shoutout to idiot travelers who were bringing fireworks on airplanes, and let this be your official notice that there are also apparently idiot travelers who are bringing credit card knives through security. Idiots.
Now let's talk about this incident, in which a Florida TSA agent refused to accept a Washington DC driver's license. In this case, the problem appears to have been that the agent did not know that Washington DC, the capital of the United States, was in fact a real place, in the United States. This kind of stuff happens so much that the District's delegate to Congress was getting into the debate months ago.
That's annoying, and the obvious reaction is to worry about those agents' overall competence in keeping Americans safe. But let's be clear about what that means.
Politics Travel / Department of Transportation / Legal Travel / Travel Laws / Transparent Airfares Act of 2014 / Airline News / → All Tags
A few months ago, airlines responded to the Department of Transportation's request for more transparency in pricing by threatening that it would cost an additional fee for them to be upfront about their additional fees. Remember that? Well, get ready to roll your eyes once more. In the face of the DOT's proposal, airlines are lobbying Congress even harder to go the other direction, for the legal right to put an asterisk next to all their prices.
The bill, deceptively titled the Transparent Airfares Act of 2014, was proposed by a House committee and, on the surface, says it wants to make taxes clearer on tickets. But what it actually does is allow airlines to advertise their base fares separately from taxes and fees. According to the Dallas Morning News, "the act aims to get rid of the Full Fare Advertising Rule, which went into effect in 2012. That rule requires airlines to show all mandatory federal, state and local government taxes and fees in their advertised fares."
From increased fees to the elimination of in-flight meals, the evolution of the U.S. airline industry has indeed rained down frustration on American travelers. That side of the coin is looking dim for future travelers, especially with the recent news that Congress is now in bed with the TSA.
But a ruling by a Federal judge yesterday showed that good things can still happen within the airline industry when it comes to the treatment of its passengers. The case concerned the U.S. Government's no-fly list, calling it unconstitutional because it does not 1) give people on the list a chance to contest their inclusion upon it or 2) properly notify them of being added to the list. Taking it one step further in her justification, the judge ruled that these inadequate and unfair procedures have denied many Americans their right to travel.
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Just posted online: part 3 of the Washington Post's "Hazard Above" investigative series on drones. Based on the premise that drones are "set to become a widespread reality in American skies," the Post spent a year investigating whether pilotless plane thingys will accidentally kill everybody. Over 50,000 pages of accident and other records were apparently examined and, indeed, it does turn out that we're all going to die.
We're paraphrasing and exaggerating for effect, of course, but not really.
We saw this story break two weeks ago on the insidery Federal Times, which is a place where DC bureaucrats go for hour-by-hour updates on all the things they've broken that day. At the time we hoped the news wouldn't get wide traction, partly because it's not actually that interesting but mostly because we knew that Internet conspiracy theorists would blow it completely out of proportion (actual email sent around Jaunted HQ in case it became a thing: "Suggested hed for scanner/prisons post: TSA scanners first tested on sheeple, now used on convicted felons!").
Anyway here we are. You can now read all about how the government yanked TSA's full-body scanners out of airports and then sent for use in prisons. The story is on Slate and at TIME and posted to the LA Times or on The Blaze and screw it here's the Google News Search. As we read on one conspiracy theory forum, it all proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that the government was trying to break the will of its citizenry in preparation for giving our children school lunches loaded with GMO tomatoes (give/take).
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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).
In response to a number of muggings and attacks against Chinese tourists, it was announced today that the French government has called upon the Chinese police force to help patrol the streets of Paris this summer. According to reports, at least ten Chinese police officers will help strengthen the security at popular tourist spots and public transportation hubs. They will also help translate between Chinese tourists and local police offers.
We cover a lot within the travel industry, but this has to be one of the most significant stories we've seen in a long time. The implications and fallout of this industry first are absolutely huge, and it goes to show how far countries are willing to go in order to get a piece of the world's largest tourism market. Reading between the lines, it seems like this is a move by France to appease China and keep the tour buses coming. Last year, 1.5 million Chinese tourists visited France, and that number is expected to increase by 40% this year after France relaxed its visa process.
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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.
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WowGoogle+ may actually be useful for something! Tomorrow (Wednesday, May 7) at 3:30pm EST, the US Department of State will host a Google+ Hangout on the topic of World Cup Travel to Brazil. As you're likely aware, the World Cup soccer championships begin June 12 and last an entire month, drawing millions of international fans to one country.
Brazil is the host for 2014, and already over 150,000 Americans hold tickets to the games. For most this will be a first visit to Brazil, and perhaps even South America in general, and news headlines from these destinations haven't always inspired confidence. With this in mind, the Department of State is calling upon experts to quell fears and appropriately prep travelers for the energetic adventure to come:
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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?