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Paul Vale   |   May 26, 2016   10:51 AM ET

Read More: tsa, TSA Screening

Airport screening delays have caused more than 70,000 American Airlines (AAL.O) customers and 40,000 checked bags to miss their flights this year, an executive for the airline told a U.S. congressional subcommittee on Thursday.

A shortage of staff and a surge in air travelers have created a nightmare scenario for the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA), with airport wait times in places like Chicago stretching beyond two hours.

While TSA is taking steps to shorten lines such as hiring more full-time officers, it lacks the staffing to handle peak travel times this summer, Administrator Peter Neffenger said on Wednesday.

American, the world's largest airline, wants TSA to create a senior internal role focused on traveler concerns, said American Airlines Group Inc Senior Vice President for Customer Experience Kerry Philipovitch. The request comes days after Neffenger shook up TSA's management, removing the head of security operations, Kelly Hoggan.

Philipovitch also recommended that TSA consider reinstating a risk-based screening program that it canceled last year because of high-profile lapses.

In the program, officers trained to detect irregular behavior would pull unsuspicious travelers randomly into "PreCheck" lanes that can process people faster, as they do not remove their shoes and other belongings.

TSA has projected it will screen 740 million people at U.S. airports this year, some 15 percent more than in 2013 despite a 12 percent cut in its staff.

(Reporting By Jeffrey Dastin in New York; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Meredith Mazzilli)

Rebecca Shapiro   |   May 25, 2016    5:07 PM ET

Read More: tsa

A passenger tried to board an airplane at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport with a camouflaged double-bladed knife shaped like a Batarang Batman would strap to his utility belt. Another was traveling with a prop of a dead body from “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”

Kelly Chen   |   May 23, 2016    9:04 PM ET

WASHINGTON, May 23 (Reuters) - The head of security for the U.S. Transportation Security Administration has been removed from his position, according to an internal TSA memo on Monday seen by Reuters, after the agency was criticized for long lines at airport security checkpoints.

Kelly Hoggan, who had served as TSA assistant administrator for security operations since May 2013, was replaced by his deputy, Darby LaJoye, who will serve on an acting basis, according to the memo from agency head Peter Neffenger.

Long security lines at U.S. airports this spring have frustrated travelers and caused thousands of passengers to miss flights. TSA has blamed the problem on a lack of security screeners and an increase in passenger volumes.

Hoggan came under fire at a U.S. House Oversight Committee hearing on May 12 for receiving over $90,000 in bonuses and awards over a 13-month period in 2013-14.

Earlier this month, TSA said it would add screeners at the country's busiest airports.

About 231 million passengers will fly on U.S. airlines from June through August, up 4 percent from the same period last year, according to trade group Airlines for America.

In the memo, Neffenger said TSA is doing a better job of moving passengers through security at Chicago's O'Hare Airport after particularly long lines at the nation's second-busiest airport made national news several weeks ago.

He also said TSA has established a National Incident Command Center at agency headquarters in Washington to track daily screening operations nationwide and shift resources in advance of higher predicted passenger volumes.

A TSA spokesman said the agency does not comment on personnel matters. (Reporting by Eric Beech; Editing by Eric Walsh)

So THAT'S How You Beat Long Airport Lines

George Hobica   |   May 19, 2016    1:13 PM ET

You've probably already heard horror stories about unusually long TSA security lines at airports, which may only get worse as the summer travel crush adds more travelers. Passengers have been stranded overnight at airports and thousands have missed their flights.

Homeland Security says it's trying to fix this by adding more employees and keeping the ones the TSA already has, but perhaps a better strategy is to privatize security at some airports. After all, foreign governments have long used private security screeners, and their procedures are approved by the U.S. Let's get some competition in the mix and keep private screeners to the highest standards.

Meanwhile, here are some strategies to make sure you don't miss your flight.

Making the flight begins with you

Get to the airport super early, obviously: at the very least two hours before boarding for domestic, three to four hours for international. But it depends on the airport and when you're flying; at Miami when the cruise ships come in, even two hours might not be enough. New York area airports are suggesting three hours during busy times even for domestic flights.

If you hate waiting at airports this might be a good time to splurge for an airline lounge day pass. American, for example, charges $50 for a one-day pass.

We can all help in other ways, too. Make sure you're "clean" long before you get to the security line, that the bottle of Merlot you got during your Napa tour isn't lurking in your carry on. Obey the 100 ml/three ounce liquids and gels rule or you bag will have to be re-scanned, further delaying the line. Ditch the heavy metal: shoes with shanks, belts, watches, phones. Not following the rules makes the lines go even slower.

Here's a radical thought: check your bag. Southwest Airlines allows two free checked bags, or get one of the numerous airline credit cards that entitle you and traveling companions free checked bags. Fewer bags to scan would mean faster lines.

Or maybe the airlines should waive checked bag fees during this crisis, as a couple of legislators have suggested. A sort of fuel rebate. It would help them too because they wouldn't have so many angry stranded passengers to deal with.

Another choice you can make: fly from less busy airports. If you live on Long Island, fly from Islip rather than from JFK, for example.  Long Beach usually has shorter lines than LAX, and so on.
Or try to fly on a Tuesday or Wednesday when airports are less busy. Some times of the day (such as midday) are slower than during the morning and evening rush, so lines should be shorter.

TSA PreCheck and Global Entry

But perhaps the best advice you already know: sign up for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry. I prefer Global Entry because it includes PreCheck and it's good for five years for a $100 fee. Some premium credit cards, such as the Amex Platinum Card, reimburse the fee and Orbitz Rewards platinum members get PreCheck for free.

The TSA needs to do a better job advertising this program. The UK has a program to speed immigration lines and they hand out brochures when you arrive. Why doesn't TSA get the word out?

The only problem with PreCheck is that at some airports the special lines are only open for a few hours a day, again because of staffing shortages. But not only are the lines much shorter than regular TSA lines, you don't have to take out your laptop and liquids, and you can leave your shoes and light jacket on. 

Buy your way to the front

Another hack: Buy priority access to TSA lines such as JetBlue's "even more speed," which gives you expedited lines through TSA.  United has a similar program called Premier Access, which starts at $15. Delta calls it "Sky Priority" and it's available at select airports.

And although this isn't for everyone, if you really want to make your plane on time and you fly Delta, their VIP Select Service is offered at LAX, JFK, San Francisco, LaGuardia and Atlanta. For $250, on top of any Delta fare, you get escorted to the front of the TSA line and even get a transfer between flights via a private car service on the tarmac, plus other VIP perks such as Skyclub lounge access (book via Delta's VIP phone line at 855-235-9847). American has a similar program but it's only available to business- and first-class passengers.

Chris DAngelo   |   May 18, 2016   10:25 PM ET

While U.S. air travelers dealt with indignities that included infuriating airport security lines, the Transportation Security Administration was laughing all the way to the bank.

That's because in 2015 alone, hurried passengers left behind more than $700,000 -- a record -- at airport security checkpoints.

In its annual report to Congress, TSA said it collected $765,759 in unclaimed money during fiscal 2015. 

The chunk of change tops 2014's total by nearly $100,000, and is roughly double the agency's 2008 haul of $383,413.

"TSA makes every effort to reunite passengers with items left at the checkpoint, however there are instances where loose change or other items are left behind and unclaimed," the agency said in a statement. “Receipts of unclaimed money are deposited into a Special Fund account so that the resources can be tracked easily and subsequently expended."

At Los Angeles International Airport, passengers left behind $55,086 -- the most of any U.S. airport. Other top grossers were Miami International Airport ($50,956), New York City’s John F. Kennedy International Airport ($43,716) and San Francisco International Airport ($38,771). 

TSA said it will use the forgotten change collected last year to support the expansion of its Pre-Check program, which "provides trusted travelers with expedited security screening for a better travel experience."

Next time you make your way through that TSA checkpoint, give that plastic bin a second glance for runaway quarters. Traveling is too expensive not to. 

Ron Dicker   |   May 16, 2016    2:48 PM ET

We don't know if officials can deliver on promises to make airport security lines move faster, but this video taught us how to spice them up.

Some pranksters packed a dildo into their unsuspecting pal's carry-on at Ohio's Akron-Canton Airport recently, and watched the fun when a TSA agent pulled it out.

In a YouTube video posted on May 11, radio personality Will Burge wrote, "My buddy was headed to his bachelor party in New Orleans. It was his first time flying. The thing he was worried about most was airport security...with friends like his he was right to be worried!"

Thankfully, the agent had a sense of humor.

As for our duped passenger, hopefully he remembered to place the dildo back in its full upright position.

What's Up With TSA PreCheck?

Suzanne Fluhr   |   May 16, 2016   12:11 AM ET

If you are familiar with air travel in the United States since 2001, you know you will go through airport security screening by the United States Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Your flight day check list probably goes something like this:

  • Make sure you bring a government issued photo I.D.
  • Wear socks with no holes.
  • Wear slip on shoes.
  • Don't wear pants that require a belt.
  • Try to remember what 3-1-1 means.
  • Use a briefcase that will allow you to swiftly remove your computer to put in its own plastic bin.
  • Wear an easily removed jacket or sweater and be OK with everyone else in the security line seeing what you have (or don't have) on under it
  • Make your peace with going through a scanner (that may, or may not, cause cancer) that makes you appear naked to someone viewing your image in another room

As you approach the security line, you will be slightly ashamed for praying you don't get stuck behind any of the following:

  • Families with two baby strollers, two squirming toddlers and diaper bags bulging with liquids.
  • Someone who is staring at the prohibited items list as though they are seeing it for the first time and who is moving their lips while reading it.
  • The Ding-a-ling who forgot he had a loaded Glock 33 semi-automatic pistol in his carry on suitcase.

The first time I saw "TSA PRECHK" printed on my boarding pass, I was positive I was being singled out for a strip search and special enhanced interrogation. When I approached the first TSA agent, I asked what this cryptic message meant. She motioned me over to a screening station apart from the one to which my husband was directed. (Uh oh. First enhanced interrogation technique: separation from loved ones).

As I approached the belt for the items to be x-rayed, I reflexively started to kick off my shoes, but the smiling ("smiling" is not a typo) TSA agent told me I didn't have to take off my shoes nor remove my jacket. I didn't have to display my quart size, clear plastic 3-1-1 liquids bag nor remove my computer from my carry on. I just put it on the belt and walked through the magnetometer. I was through the TSA security check in about 30 seconds. Of course, I had to wait for my husband who finally emerged some time later, wondering what had become of me. For our next four flights, we both had the blessed "TSA PRECHK" on our boarding passes and had the "almost like flying in the good old days" treatment.

So, What is TSA PreCheck?

PreCheck is a TSA initiative to provide expedited security screening to "low risk passengers", currently available at 118 U.S. airports. Passengers on the following participating airlines are currently eligible for PreCheck if they meet the other criteria: Air Canada, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines, Sun Country Airlines, United Airlines and Virgin America.

According to the TSA website, those eligible for TSA PreCheck eligibility include:

  • U.S. citizens of frequent flyer programs who meet TSA-mandated criteria and who have been invited by a participating airline.
  • U.S. citizens with a Known Traveler Number (KTN).
  • U.S. citizens, U.S. nationals, and lawful permanent residents who are members of the TSA Precheck application program.
  • U.S. citizens who are members of a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) trusted traveler program, such as Global Entry, NEXUS and SENTRI.
  • Canadian citizens who are members of NEXUS.
  • Foreign citizens of select countries who are members of Global Entry (see Global Entry eligibility) and not registered as a U.S. lawful permanent resident.
  • Members of the U.S. Armed Forces, including those serving in the U.S. Coast Guard, Reserves, and National Guard.
  • Department of Defense and U.S. Coast Guard civilian employees.
  • Certain other passengers who don't meet these criteria may be sent to the PreCheck expedited screening line based on "observation" by "trained" personnel that they appear low risk (supposedly based on observation of behavior, not "profiling"). (Hint: Don't appear anxious in the security line. I'm not sure how they differentiate fear of flying from fear of having one's bomb detected).

There is some static from people who paid $85 to be qualified for PreCheck. They are understandably annoyed that their "expedited" TSA security line is being lengthened by people (such as me) who didn't pay the $85 application fee and didn't go through the hassle of the application process, but are being sprinkled with TSA pixie dust anyway.

TSA was supposedly going to be limiting PreChk to those who applied and were approved; however, I had "TSA PRECHK" on all my boarding passes as recently as this month without going through the official vetting process.

Now for the bad news. TSA is now considerably understaffed, so many security checkpoints don't have any PreCheck lines available. Those with "TSA PreChk" on their boarding pass will get a sticker that only entitles them to wait in the regular, snaking, slow moving line without removing their shoes. Even the regular lines are staffed by insufficient personnel. There is an increasing incidence of people missing flights because of long lines at TSA checkpoints. Flights are also delayed because some of those people already checked in baggage which must be removed before the flight can leave if they don't board the plane.

If you really, really need to get somewhere, get to the airport three hours before your scheduled flight.

(A version of this article first appeared on Boomeresque.)

Also on HuffPost:

Ed Mazza   |   May 13, 2016    1:02 AM ET

Travelers flying out of Chicago's Midway International Airport encountered extremely long lines to pass the TSA checkpoint on Thursday.

One user shared a clip of the scene on YouTube, which is above. Warning: There is some foul language in the clip... although it's about what you might expect from travelers encountering this situation at an airport.

Travelers reported delays going through security throughout the day, and some shared images on Twitter: 

ABC 7 Chicago reported that it took travelers about an hour to make it through the line, although on social media some said it took closer to two hours.

The lines returned to normal by about 10 pm on Thursday night, ABC 7 said. 

Last week, the TSA warned travelers to expect extensive delays this summer due to poor staffing.

"This is going to be a rough summer; there is no doubt about it,” Gary Rasicot, TSA chief of operations, told the New York Times. "We are probably not at the staffing level we would like to be to address the volume. This is why we are talking about people getting to the airport a little earlier than planned." 

(h/t reddit)

And The Worst TSA Checkpoints In America Are...

The Active Times   |   April 28, 2016    1:45 PM ET

The Transportation Security Administration is the federal agency everybody loves to hate. Call them "necessary evil" if you will, but bad-mouthing them all the time is not always fair.

Click Here to see the Complete List of Worst TSA Checkpoints in the U.S.

Some checkpoints have been organized in a way that makes the job easier, while others are lacking the infrastructure or staff to get people faster through security.

While many people don't understand why checking people's belongings can take so long because "I'm not carrying anything dangerous," you may be surprised at what other people have in their luggage. As many as 2,653 firearms, 83 percent of them loaded, were discovered in 2015 in carry-on bags at checkpoints across the country (seven a day on average), according to a TSA report.

Believe it or not, TSA agents don't like slow lines either, but passengers share some of the blame for the slow processing. As one former TSA agent told Fox: "I always found it surprising that people did not know they had to remove shoes, laptops, liquids, etc." Doing that as you're about to get screened only holds up the line. Check out the list below to learn where the worst TSA checkpoints are in the U.S.

Click Here to see the Original Story on The Active Times

- Nicole DosSantos, The Active Times

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Privacy: A Failed Experiment?

Victor Dorff   |   April 20, 2016    4:46 PM ET

As Americans look north and observe Canada's latest kerfuffle over privacy this week, it has been like looking at ourselves in the mirror - everything is on the opposite side.

Court documents released last week in Quebec revealed that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police can unlock the encryption on any and all Blackberry devices. At least six years ago, the RCMP got hold of the "passkey" and has been secretly unlocking millions of private messages with the full knowledge and cooperation of Research in Motion (RIM), the company that makes Blackberry devices.

Ontario's former Privacy Minister says it was 2010 when she first heard that RIM was releasing a universal key to unlock Blackberry encryption to governments in the Middle East. Unlike the Apple execs in the U.S. who recently fought pressure from the FBI for similar access to locked smart phones, RIM apparently had no objections. In what the minister now characterizes as a "rude response" to her written inquiries, the company told her that she was being unpatriotic for asking questions. She says that's when she ditched her Blackberry and got an iPhone.

Privacy in America - A Relatively New Concept

The right to privacy as we know it today has been evolving for a little more than a century. In an 1890 article for the Harvard Law Review, Supreme-Court-Justice-to-be Louis Brandeis and his law partner Samuel Warren expressed concern that "[r]ecent inventions and business methods" posed a threat to individuals, who had "the right to be let alone." The authors predicted that the law was unprepared to deal with privacy cases, and about a decade later, history proved them right.

New York's highest court ruled in 1902 that nothing in the law prevented a paper mill from using the latest technology - photography - to put a picture of a young girl on its flour sacks without asking her first (let alone paying her). The case created a public outcry that prompted legislators to create a legal right to privacy.

Since then, the bubble of privacy that surrounds each American has expanded. Courts have found that an individual's right to privacy protects against government eavesdropping on conversations on public phones or going through garbage cans looking for incriminating evidence. If the government wants to violate the privacy of a citizen legally, it usually needs to obtain a court order before snooping around.

The Illusion of Privacy

The concept of a right to privacy has become more ingrained in the American public, even as it has become harder and harder to keep anything private. Like a teenager who is horrified to learn that the little lock on her diary was insufficient to protect her secrets from a prying sibling, Americans have been surprised over and over again to learn that nothing they say or do is necessarily a sacred secret.

As far back as 1987, the televised Iran-Contra hearings on Capitol Hill gave the American public a glimpse of how electronic communication was already changing the nature of secrecy. Co-conspirators in the White House had erased their computer files and shredded hardcopies of electronic messages (called PROF-notes) to hide their actions, never suspecting that someone would find (and make public) a back-up disk with copies of all the incriminating evidence.

Twenty-five years later, anonymous emails to a Floridian socialite led the FBI directly to the jealous mistress of General David Petraeus (the head of the CIA!), and the ensuing scandal precipitated the war hero's downfall -- another reminder that nothing about electronic communications is reliably anonymous. And yet, every revelation seems to come as a fresh surprise.

Privacy Is Not Immunity

Nothing that is in a citizen's phone would be immune to a court order if it existed as a hard-copy in a safe deposit box. Yet, somehow, digital privacy seems different. President Obama alluded to this when he warned last month against "fetishizing our phones above every other value" -- an interesting reversal from the man who was so attached to his own Blackberry before taking office that he insisted the government create one secure enough for him to use as president.

Security concerns are routinely being used as justification to restrict the right to privacy. Public places in even the most open societies are routinely under the watchful eye of security cameras monitored by law enforcement. High-tech devices in the hands of police gather large amounts of data - license plate numbers, cell phone signals, airline passenger records.

For the most part, society has been willing to cede some degree of privacy in exchange for security, although it is difficult to see exactly where the line is drawn. The Transportation Security Administration, for example, has long had passkeys to unlock all checked airline baggage and faced no significant resistance to that rule. Neither the luggage nor the lock-making industry rose to defend the public's right to keep the contents of their suitcases private, even after the government published photos of those passkeys, thereby making it possible for anyone with a 3-D printer to copy them.

In contrast, many of the same people who have accepted the ubiquitous presence of security cameras raise objections to security microphones. Around the country, where transit authorities have begun recording sound on busses and trains, some commuters who have no expectation of privacy regarding their public behavior have drawn the line at allowing the government to overhear their public conversations.

The Right to Privacy -- An Experiment that Failed?

The under-30 set has grown up with digital profiles, blogs, and a plethora of social media accounts with which they immortalize an uncensored record of their young lives - mistakes and all. Meanwhile, their elders worry that "kids today" will someday rue their failure to keep things private.

The French government even reflected a protective concern about the nature of privacy last month when it warned that parents could face prison for violating the privacy of their children by posting their pictures online. Or that, someday, those children might turn around and sue their parents over the embarrassment those pictures cause.

In this country, the legal concept of privacy continues to evolve, as Congress grapples with the notion of "unbreakable" encryption. Meanwhile, it is difficult to predict the future of our extended right to privacy, which came into being barely a century ago. Perhaps a few hundred years from now, when our ancestors look back and muse at how technology became more integrally woven into human lives, they will see today's angst over the right to privacy as a quaint overreaction to an inevitable wave of change.

Hilary Hanson   |   April 9, 2016    9:54 AM ET

Read More: tsa, airport security

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Transportation Security Administration's Peter Neffenger said Friday he would like to see explosive-sniffing dogs at all of the nation's largest airports.

The dogs would allow cleared passengers to pass directly into "pre-check" lanes that include a metal detector but do not require passengers to remove their shoes or bagged liquids, TSA Administrator Neffenger said.

"I would likely to dramatically increase the number of dogs we have," Neffenger told reporters at TSA headquarters.

The transportation oversight agency currently uses 222 dog teams to sniff for explosive materials around cargo, 140 of which are trained to sniff passengers as well.

Neffenger said he would like all of the dog teams to be trained to sniff passengers by the end of the year or the beginning of 2017.

Though his term as TSA head is due to end when President Barack Obama leaves office in January 2017, Neffenger's goal is for TSA to deploy 500 dog teams at all of the high-volume U.S. airports some time after his departure.

The dogs are acquired by the U.S. Department of Defense from breeders in Europe and take about 10 months to train, Neffenger said. That training time limits how many dogs he can deploy immediately.

Neffenger said replacing the current security screening procedure used by most passengers with bomb-sniffing dogs would speed up lines at airports.

Those lines at security checkpoints are both inconvenient for travelers and also create a security risk.

Neffenger, who happened to be landing at the Brussels airport shortly after it was attacked on March 22, said moving lines would make it harder for attackers to pinpoint an area to cause maximum devastation.



(Reporting by Julia Edwards)

Should Christians Think Less About Safety?

John Backman   |   April 7, 2016   11:05 AM ET

Does God want you to keep yourself safe? The answer, from a Christian viewpoint, may be less obvious--and much less reassuring--than you might think.

Like everyone else, of course, Christians want to be safe. Like everyone else, we get rattled when fearsome things happen. We yearn to draw a ring of security around ourselves, our loved ones, our "tribe." It's why many Christians have applauded measures put forth to enhance security: gun ownership, airport luggage searches, a moratorium on welcoming Syrian refugees, the push to "make America great again."

Christians also seek to live according to God's will, as expressed in sources like the Bible. Here's where it gets unnerving. Those sources suggest that self-protection is low on God's priority list. Worse, self-defense can interfere with beliefs and behaviors that are close to God's heart.

It's true that God is concerned about our safety per se (again using the Bible and related sources as guides). Passages that concern our safety, threats to our safety, and deliverance from those threats are scattered throughout the Bible. The Psalms in particular overflow with appeals to God for safety and deliverance.

But these passages are all about how God delivers us. Few, if any, talk about how we might deliver ourselves. Quite the opposite, in fact: we're warned against seeking deliverance from creatures. God "is not impressed by the might of a horse; he has no pleasure in the strength of a man" (Psalm 147:11).

Moreover, a preoccupation with safety can get in the way of other things, about which God cares a great deal--like compassion for every human being, especially the marginalized. The biblical commandment about people beyond our own borders--"you shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt" (Exodus 22:21)--stands against the anti-Muslim measures promoted by Donald Trump and his supporters. The Jesus of the gospels promised the kingdom of heaven to people of whom he could say, "I was a stranger and you welcomed me...I was in prison and you visited me" (Matthew 25:35).

Think about that a bit. Strangers are, by definition, unknown. We have no idea if they're safe. We do know that many prisoners are not safe--not by any standard.

And we are asked to care for them.

Now consider some of the heroes of the Christian faith. Mother Teresa went into India's most wretched slums to care for people forgotten by the world. St. Francis of Assisi crossed enemy lines to bridge divides with the Sultan of Egypt in the heat of the Fifth Crusade. Dorothy Day, a journalist by trade, did not just write about the poor and homeless; she lived among them.

Why do we admire them so? Why do we use their stories, virtues, and character as examples to live by? Partly because nothing--not even a healthy sense of self-preservation--prevented them from going where, in their understanding, God asked them to go.

Now some Bible students have made thoughtful cases in favor of self-defense for Christians. And few people of faith would condemn taking some well-considered steps to keep oneself and one's loved ones safe. Does anyone really want to argue against smoke alarms, seat belts, or martial arts training? After a great deal of reflection, I'm coming to believe that thoughtful gun ownership can be justified too.

The problem does not lie in these "well-considered steps." The problem comes when the steps are not well-considered: when we overreact, when we take steps and pass legislation purely out of fear, when we make safety a life pursuit. For people of faith, the challenge comes when we hear the call of God and, concerned for our own safety, refuse to respond.

As people of faith, then, we are often asked to act contrary to our first instincts and self-interest. God's call may take us into dangerous territory, and that may cost us. But a central message of the Christian faith is that even our death, the ultimate defeat of our attempts at self-protection, is not the end: we live on with God as the fruit of our good deeds lives on in the world. That is a fulfillment devoutly to be wished.

10 Things You Should Know When Traveling With a Wheelchair

Jay Smith   |   April 5, 2016    1:32 PM ET

One of the most common questions I get from my readers is about travel. How do I do it with ALS? How do I travel if I can't walk, eat, or talk? First, I should say I love traveling and everything that goes along with it - from the feeling I get in my gut during takeoff to the tiny shampoo bottles that inevitably end up in my luggage. I feel most alive when I'm on the move. My kids are six and eight and have been on airplanes since they were just a few months old. My traveling adventures have taken me all over the world and while my disease has slowed me down, it has not stopped me from sipping ginger ale through tiny straws at 30,000 feet.

Traveling with a paralyzing, terminal illness is not for the faint of heart. Here are 10 things you should know if you want to defy (or just completely ignore) the limitations of your disability.

1. Don't be afraid. If you think you can't do it, have someone take your non-working arm and slap you in the face. I wrote this entire piece on a flight from DC to Austin in mild turbulence using only my eyes. If you set your mind to it, anything is possible...well anything besides more leg room.


2. Have a rock star companion. I can't stress this enough. I'm not talking about someone who is willing to get drunk with you on mini-bottles of wine in row 12, I'm talking about someone who can make you laugh while wiping your ass in the middle of the night. My wife is that rock star. Not only does she take care of all my needs, she makes it all look so easy and never complains (at least not to me). As I write this she is adjusting my headphones for the 5th time and we're not even through the first beverage service.


3. Flying with a wheelchair is not your problem. Airlines are required to accommodate you and your wheelchair, no matter the size. I have the Hummer of wheelchairs, a 450 lb. Quantum Edge that does everything but make coffee. Just let the airline know you have a wheelchair and they will take care of the rest. If you're worried about damage don't be - anything that breaks on their watch is covered. Just be sure you check for damage and report it before leaving the airport.

4. Don't worry about getting to your seat. You will have to leave your wheelchair on the jet bridge. And then you can look forward a couple of sweaty dudes, with the fragrance of BO and exotic food truck cuisine, strapping you into an aisle chair and whisking you into whatever seat you want. You'll be the first one on and the last one off but you won't be stuck sitting in between the lady who thinks it's okay to eat a rack of homemade ribs and the guy who is pretending to sleep but really farts the whole flight. Trust me, I've been that guy before, something about air travel brings out the gas in me.

5. The TSA is suddenly your friend. Maybe it's pity or fear of a lawsuit, but the agents who make Paul Bart look like the Secret Service go out of their way to accommodate you. Don't worry about your liquid feeding tube formula, bag limits, or taking your shoes off, you'll be treated to a private "massage" ( as my eight year old calls them) in the comfort of your own chair. And if you're in a rush, nothing will get you through faster than a full catheter bag and a puddle of drool on your shirt.

6. Piss in your pants. Sorry ladies, this one is for the guys only. A condom catheter will let you pee comfortably over the Grand Canyon, which if you look now is just over the left side of the plane.

7. Make a city your destination.
The most challenging part of traveling disabled is getting a wheelchair accessible van once you get to your destination. Most major cities will have wheelchair cabs. You should call ahead to reserve and check availability. You may have to wait, and sometimes for hours, but you should be able to get where you need to go. Make sure to tip your driver generously to help create a direct line to the driver for the remainder of your stay.

8. Pick someplace new. Older cities can be hard to navigate. Cities like Boston and DC were fully built out before ADA regulations. Newer cities like Denver and Orlando are easier to get around. I even found a whole list of accessible hiking trails in Denver last fall.

9. Stay at nicer hotels. All hotels are required to have accessible rooms but aren't required to hold them, even if you have a reservation. I found this out the hard way. Last year we reserved a room at the Comfort Inn near Red Rocks in Colorado only to find out upon arrival they gave our room away to a non-disabled guest. Even if you call ahead you can't be sure. Skip the crappy continental breakfast and stay in a hotel that will save your room.

10. Fly direct. Before ALS I was a budget traveler. I would drive hours out of my way for a deal and endure grueling layovers to save a buck. Now I can't afford to lose my medical devices or risk my wheelchair not making the connection. Don't be tempted by cheap fares. Make sure you stick to direct flights, preferably on Southwest. They are by far the most handicap-friendly airline. Or is it disabled? I can never get that right.

And, finally, be patient and flexible. From weather conditions to backed-up toilets, you can't plan for everything. Remember, you're traveling in a seat going 500 miles per hour for a few hundred bucks - that fact alone should amaze you. If you're gate isn't ready when you arrive, don't be the guy that moans and groans about it. Instead be thankful to be alive and enjoy the adventure of life.

Why It's Not Worth It to Redeem Alaska Miles for TSA Precheck

Map Happy   |   March 23, 2016   12:58 PM ET


Recently, Alaska Airline announced that it will now allow Mileage Plan members to redeem mileage for TSA PreCheck.

This post originally appeared on Map Happy.

Until April 30, 2016, Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan members can redeem 10,000 miles to receive an authorization code to cover the cost of a TSA PreCheck application fee for one applicant. Each Mileage Plan member can redeem up to seven codes, and the codes won't expire until November 30, 2016. So even if most members aren't planning on going through with the application process right away, the codes will still be valid for a good chunk of time.

Of course, Alaska Airlines doesn't guarantee TSA PreCheck acceptance and no refunds or mile redeposits will be offered, even if the code isn't used. More deets below:

How to redeem:

  1. 1. Email by April 30, 2016 with your name and Mileage Plan number.

  2. 2. Within 72 hours, Alaska will deduct 10,000 miles from your account and send you an email with your authorization code.

  3. 3. Apply for TSA Precheck and schedule your screening appointment. Customers applying are responsible for ensuring they are Precheck-eligible.

Is this deal worth doing?

Look, if you're not going to spend the 10,000 miles elsewhere--lets face it, most of us are hoarders--then spending 10,000 miles on the PreCheck application isn't a bad way to go. BUT, if you actually value miles for redeeming flights, then it might be worth reconsidering. If each mile is valued at about 1.4 cents, the rough value of a mile, 10,000 miles equates to $140. That's $55 more than the $85 standard fee it costs otherwise to pay out of pocket.

Global Entry has always been a far better deal than PreCheck, because it includes the latter. But the best deal is NEXUS.

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