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Outraged and Furious: First Encounter With a Full-Body Scanner (in the UK) [en]

Outraged and Furious: First Encounter With a Full-Body Scanner (in the UK) [en]

[fr] Furax: je découvre qu'au Royaume-Uni aussi, il faut passer par un de ces scanners-qui-vous-déshabillent. Et je découvre ça coincée comme un rat dans une cage en verre dont la seule sortie passe par un de ces scanners. Et contrairement aux USA, pas d'autre option: c'est ça ou je ne vole pas.

I am furious and outraged like I have rarely been.

You’ve heard about the full-body scanners they’ve been using in the US, right? And the “enhanced pat-downs” you go through if you opt out of the scanners? Thought that was bad?

I did.

You probably already know — if you know me a bit — that all the security theatre around flying angers me no end. Somebody tries to smuggle explosives on plane in their shoes? Let’s make everyone take off their shoes. Liquid explosives? Great, let’s put restrictions on liquids in carry-on luggage. Explosive underwear? Even better, let’s ask everyone to get naked. You know.

I won’t get into the details of why this is a complete pile of horseshit, others like Bruce Schneier have done it (and are still doing it) way better than me.

Now, if you’ve been flying to or from the US, chances are that you’ve wondered what you thought about them. Do they invade your privacy? your intimacy? are the “enhanced” pat-downs you can choose instead something you’re willing to subject yourself to? are they as safe as we’re told?

And, like us all when we travel and have to jump through hoops, you’ve probably reached some kind of agreement with yourself about the price you were willing to pay (in terms of hassle or loss of freedom or invasion of privacy or possible unproven health risks) to benefit from the comforts of air travel.

Or, maybe, if you don’t have any intention of flying to the US in the near future, you’ve put off that particular decision until you really have to make it.

I know I did.

Actually, I have taken the US off my list of “places I’m going to fly to” — unless I have a very good reason to change my mind.

Yes, because of the bloody scanners.

I’d actually pretty much made up my mind that before going through the “enhanced security theatre”, I would rather get to the US by road, flying first to Canada. Or something like that. But having no immediate plans to go to the US, I didn’t give it that much thought.

Now, back to why I’m writing this in Manchester airport departure lounge, having used up a pack of hankies because I feel so outraged that I don’t know what to do with myself and can’t stop crying. (Writing is helping, though, so now I just look like a mess but I’m not dripping a puddle on the floor anymore.)

I’m on my way back home, having visited my grandparents as I regularly do. I know the security theatre drill: liquids separate, take out the laptop, make sure I don’t pack too many cables, finish my water before going through security, remove extra and potentially beeping clothing before going through the metal detectors, and prepare to be quickly frisked because the darn things are so sensitive that anything can set them off. (Except in Geneva airport, where I can safely go through with clothing that will beep anywhere else.)

Well, not this time.

This time I went through the detector, which beeped, and I ended up trapped like a rat in a glass room — only way out through a full-body scanner.

I wasn’t prepared for this.

I didn’t even know they were used outside the US, or for travelers going to tame places like Switzerland from the UK.

I had no clue I should also have been thinking about whether I wanted to continue going to the UK by air (actually: coming back from the UK), or if I preferred to switch to the Eurostar.

I called out to the guy who was making the people before me go through, expressed my surprise at finding the scanner there, and asked what the other option was. He told me there was no other option, that once I had been selected for search, it was that — or don’t fly.

I exclaimed that I hadn’t had time to think about this, and he told me to “take my time” — but that was before I’d realized they were not giving me any other options.

He quickly called his superior who stepped into the box with me and started telling me it was safe, necessary, would be quickly over, etc. I tried explaining why I didn’t want to go through but we were clearly in a “dialogue de sourds”, and I started getting pretty upset (understand: crying from anger — I tend to do that, it’s really annoying).

I don’t know how long I stayed stuck there (at least 10 minutes I’d say), but it was pretty clear that I had no other option but to go through — unless I wanted to give up on my flight (yeah, sure).

I gave in, told the guy I was furious, refused his offer to give me documentation, picked up my stuff (my shiny new MacBook Air had been lying in an open tray in front of everybody during all that time) and sat down to continue having my meltdown on my own.

So, what went so wrong here?

Clearly, the fact that I discovered the existence of full-body scanners in Manchester Airport while I was trapped like a rat in a glass cage and pretty much forced to go through one.

That put me in the unenviable situation of having only a few minutes to make a difficult “ethical” decision that I’d been putting off because I wasn’t expecting to have to face this kind of situation: do I cave in to security theatre and fly, or do I refuse, and pay the price by not being able to board my flight?

I hadn’t even decided, with the US scenario, if I preferred to go through the scanner or submit to an invasive pat-down.

Also, although the two security staff I interacted with were very kind and polite, it would probably have helped if the guy in the box had actually been able to hear what I had to say and sympathize (maybe that’s too strong a word).

Instead, he insisted on telling me I was wrong, that this was necessary, that it was for my safety, that it wasn’t dangerous and would only take a few seconds, that he could give me all sorts of documentation to explain this to me.

For somebody who has read a lot on the topic of airport security (even if I haven’t written that much about it, except for rants like this one when things get too frustrating), it really didn’t help to have him talk to me as if I was just a scared uninformed passenger. I mean, he even told me that they hadn’t had any problems coming out of Manchester (regarding security), and so that they must be doing something right. I hope all of my readers can spot the flawed logic there. It doesn’t mean anything.

Wishful thinking probably, but I think that faced with somebody who would have said “I agree, all this security is probably overkill, I’m unfortunately as stuck with regulations here as you are, and I’m really sorry you didn’t know about this beforehand” — it would have helped more than pressuring me by saying that if I wanted to fly I had to go through and that I was making a fuss for nothing.

Time to buy some of that scanner-proof underwear, methinks.

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Being My Own Travel Agent With Kayak [en]

Being My Own Travel Agent With Kayak [en]

[fr] En mars, je vais en Irlande, puis à Austin (Texas), puis à San Francisco. Ça fait pas mal de vols à organiser. L'agence de voyage que j'ai contactée me propose un circuit à CHF 2800. En utilisant Kayak, j'arrive (non sans mal, sueur, et heures investies) à faire le tour pour CHF 1650.

Cet article est le récit de la façon dont j'ai procédé.

I have some **serious travel** planned for March.

First, I go to Cork, Ireland, for [Blogtalk](http://2008.blogtalk.net/) and the preceding [WebCamp on Social Network Portability](http://webcamp.org/SocialNetworkPortability), from 2nd to 4th.

Then, I head for Austin, Texas for [SXSW Interactive](http://2008.sxsw.com/interactive/), from 7th-11th.

I’ll be **speaking** in both places.

As I’m in the States, I’ll then head out to spend two weeks or so in San Francisco. Here are what my travel dates and destinations look like:

– 1st: GVA-ORK (ORK is Cork, yes, funny)
– 6th: ORK-AUS
– 12th: AUS-SFO
– 25th: SFO-GVA

I chose the 25th to go back because it seems to be the cheapest day around there. The other dates are fixed by hotel or event constraints.

After fooling around with [Kayak.com](http://kayak.com) for a fair number of hours, and finding it a little confusing (I’ll detail below in what way), I caved in and **called a travel agent** in Lausanne to ask them to sort it out for them.

They got back to me, speedily and kindly, but with a surprising price tag: **2800 CHF** for the whole thing. That’s $2400 for those of you who like dollars.

Now, even though I wasn’t very happy with what I came up on Kayak, I had figured out that this trip would cost me around about 1200$. Not the double.

So, **back to Kayak**. In the process, I’m starting to get the hang of how to do searches for long, nasty, complicated journeys, so I thought I’d share it with you.

A side issue before I start, though: flights to and from the USA have a **much more generous luggage allowance** than flights elsewhere (20kg + cabin luggage). If the first leg of a journey to the USA is inside Europe, though, you still get the “US” luggage allowance for that flight. I was hoping I could make things work out to have the more generous luggage allowance for the GVA-ORK part of my trip too, as I tend to have trouble travelling light (particularly for 3 weeks). But it seems that won’t happen.

As I understand it from the kind explanations a few people have given me, the GVA-ORK part of my journey is considered a completely separate one from ORK-AUS, AUS-SFO, and then SFO-GVA. In short, I’m dealing with **four separate flights**.

So, let’s do the obvious thing first, and **ask Kayak.com to do all the work**. My dates are fixed, but I’m open to the idea of using nearby airports. This is what I gave Kayak.com:

Kayak search: GVA-ORK-AUS-SFO-GVA

And here is what I got:

Kayak.com GVA-ORK-AUS-SFO-GVA

Oops. It seems Geneva dropped off the map. If I select the “neighbouring” airport LYS (Lyon), I get this. Slightly more encouraging, but…

Kayak.com: GVA-ORK-AUS-SFO-GVA

…slightly expensive. Roughly what my travel agent told me, actually. Gosh, I wonder which part of the journey is costing so much? **Let’s try and break things down.**

**First, GVA-ORK:**

Kayak.com GVA - ORK

Wow, is that their best price? $384 and 9 hours of travel to go from Switzerland to Ireland? I should be able to find something better. So, I hunted around a bit on my own. I know I can get to London for around $100 or less with [easyJet](http://easyjet.com), so what about the other low-costs? From the Cork airport site, I got a [list of airlines flying there](http://www.corkairport.com/flight_info/airlines.html). Then I went to individual airline sites — I’ll pass you the details, save to say that [RyanAir](http://ryanair.com) has got some “virtually free” flights (1 penny + taxes) but as they only allow 15kg of check-in luggage (I can make sacrifices and try to stick to 20, but 15 is really low), flight + excess luggage fee actually comes down to not-that-cheap.

Oh, wait a sec! Let’s enlist Kayak’s help for this. Here are GVA-LON flights, according to Kayak:

Kayak.com GVA - LON

That’s helpful, actually. I wouldn’t have thought to check [BA](http://ba.com). The flight is way too early, though. And Kayak.com now gives results with European low-cost airlines — I don’t recall it did this early December when I first tried.

What about LON-ORK?

Kayak.com LON - ORK

I removed RyanAir from the results (they were the cheapest, around $48 — plus extra luggage tax!), and the winner is… [Aer Lingus](http://aerlingus.com)!

So, if I manage to get the timings right, and accept that I’ll have to pick up my luggage and check in again in London, I should be able to get a better deal than the $384 Kayak suggested “out of the box”.

Oh, another idea. Let’s tell Kayak I’m flying through London, and see what happens. Here are the results for GVA-LON-ORK:

Kayak.com GVA - LON - ORK

Still no luck. The first flight is the same as the one I got when I asked for GVA-ORK. Clearly, Kayak introduces constraints (like… airlines must be working together) when asked for a trip. That probably explains why my total trip seems so horrendously expensive.

Right, now we’ve dealt (more or less — at least there seems to be hope) with the first part of the journey, let’s look at the rest.

**ORK-AUS-SFO-GVA:**

ORK-AUS: $509

Kayak.com ORK - AUS

AUS-SFO: $125

Kayak.com AUS - SFO

SFO-GVA: $530

Adding all that up, we’re quite far from the $2400 my travel agent or Kayak suggest for the whole flight.

Now, let’s dig in a little further. How about I ask Kayak for ORK-AUS-SFO-GVA? I’ve already identified that the GVA-ORK part was problematic, so maybe… maybe:

Kayak.com ORK - AUS - SFO - GVA

$1029! And all with American Airlines! That sounds nice. Add to that a bit less than $200 for the GVA-ORK bit, and I should manage to do all this flying for roughly $1200. Much more reasonable (though still a big hole in my bank account credit card, given the sad state of my finances these days).

So, ready for the details? Because, no, in case you were wondering, the fun doesn’t stop here. Sick around, there’s still work to do.

**First, GVA-LON-ORK.**

London has a problem: it has too many airports. Aer Lingus fly out of LHR to Cork, so ideally, I should plan to arrive there. I don’t think I want to go through the fun of commuting from one airport to another if I can avoid it.

That unfortunately rules out easyJet, who don’t fly to LHR. They fly to LGW, Luton, Stansted, but not LHR. So, let’s check out BA, who were actually cheaper (though at an ungodly hour, and for LGW).

BA: GVA-LHR

Right, so for 144 CHF, I get to fly out around 10am, which is actually quite nice. I land around 11am. Let’s look at Aer Lingus flights to ORK, then:

Aer Lingus: LHR-ORK

I’m very tempted to take the 14:05 flight instead of the 18:05 one, **but**. That would leave me with only 3 hours in LHR to get my luggage, go from terminal 1 to terminal 4, and check in again. The London crew on Twitter tells me it’s a little tight, though others seem to think it’s OK.

So, well, that would be it for the first part of the journey.

Now for the rest.

**Then, ORK-AUS-SFO-GVA.**

Here are the details I get from Kayak for this multi-city journey:

Kayak.com ORK-AUS-SFO-GVA 1029$

As you can see, American Airlines seem to like Chicago airport, ORD. [Dennis Howlett](http://twitter.com/dahowlett) warns me against going through that airport, but it seems the other options are going to cost me an extra $1000.

But that’s not all. What exactly are the “layovers” here? I’d assume they are plane changes. But 55 minutes in Chicago and 1h35 in Brussels on my way back don’t really seem to allow time for that. Chances are I’d miss the connection — but then why would Kayak.com (and AA!) suggest this kind of combination?

It’s not the end of the world if I get home a day late, so I guess that for $1000, I’ll take my chances.

Let’s not stop there, though, shall we? I decided to dig a bit deeper into all this. See, for example, I tried asking Kayak.com about:

AUS-SFO-GVA: $1669

Kayak.com AUS - SFO - GVA

Why isn’t Kayak coming up with one of the (obviously cheaper) combinations for the SFO-GVA leg? Why is BA suddenly the cheapest option? I don’t get it.

See, for example, this flight option for SFO-GVA, $550, is much more exciting than the AA one via ORD and Brussels:

Kayak.com: SFO-GVA

Just one change in Newark. And it’s a shorter overall flight, too.

That means I need to get the ORK-AUS-SFO part separate. Let’s look at it now:

Kayak.com ORK-AUS-SFO

The cheapest deal is $624 with AA and Frontier, which is an immediate (and logical! what a surprise!) combination of the two cheapest deals for ORK-AUS and AUS-SFO taken separately. I don’t seem to gain anything (financially) by booking them together.

Now, the problem here is that the flight times are really long (20h). I’m quite tempted to force my journey through some European city other than London and see what happens.

A quick trip to the Austin airport site seems to say there are [no direct flights there outside the US](http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/austinairport/nonstops.htm). I can’t find that kind of information for DFW, unfortunately. I’m keeping an eye on [DFW](http://www.dfwairport.com/) because I could land there and take a road trip to Austin with a friend. It’s 3.5 hours on the road, though, so I need a flight that lands early enough.

For example, let’s take Dublin, as I’m already in Ireland.

Here are Kayak flights from DUB to AUS: most interesting deal $484 with Delta for a 19h flight:

Kayak.com: DUB-AUS

Come to think of it, you know what I’d like? I’d like to be able to place all the flights on a chart, with for example “price” on the x-axis and “total flight duration” on the y-axis. I’d be willing to pay $50 extra or so to cut of a certain number of hours of travel, but as of now there is no way to visualise this kind of thing easily. The “Matrix” tab in Kayak has a promising name, but all it does is give best price and number of stops per airline. Not very exciting.

What about ORK-DUB? Well, the fine folks at Blogtalk recommend [Aer Arann](http://2008.blogtalk.net/travelling) (they have a great “travelling” page, btw, I’ll have to take example on them for [Going Solo](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/12/14/announcing-going-solo/):

Aer Arann: ORK-DUB

Cheap flight, $36. What would Kayak say?

Kayak.com: ORK-DUB

Well, RyanAir is cheaper but I don’t want them, and the Aer Arann flights are there, but a bit more expensive than what I found. Hidden costs, maybe? Or maybe just an update glitch — I’m aware it’s difficult to keep everything perfectly in sync.

Gah. This is turning into another nasty headache.

Let’s go back to letting Kayak take care of ORK-AUS-SFO. I had a look at flights from [Shannon](http://www.shannonairport.com/), but the price difference is not worth the couple of hours by bus to get there. I also considered SAT (San Antonio) but it’s really out of Austin, so not interesting. I’m willing to fly in another airport than SFO though.

Sidenote: this is where I discover I can “favorite” flights in Kayak. I should have started doing that hours ago. So, here’s the flight I’m favoriting for the ORK-AUS segment. I don’t want to land at 12:15am in Austin, so the choice is easy to make. Will have to get up early in Cork, though. Ugh.

Kayak.com: ORK-AUS favorite

You know what would be really cool? If I search for ORK-AUS-SFO, I’d like Kayak to let me know which flight combinations contain that flight I’ve favorited. I wonder if it does that. Let’s see! But before that, I’ll go and favorite the flight I want for heading over to San Francisco. So, here is what Kayak gave me for that segment, remember?

Kayak.com AUS - SFO

The cheapest flight is $125, but if you have a close look, you’ll see that all these are either dreadfully early, or quite late. I’d rather leave sometime later in the morning. Luckily, Kayak provides a “filter” that allows me to select that. (Remember, earlier on, I was wondering why Kayak was suggesting routes with 55min stopovers? Well, there’s a “stopover length” filter too that I could have used to avoid that.) Here’s what happens if I decide to leave between 8 and 10am:

Kayak.com: AUS-SFO Flight Time filter

For roughly $200, I get to sleep a bit more. This is another case where the price/something-or-other graph would come in handy: it would help me visualise how much I have to pay to leave later. (I’m learning to factor in cab fares and stuff like that when making flight decisions.)

So, back to our combined ORK-AUS-SFO trip:

Kayak.com: ORK-AUS-SFO best choice

By playing with the time sliders for flights 1 and 2, I managed to filter out the flights that didn’t contain my two favourites (at no surprise, Kayak doesn’t tell me that this “multiple flight” actually contains a single flight that I favourited… too bad). Result: $695 and decent flying times.

**So, let’s recap.** (I’m going to be doing the actual booking tomorrow, it’s getting late and I’m tired, which is usually a recipe for mistakes. Also, the prices the airlines and Kayak give could be slightly different, so this is an approximation.)

GVA-LHR: BA, $125
LHR-ORK: Aer Lingus, $60

That’s $185 for me to go to Cork.

ORK-AUS-SFO: AA and Frontier, $695

SFO-GVA: United and Qatar, $550

Total: $1430 = 1650CHF

That’s a bit more than what it seemed I’d get away with at first, but there are less stopovers and the flying times are nicer than the cheapest deal. That’s worth a couple hundred $.

So, thanks Kayak. That’s more than 1000CHF less than my travel agent came up with. But God, did I have to work hard for it. There is definitely room for improvement in the business of helping people sort out their travels.

While I was writing this post and [twittering about my trials](http://twitter.com/stephtara), [Bill O’Donnel](http://egopoly.com/) (find him [on Twitter](http://twitter.com/agentbillo), he’s the Chief Architect at Kayak!) sent me a message saying he [wanted to read my post](http://twitter.com/agentbillo/statuses/524594472) when I was done. He also added that he was [forwarding my twitters to the UI team](http://twitter.com/agentbillo/statuses/524596032). So, guys, hope you enjoy the free [experiential marketing](http://climbtothestars.org/focus/experiential-marketing/)! In a way, only — it’s not really an experiential marketing campaign because nobody asked me to do anything, but this is typically the kind of stuff I *would* write up in such a campaign, and an example of *authentic user behaviour* that experiential marketing “re-creates”.

So anyway, hope you enjoy this tale of user experience. And I also hope my fellow travellers will find useful input here to help them sort out their travels.

Thanks to everybody who answered or simply put up with my numerous questions and tweets during the process of sorting out this trip.

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Firefox Only For White Anglo-Saxon Males? No! [en]

Firefox Only For White Anglo-Saxon Males? No! [en]

[fr] Browse Happy, un site qui encourage les gens à  se "convertir" à  Firefox, a besoin de témoignages de personnes qui ne tombent pas dans la catégories "homme anglo-saxon blanc branché technologie"... a bon entendeur!

Browse Happy is a neat site encouraging users to switch to Firefox, by publishing testimonials of happy switchers.

However, it does suffer from a problem: the people featured on the site tend to fit the white high-tech male anglo-saxon profile pretty dramatically. This strikes me as an unhappy coincidence, so maybe we can lend a hand in helping them gather a more respresentative sample of testimonials?

If you don’t fit that profile, and want to help spread the word that Firefox is for everybody… send in your testimonial!

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