Wednesday, 19 April 2017
Chicago airport police attack passenger on Republic Airlines plane
[Schedule of "United Airlines" flights from Chicago O'Hare to Louisville on April 9th]
Many of my readers, and NPR listeners who heard me interviewed on WBEZ in Chicago last week about air travel and class, have been asking for my take on the airline passenger dragged off a plane by police at O'Hare Airport on April 9th.
Inquiring minds want to know why four members of the crew for another flight were trying to board a flight that was already full and otherwise ready to depart, why the airline was willing to remove paying passengers to make room for the deadheading crew, whether an airline has the legal right to remove a paying passenger who has already been given a boarding pass and seated, who called the police, and what authority the airport police had in this situation.
I've held off on posting this while I tried to find out more about the back story and identify who was really responsible. But since none of the airlines involved have chosen to talk to me, despite my diligent efforts, and many questions may be answered publicly only at trial (or never publicly if the likely lawsuits are settled out of court), here's my educated guess as to what happened and who's responsible.
There's plenty of blame to go around:
The as-yet-unnamed police, who worked for the city of Chicago and were accredited as law enforcement officers although through an agency independent of the Chicago Police Department (more on that below), deserve much more serious sanctions than they have received to date. So does the city of Chicago for its continuing failure to hold any of its multiple police forces accountable or rein in their bigotry and brutality. (Full disclosure: I write this as a former Chicago resident and victim of "minor" but routine Chicago police torture who still feels the pain of my police-inflicted injury occasionally, more than 35 years later.)
United Airlines -- the airline most passengers thought was operating the flight -- shares significant blame, especially for its initial choice to defend the actions of the police who roughed up the passenger and of the gate agents (who may or may not have worked for United) and/or the flight attendants and pilots (who definitely didn't work for United) who called in the police.
But some of the responsible companies have yet to be sufficiently shamed, and some may not yet have been publicly named.
For starters, this flight wasn't operated by United Airlines. It had a United Airlines flight number, but it was a Republic Airlines flight operated by Republic Airlines pilots and flight attendants and under the operational control of Republic Airlines management.
This wasn't the sort of bait and switch code-sharing that occurs when a flight is labeled with multiple flight numbers. This is a different but equally deceptive form, in which an airline puts its flight number -- i.e. its brand label -- on a flight actually operated by a contractor. The contractor's identity is disclosed to ticket purchasers or passengers as inconspicuously as the law allows, if at all. Typically, the flight crews and gate agents handling these flights are required to wear United uniforms, even when they are employees of a ground handling service or a contractor airline like Republic.
Regular travellers on some routes come to realize what airline actually operates the flights on that route. But as the schedule at the top of this article shows, "United Express" flights with United flight numbers from Chicago O'Hare to Louisville are operated by three different contractors: Skywest, Republic Airlines, and Trans States Airlines. In this situation, it's unlikely that any but the most sophisticated passengers noticed which airline would be operating their flight, even if that information was somewhere in the fine print. If you choose to fly on United Express on this route, you are taking pot luck (especially in case of any change of schedule) on which of three airlines will actually operate your flight.
Even fewer of the passengers on Republic Airlines Flight 3411 probably realized that, as has been noted in my FAQ about Airline Bankruptcies, Republic Airlines is bankrupt and has been operating in bankruptcy for the last year.
Proponents of airline deregulation and "free markets" would claim that if you don't want to fly on this airline, you could choose another (solvent) airline instead. O'Hare to Louisville is a "competitive" route served by both United and American. But some of the connections with American flight numbers between O'Hare and Louisville are actually American Eagle flights operated by -- you guessed it -- Republic Airlines.
So it looks like you can "choose" between big-name competitors United and American. But regardless of whether you choose "United Express" or "American Eagle", you might end up being transported by the same bankrupt contractor you've never heard of, Republic.
For my next "Jeopardy" question, I'll take "Tweedledum or Tweedledee?" for $800 in Monopoly money, if you please.
What, if anything, does this say about who was responsible for the decision to put a deadheading crew on the flight at the last minute, at the expense of paying passengers?Continue reading "Chicago airport police attack passenger on Republic Airlines plane"
Thursday, 6 April 2017
The Amazing Race 29, Episode 2
Panama City (Panama) - São Paulo (Brazil)
On the good side, São Paulo is one of those urban agglomerations that is so large, so important, and so distinctive (in some respects) that a visit is essential to a well-rounded picture of the world. You might realize that São Paulo is the most populous conurbation in the Southern Hemisphere, but did you know that is also essentially tied with New York and Mexico City as the most populous urban area in the Western Hemisphere? Despite that, it's utterly, astonishingly, off the international tourist map. When foriegners think of a Brazilian city, they think of Rio de Janeiro, even though greater São Paulo has more than twice as many people as Rio, and an even greater share of economic power. There are lots of foreign business visitors to São Paulo, but few foreign tourists and especially few foreign backpackers.
Local people ("Paulistas"), whether rich or poor, are unlikely to relate to you as a "tourist". Because they have few occasions to deal with foreigners, ordinary Paulistas of all classes are also unlikely to speak English or understand any foreign language other than possibly Spanish, which they will typically answer in Portuguese. Brazil is its own self-contained world, and the language barrier is high.
Many of the reasons for the lack of foreign tourists in São Paulo are related to "class war", which in Brazil is more than a figure of speech. Street crime is epidemic and often violent, unlike in some parts of the world where it is largely confined to theft and other property crime. Of the places I've been, only the USA and South Africa have rivaled Brazil for the risk of violent crime against ordinary foreign tourists.
São Paulo sprawls, and upper-class Paulistas (i.e. those who, like their counterparts in the USA or among white South Africans, call themselves "middle class" even if they are in the top 10% of national wealth) get around mainly by private car. Except for the limited number of destinations served by the Metro system (which is priced out of reach of the poor), urban public transit is slow and uncomfortable at best, dangerous at worst. Like Los Angeles or Gauteng (metro Soweto/Johannesburg/Pretoria), the urban areas with which it is most comparable, São Paulo can be impenetrable without a local host to drive you around and introduce you to the many parallel worlds being lived by different classes of people behind different walls, whether those of the favelas or those of the "gated communities" of the rich.
All that said, the Paulistas we met were wonderfully generous, hospitable, and open to us about their lives and the city they love. We couldn't have asked for more of a welcome.
Travel can be at its best when looking at foreigners and foreign places enables us to better understand ourselves and the places we call "home". São Paulo is sui generis, but it also focused my attention on relationships of class and urban geography that influence the terrain of travel in many places while often being hidden from tourists' notice.
In that anthropological sense, and as a mirror in which to look at the way class shapes cities in the USA, I've never been anywhere as thought-provoking as São Paulo. I highly recommend City of Walls: Crime, Segregation, and Citizenship in São Paulo, by Teresa P. R. Caldeira, which makes these comparisons between São Paulo and Los Angeles explicit.
Thursday, 30 March 2017
The Amazing Race 29, Episode 1
Los Angeles, CA (USA) - Panama City (Panama)
Whatever lessons the remainder of the season may have in store about romance (or breakup) on the road, success or failure at the travel tasks in this first episode of the "blind date" season didn't appear to have much to do with the racers' unfamiliarity with their teammates' strengths, weaknesses, or travel and relationship styles.
Road navigation was what separated the winning and losing teams this week. The racers never got more than an hour's drive from Panama City, but team after team got lost for several hours at a time.
Why was it so hard for the racers to find their way, even with maps in hand and in a place where the road signs are in English and/or Spanish?
It's tempting for television viewers to blame the blind date couples' navigation problems on their lack of experience working with their partners as teams. But the TV producers love arguments between teammates, and would likely have shown them to us if they had been the cause of teams being delayed or eliminated.
Some of the racers blamed a general lack of street signs. I've read that road signs are absent from many intersections in Panama, even junctions of significant rotes. But I don't find this an adequate explanation for the racers' difficulties. Many of this season's racers have experience in the military, where one has to be prepared to navigate without road signs or in places where the signs are all in an unfamiliar alphabet or writing system. The racers had paper maps. With a map, an automobile odometer, a compass (something anyone on "The Amazing Race" or travelling independently ought to be carrying), and some practice, it's possible to do a fair amount of navigation by dead reckoning.
The problem, I suspect, is a lack of practice at dead reckoning. Let this be a lesson to my readers who aspire to compete on "The Amazing Race". That, in turn, may be a consequence of an "Amazing Race" rule that has made the "reality-TV" show increasingly different from real-world travel: Members of the cast aren't allowed to bring cellphones, GPS receivers, or other electronic devices with them on the race around the world.
That wasn't such a big deal in the first season of "The Amazing Race" in 2001. There were a few cellphones (Nokia Communicator) and handheld PDAs that could connect wirelessly through a cellphone (I had a Psion Revo Plus) with touchscreen Web browsers. But none of these devices had integral GPS receivers, and the iPhone (which popularized the concepts Psion pioneered) wouldn't be introduced for another five years. Even for early adopters of these devices, international cellphone roaming was prohibitively expensive. Neither travellers nor locals, anywhere in the world, were expected to rely on pocketable electronic devices for navigation or other travel services.
In the early seasons of "The Amazing Race", teams sometimes gained an edge by borrowing a cellphone. But they weren't lost without one.
Fifteen years and twenty-eight seasons of "The Amazing Race" later, the ubiquity of entry-level Android smartphones has led to substantial decline in non-smartphone products and services for travellers and atrophy of the skills -- such as map-reading and dead reckoning -- to make use of them.
Paper maps still exist, but today the people who are willing to pay for the most detailed, accurate, and up-to-date mapping -- wealthy people, delivery and emergency services, and even the military -- want maps in digital formats, and that's where all the effort is going. Printing paper maps has always been expensive, especially since the more frequent the updates, the smaller the press run and the greater the cost per copy. There is no longer a critical mass of buyers for good paper maps of many places. Local availability of good maps has always been spotty, but it's vastly worse than it was 15 years ago. If you want good paper maps, it's more important than ever to track them down in advance and bring them with you. These days the only locally available paper maps tend to be free maps handed out to advertise local businesses, often with scales distorted to highlight the advertiser(s) or make their location(s) seem more attractive. In maps, as in apps, you often get what you pay for.
Similarly, translation apps and Web sites have destroyed the market for printed phrasebooks and translation dictionaries for travellers.
Many of the staffed travel information and hotel-booking offices that were common (and in some parts of the world ubiquitous) at long-distance train and bus stations have been replaced by tourist information Web sites, smartphone apps, or unattended information kiosks. This is a logical priority for limited marketing and tourism promotion budgets, but it leaves visitors without smartphones much worse off than they used to be.
Technological changes that affect the tools and skills you need for world travel aren't limited to smartphones and the Internet any more than to maps and navigation. When I first visited China in 1989, electronic calculators were rare. Knowing how to read an abacus was a skill more basic than knowing how to recognize characters, and one I included in the first edition of "The Practical Nomad: How to Travel Around the World. Today, I've heard from recent immigrants that students in China think of an abacus as something their parents or grandparents used. They might have handled an abacus in an elementary-school class about numbers, but they've never relied on it as a general-purpose calculating tool.
This isn't the first time that new ways of doing things have made older travel skills largely obsolete. How quickly, and how completely, did railroads and then automobiles eliminate the need for most travellers to know anything about horses or other draft animals, which had been the vehicles of human mobility and the most essential travel skills (for anyone who wanted to go further or faster on land than they could walk) for all prior human history?
Travellers today aren't likely to need to fall back on their ability to handle horses. It's still common, however, to find yourself in a spot where your smartphone is broken, lost, stolen, or has no signal. It's still worthwhile, I would argue, to learn and to maintain your ability to function without a smartphone, even if you carry one and use it as your primary tool for many tasks. The more you rely on your smartphone, the more you should have a "Plan B".
Before you leave home, make a list of all the things for which you use your phone. Think about each of them, and how you would accomplish the same task without your phone, or whether you would be willing and able to do without it.
What are those functions for which you have come to rely on your phone, especially when you are away from home? Or for which, if you are younger, you have never used any tool other than a cellphone? (What's a "phone booth"? What's a "cybercafe"?) What's your "Plan B" for travel without your phone?
What other travel skills have been, or are being, forgotten? Are they still worth learning as a fallback? Please share your thought in the comments.
Friday, 24 March 2017
Tips for travellers about the "Muslim laptop ban"
The "Muslim laptop ban" goes into effect today: The U.S. government has ordered airlines to prevent passengers from bringing laptop or tablet computers or other electronic devices "larger than a cellphone" (whatever that means) on their person or in carry-on baggage on direct flights between 10 airports in countries with predominantly Muslim populations in the "Middle East" (West Asia) and North Africa and the USA.
These items will still be allowed on these flights in checked luggage, where either lithium batteries or explosives pose a greater danger because in-flight fires are harder to detect or put out in the cargo hold than in the passenger compartment.
According to a report by Kaveh Waddell in The Atlantic (in which I'm also quoted), "The ban was communicated to the relevant airlines and airports at 3 a.m. Eastern on Tuesday, in the form of an emergency amendment to a security directive. From that point, the airlines and airports will have 96 hours to comply."
Many others including airline pilot Patrick Smith ("Ask The Pilot") and experts interviewed by the Guardian (here and here) and the Washington Post have made the point that the Muslim laptop ban uses "security" as a pretext for trade sanctions (no US-based airlines serve any of the airports subjected to the laptop ban, which include the hub airports of airlines with which US-based airlines have been fighting a trade war) and Islamophobic harassment (the affected flights are those on which the largest numbers of citizens of countries that President Trump tried to ban from the US, but which the courts have at least temporarily enjoined him from excluding from the US, are likely to arrive).
Aside from making the US government look more bigoted and stupid, it remains to be seen whether the Muslim laptop ban will affect travellers' choices of airlines or force carriers like Turkish Airlines to lower their fares even further to offset the disadvantage (especially for the most profitable business travellers) of not being able to work (or play games) on laptops in flight.
But what does the Muslim laptop ban actually mean for travellers?
What are the rules? There are no "rules", in any normal sense of that word. Airlines have been given orders by the DHS, in the form of "Security Directives". But those orders are secret. Airlines can, and often do, make things up out of ignorance or to serve their own profits, and blame them on the government. In this case, the orders are probably real, and certainly disliked by the airlines to which they apply (although welcomed by their US-based competitors). But, "The government made us do it," is a great excuse for anything airlines want to do -- especially when it's impossible for passengers to tell if it's true.
Is this legal? Nobody knows. It's almost impossible for travellers to challenge the orders given by the government to the airlines. Airlines have standing to challenge these orders in court, but none of them have done so. It's one more example of the craven complicity of airlines in government harassment and infringement of the rights of travellers -- including airline complicity in, and failure to challenge, President Trump's Muslim ban.
But how can I tell what I will be allowed to carry on? You can't. Even before the Muslim laptop ban, and regardless of what the government requires, airlines reserve the right to make you check your bags, including whatever you planned to carry on. Their tariff and conditions of carriage, as of the time your buy your ticket, give you a contractual right to have a certain amount of luggage transported to your ticketed destination. But they don't guarantee that any of your luggage will be transported in the passenger cabin, or even on the same plane, just as they don't guarantee that you will be transported on the original schedule or routing. As long as you and your luggage are delivered to your destination without being charged extra, the airline has fulfilled its contractual obligations even if it requires you to check your carry-on sized bag, and sends it on a different flight or different set of connecting flights than you are on.
Here's how I explained it in "The Practical Nomad: How to Travel Around the World":
What Are You Allowed to Carry On? Don't rely on this or any book or Web site to tell you which specific items you will or won't be allowed to carry on. There is no way to know for sure until you try. The "rules" can change at any time, and much is left to the discretion of the people searching you and your bags. In the USA, the TSA refused to show me the rules when I asked for them under the Freedom of Information Act, and told me that it would "create public confusion" for people to rely on TSA press releases or their Web site. If you aren't sure about something, try to ask the checkpoint staff about it before you check in, so that you can move it to your checked baggage if they say you can't carry it on.
So what am I supposed to do? Be prepared. Don't count on being able to carry any of luggage on the plane with you, or having any of your luggage or any working electronics right away when you get off the plane at your destination. Segregate the smallest amount of the most essential items (passport, money, credit and ATM cards, prescription and any other essential medications, printouts of your itinerary and other documents you would need right away on arrival if your laptop or tablet and the rest of your luggage goes missing for a few days and your cellphone dies) in a small bag or pouch that you can quickly pull out of your "carry-on" bag if you unexpectedly have to check it. Don't rely on data "in the cloud" that can be deleted by anyone who gets the password to your account. Consider carrying a backup of your data (including your contacts and any other key data from your phone as well as from your laptop or tablet) on your person, separate from your phone, on an encrypted memory card. Consider setting up your laptop to run off an encrypted memory card, so you can carry all your data with you even if you have to check your laptop. Do the same with your phone: Set it up to store as much of your data as possible on a removable memory card, so you can carry a separate backup and won't lose you data if your phone dies or is lost or stolen.
Tuesday, 21 March 2017
Testimony in Alaska on the REAL-ID Act
In 2008, the Alaska State Legislature enacted a state law prohibiting any state spending to implement the REAL-ID Act.
Now, in response to Federal threats to interfere with Alaskan residents' freedom of movement if the state government doesn't upload information about all state license and ID-card holders to a national ID database, the state legislature is considering bills to authorize that spending and implementation.
It makes no sense for Alaska to call for repeal of a disliked Federal law of dubious Constitutionality, and simultaneously to authorize state spending to comply with that law, without first getting the courts to rule on whether the (unfunded) mandate for state action or the threatened sanctions against state residents are Constitutional.
Details and links to the proposed legislation and my testimony at PapersPlease.org: Alaska and the REAL-ID Act
Tuesday, 14 March 2017
Palantir, Peter Thiel, Big Data, and the DHS
On Saturday, I joined an ad hoc group of picketers outside the Pacific Heights mansion of Palantir Technologies founder and Trump supporter Peter Thiel (photo gallery from the SF Chronicle, video clip from KGO-TV; more photos from the East Bay Express).
San Francisco and Silicon Valley are among the centers of opposition to President Trump and his fascism, especially as it relates to restrictions on movement, border controls, immigration, and asylum.
Bay Area technology companies and their better-paid classes of employees like to think of themselves as building a better world that reflects the distinctive values that have attracted dreamers and futurists to this region -- as it attracted me, 35 years ago -- from across the country and around the world. But some of these companies are key developers and providers of "big data" tools for the opposite sort of "Brave New World".
As Anna Weiner reported in the New Yorker ("Why Protesters Gathered Outside Peter Thiel's Mansion This Weekend"):
David Campos, a former member of the San Francisco board of supervisors, who emigrated from Guatemala, in 1985, stood on the brick stoop and raised a megaphone. "The reason we're here is to call upon the people who are complicit in what Trump is trying to do," he said. Clark echoed the sentiment. "If your company is complicit, it is time to fight that," she said. Trauss, when it was her turn, addressed Thiel, wherever he was. "What happened to being a libertarian?" she asked. "What happened to freedom of movement for labor?"
Edward Hasbrouck, a consultant with the Identity Project, a civil-liberties group, took the stand, wearing a furry pink tiger-striped pussyhat. "The banality of evil today is the person sitting in a cubicle in San Francisco, or in Silicon Valley, building the tools of digital fascism that are being used by those in Washington," he said. "We've been hearing back that there are a fair number of people at Palantir who are working really hard at convincing themselves that they're not playing a role -- they're not the ones out on the street putting the cuffs on people. They're not really responsible, even though they're the ones who are building the technology that makes that possible."
It's easy to rationalize the creation of technological tools by saying that they can used for good as well as evil. But you can't separate the work of tool-making from the ways those tools are being used. Palantir workers' claims to "neutrality" resemble the claims made in defense of IBM and Polaroid and when they were making and selling "general purpose" computers, cameras, and ID-badge making machines to the South African government in the 1970s. None of this technology and equipment was inherently evil. But in South Africa, it was being used to administer the apartheid system of passbooks and permissions for travel, work, and residence.
The same goes for "big data" today. To understand what's wrong with the work being done by Palantir for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, it's necessary to look not just at what tools Palantir is building but at how and by whom they will be used; not just at the data tools but at the datasets to which they are applied, the algorithms they use, and the outcomes they are used to determine.Continue reading "Palantir, Peter Thiel, Big Data, and the DHS"
Monday, 27 February 2017
FAQs about travel in the time of Trump
President Trump's emphasis on control of travel and borders has prompted a surge of interest in freedom of movement as a civil liberties and human rights issue. Here are some of my FAQs and analyses of this issue over the last month for the Identity Project:
- FAQ: What should you to do if you are asked for your password at a US airport or border?
- FAQ about searches at airports and US borders: What you probably don't know about one of the few laws that protects some of your rights.
- FAQ about searches and ID demands from passengers on domestic flights: What are your rights?
- Trump's #Muslim Ban is bad. But it's neither new nor unique to the USA: How carrier sanctions and airline collaboration are killing asylum seekers.
- Executive Orders, lawsuits, and the right to travel: What are the implications of the #MuslimBan litigation for other freedom-to-travel issues?
Friday, 27 January 2017
President Trump, Populist Politics, and the Prospects for Privacy
Through no fault of the organizers, who were extremely accommodating of my last-minute proposal for this panel after the US elections, we had less time than we had hoped for. There's video of the session, but I was rushed and probably not always clear.
[My pussy hat -- the symbol of the Women's Marches last weekend after Trump's inauguration -- was popular at CPDP. Photo by kind permission of Wendy M. Grossman. Thanks to Suzanne and another Wendy for knitting and giving me the hat!]
By popular request, below the jump is a summary of the main points I tried to make.
(For those interested in more detail, I've posted my notes on issues I would have liked to raise, if we had more time. I've also posted a separate article at PapersPlease.org on President Trump's executive order repudiating the EU-US agreement on transfers of PNR data from the EU to the US government.)Continue reading "President Trump, Populist Politics, and the Prospects for Privacy"
Wednesday, 18 January 2017
Unresponsive "comments" from Amadeus
Exactly three weeks after a public demonstration of the insecurity of public Web gateways to computerized reservation systems (CRSs) -- a threat to travellers that I've been writing, speaking and telling the CRS operators about for more than 15 years -- one of those companies has responded to my request for comment, but without answering any of my questions.
Here, in its entirety, is the statement I received late Tuesday from Amadeus (which hosts PNR data for airlines and travel agencies and operates the CheckMyTrip.com for viewing PNR data), followed by my comments:Continue reading "Unresponsive "comments" from Amadeus"
Saturday, 14 January 2017
The REAL-ID Act and the TSA proposal to require ID to fly
Much of my work for the last decade as a consultant to the Identity Project (PapersPlease.org) on travel-related civil-liberties and human rights issues has focused on requirements to obtain government permission and/or show government-issued ID credentials in order to travel by common carrier.
The TSA tells travellers they have to show government-issued ID to fly, harasses those who decline to do so, and sometimes has them arrested by local police on trumped-up (will that word now have new meaning?) charges.
But people with no ID at all fly every day. "We have a procedure for that," the TSA says whenever its demands for ID are challenged in court.
Now the TSA has proposed -- in a backhanded way calculated to evade public or Congressional debate or judicial oversight -- to impose a new official requirement for all airline passengers either to show government-issued ID or to certify that they live in a state that the DHS deems sufficiently compliant with the REAL-ID Act 2005. This ID requirement would be an additional prerequisite before the TSA will give them "permission" to pass though its checkpoints or board airline flights.
For more on what's wrong with this proposal, see the comments filed this week with the TSA by the Identity Project and this post from the Identity Project blog.