Sea-Tac body scanner replacement slated to start in early April

Replacement of the controversial “backscatter’’ full-body scanners installed at Sea-Tac Airport nearly 2½ years ago should begin on April 8 and be completed by May 21, according to the latest timetable supplied to the Port of Seattle by the Transportation Security Administration. 

TSA is working towards a federally-mandated June 1 deadline to replace the scanners with less invasive and safer millimeter-wave machines already installed in many U.S. airports.
Unlike the backscatter machines which use X-ray beams (that give off low levels of ionizing radiation) to scan underneath clothing, the millimeter-wave machines use radio-frequency waves. They also feature privacy software that produces a generic rather than real nude image of passengers’ bodies.

The TSA announced earlier that it would remove the scanners, made by Rapiscan, from U.S. airports in the face of the June deadline from Congress for modifying the nude-imaging pictures.

Timelines could change, according to a staff memo sent to port commissioners on February 28, but once started, the work will take about six weeks to complete. Plans are to replace the scanners at night to avoid passenger disruptions. 

Sea-Tac will get 12 millimeter wave scanners made by L-3 Communications, two fewer than the Rapiscan scanners now in place at five checkpoints throughout the airport.  As I pointed out in my recent Travel Wise column for The Seattle Times,  the decision eliminates most concerns about privacy and safety, but not the hassle factor. Passengers must still remove everything from their pockets, including nonmetallic items such as handkerchiefs and wallets. I was wearing a necklace over a sweater when I walked though one of the L-3 scanners in San Francisco recently. The TSA agent asked me to turn it backwards so that it was positioned over the back of my sweater instead of the front. I'm not sure what that accomplished, but I passed through the scanner in three seconds without a problem. 

Alaska mileage partnership on ice

What put the chill on Alaska Airlines’ mileage-partnership agreement with Icelandair scheduled to end June 1? 

Speculation on the flight blog is that the decision likely had to do with bad blood over an Icelandair promotion last August that allowed passengers to buy miles at a discount and redeem them for expensive flights on Alaska to Hawaii or Mexico.

“You could straight up buy miles and redeem them on Alaska for first class to Hawaii for about $350,” the blog reported. “It was cheap to buy miles in part because of weakness in their country’s currency. And if that wasn’t enough they were even running a buy-miles bonus.”

Hundreds of bookings resulted before Icelandair quietly withdrew the deal, then backed off on allowing customers to use its miles, called Saga points, to redeem any award travel on Alaska.

Icelandair regrouped and in January again began allowing customers to use its miles for award travel on Alaska, but at much higher prices.

Alaska Airlines spokeswoman Marianne Lindsey discounted the idea that the promotion had any influence.

“We made this decision purely based on what the partnership added to our program,” she said in a recent email.

Icelandair was one of Alaska’s smallest partnerships. Few customers earned or redeemed miles on the airline, she said, and Alaska’s other partners (American, Delta, British Airways, Air France and KLM) serve the same markets.

Whatever the cause, it’s too bad this partnership is ending because it was the only useful way for people in the Northwest to make use of miles flown on Icelandair. The airline has no partnerships with other U.S. airlines.

Flying the Dreamliner

How confident would you feel about flying on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner once its battery problem has been resolved and it’s been returned to the skies?

Seattleite David Rowell, publisher of the Travel Insider, recently posed that question to his followers.

Thirty-two percent who responded said they would refuse to fly on the plane for at least the next year or two. Another 35 percent said they would prefer to avoid the 787. Surprising, because, as Rowell points out, his subscribers know their planes. Sixty-three percent are elite-level frequent fliers.

“Their opinion” says Rowell, “counts for a lot more than that of a typical ‘man in the street.’ ”

1 comment:

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