New TSA electronics security requirements coming for domestic flights

The TSA announced today that they are “raising aviation security baseline” by creating more hoops to jump through at security checkpoints. Where before only laptops were taken out of backpacks and placed in their own bin for screening, now any “electronics larger than a cell phone” will get the same treatment. Yes, this will mean longer lines, slower screening, and more packing up after going through security.

Perhaps this is to make up for the fact that the TSA has actually missed over 95% of items that could be dangerous as they pass through security. An article from CNN in 2015 and more recent one from the Washington Times in 2017 attests to that fact. It is really outrageous.

That being said, I personally doubt that this type of screening will pick up much more of the dangerous items that our “security theater” is said to be there for.

And, luckily, those of us with TSA PreCheck do not have to worry about this at all.

Travel Ban restrictions altered against Trump administration’s wishes

When the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case on the Travel Ban they issued a statement that essentially allowed parts of the ban to be enforced. Specifically, they said that anyone who did not already have some kind of tie to the United States would not be allowed to enter until their ruling had been given later this year. They even specified examples of the types of people “with ties” to the country. Their words were that the ban applies to “foreign nationals who lack any bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.”

Unfortunately, the Trump administration set forth guidelines on what that meant in relation to family ties. For example, siblings-in-law would be allowed in but grandparents would not.

As someone who just lost two grandmothers in the same year I can’t begin to tell you how awful this ruling can be for people. Just the thought of not being able to see my grandmothers makes me feel upset.

So, I am happy that a Federal court in Hawaii has ruled against that specific limitation. Interestingly, the definition of “close relative” does not yet include a fiancé.

Electronics ban lifted in many countries

In Act 3 of the security theater of the electronics ban, international airports are now being let off the list of locations where US-bound flights are required to put all electronics bigger than a cell phone into checked luggage (even a Kindle!). The airlines now permitted to arrive with electronics in the main are:

  • Emirates Air (Dubai, UAE)
  • Eithad Airways (Abu Dhabi, UAE)
  • Kuwait Airways (Kuwait City, Kuwait)
  • Royal Jordanian (Amman, Jordan)
  • Qatar Airways (Doha, Qatar)
  • Turkish Airways (Istanbul, Turkey)

The airlines still restricted are:

  • EgyptAir (Cairo, Egypt)
  • Royal Air Maroc (Casablanca, Morocco)
  • Saudia Arabian Airlines (Jeddah, Saudia Arabia)

Back in May there was a brief worry that the ban would be expanded and members of the administration hinted at more potential terrorism. All the while, airlines were worried of lithium ion batteries exploding in cargo holds, causing more likely damage. In the end, the rumor that there would be security increases to get off the list came true and we can now fly “safely” from these countries back to the US.

The whole thing is really unfortunate as TSA agents are failing at their jobs 95% of the time that it actually matters. Here’s hoping we can figure this stuff out in the US soon.

On Top of Table Mountain

I want to get back into sharing about my time in South Africa over Spring Break as I ease back into making posts. I know a lot has been going on about potential new travel bans and a renewed restriction on travel to Cuba, but I’ll get into all that later. For now, I want to share some photos of my time on Table Mountain.

I’ve been to Table Mountain before – as a small child I went up the cable car of yester-year. I’m not entirely sure if this is the exact one I used back in the early ’90s, but it seems pretty similar in my head.

Nowadays, however, they have made massive upgrades. When we went to Cape Town in 2007 (and now when I went in 2017) we used the newer ones that are safer, hold more people, and rotate! It was such a pleasure to take them up (although my wife was a bit scared). On top there were amazing views of everything around us.

One of the coolest things about Table Mountain is how fast the weather changes. When we arrived, it was clear and sunny. Within 20 minutes, the “table cloth” had covered us and started to get denser. Then, 10 minutes later, it was gone. Below is a video of that taking place.

The view was amazing and the walks along the top are incredible as well. The next time I go I plan on hiking up!

Review: President’s Hotel in Cape Town

After a fine time flying SAA to Cape Town we picked up our new luggage at baggage claim (no wait this time) and drove out to the President’s Hotel for a four-night stay in the city. The hotel was suggested by my mother and had nice access to a variety of parts of the city while being situated in Bantry Bay, a neighborhood directly northwest of Lion’s Head.

We decided to splurge on a one-bedroom suite that even had a small refrigerator, microwave, and dishes. The bed was moderately comfortable (again, not the best in the world) and this time there was no distinction between shower and bathtub (they were one piece in the bathroom). That being said, we had a nice view of the ocean and very comfortable places to put our things. The bathroom was well stocked with towels and amenities and there were side table on either side of the bed. There was easy access to the wifi in the hotel and a TV with many channels.

One of the big selling points of the hotel was its included buffet breakfast. While it was Passover during our stay we could not partake in the ample bread-related products, but there were plenty of fruits, fishes, egg-dishes, and juices to satisfy us. It was such a lovely place to dine and the servers were quite attentive. The dining area overlooked the pool that we never got a chance to use but looked enticing.

One of the items we appreciated the most about the hotel was there easy-to-access room service that was pretty inexpensive, even by South African standards. We enjoyed our in-room meals immensely – we had two over the four nights! We do recommend the hotel for future stays although we might want to stay within walking distance of other places in the city in the future.

Baggage delay can ruin your time

As mentioned in the previous post my wife and I had a very unfortunate experience on our recent trip to South Africa: due to what I can only imagine to be many mistakes and misunderstandings over the course of five days our luggage did not arrive safely into the country when we did. Instead, we had to wait five full days (and spend much time during those days buying necessities) in order to get our bags back.

My general theory of what happened is what follows.

When we left the US we arrived at JFK airport with about an hour until our flight was scheduled to leave on its way to Vienna. We barely made it to the check-in counter in time but our large, filled-to-the-brim blue bag was accepted and checked onto the flights that would eventually end up in Johannesburg. During the 29 hour journey we had two carry-ons containing extra clothes due to our nine hour layover in Cairo. I had wanted to shower and change before our final flight to South Africa so we planned to shower and change beforehand.

Upon arrival into JNB airport we went through the exceedingly-long customs line until we were allowed to enter the country, only to find that the blue bag we were hoping to see on the other end was nowhere in sight. We waited for 10 minutes as the belt kept moving and then made our way to the EgyptAir luggage support services people who took me for a walk around the baggage claim area in search of the bag that supposedly took a different flight path (via Frankfurt) instead of boarding our plane with us. We couldn’t find it.

So for five full days my wife and I relied on the baggage delay insurance covered to us by the Citi Prestige card we used to pay the taxes on our award ticket from to South Africa. Due to an update in their rules we did not have to book the entire flight’s cost on the card – even partial payment would allow the coverage below to kick in:

While not as good as the Chase Sapphire Preferred in this regard (that offers $100 per day up to five days), it does provide you with some money to get supplies that you need. We did spend over that amount and so I also filed a claim for reimbursement from the airline itself. I am currently waiting to hear back from both entities on what we can get back from them.

In the end we had to buy clothing, toiletries, medicine, and a whole new piece of luggage to carry it all on our flight from Johannesburg to Cape Town. I am a patient man and will make sure to get every dollar we spent back or make sure no one flies with this airline ever again…

 

Electronics Travel Ban

It’s been a week since Royal Jordanian Airlines let the cat out of the bag: both the US and the UK have officially announced bans on certain types of electronics on flights arriving in the United States.

The US Department of Homeland Security has banned electronics in carry-on luggage that are “larger than a cell phone/smart phone” and gave a list of examples. The UK ban restricts based on size of the device itself, as seen in this screenshot from the BBC’s website:

Devices subject to cabin baggage ban

While I understand the need for security on airplanes, this ban seems a bit odd to me, as it does for a few frequent flier bloggers out there.

  1. Since the US and UK share intelligence information like this, shouldn’t the ban match airport-for-airport or at least country-for-country? Instead, there is a lot of divergence, as you can see in this map below. Map of affected countries
  2. If the threat is so imminent, why were airlines given 96 hours to comply? Shouldn’t the ban go into effect immediately, as a similar ban of carry-on luggage occurred immediately after a terror attack on Christmas 2009 – when I boarded a flight to the US the week after I was not allowed any carry-on luggage at all.
  3. If the Department of Homeland Security was truly serious about this they would ban all flights into the US. It is quite easy for someone to take a one-stop flight from Istanbul and arrive without having these restrictions.

Airlines are dealing with this in interesting ways. Some are offering “gate-checking” of electronics. Others are making funny ad campaigns about what you can do with 12 hours without electronics (which is not even true because many of those have in-flight entertainment).

But, really, the explanation that has been given so far is substandard. This ban seems to be unnecessary and ill-timed. We need more allies out there in the world, not fewer. I hope this ban does not last indefinitely.