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TSA chief says airport screening tactics are changing

Denver patdownlReuters

Transportation Security Administration chief John Pistole told a congressional panel last week that his agency is overhauling the airport screening process that treats everyone the same, including infants and the elderly.

Pistole said the TSA is moving in a new direction to rely more on intelligence-gathering and targeting those travelers the TSA knows least about.

“Since I became TSA administrator, I have listened to ideas from people all over this country,” he told the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs on Wednesday.

Pistole said the agency is moving in the new direction by expanding several pilot security programs and changing the way children are searched.

But don’t expect the changes to cut down on the long airport security lines during the upcoming holiday travel season. TSA’s revised security tactics probably won’t be expanded nationwide for several months, a TSA spokesman said.

A pilot program that was launched last month and tested at four airports -- Miami, Dallas, Detroit and Atlanta -- lets passengers who volunteer personal information zip through a special screening lane without having to remove their shoes or jackets. Pistole told lawmakers that it has worked so well that he wants to expand it to more airports.

“We are working closely with other airlines and airports to determine when they may be operationally ready to join,” he said, without offering more details.

Another pilot program that was tested in Boston Logan International Airport deploys special “behavior detection officers” who chat with passengers in the terminal to detect suspicious behavior. Pistole said the program was recently expanded to Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport.

Pistole also said the agency has changed its policy for searching children under 12. TSA agents now have the discretion whether or not to perform a pat-down search on youngsters or require that they remove their shoes.

“By streamlining procedures for these lower-risk passengers through programs like these, TSA is better able to focus its finite resources on those who pose higher risks to transportation,” he said.

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Airline traffic worldwide up nearly 6% in September

Delayed passengers

Airline passenger traffic jumped nearly 6% in September over the same month last year but industry leaders worry that future numbers won't be as positive.

The International Air Transport Assn., the trade group for the world's largest airlines, reported the September increase but said economic uncertainty in Europe and proposed tax increases in the U.S. could jeopardize future growth and profits.

While passenger traffic increased 5.6% in September, air freight traffic dropped 2.7% in the same month, marking the fifth straight decline, according to the trade group.

The trade group attributed most of the increase in global passenger traffic to growth in emerging markets, such as Latin America, where demand jumped 10.6%, according to the trade group. A weak euro may have prompted more travel into Europe, sparking a 9.2% increase in traffic among European-based airlines, according to the group.

In North America, demand increased only 1.2% in September, compared with the same month last year, the association said.

IATA's director general, Tony Tyler, said economic uncertainty and a proposal by the Obama administration to increase taxes on airlines could cut into growth and future airline profits.

"September's strength in passenger demand was a pleasant surprise," Tyler said. "We are still expecting a general weakening in passenger traffic as we head toward the year-end."

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International travel to the U.S. expected to boom

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--Hugo Martin

Photo: Passengers wait for flights at Los Angeles International Airport. Credit: Los Angeles Times.

International travel to the U.S. expected to boom

Foreigntravelerslax

If you live near a tourist attraction in the U.S., you might want to practice your Mandarin and Portuguese.

International travel to the U.S. is expected to grow by 5% to 6% each year over the next five years, with the greatest rate of growth coming from China and Brazil, according to a new forecast by the U.S. Department of Commerce.

The latest numbers are a revision of a May forecast that said visitation numbers should grow by 6% to 8% annually over the next five years. Department of Commerce officials said they lowered their prediction slightly based on visitation numbers over the last few months.

Still, the projected increase is good news for the U.S. economy, as foreign travelers spend far more per visit than domestic tourists. The U.S. Department of Commerce projects a record 64 million international travelers to spend $152 billion during their stays in 2011, an increase of 13% from 2010.

“More than 1 million Americans owe their jobs to a strong travel and tourism sector," said Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade Francisco Sánchez. "This record-breaking forecasted growth in travel exports will help put more Americans to work.”

Over the next five years, the greatest number of visitors will continue to be from Canada and Mexico, according to the forecast. But tourism is expected to grow the fastest from China (274%), Brazil (135%) and Australia (94%), the forecast said.

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Photo: Planes from foreign airlines line up at Los Angeles International Airport. Credit: Los Angeles Times

Airlines pocket $1.5 billion in luggage and reservation change fees

Www.luggagereuters.com

While the nation's airlines continue to blame higher fuel costs for cutting into profits, the industry continues to pocket hefty revenue from fees.

The country's largest airlines collected $1.5 billion in fees from checked luggage and reservation change charges in April, May and June, according to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

The fees collected for the second quarter represent a 1% increase from the same period last year and were up 8.5% from the previous three months, according to the bureau.

These are the only fees paid by passengers that airlines are required to disclose to the federal agency. All other fees paid by passengers are combined in larger categories with other types of revenue.

In July, the U.S. Department of Transportation proposed a new rule, requiring airlines to report 16 additional categories of fees, such as food, in-flight entertainment and seat upgrade charges. The airlines have opposed the proposed rule, saying it would impose too much of a burden on the industry.

In the last few days, several airlines have released new earnings reports that show higher fuel costs have cut into what otherwise would have been healthy profits.

United Airlines reported a drop in earnings today for the third quarter, blaming fuel costs that grew by 41% over last year.

Last week, the parent company of American Airlines reported a third-quarter loss of $162 million, or 48 cents a share, attributing it mostly to higher fuel costs and unfavorable foreign-exchange rates.

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Photo: Luggage stacks up at a terminal at John F. Kennedy International Airport. Credit: Reuters

 

 

 

Virgin Galactic moves into New Mexico spaceport

Spaceport_America_Dedication_5 (2)

Las Cruces, N.M., officially joined the list of the nation’s major space centers Monday when a newly completed terminal and hangar facility was turned over to British billionaire Richard Branson and his commercial space tourism venture, Virgin Galactic.

The company aims to launch paying customers beyond Earth’s confines from the new $209-million futuristic-looking facility, named Spaceport America.

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez joined Branson and a crowd of more than 800 others during the dedication ceremonies.

“Today is another history-making day for Virgin Galactic,” Branson said at the event. “We are here with a group of incredible people who are helping us lead the way in creating one of the most important new industrial sectors of the 21st century.”

Virgin Galactic said it has taken about 455 reservations for the ride. The price per flight for a would-be space tourist is $200,000.

Instead of launching people directly into space with a rocket, Virgin Galactic plans to do the following: A rocket plane with six passengers will be attached to the wings of a White Knight mother ship, flown to 50,000 feet and released. The rocket plane's engine then will ignite and propel the passengers into suborbit.

The spaceship is designed to climb to the edge of space, about 60 miles above the Earth's surface. At that suborbital altitude, people experience weightlessness and see the curvature of the Earth.

Virgin Galactic’s sleek carrier aircraft and spaceships are made by the Spaceship Co. in Mojave, where the planes are currently undergoing test flights. Branson hopes to make its first passenger flight with his adult children, Sam and Holly, as soon as next year.

At the end of Monday’s event, the Branson trio --after rappelling down the side of the Spaceport’s massive glass windows -- named one of the ground terminals the Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space.

The gateway will house preparation facilities for company’s passengers, which it calls astronauts. There is also a mission control center and an area for friends and family.

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twitter.com/wjhenn

Photo: Dancers with Project Bandaloop, based in San Francisico, hang and dance on the side window wall of the Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space hangar in Las Cruces, N.M. Credit: Mark Greenberg / Virgin Galactic

Christmas travel spending to increase, survey says

LAXatXMAS

Despite continued high unemployment rates and a volatile stock market, American who plan to travel for the holidays expect to spend up to 43% more this year, according to a new survey.

The online survey released Monday by the American Express credit card company found that the percentage of Americans planning to travel for the holidays will stay about the same as last year.

But the survey also found that those Americans who plan to travel expect to spend about $659 on holiday travel this year, an increase of $200, or 43%, over last year.

Most of the additional spending, according to the survey, will go toward dining out and entertainment.

Although most Americans plan to drive to their holiday destinations, the percentage of travelers who will fly is expected to increase 10% to 36%.

"No matter where consumers choose to go, there is a clear interest in getting more out of travel," said Claire Bennett, senior vice president and general manager of American Express Travel.

Still, Americans continued to look for bargains. When asked what their first consideration was in planning holiday travel, 40% of those surveyed said budget while 25% said destination.

The survey, conducted by Echo Research for American Express, was completed online by 2,017 adults between Sept. 28 and Oct. 2.

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Photo: Holiday travelers line up at Los Angeles International Airport. Credit: Los Angeles Times

Princess Cruises to return to Mexican ports

Princess Cruises plans to return to two Mexican ports it dropped due to crime-related violence
Months after growing crime-related violence in Mexico prompted Princess Cruises to cancel stops at Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta, the company has added the two Mexican ports to next year's itinerary.

No other cruise line has yet to follow Princess' lead.

Princess, owned by Carnival Corp., announced in August that it would no longer drop anchor in Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta because of growing concern about drug violence in the country.

In place of stops to Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta, Princess added cruises from Los Angeles to Cabo San Lucas and Hawaii.

Other cruise lines that operate out of Los Angeles, including Carnival Cruise Lines and Disney Cruise Line, have also pulled out of Mazatlan over the last few months because of fears of crime-related violence.

But Princess this week announced a tentative plan to return to Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta when it released its itinerary for 2012 and 2013.

The cruise company said it will monitor the violence in Mexico to determine if it would continue to serve the two ports.

"We are planning for a long way out," said cruise line spokeswoman Julie Benson. "We look forward to returning to these ports and putting them back on the schedule."

Mexico has been in the grips of violence in recent years as powerful drug cartels battle for shares of the drug trade. Tourism officials have been quick to say that popular spots such as Mazatlan are safe for tourists.

But that changed after a Feb. 22 shooting that left two dead in the parking lot of a hotel in Mazatlan's tourist area.

A travel warning by the U.S. State Department, issued in April, said the violence in Mexico usually targets "Mexican citizens associated with criminal activity," but it went on to say that "the security situation poses serious risks for U.S. citizens as well."

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Photo: The Sapphire Princess sails from Los Angeles to Mexico. Credit: Princess Cruises

 

The Queen Mary hires nearly 80% more monsters for Halloween

QMDH2011BundaraSisters1

To better compete for Halloween revelers, the Queen Mary in Long Beach added nearly 80% more creepy characters this year to the cast of the ship's Dark Harbor event, organizers said.

For 15 nights in October, the workers, dressed as moldy pirates and demonic sea witches, chase guests around two "scare zones" created out of empty cargo containers and stacked next to the former ocean liner.

The characters also jump out at visitors as they wander through five dimly lighted mazes, including three courses that take people through the bowels of the 75-year-old ship.

Save the Queen, the company that holds the lease for the city-owned ship, hired 150 people last year to operate the mazes and dress in masks and costumes. This year, the firm hired 268 workers to make the event scarier and more exciting.

"We recognize the value of the live interaction," said Lynn Kozlowski, a spokeswoman for Evolution Hospitality, the company that recently took over management of the ship.

She said the Queen Mary hopes to take a bite out of the growing Halloween revenue generated by theme parks and other businesses that operate mazes, scary hayrides and ghost tours at this time of year.

In Southern California, Universal Studios Hollywood, Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park and Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia all draw huge crowds from late September until Oct. 31 for spooky Halloween events.

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Photo: Costumed characters from Queen Mary's Dark Harbor. Credit: Carol Cochran / Queen Mary

 

Wind powers amusement park game at Santa Monica pier

Pacific Parkwindpower

It takes sheer strength to ring the bell on the High Striker game at Santa Monica Pier's Pacific Park.

But it takes wind power to electrify the more than 100 bulbs, spotlights and a sound system that bring the game to life.

Pacific Park officials say they believe the game is the world's first wind-powered amusement park game.

The 600-watt wind turbine is fixed to the top of a building adjacent to the High Striker game and rises 45 feet in the air.

The power generated from the wind turbine is captured, converted into usable power and stored in a specially designed, self-contained power storage unit adjacent to the game.

But the game is not the only attraction powered by renewable energy. The park's Ferris wheel is solar powered. Panels installed on nearby roofs generate more than 71,000-kilowatt hours of photovoltaic power annually to run the 130-foot-tall ride. On cloudy days, the Ferris wheel operates on conventional energy sources.

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Photo: A wind turbine powers the High Striker game at Pacific Park on the Santa Monica Pier. Credit: Brandon Wise

Korean Air launches A380 from Los Angeles

KoreanA380

Following a lengthy ceremony, Korean Air launched the massive Airbus A380 from Los Angeles International Airport, becoming only the third airline to fly that aircraft from L.A.

The humongous double-decker jet lifted off from LAX on Tuesday afternoon after reporters and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa toured the 407 seats, three bars and its on-board duty-free shop.

With Tuesday's flight, Korean Air joins only Qantas Airways and Singapore Airlines to offer flights on the A380 from Los Angeles.

Korean Air begins with three flights a week to Seoul with the A380 but will begin offering daily flights on the plane between the two cities starting Oct. 29.

During a ceremony before the plane lifted off, Korean Air's Americas Marketing Vice President John Jackson toasted the launch of the service, saying simply: "Wheels up."

During a tour of the cabin, Villaraigosa relaxed in the lie-flat seats in the first-class section and then sat with reporters in one of three bars in the plane.

"This is not vodka," the mayor joked as he sipped a drink. "This is only water."

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Photo: A Korean Air A380 prepares to take off from Los Angeles International Airport. Credit: Gary Friedman/Los Angeles Times

Universal Studios Hollywood gets made up for Halloween

 

John Murdy, the creative director for Universal Studios Hollywood, says he will continue to push the boundaries of gore and horror for this year's annual Halloween Horror Nights.

Click here to read about how Latino myths and legends such as La Llorona have come to life at theme parks in Southern California and Florida, ghost tours in San Antonio and in mask retail outlets across the country.

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Video by Times video journalist Jeff Amlotte

 

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