Odds and Ends – 2/4/08 (Sit on that suitcase! and wear nice underwear…)

Well, the airlines have once again made airline travel a wonderful, warm, inviting way to go (along with the Transportation Safety Administration and the Department of Homeland Security).


Several years ago, I was moving back from Hawai’i to the mainland and of course had a one-way ticket.  This was after 9/11.  I had flown down a year or do before 9/11, and hadn’t had the same problems.  On the return trip however, most likely because of my one-way ticket, my name was on a number of check-point lists.  I had to take off my shoes, and have them inspected several times, stopped and have my purse searched at least twice, and also have my carry-on searched, in full public view including my “personal” items!  And I had to stand, spread-eagled, in front of the boarding gate and my fellow passengers, and be wand-swept and patted down.  And this happened at the two airports it took to get to my final destination.

Well, the skies are even better now, and it looks like it will get sunnier as other airlines follow United’s new policy.


“Starting next spring, United Airlines will begin charging certain domestic passengers for more than one piece of checked-in luggage to help offset the soaring cost of jet fuel, the No. 2 U.S. carrier said Monday.

The move by the operating subsidiary of UAL Corp. is the first taken among the so-called legacy carriers including Northwest Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and Continental Airlines, but it’s bound to be imitated as a way to defray expenses without alienating fare-conscious travelers.

“They are the first, but they certainly won’t be the last,” said airline consultant Terry Trippler of Trippler Associates. For the airlines, each bag is additional weight and thus represents fuel expense.

“The airlines are looking for every possible revenue source they can find and still cut fares without cutting wages, because right now they can’t go any lower,” Trippler said.

Airlines across the industry have struggled to deal with soaring jet fuel priceswhile remaining competitive. Chicago-based United said the new policy is expected to generate $100 million in annual cost savings and new revenue. In the quarter ended Dec. 31, UAL Corp. said fuel costs increased $359 million, or 25%, from a year earlier. See full story.

For domestic passengers who do not have status in a Mileage Plus or Star Alliance, a second piece of checked luggage will cost them $25, effective May 5. There will be no charge for their first bag. http://finance.yahoo.com/family-home/article/104361/United-to-Charge-$25-for-Second-Checked-Bag

And some “advice” from a luggage handler – using his story, don’t spend too much on your luggage, make sure it’s secure, and don’t over-pack!  Use the maxim:  pack what you think you need and take out half.

“More From Budget Travel:

I loaded a cart of bags onto the wrong plane.

Tim Cigelske was a baggage handler for a major airline in Milwaukee from 2005 to 2007.
$7.50 an hour Baggage handling is boring and strenuous. The pay is terrible ($7.50 an hour) and the hours are worse (shifts begin at 4 A.M.). But off the clock, we can fly for free if there’s an open seat on our airline or its partner carriers. I flew free–a few times in first class–to Cabo San Lucas, Orlando, Costa Rica, San Francisco, Denver, and Seattle. The downside is that airline employees are the first to get left behind if a flight is full, so travel plans can get screwed up: I had to spend a night under the Phoenix airport’s fluorescent lights.

Still, we all took advantage of the perk; otherwise it was tough to justify flinging luggage when the windchill was 15 below zero. I tried to fly at least once a month. I heard of handlers who flew to Philly just for a cheese-steak.

Rookie fliers A baggage handler can tell when it’s spring break or a holiday without looking at a calendar. That’s when the bags bulk up because inexperienced travelers over-pack (and get slapped with fees for bags over 50 pounds). I’d rather work a flight filled with hard-core bowlers checking their balls en route to Reno than a trip headed to the Caribbean. How much stuff do you need for the beach?

Luggage left behind Check in at least 30 minutes before the flight. Any later than that and your bag will probably miss the plane. Sympathetic ticket agents sometimes call and ask us to swing back and pick up late bags, so you might want to beg them for help.

Most times, bags are delayed or lost for other reasons. Depending on the airport, luggage is sorted by the three-letter destination code, flight number, or both. (The ticket agent usually tears off bag tags from old trips, but it can’t hurt to rip them off yourself to avoid confusion.) There was one day when a delayed flight meant that we had two departures at the same time to the same city, and I loaded an entire cart of bags onto the wrong plane.

Another day, we loaded so many bags of golf clubs bound for Myrtle Beach that the plane ran out of storage and we had to hold 10 bags. And sometimes there’s no explanation: Miscommunication is easy when everyone’s wearing hearing protection and shouting over jet engines.

No special treatment Pristine new bags don’t stay that way for long inside a cargo bin, so buy luggage that’s durable, not fancy. But don’t go the cheapskate route: An overstuffed duffel bag held together with duct tape is a mess waiting to happen. Baggage handlers can cram a Boeing 737 with 150 bags in under 30 minutes. Factor in even higher loads for bigger planes, and multiply that by several incoming and outgoing flights a day. Do you really think anyone’s bag is going to receive special treatment?

Back pain In nearly two years I probably hauled 250,000 bags. If it weren’t for that job, I wouldn’t have traveled to half the places I did, but I’m glad I quit. My chiropractor says my back problems are likely related to the job–and I’m only 25 years old. While I miss the free flights, I’m pretty sick of airports. For my next vacation I might just go as far as I can pedal on my bike. But if I do fly, you can be sure I’ll try to bring only a carry-on.” http://travel.yahoo.com/p-interests-21267640;_ylc=X3oDMTI1dGphampuBFNlYwNmcC10b2RheW1vZARTbGsDY29uZmVzc2lvbnNfYmFnZ2FnZV9oYW5kbGVyBF9TAzI3MTYxNDkEX3MDMjcxOTQ4MQ 


And use these tips from the American Society of Travel Agents (with links to Homeland Security issues): http://www.travelsense.org/tips/packing.asp

Transportation Security Administration (liquids and gels): http://www.tsa.gov/311/index.shtm

Transportation SecurityAdminsitration (what you can and cannot bring): http://www.tsa.gov/travelers/airtravel/prohibited/permitted-prohibited-items.shtm

Rick Steves (of PBS fame’s website – search for packing tips): http://www.ricksteves.com/

The Universal Packing List generator (plug in some facts, and a list is generated): http://upl.codeq.info/

One woman’s one-bag, plus camera case and fanny-pack list: http://www.afn.org/~afn11300/packing.html

Frommer’s tips for packing with kids: http://www.frommers.com/tips/packing_tips/article.cfm?tipID=PACKING&articleid=4300&t=21%20Packing%20Rules%20for%20Traveling%20with%20Kids

Frommer’s packing tips (PDF file): http://www.frommers.com/tips/packing_tips/

Now if that isn’t enough, I just go wind of another new development in the works:

“Susan Hallowell [the director of the Transportation Security Administration’s security laboratory] steps into a metal booth that bounces X-rays off her skin, producing a black-and-white image that reveals enough to produce a world-class blush.

“To the eye, she is dressed in a skirt and blazer in dark, businesslike colors.

On the monitor, the director of the Transportation Security Administration’s security laboratory is naked, except for a gun and a bomb that she had hidden under her outfit.

The government is considering using the technology at airport security checkpoints because the magnetometers now in use cannot detect plastic weapons or substances used in explosives.

Hallowell is sacrificing her modesty to make a point: Air travelers are not going to like being technologically undressed by security screeners.

“It does basically make you look fat and naked – but you see all this stuff,” Hallowell said Wednesday during a demonstration of the technology.”

“The agency is trying to find a way to modify the machines with an electronic fig leaf – programming that fuzzes out sensitive body parts or distorts the body so it is unrecognizable.

Another option might mean stationing the screener in a booth so only he sees the image, said Randal Null, the agency’s chief technology officer.”

I feel SO much better now, don’t you – that my fat naked body will only be seen by some unknown pervert.  And that a fig leaf (under which I could be concealing a weapon) will be used to fuzz out parts?

“But Rep. John Mica, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee on aviation, thinks it is essential because of the strong likelihood that a terrorist will try to bomb a plane.

“I predict it will happen,” said Mica, R-Fla. “The chances of someone bringing an explosive on an aircraft by walking through a metal detector or in hand-carried luggage are very real.”

Mica pointed out that Richard Reid, convicted of trying to blow up a trans-Atlantic jetliner with explosives in his shoes, walked through metal detectors at Orly Airport in Paris several times before boarding the plane. Federal transportation security officials say a backscatter scanner could have foiled Reid.” http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2003/06/26/tech/main560541.shtml 

See also: The Electronic Privacy Information Center’s report on the machines: http://epic.org/privacy/airtravel/backscatter/ (they were being tested at 3 airports in ’05)

By Thomas Frank, USA TODAY (10/07/07)

“WASHINGTON — The Transportation Security Administration plans to expand its use of screening machines that look under passengers’ clothing for hidden weapons.

New York’s Kennedy and Los Angeles International airports will get “backscatter” X-ray machines that the American Civil Liberties Union has called a “virtual strip search” for the vivid anatomical images they can create. Those airports and Phoenix Sky Harbor also will test a similar technology, using low-intensity millimeter waves, to scan passengers’ bodies.” http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2007-10-07-backscatter_N.htm

“Controversial X-ray machine to make national debut Friday at Sky Harbor – Associated Press Tucson, Arizona  02/21/2007

MESA – An X-ray machine aimed at detecting weapons and explosives hidden on passengers is scheduled to make its debut Friday at Phoenix’s Sky Harbor International Airport.”

Have fun travelling with our friendly skies!



2 responses to “Odds and Ends – 2/4/08 (Sit on that suitcase! and wear nice underwear…)

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