TSA “Sick Outs”: Will Reduced Staff Mean Longer Lines and Delays?
Some people are calling it the “blue flu,” the increase in unpaid Transportation Security Administration (TSA) employees, whose familiar uniforms include blue shirts, calling in sick rather than work without pay during the partial federal government shutdown.
A THREAT TO SECURITY AND EFFICIENCY?
Due to their essential role in screening passengers and baggage before planes take off, TSA employees are required to work without pay during the shutdown. But, as CNN and other news sources have reported over the past few days, hundreds of TSA employees have been calling in sick from at least four major U.S. airports, raising concerns that, with reduced staff, air travel could become less secure—or the screening process could take much longer, leading to long lines and flight complications.
Hydrick Thomas, president of the national TSA employees union, told CNN that as many as 170 TSA employees per day have called out this week at New York City’s sprawling John F. Kennedy International Airport. There have reportedly been similar increases in call outs at Dallas-Fort Worth, Charlotte, and Raleigh-Durham. Although union leaders have made it clear that the call outs are not an organized union action, they also note that, once TSA employees miss a paycheck, some must decide between working for no pay or finding paying work, possibly canceling daycare for their children, and other necessary actions that may interfere with their TSA duties.
With no end to the shutdown in sight, the TSA may face no-win decisions in the coming week, such as: (a) Streamline airport screening with fewer random pat-downs, more passengers diverted to express PreCheck lines, and expedited checked baggage screening, or (b) maintain normal screening standards with reduced staff, leading inevitably to longer lines and passenger delays. However, at press time, the TSA has not announced any of these hypothetical options.
HOW TO PREPARE FOR POSSIBLE DELAYS
Here, our best tips for giving yourself plenty of time to get through security:
- Arrive early. Plan to arrive at the airport two hours before your scheduled domestic departure and three hours before an international departure.
- Know before you go. If your airport provides approximate security waiting times, access them online before you leave for the airport, but always bear in mind that these are estimates subject to change.
- Pack your carry-ons to make inspection easy. Pack clothing on the bottom and toiletries and electronics, typically more carefully scrutinized by TSA agents, on top, with electrical cords neatly gathered in a ziploc bag.
- Limit your liquids. Liquids, gels, and sprays should be in travel-size, 3.4-ounce containers packed in a bag no bigger than 1 quart.
- Be ready when it’s your turn. As you get near the front of the security line, remove big electronics, like laptops, from your bag, empty your pockets, and, if asked, remove your shoes.
- Don’t pack prohibited items. To make sure you’re not flying with a prohibited item, visit tsa.gov’s “Can I Bring My…?” page.
- Be kind. Always. We want you to be not only the smartest traveler at the airport but also the nicest. Those overworked and currently unpaid TSA employees deserve your respect and thanks
Travel News: Meet the New TSA Dogs, a New Money-Saving Airline Trend, and Monty Python’s Michael Palin Is Now an Actual Knight
From a cute new development in the seldom-cute world of transportation safety to the latest noteworthy developments among major airlines, plus a knighthood for an iconoclastic British comic and travel advocate, this week’s travel news is a quirky way to start the new year. MEET THE NEW TSA DOGS The Transportation Security Administration is all ears, at least where its canine team is concerned. In an effort to make its dogs less intimidating to travelers, the TSA is increasingly turning to floppy-eared dogs to patrol its passenger-screening lines. The new dogs, such as Labs and golden retrievers, are considered more friendly-looking than their pointy-eared cousins like German shepherds, which are being reserved for other, less visible, assignments. "You'll see parents kind of pull their kids away from a dog with pointy ears because, I think, we as a culture recognize that as a tactical dog or a police dog," TSA Assistant Administrator Michael Bilello told ABC News. That said, the agency’s focus is on ensuring that its dogs are healthy and well-trained, regardless of their ears. “No dogs will be pulled off because they have pointy ears. All the dogs are good—as long as they pass the test,” TSA spokesman James Gregory told The Washington Post. “At the end of the day, the dog’s going to be out there because they’re qualified, not because of their breed." The TSA’s floppy-eared pivot comes on the heels of the news that the first certified third-party canine team began screening air cargo at the end of December, expanding the agency’s network of explosives detection canines even further. A MONEY-SAVING AIRLINE TREND We appreciated the recent piece by Skift’s Jay Shabat about noteworthy airline developments over the past year. Among the cool new trends, there is one that will particularly please Budget Travelers: United, American, Alaska, JetBlue, Air Canada, and WestJet are following Delta’s lead and will soon be offering basic economy fares aimed at fliers just like you seeking ultra-bargains. This trend is part of a larger effort by airlines to cater to specific segments of their customer base, and while that “segmentation” often targets luxury and long-haul fliers, basic economy fares target folks just like us. And, even better, the new fares most likely won’t be just for domestic flights but will include budget fares to Europe as well. MONTY PYTHON’S MICHAEL PALIN IS NOW AN ACTUAL KNIGHT Michael Palin became world-famous in the late 1960s for his offbeat sense of humor as a comedy writer and performer on the BBC’s mind-bendingly bizarre Monty Python’s Flying Circus television series (perhaps best known for the “Dead Parrot Sketch,” written and performed by Palin and partner John Cleese). In 1975, Palin portrayed Sir Galahad the Pure and other characters in the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, an extremely unorthodox retelling of the story of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. Now, in a delicious turn of events for fans of the ultra-irreverent Pythons, Palin has received an actual knighthood for his subsequent career as a travel writer and travel-focused television personality, most notably in the 10-part documentary series Full Circle with Michael Palin.
Travel News: Don’t Drink In-Flight Coffee, New High-Speed Trains May Be Coming to the U.S., and REI Expands Its Rental Program
From breaking health news about the quality of airline coffee (and drinking water in general) to a potential breakthrough in American train travel, plus great news for outdoors enthusiasts (and we count ourselves among them) about REI’s gear rentals, this week’s travel news is all about being the smartest traveler in 2019 and beyond. DON’T DRINK IN-FLIGHT COFFEE! The next time a flight attendant comes through the cabin offering coffee or tea, you might want to opt for tomato juice or beer instead. A study released in November by Hunter College NYC Food Policy Center warns “it’s probably best to avoid drinking water from the tap on a plane, which also means staying away from coffee and tea.” Right now, airlines operate under the 2009 Airline Drinking Water Rule, which is regulated by the EPA, FDA, and FAA and requires disinfection and flushing one to four times a year. But even with maintenance of the aircraft system, other factors can contribute to contamination, like trucks, carts, hoses and other equipment used to transfer water at airports.“You would think they’d be emptied and cleaned at least once a day,” Dr. Charles Platkin, executive director of the Food Policy Center, wrote in the study, referring to that transport equipment. “But this is not so. So water is just sitting for long periods of time in what appear to be not-so-clean tanks.” It’s logical to think that because coffee and tea are made with hot water, the heat would kill any contaminants. Not so fast. According to the New York State Department of Health, boiling typically causes pasteurization, not sterilization, which would kill all present organisms. Moreover, tea and coffee on flights isn’t typically made with water that reaches boiling point and even if it was, it wouldn’t boil for long enough to have the desired effect. Happily, there haven’t been any reports of illness, but in the meantime, prevention is the best cure, so grab a bottle of iced coffee once you’re close to your gate. Just make sure to you wash your hands before you board. Those security bins are a veritable petri dish of germs. NEW HIGH-SPEED TRAINS MAY BE COMING TO THE U.S. The East Coast has Amtrak’s Acela express service, and next year, if Virgin Group founder Richard Branson has his way, Florida and southern California will have something similar. In November, the brand announced a strategic partnership with a private railroad called Brightline, which has been operating high-speed trains between Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach since May. In early 2019, Brightline will rebrand as Virgin Trains USA and look to ring in the new year with expanded service: Routes to Orlando and Tampa are in the works, and construction will begin on a new line connecting Los Angeles to Las Vegas, approvals permitting. If all goes according to plan, a trip from Miami to Orlando could take just a few stress-free hours, and the travelers who make some 50 million trips between Vegas and Southern California each year will have an alternative to a pricey flight or a traffic-filled drive. The takeaway? An escape from L.A. may soon be easier than ever, and leaving Las Vegas looks like it’s going to be a piece of cake, too. REI EXPANDS ITS RENTAL PROGRAM One of the most common new year’s resolutions is getting in shape and being more active. It appears that REI, the Seattle-based purveyor of activewear and outdoor gear, wants to make it easier for America to fulfill that commitment. Just in time for the new year, the company, recognized as the country’s largest consumer co-op, announced that they’re expanding their popular rental program, adding snowshoes to their inventory of rental gear at 70 of their 154 stores (rei.com/stores/rentals). Yes, you read that right. The popular store operates a large and growing rental program. (You don’t have to be a co-op member to rent equipment, but you do receive a discount if you are.) And the company, aware that price and storage space can get in the way of taking up outdoor activities, works to make it easier to get outside. So whether you’re looking to dabble in a new sport without committing to buying equipment or you’re a seasoned outdoorsperson nearly ready to make a purchase but want to take advantage of the try-before-you-buy opportunity, they’ve got you covered.cBut it gets even better: at the end of each season, gently used rental equipment is sold through REI's used gear program (rei.com/used).
Travel News: Hotel Deals for Early 2019, Most Popular U.S. Destinations, and Philly’s Upcoming Museum Shows
From great hotel savings for Martin Luther King Jr. and Presidents Day weekends to the top U.S. destinations for 2019 and great new art exhibits headed to Philadelphia, this week’s travel news is all about looking forward to the year ahead. HOTEL DEALS FOR EARLY 2019 If you’re considering a post-holiday getaway in early 2019, the data-crunching wizards at Google have some tips on the best hotel savings. (Fair warning; You may be about to book a bargain room.) For Martin Luther King Jr. weekend (January 19, 20, and 21), the biggest hotel savings are in Tulum, on Mexico’s Riviera Maya, with savings up to 31 percent. Closer to home, Asheville, C, offers savings up to 30 percent, Jackson, WY, up to 29 percent, and New York City up to 24 percent. For Presidents Day weekend (February 16, 17, and 18), the biggest hotel savings are in Honolulu, HI, with saving up to 22 percent. MOST POPULAR U.S. DESTINATIONS Travel Leaders Group has released its latest consumer travel trends survey and we are always fascinated too see how U.S. destinations rank among people who say they plan to travel in the coming year (which 9) percent of participants reported). Here, the top 10 U.S. destinations: HawaiiAlaska California FloridaLouisianaColoradoNew YorkArizonaMontanaWashington D.C. PHILLY’S UPCOMING MUSEUM SHOWS Philadelphia has a long history of artistic innovation. In 2019, the city will celebrate its artistic legacy perhaps like never before, with a wide array of impressive art exhibits. Major museum shows include the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s The Impressionist’s Eye. The Barnes Foundation show devoted to contemporary video artist Bill Viola, and the Brandywine River Museum’s New Perspectives, presenting the varied work of N.C. Wyeth.
Travel News: 10 Most Googled Destinations of 2018
Although we’re way more interested in looking ahead to 2019 than in looking back at the year that’s ending, Google’s annual Year in Search report always helps inspire some vacation planning, whether it’s vicarious or OMG-I-gotta-start-today. This year, Google’s Year in Search 2018 is delivering an especially useful list of the top search terms among Americans who googled (nerd alert: the verb “to google” is lowercase) “trip to…” in 2018. Here, a mix of tried-and-true destinations and some surprises you may want to add to your 2019 travel plans. 1. ITALY More than 400 million annual visitors would agree that it’s no surprise that Italy tops the list of 2018 “trips to…” search terms. What can we say about Italy that you don’t already know? The superb, seemingly effortlessly fresh food? Works of art that cause some visitors literally to swoon? Well, maybe you haven’t yet visited one of the charming and affordable small towns of Tuscany. (And if you haven’t, maybe 2019 is the year to do so.) 2. PARIS If visitors from another planet landed in Western Europe today, even they would know to make a pitstop in Paris for the world’s biggest art museum (the Louvre), charming boulevards and public parks, and the iconic Eiffel Tower. But over the years, we’ve also covered some Paris secrets every traveler should learn. 3. ICELAND It may surprise some travelers that this little island in the north Atlantic ranks so highly, but reasonable airfares (including a free stopover on your way to Europe on Iceland Air), friendly locals, and incredible natural beauty have made it one of the most popular spots on the planet in recent years. 4. BAHAMAS Easy, affordable flights from the U.S., a popular cruise port in Nassau, and, of course, lovely beaches, great local menu items such as fresh pulled-from-the-sea conch, and reasonably priced hotels make Bahamas another annual favorite. 5. IRELAND Ireland is another relatively small country with a huge following among American travelers, due in part to the fact that so many Americans (including former president Obama and vice president Biden) can trace some roots to the Emerald Isle. Vibrant, engaging streetlife in Dublin keeps us coming back too. 6. LAS VEGAS Vegas. Everybody know what happens in Vegas. 7. BORA BORA Of course this gorgeous, warm, romantic South Pacific getaway, complete with overwater bungalows, is alluring. But considering how far away it is, we were pleasantly surprised to see it turn up in the top 10. If you're dreaming of a South Pacific island getaway from the U.S., you'll find convenience and savings by booking with an experienced package tour company such as Goway that includes airfare and lodging. 8. NEW YORK Budget Travel’s editorial offices are in New York City. Of course we’re opinionated and biased. This is, after all, New York, home to the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the 27-time world champion New York Yankees, the New York Botanical Garden, Central Park, Times Square, Broadway plays and musicals, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts... you get the picture. If you haven’t visited NYC yet, what are you waiting for? 9. NEW ORLEANS 2018 was NOLA’s 300th anniversary, and that may have inspired more searches than ever. But, honestly, with authentic jazz, history, imaginative cocktails, and world-class cuisine that melds African American, Caribbean, French, and European traditions, New Orleans is always a good idea. 10. SPAIN From bustling cities like Madrid and Barcelona to lesser known national parks, beaches, and the incredibly imaginative food scene that may inspire you to pass small plates among friends into the wee hours, Spain continues to inspire wanderlust among American travelers.