TSA chief promises relief
The head of the Transportation Security Administration came to Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on March 11 with a promise to provide the resources to reduce security checkpoint wait times. Waits have stretched to an hour or more since six security checkpoints were consolidated into two. Peter Neffenger said a new bomb-sniffing canine team has started on the job and that another will be transferred from Hawaii by the end of the month. He said MSP is on a shortlist of airports to get some of the 200 officers who graduate weekly from the TSA’s training academy. The TSA also has approved overtime for current screeners to get through the spring-break crunch. “My promise to you is that we will keep the lines moving,” Neffenger said.
U.S. eases travel to Cuba
The Obama administration punched a new series of holes in the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba last week, turning a ban on U.S. tourism to Cuba into an unenforceable honor system. Americans can now take “people-to-people” educational trips to Cuba on their own instead of joining expensive group tours. That means any American can legally go to Cuba after filling out a form asserting that the trip is for educational purposes instead of tourism. Travelers will have to keep records for five years about what they did in Cuba, but won’t have to submit them unless asked. The move was expected to have an impact because the definition of educational travel is so amorphous it can include virtually any activity that isn’t lying on a beach drinking mojitos. “It’s the closest thing to straightaway travel,” said Tom Popper, president of insightCuba, which organizes U.S. travel to Cuba. “The message to most Americans that the travel restrictions are really loosening will come across more clearly. I think we’ll see another surge in interest.”
Spirit cuts fees for military
Spirit Airlines, the ultra-low-cost carrier that has led the industry in imposing passenger fees, is giving some fliers a break. The airline announced last month that it would no longer charge active members of the military fees for their first two checked bags and for one carry-on bag. The airline charges as much as $45 to check your first bag and $55 for your second, depending on when you pay. The carry-on bag fee can be as high as $100 if you pay at the gate, or $35 if you pay online. “After eight years of impressive growth as an ultra-lower-cost carrier, this is the first of many steps Spirit is taking to improve the overall customer experience,” said Robert Fornaro, new president and chief executive.
Los Angeles Times
Glacial melt ends hikes
Two of New Zealand’s top tourist attractions, the Fox and Franz Josef glaciers, have been melting at such a rapid rate that it has become too dangerous for tourists to hike onto them. The only way to set foot on them now is to get flown onto them by helicopter. Sitting near the base of the Franz Josef Glacier, Wayne Costello, a district operations manager for the Department of Conservation, said that eight years ago, the rock he was perched on would have been buried under tons of ice. Instead, the glacier now comes to an end a half-mile farther up the valley. A 2014 paper in the journal Global and Planetary Change concluded the two glaciers have each melted by 1.9 miles in length since the 1800s, making them about 20 percent shorter. The glaciers have recently been melting at a faster pace than ever previously recorded, the authors said.