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Gird yourself: TSA security officers may get even more up close and personal with you on your next trip.

airport security


According to a report from Bloomberg, the TSA has consolidated five different pat-down options into a single method that’s more “comprehensive” and “more intrusive.”

The TSA is famously reluctant to offer details about security procedures. But one major change, Bloomberg noted in a subsequent report, is that screeners can now use the front of their hands, rather than just the back, on “sensitive areas of the body” such as the breasts, buttocks and genitals.

Travelers can elect to have their pat-down in public or private, with or without a witness. Screenings are performed by same-gender security officers.

According to Bloomberg, the new procedure is partly in response to a critical 2015 audit of the TSA’s screening procedures, which revealed that security officers had failed to find guns and other weapons.

Most travelers pass through security without having to undergo a pat-down. You may be subject to a pat-down if you opt out of a trip through the full-body scanner, or if the security officer decides you need additional screening for any reason.

Airport Security Q&A: Everything You Need to Know
10 Things Not to Do at Airport Security

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Before you head to the airport for a flight, it’s a wise idea to check how long you should expect to wait at the security checkpoint. Knowing this info ahead of time can help you decide if you should depart earlier than you planned and get you mentally prepared if there’s a long queue.

woman on phone at airport


Unfortunately, it’s hard to know where to find this information. The Transportation Security Administration provides updates on its website, but the data isn’t updated consistently, and it only covers U.S. airports. Major airports with their own apps and Twitter feeds generally don’t provide real-time checkpoint wait times.

A number of travel tech companies are trying to do better, feeding historic data into super-secret algorithms to determine airport security wait times and making that info available in apps. Using Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport as an example, I took a look at a few of these free airport security apps — along with the TSA’s website — to see how they compare.

My TSA: The TSA has a simple-to-use website called “View Security Wait Times.” But the agency relies on fliers to provide updates, and that isn’t happening often enough. On Monday evening, for example, the wait time at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport hadn’t been updated on TSA’s website in six hours. Was there still only a 10-minute wait at the main checkpoint? It’s impossible to know.

flightSpeak: This app provides security wait times plus maps, dining options, Wi-Fi info and direct links to airport Twitter accounts for hundreds of airports around the world. On the main page for Atlanta on flightSpeak, it showed Atlanta’s wait time as 10 to 20 minutes. Yet this was not wholly accurate.

If you happen to click on that timespan on the app — there’s no prompt to click on it; I just happened to touch that feature when exploring the page — it shows a new page explaining that the 10- to 20-minute wait is the aggregate time for the entire airport. It then breaks down wait times according to five checkpoint locations. The main checkpoint, it says, is actually a 30- to 40-minute wait. So the wait could potentially be four times longer than I had been expecting. And I don’t know when the data was last updated, because it doesn’t say.

MiFlight: This savvy app crowdsources wait times at more than 150 airports. When I selected Atlanta’s Concourse F, in the international terminal, MiFlight told me the wait was 30 minutes, with info updated within the past five minutes.

The app is pretty in its design and singular in its purpose, but it took me a few tries to figure out how to navigate.

Fleet: This crowdsourced app provides info on a few dozen major airports. When I entered a late-night flight from Atlanta to Santiago, Chile, the app told me that my particular Delta flight has a history of being on time 93 percent of the time, then revealed that the check-in desk and security lines were “not crowded.” As of when? And how do you define “not crowded”? It was hard to know.

Strangely enough, though, I felt a greater comfort level with the vaguer description than I did with other apps’ specific time frames.

The app goes on to provide additional helpful details about the flight, including flying time, the cost of checked bags, even how much carbon I used for this flight.

Bottom line: None of these sources seems 100 percent trustworthy 100 percent of the time. Use them as a general guideline, but continue to follow best practices for domestic and international departures based on when you’re flying.

16 Ways to Get Through the Airport Faster
10 Things Not to Do at Airport Security

— written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

Check out the stories you may have missed from around the travel world.

australian passport


The End of Passports? How Australia Plans to Make Travel Documents Obsolete by 2020
The Telegraph reports that Australia is pioneering a new “contactless passenger identification system” involving facial recognition technology and fingerprint scanners. These will theoretically take the place of passports and paper landing cards by the year 2020.

How to Save Money on Your Next Flight With an Airfare Predictor
U.S. News & World Report offers an in-depth examination of airfare prediction tools such as Kayak, Google Flights and the Hopper app. Using such tools could help you decide when to pull the trigger on booking your airfare.

16 Mesmerizing Pictures of Patagonia
Feast your eyes on these Rough Guides photos of Patagonia, complete with craggy mountains, glittering lakes and cool-blue glaciers.

First Low-Cost Asian Airline Cleared for Flights to the U.S.
Cheaper fares to Asia could be in store for Americans. CNN reports that AirAsia, a budget airline based in Malaysia, has just been approved to fly to the United States. Though the fares might be cheap, passengers would have to pay extra for meals and bags.

This Artist’s Amazing Sketchbooks Could Be the Inspiration You Need to Start a Travel Journal
Lonely Planet profiles a traveler named Dina Brodsky, who has shared the stunning sketches from her travel journal on Instagram. (If you don’t have much artistic talent, it’ll make you wish you did!)

How Airline Passenger Rights May Change in 2017
As the U.S. makes the transition from the Obama administration to the Trump administration, Conde Nast Traveler investigates which air traveler protections will likely stay in place and which might be on the chopping block.

Meet Mr. & Mrs. Smith: The Couple Curating the World’s Best Hotel Collection You’ve Never Heard Of
Forbes profiles the founders of MrandMrsSmith.com, a website that curates and reviews the best boutique and luxury hotels around the world.

This week’s viral video, featuring northern lights footage captured by a passenger on a flight between New York and Iceland, has been viewed more than 340,000 times on YouTube.


10 Things You Don’t Know About Passports
9 Best Places to Travel in 2017

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Are you an expert in packing light? You could use a new app called Airmule to sell the extra space in your suitcase. You’ll be serving as a “mule” — or personal courier — for shipments arranged through the app.

airmule


Here’s how it works: You download the Airmule app (which is currently only available on iOS), list your trip — including the flight details and how much suitcase space you wish to sell — and wait for a shipment inquiry to come in. Once you accept the inquiry, Airmule will make sure you get the delivery item before your flight, either by mailing it to you or bringing it to you in person. In most cases another Airmule representative will meet you at your destination airport to pick up the item and forward it to its final destination. (In other cases you may need to arrange a transfer once you arrive.)

Airmule works with TSA-certified shipping companies and inspects all items before they’re given to you. Packages are insured up to $200.

Travelers serving as mules earn $150 per luggage space, minus a $1 processing fee. Sell space in two suitcases on a roundtrip flight, and you could make nearly $600 on your trip — perhaps enough to pay for the whole flight!

While it sounds like an easy way to make money while traveling, there’s one drawback: The service is currently only available for shipping between the United States and China.

When we tested the app, we were able to see available mules for other trips, such as New York to London. We reached out to Airmule about the issue, and a spokesperson responded: “Though we do allow people to list travel anywhere, we currently actively support only U.S. and China. We will support additional countries very soon. This is because we want to ensure a high volume of shipments for travelers when we open a new channel.”

So if a trip to the Great Wall is on your bucket list, keep the app in mind as a way to earn money toward your vacation. Otherwise, you may have to wait for the service to expand in the future. Learn more at Airmule.com.

Would you try Airmule?

11 Things Not to Do on a Plane
10 Ways to Survive a Long-Haul Flight

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Check out the stories you may have missed in the travel world this week.

airplane wing sunrise


MasterCard Could Share Your Height and Weight with Airlines, But Will It?
Skift reports on an eyebrow-raising new patent application from MasterCard that could affect how your data is shared with airlines. Because the credit card company has records of consumer purchases — including the sizes of shoes and clothing — it could theoretically let an airline know how large you are, allowing the carrier to avoid seating “two physically large strangers next to each other,” according to the patent.

Travel Is So Much Better Than It Was
It’s easy for travelers to find things to complain about — baggage fees, security lines, shrinking legroom — but this column from the National Review points out that we actually have it pretty good these days, thanks to new technology and innovative services such as Airbnb and Uber.

The Most Colorful Job in the World?
BBC offers a gorgeous photo essay about the workers who make mosaic tiles for the Great Mosque in Herat, Afghanistan.

Coming Innovations That Will Make Flying Economy (Mostly) Better
Wired reports on new trends in the air travel industry, from mood lighting and heated seats to more efficient security checkpoints and in-flight virtual reality.

Five Myths About Hotel Room Service
USA Today debunks a few common myths about room service. Did you know, for instance, that you might not have to tip (if the gratuity is already included on the bill)?

The 2017 Travel Forecast: Reduced Demand Could Result in Vacation Bargains
The Washington Post reports that many Americans aren’t planning to travel this coming year — which could lead to good deals for those who do want to hit the road.

How to Travel the World with No Money — by People Who Have Done It
The Guardian interviews three people who recently took ultra-budget trips that relied not on money but on the kindness of strangers. (Would you hitchhike for 72 days across South and Central America?) They share the good, bad and ugly from their trips.

This week’s video explains the math behind a frustrating problem for travelers: overbooked flights.


What to Do if Your Flight Is Overbooked
10 Ways to Survive a Long-Haul Flight

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Check out what’s worth reading in the travel world from the past week.

woman with phone on plane


The U.S. Government May Allow In-Flight Phone Calls, and People Are Freaking Out
Business Insider reports on a recent proposal from the U.S. Department of Transportation that would require airlines and booking agents to state in advance whether passengers are allowed to make voice calls on flights. Passengers are currently not allowed to make voice calls via their cell phones on certain radio frequencies, but there are no rules against chatting via Wi-Fi using services such as Skype.

50 Reasons to #LovetheWorld
Clicking through this gallery from BBC will spark your wanderlust all over again. The site has reached out to dozens of contributers and travelers for anecdotes from incredible journeys around the world.

Conquering Choquequirao: The Long Walk to Peru’s Lesser-Known ‘Lost City’
Lonely Planet takes us on a hike to the long-hidden Incan citadel of Choquequirao, which currently only gets about a dozen visitors a day but may become more accessible in the near future.

Next Year Is Shaping Up to Be Another Good One for Airlines — and Travelers
How about some good news for your holiday season via NBC News? Among the findings in this report: Fares are falling, traveler satisfaction with airlines in North America has reached a 10-year high and a couple of airlines have brought back free in-flight snacks.

Cuba’s Young Artists Embrace a New World
This National Geographic feature offers fascinating photos and stories from the young people of Cuba, where “individualism is creeping out into the open” after the recent death of Fidel Castro.

‘Basic Economy’ Fares Make Sense: Opposing View
When United recently announced that its new Basic Economy fares would not include overhead bin access, many travelers and news outlets responded with outrage. But this piece on USA Today makes the case for these bargain-basement fares, arguing that while they won’t suit everyone, they fill a niche for price-sensitive travelers who don’t need many amenities.

Rome’s Sad Christmas Tree Gets a Makeover After Residents Complain
When in Rome … you’d better not have a skimpy Christmas tree. Conde Nast Traveler reports on a recent controversy over the tree in the Italian capital, which was dubbed the “Austerity Tree” by disgruntled locals. Its decorations have since been, er, spruced up.

This week’s video offers an intimate look at everyday life in Bali.


How to Get the Best Airplane Seat
11 Things Not to Do on a Plane

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Check out what you might have missed from around the travelsphere.

ryanair plane


Many Ryanair Flights Could Be Free in a Decade, Says Its Chief
Most airline news these days is about reduced services and extra fees, but here’s something a little different: The CEO of Ryanair, a European discounter, recently said that he wants his carrier to offer free flights within the next five to 10 years, reports the Guardian. Instead of charging for airfare, the airline would make money via a revenue share with the airports from which the carrier’s passengers fly.

Airbnb Broadens Its Business with Tours and Travel Experiences
Airbnb made a splash this past week when it announced that it was expanding its offerings to include tours and activities, reports the New York Times. Examples include a two-day Behind the Art experience in Miami, in which you can meet local artists, and stargazing excursions in Los Angeles.

Visions of Kenya
We love this black and white photo essay from Maptia, in which the photographer offers both wild landscape images and intimate portraits from his monthlong solo trip to Kenya.

Every Country’s Tourism Slogan, In One Map
This Digg map of the world’s tourism slogans makes for fun browsing. Some countries’ slogans are enticing (“Brunei: a kingdom of unexpected treasures”), others are odd (“El Salvador: the 45-minute country”) and still others simply make us laugh (“Visit Armenia, it is beautiful”).

In Praise of Bus Travel, the Least Glamorous But Most Lovable Way to Travel
This first-person essay from the Los Angeles Times is a paean to both the pleasures and quirks of traveling by bus, from the ratty seats and the diversity of the passengers to the “sweet way the self disappears during bus travel.”

Why It’s Time to Rethink Frequent Flier Programs
Airfarewatchdog founder (and frequent traveler) George Hobica argues in the Huffington Post that airline loyalty programs are becoming less useful to many travelers — and should therefore inspire less loyalty.

Inside the Airport of the Future
Conde Nast Traveler rounds up more than a half-dozen technological innovations happening at airports around the world, including scanners that don’t require liquids to be removed from your carry-on and personalized navigation systems that send you directions based on where you’re standing in the terminal.

This week’s video, which features a narrator reciting Walt Whitman’s “Song of the Open Road,” captures the spirit of why we travel.


16 Signs You’re Addicted to Travel
Survey Says: Travel Makes Us Happier

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Editor’s Note: IndependentTraveler.com is published by The Independent Traveler, Inc., a subsidiary of TripAdvisor, Inc., which also owns Airfarewatchdog.com.

Check out the travel stories you may have missed over the past seven days.

allegiant air plane


Breakdown at 30,000 Feet
The Tampa Bay Times has published a thorough — and alarming — investigative report on Allegiant Air, a budget airline whose planes had to make emergency landings 77 times last year due to mechanical failures. The Times notes that Allegiant’s planes are four times as likely to experience in-flight failures as aircraft operated by other U.S. airlines.

The Romantic Myth of ‘Living Like a Local’
The San Francisco Chronicle questions the popular desire to “live like a local” when we travel. “What you want is to live like a rich local,” writes travel editor Spud Hilton. “If you lived like the average local, you’d have to make your bed, have a crappy commute every morning to get to your average- to low-paying job, which you do to pay the bills for your tiny apartment, your meager car and your kids’ school supplies.”

In Buddha’s Footsteps: 15 Evocative Pictures of Faith in Myanmar
We loved this photo essay from Rough Guides, featuring photos of contemplative monks, golden stupas and Buddha statues in Myanmar.

Will Uluru Become Off-Limits to Tourists?
The NZ Herald reports that the indigenous people living near Uluru, also known as Ayers Rock, are threatening to close the symbol of the Australian Outback if the government doesn’t act on some of their concerns. The Anangu people argue that their children are living in poverty while the government makes money off their land.

How to Hack Your Hotel’s Finicky Wi-Fi to Stream Shows
Bloomberg offers practical tips for travelers who’ve struggled to use Netflix or other streaming services while staying at hotels.

Eyes Aloft: The Sublime Obsession of Plane Spotting
The Virginia Quarterly Review offers a fascinating longread about plane spotters, also known as “avgeeks,” who document aircraft as they take off and land around the world. Their obsessive documentation has led to news scoops such as the return of basketball star LeBron James to his home town, which was predicted based on the sighting of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ owner’s private plane in Florida.

2016 Presidential Election: What It’s Like Traveling on the Campaign Trail
Those of us who travel a few times a year for vacation can hardly imagine what it’s like to be on the road constantly over the course of a relentless, months-long presidential campaign. Conde Nast Traveler interviews four NBC and MSNBC political reporters about what the experience has been like.

The Strange Story Behind the Boeing 747 Once Parked at Willow Run Airport
Did you know that there’s an airline that was founded in 1989 and is still in business but has not flown a single flight or earned any revenue? Michigan Radio shares the bizarre story of Baltia Airlines, which it calls “the world’s oldest start-up airline.”

This week’s video is a magical little Turkish Airlines safety video starring Zach King, known for short videos on Vine and YouTube that he calls “digital sleight of hand.”


9 Ways to Make Your Hotel Room More Comfortable
Living Like a Local: Interviews with Expats Around the World

— written by Sarah Schlichter

During a flight from Mexico last week, I sat next to a guy I’ll call Lenny Loquacious (not his real name, obviously).

man on phone on airplane


Apparently I’m more concerned about protecting his identity than he is, because for nearly five hours, Mr. Loquacious talked nonstop to the business associate sitting to his left. Non. Stop. For five hours. Loudly.

Lenny was blindly oblivious to the dirty looks that the half-dozen passengers around us kept giving him. Even the flight attendants rolled their eyes at him, and slipped me free bottles of red wine out of pity.

More disturbing than his behavior, however, was how much personal information he revealed during the course of the flight. I knew where he worked and lived. I learned his wife’s and children’s names. I knew where he traveled for work and when he would be away next. I overheard the names of his home town, his university, a few past employers and the chi-chi private club he was a member of.

In addition, he left his iPhone and business card-as-a-bookmark on his seat when he went to use the restroom. I could have pick up his phone and accessed a good deal of information if I’d wanted to; I knew the phone wasn’t passcode protected.

Clearly, the guy had no self-awareness. But even worse, he put himself at risk of a number of different crimes, according to an identity theft expert I contacted the next day.

“This is an individual who gets an F grade in security,” says Robert Siciliano, CEO of IDTheftSecurity.com in Boston. “He’s already given out enough information [to] allow someone to pose as a bank or a credit card company or even his employer and be able to extract even more data from him to commit fraud.”

The lessons here are obvious: Don’t leave items containing valuable personal information unattended. Watch what you say when you’re in a public place like an airplane. And for the love of the passengers around you — not to mention the information about yourself that you should hold near and dear — pipe down.

As Siciliano says, “Nobody except for criminals wants to hear what you have to say.”

11 Ways to Prevent Identity Theft While Traveling
7 Ways to Keep Your Stuff Safe When You Fly

–written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

Check out the travel stories you might have missed over the past week.

airplane on tarmac


The Countries with the Best (and Worst) Airfare Deals in the World
Thrillist reports on a new aviation price index that can help you keep perspective on whether it truly is expensive to fly. The U.S. is the third-cheapest country for domestic flights (behind India and Malaysia), but it ranks 54th (out of 75 countries) for international flights. Canada ranks dead last for international flights, while China offers the best value.

Surfing Under the Northern Lights
Even if you’re not particularly interested in surfing, you won’t want to miss this feature from the New York Times, which combines striking imagery with a fascinating story about “hanging 10” in an unexpected part of the world.

A New Perspective of Our Planet
We loved clicking through the incredible satellite photos in this slideshow from CNN. Our favorite shots include Ipanema Beach and tulip fields in the Netherlands.

See the People Who Live in a Legendary Underground Town
National Geographic visits the remote town of Coober Pedy, located in the Australian Outback, where the heat can go as high as 113 degrees in the shade. That’s why most of the locals live in dugout caves.

Why Airline Codesharing Must Die
Ever booked a flight on one airline and then realized at the airport that your flight was actually operated by a different carrier? USA Today explains the dangers of codesharing, including going to the wrong terminal or even missing your flight.

15 Photos That Prove Alberta is Heaven on Earth
Join us in swooning over these photos of Alberta, Canada, from OrdinaryTraveler.com — including turquoise lakes, hidden streams and looming mountains.

Airplane Passengers Fall in Love with Emotional Support Duck Accompanying Owner with PTSD
Need a smile? Check out these ABC News photos of Daniel Turducken Stinkerbutt, an emotional support duck who recently accompanied his owner, Carla Fitzgerald, on a couple of flights. Fitzgerald suffers from PTSD.

This week’s video offers a glimpse into two countries rarely explored by travelers: Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.


10 Ways to Survive a Long-Haul Flight
How to Hack Your Way to a Cheaper Airfare

— written by Sarah Schlichter