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Published: Wed, 18 Jan 2017 00:00:00 -0500

Last Build Date: Wed, 18 Jan 2017 03:06:37 -0500


Shooting at Ft. Lauderdale Airport; Five Reported Dead, Eight More Injured; Single Suspect in Custody

Fri, 06 Jan 2017 14:45:00 -0500

A gunman in Florida's Ft-Lauderdale-Hollywood airport shot and killed many people this morning. While the specifics, as usual in the early reporting on such incidences, are not nailed down, CNN first reported 9 injured and "multiple" dead as of the time of this posting. A suspect is in custody, Broward County Mayor Barbara Sharief told CNN. There is no reason to believe he did not act alone. That suspect has not yet been identified and no motive yet being reported. The shooting happened near the lower level baggage claim at the airport. The Washington Post is now reporting five dead, eight others injured. UPDATE (3 pm est): Via Kansas City Star, details on incident and shooter, not verified yet by law enforcement: Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida said on MSNBC that the shooter is named Esteban Santiago and that the man was carrying a military identification... Mark Lea, who said he was a witness to the shootings, told MSNBC that the shooter was a man, wearing a Star Wars T-shirt, and that he walked into the baggage claim area of Terminal 2 and opened fire with a single handgun. Lea said the man said nothing as we he went through three magazines before giving up and sprawling spread-eagle on the flood as a police officer took him into custody. "He had no intention of escaping," Lea told MSNBC. UPDATE II (4 pm est). Via Daily Beast a good summation of what's being reported about arrested suspect Esteban Santiago, including his criminal record: Santiago landed at the airport after a flight. Santiago checked a handgun in his luggage and retrieved it at the Terminal 2 baggage claim, [Broward County Commissioner Chip] LaMaca wrote [on Facebook], adding that he loaded the gun in a bathroom then came out and opened fire. NBC News, citing law enforcement officials, confirmed LaMarca's story... Santiago was born in New Jersey, according to NBC News, and was a member of the U.S. Army National guard. Santiago lived in Anchorage, Alaska from 2014 to 2016. Alaska court records show a criminal record there for minor traffic infractions including operating a vehicle without insurance and a broken taillight. Records also show his landlord evicted him for non-payment of rent in February 2015. In January 2016, Santiago was charged with two misdemeanor crimes: one count of fourth-degree assault and another for damage of property over $50. According to a spokesperson from the Anchorage Police department the incident was related to domestic violence. The case was resolved in March when Santiago entered into a deferred prosecution agreement, an alternative to adjudication where a state prosecutor dismissed the charges in exchange for Esteban's completion of requirements that are unknown. UPDATE III (5:45 pm est) CBS Miami reports Santiago in November "walked into an FBI office in Anchorage claiming that he was being forced to fight for ISIS. He was sent to a psychiatric hospital."[...]

Brickbat: Fly the Friendly Skies

Mon, 19 Dec 2016 04:00:00 -0500

(image) Denise Albert, who is battling breast cancer, says she was humilated by Transportation Security Administration screeners at Los Angeles International Aiport. She said they roughly searched her, including the area around her metal port, then when examing the contents of her bag mocked the false eyelashes she was carrying because the cancer treatment has caused her to lose her natural lashes.

Imaginary Gunmen Attack Los Angeles Airport

Mon, 29 Aug 2016 13:23:00 -0400

(image) Last night rumors of an active shooter turned Los Angeles International Airport inside out. According to ABC News, "Passengers breached security doors and spilled out onto the airport tarmac." The airport's official statement describes the crowd's behavior more gingerly, informing us that travelers "self-evacuated onto the tarmac" and "rushed through federal security screening without being properly screened." By the time the lockdown was over, there had been 281 flight delays, 27 flight diversions, two flight cancellations, and at least one injury.

The injured person was trampled by the crowd. No one was injured by the gunman, because there was no gunman. The whole episode was a mass delusion, set off by a loud noise and, possibly, by a fellow dressed as Zorro. "Someone yelled that [the Zorro man] had a sword, which turned out to be wooden," ABC says. "Later, reports of an active shooter began to spread throughout the airport, but it remains unclear if those reports were related directly to the man in the costume."

This comes two weeks after sounds mistaken for gunfire set off a similar security scare at JFK Airport in New York.

Active-shooter false alarms are more common than actual active shooters. This summer alone, we've seen them at a Nevada campus, a North Carolina mall, a Maryland military base, a Florida Chipotle, a New York shopping center, and several other locations; just a few days ago, shoppers fled a mall in Orlando after they thought the sound of balloons popping was the sound of a gun being fired. But the phantom attacks at JFK and LAX stand out, because airports are the most heavily policed places that large crowds of ordinary American civilians pass through every day. Twice in two weeks, we've seen that security apparatus collapse at a sign of trouble. And in at least one of those two collapses, the apparatus wound up actually feeding the fear. At JFK, New York magazine described guards plunging into hysteria, including one in a stairwell "sobbing hysterically and screaming" and another "dismissing anyone who turned to him for help or leadership by yelling that he didn't want to die tonight, either."

In Los Angeles, airport police have denied reports that they told travelers to flee. That might be true: If people are relaying rumors of gunshots that didn't really happen, they could certainly also mistake a passenger yelling "Run!" for an officer yelling "Run!" It might also be false. NBC's Lester Holt, for one, says he saw security personnel joining the stampede. There's nothing about a uniform that makes a man immune to alarm.

TSA Agents Detained Nine-Year Old Boy Because He Had A Pacemaker

Tue, 23 Aug 2016 10:35:00 -0400

TSA agents at Phoenix' Sky Harbor International Airport detained nine-year old Chille Bergstrom and his family for more than an hour on Saturday, causing them to miss their flight, because they suspected the kid was hiding a bomb in his chest. He wasn't, of course. Chille was born with a rare heart condition that requires him to wear a pacemaker. The tiny medical implant literally keeps him alive, but it means that he can't go through the scanning equipment at airport security checkpoints. Instead, he has to ask for the alternative pat-down screening. His family told KMSP in Minneapolis, where they live, that they asked for an alternative screening and presented paperwork detailing Chille's medical condition. When they did, TSA agents said they needed a special exemption they did not have, according to Ali Bergstrom, Chille's mother. That's when things really got out of control. The Bergstroms say they were escorted into a private room with armed police officers and TSA supervisors surrounding them while Chille was subjected to what Ali called a lengthy and demeaning search. Chille, who has been through airport security several times before, even asked why this screening was so different. "One of the TSA agents told me they'd prevented terrorist attacks using nine-year-old boys with pacemakers and children before, so I laughed and said, 'Oh when?' At that point, the TSA agent became very quiet and said, 'Oh we're not at liberty to discuss this,'" Ali told KMSP. The TSA probably doesn't have any record of that, because the TSA has never provided evidence that it stopped even a single terrorist attack in the 15 years since it was created. The Bergstroms say they never got an apology for the way their son was treated, and the TSA told KMSP they are "reviewing" the incident. By the time the TSA determined that Chille wasn't concealing a sophisticated explosive device in his chest, the family had missed their flight and ended up waiting 15 hours for the next one. This isn't the first time Phoenix Sky Harbor has been the scene of TSA hijinks. In May, after a machine that scans checked bags for bombs broke down, agents moved some 3,000 pieces of luggage into the airport's parking lot before eventually putting them on planes to other airports to be scanned. After that debacle, dozens of agents from Phoenix were reassigned to other airports because that's what passes for accountability inside the TSA. More importantly, that incident caused city and airport officials to discuss booting the TSA out of Sky Harbor. Sal Diciccio, a Phoenix city councilman, says "the long wait lines, people missing flights, lost luggage and hours of waiting in line are not acceptable." Changing to private security would solve some of those problems and would improve customer service, he argues. It's hard to imagine worse customer service than what you get with the TSA. A report from the House Homeland Security Commitee found that nearly half of all TSA agents committed some form of misconduct between 2013 and 2015. Nothing has changed in the last two years. From nine-year old Chille Bergstrom to the 19-year old disabled woman who was bloodied and bruised by TSA agents in Memphis last month to the 90-year old woman who was strip searched last October, the list of humiliating abuses that do nothing to improve security goes on and on. Private security firms might make mistakes too, but at least they can be fired and new, better firms can be hired to replace them. Given his age, Chille doesn't know what it's like to go through an airport without experiencing the TSA's security theater. He should just accept this as the norm, like millions of Americans do every day. Still, Chille told KMSP he had a message for the TSA: "Just be better at your job." Since that's unlikely, make sure you review Reason TV's guide to dealing with the TSA before the next time you go to the airport. src="" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" frameborder="0" hei[...]

The Night JFK Airport Went Mad

Wed, 17 Aug 2016 10:10:00 -0400

It seemed like a major story at first, and then it seemed like one of those news-of-the-weird tales that shuttle through Facebook for a day or two and then get forgotten. Sunday night there were reports of gunshots in two terminals at New York's JFK Airport. Fear swept through the crowds, and the areas were evacuated; eventually it turned out that no one had fired any weapons after all. An odd interlude, made odder by the fact that something similar had happened at a mall in North Carolina the day before, but not the sort of news-dominating event that an actual attack with perps and corpses would have been. But it was a big story. It was a burst of hysteria that shows our capacity to generate our own terror even in the absence of actual terrorists, especially when the authorities are actively spreading the flames. I recommend reading David Wallace-Wells' vivid account of that night at JFK, and not just because it's a gripping dispatch from a writer who happened to be there when the fear took hold. Decades of sociological research have shown that, no matter how many Hollywood clichés to the contrary you may have seen, it is rare for a disaster to produce a mass panic; spontaneous cooperation and emergent order are the norm. But there is little spontaneous cooperation or emergent order in Wallace-Wells' story—not until the apparent danger has passed: After that second stampede, out on the tarmac, passengers moved in to comfort and inform each other, as best they could. Those who've lived through real disasters and those who study them often talk about the improvised communities of support that spring up in real time to help. But last night, in a false disaster, it took the complete passing of a threat before that variety of kindness sprang up. Why? We'll need more than one man's account before we can get anything approaching a full answer to that question. But one theme running through Wallace-Wells' report is that the people policing the airport intervened in heavy-handed ways that made the situation much worse. "Not only did police and security fail to prevent the spectacle of mob hysteria," he writes at one point; "on some level, given the way they pressed a hysterical crowd right back into a compressed space, they staged it." There is also this: Some of [the people on the tarmac] had been swept outside by police charging through the terminals with guns drawn, shouting for people to get down, show their hands, and drop their luggage, since nothing was more important than your life. Others had been on lines where TSA agents grabbed their gear and just ran, at least according to reports on Twitter. And this: [A]ll of a sudden, all the guards were urging us back inside, not because they knew of any threat out there, but because they were following another protocol: It's illegal for civilians to be out on the tarmac, so we had to get back inside. Not that anyone bothered to explain that logic, or anything else; the best information anyone could give was "active shooter." Probably ten different guards said that to me, and nothing more. Where were their radios, I kept wondering. Why don't they know what to do with us, or at least what to tell us? Surely an airport like JFK would have a contingency plan for a situation like this, which would call for passengers to be taken to a particular place or dealt with in a particular way. If there is such a plan, I saw no evidence of it last night, nor any sign of meaningful or helpful lines of communication between the various parts of the airport operation or the security forces that flooded in after the first reports of gunfire. And this: Soon [Wallace-Wells' wife] found herself in another stairwell, where there was one guard sobbing hysterically and screaming and another dismissing anyone who turned to him for help or leadership by yelling that he didn't want to die tonight, either. Where I was, there was more variety: A few were responsible-seeming, measured and urging e[...]

Almost Half of All TSA Employees Commit Misconduct, New Report Says

Mon, 18 Jul 2016 16:52:00 -0400

A new report from the House Homeland Security Committee found that almost half of all Transportation Security Administration (TSA) employees allegedly committed some form of misconduct between 2013 and 2015. Additionally, misconduct rose by nearly 29 percent during this period. Some of the complaints include failure to follow TSA procedures, abusive behavior, sexual misconduct, and bribery. On average, 58 allegations of misconduct were filed at each airport in 2015, with 35 percent of airports experiencing an increase in the number of allegations over those two years. In fairness, not every airport saw even one allegation. The number of complaints nationwide ranged from 0 to nearly 1,400, with the nation's largest airports experiencing higher rates of conduct violations. There have been efforts to reverse the trend. The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) recommended in 2013 that the agency create a misconduct review process and put investigation procedures for misconduct allegations in place. The TSA said they were implementing these recommendations, but data suggest it did little good. One reason for the rise in incidents of misconduct, according to the report, was the TSA's failure to rigorously comply with the new policies. The GAO's recommendation came after their report showing misconduct by employees increased by almost 27 percent between 2010 and 2012. The data also show the TSA investigated fewer complaints as more were filed. The number of investigations that the agency opened decreased by 15 percent from 2013 to 2015. Only 6 percent of total misconduct allegations were investigated in 2013 vs. 4 percent in 2015. The report then goes on to blame the TSA's bureaucratic structure, which tasks multiple disparate parties with investigating allegations (as you can see below).  In order to deal with these problems, the Homeland Security Committee recommends that the TSA name "a senior executive to be responsible for overseeing the misconduct process" and that that person issue a department-wide misconduct policy. But given that the agency already got a set of government recommendations a few years ago and failed to implement them, one has to wonder if these policies will actually do anything substantive to make air travel safer. As Reason's Ronald Bailey wrote in May, the TSA has a history of missing weapons and other allegedly dangerous items during screening. The TSA is also suffering from long lines caused by understaffing, and has had to reach out to the airlines for assistance in dealing with this issue. It's a shame that nobody is floating the idea of privatizing the process. According to Chris Edwards of the Cato Institute, private security services have a proven track record of being both efficient and innovative. "Most airports in Europe and Canada use private companies for their passenger and baggage screening," he wrote in a 2013 policy analysis. "That practice creates a more efficient and innovative security structure, and it allows governments to focus on gathering intelligence and conducting analysis rather than on trying to manage a large workforce." If you're planning on flying this summer, make sure to watch Reason TV's guide to dealing with the TSA: src="" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0">[...]

Disabled Teen Cancer Patient Bloodied by TSA

Fri, 01 Jul 2016 15:48:00 -0400


For 17 years, Hannah Cohen and her family have traveled between their home in Chattanooga and Memphis so she could receive treatment for a brain tumor at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. After completing the end of her treatment on June 30 of last year, then-18-year-old Hannah and her mother, Shirley, made their way through Memphis International Airport to get on a flight home, as they had so many times before.

However, the Cohens did not make it back to Chattanooga that night. Instead, Hannah was locked up in a Shelby County jail, her face bloodied and bruised after a confrontation with Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents.

Her years of treatment left the teenager partially deaf, blind in one eye, and limited in her abilities to walk and talk. She also, according to her mother, can become easily confused.

When Hannah went through the metal detector at the airport, an alarm went off. Disoriented by the noise, she did not immediately cooperate with TSA agents who asked to conduct further screening.

Shirley Cohen tried to inform the agents about her daughter's disabilities, she told television station WREG, but airport police kept her away. That's when the situation between Hannah and the TSA officials became violent:

"She's trying to get away from them but in the next instant, one of them had her down on the ground and hit her head on the floor. There was blood everywhere," said [Shirley].

Security personnel arrested Hannah (though all charges against her were later dropped), and what should have been a night of celebration with family and friends because a night of terror and confusion in a jail cell.

A year later, the family is suing the airport, its police, and the TSA for damages, including medical expenses and emotional injuries. According to the lawsuit, they are asking for a "reasonable sum not exceeding $100,000 and costs."

The defendants declined to comment, while TSA spokeswoman Sari Koshetz noted in a statement that "passengers can call ahead of time to learn more about the screening process for their particular needs or medical situation."

Airport Lines and the TSA: Your Government Is Failing You

Mon, 23 May 2016 00:01:00 -0400

This summer, air travel is for people who expect to go to hell and want to know what it will be like. Security lines have reached epic lengths in many airports. Thousands of travelers have missed flights. And the Transportation Security Administration now advises passengers to arrive two hours before departure for domestic flights—and three in some places.  The agency in charge of aviation security has become a major problem. That's odd, because it was supposed to be a solution. Nearly 15 years after it was created, it's a case study of how firm, well-intentioned government intervention can produce an exploding cigar.  The agency came into being because of the 9/11 attacks, carried out by terrorists who commandeered airliners. A large share of the blame was heaped on airport security firms that didn't intercept the hijackers.  This lapse was not merely the failure of the workers manning the X-ray machines at the nation's airports. It was, we were told, a failure of the private sector, which was responsible for screening—and the only reliable way to prevent future attacks was to turn security over to the federal government.  A few weeks after the attacks, House Democratic leader Richard Gephardt took the House floor to lament the existing system. "The companies that have been doing this have failed the American people," he declared. "We must put security in the hands of law enforcement officers."  His was a common sentiment. Private contractors, we were told, paid their screeners too little, hired employees without adequate background checks and sometimes missed weapons being taken through checkpoints. When Republicans argued for keeping these operators but monitoring them better, Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., scorned the idea: "We've had private contractors with government supervision in the past, and we ended up with 5,000 dead."  It wasn't exactly fair to blame the screeners for 9/11. The knives and box cutters reportedly used by the hijackers were not prohibited at the time. The 9/11 Commission faulted the Federal Aviation Administration because its policies "were aimed at keeping bombs out of baggage, not at keeping planes from being turned into guided missiles." Flight crews were trained not to resist hijackers—which made it easy for the terrorists to take over the planes.  In spite of all that, Congress insisted on establishing the TSA, which today has some 55,000 employees, an annual budget of $7.44 billion and an aversion to self-criticism.  Explaining the recent mammoth delays, it said, "Individuals who come to the TSA checkpoint unprepared for a trip can have a negative impact on the time it takes to complete the screening process." Administrator Peter Neffenger said he was sorry about the people stranded in Chicago last weekend but added, "I won't apologize for doing our job well."  No need, since that accusation has not been heard. The delays would be easier to bear if screeners were relentlessly proving their value. But last year, in an investigation by the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general, undercover agents got banned items past screeners in 95 percent of their attempts.  "After spending over $540 million on baggage screening equipment and millions more on training, the failure rate today is higher than it was in 2007," complained Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. "Something is not working."  Actually, more than one thing is not working. The agency's culture also undermines safety. "Dozens of Transportation Security Administration employees in recent years have been reassigned, demoted, investigated or fired for reporting lapses or misconduct by senior managers, charges that were later upheld by whistle-blower protection agencies," The New York Times reported last month.  One remedy the ag[...]

TSA Says These Shoes Are Made for Blocking

Tue, 01 Mar 2016 10:11:00 -0500

(image) TSA screeners at the Baltimore/Washington International Airport forced a traveler to abandon her "gun-themed" shoes and bracelets last Saturday. The woman, who had the items in a carry-on bag, was told she could take them only if she put them in her checked luggage. She discarded them rather than miss her flight.

There is no question this was an embarrassing incident, but exactly who should be embarrassed is a matter of dispute. TSA spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein, who called attention to the de facto confiscation on Twitter, clearly thinks it shows the agency's employees are on the ball, keen to enforce its ban on "realistic replicas of firearms" in carry-on bags. "Friendly reminder from @TSA: Realistic replica firearms and ammunition are not permitted past TSA checkpoints," Farbstein tweeted.

These shoes and bracelets hardly seem to qualify as realistic replicas, assuming the rationale for the ban is preventing hijackers from using fake guns to take control of an airplane. But according to the TSA's blog, the problem is that items resembling weapons "can cause significant delays" because TSA experts "must respond to resolve the alarm." In other words, the TSA wastes time on nonsense because otherwise it would end up wasting time on nonsense. 

TSA screeners do occasionally come across actual firearms—an average of seven a day last year, up from two a day in 2005. Yet last year CNN reported that "airport screeners failed to detect explosives and weapons in nearly every test that an undercover team conducted at dozens of airports." They missed the test items 95 percent of the time.

But at least travelers are occasionally punished for questionable fashion choices. Farbstein described the footwear and jewelry discovered at BWI on Saturday as "shoes and bracelets that are less than ideal to wear or bring to a @TSA checkpoint." She added that "these delayed a traveler at BWI." Actually, I think the TSA did that.

How to Convert the FAA's Air Traffic Control Into a Non-Profit

Sun, 14 Feb 2016 10:00:00 -0500

Editor's Note: On February 10, 2016, Reason Foundation Director of Transportation Policy Robert Poole testified before the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure's hearing "Review of Air Traffic Control Reform Proposals." Here are Poole's remarks. Chairman Shuster, Ranking Member DeFazio, and fellow Members: my name is Robert Poole, Director of Transportation Policy at Reason Foundation, a nonprofit think tank with offices in Los Angeles and Washington, DC. I received my engineering degrees from MIT and began my career in the aerospace industry, before moving into the think tank world. I have been following the performance of the U.S. air traffic control (ATC) system since the late 1970s, and have written many reports and journal articles on the subject, including for the Transportation Research Board's peer-reviewed journal Transportation Research Record as well as The Journal of Air Traffic Control. Over the years I have visited corporatized air navigation service providers including Airways New Zealand, NATS, and Nav Canada, and have given presentations at conferences hosted by ATC organizations such as Air Traffic Control Association (ATCA) and the Civil Air Navigation Services Organization (CANSO). I am a member of the GAO's National Aviation Studies Advisory Panel, and during the last several years served on the ATC reform working groups of both the Business Roundtable and the Eno Center. We are here today because there is a growing consensus that the U.S. air traffic control system is not performing as well as it should. While it remains the world's largest and one of the world's safest, it "no longer has the most modern equipment, the most efficient airplane routings, or the best technology of any of the world's air traffic control providers." Those are not my words: they are the conclusion of all three former Chief Operating Officers of the FAA's Air Traffic Organization, as well as three former Secretaries of Transportation. We have lost our global leadership position in air traffic control. The question before Congress is: What is the best approach to reform the provision of air traffic control in the United States? Before I give you my answer, let me provide some context. The Global ATC Corporatization Trend In 1987 the government of New Zealand shifted its ATC system out of the transport ministry and converted it into a government-owned corporation, paid directly by its aviation users. This was one of a series of government-wide reforms that included the corporatization of a number of government departments that provided direct services to various customers. The good performance of Airways New Zealand after it was corporatized inspired a wave of similar actions during the 1990s—including the creation of Airservices Australia, Nav Canada, and DFS (in Germany). Airways NZ was also the inspiration for Vice President Gore's reinventing government proposal for U.S. air traffic control, which resulted in legislation to separate our ATC system from the FAA as a government corporation dubbed USATS—U.S. Air Traffic Services. (Needless to say, that legislation was not enacted.) In the decades that followed, more than 60 countries have corporatized their ATC systems, and some of those new air navigation services providers (ANSPs) created an international organization called CANSO—a counterpart of ACI for airports and IATA for airlines. Of the 87 full members of CANSO as of last year, 51 are commercialized, defined as being self-supporting from fees and charges paid directly to them by their customers and regulated at arm's length by the government's air safety regulator. In 2001 ICAO called for the organizational separation of air safety regulation from ATC service provision, to increase transparency and avert conflicts of interest between regulators and pro[...]

Another Asian Air Traveler Detained Over Suspicions She's Being Sex Trafficked

Thu, 14 Jan 2016 15:45:00 -0500

As escort and author Amanda Brooks commented on Twitter today, "trafficker is the new terrorist" in America. The spectre of sex trafficking is providing the Department of Homeland Security with new cover to push citizens who "see something" to "say something" and urge hospitality workers to turn in "suspicious" patrons. And it's giving non-white airline passengers a new reason to fear detainment at the hands of government officials. The latest example comes out of New York, where an entire plane was detained while an interracial couple—the woman Asian American, the man Puerto Rican—were questioned by Port Authority police officers over suspected sex trafficking.  The couple, Kathleen Chan and Jay Serrano, are residents of Astoria, Queens, who were returning from a holiday trip to the Dominican Republic. When their American Airlines flight landed at JFK Airport, the flight captain asked everyone to stay seated. After about 20 minutes, three armed Port Authority police officers entered the plane and asked Chan to escort them outside, she said.   "Chan showed her New York State driver’s license, with its photo ID and proof that she lived at the same address in Astoria that Serrano did," reports New York City news station PIX 11. "I asked him, 'Can you tell me what this is about?'" Chan recalled. "He told me the flight crew had alerted the police that it was a possible case of sex trafficking. They thought I had not spoken any English, and that I was taking directions from Jay during the flight." [...] The officers told Chan and Serrano the reasons they were flagged. The flight crew had noticed that Chan followed Serrano to the bathroom, when he needed to use the facilities. Serrano told PIX 11 he had a fever and was sick during the turbulent flight, so Chan helped him get to the bathroom, and she waited for him outside. At one point, a male flight attendant asked Chan to move from his seat. "So, I apologized," she said. At another point, Serrano requested a half cup of orange juice, and when he received a full cup, he gave some to Chan, who requested a stirrer. A couple sharing an orange juice? I mean, geez, why didn't Serrano just shackle her already? By way of an explanation, an American Airlines statement noted that "out of an abundance of caution, our employees are trained to report any activity that is out of the ordinary." Expect this sort of "abundance of caution" to ramp up as more and more transit employees—from Transportation Security Administration agents to Amtrak and Greyhound staff—are required under federal and state laws to get trained on the alleged signs of sex trafficking.  At the federal level, this is conducted under the guise of Homeland Security's Blue Campaign, which offers "human trafficking awareness training" to not just U.S. Customs officers and Border Patrol agents but also to public-school teachers and administrators, emergency responders, healthcare providers, clergy members, hotel housekeepers, truck drivers, and many others. DHS also distributes federally-funded posters and other propaganda materials for display in city subway stations, airport bookstores, truck stops, and gas stations. Promotional materials mix melodramatic and sexualized images of young women with rhetoric about "modern slavery" and "awareness" tips that alternate between so obvious it's absurd ("was the victim forced to perform sexual acts?") to so broad they could ensnare anyone ("avoids eye contact," travels with too few or too many personal belongings). The Blue Lightening Initiative is DHS and the Department of Transportation's awareness effort aimed specifically at flight attendants and other commercial-airline personnel. "Flight Attendants and airline employees will be the 'boots in the air' fighting [...]

How Government Aggravates Airline Delays

Thu, 07 Jan 2016 00:01:00 -0500

Governments often act in response to perceived crises, which is not to say they act in ways that are helpful. The point is to be seen as doing something. The danger of a crisis is that it blinds policymakers to the fact that their remedies can cause more harm than they cure.  In the summer of 2007, the supposed emergency unfolded on airport tarmacs, where a small but noticeable number of commercial jets were stuck for hours waiting to depart. The passengers were unable to get to their destinations, but they were also unable to get off the plane. A February ice storm that hit New York stranded some travelers for 10 hours as food ran out and toilets filled up.  Congress might have assumed that in a competitive market, airlines that subjected their customers to intolerable conditions would be forced to improve or go bankrupt—as many carriers have done.  The airlines involved in these ordeals apologized and vowed to avoid any repetition. After travelers on one flight endured an eight-hour delay, an American Airlines official said, "This was an extraordinary circumstance. We have learned from it, and frankly we don't expect it to ever happen again."  Even in 2007, the worst year, these events were exceptionally rare. They soon got even scarcer. By 2009, the number of tarmac delays lasting three hours or more had declined by 64 percent.  But that improvement did not satisfy the Obama administration. In 2009, it decreed that if passengers on a plane are stuck on the tarmac for more than three hours, the carrier is liable for a fine of $27,500 per passenger—which on a typical flight could exceed $5 million.  "Airline passengers have rights," proclaimed Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, "and these new rules will require airlines to live up to their obligation to treat their customers fairly."  But for almost every government action, there is an unwanted outcome. Threatening ruinous penalties worked beautifully in keeping passengers from being held for lengthy periods on the runway. Three-hour tarmac delays have gone the way of hot meals in coach, dropping by 99.6 percent. But that doesn't mean travelers are no longer being subjected to maddening snafus.  Scholars Vikrant Vaze of Dartmouth and Chiwei Yan, Allison Vanderboll, and Cynthia Barnhart of MIT found a less congenial effect: a sharp increase in flight cancellations. A carrier faced with the prospect of keeping a plane full of anxious passengers on board too long, incurring a heavy fine, often ends up scrubbing the flight.  In that case, passengers who might have waited four hours to take off may find themselves waiting even longer to catch another flight. They may be stuck at airports far from home, sitting or sleeping on the floor. They may miss connecting flights.  They may also incur expenses for food, lodging and other needs. Some of them won't ever get where they planned to go, because the delay renders the trip pointless.  Overall, the study found, "each passenger-minute of tarmac time saving is achieved at the cost of approximately three passenger-minutes in total passenger delays. This is due primarily to increases in flight cancellations." The authors' conclusion confirms the finding of a 2011 report from the federal Government Accountability Office.  This consequence was unintended but not unforeseeable. In fact, it was foreseen. In 2007, when the idea gained currency, a spokesman for the Air Transport Association of America warned: "You have to keep in mind, if there is legislation that imposes inflexible standards on a carrier's operations, that easily could have the unintended effect of inconveniencing customers more in some situations. It's not always the easy or the right choice to simply say, 'Af[...]

Happy New Year From the TSA!

Sun, 03 Jan 2016 09:30:00 -0500

Fresh off a few big announcements and a wave of publicized transgender harassment at the end of 2015, the TSA apparently is planning to kick it up a notch in the new year.

The huddled masses at airports will no longer be able to opt out of going through body scanners (which might be unlawful in the first place, but who's counting?). Also, if you have the misfortune of living in one of nine of states that have objected to the feds' REAL ID scheme, you may not even be able to use your driver's license to get on a plane. At least the DHS now says the TSA will give you 120 days' notice before invalidating your ID. Happy (first four months of) 2016!

And remember, no ID will save you if you try to bring a vehicle airbag or recreational oxygen aboard your flight, though your five pounds of dry ice are still welcome. Let's keep the fun reasonable, shall we?

Watch below for the behaviors you should and should not exhibit while traveling, lest you be confused for a terrorist.

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Ho! Ho! Ho! Get Your Ass in That Body Scanner, Santa!

Wed, 23 Dec 2015 10:35:00 -0500

(image) Prepare to be body-scanned, holiday travelers. Oh, you think you're going to opt out in favor of a less-intrusive pat-down? Think again.

Quietly, on December 18, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced a change of the rules for the use of body scanning technology at airport security systems across the country. Now, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) can opt out of letting you opt out of using the body scanners. That is to say, they can decide—for reasons!—that you must go through the body scanners. Julia Angwin, an investigative reporter from ProPublica, made note of the rule change last night on Twitter. From the newly published rules:

"While passengers may generally decline [Advanced Imaging Technology] AIT screening in favor of a physical screening, TSA may direct mandatory AIT screening for some passengers as warranted by security considerations in order to safeguard transportation security."

The report does not indicate what sort of "security considerations" may prompt the TSA to decide who may or may not opt out of screenings, so add yet another element of pure randomness to your adventures through security theater. The DHS makes sure to repeatedly point out, though, that the body scanners are no longer showing your naked bodies, but generic images with any locations of anything that scans as unusual highlighted for further review.

Mind you, the TSA is being sued by the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), the National Center of Transgender Equality, and the Rutherford Institute because they've deployed these body scanners before completing their federal rule-making process in the first place. This new documentation notes that the TSA "expects" to publish its final rules on the use of the body scanner machines in 2016, years after they started using them.

In September, Reason (and many other media outlets) made note of the humiliating experience of Shadi Petosky, a transgender television writer and producer (her cartoon, Danger & Eggs, was just picked up by Amazon) who got caught up and humiliated by TSA employees who did not know how to react to the difference between her female appearance and the fact that she had a penis, which triggered an alert from the body scanner. In response, TSA representatives assured that they would improve the system for handling transgender travelers. It doesn't appear that much has changed, though. She tweeted about going through a similar humiliating ordeal at Puerto Rico's airport with TSA agents earlier this December.

Enjoy your holidays, Americans. But make sure to do so in such a way that doesn't make low-level federal employees nervous or even slightly confused:

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Here's Why the ACLU Is Suing the Government over the No-Fly List—and Winning

Mon, 07 Dec 2015 11:35:00 -0500

Last night, President Barack Obama made it abundantly clear in his speech that his administration is behind the push to deny guns to those who show up on federal no-fly lists. He said, "Congress should act to make sure no one on a no-fly list is able to buy a gun. What could possibly be the argument for allowing a terrorist suspect to buy a semi-automatic weapon? This is a matter of national security." Obama, a constitutional scholar, knows full well about this little thing called "due process," which prohibits the government from simply depriving people of their rights on the basis of just official suspicion. And he also knows full well that the lack of due process with the no-fly list is causing the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security some serious legal headaches. It's not the National Rifle Association (NRA) that's keeping the administration from depriving people on the no-fly list their rights; it's the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Rahinah Ibraham is not a suspected terrorist. She was a scholar and doctoral candidate at Stanford University in the United States from Malaysia with a valid student visa. She ended up on the no-fly list on what turned out to be a clerical error. It wasn't even a case of mistaken identity. An FBI agent literally checked the wrong box when filing paperwork in 2004. It took a decade of fighting with the government to fix this problem. Why? Because the system by which the government adds people to the no-fly list has absolutely no transparency or due process in its appeal process. Until this year, the federal government wouldn't even confirm that an individual was even on the no-fly list, which coincidentally made it a challenge to fight one's inclusion. A judge in 2014 ruled that the government violated Ibraham's and others' rights by mistakenly adding them to the no-fly list and refusing to fix the problem. Ibraham's case wasn't an ACLU case, but the ACLU has filed a lawsuit on behalf of 13 people, including four veterans, who have been placed on the no-fly list and not given appropriate due process procedures to have their names cleared. The ACLU (and others like Ibraham) have gotten a partial victory. The federal government will now actually inform individuals (if they actually ask) whether they are on a no-fly list. If possible, it will provide unclassified "summaries" of their reasons for being on the list. But that's still not real due process, and the ACLU is not satisfied. They're continuing to challenge the lack of transparency and ability to appeal the no-fly list. From their case page:  [T]he government still keeps its full reasons secret. It also withholds evidence and exculpatory information from our clients and refuses to give them a live hearing to establish their credibility or cross-examine witnesses. Because of these and other serious problems, the ACLU has challenged the revised process as unconstitutional. Until the government fixes its unconstitutional new process, people on the No Fly List are barred from commercial air travel with no meaningful chance to clear their names, resulting in a vast and growing group of individuals whom the government deems too dangerous to fly but too harmless to arrest. The way the federal government under Obama has managed the no-fly list is already a fairly clear violation of our Fifth Amendment right to due process of law. Adding restrictions to the Second Amendment would be yet another violation. Fortunately, the Senate has already said no to what Obama demanded Sunday evening. Unfortunately, every Democrat except for one (Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota) voted in favor of Obama's blatantly unconstitutional proposal. It[...]