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Travel briefs: Agency might alter airport screening

Agency might alter airport screening

In appearances before Congress, Transportation Security Administration chief John Pistole has strongly defended the airport screening process that treats everyone the same, including infants and the elderly.

But in his latest testimony before a congressional panel, Pistole changed his tune and began talking about overhauling the system to focus on intelligence gathering and targeting those travelers the TSA knows the least about.

“Since I became TSA administrator, I have listened to ideas from people all over this country,” he told the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. As a result, he said, the agency is moving in the new direction by expanding several pilot security programs and changing the way children are searched at airport security checkpoints.

A test program that began last month at four airports — Miami, Dallas, Detroit and Atlanta — lets passengers who volunteer personal information zip through a special screening lane without having to remove shoes or jackets. Pistole told lawmakers that it has worked so well that he wants to expand it to more airports.

Stranding in storm may mean fines

JetBlue Airways Corp. and American Airlines’ parent, AMR Corp., could face stiff fines for stranding hundreds of passengers in planes on an airport tarmac for seven hours during a snowstorm last month, but a lawyer who specializes in business litigation says passengers probably can’t sue over the ordeal.

JetBlue has apologized and offered to refund the airfares and pay for round-trip tickets for future travel for passengers on six JetBlue flights that were stranded on the tarmac at Bradley International Airport near Hartford, Conn., during a heavy storm that disrupted thousands of flights.

Under U.S. Transportation Department rules, airlines that keep passengers in a grounded plane for three hours or more for U.S. flights or four hours or more for international flights can be fined $27,000 per passenger.

The agency is investigating both airlines, but a spokesman said the rules exempt airlines that keep passengers on the tarmac because trying to return them to the terminal disrupts airport operations or creates a safety or security problem.

Since the rule that took effect in April 2010, the agency has yet to fine any airline.

New U.S. park has 77-foot waterfall

PATERSON, N.J. — A waterfall in one of New Jersey’s largest cities that inspired generations of newcomers to America, fueled the Industrial Revolution and was featured in everything from a William Carlos Williams poem to an episode of television show “The Sopranos” became the nation’s newest national park Monday.

The 77-foot Great Falls in downtown Paterson was given the national park designation in a ceremony attended by New Jersey officials, local schoolchildren, U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and the head of the National Park Service.

The Great Falls is second only to Niagara Falls in water volume east of the Mississippi River. More than 2 billion gallons of water a day pass over its summit to the swirling Passaic River below.

Billboards display opinions on cruises

CHARLESTON, S.C. —Billboards in the Charleston area now take both sides of the cruise industry debate.

A group of businesses and residents has put up a new billboard on Interstate 26 supporting the industry. It bears the words “Cruise on in … Welcome and thank you” and notes the industry creates good jobs for the city.

The group calling itself Cruise On In Charleston says cruises contribute $37 million a year to the local economy.

Last August, a group that wants tighter controls on the industry put up an I-26 billboard proclaiming “Save Charleston. Support Cruise Control.”

The cruise debate is a key issue in this week’s Charleston mayoral election. It’s also the subject of a lawsuit pitting preservationists and neighborhood groups against the city, the State Ports Authority and Carnival Cruise Lines.

Super Bowl guests stay in nearby cities

MUNCIE, Ind. —Tourism officials across Central Indiana are crossing their fingers that an overflow of visitors will bring business — and cash — to their communities when the 2012 Super Bowl kicks off in Indianapolis.

The NFL projects visitors will bring in between $125 million and $400 million during the days leading up to the Feb. 5 game in Indianapolis, Super Bowl Host Committeewoman Pat Carlini said.

But Indianapolis doesn’t have enough hotel rooms to accommodate all 150,000 expected visitors, so some will likely look for rooms within an hour of the host city, the Kokomo Tribune reported.

“It doesn’t all stay right there,” Carlini said. “We can all take advantage of that pot of gold.”

The NFL has blocked off hundreds of rooms in Kokomo to ensure that league and media representatives and others directly involved with the event have places to stay that weekend.

Peggy Hobson, executive director of the Kokomo Visitors Bureau, said people who stay in Kokomo hotels that weekend would also throw business to restaurants and gas stations.

“Different things like that kind of vibrate through the community,” she said.

Some downtown Indianapolis hotels are already at capacity in the days surrounding the game. That has some Delaware County hotel operators hoping for overflow business.

Olympic torch to be in much of Britain

LONDON —The Olympic Torch will visit some of Britain’s best-known tourist spots. There’s a stop at prehistoric Stonehenge, a ride across Loch Ness, and a trip up to the summit of Mount Snowdon in Wales.

But the aim of the 70-day torch relay ahead of the 2012 London Games is to bring the flame close to ordinary Britons and their homes, organizers said Monday.

“The main target is to get to as many people as we possibly could,” said Sebastian Coe, chairman of the London organizing committee, as he announced the full route of the relay.

That means devising a route that covers over 1,000 villages, towns and cities across the country, including Bready, a sleepy Northern Ireland hamlet of just 93 people.

“I think it’s definitely going to bring good business, which is always a bonus,” said Eamon Nugent, who works at a hotel on the outskirts of Bready. The torch convoy will certainty be a big spectacle there; the village is so small it takes just around 15 minutes to walk around it, he added.

There will, of course, be plenty of photo opportunities.

Starting on May 19 at Land’s End, a wind-swept corner in Cornwall, southwestern England, the torch will go past lighthouses, ancient castles and historic sites like Hadrian’s Wall. It will be carried in a steamer across Lake Windermere in the Lake District, on a row boat on the Thames, and on horseback and chair lifts elsewhere.

There is even a stunt to transport it by zip line off a bridge.

Wire services

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