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Air Travel in the Era of Terrorism — Still the Safest form of Transportation

You’re still more likely to get struck by lightning a half dozen times than you are dying in a plane crash, but travelers are more anxious than ever – and it’s not because they believe the plane is unsafe, but rather some of its passengers. Terrorism, hijacking, kidnapping and all sorts of frightening and unspeakable acts have flooded our consciousness and fuel our fight or flight reflexes.

So, what do we do if air travel is not an option, but a requirement for business or a family emergency? We posed this and other issues of concern to respected aviation and security specialists, including Stephen Lloyd, former Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Air Traffic Organization (ATO) Director of Safety, Patrick Smith, an airline pilot, host of askthepilot.com and author of COCKPIT CONFIDENTIAL, and Phil Derner, President and Founder of NYC Aviation, a news resource for aviation enthusiasts.

According to Stephen Lloyd, more than 850 million passengers traveled on more than 9 million flights on both domestic and international airlines in the U.S. alone last year. More than 3 billion passengers traveled globally. Since 9/11, the U.S. and many other countries have dramatically increased aviation security measures to prevent or deter future attacks. Improved intelligence and physical security both inflight and on the ground have been very effective and will continue to improve. Statistically, air travel remains the safest mode of transportation on the planet.

Are home-grown radicals a new reason to fear air travel?

When we consider the growing trend in home-grown radicalization, a new set of variables – and threats – come into play.  Smith says, at a certain point, there is only so much you can do.  “That’s not being defeatist; it’s acknowledging the reality that commercial aviation will always be a high-profile target, and that a resourceful enough criminal will always find a way to skirt whatever safeguards we have in place.  It’s also very important to recognize that the real nuts and bolts of keeping terrorists away from planes isn’t really the job of TSA screeners on the concourse. It’s the combined efforts  of law enforcement, FBI, CIA, Interpol, and TSA too, working together behind the scenes, inspecting checked luggage and cargo, reviewing passenger data, and foiling plotters BEFORE they reach the airport.”

Phil Derner

Phil Derner

Phil Derner asserts, there are no current threats from crewmembers at this time, nor is there reason to believe that airline employees are more prone to radicalism versus any other industry. “The consensus, as supported by recent events, is that there is a larger terror threat in busy areas on the ground in cities due to their easy access and crowds. A person with ill-intent would be less likely to go through the obstacles of airport security and other layers of safety.”

When you don’t want to fly, but have to …

Folks who do not necessarily want to travel, but must for business or family obligations should not panic unnecessarily over terrorism. “When it comes to safety threats that are on an aircraft, terrorism is pretty low on the list in terms of likelihood,” says Derner. “For passengers, maintaining good situational awareness is something that should be exercised at all times, whether they are flying or not. While we can’t witch hunt, we need to ditch the “it can’t happen ‘here’ or ‘to me'” mentality and must speak up when something doesn’t feel right. Better safe than sorry.”

As for clothing, Derner advises that people should wear clothing that prepares them for the “most likely of the unlikely,” which would be a standard aircraft evacuation. Most of this pertains to footwear that allows one to walk or run in case they need to go down a slide and walk or run from the aircraft through rain, snow, mud, water or rocky terrain. High heels may not be a girl’s best friend in this instance. Otherwise, comfortable clothing like khakis or jeans can help protect from bumps and scrapes as opposed to wearing something that leaves the skin exposed.

Lockdown or fight back

When confronted with violent behavior or a terror threat, it’s difficult to foresee how one might react or should react.  Is it better to remain quiet and calm or to retaliate and fight your captors? “In my opinion, it’s most important to remain as calm as possible and try to best understand the threat, says Lloyd. “Fighting back against hostage takers may have grave consequences for yourself and others. Unless you are trained for combat or law enforcement, you better know what you are doing before you act.  However, keep in mind, there is always the chance that you may become a help to others who have taken action.”

“I am a firm believer in, if you see something, say something,” says Lloyd. “I don’t know of a situation when I wouldn’t speak up. This is not the time to worry that you might offend or bother someone. Your life and the lives of others depend on all of us as travelers reporting suspicious objects, packages or bags without an owner and suspicious activity by any person.”

Thoughts on the TSA from the cockpit

Patrick Smith

Patrick Smith

Smith agrees that the TSA does a lot of good things, but it tends to be the stuff that we don’t see, the behind-the-scenes work. The parts that we do see — the lines at the x-ray machines and body scanners — include a lot of tedium and, quite frankly, waste: wasted time and wasted resources.

“Confiscating toothpaste and hobby tools and tiny toy guns does nothing to make us safer, while using up large amounts of time and money that could be redeployed elsewhere. And one of the most frustrating ironies of all is that pretty much none of the carry-on restrictions put in place after 9/11 would have prevented those attacks in the first place.  The success of the September 11th attacks had nothing to do with weapons or screening protocols. The hijackers could have used ANY form of hand-made weapon. What the men exploited wasn’t a weakness in security, but a weakness in our mindset, and our understanding of a hijacking, based on decades of precedent. The only weapon that really mattered was the simplest, lowest-tech weapon of all: the element of surprise.  The 9/11 plot unfolded because of failures at the FBI and CIA levels. The hijackers were known to these agencies prior to the attacks.”

Smith suggests moving past our self-defeating fixation with the September 11th scheme and stop fussing over harmless pointy objects. “The focus should be on explosives. Or, perhaps more importantly, on people who might use explosives.”

Feeling the fear – Moving through it

Derner recommends taking a deep breath and grounding oneself in the reality that air travel is still the safest it’s ever been and terrorism is not as likely even on the high terror end of the spectrum in Western nations. “A drone is more likely (though unlikely overall) to create a safety threat to an airliner than a terrorist is.”

Prepare yourself before a trip by reading up on the destination and safety tips. “A great place to start is the U.S. State Department Website, travel.state.gov, says Lloyd. “There you’ll find information for travel abroad, including safety tips and information about your destination. They also host the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, (STEP) where you can automatically receive the most current information compiled about the country where you will be traveling or living. You will also receive updates, including travel warnings and alerts.

People should consult the State Department to look for warnings of places that they are traveling to, and undergo safety practices that should be exercised even when not traveling. Having a plan that can deal with things that might go wrong is 90% of survival. When a tragic event takes place and people say “I never thought it would happen HERE,” they are saying that because they had no plan and were unprepared.”

 

 

 

“Did you know…Planes of the Future May Fly from NYC to Tokyo in 30 mins?

lockheed supersonic plane

Imagine getting lost in space before you jet to your destination at Mach 4+ or scooting from NYC to Tokyo for a lunch meeting — And why not?  It will only take about 30 minutes.  At least that’s what one engineer promises in a recent post from USA Today “Road Warrior Voices.

easyJet crew dons wearable tech

Photo credit: easyJet

While you’re zooming around the globe in Jetson style, your crew needs to be fashioned accordingly. In a Factor report, easyJet, a leading European low cost carrier, is already planning a trip down the fashion runway. Working with wearable technology trendsetters, CuteCircuit, the airline is planning crew uniforms equipped with lighting and sensors, which promise to improve comfort, safety and communications among staff and between crew and passengers.

 

 

 

How Norwegian Air became the best long-haul low-cost airline in the world

This month’s One-on-One features nimble long-haul discount air carrier, Norwegian Air. We interviewed Director of US Communications, Anders Lindstrom, about the company’s recent acknowledgement by Skytrax as the best long-haul low-cost airline in the world. The company was also named Europe’s best low-cost airline for a third consecutive year.

According to news reports, Norwegian seems to be betting the farm on leading the market as a long-haul discount carrier – you’ve agreed to buy 19 Boeing 787s, which effectively doubles the size of your Dreamliner fleet. What’s Norwegian’s long-term plan, particularly in the US market?
We’re actually quadrupling our current size of eight Boeing 787-8 Dreamliners that we operate now. We have 30 787-9 Dreamliners on order that will enter our fleet between 2016 and 2020.

For the US, we have ambitious growth plans, just as we have for long-haul operations in general. For Norwegian, our long-haul routes are performing exceptionally well and are very profitable. We will add a lot more frequencies, routes and also new destinations for the US in the next few years. We still see so many opportunities here in the US for growth.

Additionally, in 2017, we will start taking delivery of the Boeing 737-MAX, and we have 100 on order, which will allow us to launch routes from the western coastline of Europe to the northeast U.S., thereby introducing routes that are currently unserved by any other airline.

Norwegian already offers more nonstop routes from the U.S. than any other European airline, but in a few years, we will most likely be the leading transatlantic airline. We will also continue to expand at London Gatwick, where we are currently the third largest airline. We are looking to launch routes to South America, South Africa and Asia.

Talk about the current routes that are available now from and to US cities?
Norwegian currently offers 34 routes from 9 U.S. airports (BOS, BWI, FLL, JFK, LAS, LAX, MCO, OAK and SJU). Of these, BOS and BWI will start with flights to the French Caribbean: Guadeloupe and Martinique, on December 3, whereas all other airports have nonstop to Europe, where we have flights to Copenhagen, London, Oslo and Stockholm, as well as seasonal routes to Bergen. At JFK and BOS, we actually have more routes than any other international airline. In May 2016, we will launch a number of European routes, as well from Boston Logan, and we will later also introduce European routes from BWI.

Is there really a $69 fare that exists from the US to Europe on your airline?
Not yet, but soon! When we launch routes with the Boeing 737-MAX in 2017, we will have introductory fares at $69. These will probably go on sale late 2016, or early 2017. But you can already buy $69 fares from BOS, BWI and JFK to Guadeloupe and Martinique this winter. Norwegian is the cheapest option to get to the Caribbean, and that’s on brand-new aircraft with comfortable leather seats. We’re also the first airline to offer free Wi-Fi all the way to the Caribbean.

With the European routes on the 737-MAX, average roundtrip fares will be somewhere around $300 – $350, so significantly less than anything you find in the market right now.

You’re currently in the 3rd position in Europe among discount carriers. Who are your chief competitors and do you see Norwegian’s position moving into a higher slot?
Ryanair and EasyJet are number one and two, respectively. In fact, Ryanair is the largest airline in Europe in terms of passenger numbers, which really shows the strength of the European low-cost airline industry. Both airlines have been operating longer than Norwegian has and we’re pleased about our rapid, yet stable and profitable growth. Norwegian started flying in 2000 as a small Norwegian domestic airline with just a few routes and has now grown to become the world’s fastest-growing airline. What really sets us apart from any other European low-cost airline is that we a have a long-haul network, and also the number of awards we’ve won for our service, so it’s low fares, but highly quality.

What makes Norwegian so successful? How are you winning in such a volatile and competitive marketplace?
I think it’s a combination of low fares and great service. People want cheap tickets, but they also want friendly service and a great product. And we don’t fly to small, distant airports, we take our customers to where they are actually travelling.

Talk about your frequent flyer rewards program. What types of perks do you offer customers?
Norwegian Rewards is a really simple loyalty program, because you never need to guess how much your points or miles are actually worth. With CashPoints, you know the exact value of your rewards and what you can use. It’s equally easy to figure out how many points you will earn: on LowFare tickets it’s 2% of the ticket price (excluding taxes and any potential additional charge) and on Flex tickets, it’s 20%. You can earn CashPoints on flights, hotel bookings and car rental.

You can use your CashPoints for flights, or to pay for extra luggage, insurance or to change your ticket.

Any new routes, deals or particularly interesting destinations that our viewers/readers should take advantage of in 2015 and 2016?
Right now, our fares to Guadeloupe and Martinique start at $69 one-way, including taxes, which are unbeatable fares to the Caribbean, and these are two hidden gems of the Caribbean. We also have fares for just over $150 to Europe available online. Even better deals exist though our Premium fares. For as low as $600 you get dedicated check-in, fast track security, lounge access, really comfortable recliner seats with 46-inch legroom, full meal services and drinks. That’s cheaper than our competitors charge for their premium economy, and this is quite a step up from that, so we highly recommend it.

Frequent flyers’ rating of TSA airport security leaves much to be desired

ExpertFlyer Hot Topics — Where the Rubber Meets the Runway

TSA infographicEighty-seven percent of frequent flyers think that the Transportation Security Administration is doing either a poor or fair job in performing security screenings at the nation’s airports, according to a new survey of frequent flyers conducted by Frequent Business Traveler magazine.

The survey finds that the typical American frequent flyer continues to hold the TSA in low regard with 71.9% of respondents indicating the TSA’s screening procedures are either not effective or not too effective at preventing acts of terrorism on an aircraft, an increase of 4.9 percentage points from 2014 and 6.4 from 2013.

In contrast, only 20.8% indicated the procedures are somewhat effective, 5.5% said very effective, and 1.9% said extremely effective.

A total of 2,129 respondents took part in the online survey conducted from August 21 through September 24 in partnership with FlyerTalk, the world’s largest online travel community, and ExpertFlyer, a provider of air travel information tools.

“This year’s survey results show that the TSA has a long way to go to build confidence in its mission,” said Jonathan Spira, editorial director, Frequent Business Traveler.  “Our survey respondents traverse security checkpoints multiple times each month and are in an excellent position to render a verdict on this subject,” he added.

Other Key Findings

—  Nearly 45% stated they were not satisfied with their last security experience;

—  Over three quarters (76.7%) of survey respondents have used PreCheck, the TSA trusted traveler security lanes.

— Satisfaction for PreCheck continues to fall from a high of 80.3% in 2013 to 62.7% in 2015 and the drop may be partially attributed to the TSA’s policy of allowing infrequent travelers, whose unfamiliarity with procedures slows down the screening process, into PreCheck lanes.

 

 

 

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