Some optimism for you on a Friday afternoon: Researchers at the University of California at Davis seem to have come up with a liquid scanner that can tell explosives from hand creams or beverages. Good news, but it’s not ready for implementation yet, as the video below details.

I particularly enjoy the two beverages that they are testing: A bottle of Chateau Petrus and a bottle of Red Bull. Please don’t mix the two. (Petrus? Really??)

One of the biggest problems with the devices right now: The time it takes to scan things is impractical for airport use. And bringing that scan time from 5 minutes to 5 seconds within one year, as the reporter suggests is possible? Don’t hold your breath. 100ml requirements aren’t going anyway anytime soon.

Watch below.

Categorized in: airport security, liquids

Downgraded: Prospects for carrying on liquids in the European Union
While the European Union’s European Commission is aiming to allow you to carry on liquids again — as we reported back in October — airports and airlines are actually fighting the EC and lobbying to keep the nearly five-year liquid restrictions in carry-on luggage:

In recent months, trade groups representing hundreds of airports and dozens of airlines have quietly stepped up the pressure on the European Commission to abandon its plan for a gradual easing of restrictions. From April 29, the change would allow passengers passing through Europe from a third country to carry liquids, aerosols and gels purchased either at an airport duty-free shop or on board a non-European airline. They are calling instead for the ban to remain in place until 2013, when Brussels has vowed to eliminate all cabin restrictions on such goods.

“The existing technology is not fit for the purpose,” said Olivier Jankovec, the director general of the Airports Council International Europe, a lobbying group based in Brussels that represents more than 400 airports. “We risk paralyzing the big hubs.”
But the intense lobbying has so far failed to sway the commission, which committed two years ago to simplifying the often onerous security screening process. It remains a source of frustration for passengers who are forced to jettison drink containers, toothpaste, skin creams and even jars of marmalade before boarding planes.

Aides to Siim Kallas, the European transportation commissioner, said he remained unconvinced by the industry’s arguments and was satisfied by the performance standards set by European regulators for liquid-explosive detectors. Moreover, they said, the numbers of transfer passengers likely to be affected by this first phase of the plan should be manageable.

Upgraded: AA miles on Facebook
It’s a spin of the wheel, essentially, but you could earn a random number of American AAdvantage miles — between 100 and 1,000,000 — if you “like” the AAdvantage program on their Facebook page. I think these “like” campaigns are kind of lame, but hey, if you’re a Facebooker, have some free miles. Full details here.

Upgraded: Atlanta Braves parking for Delta SkyMiles Medallion members
I guess this is a thinking-outside-the-box perk for upper-tier Delta elite frequent fliers: Medallion-level members get access to a special parking area within the Green Lot for Atlanta Braves games at Turner Field. It’s not free parking — normal rates apply. I’ve never been to a game at Turner Field, but the Green Lot looks like it’s as convenient as it’s going to get.

Upgraded: Taiwanese analysis of American aviation
For those who appreciate the kitschy animations of global news by the Taiwanese animators at Next Media Animation, please enjoy this cartoon analysis of American aviation’s obsession with fees. Note the not-so-subtle digs at the age of U.S. flight attendants (ouch) and the ragging on US Airways in particular, going so far as to use their logo. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the video celebrates the triumphant Asian airline industry, singling out Cathay Pacific. Who knows, maybe Cathay paid for this episode. Watch it below.


Some encouraging news for those who like to travel with liquids and gels in quantities greater than 3 ounces/100 ml in carry-on luggage: The International Civil Aviation Organization has predicted an end to the restrictions within the next two years.

“In the next two years (the ban) will end,” ICAO Secretary General Raymond Benjamin told AFP ahead of the UN organization’s 37th general assembly, which kicks off in Montreal on Tuesday.

New equipment capable of detecting explosives in water bottles, makeup kits or toothpaste tubes, for example, would be installed at most airport security checkpoints by 2012, he explained.

This timeframe is more aggressive than the timeline the European Union has set for the lifting of the ban, the very-specific date of April 29, 2013:

By 29 April 2013 at the latest, all liquids will be allowed in cabin baggage and will be screened. By that date, the current restrictions on the carriage of liquids in cabin baggage will end. The transition period until 2013 is necessary to allow for a roll-out of liquids screening equipment at all EU airports.

As a preliminary step in phasing out the restrictions on liquids, as from 29 April 2011 at the latest, duty-free liquids purchased at third country airports or on board third country airlines and carried in tamper evident bags will be allowed as cabin baggage and will be screened. Today, these liquids are only allowed in cabin baggage if they come from selected third countries (United States, Canada, Singapore and Croatia).

Unfortunately, it will apparently take a little more convincing (or lobbying) to get the DHS and TSA on board with that timetable:

[U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet] Napolitano told The Associated Press she’s surprised by International Civil Aviation Organization Secretary General Raymond Benjamin’s remarks that security equipment in most airports will allow for the ban to be lifted soon.

Napolitano said the technology isn’t ready.

“I think that’s premature,” Napolitano said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Sigh. It feels like we’ve made so little progress in the world since 2006. Back in 2008, there were liquid bomb testers in Japanese airports, and we still don’t see them in the US or Europe.

However, the fact that the ICAO is publicly making statements pertaining to a timeline for phase-out is strangely encouraging. I know the ICAO has no jurisdiction over the screening of passengers at airports, but the transportation and security leaders of forty governments attended their last conference. This isn’t a bunch of crackpots, and the leaders didn’t fall off the turnip truck.

Let’s revisit this in two years, to see if we’re really any closer to lifting the ban. Until then, continue using your 3-1-1 freedom baggies.

Categorized in: airport security, TSA

Puerto Vallarta: A magical place, where the TSA’s “harmonized” global airport security standards for traffic to the United States seemingly have no hold!

starbucks puerto vallarta airport security Liquids arent a threat to air safety after all... in MexicoFrom an interesting post by Tony D’Astolfo: At the Puerto Vallarta, Mexico airport, Starbucks advertising encourages passengers — including those heading back to the United States — to buy beverages before passing through security. Check out the crop of the cameraphone pic to the right.

While it’s nice to be able to not be treated like a criminal just for having a beverage, Tony points out the absurdity of the policy:

In other words, if it’s safe for me to clear security and then fly from Puerto Vallarta to San Francisco with a liquid-filled Venti-sized container that is about 7x the size of the largest allowable toiletry, then why is it not OK for me to do the same from SFO to ORD? Perhaps bad people don’t vacation in Puerto Vallarta. Or, perhaps Ziploc had a larger budget to lobby Homeland Security than Starbucks did.

So much for the global standard of 3-1-1 liquid restrictions — to which Mexico is indeed a party. And no, in case you were wondering, there aren’t any liquid scanners on site.


snake car Upgrades and Downgrades: Back on the beat edition
It’s been a tough few weeks, but U:TB is back on the beat. Not tanned, rested, or particularly ready, alas. But back.

Upgraded: Snakes in a car
A Florida woman got in her Enterprise rental car, only to find a 3 1/2 foot long red rat snake on the dashboard. Will “snake availability waivers” be the next add-on fee? And was it a Dodge Viper?

Upgraded: Convictions of liquid bombers
Prosecutors in the UK convicted three men of conspiracy to murder, as part of the 2006 liquid-explosives threat. Prosecutors want to re-try three of the men, for whom the jury could not reach a verdict. In connection with the trial, the BBC released a video ostensibly showing a liquid bomb of the type planned by the convicts.

Upgraded: Newcastle airport
UK officials are testing liquid-explosives scanners at Newcastle airport, using a device that scans liquid containers to judge whether their contents are a potential bomb ingredient or a harmless beverage, facial cream, or toothpaste. Could the 3-ounce liquid limit be up for review?… stay tuned.

Upgraded: Singapore’s A380
Global travel is in a slump. But if you’re expecting an empty seat in coach on board a Singapore Airbus A380, guess again. People still pack the plane. Full planes don’t mean a fat bottom line, though. The airline isn’t getting top dollar per ticket, even if the public seems to like the plane.

Upgraded: Hotel deals
The average rate for hotel rooms has dropped 17% in the first half of 2009 alone, making the average room the cheapest its been in five years. Bucking the trend: rates in Caribbean, down only 2% on average. (I’m sure there’s still a lot of variation between islands.)

Downgraded: Block 37
For years, “block 37″ in the center of the Chicago Loop (the block is bounded by Randolph, State, Washington, and Dearborn) stood vacant. It’s a construction site now, with plans for a central transit hub underground. And above ground, a Loews Hotel was planned, with rights sold to the company for $1. But the hotel chain can’t (or won’t) get financing for this prime downtown location, so yet another hotel project is up in the air.

us airways cup US Airways backpedals and brings back free coffee and soft drinks


Drink up that can of coffee, water, or ginger ale, and leave your money tucked away, champ!

US Airways has figured out that the bad press it received for being the only major U.S. airline to charge for soft drinks wasn’t worth the revenue it collected for coffee, water, and soda. So it’s no longer charging the soft drink fee, effective Saturday.

Not to mention the fact that clever passengers were getting around the fee by paying with $20 bills

No wonder US Airways flight attendants released this statement:

“Flight attendants are safety professionals first and foremost,” [Mike Flores, president of the US Airways' unit of the Association of Flight Attendants] said. “This decision by the company will help return us to that status rather than being salespeople in the aisle of the airplane.”

This gives Southwest one less piece of ammunition with which to relentlessly mock the competition.

It’s a small gesture, and a minor but nonetheless appreciated act of restoring dignity to air travel. So thanks for bringing it back, US Airways.