July 25-31: DOT Investigates Airline Gouging; UA’s System Hacked; New TSA Chief to Tighten Security, Cruise Lines Add Cuba, Alaska Testing Biometric Boarding Pass, & DL’s Private Jet Upgrade

This week’s round-up brings the latest airline and travel news – from DOT investigating airline gouging after Amtrak accident, United’s system hacked, new TSA chief wants to tighten airport security by retraining agents, to cruise lines adding Cuba itinerary for 2016 sailings, Alaska testing biometric boarding pass out of San Jose, and elite Delta SkyMiles members can get upgraded to private jets. Enjoy!

DOT Investigates Airline Gouging

You’ve no doubt read about it, or seen it on tv, over the last few months, but last Friday Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx finally made it official: the Department of Transportation is investigating American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines for potential price gouging following the tragic Amtrak crash earlier this year. In case you’ve missed all the hubbub, back in May an Amtrak train derailed in Philadelphia causing Amtrak to suspend service between New York and Philadelphia and disrupted service between Washington, D.C. and Boston. The airlines are claiming that they did try and accommodate travelers trying to travel between those effected cities by adding service, using larger planes, or in Delta’s case, dropped their highest fares by 50 percent and honored Amtrak tickets. However, travelers were complaining that they had to pay upwards of $2,000 for a flight between New York and D.C. It’ll be interesting to see how this whole investigation shakes out.

United System Hacked

On Wednesday, Bloomberg reported that United Airlines was hacked back in May or early June by Chinese-backed hackers who were also responsible for the attacks on Office of Personnel Management this past December. The new report stated that the attack on United could have given the hackers access to information including data and travel itineraries of government and military personnel; United is one of the U.S. government’s largest contractors.

New TSA Chief Wants to Tighten Airport Security

Back in May, acting head of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) resigned after airport security agents failed to stop 67 out of 70 Department of Homeland Security (DHS) staffers from carrying fake plastic explosives and other weapons through security. The new head of TSA, Peter Neffenger who is a former Coast Guard admiral, wants to tighten airport security and promised that over the next 90 days, they “will have trained the failure out of the front line of the TSA.” Of course, how Neffenger plans to tighten security is still unknown, but if it means a more meticulous screening process, it could potentially mean even longer lines at airport security.

Cruise Lines Add Cuba Itinerary

It’s been a busy month for cruise lines adding itineraries to Cuba! Earlier this month, Carnival announced that they will start offering seven-night cruises to Cuba starting in May onboard their new brand, fathom, that focuses on social projects and missions. The 710-passenger Adonia, which will launch in April, will operate twice a week from Miami and will offer “cultural, artistic, faith-based and humanitarian exchanges between American and Cuban citizens.” A little more than a week after that announcement, tour company Globus and Chicago-based cruise company, Haimark announced that they will start offering cruises to Cuba out of Miami as well. Both companies will be offering nine-night cruises, with Globus’ using a ship operated by Greece-based Celestyal Cruises that will start in January, while Haimark’s cruise onboard their 210-passenger Saint Laurent will commence in February. And on Monday, Pearl Seas Cruises jumped on Cuba bandwagon and announced that they, too, will start sailing to Cuba from Florida next spring. They will offer seven- to 10-night cruises onboard their 210-passenger Pearl Mist. Of course, all these cruises are dependent on approval from the U.S. and Cuban government.

Alaska Testing Biometric Boarding Pass

Welcome to the future where your iris and fingerprints will be your form of identification! Last fall Alaska Airlines started testing fingerprint scanning for access to their Board Room airport lounges. That test was so successful that Alaska is now testing a pilot program at the San Jose airport in partnership with the CLEAR airport security fast lane program, allowing 200 frequent fliers to use their eyes and fingerprints in place of their boarding pass. Detractors of this newfangled ID procedure claim that the current biometric technology isn’t good enough to read fingerprints of passengers whose daily life may potentially alter their fingerprint, such as physical laborers and those who use wheelchairs. This is in addition to the possibility of spoofing someone else’s fingerprint (very Hollywood!). Sandy Stelling, managing director of customer research and development for Alaska did point out that this new feature is make boarding seamless and is completely optional.

Random Story of the Week: Delta Offer Private Jet Upgrades For Elite Members

How does an upgrade to a private jet sound? Delta will soon offer its elite frequent fliers the option to ditch their commercial flight and upgrade to a private jet. The cost? $300 to $800 depending on the destination although Delta was quick to point out the pricing is introductory and will go up as the program grows. Diamond Medallion members, the highest tier of Delta’s frequent flier program will be the first to receive an email 48 hours in advance notifying them of the upgrade option and the notifications will be sent out to the remaining qualified fliers based on status level. The base level membership is Silver, which requires a minimum $3,000 spent on Delta and travel at least 25,000 miles or 30 flight segments per year. Fliers who choose this upgrade will also be chauffeured to the jet, bypassing security lines and receive complimentary on-board catering. This is certainly a cheaper way to experience the luxury if a private jet, if you’re lucky enough to be invited.

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