January 2014 starts with an important milestone in travel – the centennial of the first commercial air flight. Sure it only had one passenger and traveled 18 miles from St. Petersburg to Tampa, but eventually 1,200 people flew the route and travel has never been the same. Here’s some more travel news that may affect you:
REAL ID begins
Many travelers may be unaware of a big change that will affect them starting this year. The Department of Homeland Security said it is rolling out the start of the REAL ID act of 2005. All drivers and airplane travelers will be required to have a compliant REAL ID by 2016. Compliant states – that’s 21 so far – will begin making the change over this year. Enforcement will start at restricted areas of the DHS headquarters and by 2016 will extend to all areas where identity is needed, including plane travel and driving. Naturally, the opinion of those who have even heard about this is rather mixed, and it is stirring a lot of “big brother” controversy.
New automated airport exits
More controversy, this time from the Transportation Security Administration, with the opening of new “exit portals” in the Syracuse and Atlantic City airports. These are intended to enhance security, as well as cut staff costs, by using an automated system. But some claim they are a hazard as they effectively trap passengers in the portal.
Security fee rise
A US budget agreement earlier in December means airline passengers may see their ticket prices rise thanks to a raised security fee that takes effect this year. Currently, since September 11, 2001, passengers pay $2.50 for each leg of their trip for a maximum of $5. The new fee will be $5.60 each way. Airlines are up in arms about the likely decrease in business they will see when prices have to be raised.
Delta rejects in-flight cell phone use
As we already told you, Delta Airlines will not allow in-flight cell phone use or internet-based voice communications. This comes after the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved an initial proposal on expanding use of mobile wireless devices to allow cellular communications above 10,000 feet. Even if the FCC adopts the proposal, it is up to individual airlines to decide whether to implement it – much like in the case of portable electronic devices. Delta said that if the FCC lifts its ban it will allow silent transmission such as text and email from gate-to-gate.
E-cig airport lounge opens
Traveling users of e-cigarettes will be glad to know that at Heathrow airport in London, you no longer need to stand outside with other smokers. Instead, you can use a designated lounge inside the terminal. This is expected to start a trend and comes amid ongoing debate over the use of e-cigs in general.
Fast and slow-moving train plans
Elevated trains in China may one day be able to pick up passengers without stopping. A proposal for an elevated train platform that loads passengers into a waiting car that attaches to the passing train is gaining momentum. Whether it will actually work how much time it will end up saving remains to be seen.
But it shows a stark contrast to regular train news out of the US, where getting any train project on the tracks can take decades. In California, a bullet train line intended to connect San Francisco and Los Angeles has faced roadblocks for two decades. Now it is facing new hurdles. The proposed Columbus-Chicago line we reported last month is also still in limbo.
Southwest has announced a number of new non-stops. It is expanding flights out of La Guardia in New York and adding new non-stops out of Portland, San Diego, and Atlanta. A kind of “turf war” between Delta and Alaska Airlines means the opening of new non-stop routes out of Salt Lake City, Delta’s Western hub, by Alaska after Delta announced route expansion out of Seattle, Alaska’s hub.
So, December is a bit of a mixed bag. What’s making news to you?