Transportation Nation

NY Airport Workers Live Below Poverty Line

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Jared and Corin/flickr

(New York, NY -- Alex Goldmark) About a quarter of employees who work in New York area airports — including some who have jobs in security — make wages that are below the poverty line, according to a new study released this week.

Workers at JFK, LaGuardia and Newark airports who screen luggage, check tickets, clean airport bathrooms and assist customers in wheelchairs earn, on average, $16,640 a year, according to a study released Wednesday by NYU's Women of Color Policy Network and the Wagner School of Public Service. That's 25 percent below the federal poverty line for a family of four.

Area airports employ about 67,000 people. Of those, nearly 17,000 are what's known as passenger service workers — almost all of whom work for companies contracted by airlines. Researchers surveyed 300 of these workers, who are predominantly people of color, and found that the average wage was $8 an hour and the most common wage earned by these workers was the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

Noting that 20 percent of those surveyed report being on government assistance such as food stamps, study author Nicole Mason said, "this means the public is paying twice" for these services: Once in the price of an airline ticket, and then in taxes that go to the social programs these employees frequently rely on.

Lakisha Williams, 29, has been working at Newark Airport for eight years. She started off as a baggage pre-screener and is now a wheelchair attendant. She said she pays for rent with Section 8 vouchers, uses food stamps and is on Medicaid.

"Basically I've just been at the airport for eight years for making the same minimum wage, $7.25," Williams said. "It's very unfair... I mean I have a 12-year-old daughter. She is very expensive, very expensive. I have to sit her down and let her know, tell her mommy is doing her best."

Study authors point out that workers employed by companies contracted by the Port Authority — the agency in charge of the airports — earned more than those who work for companies contracted by airlines. They blame the low wages on a practice by the airlines that awards contracts to the lowest bidder.

The head of the Port Authority, Patrick Foye, said he had not read the report, but has directed his staff to review it to see if there are any actions the agency should take in response. He expressed support for union hiring, touting his own experience as a union member in high school.

Full time workers union workers earn 29 percent higher wages nationally, than non-union workers he pointed out. Sixty-eight percent of Port Authority workers are represented by 13 different unions, he pointed out.

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Transportation Nation

Senate Backs FAA Deal, Sends to President

Monday, February 06, 2012

(Washington, D.C) Twenty-four times a charm.

The Senate gave final approval Monday evening to a four-year authorization of the Federal Aviation Administration, breaking a sorry streak of 23 temporary authorizations going back to 2007.

The 75 to 20 vote sends the bill to President Obama, who is expected to sign it into law. It authorizes about $16 billion in spending each year on the agency. The bill governs significant parts of airport and runway programs, air traffic control, airline safety, and navigation regulations.

Lawmakers reached a deal in January that included a compromise on federal union rules. Democrats agreed to increase from 35% to 50% the proportion of workers at a company who must petition for unionization before a shop can vote to organize. While the deal paved the way for the FAA bill to enter final negotiations, it also enraged several unions. They've been letting Democrats know about their displeasure with the deal, and it helps explain why 14 Senate Democrats, many of them with heavy union backing, voted against the final package. Sen. Bernie Sanders, a liberal Vermont Independent, also voted against the bill.

The deal also continues the controversial Essential Air Service, a subsidy program designed to encourage airlines to fly to out-of-the-way and unprofitable airports. House Republicans had tried to kill the subsidy, but some Senate Democrats representing rural states, kept it on board.

Passage of FAA's authorization represents a detente from partisan clashes over the summer. One even lead to a partial shutdown of the agency lasting more than a week. But it is unclear whether bipartisanship will reign over other, larger transportation issues in Congress. The Senate is now moving toward taking up a 2-year, $109 billion Highway Bill reauthorization. If it passes it will go up against a 5-year, $260 House GOP alternative slated for floor action next week.

The House bill contains many controversial provisions, including opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. It's also likely to include an attempt to force approval of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

Follow Todd Zwillich on Twitter @toddzwillich

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Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: Senate Transpo Bill Moving Forward, Ron Paul Challenges Rivals To 25-Mile Bike Ride, Hoboken Eyes Bike Share

Friday, January 27, 2012

Top stories on TN: a Chinatown bus company that ignored a shut down order in December now has a restraining order to prevent it from operating. A new Chevy Volt ad conveys the message 'it's morning in Hamtramck.' And a senator is introducing a bill that would require a new health study of x-ray body scanner machines used in airports.

Frank Sinatra Park in Hoboken, NJ (photo by incendiarymind via flickr)

Ray LaHood's gloomy prognosis for a long-term surface transportation bill has set off a flurry of activity on Capitol Hill...(Washington Post)

...and improved his outlook, at least for the Senate bill. (Politico)

Question to Ron Paul in Thursday's Florida Republican presidential debate: Are you fit enough to be president?  Answer: "I'm willing to challenge any of these gentlemen up here to a 25-mile bike ride any time of the day in the heat of Texas."  (Video; YouTube)

New York State legislators are frustrated by the State DOT's lack of information on funding major infrastructure projects. (Poughkeepsie Journal)

...which worries some: just where is this $15 billion going to come from? (AP via Wall Street Journal)

Hoboken and Jersey City may collaborate on a bike share system. (Jersey Journal)

California is preparing to force auto manufacturers to slash smog-producing tailpipe pollution by three-fourths, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and ensure that more than one out of seven cars sold can run on electricity within the next 13 years. (Bay Citizen)

If the United States wants to continue to be the major player in the global economy, it needs an efficient, robust aviation system. (Marketplace)

Concerns over transportation continue to plague the London Olympics, which are just six months away. (Washington Post)

When it comes to buying cars, women do their homework -- and they generally get better deals than men. (NPR)

NY MTA head: subway stations need more entrances. (New York Daily News)

Ford Motor Co. reported $20.2 billion in net income for 2011 Friday — its best year since 199. (Detroit News)

What's so bad about a little public (sticker) shame -- especially if it helps deter illegal parking? (New York Times)

The Texas Transportation Commission approved raising the speed limit to 75 mph on about 1,500 miles of interstate highways in the state. (American Statesman, KUHF)

Alaska Airlines has ended its 30-year practice of giving passengers prayer cards with their meals. (USA Travel)

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Terminals at Area Airports Top World’s Worst List

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The travel group Frommer’s has made a list of the world’s ten worst airport terminals, and terminals at all three area airports operated by the Port Authority are on it.


Transportation Nation

Is JetBlue Planning N.Y.-D.C. Shuttle?

Friday, December 02, 2011

JetBlue has acquired enough airport slots to run eight flights a day between LaGuardia and Washington Reagan National Airport in D.C.

"We just won the slots and are reviewing what we can and can't do, so I wouldn't rule anything out," Mateo Lleras, JetBlue spokesman told Transportation Nation. "We haven't announced anything yet," he said, adding he doesn't expect any official news to come out for "a few weeks." There are restrictions on what routes can be flown from each airport -- from LGA, less than 1,500 miles, and from DCA, less than 1,250.

JetBlue and the U.S. Department of Transportation announced Thursday that that the discount airline, with a hub at New York's larger and less convenient JFK airport, and Canadian carrier WestJet had won an auction for slots being divested from Delta airlines.

JetBlue will pay $40 million for eight pairs of daily slots at Reagan National (DCA) and $32.0 million for eight slot pairs at LaGuardia (LGA). A slot pair allows for one arriving and one departing flight per day at an airport. Delta's popular LGA to DCA shuttle leaves roughly once an hour during business hours.

JetBlue already offers limited flights from LGA and DCA, but none between the two.

The U.S. DOT and the FAA required Delta and US Airways to divest a total of 48 slots between the two airlines as a condition for granting them permission to exchange other slots at LGA and DCA.

Across the country, short haul flights have been on the decline over the past years. While on the Northeast corridor, bus and train travel has grown rapidly.

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Transportation Nation

BWI Airport to Get $100 Million Expansion

Friday, November 11, 2011

BWI Terminal ((cc) Flickr user Bill Ruhsam)

(Washington, D.C. -- Matt McClesky, WAMU) BWI-Marshall airport  in Maryland is planning a major expansion to accommodate future growth. Airport officials say the $100 million project will include about 8,500 square feet of food and retail space, as well as new restrooms, a nine-lane security checkpoint, and a connector that will let passengers move directly between the A and B concourses and the C concourse without having to go back through security.

The expansion comes as BWI is handling more air traffic -- the airport saw a record 2.2 million travelers in July.

BWI's executive director says the Maryland Board of Public Works has approved the designs for the expansion, but still has to approve the construction.

The current schedule calls for the project to be completed by 2013.

Listen to a radio version of this story at WAMU.

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Transportation Nation

FAA Shutdown Hurting NY Area Airport Projects, Workers

Thursday, August 04, 2011

(New York, NY - WNYC) With Congress in recess and the Federal Aviation Administration's partial shutdown grinding on, it seems more likely that 74,000 affected workers won't be getting a paycheck until September. The U.S. Department of Transportation says about 4,000 FAA workers have been furloughed and 70,000 construction workers put out of work by the dispute over the FAA's funding re-authorization, now two weeks old.

Dan Stefko, president of the Eastern Region Engineers & Architects at the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, says he and his co-workers are hurting. "Anger, dismay, disappointment and worry" are the words Stefko used to describe his feeling and those of his co-workers.

"All of us have mortgages we have to pay, we all have car payments. My members have families that they have to feed. A lot of them are worried. There's fear," Stefko said.

The FAA shut down after the GOP-led Congress inserted a policy change into a routine funding authorization. Senate Democrats balked, accusing Republicans of trying to gain leverage in a larger dispute over labor law.  Though the President said Wednesday he expects the dispute to be resolved by week's end, neither party has shown signs of relenting.

Meanwhile, more than 250 projects around the U.S. have been halted. LaGuardia Airport in New York has been hit particularly hard. Here's a sample of its suspended projects:

  • New runway status lights to let pilots know they're on the correct runway.
  • Demolition of an old traffic control tower that is blocking the sight lines of controllers in a new tower when they look down to monitor certain taxiway intersections.
  • The placement of $10 million worth of security bollards around the Central Terminal building.

Beyond LaGuardia, the region's major radar control facility in Garden City, Long Island, is not getting hardware and software upgrades to give air traffic controllers better information when guiding planes into and out of New York's airspace.

The development of NextGen technology, a long-term project, has also been stalled. The program aims to replace ground-based tracking of aircraft to satellite and GPS tracking. "That will will allow more precise routes and greater efficiency and cost-savings," Sefko said. "That means shorter routes for the flying public."

At JFK Airport, a major taxiway is not getting its potholes filled and old asphalt replaced. And half-completed improvements to an air traffic controller's break room have exiled controllers, who have strict rest requirements, to a cramped office.

At Teterboro Airport in New Jersey, a $20 million rehab of two of its runways has been stopped.

Stefko said the shutdown's timing is particularly bad because summer is the prime building season. "This is the best time to make concrete progress--literally," he said.



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Transportation Nation

House Gives FAA Authorization a 21-Punt Salute

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

(Washington, DC) The House extended Federal Aviation Administration authorization on Wednesday. For the 21st time.

House lawmakers backed a  two month extension of current FAA law, 243 to 177, as a long-term extension bill waits in negotiations with the Senate. It was the 21st short-term FAA extension since Congress last succeeded on a longer-term bill in 2007.

“We hope there won’t be another one,” said Justin Harclerode, a spokesman for House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fl.)

Temporary extensions like this one normally pass Congress with little notice. But today there’s a twist. Mica added a bit of language to Wednesday’s bill paring back the controversial Essential Air Service program, which for years has subsidized smaller regional airports serving areas far from big hubs. Mica’s bill excludes from the program any airport getting more than $1,000 per passenger in federal aid. That would cut off three airports, according to congressional aides. This comes at a time when private airlines are looking to scale back US subsidized service and after a long term trend of fewer short haul flights.

The move drew annoyed responses from Democrats, who accuse Mica of going back on previous agreements on EAS.

Now it will be up to the Senate to accept the tweaked House bill or refuse to act and force the House to send it a “clean” extension. The latter is far more likely.

The Department of Transportation has urged Congress to pass a "clean" version, saying that without a full year extension furloughs will begin on July 23 and $600 million in airport construction projects compromised.

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Transportation Nation

Sen. Paul: TSA "Clueless" on Passenger Pat-downs

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Conservative Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) lashed out once again at the Transportation Security Administration Wednesday, calling the agency "clueless" when it comes to its often-ridiculed policy of random pat-downs.

Paul told TSA administrator John Pistole in Senate hearings that his agency was "wasting its time" by using random pat-downs at airport security checkpoints instead of using more intelligence-drive risk-based methods of passenger screening.

Paul objects to the pat-down policy both on privacy and efficiency grounds. He recalled the case of Selena Drexel, a 6-year-old who in April was patted down by TSA agents before boarding a flight in New Orleans. Drexels's parents, who live in Kentucky, video-taped the pat-down and posted the video online. After it went viral, and the parents appeared on Good Morning America and elsewhere, they Selena became the poster child for TSA reform among privacy advocates and libertarians.

On Wednesday, Paul said the Drexel case is symbolic of what he sees as lacking at TSA. "It makes me think you guys are clueless that you think she's going to attack our country and you're not doing your research on the people who would attack our country."

Paul argued the "police work" would be a more effective security tool than random pat-downs, which he decried as a "politically correct" attempt to be fair to all travelers. He noted that Faisal Shazad, the accused Times Square bomber was allowed to board a flight at New York's JFK airport despite being on a terrorist watch-list.

"I think you ought to get rid of the random pat-downs. The American public is unhappy with them. They’re unhappy with the invasiveness of them, the Internet's full of jokes about the invaseiveness of your pat-down searches. And we ought (to) really just consider, is this what we’re willing to do," Paul said.

Pistole, who was on the Hill to testify on rail and mass transit security in front of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, told Paul that the Drexels' much-publicized search was not really random at all.

"This of course is something that is done based on intelligence gathering from around the world,” he said. Pistole stressed that the search of Drexel had nothing to do with the 6-year-old in particular but with concerns that children could be used by adults as unwitting weapons. "Unfortunately we know that terrorists have used children under 12 years old as suicide bombers,”  he said.

Pistole said TSA and the Department of Homeland Security are working on a program using passenger manifests and other voluntarily-provided information to speed passenger screening and to let agents reduce their focus on non-threatening travelers.

Paul called for a privately-run frequent traveler program to speed screenings. “Lets turn it over. Lets have a frequent flyer program you can voluntarity participate in," he said.

In 2009 TSA terminated a private frequent traveler program that operated in 19 airports. It has not sought to renew the program.

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Transportation Nation

Rep. Mica Goes After TSA on Private Security Screeners

Friday, June 03, 2011

(Todd Zwillich -- Washington, D.C.) House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Rep. John Mica (R-Fl.) took a swing at the Obama Administration Friday for refusing to privatize security screening at more U.S. airports.

Mica released a lengthy report from his committee's investigators concluding that taxpayers could save $1 billion per year if 35 of the largest airports moved to private screening. That's a direct response to a January decision by Transportation Security Administration head John Pistole to reject privatization bids from five airports. Pistole also said he wouldn't expand the program further since privatized screening wasn't saving taxpayers any money.

The decision rankled Mica, who since the start of the year has railed on the TSA to slim down. "TSA has become a bloated bureaucracy that is too focused on managing its personnel and protecting its turf," he said. "This agency must get out of the human resources business."

Airports were legally allowed to opt out of TSA screening beginning in 2003. But private security contractors that took over had to meet federal screening and oversight standards in order to replace TSA screeners. Today 16 airports have opted for private security contractors. But Pistole got Mica's back up in January when he denied applications from five more. Republicans accused Pistole and Homeland Security officials of bowing to union pressure to suspend the program.

Officials have denied that union pressure was the reason, saying it is cost projections and security concerns that are keeping them from expanding the privatization program.

Friday's report compares screening costs at LAX, which uses TSA screeners, with the cost of private screening at San Francisco's SFO airport. It found that LAX screeners cost an average of $41,208 per year compared with $39,021 at SFO. Perhaps more to the point, it concludes that private screening at SFO costs $2.42 per passenger versus $4.22 per passenger at LAX.

"If we applied those findings to the nation's top 35 airports, we could save over $1 billion over five years," Mica told reporters at press conference on Capitol Hill Friday.

TSA hit back, saying via a spokesperson that it was "unclear" how they did their math on cost estimates. The agency's own estimates say private screening is more expensive. Most recently a GAO report in March of this year pegged private screening as 3 percent more expensive than government-run security.

TSA spokesperson Nicholas Kimball said security was a bigger factor than cost in Pistole's decision to back off private screening at airports.

"While cost is an important factor...Administrator Pistole’s primary consideration is security," Kimball wrote to Transportation Nation in an email. "It is critical that TSA retains its ability to operate as a flexible nationwide security network. TSA’s capacity to push out intelligence information to our frontline workforce and quickly change procedures based on threat and intelligence is paramount to effective security.  Further expansion of privatized screening will increase the complexity of this process," he wrote.

Kimball added that the agency believes private and TSA screeners provide "comparable" security.

That's not good enough for Mica. He said he intends to try and force TSA's hand on the issue. Part of his strategy was on display this week on the House floor. Mica narrowly succeeded in passing an amendment on a Homeland Security spending bill limiting by law the amount of money TSA can spend for screener personnel, salaries and benefits.

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The Brian Lehrer Show

Live by the Plane

Monday, March 14, 2011

John Kasarda, professor at University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School and the co-author of Aerotropolis: The Way We'll Live Next, along with fellow co-author and journalist Greg Lindsay, talk about the way airports are becoming their own residential and business hubs. 

Comments [8]

The Takeaway

'Aerotropolis': The City of the Future?

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

In the 2009 movie "Up in the Air" Ryan Bingham, played by George Clooney, tells viewers that "all the things you probably hate about traveling are warm reminders that I am home." Bingham and his colleagues built their lives around air travel. "Aerotropolis: The Way We'll Live Next," argues that the cities of the future must do the same.

Comments [4]

Transportation Nation

Planners Say NY's Economy Will Strangle If Airports Don't Expand

Thursday, January 27, 2011

(New York - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) Managing air traffic at New York's major airports is like coaxing three large men through a skinny door: the squeeze is tight and there's no room to grow. That's why the Regional Plan Association issued a report on Thursday calling for a major expansion of Kennedy and Newark airports. The only way out, they say, is to build.

Planners kibbitz at a conference about airport expansion in New York

New York's three major airports, which already lead the nation in congestion and delays, can expect an increase of almost 50 million yearly passengers by the 2030s. The Association says the way to handle all those people is to build new runways to handle more flights.

LaGuardia has no room to expand. So RPA is proposing to add a runway to Newark-Liberty by demolishing and rebuilding a terminal and moving two cargo areas. It also recommends adding a runway to JFK by filling in part of Jamaica Bay. Total estimated price tag: $15 billion.

Taking advantage of the new runways depends on installing a new flight control system that replaces radar with GPS, allowing planes to follow more efficient flight patterns while flying closer to each other. The Federal Aviation Administration is in the early phase of a 20-year, $22 billion roll-out of the technology, called NextGen, which will need to prove itself in field conditions.

RPA considered other options, such as shifting some of the burden to local airports like Stewart in Newburgh and MacArthur in Long Island, along with improving rail connections to the airports and between cities. The report says those improvements would bring gains but not nearly enough.

Area airports currently move 236 flights per hour during peak hours. In 20 years, given increased demand, they will need to add 78 additional peak hour flights. RPA concluded that only more runways and a drastically improved flight control system will add enough flights to approach that number.

But airport expansions, besides being costly, bring more noise to local neighborhoods and carry environmental costs. On the other hand, expansion advocates say, doing nothing will slowly overwhelm area airports and, by 2030, cost the regional economy as many as 125,000 jobs, $6 billion in wages and $16 billion in sales each year.

At a conference on Thursday that brought together business and political leaders to absorb and discuss RPA's findings, a group of planners chatted during a break about the political battles that surely lay ahead. Then grew quiet until one of them said: "Are you ready? Strap in."

Listen to Jim O'Grady discuss this story on WNYC's Financial 411:

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Expanding Area Airports Is a Must to Answer Demand, Say Planners

Thursday, January 27, 2011


Two of New York's major airports will need major expansions to handle the expected increase of 50 million passengers annually by the 2030s, according to a report issued by the Regional Plan Association Thursday.


Comments [2]


Airlines Offer Free Rebooking on Area Flights Ahead of Storm

Thursday, January 06, 2011


With a second snow storm looming, several airlines are inviting passengers leaving from the Northeast region to rebook this weekend's travel at no charge.


Transportation Nation

TN Moving Stories: Beijing Opens 5 New Subway Lines, and Biking Through "Snirt"

Friday, December 31, 2010

Beijing opened five new subway lines this week; the 60 miles of new track extends from the city center to the suburbs (Reuters); video below.

In NYC, there's kvetching over whether the city plowed bike lines (Gothamist).

As frustration grows with TSA, some airports are opting out; 16 have so far, including San Francisco and Kansas City. (Washington Post)

The Chicago Transit Authority will soon unveil a train tracker website. (Chicago Tribune)

Automakers are feel optimism about 2011. (NPR)

Minnesota Public Radio has an ode to winter biking--"snirt" and all. ("I know it seems crazy, trying to pedal on streets that become more narrow with each snowfall, pushing through the beige, sand-like substance known as "snirt" (snow + ice + dirt)."

Follow Transportation Nation on Twitter.

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Fly the Friendly Airwaves

Friday, December 17, 2010

Naomi Lewin observes: How cool is this? Instead of being bombarded by Muzak, passengers at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Airport (CVG) now tote that baggage and lift that laptop to the strains of Beethoven and Tchaikovsky.

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Comments [10]


So Far, So Good for Travelers This Holiday Weekend

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

On Wednesday morning, Port Authority officials said the good weather had kept flights on track. The Transportation Security Administration said the lines had been moving smoothly at the region's airports, despite word that passengers would protest new full-body scanners at security checkpoints.


The Takeaway

TSA Scanners and Pat-Downs: A Takeaway Listener's Review

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

We've been hearing from listeners since last week about the TSA's new security procedures, from full-body scans to thorough pat-downs. In this segment we speak with one, who asked only to be called by her first name. Layla is a Takeaway listener from Detroit, who just flew from her home to San Diego and back. 

Comments [3]

Transportation Nation

Janet Napolitano on Airport Full-Body X-Ray Scanners

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A TSA Agent viewing images from a full body X-Ray scanner. Image: Getty Images

(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) Opposition from travelers is mounting to new security screening equipment that uses full-body x-ray technology at airports ever since it surfaced that thousands of images of travelers were being saved, and some of them surfaced online.

Our partner, The Takeaway, will be speaking with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano tomorrow morning. It's sure to come up. For now they're asking you if this new technology is causing you to rethink your travel holiday travel plans.  Here are some of the responses they've gotten so far:

-- "If it means my family and I can fly more safely, I am all for it." via Facebook, Rusty Roy, Groveport, Ohio.
-- "Do I agree with them? Not so much. Would I vote against them? Yes. But do I have the luxury of circumventing them by not flying at all? No," via Facebook, Cristy Moran, Miami Fla.
-- "Yes. No cold showers that morning. :))" via text msg from Pontiac, Mich.

Read more comments here.

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