Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Tips on flying: Which many need

December 19, 2010

With so many people flying this time of the year, it might be a good idea if they were sent this 1o point etiquette list when they purchase their ticket. Peruse it at your leisure, but I particularly liked these two.

No Hand Stands
Don’t use the seat in front of you to pull yourself up out of yours. For the person in that seat, it’s a violent experience. To stand, turn your body and use your armrests to push yourself up. Do the same when sitting down. It’s really not that hard and you’ll avoid a pair of angry eyes glaring back at you from between the seats.

Decline To Recline
How do you like it when the person in front of you abruptly reclines their seat all the way without informing you, sending hot coffee into your lap or crushing your laptop? Probably not much, so be courteous and let the person behind you know you’re reclining, or at least do it slowly. And when it’s meal-time, put your seat up so they can eat without their face being in the food. On charter flights, where legroom is minimal, consider not reclining your seat at all.

Me? I’m not flying this Christmas. That’s like having another gift under the tree.

Airport Security: More on professionalism and confidentiality

November 19, 2010

Although this story dates back to 2008 and is (I would hope) an extreme case, it indicates the problems inherent in the screening process.

The incident occurred during the spring of 2008 at Corpus Christi airport, and has (shockingly!) prompted legal action on the part of the victim. And yes, she was a victim: “As the TSA agent was frisking plaintiff, the agent pulled the plaintiff’s blouse completely down, exposing plaintiffs’ breasts to everyone in the area,” say lawsuit documents. “As would be expected, plaintiff was extremely embarrassed and humiliated.”

The woman, highly upset, proceeded to leave the screening area to collect herself. You know, after forcibly going topless in the middle of airport security. And when she came back? A display of class about on par with a fraternity basement at 2 am: “One male TSA employee expressed to the plaintiff that he wished he would have been there when she came through the first time and that ‘he would just have to watch the video.’”

I haven’t heard of anything like this happening in Canadian airports and would be surprised if anything that over the top would ever occur. But it doesn’t do anything to reassure the traveling public.

Thanks to Instapundit for the pointer.

Airport Security: Don’t touch my junk

November 18, 2010

There is a great deal of comment on U.S. programming right now on the new airport security rules and the choice being given of going through the new scanner units that essentially strip you naked electronically or a very personal physical pat-down by security personnel.

The big story the past few days was about a traveler who was ejected from the San Diego airport for refusing to go through the scanner or agree to the physical pat-down, telling the screener, “If you touch my junk, I’m going to have you arrested,”

I was the recipient of the procedure going through the Vancouver airport a month or so ago.

On general principles I turned down the opportunity to use the scanner (I don’t know exactly why, as I volunteered to go through one a few years ago in the Kelowna airport at a time when they were just testing them out. I suspect I was just succumbing to the old cranky man syndrome this particular day).

Anyway, in Vancouver because I passed on the scanner, I received the obligatory pat-down. The security fellow abd I had a far too personal experience. I had the feeling (actually, he was doing the feeling) that he was a tad more uncomfortable with the procedure than I was.

Regardless, I don’t think I would take that route again.

In fact, flying out of Kelowna a few days ago I was honoured by being picked for a more detailed security check – at least I hope that it was  a random check as I would hate to think that I have been elevated to some government security risk list, although I might qualify for the one that includes ‘cranky old men’.

This check required me to step inside the de-clothing scanner and also required me to take off my shoes and have the interior of my carry-on bag manually inspected. All very politely done though.

Now, if truth be told, I really have no problem going through the scanner. If they want to inspect my private parts via electronics they are welcome to scan away. If perchance the people viewing my electronically de-clothed  body get some titillation from the viewing that is their personal problem. However I suspect that viewing my body parts on a monitor will never gather a crowd in the booth.

But I can certainly see where some travelers would have a problem with the process.

The scanning is supposed to be private and the image is supposed to be deleted immediately after the scanning. But there have been some stories to indicate that this is not always the case.

People are cynical about promises coming from the bureaucracy. This is more than understandable when you think about the recent incident where trained police officers – supposedly professionals – watched sexual activities in one of their jail cells as though it was a private porn show.  It certainly casts doubt on any assurances that airport security personnel can somehow be expected to rise to the occasion and be more professional and discreet.

The other thing is whether all of this additional screening actually makes flying any safer or whether it simply boils down to an attempt to make the public feel as though they are safer.

When you think of it, every new procedure to control the traveling public comes after some failed attempt rather than before.

After the 911 attacks where the terrorists used box cutters to take over the plane, for a time they banned safety razors in carry-on bags. A regulation that didn’t survive the stupidity test.

When there were stories of terrorists bringing dangerous materials on the plane in containers they limited the size of the toothpaste and shaving cream, etc containers that you could bring on in your carry bag.

After the shoe bomber they started making you take your shoes off.

When the underwear bomber was caught they decided that they needed to peek into your pants.

The bad guys just seemed to move on to the next scenario.

I do wonder at what point the powers-that-be will have the epiphany that the way to keep the airspace completely safe is to simply keep people off the planes. Problem solved.

I have always felt that a real weakness in the security system is all of those people who work behind the security wall on a regular basis. This would include the contracted luggage handlers, the mechanics, the people who clean the planes and even the security personnel themselves. Are there ongoing security measures in place that are at least as stringent as those that the flying public are put through?

From my personal point of view flying has become so unfriendly that I tend to avoid it unless it is absolutely necessary. And if it continues to become even more unfriendly – as it undoubtedly will – I expect that I will find more and more reasons why I don’t have to fly at all.

I remember with some fondness when air travel was fun. Those days, unfortunately, because of events and the times are long gone.

Today flying is akin to bus travel with wings. In fact traveling in today’s modern buses with their air conditioning and on-board entertainment may well be a lot more fun, albeit much slower, than flying.

Quiting your job the JetBlue way

August 22, 2010

The big hype on the JetBlue flight attendant, who cursed out an  unruly passenger and then grabbed a couple of beers and slid down the emergency chute to fame, possibly fortune and a chance at jail time, has subsided in the media.

It appears that he is still facing charges for reckless endangerment and criminal mischief. Although I would be curious to know just what that means. By exiting the plane in a somewhat unconventional manner he probably ran afoul of some federal law pertaining to airport safety or U.S. terrorism laws or whatever. There seem to be enough laws on the books these days to cover every possible situation. I read earlier that he was also being charged with theft – I presume for the two beers that absconded with – but that may or may not be the case. However police have been known to pile on the charges initially on a ‘just in case’ scenario or possibly to simply intimidate the miscreant.

As to the fame and fortune he now has a publicist.

Quitting your job usually leads to bookmarking Monster.com on your laptop and watching M*A*S*H DVDs in your underwear, not fame and fortune. Of course, if for your final act at said job you lay down an expletive-laced tirade over an intercom system and exit via an emergency escape tube, the way former JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater reportedly did, the standard rules may not apply. After a week of his story saturating a strangely obsessed media, on Sunday Slater procured the services of top publicist Howard Bragman to help deal with media relations and manage the numerous offers said to be coming his way.

Can a book and a movie be far behind?

But then again Slater might not be the pure folk hero that the media initially made him out to be.

JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater may have been drinking long before he grabbed a beer and made a dramatic exit from a jetliner by opening an emergency slide to the tarmac at New York’s Kennedy Airport, police said today.

Witnesses have also told police that it was Slater who was rude to passengers, and the cut on his forehead came at the beginning of the flight, not during an altercation with a surly passenger after the plane landed as Slater has claimed.

Nor does it appear that he actually quit his job when he made his dramatic exit. So it wasn’t really a glorious ‘take this job and shove it’ moment.

A flight attendant accused of cursing out a passenger on an airplane passenger-address system, grabbing some beer from the galley and exiting on an emergency slide was suspended Tuesday. The attendant’s lawyer said a rule-breaking passenger provoked him.

There is more often than not a lot more to a story than initially gets on the front page.

WiFi on the road

May 9, 2010

This article makes note of something that has struck me as amusing (and annoying) when I am traveling. It seems that the more expensive the hotel, the more likely it is that you will be charged to access their WiFi system.

A while back I was in Ottawa and staying at a downtown hotel which stuck you for about $10 a day to connect into their WiFi. However literally all of the low to medium cost motels and hotels that you stay at around the country has their system available as a free service.

Obviously they figure that anyone staying and paying in the top dollar hotels is probably on company business and will charge the cost back to the company, so they really aren’t too concerned about the extra cost.

But it does seem rather bizarre that if you are staying at a $200 plus hotel you get tapped extra for internet access but in a $50 per night unit (and there still are some decent ones out there) you get your internet with no charge.

However, it’s better that way than the reverse.

The above-noted article also links to Hotel Chatter.com which has its 2010 Annual WiFi Report.

In its Worst Hotel WiFi section, they note that Las Vegas is consistently bad in trying to get decent WiFi. I suspect that they are talking specifically about the casinos. When passing through Sin City we usually stay at a Clarion Hotel just off the strip, which does have free WiFi, but not a very strong signal. To the point that I found it mostly unusable. But I gave them a slight nod for at least trying.

Last fall while in Laughlin for a golf tournament, the Casino where we stayed had no WiFi at all (and probably the crappiest TV I have found in a hotel for a couple of decades), but I reasoned that they wanted you down in their casino flushing your money through their machines and not sitting around your room watching TV or surfing the internet.

I suspect that if there is poor WiFi service in the Las Vegas casinos it would be for the same reason.

Magic Jack: My new favourite thing

March 28, 2010

Usually when I travel into the U.S. we buy a phone card or two and use them for any long distance calls we need to make. However prior to my latest trip south I was told about the Magic Jack, which I initially thought was too good to be true.

The deal was that you bought the Magic Jack for just under 40 bucks and set it up on your computer. Then you subscribed for $10 to their service for a year. Plug the phone into the Magic Jack unit and the unit into your phone and you can dial out  to any phone number in the USA or Canada with no further costs. Plus they issue you a phone number with the area code of your choice.

I bought it. I set it up. I connected my phone. And it works like a damn.

The only problem I encountered was that they couldn’t supply my 250 area code and I had to take a 604 code. A minor inconvenience and one I hope to be able to rectify in the future.

Now when I travel, I will just take along my netbook, the magic Jack unit and a phone set and I can make calls (local or long distance) as long as I can get computer service.

As I have said before: Ain’t technology wonderful.

Terrorists and the sad state of security

December 30, 2009

As is the norm, in the aftermath of the terrorist attempt to blow up Northwest Flight 253 flying into Detroit on Christmas  day, those who would save us from ourselves proclaimed a new set of rules for passengers flying in or into the US.

Also, as is the norm, the new security rules did not make any of those passengers any safer while they were in the air (or anywhere else).

The rule (again, as is the norm) just made what has become a miserable traveling experience even more miserable for those so unfortunate to be flying the past few days.

In a bit of brilliant analysis these security experts put into place a number of restrictions as their solution to avoiding any further attacks on the flying public.

  • Because the perpetrator got up from his seat in the last hour of the flight and went to the washroom, all passengers were relegated to their seats for the last hour of their flight.
  • Because the perpetrator covered his lap with a blanket in order to hide his attempt to activate the explosive he had strapped to his thigh, in the last hour of the flight no passenger could have a blanket or a pillow at their seat. (In fact on some flights passengers were told to keep their hands in full view).
  • They initially banned all carry-on luggage with only a few exceptions, such as computers, cameras, medication and small purses for example. (They seem to have now moved back to one carry-on bag but I heard reported today that they would not allow carry-on luggage with wheels. I suppose that somehow the wheels on a piece of luggage presents a clear and present danger to passenger safety).
  • Then, to add insult to injury, some flights told passengers that they could not access their carry-on material during the last hour in the air – even magazines to read.

None of these precautions – if you can call them that – have anything to do with safety. In fact they are simply put into place as feel-good measures to make the public think that they are in fact doing something and to direct the attention away from the real issue,which is the fact that the security procedures that they currently have in place are a failure.

Because, in fact, security was already screwed when this terrorist made it on to the plane.

This was a guy who was already on the watch-list, whose father had contacted authorities with concerns about his son, and was able to board, apparently without a passport. But while you and I can’t get through airport security with a bottle of water, this turkey, who should have merited some extra-special consideration, breezed through with an explosive device strapped to his crotch.

Once you have let a terrorist on the plane, with a bomb ready to go, all of the stupid rules and regulations that the bureaucrats put in place to make us think they are taking security seriously are simply for show.

Christopher Hitchens puts it in historical perspective and also notes:

Why do we fail to detect or defeat the guilty, and why do we do so well at collective punishment of the innocent? The answer to the first question is: Because we can’t—or won’t. The answer to the second question is: Because we can. The fault here is not just with our endlessly incompetent security services, who give the benefit of the doubt to people who should have been arrested long ago or at least had their visas and travel rights revoked. It is also with a public opinion that sheepishly bleats to be made to “feel safe.” The demand to satisfy that sad illusion can be met with relative ease if you pay enough people to stand around and stare significantly at the citizens’ toothpaste. My impression as a frequent traveler is that intelligent Americans fail to protest at this inanity in case it is they who attract attention and end up on a no-fly list instead. Perfect.

That is the sorry state of government action and not only as it applies to airport security.

In addition, not only were many of the new rules ridiculous, it was also confusing to everyone.

You are now free to move about the cabin. Or not.

After a two-day security clampdown prompted by a thwarted attempt to bomb a jetliner, some airline officials told The Associated Press that the in-flight restrictions had been eased. And it was now up to captains on each flight to decide whether passengers can have blankets and other items on their laps or can move around during the final phase of flight.

Confused? So were scores of passengers who flew Monday on one of the busiest travel days of the year. On some flights, passengers were told to keep their hands visible and not to listen to iPods. Even babies were frisked. But on other planes, security appeared no tighter than usual.

The Transportation Security Administration did little to explain the rules. And that inconsistency might well have been deliberate: What’s confusing to passengers is also confusing to potential terrorists.

“It keeps them guessing,” transportation expert Joseph Schwieterman said.

[snip]

If the objective was to befuddle, then on Monday it was mission accomplished.

On one Air Canada flight from Toronto to New York’s LaGuardia Airport, crew members told passengers before departure that they were not allowed to use any electronic devices – even iPods – and would not be able to access their personal belongings during the one-hour flight.

The questions came as President Obama ordered a review of air-safety regulations. TSA spokeswoman Sterling Payne declined to offer details other than to say the agency would “continually review and update these measures to ensure the highest level of security.”

An hour before a US Air flight from Manchester, England, to Philadelphia landed, flight attendants removed passengers’ blankets and told them to keep their “hands visible,” said passenger Walt Swanson of Cumbria, England.

Even bathroom visits were affected on some flights.

On Continental Flight 1788 from Cancun, Mexico, to Newark, three airport security agents frisked everyone at the gate, including babies, prompting one to scream loudly in protest. On the plane, crew announced that the toilets would be shut down the last hour of the flight and passengers would not be able eat, drink, or use electronic devices.

The warning that the bathrooms would be shut down led to lines 10 people deep at each lavatory. A demand by one attendant that no could read anything either elicited gasps of disbelief and howls of laughter.

And here’s a dandy.

One of the Transportation Security Administration restrictions that most annoyed the airlines was an order to shut off in-flight entertainment systems on international flights. Airlines objected, and on Sunday night, the TSA apparently relented and left it to the discretion of airline crews to decide whether to turn off the systems.

I wonder who the hell thought up that key security measure?

Some further comments.

Here’s what’s not being addressed during all of this:

• On U.S. domestic flights, while the TSA is still strip-searching nuns looking for tweezers, a majority of the cargo carried in the very bellies of those flights is not inspected.

• Most technology being used at airport security screening checkpoints is not able to recognize PETN or other chemical explosives. And let us not forget that a syringe is not a prohibited item.

And the TSA is fighting this by prohibiting us from having a blanket, book or pillow during the last hour of our flight — all because one person tried — unsuccessfully — to blow up a plane and he used a blanket during the last hour of HIS flight to try to conceal his poor attempt at detonating a chemical device?

This has nothing to do with what we do on the plane. It all has to do with how we are supposed to clear security ON THE GROUND before we ever get on the plane!

The REAL key here is that either you clear through security and the security systems are effective, or they’re not. Denying me an extra carry-on bag, or a book, or a blanket, or not allowing me to leave my seat during the last hour of flight does little to camouflage the weakness of current airport security systems on the ground.

And so, once again, as well-intentioned as these new rules may be, they are reactive in nature, have no basis in common sense, and are punishing us in the air for the failure of security agencies on the ground. Thousands upon thousands of passengers will be delayed and / or inconvenienced, and the actual level of security will essentially remain the same, at best.

And some travel advice.

And in the meantime, my advice: Get to the airport two- to-three hours early for domestic fights, four hours early for international flights and, if at all possible, on domestic flights, do what I do — courier your bags ahead of time. I use FedEx, but there are 16 other services, including UPS, that can do this for you. In the past, I’ve saved two-and–a-half hours PER FLIGHT by not checking bags. Now, I’ll probably save even more time.

Things will gradually work back to normal, but the message is clear. No-one learned anything of any real value from 911.

There is the technology out there to make a significant improvement to airport security. Somebody just has to make it happen. But judging from this latest experience, it probably won’t be the hacks that are currently running the show.

Corner Gas: The Sign is Down

August 17, 2009

When I was traveling through Saskatchewan this spring, I drove through the town of Rouleau; the home of the TV program Corner Gas. I always got a kick out of seeing the Gas Station and Ruby’s Cafe there along the side of the highway. Also the old elevator across the road with town identification of Dog River rather than Rouleau, which apparently confused the odd tourist passing through.

Of course Corner Gas completed its final season last year and is no more. The movie prop is still there but sadly changed. The signs are down and it sits like any other abandoned building.

Corner Gas final 02

Rather sad and lonely looking.

But the elevator still said Dog River!

A Canada Day Gift From Premier Gordon Campbell

July 1, 2009

B.C. received its long awaited Canada Day gift from Premier Campbell today: An additional 1.2 cent per litre tax on gasoline. Today – July 1st – gas at the pumps jumped from $1.059 to $1.072 per litre, the extra penny – I presume – being GST.

All this supposedly done to reduce B.C.’s carbon footprint.

But what a crock. As I see it, it is just another way to get the government’s hand deeper into my pocket and as for it being a tax neutral system, that certainly remains to be seen. This money is going directly into the black hole of general revenue and once government has your money in hand, they are notoriously stingy about giving any of it back.

I like this from the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation:

People pay taxes so government can provide essential services, not to be manipulated in some social engineering experiment. Heating our homes and driving our cars are already expensive enough. It’s time for government to eliminate the carbon tax and stop creating more worries for families who are already concerned about jobs, the economy and their future wellbeing.

So thanks again Premier Campbell for the gift that keeps on giving.

Arrival Home

June 14, 2009

Stopped in Calgary overnight to visit with family members and then headed home Saturday morning. An ugly drive. It seemed like the whole highway through Banff and Yoho National Parks was under repair. They are in the process of widening the Transcanada through that area. But it was slow going, with numerous areas reduced to single lane traffic. It was bad enough with the traffic volume this time of the year and I can’t even imagine how awful it will be when the tourists hit the road this summer. Unfortunately I would think that the construction will be there for the duration. I have to go back to Saskatchewan sometime in September and will have to figure out a way to avoid that section at all costs.


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