Department of Homeland Security: Your subpoena “is no longer necessary”

The Department of Homeland Security has withdrawn a subpoena that would have required me to furnish it with all documents related to the Dec. 25 TSA Security Directive published on this Web site.

The move came after I was granted an extension on the government’s request earlier today. I also signaled my intent to challenge the subpoena in federal court next week.

My attorney, Anthony Elia, received the following confirmation from the Department of Homeland Security:
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10 travel blogs you should bookmark in 2010

Which 10 blogs should you bookmark next year?

To answer that question, I consulted my feed reader to find out which travel sites I visit the most often. In the past, I’ve pulled the list out of thin air, but a little methodology never hurts, right?

By the way, I wrote this post before the circus with the Department of Homeland Security started. It’s nice to know that some of these bloggers also read my site.

(Related: Here’s the 2011 list of travel blogs to bookmark and the best new travel blogs of 2011.)

Here they are:
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Full text of my subpoena from the Department of Homeland Security

We had just put the kids in the bathtub when Special Agent Robert Flaherty knocked on my front door with a subpoena. He was very polite, and used “sir” a lot, and he said he just wanted a name: Who sent me the security directive?

I invited Flaherty to sit down in the living room and introduced him to my cats, who seemed to take a liking to him. The kids came by to say hello, too.

“A subpoena?” I asked the special agent. “Is that really necessary?”

“Sir,” he repeated. “You’ve been served.”

Alright, then. I’ve been served. Here’s the full text of the subpoena:
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TSA’s “layered” approach to security and what it means to you

The Transportation Security Administration’s campaign to confuse airline passengers has intensified. After posting a revised statement and Q&A about Northwest Airlines Flight 253 to its Web site yesterday that essentially said nothing, travelers are expressing frustration with the agency that’s supposed to safeguard America’s transportation systems.

“Ridiculous!” says Jean How, a retiree from Holbrook, NY. “Rather than correct the problem, the TSA is simply doing a CYA procedure and instituting the most dumb and irrational procedure anyone has come up with to date.”

The TSA appears to have backed off from its first security directive and is now allowing passengers on inbound international flights to stand up less than an hour before landing (but saying passengers “need to abide by crewmember instruction”), permitting in-flight entertainment devices and other electronics to be turned back on, but also adding additional checkpoints, according to sources who have seen the revised directive.

But that’s not the real story. American travelers are far more concerned about what security precautions will be taken domestically — and there, we have little to go on except the TSA’s vague security-speak. Here’s how it addresses the issue on its site:

TSA has a layered approach to security that allows us to surge resources as needed on a daily basis. We have the ability to quickly implement additional screening measures including explosive detection canine teams, law enforcement officers, gate screening, behavior detection and other measures both seen and unseen. Passengers should not expect to see the same thing at every airport.

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Travel insurance claim denied, denied, denied — oh, never mind!

Here’s a truly strange case, brought to you by the H1N1 virus and our friends at Access America.

You might say Marian Levin’s claim was denied on a technicality. An important technicality that I’ll get to in a moment. But it’s how her problem was resolved that’s even more interesting: Her travel insurance company turned down her claim and a subsequent appeal but then mailed her a check anyway.

All of which goes to show that if you don’t like the first (or second, or third) answer from a travel insurance company, just keep asking.

Levin explains what happened to her:
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What’s new on Elliott: A la carte anarchy, flying in the snow and trouble with resort fees

This is the online version of Elliott’s E-Mail. If this doesn’t display correctly, why not switch subscriptions to my RSS feed or my daily e-mail newsletter?

Want to get upgraded on your next flight? Please visit our underwriter,, which helps you fly first class for the price of coach. Get more information.

Burning question: What do you think of the TSA? Got an opinion about the new security measures? What do you think the government should be doing? Please send me a quick note with your thoughts, and don’t forget to include your city and occupation.

In this issue. Avoiding a la carte anarchy. Plus, more on the new TSA restrictions and how to get your travel insurance company to say “yes.”

(Note: some of the older posts about the TSA’s new rules have already been revised. I’ll be posting the latest information on my site soon.)

New posts

5 easy ways to avoid a la carte anarchy (MSNBC)

Tips on traveling in bad weather (The Washington Post)

Travel insurance claim denied, denied, denied — oh, never mind!

Vegas hotel + opaque site + resort fee = T-R-O-U-B-L-E

Full text of SD 1544-09-06 authorizing pat-downs, physical inspections

TSA orders pat-down of all passengers during boarding

Two-faced TSA ticks off air travelers: Here’s what you need to know

I canceled my room — where’s my refund?

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Vegas hotel + opaque site + resort fee = T-R-O-U-B-L-E

What do you get when you put a Las Vegas hotel, a mandatory resort fee and an opaque Web site together? If you said “trouble,” you’re absolutely correct.

Ben Huynh made a bid on a Priceline hotel in Las Vegas recently. He got the Trump International Hotel Las Vegas, but he also was charged an additional, mandatory $15-a-night resort fee. He appealed to Priceline for a refund, but it turned him down, saying that the fee had been adequately disclosed in its terms and conditions.

Depending on the city and property you stay in, you may also be charged resort fees or other incidental fees, such as parking charges. These charges, if applicable, will be payable by you to the hotel directly at checkout. When you check in, a credit card or, in the hotel’s discretion, a debit card will be required to secure these charges and any incidental fees (phone calls, room service, movie rentals, etc.) that you may incur during your stay.

Huynh wanted to know if that was Priceline’s final answer.
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TSA orders pat-down of all passengers during boarding

The Transportation Security Administration has ordered airlines to perform a manual pat-down screening of all passengers on inbound international flights, “concentrating on upper legs and torso,” according to a memo sent to US Airways employees. The search must be performed by airline personnel during the boarding process, in addition to the regular screening at the checkpoint.

The TSA, meanwhile, has said nothing about its new security measures — either on its site, blog or Twitter feed — in the last 24 hours. However, an administration official confirmed earlier today that the president had ordered a review of airline screening procedures.

Here’s the full text of the memo, which was sent to crewmembers this morning:
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Flying in the snow: 6 lessons for coping with winter-weather delays

Last weekend’s blizzard was a warning to air travelers: Winter is only starting, and when bad weather moves in, your flight schedule isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.

Nicholas Holland learned that when he tried to fly from Reagan National Airport in Washington to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., for a Christmas party on Dec. 18. US Airways canceled his original flight and rescheduled him with a connection through Cleveland. But when a record snowstorm slammed Washington on Saturday, US Airways canceled the new flight, too.
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Two-faced TSA ticks off air travelers: Here’s what you need to know

No wonder we’re so confused. The Transportation Security Administration is telling airlines one thing, and it’s telling us another.

“Passengers flying from international locations to U.S. destinations may notice additional security measures in place,” Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said in a prepared statement yesterday. “These measures are designed to be unpredictable, so passengers should not expect to see the same thing everywhere. Due to the busy holiday travel season, both domestic and international travelers should allot extra time for check-in.”

Meanwhile, the TSA has been busy ordering airlines to take specific actions (Emergency Amendment EA 1546-09-01, which I can’t confirm or deny that I have received from several sources). The interpretation of this order is certain to inconvenience travelers. Airlines have already turned off their in-flight entertainment systems, forced passengers to remain in their seats an hour before landing, taken away pillows and blankets and limited the use of electronic devices and in-flight wireless Internet connections.

Worse, TSA hasn’t said a word about these directives to the flying public, despite repeated requests for comment.

It’s as if TSA is operating in a parallel universe: In one, everything is just fine; in another, it’s having a kneejerk reaction not unlike the kind the government had after 9/11, when it federalized airport screeners. Based on some of the comments I’m getting from air travelers, I’d say no one is happy with this duplicitous behavior.

Here’s what we know so far:
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The unofficial guide to traveling in 2010

Steph Ulyett’s airline ticket should have said “Stephanie” of course, but she’s always gone by Steph, so that’s the name her partner typed into Expedia when he reserved their flights to Chicago.

Unfortunately, a commonly misunderstood Transportation Security Administration initiative called Secure Flight, almost made her miss her plane. At least that’s what she thought. A new government rule says the name you use when buying your ticket must match your ID — which Ulyett’s did not.
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I canceled my room — where’s my refund?

Question: I hope you can help me. I booked a hotel through recently. It was the first time I’ve used them, and it will be my last.

I had a two-night stay in Sedona, Ariz., at $105 a night. I had to cancel one of the nights, so I called and spoke with a woman who was very difficult to understand. She kept putting me on hold and seemed as if she didn’t know what she was doing. I thought I had canceled the room, but when I got my credit card bill, I noticed a charge for two nights, for a total of $228.

I wrote to, asking it to adjust my charges. I received a letter from the hotel stating that they showed no record of the cancellation, and that we were listed as a “no-show” for the second night. Can you help me with this? — Elaine Farkas, Parma Heights, Ohio

Answer: If canceled your room, you shouldn’t have been charged. But according to the online travel agency’s records, your room wasn’t canceled.

So what happened? I contacted to find out.
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New carry-on luggage limits and screening measures after Northwest Airlines terrorist incident

The thwarted terrorist bombing of Northwest Airlines flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit yesterday has triggered a series of new security measures by the U.S. government. Here’s what’s being said by the Transportation Security Administration and Department of Homeland Security.

Details remain sketchy for now. “Passengers may notice additional screening measures put into place to ensure the safety of the traveling public on domestic and international flights,” according to the TSA.

What, exactly, are “additional screening measures”?
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