Monday, November 22, 2010
Heading into the busiest travel time of the year we'll hear tips to help minimize inconvenience for travelers on the road and in the air.
The best part of Thanksgiving is not the turkey, not even the tasty apple sage stuffing, it's being lucky enough to gather friends and family at the table and reconnecting with loved ones. That is indeed the best part the worst part, however, can be making the trip to get there.
From traffic jams to body scans, traveling can be an unpleasant experience. But the more prepared you are, the less likely you'll be to lose your patience and more likely to arrive with your mind and other body parts in tact. Heading into the busiest travel time of the year we'll hear tips for travelers to help minimize inconvenience on the road and in the air.
Marie Montgomery, Spokesperson for the Automobile Club of Southern California
Patrick Smith, author of Ask the Pilot on salon.com and the book of the same name. Smith is also an airline pilot.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. The best part of Thanksgiving is not the Turkey. Not even the tasty apple sage stuffing of that's being lucky enough to gather friends and family at the table, reconnecting with loved ones. That is indeed the best part. The worst part, however, can be making the trip to get there. From traffic jams to body scans, traveling can be an unpleasant experience. But the more prepared you are, the less likely you'll be to lose your patience, and the better chance you'll have for arriving with your mind and body parts in tact. Joining with me is Patrick Smith, he is author of Salon.com's ask the pilot column, and the book by the same name. He is an airline pilot. And Patrick, good morning.
PATRICK SMITH: Good morning. Thanks for having me on.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Marie Montgomery Nordhues is spokesperson for the Automobile Club of Southern California. Marie, good morning.
MARIE MONTGOMERY NORDHUES: Good morning.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, we invite our listeners to join the conversation. How was your last Thanksgiving trip? Where are you going this year? Do you have any travel tips you'd like to share? You can call us with your questions and your comments, our number is 1-888-895-5727. Marie, let me start with you because I know triple A comes out with some key ideas people can do to minimize while they're traveling this week. Can you give us a few short bullet points.
MARIE MONTGOMERY NORDHUES: Sure, well, of course if you're going by plane, the number one thing is to arrive ahead of time, well ahead of time. You want to probably get to the airport three hours early just to make sure that you have enough time to get through the lines. Car travel is by far the most popular means of travel. So if you're going to do that, you want to try to pick a time that not everybody's gonna be on the road. That's kind of hard to do, but if you can either leave, you know, early Thursday morning or during -- late at night, that can sometimes be less stressful for you.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Right. Now, I know triple A is making the prediction that travel along -- in the Thanksgiving holiday is gonna be up substantially this year. Tell us about that.
MARIE MONTGOMERY NORDHUES: Yes, it is gonna be up about 11 percent. However, we have had some down years. The last couple of years have not been so good for travel. So really it's only a partial climb back from where we were in the mid-- the middle of the decade.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: How do you make those predictions of 11 percent? Where does that come from.
MARIE MONTGOMERY NORDHUES: Well, we've to the actually a firm that we work with in site that does something called an econometric projection. It's not only based on travelers' intentions, but also an analysis of the economy and kind of what's going on out in the world. And they take all of these various factors and they put them together and they come up with these projections.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, just to round out what you were telling us initially, Marie, if indeed somebody's planning to take a trip aircraft short trip from San Diego to an area in LA County or Palm Springs or something like that, you say it's better to leave when there's little traffic. When actually would be a good time to start a trip like that?
MARIE MONTGOMERY NORDHUES: It's, again, really hard to say. A lot of people try to beat the traffic and then all of a sudden they find themselves in traffic.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Right, yes.
MARIE MONTGOMERY NORDHUES: So it's not always that easy to do. But if you get a good start, say, you know, 5 or 6 in the morning on almost any morning, you're probably gonna be a little better off than if you leave midday on, say, Wednesday. But you, you know, definitely Wednesday evening is going to be very, very congested, either coming in or coming out of San Diego.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Right. This is Marie Montgomery Nordhues, spokesperson for the automobile club of Southern California. My other guest is Patrick Smith, he is author of salon.com's ask the pilot column. And we are taking your calls about Thanksgiving travel, 1-888-895-5727. So Patrick, we've heard a little bit lately about additional security measures at place at the airport. How much more time should people allow for all of this stuff that's going on?
PATRICK SMITH: Well, that really varies airport to airport, terminal to terminal. You upon, I think you do want to give yourself some extra time, exactly how much issue that's hard to say. And part of it might come down to how many people are participating in so called opt out day, where there's a ground swell, a movement, you know, that's trying to prompt people to refuse the body scanners. I have mixed feelings about that. I think there is some resistance to TSA's protocols finally after ten years. On the other hand, you know, such an active civil disobedience risks causing a great inconvenience to millions of other people. And then, you know, what do we do the next day? Just go back to the way we were behaving before? And then everything goes on unchanged? I don't necessarily understand the idea.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Right. Actually, TSA came out today, basically warning people not to participate in the boycott.
PATRICK SMITH: Yeah. Well, you know when I hear things like that, I almost want to encourage people to go ahead and do it then.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You are a pilot, aren't you?
PATRICK SMITH: Yeah.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, TSA is not gonna be body scanning pilots anymore, right.
PATRICK SMITH: No, they're not, but pilots are still subject to the gate check procedures. It's all the controversy but a slightly different one. You know, this whole thing with the scanners, on one hand, it's concerning because like I was just saying, it has finally galvanized some furor and out rage towards a lot of what TSA does which is just kind of mindless and silly. On the other hand, it distracts us from asking important questions, not about the scanners in particular, but about TSA's approach to security over all. And what I mean by that, or a couple things, you know, first of all, we have this security philosophy that treats every single person who flies, you know, be it an infant child or a uniformed crew member as a potential terrorist. And in a country where you've got two million people moving through the system every day, that is not sustainable, it's ultimately unenforceable. And just not good for anybody. And the other aspect of this is the, you know, the scanners are just really a part of a greater arms race of airport security. First we had the 911 attacks and so pointy objects were banned, and then Richard reed, and we have to take our shoes off, and then the underwear bomber, then we have to be scanned of what's next? We have to stop and realize we're never gonna be safe from every conceivable means of attack. And the other thing we need to finally step back and acknowledge is that real airport security isn't the job of the guard on the concourse. It goes on behind the scenes, it's the job of TS-- I'm sorry, it's the job of the FBI, CIA, counter intelligence. It's off stage. Have you to catch terrorists before they get to the airport.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Right, I'm speaking with Patrick Smith, he's author of salon.com's Ask the Pilot column. My other guest is Marie Montgomery Nordhues of the Automobile Club of Southern California, we're taking your calls, and before we take a call, Patrick, at 1-888-895-5727. I want to ask you for people who are not accustomed to traveling, who come upon this, perhaps it's all new to them. The health effects, is there any reason to be concerned about health effects about going through a body scanner do you think?
PATRICK SMITH: For the most part, that's unknown. Some people say yes, other people say no. It's a big question mark. It's possible. I don't see that as the foremost reason for opposing these machines, but there are possible health effects that we need to take into account, yes.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let's take a call, David is calling from Pacific Beach.
NEW SPEAKER: Thanks for taking my call, my question is, I'm wondering if anybody there knows that TSA is considering making all these idiots who plan to opt out tomorrow just wait in their own line so they don't hold the rest of us up.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Well, that's what you were addressing right? Patrick on this, the busiest week of travel, it could be a problem.
PATRICK SMITH: Well, first of all, while I have mixed feelings about the opt out idea, I wouldn't call these people idiots for standing up, you you know, for what they feel to be an important invasion of privacy and security measures that really, ultimately are not making us safer. If you want to call that person an idiot, fine, but I think that person is sticking up for your right and in the long run maybe your safety and well being. What TSA has been doing in my experience is to this point, and if you opt out, they kind of send you over to a holding pen, a pen and kind of make you stand there. It's a form of punishment. They've already been doing that. I don't think they can do that on a large scale or they'll have literally hundreds of people standing around waiting to go through and chaos resulting. But it remains to be seen, I guess.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Marie, regardless of whether or not an actual boycott happens, during one of the most heavy travel days in America's year-round travel destinations, I'm wondering what can people do to try to minimize their stress level when it is the flight's perhaps being canceled because of bad weather, long lines, does triple A come out with any kind of an idea of how you might prepare yourself for the vagaries of flying.
MARIE MONTGOMERY NORDHUES: Well, you just really need to be proactive. Make sure that you've got a lot of back up in case things do go wrong, such as, you know, make sure that you have alerts, like you can sign up for an e-mail alert when you get your ticket or a voicemail. So that you know what's going on even before you get to the airport. You want to call or go on-line before you get to the airport. Once year there, if you find out that things have been canceled, you know, use -- get your cellphone ready for travel. Put in your air line, your hotel, your car rental company numbers into the phone, your travel agent into the phone just in case you're gonna need to call them and switch plans.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I thought that particularly was an awfully good idea. Just loading up the cellphone with all of these -- so you don't have to look for this stray phone number over here or even go into your cellphone to try it find it, you know, to try to find a connection through -- you know, in your smart phone of you just have all of those numbers right thing in case anything happened.
MARIE MONTGOMERY NORDHUES: Exactly, and that's just gonna help you, you know, if you're in the airport and your flight's canceled, you can try to do multiple things. If you've got a smart phone, you can go on-line. If you've got a, you know, you can just call and then you can be in line as well. So really, this is, you know, you have to be proactive as a traveler these days to make sure that you can deal with whatever it is that is confronts you.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Does triple A as a national travel expert have any opinion, issued any opinion about these body scans or the boycott coming up this week?
MARIE MONTGOMERY NORDHUES: Not on the boycott, obviously that stands to be very disruptive to everybody. It's not going to, but you know what, it's really hard to know how widespread it's going to be. Honestly, when it comes right down to it, people are heading out this week to go see their family and friends. And fewer of them are traveling by air than, you upon, in the middle of the decade. We do have a smaller population traveling than we have previously, although it's bigger than last year. So in the end, I think people will really weigh what their ultimate goal is, which is to get to their destination. And so hopefully, the vast majority of people are going to be in line trying to do that, and just doing the best they can.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Getting where they want to go. Marie Montgomery Nordhues is my guest, also Patrick we're taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. Barbara is calling us from Vista, good morning, Barbara, and welcome to These Days.
NEW SPEAKER: Good morning, and thank you for being there. I just want to say this. I've tried not to travel by air as much as I possibly can. And it's not because of the scanners or the body searches or whatever has to be done, because I do have a knee replacement, complete knee replacement and I have to undergo, you know, checks and body searches all the time. So I'm used to that. What I cannot abide is the fact that flying is such an unpleasant experience of it's not the pilots, it's not the stewardess. They're wonderful. I flew many, many years ago when flying was a wonderful experience. It was something you looked forward to. I object to the fact that I am pushed into a seat, I feel like a sardine in a can. I can't move, I can't breathe. And I'm not over weight or anything like that. And it's just -- now they're charging for every conceivable -- I'm talking about the bear line corporation.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Yes.
NEW SPEAKER: Not the employees, and the the airports and not their employees. To me, that's the most unpleasant, especially if you're making a long trip, say, to China, any place in Asia. It's so horrendous that I try to find any other way I can to reach my destination rather than by air travel. And I'd like to say one more thing, to those people who might be considering, you know, causing difficulties at the airports, this is deeper than what we're suggesting. You've got a group of people in this country now who think they're living back in the 18th century. They're trying to stir up all sorts of over throwing government, of --
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We've got to, Barbara, I've got a lot of people who want to talk to us. So I want to try to crystallize what you were saying here. And I don't think Barbara is for this boycott, number one. Patrick Smith, her larger point about flying just simply regardless of the body scans, regardless of the pat-downs, it's just not fun anymore.
PATRICK SMITH: Well, flying used to be perhaps a little more dignified, more civilized, a more pleasant experience of it was also a lot more expensive experience. Flying is cheaper now than it's ever been airfares on average are about what they were, right now are about what they were in the early 1980s. You're flying for pennies per mile. You can't expect to be able to fly for cheap and to have pampering and luxury at the same time. It's good in that airfares have come way way way down over the past 30 years or so, more people are flying than ever benefit of in some ways, it's made flying accessible to virtually almost everybody in the country, but it's down sized it in that it's not as fun an experience as it used to be.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Right, you know, we have had this sort of touching of the junk issue that's blown up in the headlines over the past couple of days. But why do you think this has happened now? Patrick, why do you think the scanning issue, the pat-downs, I know they've increased in their specificity, but I'm wondering, why -- did you have an idea of why this has blown up now.
PATRICK SMITH: Yeah, that's a really good question. It's something I've been wondering about. TSA has been enforcing, you know, different nonsensical protocols, you know, ever since the agency was created shortly after Septemberh. Ironically the attacks of 911 really had nothing to do with airport security. But that's where this bureaucracy came from and really all of their mindless rules. I think it's just the scanners that pushed it over the edge, brought it to the next level, the idea of being basically photographed naked before you get on a plane, if you said to people a decade ago, hey, ten years from now they're gonna have to look at you naked before you get on a plane, no one would have believed it. And suddenly here we are, and people are going wait a minute, is this really what we've come to? And that's a good thing to a large degree, but like I was saying before, to some degree, it distracts us from asking over all questions about the security, not just the scanners themselves.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Patricia is calling from pine valley. Good morning Patricia, and welcome to These Days. Patricia are you with us.
NEW SPEAKER: Hello.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Yes, hi.
NEW SPEAKER: Hi. Thank you for having this discussion because I'm someone who's disabled, I have a lot of metal in my back and can't walk from the door to the gate. So I need to get a wheel chair. And it seems like as soon as I ask for a wheel chair, it's like a huge red flag to security, I have been -- and I haven't flown since 2008 because of this, I have had people have to put their hands down my clothes, touch my private parts just because I've requested a wheel chair and I'm disabled. And I find that to be you know, just terribly invasive and uncomfortable, and I would like to know why people that are disabled seem to be singled out because they're in a wheel chair, or they have a cane or they have a bunch of metal in their backs or whatever.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Patrick, do you know the answer to that?
PATRICK SMITH: I hope this is a rhetorical question, because there is no answer. This is just another example of, you know, the ridiculousness of the policy of treating every single person as a potential suspect. You know, we have to stop looking for weapons and start looking for people, specifically, who might use weapons. Whether that involves behavioral profiling as they call it or taking in -- you know, it's hard to explain but we need to get away from the 0 tolerance hunt for weapons at the checkpoint and just change our over all philosophy and start looking for people, suspects, and realize like I was saying before that the real job of keeping terrorists and criminals away from planes, you you know, goes on behind the scenes, so it's not something we see, necessarily. Similar to how they do it in Israel and other countries where they use different sorts of profiling and taking in different data points, and it's a complex procedure that's a little more scientific and a little smarter than just groping people and digging through people's bags and literally their bodies for weapons.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want to ask you both, I want to start with Marie, picking up on something that Patricia just said, do you have any statistics, Marie, does the triple A have any idea how many people might be flying but are not because of these security measures.
MARIE MONTGOMERY NORDHUES: Boy, that's a good question. We don't have statistics on that. But I can tell you that, you know, back 5 or 6 years ago, on a typical holiday weekend, we would see maybe 10 to 15 percent of the total number of travelers would be flying to their destinations. Now that number is less than five percent. So you can definitely see there has been an impact, however, as one of the previously callers said, you know, it's not just the pat-downs, it's the nickel and dime fees, it's the -- just all the different hassles that people have kind of come to associate with air travel. And triple A has been a proponent of the, you know, the passengers' bill of rights, which is, you know, has unfortunately not gotten passed yet. But these are -- you know, when you're sitting on the termick for eight hours and all these different scenarios --
PATRICK SMITH: To be fair, all those things are pretty few and far between.
MARIE MONTGOMERY NORDHUES: That's true.
PATRICK SMITH: You've got an air system that is very cheap, extraordinarily safe, and for the most part, reliable. And I think people should step back and realize that before they go off on how horrible flying is.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Absolutely, but Patrick, do you think actually all of this, I mean, I've heard all these headlines, and this you know, video being replayed about body scans and all of that, and it's made me not want to fly. I mean, you know, do you think that that's gonna have that kind of a reaction with a lot of people.
PATRICK SMITH: Yes, I do. Of and you know, at some point, it's gonna start to impact the air lines bottom lines. The air line it is have been very quiet about security from the beginning. That might change once a critical mass of people decides they're just not gonna fly anymore. And security's a big part of that.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Well, we'll have to see what happens this week. I want to thank you both so much for speaking with us.
MARIE MONTGOMERY NORDHUES: Thank you very much for having us.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And thank you Patrick.
PATRICK SMITH: Thank you.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That was Mary Montgomery Nordhues and Patrick Smith. We had so many people who wanted to join our conversation but we just didn't have the time. Please go on-line and tell us your stories at KPBS.org/These Days. Coming up, new poles send mixed messages to California legislatures. That's as These Days continues. You're on KPBS.