Not for Federal Identification!

Things keep popping up in my news feed about driver’s licenses. A friend who’d moved from Tennessee to Arizona was surprised that her new Arizona-issued license bore the ominous phrase “Not For Federal Identification.” A friend who lived in Kentucky was shocked to be told she could be turned away from boarding a flight.

In case you missed it, the REAL ID Act was passed (in 2005) in the wake of the 9/11 report. It established minimum standards that states must follow when issuing and producing driver’s licenses and ID cards. (A REAL ID credential can either be an ID card or a driver’s license.)

Some states just haven’t gotten around to making these changes to the way they issue driver’s licenses/IDs. And if you’ve been renewing online or through the mail, the license you have may not be compliant with federal regulations.

Here are some links that will help you get a handle on the situation:

Enhanced Drivers Licenses: What Are They?
REAL ID FAQs
Current REAL ID Status of States/Territories

All of this is important because, as you know, you must show your driver’s license or state ID in order to board a plane.

Trust me when I say you don’t need any trouble from the authorities right now. Make sure your driver’s license is good for federal ID as well as for driving. Even if the chart I’ve linked above indicates your state is in compliance, you may still be carrying an “old” license. Take a ride down to your local Department of Motor Vehicles office and find out for sure. Make sure you have alternate forms of identification with you when you go.

The REAL ID Act takes effect on 22 January 2018.

Do do it now and get it out of the way. Don’t wait until you’re about to leave for the Bahamas next Christmas.

In the News: The Joy of Flying?

I used to enjoy flying. I love airplanes. I love watching them fly. They remind me of my father, who was, as we’ve discussed, an air force pilot (and a special man altogether). He used to drive us out to the butt-end of the runway, when we were kids, and we’d park and watch the B-52s and KC-135s take off right over our heads.

KC-135s on the flightline, from Wikipedia.

KC-135s on the flightline, from Wikipedia.

Honestly, I have a thing for airplanes.

But I no longer love flying in them, for precisely the reasons cited in this article (which comes as no surprise to me).

Seats were 18 inches wide before airline deregulation in the 1970s and have since been whittled to 16 and a half inches, he said, while seat pitch used to be 35 inches and has decreased to about 31 inches.

Ugh. I have flown across the country all twisted up, trying desperately not to inflict myself on the passenger next to me, but unable to keep from touching. I am a chubby middle-aged woman; it can’t be helped.

Here’s hoping they’ll regulate a better seat situation soon.

Air Travelers: Volcano Warning (Again)

My husband used to be just a visitor here in Middle Tennessee, which was the case in April 2010, when the Eyjafjallajökull volcano erupted in Iceland’s East Volcanic Zone—just one day before he was due to return to home and work in Ireland. Air traffic was suspended (from 15 to 23 April) and millions of air travelers were stranded across the world, including Gerry (although he wasn’t forced to sleep on a couch in the airport). It was actually two weeks before he was able to get a flight back across the Atlantic.

We weren’t paying attention to volcanoes back then—and I suspect a lot of folks weren’t. But I’ve just read this blurb in Time: “A volcano in Icelend nicknamed the Gateway to Hell [Icelandic name: Hekla] is poised to erupt ‘at any moment,’ according to a University of Iceland vulcanologist.”

Hekla volcano in 2006 (photo from Wikipedia, used under a Creative Commons license).

Hekla volcano in 2006 (photo from Wikipedia, used under a Creative Commons license).

So you are warned. The Telegraph reports:

News that Hekla in south Iceland is “ready to go” will trouble British holidaymakers who recall the widespread travel disruption caused across Europe in 2010 by clouds of ash spewed into the air by another Icelandic monster, Eyjafjallajökull. More than 100,000 flights were cancelled over six days, stranding 10 million people and costing £1.15 billion in lost revenue.

“Hekla is a dangerous volcano,” said Professor Páll Einarsson at the University of Iceland. “We could be looking at a major disaster when the next eruption begins if we are not careful. … There are also 20–30 planes full of passengers flying right over the top of Hekla every day. This is a risky moment which we need to take seriously.”

There’s been no official warning from Iceland (or the airline industry), but Einarsson notes that Hekla generally erupts every ten years or so, but has been silent for sixteen years now. The Telegraph reports that he “also says that readings show the volcano is accumulating magma and the pressure inside is higher than it has been before previous eruptions.”

I’m not a worrywort, particularly, as you know, but keep it in mind if you’re planning a date-specific trip to Europe.

Those Long, Long Security Lines

Everybody in the travel industry’s talking about the long lines to get through airport security these days. It’s not really a new phenomenon, as far as I’m concerned—I flew across the Atlantic and back twice last year (June and September 2015), and it was a slog going and coming.

But apparently it’s gotten bad all over the United States … even for domestic flights. People are missing flights. Fingers are being pointed. Blame is being totted up.

This CNN article offers a concise list of reasons security lines are long:

  • There aren’t enough screeners
  • Passenger volume is up (15 percent from 2013)
  • People are filling up their carry-ons

That last one is a doozy. Since many of the carriers charge to check bags, lots of passengers load up on carry-on luggage … which all has to go through the security line. People with multiple pieces of carry-on—as many and as large as they think they can get away with—have long been a pet peeve of mine. It slows down boarding, it hogs more than their fair share in the overhead bins, and it slows down the security line.

So we can blame the TSA, we can blame Congress (which funds it), we can blame the airlines and travelers. But I also think travelers’ expectations are to blame.

Folks who travel a lot—business travelers, yes, but pleasure travelers too—get to the point of thinking they “know the drill.” I know Gerry and I did over those long twelve years of back-and-forth. It’s exactly 35.8 miles from our driveway to the loading/unloading zone at the Nashville International Airport, and I can tell you, based on what day of the week and what time of day it is, how long it’s going to take me to get there with pinpoint accuracy.

People who travel a lot also get to dread the airport, frankly. It’s noisy, it’s uncomfortable. So … they want to get it all timed and spend as little time in the airport before boarding as possible. They want to slide in at the last moment.

But you just can’t do that anymore. You can’t count on breezing through security at any time of the day or night, no matter how well you know the drill. You’ve simply got to set aside more time. Grin and bear it.

Or read this article from the New York Times: “How to Zip Through Airport Security,” which includes:

  • Sign up for TSA Precheck
  • Pick the less busy security area
  • By-pass the fumblers crowded around the beginning of the line
  • Depart in the middle of the day, rather than early or late
  • Pay the airlines for premium boarding procedures

The issue is not going to resolve itself fast, y’all. There is no “good” solution. Do what you can to not be a part of the problem, put on a happy face, and allow plenty of time.

Bon voyage!

I Like Having a Plan

My experiences on this trip gave me some food for thought:

  • As soon as I got home, I purchased a plug with multiple USB slots to facilitate charging in airports.
  • I also purchased multiple adapters—one each for camera battery, laptop, Kindle, and CPAP. No one has to share.
  • I also gave a lot of thought to the swelling ankles/painful feet problem: I diagnosed the pain (tendonitis) and learned exercises to prevent; discussed it with healthcare professionals; purchased compression socks; and have realized that a full massage is something I need to have within twenty-four hours of landing.

I like having a plan.

I’m ready for the next trip.

I’m ready for the next trip.

I also learned something about overbooking on the airlines. (When you travel alone, as I mostly do, you end up as an observer, a listener, a lot.) Sitting in Nashville waiting for my outbound flight to JFK, the gate announced they were overbooked and looking for three volunteers to step off (before they started bumping people involuntarily). (I’m not sure why they overbook in the first place—perhaps because people don’t always show for a flight they’ve booked?)

Anyway, in this case, the offer to a volunteer was they’d put you on the next flight to NY (although it would land in LaGuardia, not JFK, which was where my next flight would depart), and they would give you a $300 voucher as a thank-you. I’ve done that LGA to JFK thing and know what it involves. You have to retrieve your luggage, schlep it out to the curb, and catch a shuttle (at a cost of $15 last time I checked) to JFK. The shuttles come by every fifteen minutes and it’s a forty-five–minute ride. Then you check your luggage back in and wait for your flight.

Five minutes later the gate attendant asked again, only this time the offer was $400. Five minutes later it was $500. And they got takers. But I’d never been aware of—never listened attentively enough to—the escalating offer. So if you’re so inclined, you gamble on the reward getting more lucrative … or people taking the offer ahead of you.

I had the time to participate—a five-hour layover—but really didn’t want to spend it humping luggage across New York City by myself. Not to mention the fact that something could go wrong—a storm delay here, a traffic jam there—and I sure didn’t want to miss my overnight flight to Dublin. I decided then and there that I’m too old to switch itineraries in the middle of the stream … and let someone else grab that five hundred dollars.

Let the Vacation Commence! Part 1

Wednesday, 17 June
I’ve been getting ready for this trip—I’ve known about it for more than a year; the flights were purchased nine months ago, as were the hotels—for the better part of a year. Granted, it’s been an eventful, fraught year: I got married, went to Phoenix for the Christmas holidays to see my son and a dear friend who was dying of cancer, hosted other friends who passed through Middle Tennessee this spring, helped my son make an important decision, made plans to throw a party in another country … and worked a lot. (I’m self-employed. I work a lot.)

I was really, really looking forward to this trip. (Not least because I’d see my husband for the first time in more than seven months.)

My housesitter—a lovely young man, a friend of friends—drove me to the airport first thing in the morning. We ran a bit early because I’d forgotten commuter traffic is lighter in the summer, but that’s OK. And then he gave me a hug at the airport. Because that’s what you do, right? A hug at the airport. Sweet. 🙂

My first flight—one of those tiny comuter planes—took me to JFK International Airport, over the hills of Virginia and the enormous Chesapeake Bay, and up the coast.

Long Beach Island, New Jersey.

Long Beach Island, New Jersey.

New York City—I’m still wowed by it.

New York City—I’m still wowed by it.

I had a five-hour layover, so I found a “bistro”—restaurant with tables, as opposed to a fast-food takeaway—and ordered lunch (a very expensive lunch, I might add, and not very good—but is airport food ever good?). The good news is I was in a quiet corner right next to an electrical outlet, so I got out my computer and worked for about three hours. The waitress was a doll (Venus, always smiling and calm, not something you normally see in an airport), so actually this was fortuitous. I always need to take work with me.

But finally, it was time. I was seated next to a married couple from NYC; she was American, he was Irish by birth, now an American citizen. A Dubliner, even! They were on their way to Dublin for a wedding—a wedding on the same day as the wedding I was crossing the ocean for. We laughed thinking how wonderfully coincidental it would be if we were going to the same event, but, alas, we quickly discovered we were not. And then we slept.