From the category archives:


An editorial in Investors Business Daily basically re-states the point in the Toronto Star article I posted last year, that North American airport security is all show and no substance:

It wasn’t exactly “Don’t Tread on Me” or “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death.” But when John Tyner, a 31-year-old software programmer from Oceanside, Calif., refused a TSA “groin check,” he uttered words soon to adorn boxers and briefs of freedom lovers everywhere: “You touch my junk, and I’m going to have you arrested.”

Tyner refused what he considered “a huge invasion of privacy” while attempting to board a flight at San Diego International Airport. He “opted out” of the full-body scanner, which leaves nothing to the imagination, settling for the traditional metal scanner and a basic pat-down. But the groin check, in his view, went too far.

Tyner had turned on his cell phone’s video camera and placed it atop the luggage he sent through the X-ray machine. The conversation between him and a TSA supervisor was, er, revealing. The supervisor explained that if he refused, he would not be allowed to fly and would be escorted out. Tyner responded: “OK, I don’t understand how a sexual assault can be made a condition of my flying.”

“This is not considered a sexual assault,” the supervisor said.

“It would be if you were not the government,” replied Tyner.

“By buying your ticket you gave up a lot of rights,” countered the supervisor. Oh. We wonder if Benjamin Franklin, having said that those willing to sacrifice liberty for safety deserve neither, would submit to a groin check.

[ . . . ]

Then you have the airport peep show with TSA scanning the body image of passengers. Napolitano defends this practice, saying: “The officer assisting the passenger never sees the image, and the officer viewing the image never interacts with the passenger.” Purveyors and viewers of online porn can say something similar.

[ . . . ]

We know who’s trying to kill us. Yet to avoid charges of profiling we go through what Rep. John Mica, one of the authors of the original TSA bill, calls “a big Kabuki theater” that gives the appearance of airtight security while adding little.

We should adopt techniques, used with great success by the Israeli airline El Al, in which passengers of interest are observed, profiled and, most important, questioned before boarding planes, not submitting everybody to naked scanners and groping. “It’s not an Israeli model, it’s a TSA, screwed-up model,” says Mica.

As a fairly frequent traveler, I find the idea of having to submit to a huge invasion of privacy – not to mention a potential health risk – as a precondition of flying distasteful. I would find it distasteful even if I thought it was the least bit effective. But it’s not, which makes it all that much worse.

On the other hand, a train trip last week was remarkably hassle-free. Enter the train station, get your ticket punched, board the train. Not even so much as a metal detector. Foolish? Maybe. But far more civilized.

I’m not arguing that we should abolish airport security altogether. Clearly, there’s a need for some practical measures. But what the TSA is doing is crossing a line, and I’m not the only one to think so.

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Traveling this summer? You may want to buy volcano insurance:

Eamonn Brennan, chief of the Irish Aviation Authority, warned of “a summer of uncertainty” in the air due to the continuing eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokul (ay-yah-FYAH-lah-yer-kuhl) volcano.

In Brussels, European Union transport ministers held another emergency aviation meeting and emerged vowing that reforming the continent’s patchwork air traffic control system into a one seamless airspace was a “top priority.” Germany and France also demanded binding rules to determine when airspaces should be closed and planes grounded because of volcanic ash.

Airlines and airports complained bitterly that EU uncertainty during last month’s volcanic crisis grounded too many flights for too long last month. In all, more than 100,000 flights were canceled, inconveniencing 10 million travelers.

As one of those “inconvenienced” 10 million travelers last month, I can say that being stuck overseas with no way home was at once memorable, and an experience I don’t wish to repeat anytime soon. Word of advice to those with travel plans for this summer: Check your insurance policy carefully. Include the fine print.

Meanwhile, I have to admire columnist Christopher Elliott of National Geographic Travel for having the courage to tell it like it is when it comes to one of my pet peeves: screaming babies on airplanes:

The problem is as old as air travel itself: Adults seated next to misbehaving kids while confined to a pressurized aluminum tube. But it seemed like until now, at least, we knew whose side the parents were on. Like the mom on Meador’s flight, they did everything they could to keep their offspring from driving the rest of the passengers quietly mad.

Today, you can’t be so sure.

[ . . . ]

“Today’s parents think that their little darlings have the right to scream, pound on the backs of chairs, hit passengers on the head and do whatever else amuses them,” says psychiatrist Carole Lieberman. “This comes from parents feeling entitled and being too distracted by their own fears, worries, computer work, movies, and so on. They think of the flight attendants as their own personal baby sitters.”

Airlines already blacklist passengers for all sorts of reasons, from bad behavior to breaking their ticket rules.

Perhaps they should add inept parents to the list.

Thank you, Mr Elliott! I have nothing against children, but listening to them screech and cry and scream for hours on end ranks up there with root canal on my list of least favourite things in the world. I once spent a 12-hour flight from Japan to the USA seated next to one baby who did nothing but cry and spit up on me, and in front of another baby who interspersed her crying with pulling my hair and kicking on my seat.

Flying is uncomfortable enough as it is without having to add putting up with other people’s kids to the equation. If you’re a parent, please, please spare ten seconds to think of the rest of the passengers on the flight before you decide to take your baby on an airplane. Thank you.


Vacation deprivation: An update


Forget SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder); what we’re really suffering from collectively as a nation is VDS: Vacation Deprivation Syndrome. And it hasn’t gotten any better, either. Us Canadians are still among the most vacation-deprived people on earth, ranking dead last among 40 countries studied in terms of the amount of vacation time that the average worker [...]

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How the big boys do it


Israel to North America on airport security: You’re doing it wrong: “I once put this question to Jacques Duchesneau (the former head of the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority): say there is a bag with Play-Doh in it and two pens stuck in the Play-Doh. That is `Bombs 101′ to a screener. I asked Duchesneau, [...]

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Air Crapida to restrict nuts?


Air Canada has been directed to offer nut-free zones on its flights by the CTA, in response to a complaint filed by a passenger with severe nut allergies. As much as I sympathize with people with nut and peanut allergies – and yes, you know who you are – I have to wonder, isn’t this [...]

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Flying with British Airways for the holidays?


Maybe not. If you’ve got an airline ticket with British Airways this Christmas season, you may be SOL, as BA employees are threatening to strike: “We are absolutely determined to do whatever we can to protect our customers from this appalling, unjustified decision from Unite,” BA Chief Executive Willie Walsh said in a statement. “We do not [...]

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Montreal, Tel Aviv named among world’s top party cities


This according to Lonely Planet, which released its annual list of top 10 party cities a few weeks ago. Montreal ranked in second place: Easygoing Montreal is increasingly popular with foreign travellers, who enjoy the joie de vivre of a place with bilingual ambience, good local beer and even skiing at nearby Mt Royal. Montreal’s [...]

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Traveling to Thailand? Pack light!


Excess baggage on Thai Airways can be very costly, as this guy learned the hard way: Bob Wolfe and his wife were flying from Bangkok‘s Suvarnabhumi Airport to Panama. At the counter, Wolfe was told that his four bags were each about 2 kg or 3 kg over the 32 kg limit, and that he’d [...]

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Israel and Gaza


I was lucky enough to spend a week in Israel over the holidays. Good times, good friends, relatives and parties, shopping and nightlife. All the good stuff. I absolutely adore visiting Israel, and was thrilled to have the excuse of a friend’s wedding for a fabulous trip. Oh yeah, and a war broke out in [...]

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Itchy Feet


So I haven’t really traveled in a while. Save for a quick trip to New York City last winter, it’s been almost a year since I’ve been anywhere of consequence. Those of you who know me know that, for me, a year without travel is a very. long. time. Anyway, I’ve discovered that – thanks [...]

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