Flying is a process. Getting to the airport. Checking bags. Removing shoes and laptops and toiletries and shuffling along through security checkpoints. Although I sometimes question whether all this adds up to better security or just security theater, it’s nice to think that the TSA agents are looking out for our safety by screening passengers. But who’s screening the TSA agents?
According to the TSA’s Aviation Security Advisory Committee, it would cost too much and be too logistically difficult to do complete security checks on all of its employees, and full scans wouldn’t help that much anyway since such screenings are “incapable of determining a person’s motivations, attitudes and capabilities to cause harm.”
But wouldn’t that also be true of the system’s effectiveness when scanning passengers — people who don’t have clearances that allow them access to restricted areas?
Apparently the issue of restricted access is being addressed, as well. CNN reports that the number of access points to these areas is being reduced. TSA employees will also have to undergo background checks once every two years and go through the same security screenings as everyone else when traveling as airline passengers themselves. Employees are also subject to random, unannounced screenings, and increased surveillance of baggage handling and cargo areas has been recommended to combat theft of passenger items by employees.
Well, aren’t these the cutest first-class fliers you’ve ever seen?
Australian flag carrier Qantas recently flew four koalas called Paddle, Pellita, Chan and Idalia from Brisbane to Singapore, where they will live at the Singapore Zoo for the next six months, reports Travel Pulse. The loan is in honor of Singapore’s 50th anniversary of independence.
The airline shared a few photos on its Twitter account that capture the cuddly creatures in first class (#KoalaClass), being served a delicious snack of Schweppes and eucalyptus leaves by a flight attendant. Travel Pulse notes, however, that the koalas ultimately flew in the cargo hold (standard for transporting animals) in climate-controlled carriers stocked with eucalyptus trees. Qantas will fly fresh supplies of eucalyptus to Singapore every two weeks throughout the koalas’ stay abroad.
This Friday’s challenge is a photo of an unidentified place somewhere in the world. Can you tell us where the photo was taken? Leave your guess in the comments below — and check back on Tuesday to see if you were right!
Hint: Where in the world is this field that gets its distinctive yellow hue from canola flowers?
Enter your guess in the comments below. You have until Monday, April 13, at 11:59 p.m. ET to post your response. We’ll keep all comments private until then. On Tuesday morning we’ll choose one winner at random to receive an IndependentTraveler.com prize. Note: Although all are welcome to play, we can only ship prizes to the Continental U.S.
Editor’s Note: This contest has ended. The winner is Todd Burr, who correctly guessed that this week’s mystery location was Luoping, China. Todd has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations! Stay tuned for more chances to win.
Oftentimes, April Fools’ jokes playfully publicized by travel companies on social media are so obvious that they might warrant an eye roll, but not a warning label. Southwest Airlines adding baggage fees — now that hits home.
The discount airline notorious for its free checked bags, surrendered in jest today, saying, “All the other guys are doing it.” Additional charges apply if your bag is a busy color, if you’re a teenager and if you’re over six feet tall, to name a few. All three? Forget it! Check out the carrier’s YouTube video below and rejoice that at least for now, this airline’s baggage fee announcement is a total joke.
Do you find the fake fees funny? What’s the best April Fools’ prank you came across this year?
Admittedly, I’ve never had much of a problem finding a vacant toilet while in the air, and on the rare occasion when I did have to wait, it was never more than a minute or two. But one of our readers recently contacted us to raise a point of concern: Many passengers on long-haul flights use the restrooms for things like changing their clothes or putting on makeup, some of which can easily be done while seated or at the airport when they arrive. So what’s a passenger to do if he or she is unlucky enough to have a long wait for the restroom and a pressing need to go?
“The desperate queuing of the incontinent, or people with holiday ‘trots,’ becomes worse and more dramatic,” laments reader AJ, citing “those hours during turbulence when we are belted up and not permitted to go to the loos, so that when released from seatbelts we are desperate and queues form … especially just prior to landing.”
Why does it seem that there’s always a mad rush to the bathrooms just before a plane touches down? Sometimes it feels like passengers stay wedged in their seats the entire flight, bladders ready to explode, waiting for the captain to tell them the crew is preparing to secure the cabin for the plane’s return to Earth. Then they stampede to the facilities like they’re about to be sealed shut (probably because they are about to be sealed shut).
“Couldn’t airlines try to discourage use of toilets for the more frivolous purposes (or designate curtained small places for [them])?” AJ asks. “When impatient queues of people might form, stewardesses could pointedly announce to the passengers about availability of good changing [areas at the airport].”
Does AJ have a valid point? In your opinion, what constitutes a frivolous use of the washrooms? Do you have any onboard lavatory horror stories? Be sure to share in the comments below.
Every once in a while, it’s nice to be reminded that the airlines aren’t all unfeeling, bean-counting, baggage fee-charging corporations, but that they have a human side as well. This time the reminder comes courtesy of JetBlue, which recently launched a campaign called Flying It Forward, in which the carrier has been giving away free flights to passengers with inspiring stories.
JetBlue’s latest giveaway sent a passenger named Johannes from Medellin, Colombia, where he was working to fight poverty, back home to Washington D.C. to reunite with his wife over Valentine’s Day. (They’ve been living separately for two years.) Before that, a man named Jon flew for free from Portland to Medellin on a mission to spread his love of cycling with kids in the local community. In a nice touch, each flier helps select the next recipient of the free flight.
The following video offers a moving overview of the first four trips in the campaign:
While this is clearly a sophisticated PR and social media campaign, it’s impossible not to feel a little inspired — especially as you look over the photos and videos from each passenger’s journey.
Next up? The ticket is on its way to West Palm Beach and will be departing from there for its next trip. If you want to be considered as a recipient, tweet @JetBlue with your story and the hashtag #FlyingItForward.
The next time you’re hitting 35,000 feet in altitude aboard a JetBlue or Virgin America airplane, you might want to pull out a spiral notebook and start taking notes. That’s because in addition to the usual assortment of also-on-DVD Hollywood blockbusters, these airlines are serving up some educational entertainment options to fliers who crave a little mental stimulation with their bag of pretzels.
JetBlue started the trend in December when it began offering 10 recorded college lectures to passengers. Using their own mobile devices, fliers can audit an introductory marketing class from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School or learn about the dynamics of infectious diseases from Penn State University. Music lovers can sit in on an introduction to guitar class from the Berklee School of Music, while astronomy nerds can geek out on the science and technology behind astronomical discoveries from the University of Edinburgh.
The airline also is providing access to a few practical, how-to courses as well, with video classes on how to cook vegetables, brine meats and read nutrition labels.
This month, Virgin America followed JetBlue’s lead when it began offering “Great Courses” audio and video. The selection of recorded lectures from well-known professors include excerpts from “The Inexplicable Universe: Unsolved Mysteries,” “The Secret Life of Words: English Words and Their Origins,” “The Skeptic’s Guide to American History,” “Being Human: Life Lessons from the Frontiers of Science” and many others.
Our hearts are heavy today as we mourn the loss of an old friend. A stalwart travel companion on many a flight, SkyMall kept us sane when screaming babies and snoring rowmates were just too much to bear. When our hard-earned paychecks were burning holes in our pockets. When the lack of cabin pressure convinced us we absolutely needed a life-size Sasquatch garden statue. (Seriously, if nobody’s ever gotten a good look at Sasquatch, how do they know what size to make the statue, anyway?)
Born to proud parent Robert Worsley (founder and current Arizona state senator) in 1990, SkyMall loved long flights, traveling the world and the feeling of recycled cabin air rustling through its glossy pages — pages offering senseless tchotchkes and gadgets that beckoned to us, begging us to embrace our impulses. Marshmallow shooters. Space helmets that regrow hair. Pajama pants that look like jeans. The options were seemingly endless, blatantly ridiculous and, frankly, downright awesome.
One of my favorite SkyMall memories takes me back to a time when I flew home from Chicago in major turbulence. It wasn’t long before a few strong bumps caused my travel companion to spill a full cup of water all over my tray table and everything on it. Even though I hadn’t paid it much attention on that particular flight, SkyMall was there to help me sop up the mess in all my napkinless glory.
We may have come to terms with the grim reality of SkyMall’s death, but the pain still haunts us. Never again will we feel the magazine’s slender figure, admire its red block logo or accidentally stab ourselves in the thumb with one of its quality staples. For the first time in history, we’ll look at the “Free copy — Take it. We’ll replace it!” line on the front of the few remaining copies so tenderly clutched to our chests and hold back tears as we realize: No, SkyMall. No, you will not replace it. The demise of this novelty reminds us that life is short. Taken from us too soon at the tender age of 25, by the dastardly likes of Candy Crush Saga and in-flight Wi-Fi, the catalog and its marked absence will forever leave a hole in our souls and a void in our seatback pockets.
But just when we thought that void might be filled by fatter wallets and a decline in junky knickknacks, we learned that SkyMall’s website is still alive and kicking. Apparently it listened when we pleaded for it to stay away from the light.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, there’s a pizza-scented T-shirt calling my name.
Fliers on a US Airways plane found their mechanical delay unexpectedly brightened by an impromptu serenade a few weeks ago. According to the San Francisco Globe, a barbershop quartet called Port City Sound was onboard the flight from Indianapolis to New Orleans, and their flight attendant, Kari Mann, encouraged them to sing a song for their fellow passengers.
Fortunately for all of us, she taped the performance. Check it out below:
In her video post on YouTube, the flight attendant said the song put everyone in better spirits: “It was such a great moment… The mood changed and our passengers were awesome for the whole 5 hours they were on the plane!”
If only every flight delay came with a little free musical entertainment.
Southwest Airlines, long known for its inexpensive fares, unassigned seating, free checked bags and singing flight attendants, is now jumping into the world of fashion. Partnering with an Oregon-based company, the airline has turned scrap leather from its airplane seats into high-end handbags.
According to Forbes, Southwest was left with 43 acres of used leather after replacing seats on some of its aircraft with lighter ones to reduce fuel costs. It took most of the material to Looptworks, a company that uses industrial scraps to create unique pieces that reduce waste and aim to help the environment, where it will be made into vintage-inspired bags. (In another admirable move, Southwest also sent some of the leather abroad to SOS Kenya, which benefits orphaned children, and Massai Treads, which makes shoes for people in need.)
Looptworks is offering three bag designs — backpack, duffel and tote — which can be preordered as part of what has been dubbed “Project LUV Seat.” The company claims that each bag produced saves 4,000 gallons of water and reduces CO2 emissions by 72 percent (when compared with what would be required to use brand-new leather for the same bags).
As if this idea couldn’t get any more awesome, Looptworks employed disabled adults to deconstruct and clean the leather.