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Which Americans have passports, and which Americans don’t?

30% of Americans have passports. But where do those Americans live?

New Jersey takes the prize for the highest percentage of passports issued: 68.36%. At the low end: Mississippi, with just 19.86%.

Via C.G.P. Grey, see the graphic below:

For the “yes, but…” file: This dataset actually reflects addresses for issuance, not ownership of US passports. That’s because it’s based on addresses at the time of application, so if you got your passport when you live in Los Angeles and then move to St. Louis, you’re in the California stats, not the Missouri stats.

Also, since it’s based on US passports, it doesn’t take into account the sizable non-citizen resident population. So, for example, green card holders aren’t included.

But while these data aren’t perfect, they probably capture the majority of reality.

Data junkie? Hit the raw data directly from the US government, or view the data in Google Apps spreadsheet form, as organized by blogger C.G.P. Grey.

Upgraded: Stopovers in Istanbul, with free tours courtesy of Turkish Airlines

Sure, some airlines let you work in a free stopover. But Turkish Airlines goes one step further and offers up a free city tour on a stopover as short as six hours.

Maybe getting into a shuttle bus and tooling around Istanbul after seven hours on an Airbus isn’t your cup of tea, but if you’re up for it, then focus on the key term in that previous sentence: Free!

From the website for their program,, some of the details of the six-hour tour:

If you have a transit flight from Istanbul and have more than 6 hours waiting time for your connecting flight, you can visit our hotel desk to join our free city tour and experience the glamorous city that connects Europe to Asia as land and also as culture.

After you apply to our Hotel Desk which can be found at the airport, you will be picked up by a private tour guide and get to see most significant historical places of Istanbul. There are two 6-hour tours daily; one starts at 09:00 and ends at 15:00, and the other one is from 12:00 to 18:00. You will be taken to airport after your tour ends. The transportation in Istanbul and the transportation to and from the airport will be done by free shuttles.

All your transportation, meal and museum fees will be met by Turkish Airlines. If you have any further questions, please visit our FAQ page or contact us.

All transportation, meals, and museum fees are covered? Wow.

Are you going to get a full taste of Istanbul in six hours? Of course not. Will you be tired? Quite likely. But you’ll get a brief taste of some major sights.

How viable is it to actually take advantage of this? Remember, you need to be transiting Turkey internationally, not just making a connection from an international flight. Depending on your destination, the timetable may not make it possible.

Since I’ve never participated in these tours (or even been to Turkey, yet), I can’t vouch for the quality of the tours, so don’t take this as an endorsement, per se. But I really like the idea, so hats off to Turkish for offering this. Bonus points since they’re not just doing it for business class passengers. Even economy gets in on the action.

I’m curious to hear if others have any experience with this. If anyone out there has done a free Turkish Airlines Istanbul tour, post your story in the comments.

The mysterious popularity of ginger ales on airlines

A recent article on identifies a trend in American aviation catering: The surprisingly high demand for ginger ale on America’s planes.

Why ginger ale, and not Coke, 7UP, or Bloody Mary mix? The most popular theory among flight attendants is that it relieves nausea. “If [passengers] have motion sickness, it settles their stomach,” says Elizabeth Rogers, a flight attendant for Mesaba Airlines.

The lack of caffeine may be a further motivating factor, both for people worried about becoming dehydrated during the flight and for those who don’t consume caffeine for health or religious reasons. “Mormons don’t drink caffeine, so they have a tendency to drink ginger ale,” says Gail Phillips, a flight attendant for United Airlines. Then there’s the novelty factor: “They hear someone else order it, and then everyone else wants it too,” says Penny Sandahl, a flight attendant for Mesaba.

And the trend is apparently real. A from 2007 quotes a study showing that 10% of inflight beverages on American Airlines were ginger ale, vs. 3% of soft drink sales in the overall market. That’s pretty impressive.

I am guilty of feeding into this. If I’m sitting in domestic coach, I am much more likely to order a ginger ale than any other soft drink. And I’m not entirely sure why.

Some of the theories are plausible, but I’m not sure they work for me. Is it the stomach calming effect of ginger? I’m usually pretty mellow in-flight, but perhaps I’ve got some latent anxiety. It’s an unlikely explanation.

Is it the relative novelty of ginger ale? I don’t see ginger ale on a regular basis on menus, or in my cafeteria at work. So perhaps it’s just the “hey, I haven’t thought about ginger ale in a while” effect?

Or was it once based on those reasons, and has now become conditioned behavior? After this many flights, perhaps I have just come to associate air travel with ginger ale.

I still find it amusing that this is being identified as a trend. The trend goes further, at least for me: I rarely drink ginger ale outside of flights in domestic coach. (Flying up front domestically? It’s probably a gin and tonic. International? Depends on the airline, but I tend toward the wine list.)

So, when you’re strapped in, and the plane has risen above 10,000 feet, and the beverage cart comes out, what’s your drink? Ginger ale?… Hit the comments.

So what happens to planes that fly through volcanic ash clouds?

It’s been a bad day for travel to, from, or across northern Europe, with flights canceled wholesale due to the eruption of a volcano in Iceland.

So, what would happen if a commercial airplane flew through a volcanic ash cloud? It’s happened before, to a British Airways 747 traveling over Indonesia in 1982: 

Aircraft avoid any airspace that has volcanic ash in it for a simple reason: the ash can wreck the function of propeller or jet aircraft, because it is so fine that it will invade the spaces between rotating machinery and jam it – the silica melts at about 1,100C and fuses on to the turbine blades and nozzle guide vanes (another part of the turbine assembly), which in modern aircraft operate at 1,400C.

That, in turn, can be catastrophic – as the crew of two aircraft, including a British Airways Boeing 747, discovered in 1982 when they flew through an ash cloud from the Galunggung volcano in Indonesia. On both planes, all four engines stopped; they dived from 36,000ft (11km) to 12,000ft before they could restart them and make emergency landings.
Passengers on the BA flight that hit the cloud in 1982 said the engines looked unusually bright: soon after all four flamed out. “I don’t believe it – all four engines have failed!” said the flight engineer. The crew were prepared to ditch, and the captain told the passengers: “Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. We have a small problem. All four engines have stopped. We are doing our damnedest to get them under control. I trust you are not in too much distress.”

Good move canceling the flights.

And nice work, this line: “I trust you are not in too much distress.”

Air New Zealand reveals new lie-flat design for economy class

Air New Zealand is launching new seats in its long haul economy class, with a section of the plane fitted with “Skycouch” seats designed to create a three-seat wide airborne equivalent of a foldout couch. It’s an effort to create the first lie-flat bed in coach, a worthy goal if ever there was one.

Starting in November 2010, the window seats in the first eleven rows of economy class of newly-delivered Boeing 777-300s will have cushioned extensions (positioned like calf supports when in “seat” mode) which extend up to create a couch-like flat surface.

To reserve a Skycouch, you’ll need to buy three seats, obviously. If you’re traveling as a pair, you can buy your usual two seats and add on the third seat for half the price of the other two.

My first thought, when I saw the design, was that they were making the “ghetto upgrade” — laying down across a row of empty seats — an official booking class. And indeed, that’s the basis of the design, but expanded to be wide enough for two consenting adults.

No curtains, and no undressing, so don’t get any ideas.

The biggest shortcoming at this point appears to be the length of the bed. The width of three airline seats isn’t that big. Average seat width is 17″. Let’s even add a few inches for gaps between cushions, to be generous. (I know, gaps?) Let’s bump it up to 55″ — 4′ 7″ or 1.4 meters — across all three seats. That’s great if you’re short, but if you’re any taller than that, your feet will be hanging out into aisle. Look at the promo photo below. The guy’s head is angled up the wall of the plane:

There’s some romper room risk here, too. I can see families, especially large ones, buying these seats if they can afford them, and keeping the seats in couch mode for the duration. That means higher odds of noise. If traveling in a non-Skycouch economy seat, and looking for rest, try to find a location as far from the couches as possible.

The airline is also changing its premium economy seats and improving some service delivery in the business cabin. And there’s “new oven technology that will cook food from scratch rather than simply reheating,” but the big news is really (deservedly) the couch-in-coach concept.

Snowglobes are banned… for your safety

It didn’t make it into Gadling’s top ten list of items not to attempt to carry through a TSA checkpoint, but Matt Daimler, founder of the invaluable, sent in this photo he snapped at LaGuardia Airport security:

That’s right, don’t bring a snowglobe in your carry-on this holiday season. Bah humbug and all that.

And remember, when TSA collects all those dangerous bottles of spring water, hair gel, and mouthwash — and snowglobes — they just throw it all into a big barrel that’s disposed of as trash. It’s not treated as a dangerous stew of explosives, to be handled with the kidgloves of a well-trained bomb squad. Because it’s not.


Huh?? FAA rule bans storing anything in seatback pockets

A couple weeks ago, Joe Sharkey posted a tale on his blog of a flight attendant requiring passengers to keep their personal belongings out of the seatback pockets. He thought it was an overzealous airline employee. He was wrong.

The original story (that prompted him to do further digging) has strangely disappeared from his BoardingArea blog, but still appears on a (legacy?) blogspot site:

Here’s a new one, at least to me. As we taxied before takeoff on a flight tonight from Denver to Tucson, the flight attendant announced that no personal possessions could be placed in the seat-back pocket, because of “FAA regulations.”

Nothing, she said. Not a pair of eyeglasses or a newspaper or a paperback book. Only “company-printed materials” were allowed in seat-back pockets, she said, and of course I quote her precisely.

What were these strange new “FAA regulations”? My seat-mate — a hard-core business traveler and until then a stranger to me — and I looked at each other. Surely this could not be a new law. But before takeoff, here the flight attendant comes marching down the narrow aisle on inspection, and right away she spots the books each of us had tucked into the pockets, as we had done thousands of times before.

She was on us like a prison guard. “Gentlemen, I told you, nothing in the pockets,” she said. Sheepishly, we put our books in our laps, while the “company-printed materials” (the crappy in-flight magazine, the sales catalog, the barf bag and who knows what else) rode merrily alone in the seat-back pockets.

One does not argue with a flight attendant if one wants to get where one needs to go.

Like Joe, I would have assumed that the flight attendant who was telling passengers that use of the seatback pockets was prohibited was on a power trip. I would have thought the same. Apparently, I would have been wrong, as Joe wrote in yesterday’s NYT column.

The Federal Aviation Administration said Monday that airlines whose flight attendants had been telling passengers that no personal items of any kind could be placed in seatback pockets were “following our guidance, if they are enforcing this with travelers.”

The agency’s response came after numerous inquiries following a flight I made from Denver to Tucson operated by SkyWest Airlines, on which the flight attendant announced before takeoff that, as a safety measure, nothing could be placed in seatback storage pockets — no eyeglasses, no ticket stubs, no iPods or bottles of water or magazines.

What. The. Hell.

I understand the ban on sticking your laptop computer into the seatback pocket. That’s a big item that peeks out of the pocket and can hurt someone if it flies out.

But a book? A sheet of paper? A ticket stub? Have we lost all sense of logic?

If the contents of the pocket are truly dangerous then ban everything. Ban SkyMall catalogs. Ban the safety cards. Ban barf bags (with ads, or with art, or anything on them.) Ban “American Way,” “Hemispheres,” and the (oh-so-creatively titled) “US Airways Magazine.” They’re a threat to your safety! Hide the kids!

For the time being, it doesn’t appear that airlines are actively enforcing this. Most appeared to be unaware of the rule — which originated in a 2007 cabin safety directive put out by the FAA — so for now, it’s still going to be the exception, not the rule, to hear this rule announced. But once is too much. This is just plain stupid.

I’m reminded of Ryanair. The much-maligned Euro-WalMart of the skies, has never had seatback pockets, as a way to save money on cleaning expenses (and restocking those magazines).

Apparently, we are all Ryanair passengers now.

(Thanks to reader Nicole Rowan for drawing the column to my attention!)

What a shock: Your e-passport isn’t secure after all

Backtracking from earlier claims that e-passports are “totally secure,” the U.S. State Department is now urging travelers to keep their RFID-chip enabled passports in “radio-opaque sleeves” to protect owners from having their information skimmed by unauthorized readers within a 30-foot range.

The State Department’s warning comes with the caveat that “hackers won’t find any practical use for data,” because personal information is encrypted. But that encryption has already been cracked.

So now the data and the accessibility of the chip have been compromised. Why are we using this technology, again?

Implementation of this technology means more hassle, more concern about your data, and, frankly, less convenience. Great.

As Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, notes, “By obliging Americans to use these sleeves […] the government has, in effect, shifted the burden of privacy protection to the citizen.”

And while this is a completely remote possibility for everyday travelers…

In 2006, a mobile security company, Flexilis, conducted an experiment in which the transponder of a partially opened e-passport triggered an explosive planted in a trashcan when a dummy carrying the chipped passport approached the bin. A video of the experiment was shown that year at a security conference.

I like the old, non-IED-triggering plain-vanilla passports better.

The whole RFID controversy is so frustrating because it’s completely unnecessary. You don’t need a chip to create a counterfeit-resistant document in the first place. But by addressing one problem — counterfeiting — it creates a swath of new problems.

If you want to be sure, remember that there’s really only one surefire way to prevent your e-passport from broadcasting your personal information: Break the chip. Pound it with a hammer.

A step up for economy class seating

A Cambridge, Massachusetts independent designer has come up with some interesting alternative designs for inflight economy seating. The key concept: making use of the empty space that’s currently headroom.

Emil Jacob’s website offers a range of patent-pending design options, from double-decker business class to tiered economy class designs. The Boston Globe recently profiled Jacob and his designs.

“I was looking up at all the height, and I thought it was absurd that people are suffering down here,” Jacob said. “Just a couple of steps away there is a lot of space and comfort.”
He eventually came up with the “step seat principle.” It involves elevating alternate rows of seats, from one to five steps above the cabin floor, to give passengers more room to lean back in economy class and enough space in business class to lie down, either by sliding their legs under the seat in front of them or stretching out in pods stacked on top of each other – no sweater on the floor required.

Maybe some images would help… Here are some sketches of the concept:

For a premium economy seat, this is pretty good. Hey, you get a bed! And it’s a little more defined than the Lufthansa bunk bed proto-design.

Another of Jacob’s designs is a bit simpler, but makes use of vertical separation to expand legroom while keeping density high. The trick: Inserting a seven-inch platform in alternating rows. Very clever:

Yes, these concepts aren’t perfect. I can imagine the steps causing problems for some passengers, either during boarding, or in an emergency. And some of the designs could lead to a seat shell coming quite close to your face. But I like the way Jacob is thinking.

Airlines, take notice.

Baggage wrapping: Brilliant or stupid?

It hasn’t yet taken off in the US, but checked-luggage wrapping stations are cropping up in airports around the world. For a fee, an attendant will encase your suitcase in plastic wrap. A few small incisions to restore access to the handles and wheels, and off you go.

I’m admittedly a skeptic, though I jealously wonder how fat the margins are in this business.

On the one hand, I see the logic: If it’s wrapped tightly with plastic, it’s less likely to break open or be damaged by moisture. Some of these services, such as SecureWrap, also include some luggage insurance in the cost of the wrapping.

But how much protection is this, really? An airport security official looking to inspect your bag’s contents will just cut the plastic right off. A determined thief will do the same. How much protection is this, really? And for 6 euros (the price charged at Madrid) or 9 dollars (the price at JFK) per item, is this money well spent?