Amid criticism, TSA finds weapons at airports

It was a tough week for the Transportation Security Administration, but on at least one issue the federal agency may have scored a small victory.

The TSA was on the defensive during congressional hearings last week over charges that it has wasted money by storing hundreds of pieces of screening equipment, including full-body scanners, in warehouses in Texas.

The TSA’s top financial officer, David Nicholson, defended the agency, saying it has cut its warehouse costs from $7.6 million in 2009 to $3.5 million in 2011.

But Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) suggested that the TSA consider what he said was a cheaper, more effective alternative to the scanners: bomb-sniffing dogs.

“People are going to die if you continue to make these kinds of asinine decisions,” he told Nicholson. “Go get the dogs.”


Meanwhile, the TSA last week uncovered weapons in children’s stuffed animals and the walker of an elderly passenger. The discoveries came after months of charges from TSA critics who say airport screeners performed unnecessary pat-down searches on children and elderly travelers.

At T.F. Green Airport in Warwick, R.I., TSA agents discovered gun parts hidden inside three stuffed animals, including a plush Mickey Mouse. A man traveling with his 4-year-old son contended that he didn’t know the gun parts were in his son’s toys.

Also, TSA agents at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey found a knife mounted on a metal walker that an elderly passenger tried to bring on a plane.

TSA spokesman David Castelveter said he didn’t think the criticism of his agency will decrease with the discoveries.

“It seems TSA is the convenient subject of criticism, but we have a real and important role in protecting the safety of passengers,” he said. “The number of items we find reflects that the system is functioning as it is designed.”

Gauging success on business trips

Business travelers say they are more successful on their business trips when they face fewer restrictions from their employers.

That was the finding of a survey of nearly 1,800 business travelers in the U.S., Canada, Australia and India by Concur Technologies Inc., a Washington firm that provides travel and expense management services.

The survey ranked the success of a business trip on a scale of zero to 100, with 100 representing a trip that achieves all its goals.

Business travelers working for companies with strict travel policies that dictate the hotels and travel agencies they must use scored such trips a 73, on average.

But when a company gives employees only guidelines and recommendations, the business travelers gave the trip an average score of 76, according to the study.

And when an employee travels with no stated guidelines or policies from an employer, the survey found that the worker scored the trip 79.

Alaska planes to get lighter seats

It seems everyone is trying to lose weight today, even airlines.

Seattle-based Alaska Airlines is the latest carrier to announce that it is installing lighter, thinner seats to help reduce fuel costs.

Other airlines are installing similar seats not just to reduce the weight, but to add more rows of seats to fit more passengers per plane.

Southwest Airlines, the nation’s largest carrier of domestic travelers, announced plans in January to add six extra seats on each plane under a new interior design with thinner seats that offer less legroom and less recline distance.

In 2010, Florida-based Spirit Airlines began installing on some planes a thinner, “pre-reclined” seat -- a seat that does not adjust -- enabling the airline to fit 33 more passengers per plane.

Alaska announced last week that it plans to install the seats in 22 of its new Boeing 737-900ERs, scheduled for delivery starting next year. The plane, a larger model than any Boeing aircraft flown by Alaska, will seat 181 passengers.

The seats are about 13% lighter than comparable seats, saving the carrier an estimated 8,000 gallons of fuel annually per aircraft, according to the airline.

Despite the thinner cushions on the seats, Alaska spokeswoman Bobbie Egan said the new seats have won industry awards for design and comfort.