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WQXR Blog

New Rules for Musical Instruments on Planes Take Flight

Thursday, January 01, 2015

After nearly three years in legal limbo, the government has finalized federal rules for bringing musical instruments onto commercial flights.
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WQXR Blog

Video: Cellist Plays Duet with Beatboxing Flight Attendant on Airplane

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A Southwest Airlines flight to Denver was the scene of an inventive duet recently when Francisco Vila, a cellist, and Maximillian, a beatboxing flight attendant, performed Bach.
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Conducting Business

Senator Jack Reed: We Need Carry-On Rules for Instruments

Friday, August 01, 2014

In this exclusive interview with WQXR, Senator Jack Reed says that without clear regulations, airlines will operate in a gray area and musicians will face more troubles.

Comments [9]

WQXR Blog

Senator Seeks Clarification of Carry-On Rules After Musician Booted From Plane

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The government should clarify federal rules about bringing musical instruments on to commercial flights as carry-on luggage, U.S. Sen. Jack Reed said.

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Comments [35]

On The Media

Taking Sense Away

Friday, February 14, 2014

Jason Harrington worked as a Transportation Security Administration officer at O’Hare airport in Chicago for seven years. Harrington quickly became disgruntled. Not just with the day-to-day absurdity of carrying out what he saw as ineffective security tactics, but by how much the TSA kept away from the public. So, he started writing a blog, anonymously, called Taking Sense Away. Bob speaks to Harrington about his time in the TSA and his Politico article “Dear America. I Saw You Naked. And, Yes, We Were Laughing" which unmasked his anonymity.

Comments [1]

On The Media

Bridgegate, Inside the TSA, Japan's Beethoven's Fall from Grace, and More

Friday, February 14, 2014

A look at Chris Christie's struggle to control his own narrative, an inside look into the TSA, and a musical scandal at the Olympics.

Transportation Nation

Anyone Know Why Super Bowl Transit Was So Bad?

Friday, February 07, 2014

During the Super Bowl, the train to and from MetLife Stadium was overwhelmed with thousands more passengers than predicted. Now New Jersey legislators want a reckoning.

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Top 5 @ 105

Top Five Flying Disasters for Musicians

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Anyone traveling with an instrument, especially an expensive one-of-a-kind type model, knows the perils of flight. Here are five devastating accounts of air travel.

Comments [5]

The Brian Lehrer Show

State of Mayoral Race; New Pope; Relaxed TSA; Pi Day

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Candidates continue to emerge in the 2013 mayoral race. Azi Paybarah of Capital New York and WNYC's Anna Sale analyze the current field of hopefuls. Plus: Bob Garfield of On The Media explains why some businesses prosper by eschewing social media; the significance of the first Jesuit pope; the future of South Street Seaport; the TSA's new, relaxed stance on small knives; and your calls about Pi(e) Day.

Transportation Nation

Lawmakers Warn of Severe Air Travel Disruptions from Sequestration

Tuesday, February 26, 2013


The airport experience will get more aggravating if Congress does not avoid the automatic budget cuts called sequestration, three Virginia Democratic lawmakers said Monday at a news conference inside Reagan National Airport, predicting fewer flights available and longer security lines.

Representatives Gerry Connolly and Jim Moran and Senator Tim Kaine, flanked by members of air travel and pilots’ groups, issued a warning for every American who plans to fly: cuts to the FAA and TSA budgets would affect key personnel who now man air traffic control towers and security screening checkpoints.

Connolly said, “47,000 [FAA] employees could be furloughed one day per two-week pay period, the equivalent of ten percent of their workforce. That number includes 15,000 air traffic controllers. That will affect the scheduling of flights and the availability of flights.”  He added, the sequestration cuts would not force a simple belt-tightening but instead affect staffing levels at airports across the country.

Some Republicans are questioning why the possible $689 million FAA budget cut, which amounts to about four percent of the agency’s $15.9 billion budget, would cause so many problems. Moran said sequestration provides no flexibility to Congress or President Obama.

“The cuts are being concentrated on what’s called discretionary programs, which is a minority of the entire federal budget, and they are also being squeezed into a seven month period out of the fiscal year,” Moran said. “So if you had 12 months in which to spread them out, if you had the ability to identify which programs are a higher priority than others, if you didn’t have to cut every program, project and activity equally, and if you could deal with the entire federal budget, the effect would not be anywhere near as severe.”

“We can fix this.  It doesn’t have to be this way. In fact it’s not that hard to fix,” said Kaine, who said congressional Republicans oppose a “balanced approach” to deficit reduction that includes tax increases and spending cuts.

Some Republicans disagree with that assessment.

Virginia Republican Congressman Frank Wolf was invited to the news conference but did not attend.  In a statement released by his office, Wolf urged both President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner to embrace “bipartisan plans to turn off sequestration.”

In his letter to the president, Wolf said the best solution is to enact the recommendations of the Simpson-Bowles Commission, which he said would reduce the deficit and prevent the automatic federal budget cuts.

The possibility of additional hour long waits on security lines caused by cuts to the TSA’s budget is not sitting well with travelers. Some are angry Congress has failed to reach a deal to avoid disruptions to air travel.

“They ought to go back to school and learn how to add and subtract.  This wouldn’t have happened in the first place,” said one woman at Reagan National Airport who declined to provide her name. “I’m totally disgusted with government.”

Others travelers weren’t buying the dire warnings about 90-minute flight delays.

“I feel that decline in services will be fairly minimal, except perhaps for business travelers. I feel like the amount of money being cut is a small percentage of the total,” said Ed Evan as he sat in the US Airways terminal.

If sequestration takes effect, Congress can act later to restore some of the cuts, but Connolly warned the process will be difficult.

“We have a continuing resolution funding the federal government that expires March 27, so there is an opportunity… to try to fix some of these problems,” Connolly said. “But you have to remember that once sequestration kicks in, that creates a new baseline for the continuing resolution. In other words, the new number is minus the sequestration.”

It remains unclear how much wiggle room the FAA and TSA will have to adjust air traffic controllers’ and security screeners’ work schedules to maintain adequate staffing during peak travel times and the coming summer vacation months.

“The fact is no one knows right now what the impact of the sequester will be,” said Geoff Freeman, the chief operating officer of the U.S. Travel Association.

 

 

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WQXR Blog

Cellist's Bow is Damaged in Airport Mishap

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Alban Gerhardt, a noted cello soloist from Berlin, say his precious cello bow, valued at $20,000, was damaged by inspectors from the TSA at Dulles Airport

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Transportation Nation

TSA to Commission Independent Study of X-Ray Body Scanners

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Transportation Security Administration will have the National Academy of Sciences study the health effects of X-ray body scanners used in airports. (David McNew/Getty Images)

(Michael Grabell ProPublica) Following months of congressional pressure, the Transportation Security Administration has agreed to contract with the National Academy of Sciences to study the health effects of the agency's X-ray body scanners. But it is unclear if the academy will conduct its own tests of the scanners or merely review previous studies.

The machines, known as backscatters, were installed in airports nationwide after the failed underwear bombing on Christmas Day 2009 to screen passengers for explosives and other nonmetallic weapons. But they have been criticized by some prominent scientists because they expose the public to a small amount of ionizing radiation, a form of energy that can cause cancer.

The scanners were the subject of a 2011 ProPublica series, which found that the TSA had glossed over the small cancer risk posed by even low doses of radiation. The stories also showed that the United States was almost alone in the world in X-raying passengers and that the Food and Drug Administration had gone against its own advisory panel, which recommended the agency set a federal safety standard for security X-rays.

The TSA maintains that the backscatters are safe and that they emit a low dose of X-rays equivalent to the radiation a passenger would receive in two minutes of flying at typical cruising altitude.

Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, the top Republican on the Senate homeland security committee, introduced a bill mandating such a test earlier this year.

"I am pleased that at long last the Transportation Security Administration has heeded my call to commission an independent examination into the possible health risks travelers and TSA employees may face during airport screenings," she said in a statement Monday night.

According to a brief contract notice posted on a government procurement website, the National Academy of Sciences will convene a committee to review previous studies to determine if the dose from the scanners complies with existing health and safety standards and to evaluate the TSA's methods for testing and maintaining the machines.

Collins' office said the language in the contract notice wasn't final and that the study would be consistent with the senator's calls for an independent investigation. TSA spokesman David Castelveter added, "Administrator [John] Pistole has made a commitment to conduct the study and TSA is following through on that commitment."

Still, it's unclear how much the study that the TSA is proposing will add to what's known about the machines, mainly because it's not known if the National Academy of Sciences will conduct new tests or confine itself to examining previous studies. In the past, TSA has contracted with the Food and Drug Administration, the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory and the Army Public Health Command to test the scanners. All three studies found the radiation was in line with a voluntary standard set by an industry panel that included FDA scientists.

A 2012 study by the Department of Homeland Security's independent watchdog supported the findings but based its report on previous tests performed by the TSA and the other groups.

This fall, the TSA began replacing the X-ray body scanners with millimeter-wave machines 2013 a technology radiation experts consider safer 2013 at most of its biggest airports. The TSA said the move was done to speed up lines and that the X-ray scanners would eventually be redeployed at smaller airports.

Here's a side-by-side comparison of the two types of scanners.

Europe has prohibited the X-ray scanners while Israel, which is influential in the security world, has recently begun testing them.

The TSA study will not address privacy, cultural or legal concerns that have been raised by the scans, the contract notice said.

 

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WQXR Blog

Delta Ejects Cello, Musician From SkyMiles Program

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A cellist who had been collecting frequent flier miles on his instrument for the past 11 years won’t be getting any more free flights.

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Comments [20]

Transportation Nation

TSA Removes X-Ray Body Scanners From Major Airports

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A Transportation Security Administration volunteer demonstrates a full-body scanner at O'Hare International Airport on March 15, 2010 in Chicago. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

(Michael Grabell, ProPublica) The Transportation Security Administration has been quietly removing its X-ray body scanners from major airports over the last few weeks and replacing them with machines that radiation experts believe are safer.

The TSA says it made the decision not because of safety concerns but to speed up checkpoints at busier airports. It means, though, that far fewer passengers will be exposed to radiation because the X-ray scanners are being moved to smaller airports.

The backscatters, as the X-ray scanners are known, were swapped out at Boston Logan International Airport in early October. Similar replacements have occurred at Los Angeles International Airport, Chicago O'Hare, Orlando and John F. Kennedy in New York, the TSA confirmed Thursday.

The X-ray scanners have faced a barrage of criticism since the TSA began rolling them out nationwide after the failed underwear bombing on Christmas Day 2009. One reason is that they emit a small dose of ionizing radiation, which at higher levels has been linked to cancer.

In addition, privacy advocates decried that the machines produce images, albeit heavily blurred, of passengers' naked bodies. Each image must be reviewed by a TSA officer, slowing security lines.

The replacement machines, known as millimeter-wave scanners, rely on low-energy radio waves similar to those used in cell phones. The machines detect potential threats automatically and quickly using a computer program. They display a generic cartoon image of a person's body, mitigating privacy concerns.

"They're not all being replaced," TSA spokesman David Castelveter said. "It's being done strategically. We are replacing some of the older equipment and taking them to smaller airports. That will be done over a period of time."

He said the TSA decided to move the X-ray machines to less-busy airports after conducting an analysis of processing time and staffing requirements at the airports where the scanners are installed.

The radiation risk and privacy concerns had no bearing on the decision, Castelveter said.

Asked about the changes, John Terrill, a spokesman for Rapiscan 2014 which makes the X-ray scanners 2014 wrote in an email, "No comment on this."

The TSA is not phasing out X-ray body scanners altogether. The backscatter machines are still used for screening at a few of America's largest 25 airports, but the TSA has not confirmed which ones. Last week, Gateway Airport in Mesa, Ariz., installed two of the machines.

Moreover, in late September, the TSA awarded three companies potential contracts worth up to $245 million for the next generation of body scanners 2014 and one of the systems, made by American Science & Engineering, uses backscatter X-ray technology.

The United States remains one of the only countries in the world to X-ray passengers for airport screening. The European Union prohibited the backscatters last year "in order not to risk jeopardizing citizens' health and safety," according to a statement at the time. The last scanners were removed from Manchester Airport in the United Kingdom last month.

Here's a side-by-side comparison of the two types of body scanners the TSA uses.

The X-ray scanner looks like two blue refrigerator-sized boxes. Unseen to the passenger, a thin beam scans left and right and up and down. The rays reflect back to the scanner, creating an image of the passenger's body and any objects hidden under his or her clothes.

The millimeter-wave scanner looks like a round glass booth. Two rotating antennas circle the passenger, emitting radio frequency waves. Instead of creating a picture of the passenger's body, a computer algorithm looks for anomalies and depicts them as yellow boxes on a cartoon image of the body.

According to many studies, including a new one conducted by the European Union, the radiation dose from the X-ray scanner is extremely small. It has been repeatedly measured to be less than the dose received from cosmic radiation during two minutes of the airplane flight.

Using those measurements, radiation experts have studied the cancer risk, with estimates ranging from six to 100 additional cancer cases among the 100 million people who fly every year. Many scientists say that is trivial, considering that those same 100 million people would develop 40 million cancers over the course of their lifetimes. And others, including the researchers who did the EU study, have said that so much is unknown about low levels of radiation that such estimates shouldn't be made.

Still, the potential risks have led some prominent scientists to argue that the TSA is unnecessarily endangering the public because it has an alternative 2014 the millimeter-wave machine 2014 which it also deems highly effective at finding explosives.

"Why would we want to put ourselves in this uncertain situation where potentially we're going to have some cancer cases?" David Brenner, director of Columbia University's Center for Radiological Research, told ProPublica last year. "It makes me think, really, why don't we use millimeter waves when we don't have so much uncertainty?"

Although there has been some doubt about the long-term safety of the type of radio frequency waves used in the millimeter-wave machines, scientists say that, in contrast to X-rays, such waves have no known mechanism to damage DNA and cause cancer.

The TSA has said that having both technologies encourages competition, leading to better detection capabilities at a lower cost.

But tests in Europe and Australia suggest the millimeter-wave machines have some drawbacks. They were found to have a high false-alarm rate, ranging from 23 percent to 54 percent when figures have been released. Even common things such as folds in clothing and sweat have triggered the alarm.

In contrast, Manchester Airport officials told ProPublica that the false-alarm rate for the backscatter was less than 5 percent.

No study comparing the two machines' effectiveness has been released. The TSA says its own results are classified.

Each week, the agency reports on various knives, powdered drugs and even an explosives detonator used for training that have been found by the body scanners.

But Department of Homeland Security investigators reported last year that they had "identified vulnerabilities" with both types of machines. And House transportation committee chairman John Mica, R-Fla., who has seen the results, has called the scanners "badly flawed."

 

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Transportation Nation

Some Air Travelers Are Actually Happy. Yes, You Read That Right

Thursday, September 27, 2012

“It's game-changing. Amazing. It's the best.”

In the 11 years since Al-Qaeda terrorists used passenger planes as weapons on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, air travelers have rarely used such words to describe the airport security experience. But that could be changing at airports across the country.

“It honestly has changed everything,” says Neal Lassila, a tech company executive, describing how easily he sails through security now thanks to the Transportation Security Administration’s PreCheck program.

Lassila was interviewed by Transportation Nation after taking all of 90 seconds to pass through a new screening checkpoint at Dulles International Airport in suburban Washington that was built specifically for PreCheck “known travelers.”

“I travel quite a bit so getting in and out of security was a bit of a hassle,” the Los Angeles resident said.

Lassila didn’t have to take off his shoes or belt -- or even open his bag -- on the way through the checkpoint.  He had been pre-screened after successfully applying for the TSA program through his airline as a frequent flier.  His ‘known traveler’ number is now embedded in the bar code of his boarding pass.

TSA officials invited reporters to attend a news conference inside the Dulles main terminal on Tuesday to check out the new checkpoint and interview travelers who have been accepted into the PreCheck program, which marks a shift in the one-size-fits-all security template used on all travelers after 9/11.

“I had to give them my driver’s license, a working passport, and I had to show them my birth certificate to prove who I was and that the documents matched me,” said Rich Hubner, a Virginia resident who travels frequently for his environmental science career.

Hubner applied for the PreCheck expedited screening program through the government’s Global Entry system which requires a short, in-person interview with security personnel to verify his identity.  Becoming eligible for the program removed all the hassle of long lines at security checkpoints.

“Cooler minds have prevailed finally,” he said.

Dulles is the 26th airport where PreCheck is operating.  TSA hopes to expand the program to 35 airports by the end of the year.  Three million passengers have been screened through PreCheck to date, according to TSA administrator John Pistole.  But he said Dulles is a special case. “Dulles International is the first airport in the nation to build a new checkpoint that is dedicated only to TSA PreCheck operations,” he said at the news conference. “If we have determined that a passenger is eligible for expedited screening, that information will have been embedded on the bar code of your boarding pass.”

There are some caveats: only frequent fliers of certain airlines, like American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, US Airways or Alaska Airlines are eligible right now.  And pre-screened passengers won't necessarily fly through security every time. The TSA website warns that the agency "will always incorporate random and unpredictable security measures throughout the airport and no individual will be guaranteed expedited screening."

To see a list of airports that have PreCheck, go here.

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Conducting Business

The Pitfalls of Carrying Musical Instruments on Planes

Monday, August 27, 2012

A recent incident involving a checked cello raised new questions of how airlines set rules about which musical instruments are allowed on board.

Comments [10]

The Takeaway

Fixing TSA's Broken Airport Security System

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

In a recent essay for The Wall Street Journal, former Transportation Security Administration administrator Kip Hawley said the current airport security system in broken, and he offers suggestions to fix it. He argues that beyond making airline travel unpleasant for customers, TSA officials are focusing their efforts on the wrong kind of threats.

Comments [3]

The Takeaway

This Week's Agenda: GOP Primary in Illinois, Senate Takes Up Deregulation Bill, Future of US in Afghanistan

Monday, March 19, 2012

GOP Presidential candidates take the fight for the nomination to Illinois, while the Senate takes up the JOBS Act, a business de-regulation bill that SEC Chair Mary Schapiro warns would expose investors to fraud. The U.N. Security council meets to discuss the future of Afghanistan, while American officials debate the American role in the country. Finally, the Transportation Security Administration announces new regulations for elderly passengers as the owners of the Mets go to trial over money they made in the Madoff scandal.

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Transportation Nation

Mica Takes Aim at "Bloated" TSA

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, John Mica, said airports that switch from all-federal security screening to private run security could save tax payers millions of dollars.

His remarks came in a press conference at the Orlando area's Sanford Airport.

Mica said this week the newly enacted Federal Aviation Administration Modernization and Reform Act should streamline the process for airports that want to contract with private security screening firms instead of relying on Transportation Security Administration run screening.

The Winter Park Republican said that, in the decade since it was created, the TSA has ballooned into a "mammoth agency that attempts to intimidate small airports that are efficiently run."

He said switching the 35 top airports in the nation to private security screening would save tax payers one billion dollars over the next five years.

Mica said the TSA rejected some airports which applied to contract with private security because it said that would cost more.

But he said the agency's reasoning was not backed up by a Government Accountability Office report.

"GAO said that TSA cooked the books, that they added costs in," he said.

Sixteen of the nation's 457 airports currently run private security screening,  and there are others that want to do the same, like Orlando Sanford International Airport.

Sanford already tried to opt out of all-federal transportation screening, but was rejected by the TSA last year.

The airport’s president, Larry  Dale,  said opting out of TSA run screening is about more than saving money.

“We’re already responsible for security here," Dale said.  "If things screw up we get the blame. We want to have a part and a say in the security of this airport.”

Airports which opt out of all-federal screening will get to choose who screens their passengers, but security firms would still have to meet federal approval and operate under TSA guidelines.

Sanford could hire its own agents to run security screening, but it's more likely to contract with a private firm.

"We're not going to go out and do it ourselves like Jackson Hole (Wyoming) does, as a much smaller airport," Dale said.

Sanford has reapplied to opt out, and Dale hopes to have an answer from the TSA within months.

 

 

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Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: Transpo Bill, Tappan Zee, and Cracked Metro Rails

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Top stories on TN:
US Chamber of Commerce: House transit cuts could pass (link)
Crossing Delancey Street will soon get safer (link)
LaHood says high-speed rail in California is all about jobs (link)
FTA head Peter Rogoff joins list of officials who hate the transportation bill (link)
Photo: the ugliest rat (link)

DC Metro Station (photo by Jill Robidoux)

TN's Andrea Bernstein talks about the House's transit cuts on this morning's Brian Lehrer Show. (WNYC)

A New York Times editorial provides a "brief and by no means exhaustive list of the (transportation) bill's many defects"; calls it "uniquely terrible." (New York Times)

And: NYT critic: move Madison Square Garden to far west side to fix Penn Station. (New York Times)

A TSA program that pre-clears passengers --and lets them keep their shoes on while being screened by airport security -- is being expanded to more airports. (Star-Ledger, The Hill)

California labor groups are running ads that hammer home U.S. DOT head Ray LaHood's message that high-speed rail=jobs. (Sacramento Bee)

Pennsylvania's governor didn't budget for transportation because its problems are too overwhelming. "This is not a budget item. It is too large for that. Transportation must be confronted as its own distinct and separate topic." (Philadelphia Inquirer)

A German carpooling website plans to enter the U.S. market. “We think all trips by car could be shared,” says the founder. “Whenever you want to go with your car, you could take people with you, and therefore reduce carbon emissions and your costs.” Everybody say Mitfahrgelegenheit! (The World)

The four consortiums picked to bid on New York's Tappan Zee Bridge rebuild include some of the world's most successful construction companies -- and some with histories of delays and millions of dollars in cost overruns. (Journal News)

Why is there an uptick of cracked rails on the DC Metro? (Washington Post)

A pair of lawmakers from New York and New Jersey are pushing legislation to roll back last summer's Port Authority toll and fare hikes. (Star-Ledger)

Manhattan's Hudson Square neighborhood sees bike boom, installs more racks. (DNA Info)

Megabus is moving its Manhattan pickup site -- and doesn't have to pay rent. (DNA Info)

A map that replaces London Underground station names with anagrams is getting second life. You can get from Arcadian Noodle to Satan Dew, and you don't even have to transfer at Mind Eel!

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