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Macrina Cooper-White   |   August 19, 2014    2:45 PM ET

Anyone who flies even occasionally knows the drill: You present your boarding pass and photo ID to airport security, and the agent eyes your photo to make sure you are who you claim to be.

Seems like a pretty reliable system right? Actually, a rather scary new study suggests that even specially trained officers are no better than the rest of us at spotting a fake ID -- and that finding doesn't augur too well for efforts to keep planes safe and prevent bad guys from crossing our borders.

“At Heathrow Airport alone, millions of people attempt to enter the U.K. every year," study co-author Dr. Rob Jenkins, a psychologist at the University of York in England, said in a written statement. "At this scale, an error rate of 15 percent would correspond to the admittance of several thousand travelers bearing fake passports.


For the study, 49 staff members from the Australian Passport office and 38 university students were asked to complete face-matching tasks. In one task, people posing as passport applicants presented their IDs to the officers and students, who were asked to determine whether the ID matched the person standing in front of them. In a separate task, the officers and students looked at sets of photos and determined whether the photos were of the same person.

Just how hard is it to make the correct determination? See for yourself: is the young man shown on the left (see below) the same as the man on the right? And what about the young woman?

passport identification

If you guessed that the photos showed different people in both cases, congratulations. You got it right.

The passport officers in the study didn't do so well despite the fact that they had been given special training in facial recognition. They performed at the same level as the untrained university students. The officers missed the "fake IDs" about 15 percent of the time, and in the photo matching task, they erred about 20 percent of the time.

So what can be done to boost the chances that fraudulent documents will be spotted? The researchers said it might help to redesign the format of IDs to include multiple photos taken from different angles. Other possible solutions, they said, include incorporating computer technology into the security process, and making sure that only individuals with a natural aptitude for facial recognition get hired as officers.

"We should be looking at the selection process and potentially employing tests such as the ones we conducted in the study to help us recruit people who are innately better at this process," study co-author Dr. Mike Burton, a psychologist at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, said in the statement.

The research was published online August 18 in the journal PLOS ONE.

  |   August 17, 2014   10:24 AM ET

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A stowaway who was recently ordered to spend 117 days in jail for violating probation by returning to Los Angeles International Airport served a fraction of her sentence when she was released Saturday because of overcrowding.

Marilyn Jean Hartman, 62, was released from the Century Regional Detention Facility in Lynwood, California, shortly after 6 p.m., according to jail records.

A Cautionary Tale About Shower Gel

Regina Fraser and Pat Johnson   |   August 13, 2014   10:53 AM ET

I consider myself an international travel expert. As the co-host of the travel television series Grannies on Safari, my journeys have taken me from Beijing to Morocco. So when I make appearances, people often ask me for advice. I am quick to share my travel expertise, and when it comes to packing, I consider myself an expert.

But on a recent trip to Namibia, I failed to heed my own advice. "Make sure you only have items in your carry-on luggage that comply with international carry-on regulations." Unfortunately, I paid the price for failing to remember this simple tip, which is not only common sense but also a very basic rule of airline security. Surprisingly, I committed this faux pas in two countries during the same trip.

Back home in Chicago, while packing for my 20-day trip to Namibia, I decided at the last minute to take my pricey Ahava shower gel recently purchased during my visit to Israel. I knew I had a long layover in London's Heathrow Airport before boarding my 10-hour flight to Johannesburg. With plans to freshen up during my layover, I also packed a change of clothes and looked forward to being clean for the next leg of this very long trip.

I made it safely from Chicago to London. During my eight-hour layover, I stayed at a hotel where I was able to rest, shower, and change clothes. Everything went well, except for one small detail -- I forgot to repack my shower gel into my large suitcase. Mistakenly, I put the bottle into my carry-on instead. This was the beginning of a frustrating chain of events.

While waiting to have my carry-on checked through security, there was a problem with the scanning machines in all the lines. Security personnel were sending all carry-ons to be hand-checked. Nearly two hours later, although I was cleared to go, there was one small problem. My shower gel container, which I thought was three ounces, was deemed to be oversized and was confiscated! I explained to the security agent that the bottle was within the required regulation size for a carry-on container, and the shower gel itself was very expensive. But when we both read the fine print, I saw that the bottle contained 3.5 ounces. The maximum amount for a carry-on liquid is three ounces. I was shocked, but a rule is a rule. Disappointed, I told the security agent it was such nice shower gel that he should keep it and give it to his wife.

I was a little unhappy as I entered the duty free area, but then I remembered Heathrow had one of the biggest and nicest duty-free shops in the world. I hotfooted it to the nearest Boots store (a European company that produces some of the finest body products in the world). Heck, no need to worry; I could just replace my shower gel while waiting for my flight to Johannesburg! Soooo clever. After making my purchase, I quickly put the bottle in my carry-on luggage and went on my happy way. Problem solved.

After we arrived in Johannesburg, I transitioned from the secure arrivals area to the secure departing area for my next flight to Windhoek, Namibia. We were directed through security again. And to my surprise, the security agent confiscated my new bottle of Boots shower gel! I informed the agent that the bottle was regulation size, and I had been previously cleared through security. Explaining with lots of energy that I had just purchased the gel in the duty-free area of Heathrow, I was told it didn't matter where it was purchased. The item contained a liquid of more than three ounces. In disbelief, I finally noticed that the measurement on the bottle was in liters! I forgot to convert the measurement to ounces, which is used by airline officials to measure liquids. Not happy at all, I gave it up.

By the time we landed into Namibia, I was sweaty and smelly. I really needed a bath. One hour later, I finally arrived at our game lodge where I immediately went to the bathroom to take a shower. But to my surprise, there was no shower gel -- only bars of soap. I hate soap bars. They make my skin feel itchy and dry. After a very uncomfortable night, I was able to purchase a nice botanical shower gel in Windhoek the next day. Hooray!

As a travel expert, I confess that I am a little embarrassed to even write this blog about something that I always preach and encourage travelers to do -- THINK! Consider the important questions. Where am I going? What do I need? Know the permitted carry-on items and baggage restrictions when traveling by air and plan accordingly. I know the regulations. However, in my haste and by packing at the last minute without a list, I suffered preventable consequences. My high-quality products were confiscated. I spent more money than necessary. And for a portion of my travels, I smelled like one of the animals you see on safari.

I realize it can be confusing when you pass through airport security lines in other countries. Many places have different customs and regulations. These rules are not always the same. While I was in India, they used gender specific lines, separating the women from the men. Many countries do not ask you to remove your shoes. Others require that you do so. And these regulations change -- for example, in the U.K., you may soon be able to board a plane with certain liquids, due to the use of a new screening device.

Be informed before you travel, so you won't be surprised or disappointed and lose your shower gel like I did -- or some other treasured item. To avoid any delays or problems with security, read content labels carefully, and make the conversion with measurements when necessary.

Being a savvy traveler makes the travel experience so much better.

Regina Fraser
Grannies on Safari
Home and feeling fresh with my own shower gel!



I Got Through Airport Security With Someone Else's Plane Ticket

Rebecca Adams   |   July 31, 2014    8:03 AM ET

I honestly didn't plan to put the airport security system to the test. I was just really tired and didn't notice that the name on the ticket wasn't mine -- it wasn't even female. But I unwittingly managed to find a chink in the TSA armor last weekend.

My father had booked me a last-minute ticket to Houston on Friday for my sister's bridal shower on Sunday using his frequent flyer miles. Somehow his name ended up on the reservation -- not mine -- but neither of us noticed amid hectic workdays and a pretty quick flight turnaround time. I woke up the next morning, made it to LaGuardia Airport by 6am to catch my 7:15am flight and breezed through my self-check-in, since I wasn't checking a bag.

Even security was quick. The first TSA agent who checked my ID with my ticket handed me a TSA pre-check waiver before getting into the security line. I got this waiver, because my father, whose name was on the ticket, receives expedited check-in. He travels so frequently for work that he signed up for Global Entry, so he's what they categorize as a "known traveler"... yet they didn't seem to notice it was me and not my "known traveler" father, Robert Adams.


I got to skip to the front of the line, where a second TSA agent checked my ticket and ID again, circling various items on the ticket, as per usual. She then told me that I didn't have to take off my shoes or my jacket and that I could forgo that body scanner thing altogether -- not per usual. I'm not an expert in frequent flyer miles or any of the perks that come with them, so I figured that maybe that was part of the deal? Or maybe I was just particularly non-threatening-looking that day? Either way, I got to keep my shoes on, so I thought, Who cares?

I landed in Houston a few minutes before my scheduled arrival time, still oblivious to the fact that I'd managed to travel across the country using a plane ticket meant for someone else.

It was only when I was at the airport in Houston for my return flight that airport security noticed. On Sunday evening, I checked in and made it past the first TSA agent, receiving that handy pre-check waiver. (What luck! I get to keep my shoes on again!) When I reached the last TSA agent before the actual security checkpoint, that's when somebody finally noticed I had been using a ticket with a name that wasn't mine.

The agent was shocked to find out that I'd made it this far at Houston's George Bush Intercontinental Airport and practically gobsmacked that I'd made it through LaGuardia security for the first leg of my roundtrip. She promptly sent me out of the line, and I managed to catch a later flight with a ticket for me, Rebecca -- not to be confused with Robert -- Adams.

It wasn't so easy to get a new flight, though. My wrong-name ticket was essentially useless, unless my dad wanted to take an impromptu trip to New York (he didn't). The agents at the airport can't do a thing when it comes to frequent flyer miles, so by the time it was all straightened out, the only flight I could make that night was one that got me to Newark Liberty International Airport at 1:30am. I suppose this was my punishment for failing to notice the error earlier. (Any Brooklyn-dwelling New Yorker can commiserate with me about the pain-in-the-ass factor getting to and from Newark adds.)

OK, so maybe I can't be too critical -- hey, neither I nor my father noticed the mix-up. Plus, our names are kind of similar-looking, despite the difference in genders. But what this says about the alertness of our TSA agents, the very people who are supposed to be safeguarding us during air travel, isn't good. I'm not the first person, by any means, to slip past the not-quite-hawk eyes of the TSA either. Even fake bombs and loaded guns can make it passed airport security these days. [Ed. note: Holy shit.]

Perhaps theses TSA agents are overworked: I can imagine that long hours at a podium performing a single task for passenger after passenger after passenger can be mind-numbing. Clearly, something needs to change when it comes to airport security, though, because all of the awkward full-body scanners and annoying liquid restrictions in the world can't prevent the most simple human error: matching the name on the ticket with the passenger's ID.

WATCH: Toward A Risk-Based Approach To Aviation Security

Elena Kaufman   |   July 24, 2014   11:48 AM ET

Watch Live at 10:00 - 11:00am MDT (12:00 - 1:00pm EST).

This session will examine threats to the aviation sector and how the Transportation Security Administration is responding to these threats with a risk-based approach, as opposed to the post-9/11 “one size fits all” assumption that each traveler is as likely as the next to be a terrorist.


Catherine Herridge, Chief Intelligence Correspondent, Fox News

Special Guest:

John Pistole, Administrator, Transportation Security Administration

Ryan Grenoble   |   July 15, 2014    4:37 PM ET

It seems our nation's capital is giving TSA agents some difficulty.

A TSA agent at the Orlando International Airport demanded to see the passport of Justin Gray, a Washington, D.C., correspondent for central Florida's WFTV news. According to WFTV, the agent was not familiar with the District of Columbia, and therefore could not accept Gray's D.C. driver's license as a valid form of ID.

Fortunately, Gray was able to pass through security, ultimately notifying the supervisor on duty of the odd problem.

According to a later tweet from Gray, the TSA has responded by showing every Orlando agent a picture of a D.C. license.

Perhaps surprisingly, this wasn't an isolated incident. In February, a TSA agent in Phoenix delayed a D.C. resident because the traveler couldn't present a "state-issued" ID.

At the time, a TSA representative told The Huffington Post that licenses from Washington, D.C., should pose no problem for its agents: "A valid Washington, D.C., driver's license is an acceptable form of identification at all TSA checkpoints. When issues arise at the checkpoint, TSA officers work to make sure facts are gathered and quickly resolved to avoid future confusion."

New Electronics Security Rule Confuses Both Brits And Americans

Cheapflights   |   July 14, 2014    9:53 AM ET

Less than Half of Americans in the Know About the Rule Think It Will Make Air Travel Safer

Confused or feeling in the dark about a TSA rule that will require some travelers flying to the United States to power up all their electronic devices as a security check? You aren't alone. An online survey of 1,222 Brits and Americans by, the online leader in finding and publishing travel deals, found that only 39.5 percent of respondents were aware of the new mandate and 47 percent said it was not clear to them.

Of the 542 Americans who were surveyed, 51 percent were aware of the new rule. That doesn't mean, however, they all found it understandable. A full 25 percent of those who had heard about the rule said it wasn't clear cut to them. The rule did add a sense of security to about half of those who knew about it -- 51 percent said it will make them "feel safer." By contrast, only 46.5 percent of the same respondents said they think it will "actually make air travel safer." And 63 percent of those who were aware of the new rule believed that it will cause "major delays in the travel process."

"Change is always a bit hard to handle," said Melisse Hinkle, site editor at "When it's added to an already complicated and tedious process -- and targets everyone's favorite tech toys as well -- it creates the potential for chaos. While traveler safety is, of course, paramount, so too is managing the roll out of new rule and striking an effective balancing act between passenger security and passenger sanity."

Cheapflights also asked about the overall security process. Results from the 1,200-plus respondents showed that the most annoying security measures they face getting at the airport are: "separately packing liquids in small bottles" (35 percent), "shoes off" (25.5 percent) and "body scan" (10 percent).

The net result is that nearly 20 percent of both Americans and Brits surveyed think airport security has reached the point where it will keep them from flying. Of course this does mean more than 80 percent will continue to take to the skies, even if they may have to "power up."

TSA Fee Hike Will Raise Prices On All U.S. Flights

SmarterTravel   |   July 8, 2014    3:21 PM ET

Read More: tsa, travel, Travel Tips


(Photo: Departure Gates via Shutterstock)

Your plane tickets are about to get a little more expensive.

A TSA fee hike goes into effect at the end of this month. In a few weeks, the September 11 Security Fee will rise from $2.50 for one-way flights (with a cap at $10 roundtrip) and $5 each way for trips with connections, to $5.60 per one-way flight. The cap will be no more.

Under the new rule, fees for direct round-trip flights will jump from $5 to $11.20.

The way the TSA applies the fees to airfares will get slightly more complex, too. For domestic flights, the TSA will charge $5.60 for each flight leg that occurs more than four hours following a previous leg. For international flights and flights to Hawaii and Alaska, the same rule applies for legs that are 12 hours apart. This means that flights with long layovers, which would have previously counted as single one-way trips, will get taxed doubly. So a round-trip flight with two four-hour connections would cost an additional $22.40 in security fees.

These changes were enacted in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013, and they officially go into effect at 12 a.m. Eastern Time on July 21. But if you buy your tickets before July 21, you won't have to pay the higher fees, no matter when you're flying.

Annoyed? Angry? Happy to foot the bill for backscatters and pat-downs? No matter what you're thinking, you still have time to give the government your two cents. According to the Federal Register notice on the rule:

"You may submit comments, identified by the TSA docket number to this rulemaking, to the Federal Docket Management System (FDMS), a government-wide, electronic docket management system, using any one of the following methods: Electronically: You may submit comments through the Federal eRulemaking portal at"

Americans have until August 19 to sound off.

Read the original story: TSA Fee Hike Set to Raise Prices on All U.S. Flights by Caroline Costello, who is a regular contributor to SmarterTravel.

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WILL LESTER   |   July 6, 2014    3:59 PM ET

WASHINGTON (AP) — Passengers at some overseas airports that offer U.S.-bound flights will be required to power on their electronic devices in order to board their flights, the Transportation Security Administration said Sunday.

The TSA said it is requiring some overseas airports to have passengers turn on devices such as cellphones before boarding. It says devices that won't power up won't be allowed on planes, and those travelers may have to undergo additional screening.

Celebrating the Fourth of July with Airport Profiling

Narinder Singh   |   July 4, 2014    5:51 PM ET

I knew it was going to happen. I'd already written this piece in my head by the time I got to the airport. Instead of spending the morning thinking about the barbecue I was going to, the fireworks display that has become a family tradition, or how thankful I was that my father immigrated to the only country i've ever called home -- I thought about how I was going to get profiled at Newark airport.

It's nothing new, but it's also something you never quite get used to. A public display telling you no matter what you feel or the actions you take, some will prefer to irrationally judge you. But today my words are not to convey how profiling is wrong or widespread (according to the data in the Sikh Coalition Fly Rights App Newark airport is the worst in the country). It's to show how when we place prejudice over practicality we leave ourselves more vulnerable to physical attack and attack what we celebrate on Independence Day.

As I entered the airport today I wore a turban, a required article of the Sikh faith. I also wore the tired look of a traveler who has traveled millions of miles over the last two decades of work. When you fly that much, you look for every opportunity to shave a few minutes or headache from your travel. For me that meant enrolling in the Global Entry program -- a brilliant program where you pay to voluntarily submit to additional screening and an in-person interview. In exchange you receive an expedited path through the airport. When TSA Pre is present, you've been "pre-checked," keep your shoes on, laptops in the case, pass successfully through the metal detector and breeze through security.

Many of the gates at Newark don't have TSA Pre, but they have a half-way measure called expedited screening. In this case you have to remove your laptop, but you still keep your shoes on and (theoretically) breeze through the metal detector. Except of course, if you are wearing a turban. Then even after you go through the metal detector they pull you aside for secondary screening to test your hands for explosive residue after you pat down your own turban. Now i know some of you are thinking, "hey, if we have to profile a few people like you who look like those people to keep everyone safe, it's worth it." But even if you believe in profiling, you're doing it wrong!

First of all, they tested my turban, but I walked through without even a second glance towards my shoes. Shoes which have been one of the most common ways for terrorists to attempt to attack us. Richard Reid, a white englishman known as the shoe bomber, being the most well-known. Second, the scenario is predictable. In every instance I have ever experienced that resembled this one (over 30) they tested my turban, not my shoes. This predictability plays into the hands of those who would wish to do us harm.

At a higher level, think of all the things the airport knows about us before making the decision to pay more attention to me over others. My flight details, payment methods, phone number, flight history and patterns, Global Entry enrollment and many more factors are immediately available. Expanding just a bit gets them to all my social information. Biasing instead towards these very small physical factors systematically harms our security and faith in the system. It becomes security theater. Is it any surprise that Newark Airport, the airport that had the most instances of profiling also just had a TSA officer breeze through its security with a fake bomb?

The wonder that is America has a long celebrated freedom and protection of individual liberties. It's also a land of opportunity and possibility. American ingenuity has again and again delivered innovation that has bettered lives across the world. We can do better than primitive and poorly applied stereotypes as a means of securing ourselves. We have real and ever-evolving challenges to take on in security and we need that ingenuity to drive how we approach problems. It will make us safer, and as Abraham Lincoln noted at his first inaugural address, lead us towards the better angels of our nature.

One of the things I cherish most about America is our never-ending quest to be better. Others hide their nation's shortcomings in order to present a one-sided image to the world. Here we acknowledge and debate our challenges openly because we know only in the light can we see them clearly and take action. It's that America that I choose to celebrate on this Independence Day.

  |   June 24, 2014    3:05 PM ET

By Dan Whitcomb

June 24 (Reuters) - The U.S. government's no-fly list banning people accused of links to terrorism from commercial flights violates their constitutional rights because it gives them no meaningful way to contest that decision, a federal judge ruled on Tuesday.

U.S. District Judge Anna Brown, ruling on a lawsuit filed in federal court in Oregon by 13 Muslim Americans who were branded with the no-fly status, ordered the government to come up with new procedures that allow people on the no-fly list to challenge that designation.

"The court concludes international travel is not a mere convenience or luxury in this modern world. Indeed, for many international travel is a necessary aspect of liberties sacred to members of a free society," Brown wrote in her 65-page ruling.

"Accordingly, on this record the court concludes plaintiffs inclusion on the no-fly list constitutes a significant deprivation of their liberty interests in international travel," Brown said.

The 13 plaintiffs - four of them veterans of the U.S. military - deny they have links to terrorism and say they only learned of their no-fly status when they arrived at an airport and were blocked from boarding a flight.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which brought suit against the policy in 2010, argues that secrecy surrounding the list and lack of any reasonable opportunity for plaintiffs to fight their placement on it violates their clients' constitutional rights to due process.

The government contends there is an adequate means of contesting the flight ban and that individuals listed under the policy may ultimately petition a U.S. appeals court directly for relief.

The no-fly list, established in 2003 in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, bars those on it from flying within the United States or to and from the country.

As of last year, it included some 20,000 people deemed by the FBI as having, or reasonably suspected of having, ties to terrorism, an agency spokesman said at the time. About 500 of them were U.S. citizens. (Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Bill Trott)

  |   June 23, 2014   10:35 AM ET

WASHINGTON (AP) — Airline passengers are about to pay more for security screening.

Following orders from Congress, the Transportation Security Administration is poised to raise the fee to $5.60 each way. That's up from $2.50 each way for a nonstop flight and $5 for a trip including connections.

Ron Dicker   |   June 16, 2014   11:36 AM ET

What would Dr. Evil do? Verne Troyer, the 2-foot, 8-inch-actor who played Mini-Me in the "Austin Powers" movies, is thoroughly searched by the TSA in a photo he posted on Facebook. And we mean thoroughly.

"I think he was cking [sic] to see if I wiped this morning," Troyer wrote on Twitter.

Troyer, 45, titled the picture "TSA Struggles."

Troyer's manager, Ray Hughes, who took the picture, told The Huffington Post the search took place at LAX Sunday morning before they both flew to London for Troyer to do a TV show.

"That's just what happens when you go through TSA," he said.

Hughes said Troyer and his scooter are regularly patted down at security. "He's a little guy. There's not much they can hide there."

"The screening process for a passenger who uses a wheelchair or scooter is determined by their ability to stand and walk," a TSA rep wrote in an email to HuffPost. "A passenger can be screened without standing, walking, or being required to transfer out of a wheelchair or scooter. In this specific case, a Transportation Security Officer (TSO) conducted a thorough patdown while the passenger remained seated in their scooter. The screening was in accordance with established TSA policies and procedures."

(Hat tip, Uproxx)

This story was updated to include a comment from the TSA.

Carly Ledbetter   |   June 14, 2014    8:00 AM ET

The TSA has an Instagram account, and it's experiencing a resurgence in popularity.

Even though the account was created last year, it's still fun to look at all the cute service dogs along with the cray-cray things confiscated by the TSA.

And even though we like to spend most of our spare time sh*tting on the agency that gives us so much sh*t, we're preeetty happy these fireworks, brass knuckles and assortment of medieval weapons didn't make it onto the plane with us.

Esquire describes the account as the "man version of cats and abs," and we kind of have to agree.

Here are 10 of the TSA's most intriguing confiscated items:

1. The most illegal "app" we could think of.

2. Please leave your "Karate Kid" dreams at home.

3. About four knives too many here...

4. It's bright and red and has "leave me at home" all over it.

5. It may fit into your carry on, but you still shouldn't bring it.

6. Eighty-one pounds of "How did you THINK this was going to end well?!"

7. FYI, batarangs are BANNED, plus Batman would NEVER fly with these.

8. NBD, just a cane sword-- nothing to see here.

9. Yep, firearms are still a "no."

10. More of these pics, please!