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Helsinki, recently awarded as ‘City of Design’ by UNESCO, is the capital of Finland. Unlike the Nordic winter, the temperature of this city is quite livable, and life continues throughout the year. It has four seasons, and the temperatures vary from 32 degrees in the summer and about -20 degrees in the winter. With the More »

Tricking Out Your Jeep

Tricking out your Jeep is easier than you might think. No matter your budget, there are a number of accessories and parts that you can purchase to trick out your Jeep the way you want it. From roof racks such as the Jeep jk roof rack, lighting, flares, engines, etc. you can have the Jeep More »

How to Carry Travel Gear on a Motorbike

There’s something about a great road trip that can make us feel truly free. A motorbike road trip, however, can really take the euphoric feelings of freedom to a whole new level. Feel the rush as you explore new terrain and take to the open road on your bike. Whether you’re going away for a More »

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44 TSA workers face firing or suspension

The Transportation Security Administration on Friday proposed firing 25 employees at Newark Liberty International Airport and suspending 19 others as a result of an investigation into improper screening of checked luggage.

The alleged screening failures at one of the New York area’s three major airports were uncovered late last year after surveillance cameras were installed in one of its 25 screening rooms to check for possible thefts, the TSA said.

Eight employees were fired in June in the investigation. The latest action raises to 52 the number of TSA employees at Newark caught up in the investigation, making it the biggest single disciplinary action taken by the TSA at a U.S. airport.


The latest group cited includes screeners, as well as managers accused of failing to effectively supervise their employees.

Related: Baggage handler at JFK gets life in prison for smuggling drugs

All the screeners cited for failing to follow procedures were removed from their jobs in November and December and given non-screening duties pending completion of the investigation, the TSA said.

The TSA, which has more than 1,400 employees at Newark, said the screeners failed to ensure bags were properly screened before flights departed, but it did not provide more detail.

“The decision to take disciplinary actions today with the proposed removal of 25 individuals and suspension of 19 others reaffirms our strong commitment to ensure the safety of the traveling public and to hold all our employees to the highest standards of conduct and accountability,” said Lisa Farbstein, a TSA spokeswoman.

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The theft investigation, which the TSA said was the reason the cameras were installed, did not lead to any charges. The TSA said an employee who was a suspect in that probe ended up resigning, though the cameras were left in place, turning up the screening lapses.

The previous biggest disciplinary action taken by the TSA was last year at Honolulu International Airport, where 48 employees were proposed for firing or suspension, also for failing to properly screen luggage.

All 44 employees cited Friday have the right to appeal. The proposed suspensions would be for up to 14 days, and without pay.

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Southwest Airlines to take over more AirTran routes

1 hr.

DALLAS – Southwest Airlines will take over routes from AirTran Airways in four cities next April as Southwest continues to combine the two airlines.

Southwest said Monday that AirTran will end several nonstop routes to and from Charlotte, N.C.; Flint, Mich.; Rochester, N.Y.; and Portland, Maine, on April 13.

The flights will begin as Southwest service the next day. The changes are part of Southwest’s new schedule, which runs through May.

Southwest Airlines Co. bought AirTran last year. It is gradually phasing out the AirTran operation and folding it into Southwest. 

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Woman who jumped overboard from cruise ship rescued

4 hrs.

A Carnival cruise ship passenger who was spotted jumping overboard was rescued Sunday, company officials said.

The 29-year-old woman was aboard the Carnival Destiny, which had left the Port of Miami on Saturday, when she was witnessed jumping overboard around 12:10 a.m., according to a statement from the company.

The ship immediately began search and rescue operations and located the woman. She was brought on board and treated at the ship’s medical center.

Ship physicians determined the woman needed further treatment at a shoreside facility and the Destiny deviated its course to Key West instead of Ocho Rios, Jamaica.

The ship, which is on a five-day Caribbean cruise, is scheduled to return on Thursday.

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Experts, travelers say fear of flying is treatable

2 hrs.

AP Photo/John E. DiScala

John E. DiScala, better known as the travel writer and blogger Johnny Jet, is pictured here on a plane in Australia from Adelaide to Kangaroo Island. DiScala says he suffered from fear of flying as a young man, but he overcame it and now travels more than 150,000 miles a year.

Earlier this month, NBA rookie Royce White disclosed that he is afraid to fly and said he expects to travel by bus to play in at least some of the basketball games for his team, the Houston Rockets.

But psychologists who treat fear of flying and travelers who’ve overcome it hope he’ll ditch the bus and get help instead.

“The treatments we have for this are so effective for fear of flying that upwards of 80 percent and sometimes even more people who get the treatment can fly,” said psychologist Todd Farchione, of Boston University’s Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders, echoing statistics offered by other experts.

Farchione says fear of flying treatment consists of a “fairly standard” combination of cognitive and behavioral therapy. That includes identifying the patient’s “fear-provoking thoughts” and challenging them, then getting the patient to “gradually confront” the fear, by imagining flying and then doing it. Some programs use flight simulators or virtual reality programs; others put patients on airplanes on the ground and in the air, accompanied by counselors.

Either way, “the core of treatment is exposure” to the sensations of flying, said psychologist John Hart, who treats fear of flying at the Menninger Clinic in Houston, where patients can use a flight simulator that “has noise and shakes your chair.”

“It’s like the cockpit of a plane, with video screens that look like windows and show the ground and various airports,” Hart says. “It vibrates, bounces, takes off and lands and has different kinds of weather.”

Lisa Fabrega, a detox and lifestyle coach who lives in North Bergen, N.J., was cured by a Freedom to Fly workshop at White Plains Hospital’s Anxiety Phobia Treatment Center in White Plains, N.Y. The program included sitting in a plane on the ground at a small airport and meeting a retired American Airlines captain.

“We got to bombard him with our most paranoid questions,” Fabrega said.

Before she took the class, she said, “even thinking about getting on a plane would make me break into a sweat.” She learned to visualize herself on a plane and deal with her feelings.

Pat Sullivan / AP file

In this file photo from June, the Houston Rockets’ Royce White speaks with the media at a news conference in Houston. In October, the NBA rookie disclosed that he is afraid to fly and said he expects to travel by bus to play in at least some of the basketball games for his team.

The White Plains program also encourages various types of exposure therapy, like riding a Ferris wheel, the Empire State Building’s SkyRide attraction or the aerial tramway over the East River from Manhattan to Roosevelt Island. The final session is a commercial flight to a nearby city and back. The program costs about $1,500 but is often covered by insurance for outpatient therapy.

Fabrega said half her family is from Panama and she was missing weddings and other events because she was afraid to fly. If she did fly, she said, “I had to be knocked out with Xanax.”

Now she routinely flies, drug-free, around the world.

Hart, of the Menninger Clinic, says medicating yourself with Xanax, used to treat anxiety and panic disorders, is a bad idea for phobic fliers because it “can actually interfere with the process” of coping with anxiety. The Menninger program consists of a one-day workshop followed by up to six months of exposure therapy and counseling that includes helping people with coping skills and changing their beliefs about air travel and using statistics and safety information with pilots going over how planes are built and flown.

Experts say many of those who fear flying have underlying fears of heights or claustrophobia. Some sufferers trace their fears to a stormy flight or other bad experience, but many don’t know why they’re afraid. Some experts say anxiety may run in families; others say some people are sensitive to turbulence, perhaps because of differences in the vestibular system, which controls balance.

While some patients worry about crashing, others fear nausea, vomiting or even heart attacks. They feel trapped on planes, fear “loss of control” and have “anxiety about their anxiety,” said Farchione, whose approach to treating flight phobia was featured on the PBS show “This Emotional Life.”

Hart says the sufferers don’t like it when the plane door closes and the cabin is pressurized.

“It’s not like a car: You can’t stop and get out,” Hart explained.

Challenging fearful thoughts is key.

“How likely is the plane going to crash? It’s much safer than driving or taking the bus,” said Farchione. And when symptoms of anxiety begin, patients are taught that it may feel frightening, “but you’re not going to die. The plane is not crashing.”

Farchione noted that White is not the only sports figure to go public with flight phobia. Retired NFL coach and sports commentator John Madden famously traveled by bus, his customized Madden Cruiser, to avoid planes.

At the Virtual Reality Medical Center, which has offices in Los Angeles and Brussels and has treated more than 1,000 people in 15 years, patients don headsets and sensors and are immersed in a 360-degree, three-dimensional visual and auditory computer simulation of air travel, from packing to security to boarding and taking flight. The software simulates night or day, various weather conditions and turbulence. The immersion is paired with sensors that measure breathing, heart and perspiration rates so patients can learn to recognize and handle symptoms of anxiety. The treatment costs about $2,000 and takes eight to 10 sessions.

Physician Mark Wiederhold, who runs Virtual Reality with his wife, Brenda, says for most people the anxiety will never completely vanish, “but you can learn to cope with it.”

John E. DiScala, better known as the travel writer and blogger Johnny Jet, flies constantly, but as a 17-year-old, he had an anxiety attack before boarding a plane for a trip to Australia with his mom and didn’t fly for three years. As an asthma sufferer, he says, “my fear was not being in control. What will happen if I have an asthma attack in the air?”

A few years later, someone gave him a ticket to visit a friend in Tucson, Ariz. Emboldened by a positive horoscope, he decided to “give it a shot” and got through that flight and a second one to Los Angeles for a family funeral.

“I got over my fear of flying, but I’m always aware of that anxiety, even though I fly more than 150,000 miles a year,” he said. “If I can do it, anybody can do it.”

For Caitlin Condon, who works in tech communications in Cambridge, Mass., information was key in coping with flight phobia.

“Planes are this crazy magical thing,” she said. “You’re flying 500 mph in a pressurized tube, seven miles above the earth.”

She did a lot of research online, using sites like Flyingwithoutfear.com and threads about air travel on the knowledge-sharing site Quora. Now she can get on a plane whenever she wants.

“Flying,” she said, “is the safest way to travel except for elevators.”

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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TSA pulls X-ray body scanners from major airports

The Transportation Security Administration has been quietly removing its X-ray body scanners from major airports over the last few weeks and replacing them with machines that radiation experts believe are safer.

The TSA says it made the decision not because of safety concerns but to speed up checkpoints at busier airports. It means, though, that far fewer passengers will be exposed to radiation because the X-ray scanners are being moved to smaller airports.

The backscatters, as the X-ray scanners are known, were swapped out at Boston Logan International Airport in early October. Similar replacements have occurred at Los Angeles International Airport, Chicago O’Hare, Orlando and John F. Kennedy in New York, the TSA confirmed Thursday.

The X-ray scanners have faced a barrage of criticism since the TSA began rolling them out nationwide after the failed underwear bombing on Christmas Day 2009. One reason is that they emit a small dose of ionizing radiation, which at higher levels has been linked to cancer.

In addition, privacy advocates decried that the machines produce images, albeit heavily blurred, of passengers’ naked bodies. Each image must be reviewed by a TSA officer, slowing security lines.

The replacement machines, known as millimeter-wave scanners, rely on low-energy radio waves similar to those used in cell phones. The machines detect potential threats automatically and quickly using a computer program. They display a generic cartoon image of a person’s body, mitigating privacy concerns.

“They’re not all being replaced,” TSA spokesman David Castelveter said. “It’s being done strategically. We are replacing some of the older equipment and taking them to smaller airports. That will be done over a period of time.”

He said the TSA decided to move the X-ray machines to less-busy airports after conducting an analysis of processing time and staffing requirements at the airports where the scanners are installed.

The radiation risk and privacy concerns had no bearing on the decision, Castelveter said.

Asked about the changes, John Terrill, a spokesman for Rapiscan — which makes the X-ray scanners — wrote in an email, “No comment on this.”


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The TSA is not phasing out X-ray body scanners altogether. The backscatter machines are still used for screening at a few of America’s largest 25 airports, but the TSA has not confirmed which ones. Last week, Gateway Airport in Mesa, Ariz., installed two of the machines.

Moreover, in late September, the TSA awarded three companies potential contracts worth up to $245 million for the next generation of body scanners — and one of the systems, made by American Science Engineering, uses backscatter X-ray technology.

The United States remains one of the only countries in the world to X-ray passengers for airport screening. The European Union prohibited the backscatters last year” in order not to risk jeopardizing citizens’ health and safety,” according to a statement at the time. The last scanners were removed from Manchester Airport in the United Kingdom last month.

Here’s a side-by-side comparison of the two types of body scanners the TSA uses.

The X-ray scanner looks like two blue refrigerator-sized boxes. Unseen to the passenger, a thin beam scans left and right and up and down. The rays reflect back to the scanner, creating an image of the passenger’s body and any objects hidden under his or her clothes.

The millimeter-wave scanner looks like a round glass booth. Two rotating antennas circle the passenger, emitting radio frequency waves. Instead of creating a picture of the passenger’s body, a computer algorithm looks for anomalies and depicts them as yellow boxes on a cartoon image of the body.

According to many studies, including a new one conducted by the European Union, the radiation dose from the X-ray scanner is extremely small. It has been repeatedly measured to be less than the dose received from cosmic radiation during two minutes of the airplane flight.

Using those measurements, radiation experts have studied the cancer risk, with estimates ranging from six to 100 additional cancer cases among the 100 million people who fly every year. Many scientists say that is trivial, considering that those same 100 million people would develop 40 million cancers over the course of their lifetimes. And others, including the researchers who did the EU study, have said that so much is unknown about low levels of radiation that such estimates shouldn’t be made.

Still, the potential risks have led some prominent scientists to argue that the TSA is unnecessarily endangering the public because it has an alternative — the millimeter-wave machine — which it also deems highly effective at finding explosives.

“Why would we want to put ourselves in this uncertain situation where potentially we’re going to have some cancer cases?” David Brenner, director of Columbia University’s Center for Radiological Research, told ProPublica last year. “It makes me think, really, why don’t we use millimeter waves when we don’t have so much uncertainty?”

Although there has been some doubt about the long-term safety of the type of radio frequency waves used in the millimeter-wave machines, scientists say that, in contrast to X-rays, such waves have no known mechanism to damage DNA and cause cancer.

The TSA has said that having both technologies encourages competition, leading to better detection capabilities at a lower cost.

But tests in Europe and Australia suggest the millimeter-wave machines have some drawbacks. They were found to have a high false-alarm rate, ranging from 23 percent to 54 percent when figures have been released. Even common things such as folds in clothing and sweat have triggered the alarm.

In contrast, Manchester Airport officials told ProPublica that the false-alarm rate for the backscatter was less than 5 percent.

No study comparing the two machines’ effectiveness has been released. The TSA says its own results are classified.

Each week, the agency reports on various knives, powdered drugs and even an explosives detonator used for training that have been found by the body scanners.

But Department of Homeland Security investigators reported last year that they had “identified vulnerabilities” with both types of machines. And House transportation committee chairman John Mica, R-Fla., who has seen the results, has called the scanners “badly flawed.”

© Copyright 2012 ProPublica Inc. All rights reserved.