I wondered why all those planes were crashing OH WAIT.
They’re tabling the knife thing because whining, apparently.
In a recent study of airline performance, United came in dead last. This represents a bit of a reversal, since pre-merger Continental was frequently at the top of these studies — or, at least, sharing top billing with Southwest (who are still on top in terms of customer complaints per 100,000 passengers — 0.25 vs. United’s 4.24).
It’s a nasty irony that the 1999 story of onetime basket-case Continental’s resurrection and triumph was called From Worst to First.
Congratulations, we guess, to the management team that’s managed to bring this full circle!
So the big news today is that they’re going to allow pocketknives on planes again, which is nice since, you know, disallowing them had absolutely nothing to do with reality in the first place. Bully for them.
However, the new rules are, like everything that has anything to do with the TSA, arbitrary and capricious. As detailed here, the maximum permitted blade length is 2.36 inches, or 6 cm. The diagram in place clearly includes a Swiss-Army type knife, which was at first encouraging, since they come in essentially two sizes — and the one used as an example is obviously of the larger variety, and therefore should be the same size as the one I (and millions others) carry.
Except it’s been scaled down for the diagram. The normal-sized Victorinox (which is to say, most of them) are 3.5 inches long closed, and include a main blade that measures not quite 2.75 inches long (about 7 cm). Wenger’s knives are slightly smaller — 3.25″ closed, with a 2.5″ blade.
Nobody, to my knowledge, sells a Swiss knife of the size used in the diagram, but you can bet your ass that a shit-ton of TSA goons will have fancy new-to-them second-hand Swiss knives the week after this goes into effect (April 25). Travelers will see the Swiss knife in the diagram, think they’re cool, and have them snagged by the jackass patrol.
The future-amazing part of this? I took it with my phone.
Taking Sense Away is an insider “tell all” blog written by an ex-TSA agent; they actively solicit reports from agents and travelers. Hilarity will ensue, obviously.
Here at Miscellaneous Heathen, we don’t usually go in for the sorts of year-in-review bullshit you see elsewhere, but this time around my “list of cities visited” is at least nominally interesting. I count only places that were destinations, not cities I flew through (though, to be fair, I also didn’t connect for any flights this year):
- Dallas, TX
- Tuscaloosa, AL
- Jackson, MS
- Hattiesburg, MS
- Laurel, MS
- Naples, FL
- Dubai, UAE
- Abu Dhabi, UAE
- Al Ain, UAE
- Louisville, KY
- New Orleans, LA
- Washington, DC
Odds are this is a calmer list than 2013 will produce, given our accelerating sales calendar, but it may be a long while before there’s any more international travel.
Why is it that air travel is dominated by recalcitrant, stubborn, unreasonable bureaucrats?
Turns out, that United merger thing isn’t going so well, and it couldn’t happen to better group of customer-hating, user-hostile jackasses:
United has the worst operational record among the nation’s top 15 airlines. Its on-time arrival rate in the 12 months through September was just 77.5 percent — six percentage points below the industry average and 10 percentage points lower than Delta Air Lines. It had the highest rate of regularly delayed flights this summer, and generated more customer complaints than all other airlines combined in July, according to the Transportation Department.
The airline even angered the mayor of Houston, Continental’s longtime home and still the carrier’s biggest hub, when it unsuccessfully sought to block Southwest Airlines’ bid to bring international flights to the city’s smaller airport, Hobby.
The United-Continental merger is weighing on the company’s finances. It took a $60 million charge in the third quarter for merger-related expenses, including repainting planes. It also took a $454 million charge to cover a future cash payment to pilots under a tentative deal reached in August.
While most large airlines reported profits this year, United has lost $103 million in the first three quarters of 2012, with revenue up just 1 percent to $28.5 billion. Its shares are up 7 percent this year compared with a 12 percent gain for the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index and a 24 percent gain for Delta.
Not only that, they steal shit all the time.
The WSJ has a piece on Saban and the Tide up. It’ll rot behind the paywall, so here’s a few key bits:
With all due respect to the 123 other schools that play major-college football, the sport’s foreseeable future boils down to one question: Can anyone stop Alabama?
The Alabama Crimson Tide, college football’s defending national champion, has become the game’s “it” team, an all-powerful and impervious Death Star of a program. Alabama has won two of the last three national titles. Its coach, Nick Saban, won another one while he was at Louisiana State—meaning he has won the title in three of the past seven college seasons he has coached.
The Tide is a 14-point favorite Saturday over No. 8 Michigan—repeat: a two-touchdown favorite against a top-10 team—in its season opener. The last time Alabama was an underdog was 28 games ago, against Tim Tebow and Florida in the 2009 Southeastern Conference championship game. Result: Bama 32, Florida 13.
And then there’s this:
Since Saban’s arrival in 2007, Alabama has produced 11 first-round NFL draft picks, by far the most in the country. Since 2003, only four colleges have churned out more first-rounders than Alabama has since 2009. Three of those programs—Miami, Ohio State and Southern California—have had NCAA rules-related scandals. The fourth school is LSU, which Saban coached from 2000 to 2004. He signed nine of the Tigers’ 12 first-round draft picks.
An Emirates passenger from Bangkok to Hong Kong decided to document his A380 First Class experience.
N.B. that I could not even SEE First on my trip in June. They entered (on the 777) through a different door, and that plane did not appear to have the lounge area the A380 has. But still: HOLY CRAP.
FWIW, economy looks about the same, as does business class.
You lost a little girl? Really?
It’s really amazing how quickly you chuckleheads have turned a good airline into just another cog in the ongoing customer-hostile shitstorm that has always defined United. Good timing, too, as Southwest is flying more and more flights from Houston!
Our ersatz hometown airline is responsible for fully 1/3 of all DOT complaints in the first half of 2012.
I just wen to lunch. I rode my bike the six blocks rather than walk, because that would lead to a net lower amount of exposure to the HOLY JESUS ON A POGOSTICK ITS HOT weather we’re having.
People in Abu Dhabi asked me how I liked the heat in exactly the same way Chicagoans will ask the reverse question of visitors in January. The locals seemed mildly disappointed that I was able to report, after a little arithmetic, that the coast of the UAE isn’t much hotter or more humid than Houston. We’re normally a little cooler — 95, not 105 — but some days we lose the gap.
Today’s one of those days.
(I will say the flight home led to the only time I’ve ever gotten off a plane in Houston and felt mild relief and not oppressive humidity; all things are relative.)
This post over at BoingBoing about the ubiquitous-in-the-non-western-world squat toilet reminded me of the mild anxiety I had about facilities before I got to the UAE, and how absurd that seemed after I arrived. See, the Emirates — especially Abu Dhabi and Dubai — are pretty new places, and very focused on foreigners. I saw no squat toilets as a result.
What I did see were the modern nods to the traditional “left hand and a bowl of water” approach still used by most of the planet, but without removing the modern facilities westerners would expect.
In my hotel it took the form of an unexpected addition: “Hey! A bidet!”
But elsewhere the facilities were much less continental. This is from an apartment in Dubai:
This amused me, but not in any culturally bigoted way. What tickled me was that even though the “water method” is by far the most popular approach there (I assume), the hardware used is a repurposed kitchen sprayer. It was like this in a fancy Dubai high-rise, and it was like this in the bathroom at the client office, and it was like this in the restrooms off the hotel lobby. You’d think there would be something purpose-built, but (short of the bidet in the hotel) I never saw anything else.
On an unrelated note, both showers I used over there were materially better than any American one I’ve ever seen. This is why:
The top (brass colored) knob controls bath-or-shower. The left-hand chrome knob controls water pressure only. The right-hand chrome knob controls temperature. You set the right knob once and leave it the hell alone. It’s a small thing, but holy CRAP why don’t I have this in my bathroom?
Still haven’t finished the Abu Dhabi commentary, but I will note that the building on this list that’s in Abu Dhabi was on my route out of town towards Al Ain. I wondered at the time if the facade had a job; it’s cool to see that it’s not only functional, but far more interesting than I expected.
Would you be shocked to discover the answer is zero?
At a forum conducted by National Journal yesterday on aviation security, John Halinski, TSA’s Assistant Administrator for Global Strategies, claimed that the TSA mission was to protect passenger security. Not so. The difference in mission between what one of the administration’s top security executives and the TSA website claims makes a big difference in how the U.S. is spending time and money regarding “ensuring freedom of movement for people and commerce.”
Halinski was asked directly whether there has been even a single instance of an arrest or detention of anyone, in any way, related to terrorism based on airport whole-body scanners. His answer was, “No.” Of course, he then went on to assert that the mere fact that we have these whole-body scanners is keeping terrorists away. (Evidently, terrorists don’t have access to websites that tell them which airports have whole-body scanners and which don’t.)
Heathen nation, which of the following do you think was hardest for me to acquire in my stay here in the capital emirate?
A. Kentucky Fried Chicken, Hardee’s, and Popeye’s B. Laphroaig C. Bacon D. Air conditioning E. A beach
I promise lots of UAE trip material, but work here has been such that I’m barely seeing anything but my laptop so far. Case in point: 21 project hours logged today. Put another way, when I called Erin just now to say I was finally going to bed and therefore ending my workday, she was also getting home from work and ending hers.
Houston is nine hours behind Abu Dhabi.
I think we need to see other airlines. You had to see this coming. Since you hooked up with United, things just haven’t been the same. You gave all this lip service to preserving your customer service culture, but no one was surprised to see how quickly United’s “fuck you, that’s why” attitude took over.
Fortunately, I live in Houston, and most of the places I need to go are serviced by Southwest. The airport is closer, the planes are always normal sized (and not tiny regional jets piloted by 22 year olds), and (more importantly) I avoid your new worldview.
I thought I was going to take one last great flight with you, you know. I have business in the UAE this summer, and flying round trip to the mid-east would very nearly lock in my elite status for 2013. However, since we’re a third party on the deal, we can’t get the client to pop for business class — and we all know what a cattle pen your economy is, especially after United took over.
On the other hand, Emirates flies direct from Houston to Dubai. United connects in DC or Frankfurt. And — not to put too fine a point on it — no one would suggest your coach service is anywhere near what Emirates offers for essentially the same price. Game, set, match to Emirates — even without this really great song from their most recent commercial. That you can get a friendly, helpful, knowledgeable Emirates rep on the phone in mere moments is simply gravy at this point.
It’s been fun, Continental. I’m sorry you’ve chosen this path, but I’m glad I have options. And I’m glad this ticket — the most expensive of my air travel career, I’ll note — isn’t fueling your new, customer-hostile direction.
The House oversight committee has noticed the insane amount of money the TSA is wasting, and they are not happy.
One of the theories that was floated a few years ago when there was that big rush to rollout the nudie scanners, was that much of it was being driven by fear mongering from former government officials, like Michael Chertoff, who had economic relationships with the makers of the equipment. This report doesn’t confirm any of that, but it sure seems to fit that narrative pretty perfectly. Fear monger away, have the TSA buy a ton of questionable equipment it doesn’t actually need, and then have much of that equipment just sit in a warehouse. All on the taxpayers’ dime.
Oh, and, it turns out the DHS knows the porno-cancer-scanners don’t work for shit.
Bruce Schneier has noticed the previously linked Kip Hawley op-ed, and gives us a rundown.
Former TSA head Kip Hawley — who was recently whipped like a circus monkey by Bruce Schneier in an Economist debate — pens a surprising OpEd in the WSJ calling for wholesale reform of a broken, ineffective TSA.
Gosh, Kip, what took you so long?
Apparently, I’m going to Abu Dhabi later this month, which is one of the city-states that make up the United Arab Emirates. The most famous Emirate is, of course, its neighbor to the northeast, Dubai, but Abu Dhabi is the actual capital.
Today’s game is “how many connections do I need to make to get there?”, and the loser is probably me. For the record, all three options I’m looking at right now (sadly, only economy) cost about the same:
ContinentalUnited, flying to Abu Dhabi is an ugly multi-stop process. The first leg is from Houston to DC or New York. Then you fly to Frankfurt, and only to Abu Dhabi. Transit time is 20 to 25 hours, depending. Ick.
On the same carrier, if I go to Dubai instead and plan on a longish cab ride, I go from IAH to DC and then straight on to Dubai in a long 13-hour stretch. Total transit time is about 18 hours, plus the drive, which I’m told about two hours. It’s probably a wash timewise, but this route means longer sleeps.
If I book with Air Emirates instead, I can go direct from Houston to Dubai in 15 hours. The actual departure and arrival times are hilarious: Leave IAH at 18:50 on 4/22, land at DXB at 18:45 on 4/23. The rub is that I won’t get any useful frequent filer miles here. ContiUnited miles are still (sort of) useful for personal travel, and a trip to that part of the world means 20K miles.
So yeah, first world problems.
Even if you haven’t followed the whole Economist debate, Bruce Schneier’s conclusion is absolutely worth your time.
Security expert Bruce Schneier was scheduled to testify before Congress yesterday in hearing about the efficacy of the TSA.
On Friday, he learned that the TSA had struck him from the list of witnesses on the flimsy pretext that he is involved in a lawsuit over the pornocancerscanners.
As noted at Ars: “With Schneier booted from the panel, the remaining witnesses were all representatives of the Obama administration: two TSA officials, an admiral from the Coast Guard, and a member of the Government Accountability Office.”
Also of note: the TSA appears to be completely unwilling to appear on any panel with any critics:
This is not the first time the TSA has engaged in brinksmanship to avoid having to appear on a panel alongside its critics. The TSA abruptly canceled a planned appearance before the same committee last year. The agency objected to sitting alongside a representative of EPIC, a privacy group that also had a pending lawsuit against the TSA.
The TSA’s refusal to participate at last year’s hearing prompted a public rebuke from subcommittee chairman Jason Chaffetz. The TSA eventually backed down and agreed to appear on a separate panel following the other scheduled testimony.
Demand accountability from the TSA. They’re spending our money. Insist they act like it.
Edit: Nice graf from TechDirt:
Schneier is a clear thorn in the side of the TSA, and if it’s so afraid of having him speak to Congress, that really says a lot about the (lack of) confidence it has in its own arguments. If you can’t stand to let a critic speak, it suggests that perhaps your own argument isn’t very strong.
The whole thing is here (sadly, the navigation is a bit wonky). On the affirmative (i.e., “yes, post-9/11 airport security changes have done more harm than good”), we have security analyst and expert Bruce Schneier. Defending the TSA is its former head Kip Hawley — who, it will surprise no one to learn, has no security resume to speak of.
As you may imagine, Schneier completely destroys him. Hawley rattles off talking points, but doesn’t actually address the basic points of logic that Schneier advances, and in his first rebuttal comes dangerously close to the old “well, if you knew what I know gambit.”
This debate, fun though it is to read, amounts to pulling wings of flies. Hawley is getting his ass handed to him because his position is untenable: the TSA is a colossal waste of money and effort, and the divergence of resources into this money pit actually makes us worse off. The sooner we fix this problem, the better.
We can add former FBI agents to the list of subject-matter experts who find the TSA an utter failure and waste of time.
I’d point out respected authorities outside DHS or the TSA itself who say the opposite, but there aren’t any. Guys who know what the hell they’re talking about when it comes to security, air travel, or fighting terrorism are all pretty united on how useless the TSA is, though.
Lest you forget, the author reminds us a a very key point: the TSA has never stopped an actual terror plot. NEVER. Not once.
Some TSA union reps are whining that their public perception as useless, ineffectual doofuses is hurting their bargaining power. You think? Or could it be, as Balko notes, that their low esteem and morale is due to their role in enforcing policies that “hassle, degrade, and humiliate” travelers while producing precisely zero security benefits?
The most hilarious part of the linked story is the apparently unironic assertion from TSA drone/screener that “any bag I open could be my last.” Um, jackass? I’m pretty sure the death-due-to-explosions count for TSA employees is 0.
The author of the sympathetic article is also a real piece of work. Despite a lack of any evidence, he claims that TSA screeners “have some of the most dangerous jobs in America.” Really? Seriously?
In the article, he suggests that TSA’s job would be easier if they could arrest people — but then whined when Balko suggested he was actually calling for them to have arrest powers.
How about let’s all support the STRIP act instead, which prohibits any TSA employee “who has not received federal law enforcement training or is not eligible for federal law enforcement benefits from using the official job title of officer, or wearing a metal badge resembling a police badge or a uniform resembling the uniform of a federal law enforcement officer.”
That makes much more sense to me.
Wired reminds us that the jury is distinctly still out on the porno-cancer scanners in use by the TSA. Opt out. Every time. And, frankly, fuck the milimeter-wave ones, too — health issues aside, they serve no security purpose.
As has been pointed out abundantly before, and by smarter people than I, NOTHING being done “because of 9/11″ is at all useful from a security perspective except these three point:
- Reinforcing the cockpit doors;
- Positive luggage matching, such that it’s no longer possible to have your bags fly if you don’t board; and
- You and I and everyone else reading this knows to resist any potential hijacker, period, full stop.
Literally everything else the TSA is doing — and they spend billions a year, including over a billion on the cancer-and-porno scanners — is a complete waste of time, money, and awareness. The expenditure, both in real dollars and in inconvenience and lost productivity, is far, far out of scale with the potential threat. In the last decade, orders of magnitude more people have drowned in their tubs than have been killed by terrorists. It’s a real “boy who cried wolf” situation — we’re watching the wrong things, at the wrong places, and in so doing making it less likely we’ll notice real threats. Remember, the terrorists’ goal isn’t to blow up or crash airplanes. The terrorists’ goal is to sow terror. Harden airports? Maybe they’ll hit malls.
And, as the title notes, we’re not even making airports secure. (Not that it matters.) Here’s the full quote:
“We’re spending billions upon billions of dollars doing this–and it is almost entirely pointless. Not only is it not done right, but even if it was done right it would be the wrong thing to do.”
We are all now quite used to turning off our gadgets during takeoff and landing on airplanes, and most people just plain comply. But it turns out nobody really knows the reason for this rule; it’s still a rule because it’s always been a rule, which is a pretty stupid reason for a rule to persist.
As the linked article points out, it’s completely laughable to think that, on board nearly every flight, there’s not someone who forgot or refused to turn off their Kindle or phone or iPod or tablet during take-off and landing. And yet, as the article also notes, there are ZERO reported incidents related to passenger electronics. None. Nada.
When we have rules that are widely ignored, or that can be ignored because of the essentially zero chance of being caught and suffering reprisals, we weaken the power of rules that actually matter to protect us. Rules need to have good reasons, and those good reasons need to be available for review. Rules without good reasons just breed noncompliance and contempt, which is what is happening with the rules surrounding onboard electronics during takeoff and landing.
What’s hilarious is that despite a growing number of folks pointing out that this rule is bullshit, the airlines are doubling down. In the last year or so, I’ve started hearing the stewardesses insist that the devices be turned ALL THE WAY OFF, as opposed to laptop hibernation or iPhone “airplane mode.” Seriously? Do they really think people will do this? I’ve never ONCE turned my laptop off to fly; sleep’s all they get. My phone and iPad go into airplane mode, not off. My Kindle? You’ve got to be joking. Why bother? Remember, these are the same airlines that have wifi onboard.
On weekends with lots of amateur travelers, I’m sure compliance is high — but among serious road warriors, my guess is that these rules in general are widely ignored — or, if not ignored, then certainly not carefully followed. When it’s obvious there’s no point, why worry about whether or not your tablet is off? My guess is that essentially no frequent traveler bothers with the “completely off” variant at all despite the shrill insistance of the attendants.
Someday, I’ll tell my nieces about how air travel used to be an experience that folks enjoyed, and where the companies involved made everyone feel valued, and where the security measures made sense and had some chance of catching a motivated bad guy. And they, being intelligent young women, won’t believe a word of it.
There is no such thing as an airline that cares what you think of them as long as your opinion isn’t bad enough to make you go elsewhere. If you don’t fly much at all, they flat don’t care. If you fly a lot, they’re still counting on the fact that many serious travelers live in hubs where shifting carriers is logistical nonstarter even if the service is abominable.
The execs don’t give a shit, and it filters aaaaalllll the way down. Count on it, and assume they’re out to fuck you, and you’ll be much better prepared. There was a time when companies like Continental and Southwest actually did give a shit about customer service, but those days are long gone. Behave, and book, accordingly.
(N.B. that if you work for an organization that shifts from “how can we excel?” to “what will our customer base put up with?”, you’re working for shitheads. CC: The entire banking industry; the entire cell phone industry; the entire consumer electronics retail industry; etc.)
Via Balko & Reason, we fine “TSA: Ten Years of Sucking.”
Nobody likes the pornoscanners. We’ve heard plenty of evidence so far that the TSA has lied or mislead us about their safety, either for travelers OR for their own employees, and the security experts not in the employ of the DHS have repeated pointed out that the scanners don’t actually do much for us — for example, they probably wouldn’t have caught the underwear bomber, and would not catch anyone with C4 stored in the back door area.
Well, now this:
Opt out. Every time.
Bruce Schneier points out that apparently, all you have to do to get weapons onto an airplane is dress like a pilot.
I agree that it doesn’t make sense to screen pilots, that they’re at the controls of the plane and can crash it if they want to. But the TSA isn’t in a position to screen pilots; all they can decide to do is to not screen people who are in pilot uniforms with pilot IDs. And it’s far safer to just screen everybody than to trust that TSA agents will be able figure out who is a real pilot and who is someone just pretending to be a pilot.
He’s right. Make the screening sane, of course, but we screened folks before 9/11 just fine. Security is all about unintended consequences. Putting TSA in charge of figuring out which people are legitimate pilots is a really bad idea.
Wired News gives us reason to believe that TSA admin John Pistole may finally be listening to people like Bruce Schneier.
So there exists a service called “AirBNB” that has become quite the darling of the investment community. Their product is your house. Not in a sales sense: they connect travelers with people who are willing to rent out their homes while they themselves are away.
You read that right. If you’re like me, you just went “WTF? Let strangers stay in my house when I’m not there? Are you fucking kidding me?” Apparently, though, you and I are just creepy paranoids, because AirBNB has done pretty well.
However, it turns out maybe we’re not so paranoid after all, as San Francisco apartment provider EJ found out:
Someone named Dj Pattrson (was it a guy? A girl? I still don’t know – but I have noticed much too late that the person misspelled their own last name) came into my home earlier this month (apparently with several others, according to witnesses) and set out on what I believe to be the carefully-planned theft and destruction of my home and my identity. With an entire week living in my apartment, Dj and friends had more than enough time to search through literally everything inside, to rifle through every document, every photo, every drawer, every storage container and every piece of clothing I own, essentially turning my world inside out, and leaving a disgusting mess behind.
They smashed a hole through a locked closet door, and found the passport, cash, credit card and grandmother’s jewelry I had hidden inside. They took my camera, my iPod, an old laptop, and my external backup drive filled with photos, journals… my entire life. They found my birth certificate and social security card, which I believe they photocopied – using the printer/copier I kindly left out for my guests’ use. They rifled through all my drawers, wore my shoes and clothes, and left my clothing crumpled up in a pile of wet, mildewing towels on the closet floor. They found my coupons for Bed Bath & Beyond and used the discount, along with my Mastercard, to shop online. Despite the heat wave, they used my fireplace and multiple Duraflame logs to reduce mounds of stuff (my stuff??) to ash – including, I believe, the missing set of guest sheets I left carefully folded for their comfort. Yet they were stupid and careless enough to leave the flue closed; dirty gray ash now covered every surface inside.
I think it’s safe to assume that this story will get all kinds of Googlejuice, which is good, because to be perfectly frank I can think of few more foolish things than letting people you don’t know stay in your house. Do people like EJ just have nothing of value? Do they not realize that people like this “DJ Pattrson” exist? To each their own, I guess, but it seemed like a disaster waiting to happen when I first heard about the idea; that my expectations have been met just cements my impression. Halfass damage control attempts by the CEO are lame and impotent when the whole idea of the service is to put strangers in your house.
The Onion, of course:
BIRMINGHAM, AL–Former D-plus student and complete fuckup Malcolm Tibbets, 28, was recently entrusted by the Transportation Security Administration with the task of searching all bags for explosive devices or other weapons that could kill passengers or cause irreparable damage at Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport. “What I do is real important,” said the semiliterate, five-year Birmingham Central student, shaking a peanut brittle package next to his ear several times before replacing it in a passenger’s bag. “Got to make sure no bombs get on the planes.” According to airport sources, Tibbets, who once tried to punch his 11th-grade English teacher, was given the bag-searching job in December after TSA personnel deemed him the sharpest man on the metal detector team.
They’ve decided that complaining about how ridiculous the TSA is is a sign you might be a terrorist.
This is obviously retaliatory bullshit. Even so, nobody will reign them in.
Turns out, those nudie scanners emit a whole lot more radiation than they said.