Aid: News Round-Up (4/5/2002)
Diana: The big news story of the past couple weeks is, of course, the situation in Israel, where tensions continue to escalate. Things are going from bad to worse -- even tourists have found themselves caught in the crossfire. This past week, an armored convoy was sent to the besieged town of Bethlehem to evacuate 20 foreigners trapped there. So, do you dare travel to Israel right now? Let's ask our Travel Expert in Residence, Rudy Maxa. Hi, Rudy.
Rudy: Hi, Diana.
Diana: We're witnessing the deadliest series of terrorist bombings in Israel's history. I'm guessing travelers might want to steer clear of the region, no?
Rudy: The State Department issued a warning Tuesday against travel to Israel. That warning is based on the general situation -- not on any specific threats against Americans. Dependents of U.S. diplomats and other American workers at the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem are being encouraged to go home. Americans living in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza have been advised to relocate. And, universities are bringing back students participating in study abroad programs.
Diana: What advice can you give to travelers who have already bought plane tickets to Israel? Can they get refunds?
Rudy: No one knows if the situation is going to improve, so you might want to get a refund on your plane tickets and then re-book later, if things calm down. Getting a refund shouldn't be too difficult. The State Department warning gives travelers extra leverage.
Diana: Okay, let's move on to a lighter topic: kiosks.
Rudy: I bet you're referring to Delta's recent announcement that it's going to install 300 self-service kiosks at airports around the country. Airlines are increasingly turning to kiosks as a way to shorten processing time and improve customer service. United, American, Northwest and Continental also have kiosks. The beauty of kiosks is that they allow passengers to get a boarding pass in less than a minute. They can also be used to change seats, get upgrades and change flights.
Diana: Let's talk about something else we're going to be seeing a lot more of in airports: cops. I understand the National Guard troops that have been patrolling airports will be replaced by uniformed police officers.
Rudy: The Transportation Security Agency has given airports until April 30 to arrange for local police, state troopers, or sheriff's deputies to stand guard at screening stations. Expect about one uniformed officer for every six lanes. They'll be able to arrest people who are found violating security rules, and will be used until the TSA hires its own officers. No word on when that will be.
Diana: Speaking of the TSA, I've read the agency is rethinking the 100 percent baggage-screening requirement.
Rudy: The Aviation Security Act passed back in November said all bags must be screened by high-res. X-ray machines by this December. But there aren't enough machines to make that happen, and they're very expensive. Instead, smaller airports will use trace-detection systems -- equipment that tests the outside of luggage for residue of explosive substances. It's a less sophisticated system, but it's also cheaper and easier to implement.
Diana: Okay, who's going to be doing all that screening? Are we ever going to see those new federal employees we've been promised?
Rudy: Well, the TSA is finally starting to recruit screeners for six airports. They'll be at their posts by late spring. In all, 30,000 workers will be needed for the nation's 429 airports, and they must be in place by November. The salary: $23K to $35K a year, plus a spiffy new uniform!
Diana: A spiffy new uniform?
Rudy: The TSA has designed a new uniform for screeners: navy pants, white shirt and a blue or burgundy clip-on tie.
Diana: Let me get this straight: We've got uniforms but no one to wear them.
Rudy: Yes, but technically, these are only temporary uniforms. The real uniforms are still in the works. Expect to see the official get-up in June of next year.
Diana: Something for us to look forward to. Thanks, Rudy.
We'll see you in a bit.
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