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TSA to test its airport scanner operators for radiation exposure

By Hugo Martin, Los Angeles Times –

After years of rebuffing health concerns over airport scanners, the Transportation Security Administration plans to conduct new tests on the potential radiation exposure from the machines at more than 100 airports nationwide.

But the TSA does not plan to retest the machines or passengers. Instead, the agency plans to test its airport security officers to see if they are being exposed to dangerous levels of radiation while working with the scanners.

News of the test leaked out after the TSA issued a request last month to government vendors to provide wearable, personal dosimeters, devices that measure exposure to radiation.

“TSA is dedicated to the health and safety of its employees,” TSA spokesman Nico Melendez said. “We continuously test our technology to ensure it is safe for both passengers and our officers and post all results to our website.”

Critics of the TSA support the idea of testing TSA workers. But they continue to call on the TSA to perform independent studies of the full-body scanners to ensure that airline passengers are not being exposed to dangerous levels of radiation.

“We still have no idea how much radiation is being imposed on travelers by a properly functioning machine,” said James Babb, co-founder of We Won’t Fly, a consumer advocacy group. “A malfunctioning machine could be particularly nasty.”

Melendez said the scanners have been tested and approved by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health and the U.S. Army Public Health Command.

In fact, TSA Administrator John Pistole backed away from plans for new testing in November because he said he received a draft report from the inspector general of the Homeland Security Department that confirmed the conclusion of previous independent studies that the scanners are safe for all passengers.



The travel industry, as well as home improvement stores and credit card companies, should have a good year in 2012, according to a new spending survey.

The top two areas for discretionary spending among Americans are home improvements and travel, according to a new survey of 2,000 Americans for American Express. And, as expected, many say they would use their credit cards to pay those costs.

More than 8 in 10 of those who plan to travel for leisure in 2012 said they will spend the same amount of money as or more than last year, according to the report. In fact, 17 percent had in December already booked their first trip of the year.

“The survey suggests good news for the travel industry,” said Claire Bennett, senior vice president and general manager of American Express Travel. “Consumers are planning to invest more in travel, and nearly a quarter are setting aside a separate travel budget to help them meet their 2012 travel goals.”

Young professionals are expected to hit the road in big numbers. Fifty-seven percent of those under age 30 who were surveyed said they would spend more on travel in 2012, according to the survey, compared with 43 percent of all survey participants, according to the survey.

When it comes to paying for their vacations, 24 percent of Americans said they would rely on money they set aside for travel, while 23 percent said will use credit cards, according to the survey.

More men (22 percent) said they planned to pay for the vacation with savings than women (16 percent).



Brent Hopkins, a Michigan marketing manager, was so annoyed that a carry-on suitcase cost him $90 in baggage fees on Spirit Airlines that he launched a business to help other passengers avoid the charges.

The Florida airline in 2010 introduced a fee of up to $45 for carry-on luggage that cannot fit in the space under the seats. The fee met with outrage, including threats from several lawmakers to impose a special tax on revenue collected from such fees.

Instead of fuming, Hopkins created CarryOn Free, an online company that manufactures suitcases that fit the exact dimensions of the space under Spirit seats.

The suitcases sell on the website for about $55 plus shipping. Hopkins said they are priced to pay for themselves after only one round-trip flight on Spirit.

“I saw an opportunity,” he said, “and a chance to meet a need.”



It looks like the new European plan to limit airline emissions will cost U.S. travelers to Europe a few bucks.

The plan to impose strict emission limits on planes flying in and out of Europe took effect Jan. 1, and Delta, United, American airlines and US Airways have already added a $3 surcharge for flights between the U.S. and Europe. It is a move that industry analysts see as a way to offset the emission plan’s financial impact on the airlines.

But that is only part of the fallout from the new emission plan.

A trade group for Chinese airlines has threatened to withhold emission data from European officials in protest of the plan. Chinese government officials, however, said they would be willing to discuss a resolution with the Europeans.

The European Commission, the executive body of the European Union, launched the emission plan in 2005, first targeting utilities and manufacturers and recently adding airlines. Starting Jan. 1, greenhouse gas emissions from airlines are capped at 97 percent of their average level in 2004 to 2006 and capped at 95 percent in 2013.

The emissions are calculated by the distance planes fly in and out of Europe and their payload. Airlines that don’t use all their emission allowances can sell the excess to those carriers that exceed the limits. The cost for violating the plan is 100 euros, or about $142, for every ton of greenhouse gases that airlines emit above the limit.

A trade group for U.S. airlines, which challenged the plan in court, estimated that it will cost the nation’s airlines $3.1 billion through 2020.

Representatives for the airlines that added the $3 surcharges said federal pricing rules prohibit them from discussing the reason behind the new charge. But industry analysts say the charge is clearly designed to offset the emission plan.

Environmental groups that support the emissions plan say airlines can avoid paying any emission taxes by flying more efficient planes or buying allowances from other airlines. “The plan has lots of wiggle room,” said Annie Petsonk, international counsel for the Environmental Defense Fund in New York.

She also wondered why airlines have already started to collect surcharges on flights to Europe without knowing how much they will pay in emission taxes. Petsonk also said that “$3 per ticket is lost in the noise of all the other charges they have.”



New York; Las Vegas; Orlando, Fla.; Chicago and Los Angeles topped the list of most popular travel destinations in 2011, according to booking data and online searches reviewed by the travel website Orbitz.

But what was surprising about the top 10 list was the absence of coastal vacation spots such as San Diego, Honolulu and Miami. All three beach destinations, as well as New Orleans, made the top 10 list in 2010 but were bumped off in 2011 by Boston, Los Angeles, Denver and Atlanta.

Orbitz analyzed search inquiries and found that the most popular perks sought by travelers booking hotel rooms in 2011 were convenient transportation, pools and extras such as spa services, fitness centers and wireless Internet.

For the third consecutive year, Christmas week (Dec. 19 to Dec. 25) was the busiest travel week of the year, followed by the week leading up to the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving week (Nov. 21 to Nov. 27).

And based on booking data, Orbitz predicts the hot travel destinations for 2012 will be London, which will host the summer Olympics; Austin, Texas, which will host the U.S. Formula 1 Grand Prix in November; and Chicago, which will host the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates in April, followed by the G8 Summit in May.



In 2005, AirTran Airways became the first U.S. airline to offer passengers satellite radio among the in-flight entertainment options.

But the XM satellite radio is about to be pulled out of AirTran planes as the airline gets swallowed up by its new parent company, Southwest Airlines, which acquired AirTran in May.

“The decision to remove XM satellite radio from the AirTran fleet was not taken lightly, and it’s another step in the integration of offering a consistent product between Southwest and AirTran,” said Katie McDonald, a Southwest spokeswoman.

Customer research has found that most passengers prefer to listen to music and entertainment on their own media devices, she said.

“With the cost of fuel at all-time highs,” McDonald said, “losing the weight of the XM equipment will help reduce our fuel costs.”

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