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TSA Has Over $500,000 in Forgotten Pocket Change from 2012

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In fiscal 2012, travelers left $531,000 in pennies, nickels, and dimes at airport security checkpoints, according the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Nearly 95% of the loose change collected came from domestic flights, with $22,000 coming from LAX alone. Altogether, the TSA has amassed over $2 million in the last five years.

What is the TSA planning on doing with all the money?

Currently it sits mostly untouched in an “aviation security fund,” but Florida representative Jeff Miller last week issued a committee report recommending the unused coins go toward upgraded travel amenities for members of the U.S. military and their families while traveling.

Congress is set to vote later this week on Miller's bill.

Peter Schlesinger is a research assistant at Travel + Leisure, and a member of the Trip Doctor News Team. You can follow him on Twitter at @pschles08.

Photo credit: iStockphoto

TSA Welcomes Southwest Airlines and Members of Military to PreCheck

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Keep your belt on!  

Southwest Airline’s frequent-flyer members need no longer undress to pass airport security. Today, the carrier became the eighth domestic airline to offer TSA PreCheck, a program to pre-approve travelers for expedited security screenings.  

The president of the US Travel Association, Roger Dow, calls the initiative “decidedly pro-traveler.” It’s meant to make travel easy, so that people fly—and fly often.

By the end of December, Pre-Check will be available to all members of the military at every airport in the country offering the service. At this time, military personnel can enjoy the perk at 10 domestic airports. 

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Delta Pays for Automated Passport Machines at JFK

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Delta Air Lines, fed up with long lines its passengers face when arriving at Customs in New York City's JFK airport, is footing the bill to install automated passport machines.

Lines at the airport are the worst in the country, averaging over 90 minutes during peak hours, and nearing five hours on some occasions. Automated machines can shed 40 percent off of waiting times to clear customs, and at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport—the only U.S. airport to already have such machines—interview times with Customs officers have been halved to 30 seconds.

Delta views the new automated machines as a step in the right direction, says spokesperson Leslie Scott. She hopes the airline's contribution—whose price is undisclosed—will spur increased staffing, especially at peak times for international arrivals.

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Two New Ways to Speed Through the Airport

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Waiting in line—perhaps the most dreaded aspect—of the air travel experience—is improving by leaps and bounds this year at U.S. airports. For one, the TSA PreCheck expedited screening program, which is now available for international flights, is growing rapidly: the TSA has installed PreCheck lanes in 40 airports, with planned expansions into 60 more domestic airports by the end of 2013. Meanwhile, in-airport PreCheck enrollment centers will also soon start rolling out—opening up the program to all U.S. travelers willing to pay the $85 fee—no passport or frequent-flier membership required. The first will be in Indianapolis and Washington Dulles this fall, followed by some 300 locations across the country.

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Gripe Much? New Website Reveals Just How Much People Hate U.S. Customs

You know you have a broken entry process when there’s an entire website devoted to complaining about the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) system—and that’s exactly what the U.S. Travel Association launched this month in an effort to voice the concerns of our unhappy visitors.

Included on the travelersvoice.org are spotlights from dozens of travelers—foreign and domestic—whose concerns range from long lines to missed connections. The most common gripes? Customs queues are understaffed, with too many checkout lanes closed during peak periods, and with no automated technology to ease the process, our methods appear utterly outdated.

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Trip Doctor: TSA’s Not-So-Great Report Card

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Here’s some news that will make you squirm in your airplane seat: complaints filed against airport security workers have increased by 26 percent over the last three years, according to a new study the Transportation Security Agency released yesterday by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

About half the cases—9,622 in all since 2010—had to do with attendance and leave (32 percent) and screening and security (20 percent). Shockingly, those screening and security offenses included allowing travelers or baggage to bypass screening, sleeping on the job, drug and alcohol use while on duty, mishandling of classified information, and inappropriate or sexual misconduct. The report also cited a case in 2011 where a transportation security officer at Orlando International Airport pled guilty of embezzlement and theft charges for stealing more than $80,000 worth of laptops and other electronics.

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TSA Opens PreCheck to the General Public

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It’s official: the days of long airport security lines are over—if you want them to be. At least that’s what TSA Administrator John Pistole promised on Friday, when he announced that the PreCheck program will be opening to the general public before the end of the year. To sign up, travelers will have to pay an $85 fee, provide identification and fingerprints, and undergo a background check at an established PreCheck enrollment center—all for the luxury of walking through the x-ray machine with your shoes on.

Almost one year after the service’s launch, 12 million travelers have signed up—all frequent fliers—and complaints of longer lines in these expedited service lanes have already started to bubble up. Another 3 million will join by the year’s end if the TSA’s predictions ring true—so will PreCheck lose its advantage? This much remains to be seen, though we’re encouraged by the volume of airports that are angling to meet the program’s growing demand.

Nikki Ekstein is an Editorial Assistant at Travel + Leisure and part of the Trip Doctor news team. Find her at on Twitter at @nikkiekstein.

Photo Credit: © dbimages / Alamy

Trip Doctor: Airport Security Tips—How to Get Through TSA Faster

Airport Security Tips

Q: How can I get through the airport faster?Kathleen Francis, Oakland, Calif.

A: Over the past decade, between tightened security and the increased attention airlines are paying to premium fliers, airports have become as hierarchical and labyrinthine as the Sun King’s court. Lanes and lines have become defining features, and status has become essential for getting around.

So rule number one for a better airport experience: become an elite member of a frequent-flier program. If you travel often, stay loyal to a carrier, and follow the advice of loyalty-program experts such as the terrific Brian Kelly, founder of thepointsguy.com, you may be able to break into the upper tiers, gaining expedited check-in, private security lines, and priority boarding.

But good news for everyone else: status is no longer exclusively available to high-ranking frequent fliers. You just have to be willing to do a little extra legwork—and pay. Privilege, after all, has its price.

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No Snowden. No Turbulence. No Booze on Aeroflot Flight To Havana. Whah?!

Aeroflot has a drinking problem.

When reporters were duped on Monday into flying from Moscow to Havana on the Russian airline in hopes of interviewing National Security Agency whistle-blower Edward Snowden, the fugitive leaker was nowhere to be found. One passenger reported that the flight not only had no Snowden, it had "no turbulence and no booze." Seriously? No vodka?! On an Aeroflot flight?! It's true. The Moscow-Havana route is one of seven long-distance itineraries on which Aeroflot has banned alcohol in economy class. Why? Just watch the video above to get a sampling of the verbal assaults, fisticuffs, and other liquor-induced ill behavior seen on hundreds of Aeroflot flights every year. And now some legislators are considering even more stringent measures to stop the moonshine madness.

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Trip Doctor: TSA Caves on Knife Policy

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Cue a collective sigh of relief: after much hoopla several months ago, the TSA has finally retracted their effort to take small knives off their banned items list. Also still prohibited: novelty baseball bats, billiard cues, ski poles, hockey sticks, golf clubs, and lacrosse sticks—all of which fell under the same (now dropped) proposal that would have allowed the potentially dangerous items on planes. We asked a TSA spokesperson what pulled the final straw, and it seems there was plenty of consensus between the Aviation Security Advisory Committee, law enforcement officials, passenger advocates, and "other important stakeholders"—opening this can of worms simply wouldn’t be a good idea (told you so). Instead, the TSA says they’ll continue to focus on Risk-Based Security, which allows them to “keep passengers safe by focusing on those we know less about.”

Nikki Ekstein is an Editorial Assistant at Travel + Leisure and part of the Trip Doctor news team. Find her at on Twitter at @nikkiekstein.

Photo credit: Anthony Dunn / Alamy

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