Harriet Baskas

More TSA no shows; but more support for TSA workers

The Transportation Security Administration is sending out daily reports on the number of officers who are not showing up for work and wait times at the nation’s largest airports.

No surprise, the numbers of ‘no shows’ has been rising as the shutdown drags on.

On Sunday, TSA reported, 10 percent of its workforce had “unscheduled absences” compared to a 3.1 percent rate one year ago on the same day.

“Many employees are reporting that they are not able to report to work due to financial limitations,” says TSA.

On Sunday, the average security checkpiont wait times at most of the busiest airports were well within TSA’s ‘normal’ range of 30 minutes. But keep in mind hundreds of flights were canceled on Sunday due to weather, so lines may have been light anyway.

Still there were some ‘wowsers’: On Sunday, travelers waited an average of 28 minutes on line at Tampa International Airport, an average of 35 minutes at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and an average of 45 minutes at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport.

The outpouring of support for TSA workers, air traffic contollers and other federal employees who are showing up for work continues.

This week, The Fruit Guys will be delivering boxes of fresh fruit (and, in some cases, take-home veggies) to TSA workers at airports in Atlanta, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, Dallas Fort Worth International Airport.

At Your Gate has expanded its offer of free meals ($10 off, plus free delivery) to TSA workers at airports in San Diego, Newark, New York (LaGuardia and JFK) and Minneapolis.

And SFO Airport is asking onsite shops and restaurants to offer 50 percent discounts to federal employees who continue to work without a paycheck.

To help out, “SFO will adjust its fee structure to protect voluntarily participating concession operators from any financial impact of this discount program,” the airport said in a statement.

SFO is also providing resource sheets to help affected workers access assistance services, and the Airport’s Business and Career Center is offering “Shutdown Support” drop-in hours where affected workers can meet with specialists on managing unexpected financial challenges.

Fancy a fast trip to London & Paris?

Tower Bridge at night

A few month’s back I was invited – actually, challenged – to visit Paris and London in just four or five days.

“Not possible,” I insisted. But I was willing to give it a try.

Here’s a slightly edited version of the story I wrote for Travel + Leisure with some ideas for how to do it.

Getting there and back

To make this fast trip work, fly into one city and out of the other, and book a seat on the high speed Eurostar train to travel between the two.

Plenty of airlines fly between the US and both London and Paris and it is possible to find deals on a one-way or open-jaw ticket using tools on airline comparison sites or a knowledgeable travel advisor.

British Airways currently offers up to 50 flights from the U.S. to London each day, depending on the season, from 26 U.S. gateways and will be adding flights from both Pittsburgh and Charleston to London in April 2019. The airline allows passengers to cut the cost of flights by using Avios points towards payment.

Air France currently offers more than 150 flights a week to Paris from 12 U.S. cities and is adding Dallas/Fort Worth as its 11th U.S. gateway on March 31, 2019. The French flag carrier offers flash fares to Paris (and other destinations) about once a month, so sign up to follow the carrier’s Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Eurostar trains make the trip from city center to city center, between London’s St. Pancras International Station to Gare du Nord in Paris, in just over 2 hours for a little as $60 each way. Eurostar ticket pricing fluctuates like airline tickets, with the lowest prices usually offered for midweek travel. Be sure to hold onto your boarding pass: it offers 2-for-1 entry to many museums and exhibitions in both cities.

Where to stay; what to do

Coal Drops Yard

In London, there are lots of hotel to choose from right near St. Pancras International railway station, which is steps from the British Library and its many free events and exhibitions. Nearby is the Wellcome Collection, a hip and free science and health-themed museum that markets itself to the “incurably curious.”

Coal Drops Yard, built in 1850 to handle the eight million tons of coal delivered to London each year, has been transformed into the city’s newest trendy destination. Located in King’s Cross, just a few minutes’ walk from St. Pancras, the shopping and dining center boasts more than 50 stores, restaurants and cafés, including the flagship store of Wolf & Badger, which gathers cool offerings from independent brands, and Casa Pastor, serving Mexican-inspired tacos, alongside mezcals, Mexican beers and imaginative margaritas.

For convenience and a hefty dose of the historic, splurge on a two-night stay at the St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel, inside St. Pancras station. The “Seat to Suite” package includes lounge access as well as a concierge escort between your room and your seat on the Eurostar train, which departs from St. Pancras station.

If you’ll be heading back to the states from Paris, choose a hotel in the city center that offers easy access to museums, café and other top attractions.

The newly renovated 97-room Renaissance Paris Vendome Hotel, near the Tuileries Garden and the Louvre in the city’s historic 1st arrondissement is a good option. Book a breakfast-included package (croissants galore!); seek out nearby “hidden gems” suggested by the hotel’s “Navigator”; and let the front desk book you a seat (preferably at the chef’s counter) in the hotel’s popular-with-locals Balagan Restaurant, which serves an ever-changing menu of Israeli-inspired Middle Eastern meals.

You can save time by combining touring and fine dining by having lunch or dinner at (or on) Ducasse sur Seine, chef Alain Ducasse’s new restaurant on an electric boat offering diners a 90-minute cruise on the Seine. Or board the Bustronome, a restaurant inside a double-decker bus that drives by many of the city’s top sights during a three-hour tour. (There’s a London version of this as well.)

You may not get your fill of croissants, baguettes, macarons or other French pastries during a quick two-day visit, but you’ll learn some professional French bakers’ tricks to take home during a gourmet walking tour or a French breach-making class organized by a local tour group such as Meeting the French.

TSA getting love + shutting checkpoints

As the partial government shutdown slogs on, the Transportation Security Administration says an increasing number of its officers are facing financial difficulties and not showing up for work.

That’s causing longer wait times at some major airports around the country. It’s also forcing some airports to close some checkpoints.

Checkpoint A was closed at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

And the security checkpoint in Terminal B continues to be shut down at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston.

TSA officers, air traffic controllers and other federal workers who have been showing up for work at airport may not be getting paychecks, but across the country, they are getting lots of love, food and assistance from airlines, airports, restaurants, community groups and the general public. Here’s a slightly updated version of the story I filed this weekend for CNBC.

At Bellingham International Airport in Washington, about 20 miles from the Canadian border, budget airline Allegiant Air provided pizza for TSA workers on Thursday.

In Las Vegas, Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak not only visited with TSA workers at McCarran International Airport to express his appreciation for their service and commitment to the airport and to the community, he followed up by having hot pizzas delivered.

These, and many other pizza thank-yous, are coming on the heels of last week’s gesture of goodwill from Canadian air traffic controllers who sent more than 300 pizzas to their counterparts in more than 40 airports in the United States. Air traffic controllers in the Canadian city of Edmonton got the (dough) ball rolling.

Of course, TSA and FAA employees working without paychecks can’t live by pizza alone.

At Seattle Tacoma International Airport, donations of non-perishable food and gifts cards are being collected and distributed daily.

Seattle-based Washington Federal is offering interest-free, 90-day loans, with no loan fees or application fees, to TSA, FAA and other federal workers waiting for paychecks in eight western states, including Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, Texas and New Mexico.

“We are proud to step in and help our hard-working neighbors get through this uncertain time and support their financial needs,” said Washington Federal President and Chief Executive Officer Brent J. Beardall in a statement, “We hope other financial institutions will do the same.”

And in San Jose, California, the City Council this week endorsed Mayor Sam Liccardo’s proposal to set up a no-interest short-term loan program for many of the 500 federal employees who have been working at Mineta San Jose International Airport without pay.

The program, which may be funded through airport revenues and administered in partnership with one or more financial institutions, proposes loans equal to monthly take-home pay for FAA air traffic controllers, TSA workers and officers working for Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

“We are going to do everything in our power to keep political dysfunction in Washington from creating service disruptions or safety issues here in San Jose,” said Liccardo. “Mineta San Jose International Airport is vital to our local economy and we need our highly-skilled and trained federal workers there to keep it running smoothly. That’s why we are exploring tools, like these local bridge loans, to help keep these essential workers on the job.”

Meanwhile, across the country, airports continue to gather and distribute donations for federal employees affected by the partial government shutdown.

At Orlando International Airport, there has been overwhelming response to a donation drive headed up by the Airline Management Council. On Thursday the airline tweeted a short video of a room with tables piled high with everything from donated diapers to toilet paper and canned goods.

As the shutdown continues, airlines, airport concessionaires and other groups are stepping up with donations, discounts and support.

“Today we were able to help surprise the Sunport’s @TSA with gift cards to local grocery stores and lots of goodies to fill their break room for a few days – all thanks to the wonderful folks with Indivisible Nob Hill and Resist Tyranny Tuesdays,” Albuquerque International Sunport tweeted, along with photos.

And on Thursday, “It was our turn,” St. Louis Lambert International Airport, said in a tweet, “The #stlairport and @HMSHost provided lunches to all @TSA officers this morning and afternoon. We appreciate your huSTLe and dedication. #ThankyouTSA.”https://twitter.com/flystl/status/1086018922267193344

More love for unpaid airport workers

Louisville Int’l Airport to be renamed for Muhammad Ali

Boxing legend and Louisville native Muhammad Ali now has an airport named in his honor.

On Wednesday, January 16, 2019, the Board of the Louisville Regional Airport Authority in Kentucky voted to change the name of the Louisville International Airpiort to Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport.

The airport’s three letter international identifier – SDF – will remain the same, in part because another airport, Alice International Airport, in Texas, already has the identifier “ALI.”

Muhammad Ali at Heathrow Airport (date unknown)

Citing research showing that Muhammad Ali has much greater name recognition than Louisville, Ky., Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said the airport renaming is just one piece of a much broader effort to share and celebrate Ali’s Louisville ties.

As the city of Ali’s birth and the place that throughout his life he proclaimed as “the greatest city in the world,” the Mayor said, “It is our obligation and opportunity to showcase the many stories and complexities that made up the man known as ‘The Greatest of All Time.’”

Muhammad Ali was born on January 17, 1942 and died on June 3, 2016. The Muhammad Ali Center, on Louisville’s Museum Row, explores his life.

*Hat tip to Isaac Alexander, for alerting me to this airport news.