If you believe the meteorologists, we have another storm heading to the East Coast and just might hit in time to snarl Northeast travel for the Thanksgiving holiday. But that’s not the only travel hazard out there. Lily J. Kosner reviews the last two weeks in travel missteps to see what you have to look out for when it comes to airport theft, flight delays, questionable TSA activity, and more.
One Nation United in Computer Glitches
Yesterday, United had its third high-profile computer issue of the last 9 months. The airline has been plagued with technical issues since March when it adopted Continental computing system following the 2010 merger. This time the glitch disrupted communication between the dispatchers at Chicago operation center and airports around the world. The delay lasted 2 hours and impacted 250 of the 5,679 flights that were scheduled.
Dishonoring our Troops?
A war veteran and Paralympics athlete is suing United Airlines and a third-party contractor for allegedly causing injury and forcing him to sit in his own urine for nearly 2 hours. Sgt. Joseph Smith, a former Marine who became paralyzed in his fourth deployment in Afghanistan, filed a lawsuit against United and Air Serv, a contractor that provides passenger assistance. The suit alleges that 2 years ago, his wheelchair got stuck between the plane and the jetway ramp as an Air Serv employee helped him off the plane at O’Hare. Smith reports that he tumbled out and hit his head. On his connecting flight, his wheelchair was too wide to fit through the plane aisle. He says his request for a narrower aisle chair was denied by flight attendants, which forced him to crawl to his seat, breaking his catheter bag and leaking urine. A United spokesman has released a statement saying only, “Our preliminary review does not corroborate Mr. Smith’s version of events.”
Its full body scanners have never been popular, but now even TSA is looking into their methods. On November 9, the TSA sent a letter to Rapiscan, asking for information about previous software testing. Bloomberg reported that the company has been having problems with privacy software that was designed to replace graphic images with generic outlines. They have ordered the machines be outfitted with privacy software by June to replace the invasive images with more generic ones that simply show a chalk-like outline of a body. Currently, the TSA has no evidence that tests were falsified, but the vendor, Rapiscan, has denied wrongdoing.
Another issue is plaguing the TSA and their scanners—afro hairstyles. Beyonce’s younger sister Solange Knowles coined the term Discrim-Fro-nation on Twitter this past Wednesday after the TSA pulled her over to search her hair. This is just one of several high-profile complaints regarding wrongful hair searches. Knowles has a more light-hearted take on the matter. The singer asked her 1.3 million Twitter followers to guess what has found her “fro”. Our favorite response, “Romney’s 5 point plan.”
Watch that iPad
Throughout the years, we’ve been reporting on TSA agents being let go for stealing from travelers. In fact, the agency has fired almost 400 employees just theft. Last month ABC News analyzed figures and came up with the top 20 airports for theft firings. Watch out for major airports like Miami International Airport, JFK International Airport and Los Angeles International Airport. Other less-frequently trafficked airports like Salt Lake City International and San Diego International also had high incidences of theft firings.
Good Luck on your holiday travels. For more hazards out there, check out previous Icarus Awards, where Jet Ski to Infamy became the Hurricane Sandy fool and Family Man was the overwhelming Hurricane Sandy hero.
By Lily J. Kosner and Sarika Chawla for PeterGreenberg.com