Welcome to the March 2007 issue of "Smart Traveler". The newsletter with tips and information to help make your traveling smoother.

Facts About Cruise Ship Safety and Security

Cruising remains one of the safest vacations available, with an outstanding record of safety and security. In fact, when compared with the FBI's land-based crime statistics in the United States, cruise passengers are much safer on board a cruise ship than ashore.

  • Cruise ships are comparable to secure buildings with 24-hour security. Every person on board a cruise ship, from the captain to the cleaning staff and all guests, are placed on official manifests. When sailing to or from U.S. ports, these manifests are provided to U.S. federal law enforcement officials prior to the ship's departure.
  • Guests should be very comfortable with the security measures they see during their cruise vacation. These include the screening of 100 percent of all luggage, carry-on's and provisions coming onto our ships. Screening is done with X-ray machines, metal detectors and human and detector dog searches.
  • Passengers and crew may embark or disembark only after passing through security. Once a ship is underway, access is strictly limited to documented employees and fare-paying passengers.
  • Each passenger is issued an identification card which contains their digital photo and personal identification information on a magnetic strip that he or she must present when entering or leaving the ship. This technology allows the ship to know which guests and crew members are on board and which are not.
  • Each cruise ship has a dedicated security officer and staff whose sole function is the security of its passengers and crew. Typically, security staff personnel have former law enforcement or military background and are trained according to international security regulations.
  • Foreign crew members on CLIA ships are required to obtain a visa issued by the U.S. State Department for entry into the United States. This visa requires the completion of a background check. In addition, cruise ship employees are pre-screened by recruiting agencies.
  • Cruise lines operate within a legal framework under which international, federal and state authorities investigate crimes on board cruise ships. Unlike most instances of shore side crime, the FBI has the authority to investigate and prosecute alleged crimes in international waters involving Americans.
  • The U.S. Coast Guard has jurisdiction for inspection and enforcement of international safety and security standards for all ships calling at U.S. ports. In a 1995 study, the U.S. Coast Guard determined that cruising was one of the safest modes of transportation available.

Cruising is among the most popular vacation options in large part because of its excellent safety record and the high level of quality service cruise ships provide. The industry will continue to do its part to maintain a safe, secure and healthy shipboard environment.

Powerful X-ray machine debuts in Phoenix

‘Backscatter’ visually strips off clothing, to be used on voluntary basis

An X-ray security scanner that can see through clothing was put into its first operational use  at Sky Harbor International Airport and could be rolled out to two other major airports by year's end.

The so-called "backscatter" technology has been controversial, with critics saying the high-resolution images are too invasive. But the Transportation Security Administration adjusted the machine's images so the normally graphic pictures can be blurred in certain areas while still being effective at detecting concealed weapons or other threats.

The TSA said "I think the work we've done with the industry to address the privacy concerns has really done well."  Passengers selected for secondary screening by the device are asked to stand in set spots in front of the closet-sized X-ray unit with hands palms out, then turn around for a second screening from the back. The entire operation takes about a minute.

The machine will be tested for up to 90 days at a single checkpoint at Sky Harbor's largest terminal, which hosts US Airways and Southwest Airlines, two of the airlines with the most flights in and out of Phoenix. The technology could be left in place after the trial period, The agency hopes to also roll out the technology at Los Angeles International Airport and New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport by year's end.

During the pilot program, the machine will be used only as a secondary screening measure; passengers who fail the standard screening process will be able to choose between the new device or a typical pat-down search.
"It's 100 percent voluntary, so if the passenger doesn't feel comfortable with it the passenger doesn't have to go through it."

The TSA said that the security officer who works with the passenger going through the screening will never see the image the machine produces. The images will be viewed by another officer who will be about 50 feet away and won't see the passenger.

The machine can't store the image or transmit them. "Once we're done screening the passenger, the image is gone forever."

The device being used at Sky Harbor costs about $100,000 but is being loaned free from the manufacturer, AS&E of Boston.

10 No-Nos For Smart Business Travelers

Business travel is on the rise . . . but companies are spending less money on their trips. How can that be? Easy. Business customers, like consumers, are demanding more for less.

Here are traps to avoid that will help you save money on your next business trip. If you have a corporate travel policy, consider incorporating some of these suggestions--they'll help stretch your travel dollar further.

 1. Don't pay full fare for your airline ticket. Never, ever, ever shell out the walk-up fare — that's the unrestricted, full-fare coach class price — for an airline ticket. In the past, before low-fare carriers such as JetBlue and Independence Air rose to prominence, business travelers had no choice but to pay what an airline demanded. Not anymore. Switch your preferred carrier to a low-fare airline now. Estimated savings: 60-80% off airfare.

2. Don't become a serious frequent-flier mileage collector. Loyalty points are the crack cocaine of the travel industry, so advising you to be a "casual" user is somewhat na´ve. If at all possible, you should stop collecting rewards points now. But the system is what it is, and unless you want to find yourself overpaying for your airline tickets, hotel rooms or rental cars — and even taking unnecessary trips in order to qualify for elite status — pay no attention to the points that may be collecting in your portfolio. If you do, you could become a mileage addict. (Remember, there are close to 10 trillion unredeemed frequent-flier miles out there). Estimated savings: varies by amount of travel.

3. Don't pay the rack rate for your hotel room. Hotels want you to pay the sticker price for a room (of course, they do). But do you go to a car dealer and pay asking price? No way. Logging on to the Internet can really pay off, particularly if you're using one of the so-called "opaque" Web sites such as Priceline or Hotwire. (You pick the class of hotel, but not the specific property — and you don't collect points.) But the savings can be terrific: Better than a traditional online agency, and better even than a hotel Web site, with its "best rate" guarantee. Estimated savings: about 40% off your hotel bill.

4. Don't accept the key to your minibar. You know that the snacks and drinks in your minibar are marked up several hundred percent. You know that the moment you open the refrigerator, an alarm is probably going off somewhere in the hotel manager's office (actually, in all seriousness, many minibars automatically charge your room if an item in it is simply moved). Solution: When the front-desk worker offers you a key, turn it down. Tell your employees they'll never be reimbursed for anything from the rip-off minibar. Estimated savings: can be as high as $20 a day or more.

5. Don't rent anything other than a matchbox car. Don't worry; you won't end up actually driving a subcompact car. The cheapo vehicles are the first to run out, and when they do, the car rental company is contractually obligated to put you in the next-highest class of car at no additional charge. However, if you rent a full-size vehicle, you'll just end up paying a premium for something you would have either gotten for free or at a vastly reduced rate. (Rental agents will haggle with you over upgrade costs, but they're usually empowered to give it to you free for the asking.) Estimated savings: up to $40 a day.

6. Don't tip just because you feel guilty. Airport skycaps, waiters and hotel employees often leave you with the impression that you must subsidize their substandard wages, and that if you don't, you're being a tightwad. Truth is, they've chosen to work in the service profession and you don't have to tip them unless they've performed quality service that's tip-pable. A gratuity is earned, and you don't have to walk around handing out money like candy while you're away on business. Estimated savings: depends on the length of your trip.

7. Don't buy the optional car rental insurance. Car-rental employees like to pressure you to buy their own insurance. They show you pictures of damaged cars and they tell you your insurance policy may not cover your rental if you're in an accident. I'm not saying these employees are wrong. But you have to be smart. Find out what's covered under your policy (normally, your credit card takes care of almost everything). And remember: These policies often account for a hefty portion of a car-rental company's profits. So while these add-on insurance policies can be useful for you, they're even more useful to the rental company. Specifically, its bottom line. Estimated savings: about $20 a day.

8. Don't order room service or laundry. Both are woefully overpriced. Room service bills come with a service charge of between 10% and 15% ("for your convenience"). And you could buy new clothes cheaper than you could have your laundry cleaned. Talk about a rip-off. Instead, eat in a restaurant and visit a Laundromat. Some hotels have laundry facilities on premises that are far less expensive. Estimated savings: between $5 and $10 a day.

 9. Don't use a hotel phone. Don't even think about picking up the in-room phone unless it's ringing. Instead, use your cellular phone. Why? Hotels mark up the phone bill by 100% or more. Oh, and that "deal" with free local calls? Check the fine print, because sometimes, calls of more than 20 minutes — even local ones — get billed at a different rate. Estimated savings: about $5 a day.

 10. Don't pay for anything that you can get for free. That includes, but isn't limited to, hotel shuttle buses (much better than a pricey cab), breakfast (many hotels offer complimentary meals), dinner (check out the concierge floor, where hors d'oeuvres are on the house) and entertainment (the in-flight TV is free on JetBlue and Song). Only the tourists pay, because they don't know any better. Estimated savings: depends on length of trip.

A Common Name Just Won't Fly

When Chris Moore flies, he can't use a skycap or an e-ticket — he has to get cleared from an airline representative to get a boarding pass.

When he travels with a group of coworkers, they all go to the airport lounge for a drink, while Moore waits in lines. His crime? A very common name, which happens to be on the government's no-fly list.

"I wonder, do they actually get on the phone and ask security, 'I have this six-foot-one white guy.' 'Oh no, we're looking for a guy who's five feet tall wearing a turban and answers to the name of Chris Moore," said Moore, who travels to Orlando, San Diego and Salt Lake City regularly to set up tradeshow booths for companies who make surf fashion. Moore's troubles amount to a lot of inconvenience

However a new DHS Web site, DHS Trip (www.dhs.gov/trip), went live on February 20.  TRIP stands for traveler redress inquiry program. The program will allow travelers who think they have been unfairly put on the no-fly list — or are simply victims of mistaken identity — to fill out a form online to plead their case and then track its progress. The site can also handle foreigners who believe they were incorrectly denied a U.S. travel visa or others being pulled aside for secondary screening by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Remember: Without a travel agent you're on your own

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