Monday, November 22, 2010

TSA Screening: Much Ado about Nothing

I don't like the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).  I've never liked them.  I didn't like them when I first got into traveling on a regular basis in 2005, and my opinion of them has only gone down over time.

Procedures are erratic, and not in useful ways that might confuse terrorists, but in ways that suggest cluelessness, like requiring at one airport that shoes go into bins and in another that they go directly onto the belt.

Most of the TSA agents are respectful, but some are surly.  I saw one berate an elderly Japanese man who spoke no English because he didn't understand that he had to take off his belt -- something not required by Japan's own airport screening.

I decided years ago that were I to run for public office, it'd be in part on a platform of drastically reforming the TSA.

So, when it comes to how you're treated, passengers, I'm on your side.

But let's be clear: my opposition to the TSA is based on ridiculous antics that don't make us safer.  I dislike absurd procedures like the way that hyphenated names are logged for special screening, or that legal marriage certificates aren't sufficient proof of a name change to allow use of a previously booked airline ticket.

I don't object to TSA actually doing its job, i.e. providing real security through effective screening.

I've had to deal with effective screening all over the world, including real terrorism hotspots like Kashmir and Tel Aviv.  Where it's warranted, even when it's annoying, good screening makes sense.

That brings me to the current, overblown hype about pat-downs and full-body scanners.

My fellow Americans, our country has been at war for nearly ten years.  While most of you go through your days completely unaware of it, hundreds of thousands of soldiers are currently deployed to combat zones.  We've spent over a trillion dollars that we don't have to fight terrorists, and we're doing it precisely because you wanted to be safe.

There is also plenty of evidence that the screening being done is absolutely necessary, from the so-called Christmas Bomber last year who demonstrated that explosives can be hidden in underwear to the long-known fact that women and elderly people can be involved in suicide bombing plots. 

As sick as it is, even those cute little teddy bears carried by three-year olds can be packed with explosives -- hell, drug cartels have long since been able to make "plastic" dolls out of molded cocaine! -- and while it's very unlikely that a three-year old is him or herself a bomber, can we be sure that someone hasn't set the tyke up to carry a weapon onboard?  No way.

So the next time that you start complaining that it's unfair that the government asks you to walk through a harmless full-body scanner, or you get angry because you need to be given a very thorough pat-down by a professional security officer, think about the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines who are freezing, bleeding, and enduring hell for you.

Yes, they volunteered.  But no one forced you to buy an airline ticket.

Get over yourselves.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Megabus announces D.C. as its newest hub!

Express intercity carrier Megabus has long offered service to and from Washington, D.C. from its base location at 10th and H St. NW.  Now, it's expanding that service.

Beginning on December 15, 2010, Megabus will offer travel from the nation's capital to these destinations:
  • Boston, MA
  • Buffalo, NY
  • Charlotte, NC
  • Hampton, VA
  • Harrisburg, PA
  • Knoxville, TN
  • Pittsburgh, PA
  • Raleigh/Durham, NC
  • Richmond, CA
  • Toronto, Canada
Click here for the interactive Megabus route map.

Megabus is a subsidiary of Coach USA and competes with both BoltBus and next-generation Greyhound service.  Each of these services offers more legroom and lower fares than traditional bus service as well as free onboard Internet access via wi-fi. 

However, the addition of new Megabus routes originating from D.C. puts Megabus far ahead of its competitors: from Washington, BoltBus offers direct service only to New York, and while Greyhound goes everywhere, it has next-gen buses only for routes to Boston, New York, and Montreal.

That means that if you're looking to go anywhere outside of the Northeast Corridor, Megabus offers you the best value for the price -- with fares starting as low as $1.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Post-merger update: United and Continental

It's been a little over a month since United and Continental concluded their legal merger.  While still operating as separate airlines, both carriers are now owned by the same company (United-Continental Holdings) and there have been some changes to bring things into line: 
  • The Red Carpet Club no longer charges for bar service.

  • Each airline includes the other's elite flyers in eligibility lists for complimentary upgrades.

  • CEO Jeff Smisek addresses both sets of passengers in his pre-takeoff video recording.
Flying with United over the Veterans Day holiday, though, what struck me were the differences:
  • Both airlines now offer buy-on-board food, but United's menu is different--and about 50% more expensive, with a salad going for $6.50 on a Continental flight and almost $10.00 on one operated by United.

  • Both airlines' lounges offer complimentary wi-fi, but at the Red Carpet Club you'll need to get a scratch-off card with a code on it, while Continental offers open connectivity to anyone inside its lounge.
Of course, it's going to take time to get all of this straight, and as I've said before, I'm not in any way opposed to the airlines charging prices that make them profitable.  But I'm keeping my fingers crossed that what ultimately emerges from this process will be an airline that sets a higher bar for U.S. airlines. 

Here's hoping that United and Continental are better together than they were apart.