Posts in the category "TSA":

TSA fee hike around the corner

TSA PINK 2

Starting with tickets purchased July 21, air travelers will be paying higher security taxes when they fly.

But the money won’t necessarily go to improve airport security.

The government is hiking the mandatory security fee, first put in place after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, to fund the Transportation Security Administration.

The fee originally had been pegged at $2.50 per leg of a connecting flight, capped at $5 per one-way trip. The new fee will be a flat $5.60 per one-way trip — that is, if you take direct flights or have layovers on domestic flights no longer than four hours.

Some travelers may end up paying a higher fee — as much as four times that amount — because the definition of a one-way trip has been altered and the fees are no longer capped.

Under the new rules, if you have a layover of more than four hours on a domestic flight (or 12 hours in a domestic airport while traveling to an international destination), that will be now be considered a separate leg of your trip, and you’ll be hit with an extra $5.60 fee.

Fly round-trip with a layover each way of more than four hours in Chicago, Las Vegas or Dallas (not that unusual with some budget carriers) and the bill for TSA fees, to be collected and forwarded by your airline, would be $22.40.

“It’s a huge money grab and we’re against it,” said Sharon Pinkerton, senior vice president at Airlines for America, the trade group representing most large airlines.

Passengers will end up paying over a billion dollars more per year in added fees, said Pinkerton, “and the icing on the cake for air passengers is that most of those fees aren’t going back into the TSA program to improve security.”

Most of the money from increased fees, TSA officials point out, will be going to help the government work off the deficit as mandated by Congress in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013.

“In accordance with Federal Law, the revenue generated from the security fee will be deposited in the general fund of the Treasury. The revenue is to be used to offset TSA costs for providing civil aviation security services, after stipulated amounts are applied to reduction of the federal deficit,” TSA said in a statement.

While all air travelers will be subject to the new rules, those most likely to end up paying more are those who book round-trips with long stopovers for business meetings or touring in multiple cities and those with journeys that start at small airports and require one or more connecting flights with layovers of more than four hours.

“With fares going up 5 to 6 percent and airline fees going up, this latest tax will probably whittle away demand for air travel,” said George Hobica, founder of AirfareWatchdog.com. “People hate the TSA and they are going to hate paying more for it.”

(My story about the TSA fee hike first appeared on NBC News Travel).

In Las Vegas: gangsters, divas & Carrot Top at TSA checkpoints

Back in 2004, McCarran International Airport and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority put together a batch of humorous but informative videos featuring Vegas celebrities making their way through the airport security checkpoint.

Those videos are sort of worn now – and out of of date.

So this week a batch of eight new checkpoint videos were introduced at the checkpoints featuring Vegas celebs such as Carrot Top, Blue Man Group, Terry Fator and Louie Anderson.

My fave:  “No heavy metal.”

In case you’re not flying to or from Las Vegas anytime soon, here are all the videos.

TSA PreCheck Enrollment Centers open in DC Area

More in-person centers opened today for those who would like to enroll in the TSA PreCheck program, which offers travelers an expedited trip through airport security checkpoints.

TSA PreCheck Enrollment Center at IND Airport - courtesy TSA

In the DC-metro area, TSA opened pre-enrollment centers at three off-airport locations:

*Alexandria, Va.: Universal Enrollment Center/IdentoGO Center — Alexandria Commons Shopping Center — 3139 Duke St., Alexandria, Va., 22314

*La Plata, Md.: Universal Enrollment Center/IdentoGO Center — White Plains Corporate Business Park — 10665 Stanhaen Place, Suite 300A, White Plains, Md., 20695

* Dundalk, Md: Universal Enrollment Center/IdentoGO Center— Point Breeze Business Center — 2200 Broening Highway, Suite 110, Baltimore, Md., 21224

Earlier this month TSA opened the first PreCheck Enrollment center at Indianapolis International Airport (IND). The agency plans to open additional centers in the LA and NY-metro areas by the end of this year and more than 300 centers around the country during 2014.

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.

TSA opens first enrollment center for PreCheck program

Spokane Airport TSA

Looking to get through airport security faster?

TSA is now letting passengers apply to get into the PreCheck program offering expedited screening, but for now you’ll have to go through Indianapolis International Airport to complete it.

Those using PreCheck lanes do not need to remove shoes, light jackets or belts, and may leave their laptops and bag of 3-1-1 compliant liquids and gels in their carry-on bags.

Travelers can begin the application online by providing basic information and make an appointment to visit an enrollment center to finish the process.

The first enrollment center will be located in Indianapolis International Airport’s concession-filled, pre-security Civic Plaza, between a shop called Cultural Crossroads and the exit from concourse B.

Over the next few weeks, TSA plans to open additional enrollment centers in the New York City area, the Washington, D.C. metro area and in Los Angeles. By the spring of 2014, the TSA plans to have more than 300 enrollment centers open around the country.

Until now, eligibility for the PreCheck program has only been available through programs such as the U.S. Custom and Border Protection’s Global Entry program and through airline frequent flier programs.

“TSA PreCheck is enabling us to move away from a one-size-fits-all approach to transportation security, as we look for more opportunities to provide the most effective security in the most efficient way,” TSA Administrator John S. Pistole said in a statement.

According to TSA, travelers will be able to visit an application center to pay the non-refundable $85 application fee and provide required biographic information (name, date of birth, address, etc.), fingerprints and identity and citizenship/immigration documentation. Those seeking to enroll may also begin their application online and make an appointment before visiting an enrollment center.

TSA’s PreCheck program allows qualified traveler to receive expedited checkpoint screening at more than 100 airports nationwide when flying on nine participating airlines: Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, US Airways and Virgin America.

Approval is not immediate: TSA said applicants will be able to check their status online within five days and written responses should take approximately two to three weeks.

If approved, travelers will receive a Known Traveler Number and a five-year membership in the PreCheck program.

(My story on TSA PreCheck first appeared on NBC News Travel)

 

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