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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

American Airlines Temporarily Grounds Fleet Over Computer Error

News sources from The New York Times to Skift are reporting that American Airlines has grounded its entire fleet after a computer glitch caused its reservation system to go offline, making it impossible to check passengers in. The airline plans to resume service at 5 p.m. EST.

This is just the latest news in a jittery day for travelers. After the bombings in Boston yesterday, security in cities and at airports around the country has been on high alert. Earlier today, the central terminal building at New York’s LaGuardia Airport was evacuated for an hour due to a suspicious package. The airport was reopened after police determined the package posed no threat.

Peter Schlesinger is an editorial intern at Travel + Leisure.

Trip Doctor: How the U.S. is Losing Tourists at the Airport

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Do you sometimes need a reminder of how great it can be to travel in the U.S.? Apparently overseas travelers do too. According to a new survey conducted by the U.S. Travel Association, 43% of foreign travelers will tell their friends to avoid coming to the States. But it’s not cultural, culinary, or political differences that are turning off the international crowds—it’s our customs entry process, which 84% of visitors complain about and believe could be vastly improved. The survey polled 1,200 non-U.S. Resident overseas travelers—of whom 1 in 7 missed a connection because of long customs lines. First impressions really do speak the loudest, it seems.

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 by Jeff Greenberg / Alamy

Delta CEO Condemns New TSA Rules

We weren't the only ones baffled by the TSA's announcement last week that airline passengers can now bring small knives, baseball bats, and golf clubs unto flights: Delta CEO Richard Anderson released a letter to the security agency expressing his "legitimate concerns" about the changes.

"If the purpose is to increase security checkpoint flow, there are much more effective steps we can take together to streamline the security checkpoints with risk-based screening mechanisms," he wrote, according to a report from The Associated Press. The Association of Professional Flight Attendants has already condemned the new regulations. Laura Glading, head of the union, was quoted as saying she was "a little puzzled" by the TSA's decision to allow the banned items. "Nobody knows what it takes to keep passengers safe better than we do."

Update, March 13: Representatives from American Airlines and its soon-to-be partner US Airways have also weighed in. Per Skift's Dennis Schaal, American Airlines wrote in a letter to the TSA, "The safety of our people and our customers is paramount..."

The new rules go into effect April 25, 2013. A searchable list of TSA banned and approved carry-on items can be found at the agency's official website.

Trip Doctor: About Those New TSA Rules...

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Dear TSA,

We are so happy to hear that you'll be easing packing restrictions for travelers. Really, we are. But golf clubs, baseball bats, and pocket knives? What an odd place to start. Did you think these were less risky to travel with than, say, the three ounces of blueberry jam you stole—I mean, confiscated—from me on my way home from Maine last summer? Or the life-threatening snow globe souvenir my colleague bought for her daughter in Colorado? How about that full-sized tube of toothpaste—or better yet, the water bottle I brought from home for my six-hour flight? Couldn't you see your way to un-banning those before knives, bats, and clubs?

And as tons of news outlets are making clear, flight attendants are with us—they're not terribly thrilled at the prospect of knives on board, and we certainly can't fault them.

We'd love to know what you were thinking, even if our golfer friends are excited by the prospect of carrying their gear aboard. We'd also like that blueberry jam back.

Signed,

The Trip Doctor Team

See also: Snakes (Almost) on a Plane and Pack This: TSA-Friendly Toiletries.

Photo by iStockphoto

Baby, Please Don’t Go: Man Calls in Fake Bomb Threat to Ground Girlfriend’s Plane

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Admit it, if this were part of a movie, it might be kinda awesome: Lovers have a fight just as the girl is about to leave town, perhaps for good. The guy must stop her from leaving—he sprints through the airport, of course—and then tries one last desperate move: Calling in a bomb threat so that her plane has to be evacuated. Girl de-planes, boyfriend apologizes. "You’re crazy!" she tells him. "Crazy about you," he replies. They kiss, music swells, credits roll.

We cannot vouch for any reconciliation, but a 31-year-old Chinese man reportedly did indeed call in a fake bomb threat to his girlfriend's flight to Shenzhen, because they had had an argument before she left. Her plane had actually already gotten some distance from Hefei Luogang International Airport and had to make an emergency landing at Nanchang Changbei. We're guessing that ruined their cinematic reunion. Perhaps even more disturbing, though, is that China has apparently endured a number of fake bomb threats lately: two within one week during fall 2012, and one last spring involving an 18-year-old man imitating the rules of a game; in fall 2011, a 28-year-old woman apparently even called one in on her own China United Airlines flight, to "make her husband worry."

If this trend continues, nervous fliers everywhere will have their own reasons to worry.

Photo by iStockphoto

Trip Doctor: TSA’s Wrapped Gift Policy

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Q: I’m traveling for the holidays. What is the current airline policy on wrapped gifts? —Molly Richins, Astoria, N.Y.

A: The TSA doesn’t prohibit them, but if an agent asks to see what’s inside, you have to comply. Because they’re legally allowed to open the gifts in your checked baggage as well as those in your carry-on, it’s best to wrap when you arrive (or send them ahead).

Packing is rarely easy—we’re here to help. Send your question to tripdoctor@aexp.com.

Photo by Frances Roberts / Alamy

TSA Claims Mistaken Identity in Camera Theft

Would everybody please stop picking on the TSA for a cotton-pickin' minute?! Hey, no question the airport-security agency has taken a pummeling from critics lately, especially over accusations of theft. A report by ABC's Nightlinelast week was particularly damning when an iPad stolen from an airport security checkpoint was tracked down to the home of the TSA agent on-duty at the time.  And now comes another dust-up. But this time the TSA claims it had nothing to do with it.

Read More

Snakes (Almost) on a Plane: TSA Finds 821 Firearms, Chainsaw, and Slithering Reptiles in Carry-Ons

201208-b-concealed-weapons-on-airplanesjpg"Whaaaaaaaaaat?" That's what I said to myself after reading this piece by Gizmodo who reported via the Transportation Security Administration's blog, that since January 1st, TSA agents have discovered 821 firearms in carry-on bags at airports around the country. Of these, 691 were loaded, and 210 were locked and loaded with a round chambered. Some other bizarrely alarming weapons discovered while passengers were filing through security? Dead venomous snakes (snakes almost on a plane!), a gun in a hollowed out book (retro move there), an explosive grenade, a spear gun, eels, a gassed-up chainsaw, and a chastity belt. Too weird, America. But keep up the good work TSA! And in the future, before you confiscate that sealed bottle of Poland Spring in my backpack, can we just put a few things in perspective?

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 Marguerite A. Suozzi is an assistant research editor at Travel + Leisure.

 

Man Travels to Slumberland on Luggage Conveyor Belt

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We’ve always felt that finding a comfortable place to rest your head at an airport is challenging, but a Norwegian tourist at the Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino Airport in Rome had no problem drifting away to Slumberland. When he found the ticket check-in counter was empty, the unnamed man wandered behind the desk to take a nap on the baggage conveyor belt. He was sound asleep, hugging his suitcase, until the belt started to move. Of course, as any adventurer would do, he stayed on, riding on the baggage belt (and through the x-ray machines) for 15 minutes until airport security took notice and removed him. Shocked? Airport security wasn’t. They see similar incidents twice a year.     

Kelsi Maree Borland is an editorial intern at Travel + Leisure.

Photo Courtesy of iStock.com.

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