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 Transportation

FAA Implements No-Fly Zone in Ferguson Amid Unrest Over Killed Teen

Outrage In Missouri Town After Police Shooting Of 18-Yr-Old Man
With their hands raised, residents gather at a police line as the neighborhood is locked down following skirmishes on August 11, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Scott Olson—Getty Images

Police say their helicopter was shot at multiple times Sunday

The Federal Aviation Administration issued a no-fly zone over Ferguson, Missouri, Tuesday at the request of the St. Louis County Police Department.

The St. Louis County Police Department told TIME it asked the FAA for the flight restriction after a police helicopter was fired upon “multiple times” during civil unrest Sunday. Ferguson, located just outside St. Louis, Missouri, erupted in street violence amid demonstrations sparked by the death of Michael Brown, a black teenager who was shot and killed by police on Saturday.

The FAA order restricts flights over the Ferguson area below 3,000 feet to first responders only, including medical and police helicopters. Private aircraft, including news helicopters, are prohibited from flying below 3,000 feet in a 3-mile radius around the town. The rule doesn’t apply to aircraft landing at or taking off from the nearby Lambert–St. Louis International Airport, a major commercial hub. The restriction is in place through August 18.

The order says the flight restrictions were put in place “to provide a safe environment for law enforcement activities.” The FAA would not elaborate further on the reason for the St. Louis County Police Department’s request. “If you want it, file a FOIA,” FAA Spokesperson Elizabeth Cory told TIME, in reference to a Freedom of Information Act request.

It’s not unusual for local police departments to request flight restrictions over potentially dangerous zones, and it’s typically done to clear airspace for police helicopter operations. The Ferguson restriction, however, may make it more difficult for news media to get aerial footage of the town as the Brown story continues to develop.

“If we feel that order is restored we can request ran early termination,” St. Louis County police spokesperson Bryan Schellman told TIME.

TIME Transportation

The Truth About Obama’s High-Speed Rail Program

Don't believe the New York Times or the train haters who cite it: High-speed rail is not an $11-billion failure.

The New York Times has declared President Barack Obama’s high-speed rail program a failure. “Despite the administration spending nearly $11 billion since 2009 to develop faster passenger trains, the projects have gone mostly nowhere,” America’s paper of record reported Aug. 6—in its news pages, not its opinion section. The story quickly rocketed into Republican talking points and conservative op-eds as fresh evidence of presidential haplessness.

But it’s wrong. The administration hasn’t spent anywhere near $11 billion. The projects haven’t gone mostly nowhere. There are legitimate questions about the high-speed rail initiative—and the administration’s hype has outstripped its ability to deliver in an era of divided government—but the public debate over the program has been almost completely detached from the reality on the ground.

Here’s the real story.

First of all, while Congress has appropriated $10.5 billion (not $11 billion) for high-speed rail, only $2.4 billion (definitely not $11 billion) of it has been spent to date, much of it on planning, design and other pre-construction work. The big construction spending has just started, and will continue through September 2017. Yet the Times and other critics are judging the program as if it had already blown through all its cash. The new meme on the right is that Obama has poured $11 billion into high-speed rail with nothing to show for it. In fact, less than one-fourth of the money has gone out the door. Just because funds have been appropriated and even “obligated” does not mean they’ve been spent, much less “poured.”

That fundamental mistake alone is enough to refute the basic thesis of the Times‘ gotcha story. But it also fuels other widespread public misperceptions about what the program has already achieved, what it’s supposed to achieve, and why it’s unlikely to achieve Obama’s grand vision for high-speed rail. The first sentence of the Times article noted U.S. passenger rail “still lags far behind Europe and China,” but that’s an absurd and annoyingly common straw man to use to slag the program.

Really, the initiative that Obama launched with his 2009 stimulus bill should have been called “higher-speed rail.” As I wrote a few years ago in TIME, it was partly about creating new routes for 200-mile-per-hour bullet trains like the ones already zipping around Europe and Asia, but it was mostly about improving slower-speed Amtrak routes so they would be incrementally faster and more reliable. America’s freight rail system is the envy of the world, but our passenger rail system is awful; the goal of the program was to make it less awful—a more realistic alternative to long drives and short flights.

So where did the Administration send the money? The big winners in the initial state-by-state competition were Florida and California, which had ambitious plans for new bullet trains. But after Rick Scott, a Tea Party Republican, was elected governor of Florida in 2010, he killed the Sunshine State’s Tampa-to-Orlando-to-Miami train and sent $2.4 billion back to Washington. That meant the far more daunting and less shovel-ready San Francisco-to-Los Angeles line would be America’s only new bullet-train project. After years of legal and political warfare, California is just now preparing to start laying track in the Central Valley.

The rest of the high-speed money is going to lower-speed projects where Amtrak trains share tracks with lumbering freight trains. But that doesn’t mean they’re bad projects. “They’re not as sexy, and maybe they don’t look like much, but they’re providing tangible benefits,” Federal Railroad Administrator Joe Szabo said in an interview. Bridge and tunnel repairs, projects to upgrade and straighten tracks, sidings and double-tracking to help passenger trains pass freight cars, and other incremental improvements can all make rail travel more attractive.

And it’s happening. By 2017, the program will reduce trip times from Chicago to St. Louis by nearly an hour through upgrades that will increase top speeds from 79 to 110 miles per hour; Chicago to Detroit will get a similar boost. The Department of Transportation says it has already sliced off a half-hour between Springfield, Mass., and St. Albans, Vt., while completing projects to reduce delays around San Jose, San Diego, Fort Worth and Oklahoma City. It has extended Amtrak service for the first time to Brunswick, Maine, anchoring a thriving downtown revitalization program, and it’s bringing trains to the Illinois towns of Geneseo and Moline for the first time since 1978. It has renovated stations in St. Paul, Minn., and Portland, Ore, and it’s expanding service between Raleigh and Charlotte, where ridership has nearly tripled since 2005.

You need a pretty crimped sense of “somewhere” to argue that the money is going “mostly nowhere.”

One can certainly argue the money should have gone elsewhere. It’s nice that a new bridge and other Missouri projects have improved on-time performance between Kansas City and St. Louis from about 20 percent to 80 percent, but that’s still not a popular train route. Florida’s Scott and Wisconsin’s Republican governor, Scott Walker, both scuttled solid projects—the $45 million their states spent beforehand was the only inarguably wasted high-speed rail money—but Ohio’s Republican governor, John Kasich, had a strong case for scuttling an absurdly slow-speed project in his state. Many critics have suggested Obama should have focused on the Northeast Corridor between Boston and Washington, which is wildly popular—and profitable—even though it’s much slower than it should be.

In fact, the Administration has steered about $850 million to the Northeast Corridor. Szabo was in Trenton last week to tout a massive upgrade to an 80-year-old electrical system that will reduce delays and increase top speeds to 160 m.p.h. on America’s most traveled 23-mile stretch of track. The work will be a prototype for projects along the rest of the corridor, where rail has already replaced air as the dominant form of travel, even though logjams keep average speeds at 70 m.p.h.

Still, it’s true that the bullet-train rhetoric from Obama and the White House’s main train buff, Vice President Joe Biden, has not lived up to the bullet-train reality. It’s also true that the Administration’s spread-it-thin strategy, featuring incremental improvements in 32 states, is hard to justify in a vacuum. You need to walk before you can run, but it doesn’t make much sense to upgrade trains from slow speeds to semi-slow speeds if they’re never going to be able to compete with cars or planes. That’s why in 2011, Biden announced a new six-year, $53 billion plan to expand high-speed rail beyond the initial stimulus investments, a plan that would have built much more groundwork for a truly competitive national passenger rail network.

That plan, however, really has gone nowhere. Once Republicans took over the House, Congress stopped appropriating money for high-speed rail. Period. There was never any chance that bullet trains would be whizzing all over America by now, but the reason there’s no realistic prospect of that happening anytime soon has nothing to do with executive incompetence and everything to do with politics. And while I love the New York Times—even when it publishes ludicrous essays slagging my hometown—its validation of the “mostly nowhere” nonsense will help make sure America’s passenger rail system remains a global joke.

TIME Transportation

Volkswagen Expands Recall Over Ignition Switch Problems

Volkswagen Recalls 18,500 Minivans
The 2009 Volkswagen Routan is introduced at the Chicago Auto Show in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., during a media preview on Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2008. Bloomberg via Getty Images

Adding to nearly 700,000 other recalled Chrysler minivans also affected by faulty ignition switches

Volkswagen recalled about 18,500 U.S.-sold 2009 Routan minivans Friday due to ignition switches that can be knocked into accessory mode during bumpy driving conditions, thus shutting off the engine.

The announcement doubles the total number recalls of the Chrysler-made minivan, whose 2010 model was recalled in 2011 for similar issues, bringing the total to over 30,000 affected vehicles. A Volkswagen spokesperson said the problem has not been linked to any accidents, injuries or deaths, according to Reuters.

Meanwhile, the German auto manufacturer is advising drivers to remove items from their key rings, while Chrysler is encouraging drivers to ensure there is enough room between their knees and the ignition.

Chrysler had filed documents with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in late June stating that the 2009 Routan minivan, like the nearly 700,000 other minivans Chrysler recalled earlier that month, was also affected by ignition switches that could unexpectedly flip off. The faulty switch may cause stalled cars and the loss of airbag, steering and braking functions.

In total, Chrysler has recalled about 1.7 million vehicles for ignition issues since 2011.

Problems with ignition switches shot into the national spotlight after General Motors recalled 2.6 million cars with defective ignition switches, linked to 13 deaths. GM has recalled roughly 15 million additional vehicles for similar issues this year alone.

The recall is expected to begin later this month.

TIME Aviation

How a Dutch Firm Plans to Find MH370 in Seabeds Less Mapped Than Mars

Australia Malaysia Plane
In this map released on July 31, 2014, by the Joint Agency Coordination Centre, details are presented in the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in the southern Indian Ocean. AP/Joint Agency Coordination Centre

Australia said Wednesday that Fugro has won the bid to relaunch MH370's search

A Dutch firm is attempting to crack one of aviation’s greatest unsolved mysteries: how Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, a Boeing 777 carrying 239 people, vanished in an age of surveillance and technology.

The Australian Transportation Safety Board (ATSB) said Wednesday it selected the Dutch technical consultancy Fugro to relaunch the search for MH370 after a month-long tender process that solicited bids the world’s most advanced deep sea searchers, according to the firm’s statement.

Unlike some of its fellow bidders, Fugro historically hasn’t focused on deep-sea recovery, but rather on geotechnical services like underwater mapping for off-shore oil and gas clients. Other bidders like the UK-based Blue Water Recoveries and the Odyssey Marine Exploration specialize in recovering modern shipwrecks or search-and-recovery in deep ocean exploration.

Fugro, which has pursued some underwater search missions in European waters, attributes its win not to advanced technology, but instead to a calculated balance.

“In the initial phases of the search, a number of companies deployed very accurate and very sophisticated autonomous underwater vehicles. The advantage of such technology is that it’s very accurate, but the bad side is that it takes a lot of time to cover a square meter,” Rob Luijnenburg, Fugro’s director of corporate strategy, told TIME. “What we’re doing now is a combination of sufficient resolution and the capability to survey a reasonably large seabed in a relatively short time.”

Fugro had previously worked in conjunction with Bluefin Robotics to develop the Bluefin-21 vehicle used in search efforts during April and May. At that time, officials had suspected the plane’s pinger had run out of battery, and swapped in the Bluefin-21 for the Towed Pinger Locator. Other Fugro missions devoted to search-and-recovery have involved partnerships with the UK to recover helicopters downed over water, and ship recoveries near the Netherlands.

Fugro has already been directly involved in the MH370 search, too. Since June, one of Fugro’s ships, the Fugro Equator, has been working with a Chinese ship to conduct preliminary bathymetric surveys (i.e. underwater mapping of the terrain) around the target area. While radars mounted on the two ships have already mapped nearly 60,000 sq. km—much of that area is in the designated search area—Fugro’s AUS 60 million contracted mission involve only the Fugro Equator and another of Fugro’s ships, the Fugro Discovery. The two ships will each tow sonar scans near the seabed to produce higher resolution maps and possibly locate debris.

“Previous estimates [of the seabed] are very, very rough. The resolution is not good enough to find little bits of pieces of aircraft—that we do with the [towed] sonar equipment,” Luijnenburg said.

The designated search area, about 600 miles south of the previous phase’s area, was decided in June by Inmarsat scientists after re-analyzing satellite data. The area, roughly double the size of Massachusetts, is the latest patch of ocean in what’s been a hopscotch around the largely uncharted South Pacific. Estimates indicate that existing maps of this territory are about 250 times less accurate than surveys of Mars and Venus.

To navigate such difficult underwater terrain, further complicated by treacherous weather conditions, Fugro has connected with experts including Donald Hussong, a sonar guru. Hussong, who was brought out of partial retirement to assist Fugro’s sonar towing logistics, said the two vessels will each be equipped with 9 or 10 km. of cable that will tow scanners about 100 to 150 m. above the sea floor. The existing maps, while crude approximations, will be enough to prevent the sonar from impacting the ocean floor, which could dislodge the equipment.

Hussong estimates that the relaunched search over 60,000 square km. will span approximately 9 to 10 months—a heartbeat compared to the nearly 2 years it took locate Air France Flight 447’s debris, a mere 6.5 km from the center of the search. If the Dutch firm’s towed sonars locate debris, then the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, which aided in locating the Titanic’s wreckage in 1985, will contribute two autonomous underwater vehicles.

But thus far, absolutely nothing—not even a suitcase, life vest, or crumpled paper—has turned up. Fugro is hopeful that the wreckage will be located, but the Dutch firm acknowledged that there’s a chance the massive search might yet again emerge fruitless.

“If we have contrast between the hard surfaces of debris and sediments naturally on the bottom [of the ocean], then we should find it.” Hussong told TIME. “If it’s some place on a rocky bottom or the side of a cliff, it’ll be difficult.”

Inmarsat, however, the agency that dictates the search area alongside Australian and Malaysian authorities, remains more than cautiously optimistic that Fugro will solve MH370’s mystery.

“We remain highly confident in the analyses conducted,” an Inmarsat spokesperson told TIME in an e-mail, adding that the scale of the task shouldn’t be underestimated. “The next phase of the search is being handled by those trained in this sort of work and we are hopeful that evidence will be found.”

MONEY Saving

Average Airfare Soars Past $500! 5 Tips to Save on Flights

Airplane shadow over farmland
Joe Drivas—Getty Images

Yikes! The average round-trip flight in the U.S. now costs $509. But with a little strategy and savvy planning, the cost of your next flight can be well below average.

According to a new Associated Press analysis, the average price of a round-trip flight within the U.S. for the first half of 2014 was $509.15. That’s around $14 higher than the same period a year ago. What’s more, soaring flight prices have outpaced inflation: Average domestic airfare has risen 10.7% over the past five years, after adjusting for inflation.

The true costs incurred by many airline passengers have been hiked even further than that. As travelers know all too well, fares have been rising at a time when fees for baggage and other basic services have likewise been added and/or increased left and right. In almost all cases, that $500-plus average round-trip flight does not cover the cost of checking a bag, or food, or perhaps even a reserved seat. For any of those services, passengers must often pay extra or utilize other strategies, such as signing up for an airline-affiliated credit card.

No wonder airline stocks have been among the best in the stock market recently, even as oil prices remain high, and the economy and consumer spending have yet to kick into a higher gear.

Unfortunately for travelers, the trajectory of airfare prices isn’t expected to change direction anytime soon. “Airlines have reduced the number of seats while more people want to fly because of the economic recovery. All this leads to higher airfares,” Chuck Thackston, managing director of data and analytics at the Airlines Reporting Corp., told the AP. “This trend in airfares is likely to continue for the near future, as the economy continues to grow.”

While the bargain airfares of the late-’90s are likely gone for good, there are still tactics well worth trying to keep flight costs down. Here are a few.

Shop beyond the usual “low-cost” carriers. In the past, the formula to find a cheap flight was often as simple as doing a quick search at Southwest Airlines’ website. If the low-fare pioneer had service on the route, it probably had a decent fare, if not the absolute lowest available. But as Southwest grew into “America’s largest domestic airline,” prices crept higher, to the point that its identity is not about cheap flights anymore. Studies have shown that Southwest often doesn’t have the best prices on flights. JetBlue doesn’t necessarily have the lowest fares either.

In fact, the title of “low-fare airline” is often misleading. Yet while Southwest and JetBlue may not have the lowest prices on a given route, they generally have more perks included in the base price of a ticket, most notably at least one complimentary checked piece of luggage. If any airline merits the “low-fare” moniker today, it’s Spirit Airlines—which indeed tends to have cheap prices for flights, but which also piles on the fees for almost anything beyond basic transportation.

All of this must be factored into your search for the cheapest fares: You can’t rely on any single airline to have the best price, and you can’t even assume that the least expensive flight will cost you less in the long run. You must shop around extensively for flight prices and add in how much extra you’ll have to pay with the help of an airline fee roundup from Kayak, Expedia, or FareCompare before figuring out the best deal.

Search smartly. Different flight search engines tend to retrieve the exact same prices and options, so stick with the ones you find most intuitive and easiest to use. The editors at Travel & Leisure are fans of Adioso.com for its exceptionally flexible low-price flight search tools and RouteHappy.com for its “Happiness” rating system, which ranks the ease of a given route (number of connections, likelihood of delay, etc.) rather than focusing strictly on price. Hopper.com has also drawn accolades for its combination of flexible searches and data available about pricing history. Somewhere in there, you’ll hopefully find a happy medium with the route and price that works for you.

Be flexible with dates (and maybe even destinations). This piece of advice is a classic because it works year in, year out. Matt Kepnes, author of the Nomadic Matt blog and several money-saving travel books, explained in a TIME post:

A minor tweak in your travel plans can save a bundle, especially if you’re buying tickets for a whole family. Fly midweek instead of on the weekend; fly with stops instead of direct. Small changes can save you hundreds of dollars—multiplied by the number of people traveling. I recommend using airfarewatchdog.com; it sends out alerts when airlines have sales. Two other sources I often use are Kayak’s Explore tool and Google’s flight search, which both allow you to browse the cheapest fares to anywhere in the world from your home airport.

Track flight prices. Airfares can and often do change daily, or even multiple times daily. Instead of conducting searches just as frequently, let a flight-tracking service such as Yapta do the work for you. Plug in your dates, route, and a price threshold, and you’ll be alerted once a fare meets your criteria. You can also keep tracking fares after a flight is booked, to see if and when prices drop so low that you’re entitled to a partial refund.

View airfare-booking guidelines as just that—guidelines. It seems like a new study comes out every few months or so with a rule about when flights should be booked in order to get the best price. You might be instructed to book on a Tuesday, or to book exactly 49 days or 54 days before departure, or to book as far in advance as possible. Could one of these strategies yield the best price on the flight you want? Well, yes, it could.

Then again, it probably won’t. Flight prices change far too often, far too quickly, for far too many reasons for any single rule to hold true across the board. These and other guidelines are nice, but they’re riddled with too many exceptions for them to be truly useful. You’re better off taking such steps as tracking fare prices (see above) and consulting fare predictors like the one offered at Kayak for insight as to when the lowest fare is within your grasp.

MORE: Everything Changes for Southwest Airlines Today

TIME Religion

Texas Law: Thou Shalt Not Place 10 Commandments Signs Along Highways

The 10 Commandments sign near Hemphill, Texas, has been deemed illegal by the Texas Department of Transportation. Michael Berry—Liberty Institute

An illegal posting of the 10 Commandments has forced Texas transportation officials to rethink a law barring speech on private property

Along rural Highway 21 in East Texas, where cell phone service is patchy at best and the nearest major town is over an hour away, an unassuming 10 Commandments sign sits near an advertisement for a mattress store and a roadside stand hawking jams and jellies. The signs promoting commercial ventures are lawful. The 10 Commandments placard is not.

In August 2013, Jeanette Golden—who pastors a small community church in nearby Hemphill—erected the sign after a couple in her church wanted to do the same but had nowhere to put it. She didn’t think anything of it until earlier this year. That’s when the Texas Department of Transportation sent her a removal notice saying the religious poster was against the law.

“My reaction was told shock,” Golden says via email. “And I immediately felt like they were trying to invade my personal privacy and strip me of my freedom of speech and my freedom of religion. I wondered what law I had broken.”

The broken law was a Department of Transportation code prohibiting signs on personal property, part of state regulations written to comply with the federal Highway Beautification Act that dates back to the 1960s, designed to regulate advertising along Interstates and federally funded highways. But it was a little-known regulation, one that’s raised the ire of many in this deeply-red state that prides itself on individual freedom and religious liberty.

“It was a head-scratching moment,” says the Liberty Institute’s Michael Berry, when he first heard about the banned sign. “The state allows commercial speech but not private speech—even if it’s religiously motivated—on private property.”

The institute, which began representing Golden in April, sent a letter to the department demanding the rule be rescinded, arguing that the code violates the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the Texas Constitution and the First Amendment. Since then, the agency has put the removal notice on hold and hasn’t done anything to force Golden to remove it.

Department of Transportation spokeswoman Veronica Beyer says officials are currently in the process of rewriting the codes “not for just this case, but for future cases,” and says officials are looking into creating a new classification that would exempt signs that are no bigger than 96 sq. ft. in size, sit on private property and do not promote a business. (Golden’s sign is 72 sq. ft.)

“It’s not a done deal, but this is definitely an exemption that would work in her favor and for a lot other private property owners,” Beyer says, adding that the department doesn’t “regulate content.”

“TxDOT is always concerned about honoring the constitutionally protected rights of its citizens, so property rights, free speech rights and religious rights are always considered important factors,” she says.

The transportation commission will vote on the new regulations at the end of August.

Meanwhile, along Highway 21, Golden’s sign remains in limbo near the legal commercial placards hawking gas and fruit. Residents near Hemphill have been vocal about supporting Golden. A local printing company has created 10 Commandments T-shirts in response. Others in the area are donating money to help support the sign and overturn the law. Golden believes officials will approve the changes, and her 10 Commandments sign will stay put.

“I believe in my heart there will be a change in the rules that will allow me to keep up my sign,” Golden says. “I’m a woman of faith and I believe what it says at the bottom of my sign: With God all things are possible.”

TIME Transportation

4 Ways the TSA Could Really Speed Up Airport Security Lines

TSA line
We've all been there Andrew Harrer—Bloomberg/Getty Images

There's actually a science to these things

The Transportation Security Administration needs your help. The organization that scans your bags and invariably yanks your spouse out of line for the hairy-eyeball treatment when you are late for a flight desires to do something about wait times. I’m presuming that the TSA wants to make the lines shorter. Maybe I should double check.

This doesn’t seem like a particularly difficult goal in some respects. Here’s the way the TSA worked at the Delta terminal at New York City’s LaGuardia Airport on a busy afternoon the last time I was flew: There were two positions open to check IDs and three screening lines for bags and people. The line was nearly out the door. I’m no math expert, but I’m thinking that increasing the number of screening lanes by one increases throughput by 33%. Just a guess.

Increasing capacity—that is, adding ID checkpoints and scanning lanes—or at least manning all available lanes, seems like the most obvious way to shorten the lines. But that would involve spending more money, and Congress has proven again and again that it cares little for the flying public, which helps explain the current state of flying.

So instead, TSA is trying to crowdsource a solution. It is looking for someone or some group that can create the Next Generation Checkpoint Queue Design Model. Your model will have to incorporate the TSA’s (very successful) Pre Check program, along with plans to accommodate coach, business/first, crew and special needs passengers. Do that successfully and the TSA will reward you. The agency is handing out $15,000 in prize money for the best ideas, including a $5,000 top prize.

Glad to help:

Ban mobile phone calls in the queue. People who talk on the phone while simultaneously trying to get out their laptops and take off their shoes ought to be shot, but I’m willing to merely silence them to speed things up.

Start a Spirit Airlines line. Passengers on ultra-low cost carriers like Spirit and Allegiant are, let’s say, inexperienced at air travel; okay, hopeless. Even with their own line, they’ll still take forever.

Make every airline charge more for using the overhead bins than for checked baggage. Higher fees=fewer bags=shorter waits. Stop hating me. In an ideal world, all baggage would go underneath—for free—and show up 10 minutes after landing.

Fine the TSA for delays. Airlines get fined, so why not the TSA? If it takes me more than 20 minutes get through, the TSA is not doing its job right.

Have a giant, discount health and beauty store at every airport. No need to bring all that product in 3-oz. bottles. Just order in advance and buy’em at the airport, cheap.

There is indeed a science to lines, whether it’s applied to supermarkets, tollbooths, amusement parks, fast food joints, or in the bakery chain Le Pain Quotidien in my office building, where the front end system was designed by people who think dentistry isn’t painful enough. The science is known as queuing theory, and it was invented in 1909 by Danish physicist and mathematician A.K. Erlang to try figure out the optimal size of a central telephone switch to accommodate the most customers most of the time. One of queuing theory’s later advances is something called Little’s Law, expressed as L = λW , where L is the expected number of users in a queuing system, W is expected time in queuing system per user, and λ is the arrival rate. Seems easy, right?

Nope. The TSA’s problem is far more complex because it’s not a steady state system—it ebbs and flows based on the time of day and number of flights, among other factors. “The math gets really hairy, really fast,” says Dick Larson — “Dr. Q” — who teaches queuing theory at MIT. “No human knows how to derive the actual equations.”

Companies like Disney use simulations even before they create rides to try to predict the lines, says Larson, but the math attached to security lines is surely beyond the TSA. “I wish them luck,” he says.

Larson believes that half of the problem in queuing is psychological. People are stressed out about making their flights, about their cranky kids, about setting off an alarm and being groped by TSA agents. Larson’s suggestion for improving matters isn’t mathematical, it’s behavioral. “The key idea is stress reduction versus duration reduction,” he says. “If you can reduce the stress, the complaints would plummet.”

That could be done by guaranteeing that people who arrive at the security line within the airline’s minimum will make their flights, for instance. Diversion may help too. In post World War II New York, office workers in skyscrapers often faced long waits for elevators. The solution wasn’t more elevators, which was not possible. Instead, landlords mirrored the walls at the elevator banks; complaints dropped as worker bees had something to take their minds off the wait.

You can’t do that in airports, but maybe there’s a similar approach. Comedians? A brass band? Magicians? Or how about security-line mimes? Then passengers would have something to hate more than the TSA and the airlines.

TIME Transportation

Here Are the Craziest Ideas to Speed Up TSA’s Security

Not everyone is taking the "simulation modeling concept" approach

While the TSA ramps up its security checkpoints, it’s also boosting lines and wait times. That’s why the agency is crowdsourcing the most creative ideas for the “next generation checkpoint queue,” dangling a $15,000 prize for the best suggestions. But just because entrants are asked to “apply a scientific and simulation modeling approach” hasn’t discouraged more casual ideas from floating on around on social media.

In fact, some believe the solution may be much simpler:

Others took the dismissive route, too:

Some flyers took the opportunity to express their frustrations with TSA:

Another user appeared frustrated, but a different kind of frustration:

Meanwhile, ideas targeted burdensome passengers:

Some ideas were more realistic:

And others less so:

But if security is all about checking belongings, there’s one method that’s foolproof:

Then maybe, after all, this is the future of airport security:

 

TIME Transportation

Uber Rolls Out ‘Uber for Business’ To Help You Expense Rides

Barcelona Cabs Strike Against Uber Taxi App
In this photo illustration, the smartphone app 'Uber' shows how to select a pick up location on July 1, 2014 in Barcelona, Spain. David Ramos—Getty Images

Uber doesn’t want to be just a service for people on vacations or late-night benders — the company is launching a new business portal to target customers traveling for work.

The new platform, called Uber for Business, will let companies set up corporate accounts through which employees can charge their rides directly to their employers rather than having to keep track of receipts.

“A centralized billing system helps administrators, team leads and small business owners by providing trip information in place of receipts and helps employees by connecting with the same safe, reliable Uber ride they are used to without the hassle of having to file expenses,” Uber said in a Tuesday blog post announcing the new feature.

In addition, Uber has partnered with Concur, the corporate expenses management company, to include Uber rides directly in Concur’s expense options. Concur’s 25 million users will be able to link their Uber and Concur accounts and add Uber charges to their expense reports seamlessly.

The new focus on business could help Uber tap into a large pool of wealthier customers. The startup is growing fast and recently earned a valuation of $17 billion.

Airbnb, another hot startup that lets people rent out their homes to guests, announced a similar business portal on Monday aimed at corporate travelers.


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