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Keeping your funds in a money clip and your passport in a fanny pack is a great start to guarding your essentials when traveling, but these days, you also need to consider digital safeguards. Yes, there’s certainly a fair bit of misinformation and fear-mongering when it comes to keeping one’s information and devices safe, but some of the concerns you’ve probably heard about are worth paying attention to. Here are three of them — plus what you can do to be less vulnerable.
Most would agree that flying today is better than in years past, but one thing is for certain: it takes a lot longer to get from the curb to your airline seat. By asking every individual on a commercial flight to remove belts, shoes, liquids, laptops, coats, and spare change, the minutes spent waiting in security lines can really add up. Thankfully, the U.S. government seems to be taking notice, and it recently announced plans to expand a fast-lane security procedure to include everyday travelers – not just frequent flyers.
In 2011, the Transportation Security Administration created a program called Pre-Check that effectively reduced security wait times. Partnering up with a handful of major airlines (American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, Alaska Airlines, US Airways, Hawaiian Airlines, Virgin America), Pre-Check allows pre-approved passengers to be expedited through separate, dedicated security lines. (They’re right beside the normal lines, though not every airport has yet added Pre-Check; for a constantly updated list, keep an eye on this site.)
Now, the program is moving out of beta phase and is available to any traveler that wishes to apply. This is great news, as gaining Pre-Check status exempts you from removing your shoes, belt, and jacket, while keeping your liquids and laptop inside your carry-on. Unfortunately, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you can show up later than usual to the airport (after all, getting into the Pre-Check lane isn’t guaranteed; security personnel retain the right to send any suspicious-looking person back to the normal security line, Pre-Check or not), but it’ll often give you a lot more time beyond security to grab a meal or get a bit of work done in the airline lounge.
Wondering what your options are for joining? Let’s take a look. Read more
There are so many things to worry about when you’re traveling (delays, bad weather, theft, etc.), but what’s going on at home shouldn’t be one of them. In order to ease your (sometimes misplace) paranoia (did you lock the door on the way out?), I’ve found a few gadgets that will allow you to keep tabs on your home while still getting to enjoy your trip.
Nest: It took many decades for one of the home’s most overlooked features to become cool again, but a company called Nest has managed to create a lust for thermostats despite the odds. The company’s founder is no stranger to the tech world – he designed products for Apple – and it shows. The $249 Nest is perhaps the most visually stunning piece of functional art that you could ever hope to place on your wall. It’s a “learning thermostat,” which analyzes how you routinely adjust temperatures and then builds a profile in order to automatically adjust things while striving to save energy. Read more
Unless you’ve isolated yourself on a pristine island far, far away from the reach of U.S. politics, you’ve probably heard the word “sequester” uttered a time or two over the past few weeks. Even if you aren’t totally familiar with the impact of these budgetary cuts, one thing has become crystal clear for travelers: The sequester is increasing wait times for immigration around the country. In particular, the cuts have forced TSA and other government employees working at airports to cut back on overtime and staffing, which has led to immigration lines as long as four hours in Miami. Read more
While it’s great to get away from the stresses of work, bills, and chores by going on vacation, being away from home creates a new cause for concern: the well-being of your house, belongings, and even pets that remain at home. When you head out of town – or even just out for the day – you leave behind many things of value. Alarm systems are great, but they don’t allow you to check in on what’s happening when you’re somewhere else. If you’ve left your kids with a babysitter, dogs with a friend, or your cats alone for the weekend, being able to see what’s happening can offer more than just a little piece of mind. Many alarm companies offer home monitoring systems, but they can be expensive and require professional installation. Additionally, they provide an opportunity for someone else (in this case, the technician) to know how your house is protected. That’s why we’re so impressed by Dropcam HD. It’s the do-it-yourself, easy-to-install, no-tech-savvy needed home monitoring solution that’s perfect for while you travel.
We’ve all been warned: “don’t lose your laptop.” Every employee at every company is told at some juncture that the information stored on their computer is tremendously important, and it would be damaging on a number of levels if that data were lost. In the past, backing up one’s work computer had been a royal pain. For starters, no one wants to take the time to back up a work machine during personal time, and secondly, many organizations have operated without a clear plan for managing these backups.
Today, however, it’s easier than ever to back up a phone, tablet, and even laptop. Thanks to the “cloud,” there’s little left to do besides choosing a service provider and installing their software. There are companies today that will hold backups of your machine on vast storage farms far, far away from you. You simply upload your data from wherever you have an Internet connection, and it’s stored safely in an offsite location. Besides making it easy on you, it also allows you to retrieve backups even if your laptop is outright destroyed. Read more
When we set out to document the Top 10 Airline Incidents of 2011, we had no idea some of the biggest newsmakers were still to come.
Obviously, the snafu with the highest exposure and level of absurdity has been Alec Baldwin’s removal from an American Airlines flight last week for refusing to turn off his phone once the cabin door was closed and subsequently slamming a lavatory door. (Hey, Words With Friends is important!) In the aftermath of the incident, Baldwin went on SNL to issue himself an apology (while portraying an AA pilot on the Weekend Update segment). Now American is trying to find a way to cancel “30 Rock” from its in-flight programming line-up. Next up: Airlines ban celebrities altogether!
There seems to be no shortage of TSA mishap stories these days, from spilled urostomy bags to abandoned body scanner radiation tests. (There are 540 scanners at over 100 airports. Check here to see if you’re traveling to one of them.) Although the TSA is moving toward shoes-on-security-lines, fewer pat-downs, and has even made scanner images less invasive, horror stories still abound.
Most recently, 84-year-old Lenore Zimmerman claims to have been strip searched after avoiding a body scanner she feared would interfere with her defibrillator. The TSA denies the claims, as strip searches are not part of TSA protocol, but the incident has compelled New York lawmakers Sen. Charles Schumer and Sen. Michael Gianaris to release a proposal that calls for a passenger advocate at every airport. This advocate would be available in person whenever a passenger feels that he or she is being inappropriately searched.
The TSA’s advocacy solution: a forthcoming (in January) hotline that passengers with disabilities or medical conditions can call before their flights for information and guidance.
Tell us what you think. Are passenger advocates necessary? Do you have any TSA horror stories? Share your thoughts in the comments section.
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While the European Union announced Monday that they would be putting a halt to the use of potentially carcinogenic body scanners, the TSA holds that these machines are “still completely safe” and are “well within applicable national safety standards.” This is following an investigation conducted by ProPublica/PBS NewsHour that found that the X-ray scanners might cause a small number of cancer cases.
At first, the Transportation Security Administration announced that they would begin their own independent study of the effects of their X-ray body scanners. However, at a Senate hearing last week, TSA Administrator John Pistole abandoned his previous commitment and stated that he believed the machines “are still completely safe” after reading a draft report on the body scanners that was conducted by the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general.
There are currently 500 body scanners in use in airports across the United States, half of which employ the potentially carcinogenic radiation known as backscatter. The amount of radiation from a backscatter is equivalent to the amount of radiation received when flying at a high altitude for two minutes.
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Sorry, underage drinkers: Air travelers will have to leave their fake IDs at home starting early next year, as the TSA plans to introduce 30 document-scanning systems that will make it easier for screeners to spot fraudulent documents.
TSA employees at select U.S. airport checkpoints will use the machines to verify boarding passes and passenger IDs, such as driver’s licenses. TSA Administrator John Pistole said that the move was all about “facilitating risk-based security, while making the process more effective,” according to Bloomberg.
The announcement comes after an incident in June in which a Nigerian man passed through a checkpoint at JFK Airport in New York and took a Virgin America flight to Los Angeles using another passenger’s boarding pass.
Following up on last week’s announcement that the days of taking off your shoes in the airport security line are numbered, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told Congress yesterday that the TSA will institute new policies at airport security checkpoints for children under 12. In the coming months, kids will no longer have to take off their shoes to go through security, and overall will be subjected to fewer pat-downs. The new procedures are part of efforts to take less time scrutinizing “low-risk” passengers so the TSA can increase focus on those that could pose a security threat, Napolitano said. A widely publicized video last April of a 6-year-old receiving a rigorous pat-down prompted calls for changes to how the TSA treats children. Napolitano cautioned that all passengers, regardless of risk level, may be subjected to random checks, but overall we’re happy to hear airport security will soon be less intrusive for kids.
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The days of air travelers having to take off their shoes during security screenings are numbered, according to U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. “We are moving towards an intelligence and risk-based approach to how we screen,” she said at a recent forum in Washington, according to Bloomberg. The announcement comes 10 years after the 9/11 attacks that redefined air travel and security, domestically and abroad.
Better technology is the key to eradicating the policy on shoe checks, which stems from the 2001 attempt by Richard Reid to ignite explosives hidden in his shoes while on a flight from Paris to Miami. The Transportation Security Administration’s goal, according to an October 2009 report by the Government Accountability Office, was to have shoe scanners deployed at airports by 2015. These would only require passengers to step on a black mat to have their shoes scanned. No decision has been made on the technology.
Starting today, the TSA is issuing new software that will make its controversial Advanced Imaging Technology a bit more private, according to a statement released this morning.
The current body scanners – 500 are installed at 78 airports nationwide – present a fairly detailed nude image of passengers, which let security officers find precariously hidden knives or explosives but leave many flyers feeling exposed, invaded, and, well, naked. Travelers who refuse to walk through the machines must submit to a rigorous pat-down.
Instead of showing flyers in the buff, this new software will display a generic body outline and pinpoint where any weapons might be; all airports with AIT machines in place will receive the new software.
The new system could also streamline the security process for TSA agents. When the scanners first debuted, the TSA required one employee to view and approve the images alone in a remotely located room – an effort to comfort passengers worried that the same guy ushering their carry-on down the conveyer belt was critiquing their abs behind the x-ray machine. The generic outline lets TSA agents skip that step and still spot any unwelcome carry-ons.
This spring I found myself in Manila, perhaps an unlikely choice for a city vacation, but the obvious first stop if your ultimate goal is to loll on any of the Philippines’ 7,107 islands, as mine was. Most visitors to Manila spend a layover night at the better-known chain and luxury hotels in the Makati commercial/financial district, but I opted for the city’s grande dame, the Manila Hotel. It sits on Manila Bay across from Intramuros, the 158-acre walled settlement the Spanish built in 1571, and Rizal Park, named for José Rizal, the national hero the Spanish then executed by firing squad in 1896. Overlooking both, the hotel is testament to the end of Spanish occupation two years later, and the start of American influence in this part of the Pacific. It’s also a pretty comfy place. Read more
Talks of federally legislated baggage requirements are swirling once again, this time in light of a U.S. Travel Association report released today that recommends the Transportation Security Administration rethink its screening tactics and require airlines to allot each passenger one free piece of checked luggage.
The USTA commissioned the study a year ago, and assigned security and transportation bigwigs Tom Ridge (former secretary of homeland security) and Jim Turner (a former Texas congressman who sat on the House Homeland Security Committee) to the accompanying panel.
The conclusion: The TSA’s current security system, which treats each and every passenger as a potential threat, is ineffective and unnecessarily complicated. Adding to the chaos at screening stations, the study says, is the mountain of carry-on items that most passengers now schlep onto flights in order to save about $25 each way.
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