luggage tag Upgrades and Downgrades: Baggage check in, cellphone room keys, defending AirTran, TSA Downgraded: Checking in your bags at US airports
You’ve mastered the self-service check-in. You’ve printed your own boarding passes. Now, get ready to tag your own checked bags: “American Airlines(AMR) and Air Canada say they’re in talks with the Transportation Security Administration for a trial program in Boston likely later this year to let travelers tag their own checked bags for the first time in the U.S. Delta Air Lines (DAL) says it’s in talks with TSA for a trial at another airport.” Not a huge deal, frankly, and 32 airlines worldwide have already been testing this for some time at airports around the world, but it’s new to the United States. It’s another transfer of responsibility from the airline to you. Don’t expect to receive any discounts, vouchers, or thank-yous for doing someone else’s job, either.

Upgraded: Inflight wi-fi on Southwest
Southwest is (finally) getting on the inflight wifi train (err, or plane…) and their price will be a relatively low $5 per connection, regardless of flight duration/distance or device used to connect.

Upgraded: Passion for AirTran’s first class seats
Fans of AirTran, which is being taken over by Southwest, have set up a website devoted to saving the first class seats that AirTran frequent fliers have grown accustomed to. Join the resistance at

Upgraded: Your cellphone as a key
The Clarion Hotel in Stockholm is the first hotel to install a cellphone-based room lock/key system. It’s a limited rollout, for starters. In theory, you’ll be able to check in by phone and walk straight to your room, bypassing the front desk, and avoiding the need for a room key. Neat, if it works.

Upgraded: Back-channel efforts to change our security theater
If existing efforts to change TSA policy have failed — and if the policy itself has continuously gotten worse for travelers — then perhaps a back-channel effort to effect change may be in order. Reader Ed sends in this open letter to the CEO of the Walt Disney Company. The letter-writer, Arthur Krolman, argues that Disney is tacitly endorsing TSA policy, and is thereby supporting the “nude photography or inspection of private parts” of children. Ouch. Will Disney take the bait ?…



Jessica from the Smithsonian Institution sends in this short video about the museum’s Feather Identification Lab, which analyzes the detritus left over after an aircraft bird strike.

The video also taught me a new word: Snarge. (The aforementioned remnants of dead bird on aircraft parts.)

One warning: The image of dozens and dozens of drawers filled with taxidermed birds (starting at 0:38) may make you rather sad.

Categorized in: travel

lufthansa self service gates New to the USA: Turnstile gates at the airport
If you’ve flown through major international hubs outside the United States in the last decade, you’ve probably noticed that some airlines offer self-service turnstiles at the gates. Passengers either slide their magnetic-stripe boarding pass or swipe their barcoded passes over the scanner. The turnstile opens, and off you go. And now, Continental is bringing the concept to Houston, where it’s testing a single self-service gate.

The image above shows a Lufthansa self-serve gate — the German airline has been doing this since 2003. 13 other airlines in Europe and Asia do this as well.

You may be thinking, “How will this ever meet the often-arbitrary standards of the TSA?” Well…:

The Transportation Security Administration, which is in charge of air security, “determined it does not impact the security of the traveling public,” says Greg Soule, a TSA spokesman, adding all passengers are screened at airport checkpoints prior to arriving at boarding gates.


With self-service, you’ll also be more likely to sneak an extra or oversized carry-on. Just sayin’.

The self-service option won’t be the only way to board. Customers who can’t (or won’t) use self-service can typically hand their boarding pass to a human being, as before.

Lufthansa spokesman Martin Riecken says while loading customers at self-boarding gates is “a little faster” than traditional gates, the airline’s primary goal was to free agents from the mundane task of scanning boarding passes. It frees them to handle other customer issues that require individual attention, such as upgrading seats, he says. The number of agents assigned to automated gates isn’t different from other gates: one or two agents for short-haul flights, three or four for longer ones, he says.

I’ve used these gates at Munich and Frankfurt; they’re loveless but efficient. I don’t mind the self-service option, since the taking of boarding passes isn’t really a deep, meaningful interpersonal interaction that I am going to miss. But I realize that others might feel different.

I’ll look forward to hearing the details of how Continental will change their boarding process at the gate. For example, what does this do to zones? Better enforcement of the zone, or the opposite? And if you add a self-service line, though, that makes it harder to leave room for red carpeted (or in Continental’s case, blue-carpeted) lines for early elite boarding.

Thoughts? Is this something you’d want to use, or something to avoid? Hit the comments.

Categorized in: airports

Upgraded: This blogger
Back on the beat after a restorative vacation. Tanned, rested, ready. Bring it. Anyway, back to business:

Upgraded: Odds of chip-and-PIN in the US
A month ago, I blogged about the United Nations Federal Credit Union bringing chip-and-PIN credit cards to its American customers. That isn’t a huge customer base to be pushing a new technology. But what if a bigger player made a push for the increasingly-globalized payment technology? What if that player were Wal-Mart?…

Upgraded: Demand for parked airliners
When air travel slowed with the recession, the airlines parked a number of their planes in the desert. According to Rockwell Collins, the recent increase in demand will lead to airlines recalling those planes and putting them back into service. This may be wishful thinking by Rockwell, which services planes and spruces them back up for action, but if true, it could mean some respite from jam-packed flights, with planes flying at record loads.

Upgraded: Opportunities for speaking your mind to the TSA director
John Pistole, the recently-appointed TSA director, wants to hear from you. The TSA has a new comment/complaint form, and you’re invited to use it.

Upgraded: The male of the species
British Airways has been forced to pay restitution to a male passenger who was forced to change seats by flight attendants because he was seated next to an unaccompanied minor. BA admitted to sex discrimination against the man and paid £2,161 in costs and £750 in damages. I understand that airlines are worried about children being molested by strangers, but please: not all male travelers are child molesters. By the same token, neither are all female travelers drug-addled nymphomaniacs seeking mile-high-club entry with 14-year old male travelers… like this woman. (Thanks for that latter link to Mike Maddaloni!) Kinda puts the whole discussion of unaccompanied minor fees in some perspective…

Upgraded: First-mover disadvantage
The new Conservative-led British government has halted plans to expand Heathrow Airport, and has preemptively banned additional runway construction at Gatwick and Stansted. While I appreciate the sentiment and intent of a move by the new British government to discourage “binge flying” on environmental grounds, I fear that the net carbon footprint of the aviation industry won’t change much: Since many flights are through the UK, and not to the UK, the traffic will simply shift to Amsterdam, Paris, and Frankfurt.

Upgraded: Inflight wifi subscriptions
Gogo Inflight (aka Aircell) is making its monthly subscriptions for inflight wifi applicable across airlines — Air Canada, AirTran, American, Delta, US Airways, and Virgin America, to name a few. They’re also introducing discounts: For $19.95 in the first month and $34.95 each month thereafter, it’s all-you-can-surf pricing. I like. I like a lot.

Upgraded: Pilots on the edge
Upgraded: Headline writing

Great headline for a post: “United Pilot Loses Cool, Pants.” Poorly-played, trouser-dropping United pilot. Well-played, BlackBook!

Upgraded: Smaller airports near large cities
Downgraded: Methodology

CheapFlights has released their list of the “cheapest airports” in America, and some smaller airports near(ish) larger cities are on the list. Burbank, Long Beach, Bellingham… no huge surprises. But these lists are perpetually flawed… who edited this thing? Chicago-Midway, Chicago-O’Hare, and Chicago-All Airports on the same list?! The “CHI” code doesn’t really count, guys…

Downgraded: Travel insurance in the UK
If you’re planning to buy travel insurance in the UK, prepare to pay an “ash tax.” Yes, a surcharge to cover prospective volcano ash delays and cancellations.

Upgraded: The ubiquity of opaque bookings
Expedia, which owns Hotwire, will be integrating Hotwire’s opaque (i.e., unnamed until purchase completed) hotel supply into the regular Expedia sales channel. Travelocity added “top secret hotels” back in March. I guess it’s Orbitz’ turn next?…

Upgraded: Yada, yada, yada
Remember the “YADA,” the roving check-in unit being tested by American Airlines last year? It’s coming to LAX.


It’s pretty common knowledge that you don’t want to joke about bombs or weapons at the airport security checkpoint. Or that it’s a bad idea to phone in a bomb threat, because you’re running late and you want to hold the plane. (It’s happened.) But now we can add another lesson to the list: Don’t make sarcastic jokes about blowing up airports on Twitter.

A fellow named Paul Chambers was frustrated with the heavy snows that closed Doncaster Sheffield Robin Hood Airport (great name). He was getting concerned that the delays would ground his own flight one week later. So he hit Twitter with the following comment:

Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!

Dumb? Misguided? Foolish? Clueless? Self-indulgent? All of the above?

No matter what you call it, the British police found it less than charming, and paid Mr. Chambers a visit. He was arrested for making a bomb threat. They confiscated his laptop, phone, and desktop hard drive. And now, he’s been convicted for the lesser (but still serious) charge of section 127 of the Communications Act 2003, for sending an “indecent, obscene or menacing” message. He was not only convicted, harming his career as an accounting, but he had to pay a £385 fine, a £15 “victims’ surcharge,” and another £600 in legal fees. Ouch.

A judge argued that the comment was “of a menacing nature in the context of the times in which we live.” But now, Twitter is full of further menacing messages tagged #twitterjoketrial as a show of solidarity and protest.

I feel bad for the guy. Yes, he was being stupid, “in the context of the times in which we live,” but he wasn’t really threatening anyone. Now, having joked about blowing up an airport, he’s not only a convicted criminal, he’s probably on the no-fly list.

So, is an unfunny joke on Twitter grounds for trial? Is a lame expression of frustration reason for the security apparatus to crack down? Hit the comments!

Categorized in: security