Welcome to the "The Smart Traveler". Your June 2006 newsletter with tips and information to help make your traveling smoother.
problems on airlines growing worse
Add this to the
nightmare scenario for summer air travelers: the growing chance that
their baggage is on another flight, possibly to a different
A congressional panel
seemed sympathetic, but left the clear impression help is not on the
way. "I'm afraid more baggage turmoil is almost an inevitability,"
said Rep. John Mica, chairman of the House Transportation and
Infrastructure Subcommittee on Aviation.
noted that the number of mishandled bags was 23 percent higher in
2005 than in 2004. For every 1,000 passengers, there were 6.04
reports of bags that were delayed, lost, stolen or damaged last
year, according to the Transportation Department.
The likelihood that
bags will be lost or late increases with air travel volume, and this
summer is expected to be the busiest ever. Not only does the
Federation Aviation Administration predict record numbers of
passengers this year, but airplanes will be more crowded than ever.
The airlines are
ready for it, said David Castelveter, spokesman for the Air
Transport Association, which represents large airlines. "We do not
expect a meltdown," he said. John Meanen, the group's executive vice
president, told lawmakers that there are not any systematic
solutions to the problem of mishandled bags. Some people have
suggested, for example, using tags for wireless tracking of luggage.
But most of the time,
said Meanen, "We know where it is, but it isn't where it's supposed
to be." When the number of mishandled bags jumps, it usually is
because an airline is having a specific problem, Meanen said. Often
the problem is staffing, he said. Too few workers was the reason for
massive problems with US Airways passengers' bags over the 2004
Christmas holiday season, according to a report by the
Transportation Department's inspector general.
That December, 42
percent of consumer complaints about baggage had to do with US
Airways, said Samuel Podberesky, an assistant general counsel at the
department. Those problems continued into 2005 and may account for
much of the increase in the number of mishandled bags that year,
are not likely to be repeated on a regular basis," Podberesky told
the subcommittee. US Airways has since hired thousands of employees,
but many financially struggling airlines have trimmed staff to cut
costs. "I'm particularly concerned that airline staffing
requirements may be too thin," said Rep. Leonard Boswell, D-Iowa.
Security delays also
can cause bags to be lost or to arrive late, Mica said.
Last summer at Fort
Lauderdale Airport in Florida, Mica said, delays in screening
passengers caused "near riots." He believes the Transportation
Security Administration ought to speed the screening of checked bags
by installing bomb-detection machines as part of the airport
conveyor belt systems that move luggage. Only 14 airports have done
so, and of those, only three of the busiest -- San Francisco, Boston
and Denver -- have, Mica said.
The TSA's acting
assistant administrator, Charlotte Bryan, told the panel that 29
airports will have the systems in two years. She noted that less
than one-tenth of 1 percent of bags were lost or damaged because of
TSA's security screening.
Meanen echoed that
thought, pointing out that 99 percent of checked bags arrive
undamaged and on time. But, he said, as a former baggage handler, "I
apologize to everyone whose bag was lost or delayed."
U.S. airports to monitor traveler behavior
will now profile travelers who act stressed, afraid or deceptive.The
U.S. Transportation Security Administration will soon use more
behavioral profiling at American airports to detect suspicious
TSA Director Kip Hawley said the agency would
expand a pilot program that has trained officers to observe
passengers' behavior currently at about a dozen airports. He said it
will be expanded after the summer travel rush. "We are looking at
expanding ... as another layer of security," Hawley said. "We have
been very pleased with its effectiveness. We expect it to be an
important part of our security going forward."
TSA officials would not identify which "highest
risk" airports will be included in the expanded program. The program
began at Boston's Logan International Airport -- the departure point
for the two hijacked airplanes that were crashed into the World
Trade Center on September 11. It is also being implemented in Miami
among other airports. George Naccara, the federal security director
at Logan, said the TSA program is modeled on behavior detection
systems used in Israel and some other countries.
"It's been very effective overseas," Naccara
said, where the effort "is much more confrontational and much more
aggressive." Officers are taught to look for abnormal behavior in
passengers, such as people wearing coats when it's warm in order to
disguise bombs, or people acting fidgety or nervous. Naccara said
they look for signs of "stress, fear and deception."
"We associate that with people who are doing
something wrong -- some kind of criminal or terrorist intent," he
said. The officers must be able to differentiate between nervous
travelers and those having something to hide, he added.
Some civil rights groups have complained the
program involves racial profiling. The American Civil Liberties
Union has sued the Massachusetts Port Authority over its behavior
pattern recognition program.
TSA officials said race is not used to monitor
passengers. Officers fill out a score sheet identifying behaviors
that trigger extra screening for a passenger or police attention.
"The vast majority of those referred to law enforcement ... do in
fact have something wrong," said Hawley. "They are either illegal
for false ID, immigration status, drugs or prohibited items."
SHOULD YOU EVER CHECK LUGGAGE?
The bottom line is that all business travelers and frequent
flyers should carry-on their luggage at all times and never check a bag. That way, you'll never lose a bag and you'll have the
flexibility to change flights or airlines if there are delays. You
can sail by your fellow passengers at the baggage carousel waiting
for their precious bags to come around. The luggage mantra for all
frequent flyers is "Pack light and carry-on."
However, sometimes that isn't possible. The dilemma? You've got a
full rollerbag, a computer briefcase and a large portfolio filled
with key presentation materials. You may be carrying a pocketbook,
or a shopping bag with gifts you picked up on the road for your
children. You think you might be able to sneak by the flight
attendant with the extra luggage. Then again, you might not. Maybe
you should just give in and the check the bags. Here are some
factors to consider.
• Is the flight full?
This can work both ways. If the flight is full it's going to be
harder to squeeze that extra bag in the overhead. The flight
attendants are more vigilant and, depending on when you board, that
rollerbag may be gate-checked anyway. A full flight means a lengthy
process when everyone leaves - by the time you ultimately get to
baggage claim, your bag might be waiting there. A full flight also
means that there will be many other bags coming down that chute and
it might be a longer wait.
• Are you connecting?
If you have a tight connection, you might make it, but your bag
might not. Then again, if you have to dash to make the flight a the
last gate of the next terminal, do you really want to drag that
heavy bag with you? I've run into most of my lost luggage problems
connecting from short haul flights on small planes feeding into long
haul flights in large aircraft. It really depends on where you are
connecting through, also one colleague finished an eight-stop
around-the-world business trip, checking bags at each stop with no
problems. Until, that is, the last leg through Denver. The bag
dropped of the radar screen and finally showed up two days later.
• Do you have a long layover before your next flight?
If you have time to kill at the airport, you might not want the
encumbrance of extra bags. Many airports have been transformed into
shopping meccas. If you are connecting through Pittsburgh - one of
the best airport shopping opportunities for business travelers - you
might want to travel light.
• Do you absolutely, positively have to have what's in the bag?
If you have an 8:00 AM meeting with the CEO at the home office, you
don't need your suit and presentation 1,000 miles away. It is a
simple rule: if you must have it, don't check it. Keep medication,
eye glasses, valuables and key business materials with you at all
• How to Get all your Bags on the Flight
The Business Travel team at About is not suggesting that you violate
the strict carry-on limits for the airlines. They exist for
passenger safety. However, even though airlines are cracking down,
there is a great deal of variability in their enforcement. It is
easier to get extra bags on board when the flight is not full, you
are flying on a larger plane (closets!) and you board early.
• Are you ready to run the gauntlet, past the watchful eye of the
- Don't look overburdened, consolidate as much as possible.
- Drape your coat over the extra bag.
- Piggy-back one bag over another - garment bags are ideal for this
- Wear business attire and fly first class - somehow the rules seem
to bend a little.
- Walk with a minimum of fuss and bother. Be confident, stand tall,
don't look guilty.
- If you are caught and asked to gate-check your bags, it is
acceptable to try to charm and wheedle - but only for a very brief
time. If it doesn't work, be gracious and don't berate the flight
attendants. They are only doing their job. Just be sure to get the
receipt for your bags.
• Other Strategies
- If you are returning from a convention or large meeting with a
great deal of paperwork and presentation material - ship it back to
your office. The concierge at your hotel can handle this for you and
you can still carry-on your bag.
- If you are traveling with a colleague and they decide to check,
you might as well join them. You'll have to wait until they collect
their bag anyway.
Fighting germs at 35,000 feet
You're settled into seat 20D when you hear a sniffle coming
from seat 20B and a rumbling cough erupts from the occupant of 21A.
These aren't the cabinmates you were
hoping for? Close contact with illness may be unavoidable if you're
flying during cold and flu season.
Dr. David Weber, a professor at the
University of North Carolina's schools of medicine and public health
in Chapel Hill, urges travelers who are feverish and have
upper-respiratory-tract infections to stay home.
"Unfortunately, people are often
traveling for work or vacations, and if they spent a lot of money,
feel they have to go," Weber said. If you are one of those people,
or are seated near one of those people on the plane, there are a few
simple things you can do to boost your chances of staying healthy in
the air and back on the ground.
Since colds and the flu spread
through droplets and close contact, it's important to wash your
hands frequently with soap and warm water, particularly after
touching surfaces others have recently touched or after shaking
Weber recommends washing for 10 to
15 seconds with soap under running water. FDA-approved antiseptic
liquid or foam hand cleansers also are effective, he said. Avoid
touching your eyes, nose or mouth, because germs are easily spread
Cover mouth and nose
If you're coughing or sneezing,
Weber suggested wearing a mask that covers your nose and mouth. "If
you don't have that, at minimum it would be nice to use a tissue to
cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze," he said.
Containing the infection at the
source is easier than trying to avoid contact with germs that are
already in the cabin. However, uninfected passengers might also
consider wearing a mask if they're seated near someone who is sick.
Drink plenty of fluids
Whether you're sick or not, drinking
plenty of fluids is key to feeling good in flight, said Bonnie Taub-Dix,
a registered dietitian and a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic
Association. Low levels of humidity in airline cabins can have a
dehydrating effect, particularly on long flights. "It's really,
really important to drink a lot of water or club soda," Taub-Dix
said. She also advised passengers not to drink too much alcohol,
which can cause dehydration.
Staying hydrated wards off headaches
and the dry noses and throats that may leave passengers susceptible
Some frequent fliers swear by nasal
sprays. Although there's no harm in them, Weber said he doesn't know
of any data that show they help.
"You just want to drink lots of
fluids, and then the body will keep your membranes moist."
A healthy diet rich in fruits and
vegetables helps boost immunity all year long. "Having foods that
are rich in vitamin C, particularly fruits and vegetables, citrus
fruits, vegetables like broccoli, would be a good idea," Taub-Dix
"A multivitamin and a vitamin C
[supplement] might not be a bad idea for the winter season, in
particular," she said. Consuming vitamin C or zinc lozenges before a
flight might help fend off illness, Weber said.
"I think they have some benefit, but
they're not going to change your risk from 80 percent to 10
percent." Flu shots are one of the best defenses, Weber said.
where you're going and what the season is, obviously being properly
immunized is important."