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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?
Airport Security / Airline Security / TSA / Congress / Politics Travel / Travel Politics / → All Tags
How is this nonsense still a story? How - after it broke more than a week ago, and was already hopelessly tired back then - are journalists still producing new copy about "outrage" and "fury"? What details remained unexplored through the first three dozen articles, such that we needed more information a week later?
If you don't troll conspiracy theory forums or have a Google Alert set up for TSA, you might not know about video documented barbarism under discussion. You'd be the only one though, since the YouTube upload has been viewed by over 200,000 people in the last 10 days. It's at the bottom of this post too. You're welcome.
Travel Politics / Politics Travel / Travel News / TSA / DHS / → All Tags
For the last year Congress has been conducting a bipartisan investigation into whether a previous inspector general at the Department of Homeland Security, Charles K. Edwards, modified or delayed his investigations at the behest of administration officials. Edwards's job during his tensure, which went from 2011 to the 2013, was to keep DHS honest.
Tax day is here, and you're probably excited...but not because you love sifting through receipts and credit card statements. You're excited because you're getting a fat refund. Probably. The economy may be on its way back up, but you should try to stretch that tax refund as far as you can...like with a little "you did a great job last year" tripa Tax Refund Vacation.
If the tax refund gods were kind to you this year then you’re probably feeling friendly when it comes to the folks that do all of that paper pushing and spreadsheet filtering down in Washington, DC. That’s why we suggest making a visit to Uncle Sam’s backyard with all those refund dollars to pay back the government for all it does for us—haha—with a visit to the nation’s capital and the Capitol.
The cherry blossoms have come and gone, but that doesn’t mean that taking in the views along the Potomac still isn’t worth your time. As far as getting to “the District,” it’s pretty darn easy thanks to Reagan National Airport and its proximity to all the city has to offer. Easy connections thanks to the area’s awesome Metro will have you downtown before you know it—no need for a taxi.
Last fall the Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a study showing that TSA's behavior profiling program - creatively named "SPOT" - was useless. The technical language was that the project succeeded in catching bad guys at a rate only "slightly better than chance," but that's GAO code for "worthless."
Naturally people assumed that the program would be scaled back. Instead - per a Washington Times report from last week that made its way around the Internet - TSA has expanded the program to BWI. Because why should a failure, especially a failure that members of Congress blast as "an intrusion into the privacy of the flying public," prevent programs from steamrolling forward?
Airport Security / Terrorism / Travel News / Airline Security / San Francisco Travel / SFO / San Francisco / Congress / Travel Politics / Politics Travel / → All Tags
This is a downer of a Friday story, but it's already getting some traction on travel sites. Plus it's going to be airport security news for the next few weeks. Plus it's probably going to affect your actual, physical airport experience. So you might as well get it on your radar now.
The short version - and you can read longer takes with details and videos here and here - is that the spring issue of Al Qaeda's lead magazine Inspire had a picture of the SFO AirTrain, which they captioned "Stand up, pack your tools of destruction, assemble your bomb, ready the detonation." You can understand why some people are talking about this.
The justification was that increasing how much people paid for airline tickets would increase the number of people who purchased airline tickets. The reasoning went as follows: right now, people don't purchase airline tickets because it takes too long to get through airports; new taxes could pay for more airport workers, which would decrease the amount of time it takes to get through airports; therefore, more taxes would make more people would purchase airline tickets.
We were not kind. In between words and phrases like "giggle-worthy logic" and "stupid," we pointed out that TSA had once floated the exact same theory, except they were going to raise the fees outside the normal budget process. It was shot down despite being trotted out in 2010 and 2011 and then again later in 2011, because it was moronic.
Emergency Landings / Ethiopian Airlines / 767 / GVA / Hijackings / Crimes / Politics Travel / Ethiopian Flight 702 / → All Tags
BREAKING NEWS. Scroll to bottom for latest updates.
Prior to midnight EST, an Ethiopian Airlines flight bound from Ethiopia to Italy declared an emergencya hijackingand flew instead to Geneva, Switzerland.
The aircraft landed safely in Geneva and there are no injuries or fatalities.
Here is what we know, owing to direct sources (live ATC conversations, live flight tracking, on-the-ground contacts at Geneva Airport):
Bad Ideas / Airline Safety / Lasers / Crimes / Travel Politics / Politics Travel / Airline Industry / → All Tags
We did a full blog post about this issue in 2011, and even back then we felt a little torn about whether it was worth writing. There was a legitimate travel politics story at the time, since the FAA had just announced a dedicated system for reporting people who were aiming lasers at aircraft. But it didn't really seem like there was any there there. How stupid do you have to be to aim a laser at the eyes of a pilot who's trying to land a gigantic commercial jet? How many people could we really be talking about?
It turns out that there were almost 4,000 laser strikes reported in 2013, with the average being 11 reported incidents every day. The actual number is thought to be much higher because of under-reporting. Starting in September 2012 and going forward a year, which is how the relevant Justice Department records are kept, five people were convicted in federal court for aiming lasers at airplanes. Another 15 people have cases pending against them.
The FBI is getting very grumpy.
Valentine's Day Travel / Travel Politics / Politics Travel / TSA / Airport Security / Airline Security / → All Tags
TSA recently blogged a list of tips for traveling during and around Valentine's Day. Yes to regular and even liquid-filled chocolates, but no to flower vases with water in them, plus a reminder that there are special rules for traveling with wedding dresses. Because wedding dresses and flower vases with water in them could be used to compromise the security of aircraft, you see.
In other news, engineers have discovered a way that hackers can hijack TSA scanning machines to remotely overlay what screeners see with arbitrary images. So if you're a terrorist smuggling a gun through security, and you've got a friend who has gained access to the computer linked to your checkpoint, your friend can cover over the image of your gun with what looks like a pile of socks.
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This was a very rude thing to say, and Vice President Biden should absolutely apologize. Say what you will about Third World airports, at least most of them have people who are trying to build and grow things. Newark, on the other hand - well, Jaunted has been writing about how much that airport sucks for almost our entire existence. At one point last year United dropped a bunch of money to make it better, and they inevitably failed, on account of how it sucks.
It's not just LaGuardia either. All of New York's airports are awful. JFK has birds flying through the terminals, and so of course some of the seats and certain spots on the carpet get covered in - excuse the vulgarity - actual bird shit. At night the people to birds ratio approaches that of an aviary, and you've got birds picking at the trash. That can't be hygienic. Why won't somebody do something about that?
Brazil Travel / Travel Tips / Passports / Visas / Politics Travel / 2014 FIFA World Cup Travel / World Cup Travel / Rio de Janeiro Travel / Sao Paulo Travel / Manaus Travel / Amazon Travel / → All Tags
Without a doubt, Brazil is cool. Many elements combine to make it so; Brazil is fortunate to have some of the world's best beaches, liveliest music, sexiest people, most exotic flora and fauna, and tastiest food. Still, there is one bit about Brazil that's not so cool: going through the process of obtaining the visa necessary for US citizens to visit.
It's our own fault, really. Brazil is only doing to us what we do to their citizens wanting to visit the US; it's called reciprocity. Still, the Brazilian visa process is necessary evil of traveling to this beautiful country, and since we just sweated through it ourselves, we thought we'd break it down into simple steps.
Note that spectators, staff and volunteers for the 2014 FIFA World Cup have abbreviated visa requirements for what is a free "temporary special visa" with 90 days validity. If you're heading to the World Cup and think you'll return to Brazil at some point, then opt for the regular tourist visa, which comes with ten years of validity but costs $160-$180.
* Instructions and links below are intended for one regular adult tourist of US citizenship, holding a US passport.