Posts in the category "Security":

Wrapping luggage may add extra layer of security

courtesy Secure Wrap

Some air travelers might be more determined to fly with only carry-on bags or add extra security to checked baggage after recent news of an alleged theft ring by workers at Los Angeles International Airport.

Others, however, may rely on plastic.

For about $15 per bag, luggage wrapping companies such as Seal & Go, TruStar and Secure Wrap encase suitcases in multiple layers of Saran Wrap-like plastic.

“I do it every time I fly out of San Juan Airport,” said Allisan Konrath, a customer service representative based in Chicago. “When I started years ago, too much luggage was being pilfered before flights.”

Wrapping stands are plentiful at many international airports but hard to find in the U.S. beyond the pre-security Secure Wrap stations in some terminals at Miami, JFK and George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, which together wrap about 1.6 million pieces of luggage a year.

A wrapped suitcase might make a baggage handler think twice before rifling through your luggage. However, it won’t stop the Transportation Security Administration from opening your bag if needed.

TSA screens all checked bags using Explosive Detection System (EDS) machines. And while “the vast majority of bags screened by the EDS do not involve any physical inspection, bags that alarm may be opened and inspected before being reintroduced to the system,” said TSA spokesman Ross Feinstein.

In some U.S. airports, Secure Wrap employees re-wrap bags that have been opened by the TSA.

“TSA does a great job of screening all luggage,” said Daniel Valdespino, executive director of Secure Wrap. “But many customers worry about what happens next.”

Wrapping bags may offer some added security, but keep this in mind. “At some point, after all the wrapping and unwrapping and wrapping, that bag will be handled by a human again,” said personal security expert Robert Siciliano. “And humans sometimes steal.”

(My story about wrapping luggage in plastics first appeared on NBC New Travel)

Automated Passport Control machines at Sea-Tac

The airports in Vancouver and Toronto have them. And so do airports in Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Montreal and Miami. JFK in New York has them.

APC

Now Seattle-Tacoma International Airport has Automated Passport Control (APC) kiosks as well.

With these self-service machines, eligible U.S. and Canadian citizens should experience shorter wait times, less congestion and faster processing when returning from an international trip.

 Here’s how they work:

 ”Instead of filling out a declaration card and taking their travel documents to a CBP officer, passengers who are eligible and choose to use Automated Passport Control can proceed directly to a self-service kiosk in the U.S. Customs and Border Protection passport-control area.  Travelers will follow the on-screen instructions to scan their U.S. or Canadian passport, answer the customs declaration questions using the touch screen, receive a receipt confirming their information and proceed to the CBP officer to finalize processing.  The kiosk allows up to four people residing at the same address to be processed together.”

At Sea-Tac, which now has 14 of APC machines, the entry process for eligible U.S. and Canadian citizens should be cut in half.

Sounds great!

Montreal Airport offers reserved checkpoint slots

MOntreal Airport

Most travelers dread waiting in long lines at airport security checkpoints.

And even though airline VIP programs and the TSA Precheck program promise to expedite the experience, it’s not unusual to find extensive checkpoint waiting lines.

Now, one airport is offering an easy way to reliably—and legitimately—cut to the front of the line.

Passengers using Montréal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International can enter their flight number on the airport’s website and receive a text message with a reserved time for a designated checkpoint. Travelers show up at their assigned time window and use the text message as a ticket to enter the SecurXpress priority line.

“The system is free to the general public and a bit like the Disney FASTPASS system,” said Francois-Nicola Asselin, spokesman for Aéroports de Montréal, referring to the theme park’s program that lets guests return to a crowded ride at a specific time. “It was imagined through a brainstorming session to improve customer service.”

Once it came up with the idea, the airport asked the company already contracted to send flight alerts to travelers to develop a system for the checkpoint reservation concept.

Rolled out this fall, the program has already been used by thousands of travelers and “allows us to more evenly distribute the passenger flow at the checkpoint,” Asselin said. “Therefore, not only people using it benefit from an improved service, but all passengers, since the peak period is better distributed.”

For now, SecurXpress is available only at Trudeau for those traveling within Canada and, because of preclearance requirements, on non-U.S. bound international flights.

The program is likely to appear at other airports in 2014.

“We are always interested in looking at ways to improve the customer experience throughout the airport,” said Heath Montgomery, spokesman for Denver International, “So we’ll watch to see how Montreal’s new service works.”

While passengers and airports could be enthusiastic about the program, carriers may not like it, said Hudson Crossing travel analyst Henry Harteveldt.

“Travelers who earn ‘elite’ status in an airline’s loyalty program may be eligible for access to priority security lines at an airport, and this reduces the need for a traveler to be loyal to an airline.”

(My story about Montreal Airport’s program offering reserved times for passing through security first appeared on CNBC Road Warrior)

 

Greetings from Vienna International Airport

Greetings from Vienna International Airport viennahall

On Friday afternoon Vienna Airport spokesman Peter Kleemann was kind enough to offer a tour of portions of Vienna International Airport to a group of journalists in town for the Star Alliance Chief Executive Board Meeting.

Among the highlights of the tour was a stop at the Visitor’s Center, where an outdoor terrace offered wall panels with explanations of what goes on at an airport and, on this day, foggy views of the airfield.

Vienna Visitor Center

We also stopped at the Terminal Operation Center, where banks of video screens offer an at-a-glance view of the traffic at dozens of spots inside the airport.

Vienna Terminal Info center

The operators in this room are charged with keeping an eye on the flow of passengers throughout the airport. If lines get long or there’s a back-up of any kind, they send word to open another access line or make sure back-up is on the way.

Wonder what kind of help arrives if someone pushes this button…

vienna batman button

The best airport amenities of 2013

In the sky, hassles abound as airlines squeeze in more seats on their planes and tack on more fees for checking baggage, changing flight plans and using other services.

On the ground, it’s a rosier story.

Airports are steadily upgrading their facilities and adding amenities that offer passengers more enjoyable experiences that can make the time spent waiting for a flight the best part of the trip.

As we close out 2013, here are some of the best of airport amenities rolled out this past year.

Automated passport kiosks

Automate passport kiosk at ORD

You can’t really enjoy your time at an airport unless you can get into the airport, and this year we’ve seen wait times at customs significantly reduced at a handful of North American airports that have installed automated passport kiosks.

U.S. citizens can use these machines – for free – to scan their passports, answer customs declarations questions and cut short the time they need to spend in conversation with a customs officer.

The first machines were installed in May at Vancouver International Airport. In August, Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport became the first U.S. airport to roll out the kiosks. Since then, the wait-reducing machines have been introduced at New York JFK International Airport (Terminal 4), Miami International Airport, Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, Montreal-Trudeau International Airport and, on Dec. 4, at Toronto Pearson International Airport.

TSA Pre-check expands

TSA PreCheck Enrollment Center at IND Airport - courtesy TSA

At the end of 2012, the Transportation Security Administration’s Pre-check program offering expedited airport security screening was available at 35 airports for eligible passengers on five airlines (Alaska, American, Delta, United and U.S. Airways) and members of a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Trusted Traveler program.

Today, the Pre-check program is available at 102 airports and the number of participating airlines has expanded to nine: Alaska, American, Delta, Hawaiian, JetBlue, Southwest, United, US Airways and Virgin America.

Beginning Dec. 20, active members of the U.S. Armed Forces (including the Coast Guard, Reserves and National Guard) who use their Department of Defense ID number when making a reservation may use the Pre-check lanes as well.

And last week, TSA launched a program offering eligible travelers five years of Pre-check membership for $85. Applications may be started online, but must be completed in person at the enrollment center now open at Indianapolis International Airport, at one of the centers TSA will open in New York, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles by the end of 2013, or at one of the more than 300 centers planned for the future.

Lounge-like checkpoints

 

DFW CALMING CHECKPOINT - courtesy Security Point Media

Thanks to a three-month pilot program that began in October, Charlotte Douglas International Airport and Dallas/Fort Worth Airport each have a security checkpoint that could (almost) double for a relaxing hotel lobby.

A joint project between Security Point Media and Marriott’s SpringHill Suites, the checkpoints have stylish décor, soothing wall art, colored lights and relaxing music as well as “re-composure” areas with comfortable leather couches and – a brilliant touch – mirrors.

Response to what’s been dubbed “The Next Level Experience” has been so positive that talks are underway to continue these installations at these two airports and possibly expand the concept to other airports in 2014.

Improved airport transportation

BWI MARC TRAIN - courtesy BWI

Getting to and from the airport can be part of the hassle of any trip, but during 2013 a few airports smoothed out some transit options.

Boston Logan International Airport says there is now “no scheduled end date” for a pilot program introduced in 2012 offering free Silver Line bus rides between the airport and the city center.

San Francisco International Airport, which took legal action last summer against car and ride-sharing programs it claimed were operating illegally at the airport, now has an agreement with the car-sharing company Relay Rides. This should pave the way for other non-traditional transportation companies to negotiate deals at SFO and other airports grappling with this issue.

And, just in time for holiday travel, the Maryland Transit Administration added weekend MARC commuter rail service between Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, with stops at Baltimore/Washington Thurgood Marshall Airport.

Airport service plazas

Denver Airprt_Dunkin Donuts

Facilities offering a wide variety of truly helpful services for passengers – and for those picking folks up – popped up this year outside two airports.

In September, Denver International Airport opened its a super-sized, 253-space cellphone lot called “Final Approach” adjacent to a fueling station. The lot’s building has a children’s play area with iPads built into tabletops, lounge seating, indoor restrooms, free Wi-Fi (which reaches the parking lot), flight display boards and four restaurants, including a Dunkin’ Donuts with a 24-hour drive-through which, airport officials report, is selling about 7,200 donuts each day.

In October, the Service Plaza opened near Indianapolis International Airport. In additional to a fueling station, automated green car wash, automobile detailing and quick lube services, there are two restaurants, a Circle K convenience store, flight display monitors and restrooms.

Great food and drink

IHOP

Interesting places to eat and drink continue to show up at airports and this year fresh additions ranged from the Shake Shack at JFK’s T4 and the first airport IHOP – which opened at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport – to Root Down at Denver International Airport, which operates with a decidedly “field to fork” flair.

The food-trucks-at-airports concept also expanded this year, with San Francisco, Sacramento, Tucson, Austin and Long Beach airports following the lead of Tampa International, which first invited food trucks to visit that airport around this time last year.

Great ideas

And then there are some interesting one-off ideas that we may see adopted by other airports during the next year.

Since February, Denver International Airport has had collection containers at four security checkpoints seeking donations of loose change for Denver’s Road Home, an organization that helps the homeless. Parking meter-style collection stations are inside the airport and so far this year, more than $69,000 has been raised.

In August, Vermont’s Burlington International installed a free-standing, pod-shaped Mamava Lactation Station to offer nursing and breastfeeding mothers a clean, comfortable and private space, post-security, to take care of business.

Burlington_MAMAVA ON SITE

And this year, Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport not only made room for an automated kiosk that taught air travelers a simplified, life-saving CPR method called Hands-Only, this holiday season DFW is offering what could be a face-saving service for last-minute shoppers: free shipping for last-minute gifts purchased in the terminals.

(My round-up of the Best Airport Amenities in 2013 first appeared as my December 2013 At the Airport column on USA Today Travel.)

 

Have you encountered any great airport amenities this year? Please share your favorites below.

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