Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category
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.
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.
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 is entitled to receive.
I think I need to move to Finland, France, Lithuania, or Brazil.
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, `What would you do?’ And he said, `Evacuate the terminal.’ And I said, `Oh. My. God.’
“Take (Toronto’s) Pearson (airport). Do you know how many people are in the terminal at all times? Many thousands. Let’s say I’m (doing an evacuation) without panic – which will never happen. But let’s say this is the case. How long will it take? Nobody thought about it. I said, `Two days.’”
A screener at Ben Gurion has a pair of better options.
In light of all the controversy in the news this holiday season about full-body scanners, a near-total ban on carry-on luggage to the US, and security lineups lasting several hours (except for celebrities), this seems even more timely.
On my flight to Tel Aviv last winter, an American passenger, going through the second layer of security at the gate specifically for flights to Israel, started to take off her shoes. The Israeli security officer just laughed at her. Israel also doesn’t give a rat’s ass about liquids on-board; my Ahava product purchases and my bottles of Yarden wine were just fine out of Ben-Gurion, but I had to transfer them back into my checked luggage in Toronto for the one-hour flight back to Montreal. No, instead, I get asked questions like, what were you doing in Israel? Where did you learn to speak Hebrew? What was the name of your first-grade teacher? It doesn’t take more than a few seconds for them to ascertain that I am exactly who and what I say I am, and after that, lots of time to shop duty-free.
Or, to put it another way, it’s nicely hassle-free to travel to and from Israel… as long as your flight doesn’t go through the United States.
The trouble is, implementing Israeli-style airport security in the US would mean that security personnel would actually need to be highly specialised and trained. Rights groups would get up in arms about profiling (done openly by Israel, disavowed publicly by the US), and the unions would scream bloody murder about their staff being replaced by people who are actually competent.
And hey, it’s so much more fun to lock down entire terminals, right?
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 a little bit like offering non-smoking areas on flights? I mean, everyone’s breathing the same recycled air everywhere on the plane, right?
I also have to wonder, does “nut-free” refer only to the food, or will slightly-crazy passengers and crew have to change seats, too?
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 want to see a million Christmases ruined.”
The planned strike, from Dec. 22 to Jan. 2, follows a dispute with cabin crew over job losses and changes in work practices. BA plans to cut 1,700 jobs, freeze pay for current staff and offer lower wages for new employees.
The airline is appealing to the courts for an injunction to stop the strike, on the grounds that there were “voting irregularities” in the balloting. But if you’re one of the millions of people with a BA airline ticket for Christmas break, you’ll probably want to watch this one carefully.
One of these days, labour and management will figure out how to have it out without getting millions of bystanders trapped in the crossfire.
Update 9/17: A court injunction has been awarded to British Airways to block the strike.
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 irrepressible student population and atmospheric old quarter give the city a light-hearted, Bohemian air. There are Old World cafes, cool jazz clubs, packed discos and late bars to choose from, plus a popular comedy festival each July.
And perhaps more surprisingly – not to those of us who’ve been there, of course, but in the face of the public perception of those whose picture of Israel comes solely from media headlines – Tel Aviv made the list at #10:
Like elsewhere in the Mediterranean, Israel’s second largest city gets going late. The endless bars, pubs and cocktail venues start to fill up by midnight, from which point the nightclubs get revved up with dancing till dawn. Nowadays an international crowd joins Israelis for a mixed bag of funk, pop, house and techno at the city’s dozens of entertainment hotspots. Tel Aviv has a relaxed air, and prides itself on being gay-friendly and outgoing.
Belgrade, Serbia claimed the top spot. Rounding out the Top 10 were Buenos Aires, Dubai, Thessaloniki, La Paz, Cape Town, (surprisingly) Baku, and Auckland.
Some of these may be debatable, but Tel Aviv’s inclusion on the list is a nice sign, especially considering the bad press Israel often gets in the backpacker community.
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 have to pay a penalty.
Wolfe was sent to a Thai Airways office where he says a number of employees discussed how much he should be charged for the bags. They argued with each other. They made phone calls. They looked generally confused, he says. More than an hour later, a verdict was rendered: Wolfe owed 66,000 Thai baht, or approximately $2,200.
Of course, it does beg the question of why this couple needed over 128kg of stuff for a trip to Panama in the first place. But, seriously, ouch!
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 Gaza on the morning I arrived.
Being in Israel during the start of the Gaza war was interesting in a lot of ways. For one thing – and this should come as no surprise – the Israeli press and the international media have nothing much in common.
For another thing, the black-and-white, either-you’re-with-us-or-with-the-terrorists dichotomy that’s so common among the Jewish communities in the diaspora isn’t really the picture on the ground in Israel, where three Israelis in a room will have seventeen opinions.
Certainly, the opinions of the people I know and spent time with during that week ran the gamut, from left-wing to right-wing to in-between to “just shut the news off”. Times like those, I feel it’s usually better to listen than to speak. After all, I’m not the one who lives with the situation, fights in the wars to defend the country, or otherwise has to deal with the consequences of any action or inaction. It’s not that I don’t feel like I have a right to my opinion; it’s more that the situation is more complicated than our black-and-white outsider viewpoint, and much more human. So I did a lot of listening.
The blogosphere has certainly been active, of course. On the left, Lisa Goldman has some of the most important, sensible commentary that nobody wants to hear right now. Which is exactly why you should read it, agree or disagree. I know I’ll get flak for this, but I’m posting it anyway. Actually, that’s probably why I feel the need to post it.
For what is probably a more mainstream perspective, Imshin has been a must-read lately.
Meryl Yourish has had daily round-ups on her blog, for those looking for more frequent updates.
The latest PR tactic on Facebook? QassamCount, a “donate your status” app that updates automatically with the count and location of rockets launched into Israel.
Mostly, my thoughts are for the safety and security of the IDF soldiers on the ground, of the people living in Sderot and Ashkelon and Ashdod and all the other places within range of rocket fire, of civilians on all sides of the conflict, and of everyone who lives with the threats and instability.
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 to Ipsos-Reid and the folks over at Expedia – there’s a name for what I’m feeling: Vacation Deprivation. Yep, it seems that this condition is suffered by 33% of Canadians, so I’m definitely not alone.
But perhaps more astoundingly, 29% of Canadians aren’t taking all their vacation time that they get from their jobs. Considering that for most North Americans, “all” vacation time amounts to a paltry 10 days a year, that is definitely tough to believe, but it’s true: nearly 41 million days of vacation time went untaken last year.
Rest assured, I won’t be one of them. Starting with this weekend, when I plan to go camping – hopefully not in the rain. But my itchy feet will soon be taking me further away. Stay tuned.