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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.


Caught on tape: TSA harasses traveler for carrying cash

This is the kind of stuff that drives me absolutely bonkers: A passenger departing St. Louis was detained and harassed by the TSA because he was carrying $4700 in cash. When questioned, the gentleman opted to secretly tape the conversation using his phone, and whattayaknow, it’s on the internet.

It’s not a crime to carry cash. (Though it’s not the way I like to travel, frankly.) What I simply don’t understand is why the TSA would care about this man’s means of transporting money in the first place. The DEA? I might expect them to wonder about large sums of cash, but $4700 is small enough to not even raise an eyebrow for them, either.

The TSA is supposed to be about travel safety and security. Why would they care about cash? Think about it: A guy carrying $4700 is not going to blow up a plane — if he’s got that much money with him, he wants to make it safely!

Tired of secondary screenings? Change your name

It’s come to this:

A Quebec businessman whose name is one of the many that have erroneously landed on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s flight passenger watch list has decided to change his name to avoid lengthy security hassles at the airport.

Mario Labbé, an executive with a Montreal-based record company, says his Canadian passport triggers a red alert on the computers of U.S. customs agents every time he tries to board a flight to the U.S. — which is about once a month for the past seven years.

“I was pulled aside in a room … and you have to wait your turn to finally be released,” Labbé said. “An hour, an hour and a half, two hours, whatever it is after. Once I was caught in Miami like that for six hours.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security wrote a letter to Labbé in 2004, saying he had been placed on their watch list after falling victim to identity theft. At the time, the department said there was no way for his name to be removed.

Although Labbé wrote letters to the U.S. department, his efforts were in vain, prompting him to legally change his name.

“So now, my official name is François Mario Labbé,” he said.
Although it’s not a big change from Mario Labbé, he said it’s been enough to foil the U.S. customs computers.

(emphasis added)

There’s no way a terrorist would change their name to avoid scrutiny is there?… Nahhhhh…

Proving once again that name identification is a pointless exercise in airport-level security screening.

Airport security: TSA re-allows lighters on board; non-flammable water still a threat to safety

The TSA has ruled that lighters will once again be legal to take onto airplanes, effective August 4. Not Zippo lighters or other “torch” lighters, just “common” lighters.

Amazing. Bottled water is still illegal, but a container containing a flammable liquid is permissible. That’s freedom, baby.

And why the two week delay? Do lighters’ magical terrorist powers somehow expire at midnight on August 3?

Sounds like a big step forward in the expansion plans of all-smoking airline Smintair!

Speaking of Smintair, the tobbaco-laden German/British airline with the absurd claim that its air will be healthier than nonsmoking airlines’, looks like it’s actually making headway. They recently put up a timetable (pdf) that has them flying Dusseldorf to Tokyo and on to Shanghai starting October 28. The countdown is on.

The Smintair website remains one of my favorites, for sheer comedy. Everything from the poorly translated English, to the 1970s porn-esque styling, to nuggets like this line from the employment page: “Allergics to any kind of smoke or aviation specific conditions, militant Anti-Smokers, or people with other social deficiencies are kindly asked to not apply.”

George Lucas (hearts) airports

These posters are fantastic. They’re pitching the Star Wars weekends at Disney/MGM in Orlando, taking place this month, but for whatever reason, the Star Wars characters are moving through airports, instead of cavorting in the Magic Kingdom. (FYI, this weekend is your chance to meet the diminutive Kenny Baker, who actually controlled R2-D2 from inside the “robot.”)

Regardless of the reason for their origin, these posters are great. The image above is my personal favorite. Darth Vader may have the power to choke a man from afar, and his Death Star could obliterate Princess Leia’s home planet of Alderaan, but when he’s flying coach, he suffers the same security indignities that we all share.

(Something tells me the metal detector is still going to go off.)


Security update: Shorter no-fly lists; air cargo won’t be screened, “for your safety”

Two updates on the airport security front. One good, one bad.

First, the no-fly list is being revised. Downward! While the actual length of the list is a secret, TSA chief “Kip” Hawley told a Congressional oversight committee that the list was to be cut in half. Considering how often you hear complaints about people being on the list by mistake, and then trying in vain to get their names removed, it’s good to hear that something at the TSA is moving in the right direction.

…And then there’s the bad news:

Hawley also came out in opposition to the bill approved by the House of Representatives which would mandate inspection of airplane cargo. As it stands now, your suitcases are screened, but other cargo isn’t.

Hawley commented: “If you spend all your resources opening boxes and not applying your resources more generally, that opens up another vulnerability,” Hawley told the Senate Aviation Subcommittee. “The adaptive terrorist will go there.”

The “thudding” sound you may hear in the background is me hitting my head against my desk. If cargo isn’t being screened at all NOW, isn’t THAT where “the adaptive terrorist” will try to stash the bad stuff? Why would the head of the TSA effectively declare that cargo is something the TSA does not intend to screen? It’s an invitation, nay, a dare, to potential terrorists seeking to actually smuggle a bomb (or even themselves) on board.

In the meantime, the TSA is thankfully searching passengers for contraband pies. 

Update: Pie apparently a threat to security after all

Take everything I said a few days ago about TSA agents having a sense of humor and happily allowing pie-wielding passengers to pass through security, and throw it in the trash like so many 4-ounce bottles of shampoo. Sigh.

From the always plain-dealin’ Cleveland Plain Dealer (via USA Today):

Overall, operations at Hopkins were smooth, [(TSA assistant federal security director for Northeast Ohio) Rick] DeChant said, but there was at least one unexpected hiccup this week.

“In the last two days, we have taken a dozen baked pies,” he said.

Pie filling apparently is banned from carry-on luggage, too. But the pies didn’t go to waste. They were taken to the airport’s United Service Organizations lounge, where soldiers passing through can relax and eat.

Well, so much for common sense. Cleveland: unsafe for pies. Charlotte: apparently safe.

At least the pies didn’t go to waste, but the TSA’s inconsistent enforcement of rules for carry-on bags is back on full display.

UPDATE November 27: Pies should never have been confiscated, and that comes from the top: Aviation Daily’s Benet Wilson has the details:

[…] at a press conference Nov. 16 in D.C. with TSA Administrator Kip Hawley, […] a question actually came up about whether passengers could carry pies. We all had a good laugh, but Hawley did say that pies could — COULD — be carried past security. He said that his definition of a liquid is what would happen if he put a questioned substance on a table. If it holds its shape, then it’s not a liquid, he said. So pie would not be considered a liquid, he added.

America 2006, summed up in five words: Pie is not a liquid.