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January 13, 2011

The Big Airport Uproar: TSA-Proof Undies, Invasive Scans & Extreme Fees

By Lacy Morris

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Airport security(Photodisc,Digital Vision,Getty)
WE'RE ALL IN IT TOGETHER: Passengers wait their turn at airport security (Photodisc)

Security pat-downs (GateRape), full-body scans (Nude-o-Scopes), and fees for, well, everything was the going trend for globetrotting travelers in 2010. No one or nothing was spared. "In the unlikely event of loss of cabin pressure, oxygen masks will drop down. To start the flow of oxygen, simply insert your credit card," one joked. But with the economy slowly rebounding and airline prices unlikely to see much of an increase, 2011 is looking to be a healthier year for travel. People are finally planning that vacation that had been postponed due to the economic downturn. But a consumer travel survey suggests otherwise. In fact, it shows that only 30 percent of Americans plan to travel more in 2011, close to the same figure saying that they will travel less. Though there are no figures to show why, one can only speculate that the public backlash over the Transportation Security Administration's screening procedures has a little to do with it.

So what are we to do? It may be news to some (myself included) that airports are actually at liberty to hire their own security—TSA only makes the rules; it doesn't have to be the one to carry them out. Since 2002 many airports (including San Francisco and Kansas City international airports) have made the switch, scrapping TSA in lieu of their own security team. The board members of Orlando Sanford International Airport are currently flirting with the idea of a drop. Following in their footsteps are several other large airports in Charlotte, North Carolina, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles. 

The chairman of the House of Representative's Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Rep. John Mica, has called the TSA a "bloated, poorly focused, and top-heavy bureaucracy" and urged reform, saying that TSA was never meant to handle such high volume as it is being forced to now. Each secuirty measure was put in place after certain threats were attempted, such as "banning box cutters after 9-11, removing shoes after the shoe bomber, liquid limitations after the liquid-bomb plot, enhanced pat-downs after the underwear bomber, and now limiting the shipment of toner cartridges on cargo aircraft," says Mica. In a guest column he wrote for USA Today, Mica suggests that it would be "far better for a streamlined TSA to focus on setting and checking security standards and auditing performance, rather than spending much of its time, resources, and energy on managing a huge ballooning bureaucracy." In November Mica wrote letters to 100 of the U.S.'s largest airports urging them to request private security guards.   

And the debate doesn't end there; travelers around the world are being charged for checked bags, reservation changes, and toilet use—yes, you read that correctly, toilet use! According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, the airline industry netted close to $2.5 billion in 2010 on baggage fees alone. Delta charges $25 for your first checked bag (it's $2 off if you check in online pre-flight) and $35 for your second if traveling within the U.S. If you have to check three, be prepared to pay $125. And God forbid you're moving with only luggage in hand because bags four to ten are $200 each. If any of those bags are overweight (including bags one and two) a fee of $90 is charged per bag, each way. Continental, US Airways, United, and American are roughly the same. Note: Southwest still allows two checked bags under 50 pounds for free, and the third will only cost you $50—a steal compared to most.

If you're flying American, Jet Blue, US Airways, or Virgin America and are prone to chills in an air-conditioned cabin, you might want to dress in layers—each charge upwards of $7 for an in-flight blanket. Most major U.S. airlines charge $50 and higher for carrying a pet onboard. Spirit Airlines was the first U.S. airline to introduce a carry-on luggage fee, anywhere from $20 to $45 for each piece of luggage placed in the overhead bin.

Ryanair, a discount European airline, has become the poster child for the "we fee" movement. If you forget to print out your boarding pass prior to entering the airport, it can charge a $50 "airport boarding card re-issue penalty." Check-in online! The airline's adopted a $129 to $150 "name change fee." Meaning if you accidently leave out a letter, or book for your friend using her married name and you didn't know her maiden name was on her passport... it will cost you. In this case, it might be cheaper just to re-book. Ryanair also charges a $6 credit/debit card fee per person, per flight. And though reports are conflicting (and yet to be confirmed), there was a major stir in the airline world when Ryanair announced that it may initiate a pay-to-pee fee on any flight under one hour in duration. They'll get you there, but it will cost you. 

Whether you're opposed or in favor of the additional security screenings, a frequent-fee flyer, or just the guy carrying your own 3.4-ounce beverage and Cabin Cuddler onboard the aircraft, surely we can all jointly appreciate a little airport humor.

TSA-Proof Undies

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London, france

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