Category Archives: Travel

A Clear lane at Denver International Airport. Photo by Benet J. Wilson

Through Security in the Blink of an Eye

By Annie Flodin

A Clear lane at Denver International Airport. Photo by Benet J. Wilson

New biometric screening option offers predictability and convenience, but is it right for you?

It may sound unreal… like something straight out of a sci-fi movie, but for $179 a year you can simply blink your eye or swipe your finger to verify who you are, all while significantly reducing the time it takes you to go through airport security.

Biometric screening is becoming more and more commonplace at airports across the country thanks to New York-based CLEAR. In February, Minneapolis-St. Paul International became the 21st U.S. airport to employ the technology, joining the likes of Hartsfield-Jackson, LaGuardia, JFK and Washington Dulles, among others.

CLEAR eliminates the need for a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agent to manually check boarding passes and identification. Instead, CLEAR subscribers step up to a station where they blink their eye or swipe their finger to prove their identity. From there, it’s on to the standard TSA physical screening or TSA PreCheck for members of the government program.

CLEAR CEO Caryn Seidman-Becker says members love the service because it provides them with a consistently fast and predictable experience at the airport. “They know they’re going to get through security in five minutes or less every time,” she said.

Enrollment in CLEAR is processed onsite at participating airports. CLEAR will digitally authenticate your driver’s license or passport, confirm your identity, and create your account all in roughly five minutes. After signing up, your membership is effective immediately.

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You may be wondering… “Is it really worth it?” In short, it all depends on your travel habits and how much money you’re willing to spend.

If you’re a frequent traveler and often find yourself rushed at the airport, it’s probably worth it to give CLEAR a try. It’s quick and predictable, and you’ll no longer need to juggle your ID and your boarding pass in that stop-and-go line waiting for a TSA agent to check them.

“I signed up because I value my time,” Shane Rixom said. Rixom, a civil engineer living in Abingdon, Va., enrolled in CLEAR three years ago at Orlando International Airport. He travels roughly three weeks each month.

He says that while sometimes his membership hasn’t had much of an impact on his experience going through security, there have been a few times where CLEAR has made a huge difference.

In addition to CLEAR, Rixom is enrolled in TSA PreCheck. The two services complement each other nicely and together will almost certainly make the time between your arrival at the airport and your arrival at your gate a whole lot quicker and a lot less hectic.

A five-year TSA PreCheck membership costs $85, which breaks down to $17 annually. PreCheck speeds up the physical security screening process by allowing you to keep on shoes, belts, and light jackets. Another perk? You don’t need to rummage through your bags – laptops and liquids don’t need to be unpacked.

A CLEAR membership will set you back $179 a year, with the ability to add additional family members for $50 and add children for free. Delta SkyMiles members who want to enroll will receive a special rate, bringing an annual CLEAR membership down to $79 or $99 depending on your membership status; Diamond Medallion members can enroll in CLEAR for free.

When Rixom signed up, he was paying a discounted fee through a credit card deal outside of Delta, but has since earned Diamond Medallion status with the airline, so his CLEAR membership is now free.

But again, whether or not CLEAR makes sense for you depends on how often you travel and how much you’re willing to spend – it’s not for everyone.

Brett Snyder runs the popular Cranky Flier blog and flies once or twice a month on average, but doesn’t see enough value in CLEAR to justify signing up. “I would be interested if it truly meant a faster, quicker screening experience, but for now, this is just a pass to cut to the front of the line,” he said. “I have PreCheck and while there can sometimes be lines, it’s never all that bad.”

But as an incentive to at least try it out, CLEAR offers a one-month free trial. When that month is up, you can choose to cancel the membership, or continue it and pay the $179.

Currently, CLEAR has roughly one million members. And although they have plans to launch at a number of new airports this year, CLEAR isn’t limiting the technology to air travel alone, as they expect to announce expanding to different types of facilities in the near future. The biometric service can already be found at a handful of sports venues. Learn more at clearme.com.

IMG_4438Annie Flodin is a seasoned communications professional and aspiring aviation journalist. She and her husband Scott live in Minneapolis with their two cats. In her free time, she enjoys plane spotting, writing, and spending time outdoors. She blogs at The Great Planes, and you can follow her on Instagram and Twitter: at @thegreatplanes.

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Your Weekend Reads for March 24, 2017

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The big news of the week was all about the sudden ban by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security of laptops and tablets on flights in and out of the U.S. to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Qatar, Morocco, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates’ Abu Dhabi and Dubai, citing “security measures.”

But questions arose about the targeting of the Big Three Middle East carriers — Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways — in the wake of an ongoing Open Skies battle with the Big Three U.S. carriers, American, Delta and United. “If you squint hard enough, there is some justification on a security basis for this, but the implementation has been haphazard and in manner that is particularly targeted at and does harm to the commercial interests of a set of airlines that has been the source of much competitive hand-wringing from U.S. airlines,” Airways senior business analyst Vinay Bhaskara said in an interview with Business Insider.

And an editorial in FlightGlobal magazine said “the selective ban by the UK and US governments is at best inconsistent and at worst ineffective.”

A Mesa Airlines Beech 1900D. Photo courtesy of Mesa Air Group

In a previous life, I was director of communications and community affairs for Mesa Air Group, a regional airline based in Phoenix that flies as American Eagle and United Express. But as Mesa Airlines, the carrier operated Essential Air Service (EAS) flights across the country. The EAS program was created after airline deregulation in 1978 to ensure that small communities still had access to the air transportation network. One of my jobs was to do presentations to communities to get their EAS contracts.

The program has been on the chopping block for years, but has always been protected by senators and representatives keen on protecting air service for its constituents. And now President Donald Trump has announced plans to cut the EAS program under his proposed skinny budget, potentially ending air service to 171 communities, reports Skift.

The first class cabin on a Cathay Pacific jet. Photo courtesy of Cathay Pacific

As Hong Kong flag carrier Cathay Pacific posted its first loss since 2008, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce had one word of advice for the airline: adapt, reports Skift. Cathay’s loss was driven by a drop in business travel and competition from Chinese carriers.

British Airways is going through its own financial challenges, driven by increased competition from European low-cost carriers. This is leading the UK flag carrier to cut amenities in its first class cabins including an amuse-bouche with the first drink, fresh flowers in the lavatories, a generously sized washbag and a pair of slippers, reports the Telegraph. Airline staffers say the cuts are damaging BA’s elite brand, while the carrier acknowledges the cuts but adding that it’s committed to providing a high-quality service.

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U.S. airlines were positively giddy when flight restrictions to Cuba were lifted by the Obama Administration as part of the normalization of relations with the Caribbean nation in December 2014. And there was a frenzy by the airlines to get flights to Cuba, with the first flight — by JetBlue — landing on Aug. 31, 2016. But now the Miami Herald reports on announcements by Frontier Airlines and Silver Airways to end their flights to Cuba, citing weak passenger demand.

We’ll end the week with the news that after an internal review, Alaska Airlines has decided to eliminate the Virgin America brand by 2019, reports the Fort Worth State-Telegram. After Alaska acquired the popular San Francisco-based carrier, CEO Brad Tilden said he believed in “the power of the Virgin America brand, and we don’t want to lose all that loyalty.” But it was not to be.

Because I care, here are five more stories for your reading pleasure this weekend. Enjoy!

17096557489_f0c56cdd15_kEDITOR’S NOTE: Benét J. Wilson is a freelance aviation/travel writer based in Baltimore who is available for your writing and branded content/content marketing projects. She’s the Air Travel Expert for About.com. Follow her travel-related magazines on Flipboard: Best of About Travel, a joint curation venture with her fellow About Travel Experts; Travel-Go! There’s Nothing Stopping You, all about the passenger experience on the ground and in the air; and Aviation Geek, a joint magazine sharing everything you need to know about the commercial aviation industry. Check out her travel-related boards on Pinterest and follow her on Twitter at @AvQueenBenet, on her Aviation Queen Facebook Page and on Instagram at aviationqueen.

Strange But True Aviation News

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This was a “slipper-y” slope. An Indian member of parliament has been banned from flying the country’s major airlines after confessing to hitting an Air India flight attendant 25 times with a slipper, reports the Guardian. The MP said the thrashing came about on a flight from Pune to New Delhi after he accused the flight attendant of insulting him.  

A picture is worth a thousand words — but not the wrong one. Lithuania created a tourism program using the slogan “Real is beautiful.” But a problem arose when it was discovered that some of the photos used in the campaign were actually taken in Finland and Slovakia, reports DW.com. The tourism chief resigned after the photos went viral on social media.

You can’t take that past security. A worker at St. Croix Airport plead guilty to drug smuggling after being caught trying take a bag of cocaine strapped to his leg past the Transportation Security Administration checkpoint, reports the Virgin Islands Free Press. He faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $1 million.

Smoke gets in your eyes — at the airport. A live smoke grenade was found by TSA screeners in the carry-on bag of a passenger flying out of Raleigh-Durham International Airport, reports the News & Observer.

A Korean Air Boeing 747 parked at Washington Dulles International Airport. Photo by Benet J. Wilson

Your Weekend Reads for March 17, 2017

Photos by Benet J. Wilson

Photos by Benet J. Wilson

Wall Street is becoming apprehensive as United Airlines and American Airlines announced plans to add seats on key routes, reports Skift. United will boost capacity by up to 4.5 percent, while American is adding nine new routes. “It’s just this sense by investors that we keep adding more and more capacity, and they’re somewhat frustrated,” said Cowen and Co. analyst Helane Becker in the Skift article.

In June 2016, United Airlines held a big event in New York City to unveil Polaris, its new international business class inflight and ground product, which I covered for Airways magazine. I also covered the Nov. 30 opening of the first Polaris Lounge, located at the airline’s Chicago O’Hare International Airport hub. One of the key pieces on display at both events was the new Polaris seat, designed by Acumen Design Associates and PriestmanGoode, that offers direct aisle access, a 180-degree flat-bed recline and up to 6’6” of bed space.

A set of United Airlines Polaris seats. Photo courtesy of United

A set of United Airlines Polaris seats. Photo courtesy of United

But United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz is reported to be unhappy with manufacturer Zodiac, which blamed “industrial issues” in the UK that were causing “significant disruptions and delays,” with building the Polaris seat reports Brian Sumers of Skift. A few of the carrier’s new Boeing 777-300ERs have been delivered in the past three months with the new seats, but no existing aircraft have been retrofitted.

United’s Star Alliance partner Lufthansa has announced that it plans to unveil a new business class product for its own operations, along those of subsidiaries Swiss and Austrian Airlines, reports John Walton of the Runway Girl Network. Walton was “underwhelmed” with the German flag carrier’s business class product on the Airbus A350, “so it’s certainly a positive to hear that there are plans for a new seat in play,” he wrote.

In the back of the plane, British Airways announced plans to cut the seat pitch on its fleet of Airbus A320s and A321s from 30 to 29 inches, reports the Telegraph. Under the change, BA will offer the same seat pitch as low-cost competitor EasyJet, but other  Ryanair still offers 30 inches of pitch. The UK flag carrier says it made the move to better compete with Europe’s low-cost airlines and offer lower airfares.

A TSA screener at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. Photo by Benet J. Wilson

A TSA screener at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. Photo by Benet J. Wilson

Remember last spring when we faced record-long lines at Transportation Security Administration (TSA) airport checkpoints? I certainly do, as I covered here for About.com Air Travel. Chicago is home to O’Hare and Midway airports, which were not spared from the long lines. Consumer travel writer Christopher Elliott asks in the Chicago Tribune: Will the long airport lines of spring break 2016 be back again this year? In response to last year’s chaos, TSA created a 10-point plan that sped up lines by the end of the summer. It held during the winter holidays, with TSA estimating that 99 percent of air travelers waited in security lines for less than half an hour and that 95 percent waited less than 15 minutes, Elliott wrote. But will it hold?

Speaking of security, when I signed up for the Clear registered traveler program, I had to submit my fingerprints and do an iris scan. Fortune magazine writes about how Tascent, a California-based company that makes current generation iris-­recognition machines, is hoping to see more of this technology in airports. Iris scanning could be used for tasks including matching travelers to documents including boarding passes or passports.

A Korean Air Boeing 747 parked at Washington Dulles International Airport. Photo by Benet J. Wilson

A Korean Air Boeing 747 parked at Washington Dulles International Airport. Photo by Benet J. Wilson

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a huge fan of the Boeing 747 jumbo jet. It was the first aircraft I ever flew on (Pan Am from JFK to London Heathrow Airport) and it’s part of my Aviation Queen logo. But with more efficient and two-engined aircraft available to airlines, the Queen of the Skies is gradually being removed from commercial carriers’ fleets. “The 747 was a fabulous airplane,” Scott Hamilton, founder of aviation consulting firm Leeham Co. LLC told the Los Angeles Times. “But like any technology, it moves on.”

We’ll end the week with a touch of airline luxury. Did you know that Lufthansa has an entire First Class Terminal at its Frankfurt Airport hub? The airline’s best customers completely bypass the main airport, instead driving to the building where the clear security and immigrations, relax in the terminal, then get driven directly to their plane, reports Fortune magazine. Contributor Doug Gollan offered up a photo tour of the facility.

Because there was much more news that happened this week, here are five more stories you should read this weekend. Enjoy!

17096557489_f0c56cdd15_kEDITOR’S NOTE: Benét J. Wilson is a freelance aviation/travel writer based in Baltimore who is available for your writing and branded content/content marketing projects. She’s the Air Travel Expert for About.com. Follow her travel-related magazines on Flipboard: Best of About Travel, a joint curation venture with her fellow About Travel Experts; Travel-Go! There’s Nothing Stopping You, all about the passenger experience on the ground and in the air; and Aviation Geek, a joint magazine sharing everything you need to know about the commercial aviation industry. Check out her travel-related boards on Pinterest and follow her on Twitter at @AvQueenBenet, on her Aviation Queen Facebook Page and on Instagram at aviationqueen.

Qatar Airways' new QSuite business class seat. Photo courtesy of Qatar Airways

Your Weekend Reads for March 10, 2017

The roll-out of the Boeing 737 MAX 9. Photo courtesy of Boeing

It was a busy week for Boeing. The Seattle-based manufacturer received certification for its 737 MAX 8 and rolled out the 737 MAX 9 this week, as reported by Airways magazine here and here. But in an interview with Bloomberg, Air Lease Co. CEO John Plueger is pushing Boeing to give the green light to a 737 MAX 10, which would fill a gap in its product line equal to the Airbus A321neo, which is racking up orders.

Airports Council International-North America says the nation’s airports have nearly $100 billion in infrastructure needs between 2017 and 2021 to accommodate growth in passenger and cargo activity, rehabilitate existing facilities and support aircraft innovation, according to its Airport Infrastructure Needs: 2017-2021 report. The $20 billion in average annual infrastructure funding needs for U.S. airports is more than double the funding currently available through annual airport generated net income via Passenger Facility Charge user fees and Airport Improvement Program grants, says the report.

Last week, U.S. airline CEOs had the Big Three Middle East carriers in their crosshairs during the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Aviation Summit, reports Airways magazine. Etihad Group CEO James Hogan announced his departure in January after the carrier was hit with heavy losses caused by a global expansion via investing in more than half a dozen airlines around the world, according to Business Insider. And now Emirates CEO Tim Clark spoke about a “gathering storm” as his airline sees strong competition on its routes by low-cost carriers including Singapore Airlines’ Scoot and Norwegian Air, reports Bloomberg. When asked about changing Emirates’ widebody fleet to better compete, he said while he didn’t see any immediate changes, he did note that  “others coming behind may take a different view,” which was seen as a strong hint that his days in the top spot may be coming to an end.

Skift reports that as Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways deal with economic hardship and low oil prices, labor and service cuts are coming soon. Known for the over-the-top amenities offered to their top customers, Skift noted six areas where the three airlines may cut service, including lounges, food and beverage and aircraft orders.

Qatar Airways' new QSuite business class seat. Photo courtesy of Qatar Airways

But Qatar Airways isn’t going down without a fight.  The Runway Girl Network’s John Walton reports on the carrier unveiling its new business class seat, the QSuite. The seat offers families or other groups of four a convertible space a forwards-backwards staggered design that enables fully flat beds with direct aisle access for every passenger — with doors. The seat was unveiled at this week’s ITB Berlin trade show.

On January 10, 2001, American Airlines announced that it was buying the assets of troubled iconic carrier TWA for $500 million. And 16 years after that transaction, American — acquired by US Airways on Feb. 14, 2013 — is now being sued by three former TWA pilots over how the carrier handled a contractual dispute that could see at least 85 pilots demoted from captain to first officer, reports the Dallas Morning News. After the merger, instead of integrating TWA’s pilots into its seniority list, American just tacked 1200 of them to the bottom of the list. Changes were made to alleviate some of this, but they went by the wayside after American’s Chapter 11 filing in 2011, and its subsequent merger with US Airways.

A passenger being screened at Boston-Logan International Airport. Photo by Benet J. Wilson

A passenger being screened at Boston-Logan International Airport. Photo by Benet J. Wilson

I flew down to Fort Lauderdale this week to visit Spirit Airlines. I used Clear for my ID check and went immediately into the TSA PreCheck line. As walked through the metal detector, the device went off despite me knowing I didn’t have any metal in my pockets. I learned that I had been tagged for a random extra screening. But it wasn’t a normal pat-down. In fact it was what TSA is calling “a pat-down that is more involved,” reports Lifehacker. The TSA has warned airport officials, crew, and law enforcement that the new procedure “may involve an officer making more intimate contact than before.” I’ll just say my pat-down was pretty intimate, although the officer was very professional and told me exactly what she was doing during the process.

Here are my six picks for more stories you should read over the weekend. Enjoy!

17096557489_f0c56cdd15_kEDITOR’S NOTE: Benét J. Wilson is a freelance aviation/travel writer based in Baltimore who is available for your writing and branded content/content marketing projects. She’s the Air Travel Expert for About.com. Follow her travel-related magazines on Flipboard: Best of About Travel, a joint curation venture with her fellow About Travel Experts; Travel-Go! There’s Nothing Stopping You, all about the passenger experience on the ground and in the air; and Aviation Geek, a joint magazine sharing everything you need to know about the commercial aviation industry. Check out her travel-related boards on Pinterest and follow her on Twitter at @AvQueenBenet, on her Aviation Queen Facebook Page and on Instagram at aviationqueen.