Are full body scans really the answer to airline security?

Written by admin on December 31, 2009 – 3:14 pm -

Are full body scanners the answer when it come to averting potential terrorist attacks when going through airport security? Would you object to walking through them? Are they an invasion of your privacy?  Would you ask to be individually screened?

Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport will implement them within three weeks after the Christmas Day incident of explosives being concealed by Nigerian suspect Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab on a Detroit bound flight.

Many people questioned feel being screened should be a non-issue and the sooner the better. They want to speed up the time it takes to clear security and would welcome not having to take off outer garments, removing shoes, belts and not being required to unpack computer bags.

On the negative side, even then, these machine aren’t foolproof because it’s necessary to rely on humans to do visual scanning in an extremely finite period of time. That means evidence might be missed and the people responsible for scanning may not have the required technical expertise to intercept it.

One executive warns against an over reliance on technology. He feels it breeds complacency due to the belief machines have taken care of an issue so you do not need to worry. He’d be willing to walk through a scanning machine but would have greater confidence in the El-Al method of questioning. Even though he objects be being grilled and prodded, he has more faith in it from a security point of view.

A travel executive voiced she doesn’t think full body scans are the answer and will cause many to re-think their travel plans. She feels the TSA has numerous problems and when new screening systems are introduced, people manage to get through with contraband. The real issue is that people who want to cause harm will find a way to do it.

The ethical issue of privacy is out of date states one airline executive. The person doing the screening doesn’t see the passenger in person unless the passenger himself chooses to identify him or herself.

Tony Lamb, an operations research analyst with Scientific Research Corporation, says, “the TSA’s security paradigm is extremely reactionary. I remember never having to go barefoot at the airport until Richard Reid tried to blow up his Nikes. Now someone new hid some Semtex in his underwear and we’ll have full body scans. The bottleneck is at the security screening and it’s faulty. Unfortunately, it’s better than what we had pre-9/11.”

Lamb never liked the federalized guards at TSA. “They’ve had minimal training before being posted; a lot of them are little more than mall cops and are task saturated. Screening all of the passengers for possible bombs, knives, and guns in the allotted time is tough.”

Alisa Templeton from the Denver area says, “Hell no to body scans and here are just a few reasons why: They’d slow down, not speed up, security – especially if any of the TSA agents are gawkers. It’s a violation of my privacy. Yes my doctor sees these things, but she’s a doctor. Terrorists will find ways around the scanners as they’ve already done with watch lists and other security measures.”

People have different (and sometimes very passionate) opinions about these scanners. Please post how you feel and would you alter your travel plans?

Karen Fawcett is president of Bonjour Paris.

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Are airlines responsible for bad passengers?

Written by admin on September 25, 2009 – 4:47 pm -

After reading this article about unruly fliers, I wondered how many air travelers had seen other passengers misbehaving.

I’m not referring to parents who allow their children to run up and down the aisles. Or people who cram so much in overhead bins that if they open mid-flight, your life may be at stake. Annoying as those things are, they’re not federal offenses.

Perhaps it’s being a contrarian, but are there times when clearing security, the pre-flight and in-flight experience has been sufficiently exacerbating, that by the time passengers board, they’re ready to riot.

What could airlines do to make travel easier? How would you improve going through security? What measures would you like to see adopted when you’re going from here to there?

If airlines were to serve everyone meals on flights that are longer than two hours (or after you’ve been sitting on the tarmac more than an hour) would that lessen the pain?

In these days of massive cutbacks, are airlines being penny wise and pound foolish, by not offering more customer service when most passengers feel as if they’re being delegated to sardine status  — especially if they’re seated in the far, far back of the plane.

Should airlines stop serving alcohol? Sure, drinks are moneymakers on the P&L statement. But, are there statistics as to how many trouble-making events are directly attributable to passengers’ alcohol levels? Even if they’re served only one drink in-flight, some people are cheap drunks while others may board flights already sloshed.

Should passengers be required to take a Breathalyzer test before boarding? Drug tests?

We’ve been on flights when the crew hasn’t given enough information or when they’ve shared too much — especially in the middle of the night. Plus, there can be communications problems when people don’t understand announcements in a foreign language or they’re so garbled that even if the announcement is in your native language, you’re lost.

Please post some doable things the airlines could tackle to make trips more pleasurable.

Karen Fawcett is president of Bonjour Paris.

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

10 bizarre, hilarious and surreal border-crossing adventures

Written by admin on April 17, 2009 – 6:03 pm -

Some of the funniest stories I’ve heard have been from people who’ve had to deal with airport security in these post 9/11 days. The incidents only add to the adventure of going through border controls.

Perhaps the parties involved weren’t amused at that moment. But in retrospect, they make for amusing party conversation. We have to laugh, or we’d cry.

Your place or mine? A businessman landed Seoul, Korea, admittedly punchy after the trans-Pacific flight. The male passport agent extolled how handsome he was and after the perfunctory “business or personal” exchange, asked him for the name of the hotel where he was staying. Not being quick on the draw or knowing the name of another hotel in the city, the new arrival blurted out the name. Realizing he had possibly put himself at risk for an unwanted visitor, he locked every lock to his room in case he received an unsolicited knock on the door. He didn’t. But one can’t be too careful and it did give him a bit of an unsettled stay.

Do you feel lucky? In the Dallas Fort Worth airport, a woman was asked, “Do you have any firearms on your person, ma’am?” She did a double take asking him to repeat the question.  As it turns out, business travelers in DFW forget to unload their Colts from their briefcases often enough the TSA makes a practice of asking that question of everyone as they approach security. When she was unable to wipe the incredulous look off her face, the TSA guy offered a final explanation, “You’re in the Republic of Texas, ma’am.”

Victoria’s secret. Another woman recalls the time she landed in Mexico City. The immigration officer asked if he could inspect her hand luggage and naturally she agreed. He reached in and the first things he pulled out were her portable CD player, a book and her make-up kit. The next thing to emerge from the sack was a black lace bra. He was instantly mortified and all but shouted, “Oh God! I’m sorry, ma’am!”  He quickly stuffed everything back in the bag and couldn’t look her in the eye as he waved her through security.

Farm aid. When returning to Atlanta from Tuscany, a woman was honest about the fact she’d spent two weeks on a farm while there. She was sent to an area where she was nearly hosed down and had to have her shoes and feet washed. She also admitted to bringing Panforte (a regional cake) into the U.S. After having to wait for an hour, the mystery was finally solved since the representative of the Department of Agriculture thought Panforte was meat – which is a giant import no-no. In the meantime, they’d made her open every suitcase, surveyed each and every item and didn’t seem to care she had more than her fair share of leather goods. She says she’ll probably skip the honesty bit on her next trip to the Italian countryside.

Tell it to the judge. One man admits to having committed a serious mistake when he was leaving Russia because he shaved off his goatee and his passport picture showed him wearing it. When he arrived at passport control in St. Petersburg, the young woman at the counter asked for his documents and started stamping away. After noticing the discrepancy, she called her supervisor who started the inquisition. What was he doing in Russia, etc.?  The head of the passport control desk came in and started asking even more questions including what he did for a living and whether or not he was married. He answered honestly but was more than perplexed when this woman suggested the two of them get married. He politely turned her down and explained his fiancé was a Russian Federal Court Judge. Hearing that, he was immediately escorted to the terminal and was able to forego waiting in line.

What kind of terrorist are you? One woman reports that no matter where they travel, her husband is singled out by security since he has a dark and swarthy complexion and apparently has the M.O. of a terrorist (whatever that means). On one very early morning flight, he opted not to shave and was a prime target for being frisked. The TSA officer asked them to take everything out of their carry-on luggage, which they did as instructed. The new and young TSA inspector was embarrassed by some of the “dainty” items contained in her carry-on and started blushing bright red. She offered to repack the bag. But that didn’t stop the other inspectors from having a good laugh at his expense.

It coulda been me. A noteworthy story from LAX (Los Angeles). A woman was using a pay phone to contact her ride. The person next to her kept stepping on her toes until she asked her neighbor to stop backing into him. As chance would have it, it was Ray Charles who smiled and said, “Dear I am so sorry. I can’t see you. I’ll try and anchor myself more.” That was some brush with fame.

Oh, this is exciting! A public relations executive recounts the time she was escorting a group of journalists on a press trip. As everyone was in the process of having their carry-on bags x-rayed, one bag started moving and shaking. The bag is question contained a (back?) vibrator and the owner had forgotten to remove its batteries. Naturally, the trip began with a bang.

One love. A consultant who was returning from Jamaica where he was working for a large multinational bank was stopped by customs. The inspector proceeded to pick through his belongings and the search took hours. The customs agent apologized but explained that anyone who travels alone to Jamaica, on a ticket purchased 24 hours before and who was carrying very little luggage containing a laptop computer and wearing a suit was bound to be questioned and searched upon arrival in the U.S.

Banned. The last story is very personal. I was on my way to Morocco on assignment. My husband decided he would accompany me. It wasn’t until we were in the taxi approaching the Paris airport that he realized he was traveling on an expired passport. He decided to take the chance and go anyway. He cleared Paris security and customs in Morocco while I was busily pretending I didn’t know him. As we were leaving the Morocco, a customs official noticed the problem. He said he would have to exile him from the country. This was fine with my husband since we were on our way back to Paris. I didn’t breath during the entire return trip assuming he’d be arresting by French authorities. Happily, he sailed through French customs. Men of a certain age with gray hair (I guess) look less threatening. It goes without saying I have become a compulsive checker of passports. I might have been visiting my husband in jail. French jails leave a lot to be desired.

OK, here’s a start and I’m certain there are a million other such stories as the above. Post them and (possibly) we’ll have a good laugh. Or a cry.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.

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