TIME National Security

Study: Passport Officers Struggle to Spot Fake Photo IDs

Officers failed to recognize faces were different from ID photos 15% of the time in a test situation

Officials charged with issuing passports mistakenly accepted photo identification displaying a different person 14% of the time, according to the results of a study published Monday.

The study asked officials to accept or reject someone based on whether a displayed photo matched the person before them. They mistakenly accepted someone with a different photo displayed almost 15% of the time and mistakenly rejected someone whose real photo was displayed 6% of the time.

“At Heathrow Airport alone, millions of people attempt to enter the UK every year. At this scale, an error rate of 15% would correspond to the admittance of several thousand travellers bearing fake passports,” said Rob Jenkins, a psychology researcher at the University of York and study co-author.

Officers fared even worse on a separate test that asked them to match a current photo with identification photos taken two years prior. They matched the photos incorrectly 20% of the time, a figure equivalent to the performance of an untrained control group.

The study, which tested 27 Australian passport officers, found that training had little influence on officers’ ability to identify faces on passports correctly. The best way to address faulty identification is to hire people who are innately better at identifying faces, researchers concluded.

“This study has importantly highlighted that the ability to be good at matching a face to an image is not necessarily something that can be trained,” said University of Aberdeen professor Mike Burton, a study co-author. “It seems that it is a fundamental brain process and that some people are simple more adept at it than others.”

TIME Infectious Disease

Getting Sick From Planes Is Way Less Likely Than You Think

interior of plane
Martial Colomb—Getty Images

From Ebola to the common flu, viruses don't jump from 32D to 12C all that easily

The person next to you on your eight-hour flight is clearly not feeling well—coughing, running to the lavatory frequently. Great, you think. I’m going to catch some horrible virus.

Actually, probably not. Although most of us would swear that we caught a flu as the result of air travel, airliners are not great at spreading infectious diseases among passengers. (Bacteria is another story, though. See the 6 Germiest Places on a Plane for what to be careful about.) According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) investigation, if a suspected tuberculosis carrier was aboard a jet, the agency wouldn’t expect exposure to possible infection to extend beyond two rows in either direction.

Airliners are, however, very good at delivering infectious diseases to entire countries. The SARS breakout in Canada in 2003, which sickened 400 people and killed 44, was traced to a single airline passenger—the index patient—who traveled from Hong Kong to Toronto and fell ill after she arrived home. Most of the cases were hospital-acquired, however, including healthcare workers themselves. SARS seemed to have skipped the airline passengers altogether.

Likewise, the chance of catching Ebola from a fellow passenger is remote. The virus is spread through direct contact with infected bodily fluids, not by sitting in a middle seat. “The one thing we have as an advantage is the lack of airborne transmissibility,” says Dr. David R. Shlim, president the International Society of Travel Medicine. “It’s not likely to get in an airplane and then float down the aisle.”

The World Health Organization, which plays traffic cop to the planet’s disease vectors, has warned reasonably for travel restrictions for anyone suspected of having Ebola. Airport and health authorities in Lagos and Monrovia are screening passengers for symptoms before they board and anyone stricken with such symptoms is unlikely to be able to travel, although it’s certainly not impossible. In the U.S., the CDC mans quarantine stations at international airports, such as John F. Kennedy in New York City and Newark Liberty in New Jersey, that act as the front-line defense against infectious visitors.

The bigger issue is that a virulent illness—SARS, MERS, and perhaps some superbug lurking somewhere waiting for a ticket out—can be delivered around the globe with relative ease given the expansion in air travel. A million passengers a day enter the United States, according to the Customs and Border Protection agency. “Diseases that used to smolder can now move more quickly. You can get anywhere in 24 hours,” says Shlim. “All the public health officials know about that and are concerned about it.” Consider chikungunya, a mosquito-borne virus that causes fever and joint pain. According to the CDC, the chikungunya virus reached the Americas via the islands of the Caribbean in late 2013. “There is a risk that the virus will be imported to new areas by infected travelers,” the CDC notes. Sure enough, a case was discovered in Florida this year.

The WHO hasn’t gone so far as recommending a travel embargo to the Ebola-affected nations, but that would be the logical progression if the outbreak can’t be reined in with the current program, called Ebola Virus Disease Outbreak Response Plan. During Canada’s SARS outbreak, the WHO issued a travel advisory that recommended that tourists avoid the Toronto area. It’s not known whether the advisory stopped SARS from spreading, but it did severely damage Canada’s tourism industry before being withdrawn after a few days after the Canadian government protested the advisory.

Stopping the movement of people is the ultimate way of keeping a viral disease in check geographically. But in the more connected world of global logistics it will be increasingly difficult to do so. Although ebola is terrifying in that there is no widely available remedy, there’s no reason to change your flight plans, even to Africa.

That doesn’t mean people won’t. “I can’t think of any example of one person got on a plane and 30 people got off sick,” Shlim notes. The biggest concern on your next jet ride isn’t going to be Ebola. It’s more like measles, which is very contagious. The risk there isn’t from a third-world passenger arriving from Africa. It’s more likely a 7-year American kid who hasn’t been vaccinated.

TIME Travel

Delta Tops Airline Performance Rankings

Delta Airlines Inc. Terminal Ahead Of Earnings Figures
A Delta Air Lines Inc. airplane departs Ronald Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, July 18, 2014. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

United ranked last on the annual list

Delta Airlines is the best all around pick for consumer fliers, according to Airfarewatchdog’s annual rankings. While the other legacy carriers, United and American, continue to struggle at the bottom of the list, Delta rose to the top spot from number six last year.

The list uses data on flight cancellations, on-time arrivals, baggage mishandling, denied boardings and customer satisfaction to rank America’s eight largest airlines. United rounded out the list with the lowest overall score, unsurprising given its bottom rank in customer satisfaction and number of denied boardings.

Discount carriers fared well in customer satisfaction scores, but that didn’t translate into high rankings in overall performance. Customers ranked JetBlue first and Southwest second for satisfaction, despite their low scores in flight cancellations and on-time arrivals. JetBlue in particular was hit hard by extreme weather earlier this year at its New York City headquarters and in Boston, where it also has major operations.

TIME Aviation

Airlines Get Guidelines on Handling Ebola

Medical staff take a blood sample from a suspected Ebola patient at the government hospital in Kenema
Medical staff take a blood sample from a suspected Ebola patient at the government hospital in Kenema, Sierra Leone, on July 10, 2014 Tommy Trenchard—Reuters

The CDC says anyone who may have been exposed to the virus should not board a commercial flight until they have undergone 21 days of monitoring

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued guidelines for airline personnel on how to handle travelers who may have Ebola virus. The recommendations follow international efforts to contain an outbreak of the disease that has killed more than 800 people in West Africa.

If a passenger is suspected to have Ebola during a flight, the CDC says they should be separated from other travelers and that cabin crew must wear disposable gloves if there is a possibility of contact with that person’s bodily fluids.

Airline captains are required by law to report to the CDC any individuals suspected of carrying the Ebola virus before landing in the U.S.

The center also urged travelers who may have been exposed to Ebola to seek clearance from a doctor before traveling abroad.

“People who have been exposed to Ebola virus disease should not travel on commercial airplanes until there is a period of monitoring for symptoms of illness lasting 21 days after exposure. Sick travelers should delay travel until cleared to travel by a doctor or public health authority,” said the CDC in its statement.

Cabin-cleaning staff have also been advised to take extra precautions.

TIME Australia

Australian Flight Attendant Reminds Cabin to Flush Drugs Down Toilet

Qantas Returns to Profit as Emirates Tie-Up Boosts Long-Haul
A Jetstar plane leaves Kingsford Smith Airport in Sydney on Aug. 29, 2013 Jeremy Piper—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Such announcements are routine, but this employee's words were "poorly chosen," Australian airline Jetstar said

Australia’s reputation as a haven perennially secure from terrorist threats may have come into question recently, but it seems that air travel in the country is still a pretty lax affair.

The Daily Telegraph, a Sydney newspaper, reports that a flight attendant on domestic airline Jetstar kindly reminded passengers aboard a Sydney-bound flight to flush their drugs and other contraband down the aircraft toilet prior to landing. There were, she said, “sniffer dogs and quarantine officers” waiting in the domestic terminal.

A number of passengers were returning from the Splendour in the Grass music festival — which could explain why, upon the flight attendant’s announcement, there was allegedly a mad dash for the lavatory.

Australian airlines are indeed required to make a “quarantine announcement” if such measures are being taken at the final destination. Jetstar told the Telegraph that the words of this particular employee — who, according to the initial report, is “casually employed” — were “poorly chosen.”

MONEY Airlines

Airline ‘Transparency’ Law One Step Closer to Misleading Passengers

Boy holding paper airplane behind his back
John Lund/Sam Diephuis—Getty Images

A bill that would allow airlines to hide the true cost of flights (fees and all) was just passed by the House

Currently, airlines must include the full price of a flight—including federal taxes and fees—in advertisements. However, a new bill, which was approved by the House of Representatives on Monday, would allow the ads to exclude government fees, allowing for marketing that could fool consumers into thinking their flights will cost significantly less than they’ll actually end up paying.

As MONEY’s Brad Tuttle reported in April, $61 dollars of a typical $300 flight comes from federal taxes–20% of the overall ticket price. Under the new law, airlines could ignore that portion of the fare and advertise the same flight at $239. Could anyone actually buy that flight for $239? Of course not.

Regulations passed in 2012 outlawed this type of misdirection, but the airlines are now one step away from bringing it back.

The bill’s advocates argue that letting airlines advertise their unmodified prices would show consumers how much the government is adding to their travel bill. When the law was first proposed in the spring, supporters said it would “restore transparency to the advertising of U.S. airline ticket prices, and ensure that airfare ads are not forced to hide the costs of government from consumers.”

Knowing about government-added expenses is all well and good, but consumer advocates believe the law will do more to confuse flyers than educate them. The National Consumers League says the bill doesn’t provide transparency, and merely allows the airlines to advertise eye-grabbing but deceptive lower prices in order to win more business. In this way, the “Transparent Airlines Act” actually makes what consumers must pay for flights more opaque. That’s the opposite of transparency.

The Transparent Airlines Act still needs to pass the Senate before it becomes a law, and its opponents aren’t going to give up without a fight.

“Our organization, together with other consumer groups, will work closely with Senate staff to stop the passage of a companion bill,” said Charlie Leocha, Chairman of Travelers United, a consumer protection organization focused on travelers. “Even though the name of the bill contains the word ‘transparency,’ the effect of this legislation would be anything but.”

TIME China

Think Your Flight Delays Are Bad? Try China, Where the Military Hogs Most of the Skies

Airplanes At The Shanghai Pudong International Airport
Air China aircraft stand parked at Shanghai Pudong International Airport in Shanghai, China, on Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Even in this era of jam-packed commercial air travel, the armed forces still control most of China’s airspace

Last week, I flew in and out of Shanghai over two days. Both flights idled on the tarmac for more than one hour. I felt rather lucky.

Airport delays are such a constant in China that a mere one-hour wait is practically a gift from the aviation gods. International flight monitors put Chinese cities at the bottom of a list of on-time takeoffs at major airports worldwide. On July 21, nearly 200 flights leaving from Shanghai’s two airports, Pudong and Hongqiao, were cancelled. Around 120 more planes were delayed from takeoff by two or more hours.

The same day, a notice attributed by state media to the Civil Aviation Administration of China warned that a dozen airports in eastern Chinese metropolises would suffer even more serious delays through August 15. The reason? An unnamed “other user” would be hogging the skies. That aerial monopolist is thought to be the Chinese military, which even in this era of jam-packed commercial air travel still controls most of China’s airspace. On July 23, the People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, tweeted a picture of dejected looking passengers camped out on the floor of the airport in Dalian, a port city in northeastern China. The cause, according to the paper, was mass cancellations stemming from “planned military activity.”

On Monday, Jiao Xuening, a resident from the southern city of Shenzhen, described on his Chinese social-media account how he had been stranded at a Shanghai airport for almost six hours. “At first I was disgruntled,” he wrote. But then he listened to a stream of flight cancellations over the loudspeaker. “I was told my flight was merely four hours delayed and was not cancelled, so I became happy again.”

On July 22, the Shanghai Daily, the state-controlled newspaper in China’s most populous city noted that Pudong airport’s outbound on-time rate had nosedived to 26% the day before. “Shanghai’s air traffic control authority has refused to explain” the Shanghai Daily complained of the delays. “With the authority remaining tight-lipped about the reasons behind this, speculation has been rife on the Internet.”

Such conjecture, though, can be dangerous. Earlier this month, some people had speculated online that a dragnet around a “high-ranking official” had perhaps prompted the grounding of planes in Shanghai. The Chinese authorities didn’t take kindly to such gossip; nearly 40 “rumor-mongers” were detained or “held” for wondering online about the flight cancellations, according to the Shanghai Daily.

The chronic flight delays are a huge hassle. But the opacity surrounding their circumstances also speaks to the inefficiencies of doing business in China. In the first half of 2014, non-financial foreign direct investment in China dipped, compared to the same period the year before. Government paranoia about social instability is such that Facebook, Google and Twitter are inaccessible within mainland China. Major foreign news websites are also blocked by censors. Basic things overseas businessmen expect to do can’t be done.

Then there’s the suffocating air pollution, which has dissuaded some expatriates from traveling to China, much less living here. Now, with the routine airport delays, it’s no longer practical to, say, fly from Hong Kong to Shanghai in the morning, attend a few meetings and then return to Hong Kong by the evening. A Beijing-Shanghai-Beijing run makes more sense by the punctual high-speed train service. But that still means committing around 10 hours to traveling the rails.

In the meantime, customer-service representatives for Chinese airlines are trying to cope as best they can. Political sensitivities are such that the carriers cannot complain about the Chinese air force’s monopoly of the skies. Employees for Air China and China Southern said they were only informed about the continuing air congestion the day after the latest round of delays began on July 21. Air China says it will send text messages to passengers’ cellphones to update them on the latest scheduling. “Most of our customers understand the situation,” said an Air China customer-service staffer in a somewhat beleaguered tone. To cope with the long waits in airports notorious for meager services, the statement attributed to the Civil Aviation Administration of China dispensed further advice: “Flight passengers please bring with you food and water.”

with reporting by Gu Yongqiang/Beijing

TIME Malaysia

Malaysia Airlines Flight Did Not Ignore Safety Warnings, Minister Says

Reaction In Kuala Lumpur As Air Malaysia Plane Crashes In Eastern Ukraine
Malaysia Airlines crew closed the counter at Kuala Lumpur International Airport Terminal 1 on July 18, 2014 in Putrajaya, Malaysia. Rahman Roslan—Getty Images

The route over conflict zones in eastern Europe was "approved" and "safe," says Malaysia's Transport Minister

At a press conference in Kuala Lumpur on Friday afternoon local time, Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai denied that Malaysia Airlines had shirked security warnings and approved Flight 17’s taking of a shorter route from Amsterdam over conflict zones in Eastern Europe in order to save time and fuel.

“This was an approved route, and approved routes are safe routes,” he said, adding that 15 of 16 international air carriers from the Asia-Pacific region rely on the flight path over Ukraine, where the Kuala Lumpur–bound Boeing 777 was purportedly shot down by pro-Russian insurgents on Thursday evening.

In the aftermath of the disaster, however, Malaysia Airlines has rerouted its Europe-to-Malaysia flights over the Middle East and India, according to maps provided by FlightAware.com. A flight that departed for Kuala Lumpur from Paris’ Charles De Gaulle Airport shortly before news of the crash broke appears to have been quickly diverted southward while crossing Poland.

The pilots of the doomed airliner, however, had no foresight of the risks, Liow said. He insisted that “no last-minute instructions” had been given to Flight 17’s crew, and dispelled rumors that ground controllers had received a mayday call from the cockpit of Flight 17 prior to its crashing in a rural area of eastern Ukraine.

He also provided an updated passenger manifest; at press time, the identities of only 20 of the 298 passengers had yet to be accounted for. It was learned earlier in the day that the step-grandmother of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak may be among the deceased, and that a number of those onboard — maybe as many as a hundred, according to some reports — were AIDS researchers, health workers and activists en route to the 20th International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia.

Over the course of a hectic press day, Malaysian officials skirted around the issue of culpability, choosing instead to address to emotional magnitude of the tragedy and exonerate state agencies and Malaysia Airlines from any potential wrongdoing. The governments of both the Ukraine and the U.S., however, insist that a Russian-made antiaircraft missile fired by pro-Russia separatists had felled the aircraft from the sky, though it remains unclear whether it was an errant mistake or a deliberate act of terrorism, as Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has insisted.

TIME National Security

TSA Beefs Up Cell Phone Checks at Overseas Airports

Electronic devices that don't switch on won't be allowed on the plane

+ READ ARTICLE

The Transportation Security Administration will ask U.S.-bound travelers at certain overseas airports to power up their cell phones and mobile devices as a part of enhanced security measures amid new security concerns.

Owners of devices that cannot turn on will not be allowed to bring them onto the plane, the TSA announced in a statement Saturday. The owners may also face additional screening.

The news follows Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson’s instructions for the TSA to step up security at foreign airports with direct flights to the U.S. earlier this week.

It also follows reports from ABC News citing U.S. intelligence analysts that terrorist groups in Syria were developing new kinds of bombs to be brought onto commercial planes.

The Department of Homeland Security is also asking airport authorities in Europe and other locations to increase random screenings of U.S.-bound travelers and more closely scrutinize shoe size, ABC reports.

TIME technology

This Blanket Will Tell Your Flight Attendant Precisely How Unhappy You Are

LED lights in British Airways' "happiness blanket" turn red when you're on the verge of a panic attack and blue when you're too drunk to notice you're flying straight into a thunderstorm

+ READ ARTICLE

British Airways wants to make its planes your happy place. To help take your mind off the alarming air turbulence, the hundreds of strangers you’re sardined in with, and the full-body stop-and-frisk you may have endured for flying with them, they’re testing a “happiness blanket” that will convey your “meditative state” throughout the trip.

The blanket doesn’t magically make you happy. (If only …) Instead, it helps the airline figure out what makes you happy other than copious amounts of bloody Marys and a double-dose of Xanax. It works in conjunction with a headband, which measures your brain wave activity, then wirelessly conveys it to the blanket, which is embedded with red and blue LED lights. They flash red when you’re miserable or blue when you’re in “a Zen-like state of mind.”

Not surprisingly, flyers’ moods fluctuate the most when using in-flight entertainment or eating. “What we found was that the blankets turned bluer when people were relaxing, such as sleeping, listening to relaxing music, or eating, as that created a feeling of well-being. However, eating cheese for example can often turn the blankets red, as that releases a chemical in the brain which increases brain activity,” says the airlines’ consumer PR manager, Michael Johnson, who adds that the blankets will not be made available to paying customers.

No word on how flyers reacted to arrival delays, abrupt changes in elevation or news that they’re out of the chicken entrée but the vegetarian meal is still available.

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